We all have experienced situations, circumstances, or even periods of time that we perceive to be terrible. Just absolutely, flat out, awful. Oftentimes, we allow these perceived situations to hold us back, while in reality they are the very things that can propel us forward.
The thing holding me back at this very moment, literally exists in my back. I have a herniated disc between my L5 and S1 vertebrae. As a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, I realize that this is a byproduct of years moving incorrectly as a collegiate and professional basketball player, where abuse to joints through jarring repetitive movements, without correction, is the norm.
Truly, this is one of the most humbling obstacles I've ever dealt with. Yet, I don't embrace the vulnerability of writing this for you to feel sorry for me, quite the contrary actually. I write this because I know I'm not the only person out there who has or currently is struggling with something that feels debilitating, injury or otherwise.
The Objectivity of Pain
Pain is an interesting thing. Back in April when I hurt my back the first time, for apparently no particular reason, I became an empty shell of myself. I caught myself feeling sorry for myself as I would lie on the floor in excruciating pain, unable to stand up. Or when I would drop something on the floor and stare at it, because I knew there was really no forgiving way to bend down to pick it up. This, by the way, makes you very crafty with your toes and shimming things up walls.
At the worst points of my pain, I couldn't sleep. If you've ever experienced sciatic pain before, I am giving you a sad look through the computer, because it is NOT fun. If you've been so lucky as to not feel sciatic pain, let me describe: imagine someone takes a hot, grotesquely large knife to your butt and then slowly and continuously slices down your leg, sometimes all the way to your ankle. Great, right?
It was the simple things that we take for granted every day that became ridiculously difficult and painful. But with time, I healed. And I forgot about the pain.
I forgot what it was like to wake up every morning hunched over with hair disheveled like Golem from Lord of the Rings. I forgot what it was like to have to very carefully do a supported pistol squat into my car and hope no one heard my muffled screams of anguish as my spine temporarily bent to fit through the door. It's amazing how our minds forget. I suppose this is why women have more than one child. If childbirth was an overall positive experience, we forget the discomfort of what it's like to have a small human rip its way through our bodies into the world. I say that like I've had a kid, I have not. So kuddos to all you moms, and to my own mom, thanks for doing that for me, you kind bad ass, you.
Coming fresh off my injury, I swore I would never allow myself to injure myself to that degree again, whatever it took. But a few months later, after feeling back to my "invincable" self (that is my own false confidence speaking), and repeatedly slouching lazily in my chair, squatting heavier weights than I should have been, and just generally forgetting that my back had a dormant, but angry disc just waiting to get pissed off again, it decided to remind me.
Oh Yeah, That...
So here we are again. As I write this I have ice and e-stem on my spine, and of course I am sitting like a serial killer in my chair (you must have outstanding posture at all times if you've had a back injury).
The most interesting part about any hardship are the psychological impacts it can have. The physical pain of this injury definitely sucks, but I know at some point during the day it's going to dissipate and I'll be at least able to stand straight. It's wrestling with the mental gorillas along the way that has been challenging.
In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday writes:
Whatever we face, we have a choice: will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them? The world is constantly testing us. It asks, are you worthy? Can you get past the things that will inevitably fall in your way? Will you stand up and show us what you're made of?
Embracing a difficult circumstance or situation is not easy. What would be easy is complaining about it to any loving friend or family member who will listen, feeling sorry for oneself, making excuses, playing the victim, or allowing negative shoulder guy to tell us things will never improve, or at least not fast enough.
But what does that help?
You know as well as I do, that it helps nothing. Furthermore, people truly do not enjoy being around a whiner and complainer, unless they are stuck in the brain of a high school drama queen. And now that I think about it, I do know some energy vampires like that. I'll give you their number if you want to complain. You guys can build straw houses of negativity and banks of sadness together.
The overall resounding point I am trying to make, is that our vulnerabilities and shortcomings can actually give us incredible strength. My vulnerability to share this glaring weak point with you, is not for you to lose confidence in my ability as a coach and trainer; but, instead to share the silver-lining of this situation in that now I can coach and connect better with people dealing with injuries, specifically to their back, better than ever before.
Moreover, it's vital that kids learn how to properly move and cope with adversity at a young age, and that adults unlearn bad movement patterns and relearn how to do them properly. I do not think I would be dealing with this now had I learned at a younger age how to properly brace, hinge, and work prehab and mobility exercises into my workouts.
Of course, this is a huge motivator as to why I love what I do now. Yet sometimes I cannot believe how difficult it is for young athletes, even some coaches, and adults, to buy into the weight room and to put work into their bodies. I believe we have this perception of "strength and conditioning" as lifting heavy and running sprints. Folks, it's so much more than that.
And finally, perhaps one of the most unrecognized area of strength and conditioning, is the relationship and culture building piece that good coaches weave into their workouts. We are able to create environments where athletes must overcome obstacles, are made to struggle and suffer, which naturally spurs their ability to build life skills like leadership, responsibility, developing a positive and relentless mindset, pain management of any kind, and so much more.
There is no conclusion
In conclusion, there is no conclusion (heh). Life is a cyclical process of self-discovery and growth. If we aren't challenged to step outside of our comfort zone within this process then we will never grow to greater heights. So regardless of what you're going through, injury, loss, change, whatever... you've got this.
Read a Book Every Month Challenge
How Young is Too Young to Start Lifting?
What I Wish I Knew As a Young Athlete
When I discovered Audiobooks, the efficiency in which I learned was completely transformed. For many of us, we have to intentionally set aside time in the morning or before bed to read.
Usually, it's not for lack of desire to learn or read that we have to force ourselves to make time, it's just... life. Life has a tricky way of sucking our time away from us every day before we even bat an eye.
Yet, it doesn't take away the importance of daily learning and self-growth. The life hack that will allow you to reclaim your time for this is sharing learning not with just your visual sense, but your auditory sense as well.
Think about all the time during your day that your hands are busy, but your brain is idle. This could be in front of the mirror in the morning, commuting to and from work or school, on your lunch break, getting ready for bed, and so on. I bet you could scrape together at least 30 minutes out of your daily mundane tasks pretty easily.
It took a few months to master, but I feel that I've now gotten into a solid routine to maximize my time for learning throughout the day, every day. Typically, I physically read one to two books a year, which is a depressing statistic; however, in 2018 I listened to 19 books, and this does not count relistening to some of them.
Talk about an exponential increase in brain food consumption!
Every morning while getting ready, I listen to The Daily*, a podcast by the New York Times that updates me on major current events. It's usually 20 to 30 minutes, which is perfect.
Then, instead of listening to music, I spend my driving time (anywhere from an accumulated 30-90 minutes a day) listening to books. There's nothing better than being behind the wheel, turning up the volume up on an audiobook, closing your eyes... and... wait, okay don't close your eyes, but you get it.
Driving is a perfect time to learn. I'm fairly confident it has helped my road rage as well, but not the lead foot unfortunately.
I use Audible for my brain candy. They require a monthly subscription; however, that includes one "free" book, so typically the monthly fee costs less than the actual book, making it a great deal for the reader. They also offer various deals throughout the year.
Another option would be using your local library and checking out audiobooks for free. The only downfall to that is you won't have them forever, of course.
Regardless of how you read or listen, here are a few of my favorite listens from the past year that I recommend!
*I have no stake in the promotion of The Daily, Audible, or any of the following books.
Daring Greatly by Berne Brown
If you haven't heard of her, Berne Brown is a queen. She is a shame and vulnerability researcher, who has spent much of her adult life studying human connection. Her Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability has accrued 38 million views since she gave it in 2010.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is a game changer, and one of the books that I have listened to multiple times. It is no surprise that it became a #1 New York Times Best Seller.
"What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being, rather than knowing, requires showing up and allowing ourselves to be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable. The first step of that journey is understanding where we are, what we're up against, and where we need to go."
Relentless by Tim Grover
The full title of this book, Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, is what first drew me in. I thought, with a title like that, there's no way the content in this book won't be relatable to my mission as a coach and trainer, and spontaneously clicked the sample listen. I was immediately hooked.
I recommend this one mostly for athletes, particularly ones who find themselves consumed with the daily grind of getting better.
During my collegiate and professional basketball playing days, I was obsessed with improvement. Oftentimes to the demise of my social life, being the first person to arrive and the last person to leave practice, as well as the only person in the gym at odd hours of the morning or night.
My obsession felt lonely at the time, but there are many athletes and people out there with the relentless pursuit to improve at their passion.
Tim Grover really speaks to this misunderstood obsession of devoting oneself to improvement in the realm of athletics. He specifically talks about basketball, as he has trained greats like Kobe Bryant. Yet, I think if you find yourself so passionately committed to something to the point where people start to think you're weird, this book is for you.
"Excellence isn't only about hitting the gym and working up a sweat, that's the smallest part of what you have to do. Physical ability can only take you so far. The fact is, you can't train your body or excel at anything before you train your mind. You can't commit to excellence before your mind is ready to take you there. Teach the mind, train the body."
The 5 Second Rule By Mel Robbins
If you haven't heard of Mel Robbins, write her name down immediately. She is well known for giving one of the most motivational Ted Talks of all time, How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over.
She knows how to deeply connect with the human spirit, shamelessly sharing her own struggles and experiences and then giving us the science behind what makes us tick.
The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage, will have you making actionable change in your life immediately.
After all, everyone can talk about the things they need to do and why, but doing it is another story, right? Robbins embraces this reality and gives the reader a kick in the butt to take action.
"Doing the work to improve your life is simple, you can do it. And it's work you want to do because it's the most important work there is, it's the work of learning how to love yourself and trust yourself enough to stop waiting and to start leaning into all the magic, opportunity, and joy that your life, work and relationships have to offer."
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The most striking aspect of The Alchemist, to me, is that Paulo Coelho could not sell more than a few copies in the first two years after publication. Now, over 35 million copies of the book has sold.
This allegorical novel follows the journey of a young shepherd boy, Santiago, as he seeks to find out why he keeps experiencing a recurring dream. This would be a fun book to read with a friend or group, as it is full of hidden meaning open to interpretation.
"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it."
Get Smart! by Brian Tracy
When I first read the title of this book, I couldn't help but think it was a little cheesy. Yet, the content inside is anything but. Like Mel Robbins, Tracy implores the reader to move towards what they want.
He talks about things like the momentum principle of success, effective goal setting, developing clarity, building the discipline to concentrate, the 80/20 rule, eliminating negative emotions, and taking control of your life.
During a time in my life where I felt lost and like I had almost no control of anything, Tracy's words helped me get back into a good headspace. Get Smart! How to Think and Act Like the Most Successful and Highest-Paid People in Every Field in a way is a more modern rendition of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, both of which I highly recommend.
"There is a direct relationship between the amount of responsibility that you accept and the amount of control in your life. Because almost all stress and negative emotions come from feeling out of control in some way, as soon as you accept responsibility, you assert control over yourself and everything that happens to you."
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
The flute intro for this audiobook is nearly as epic as the opening metaphor:
"Then something happened inside of him that transformed his life forever. He looked at this hands, he felt his body, and he heard his own voice say 'I am made of light. I am made of stars.' He looked at the stars again, and realized it's not the stars that create light, but rather light that creates the stars. 'Everything is made of light,' he said, 'and the space in between isn't empty.' And he knew that everything that exists, is one living being, and that light is the messenger of life, because it is alive and contains all information."
Navigating life is no easy task. We all experience highs and lows, and the need for answers and help during difficult times. This book is not only a comfort during those times, but a character builder and tool to cultivate self-compassion as well as understanding of others.
There is so much wisdom within the pages, it is simply a must read.
"Humans punish themselves endlessly for not being what they believe they should be. They become very self-abusive and they use other people to abuse themselves as well. But, nobody abuses us more than we abuse ourselves."
This is me by Chrissy Metz
I tell you what, this book got me through a horrendous 16 hour Greyhound bus ride once. Before said bus ride, I have loved Chrissy Metz since her breakout role in This Is Us.
Her biography is real, touching, and all the things you'd expect from a young lady who has wrestled with being overweight her entire life while pursing spotlight roles in Hollywood and in front of the mic (she also has an incredible voice).
If a story like this doesn't make you laugh, shed a tear, and leave you inspired, Lawd help ya.
"When you're confident in your abilities, it lets other people be confident in there's too. And sometimes we have to teach each other. I know I'm still unlearning everything I learned as a kid. When I was down, people told me that is where I would stay. But, when you are so far down, the only way to go is up."
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Between Dale Carnegie's wisdom and the gentle drone of the narrator, Andrew MacMillan, every time I turned this audiobook on I felt like my grandfather was giving me advice on how to be a better person and more successful in life.
Carnegie takes on a beautiful, and what I feel some now would consider, old school approach, to building and maintaining relationships. As the title suggests, he covers ways to make people like you, to win people over to your way of thinking, and to change people without creating resentment.
It is truly a timeless read, and I highly recommend it!
"People would think they committed a crime by letting their families go six days without food. But, they will let them go for 6 days, or 6 weeks, and sometimes 6 years without giving them the hearty appreciation that they crave, almost as much as they crave food."
Legacy by James Kerr
Carnegie's book may have been on winning friends, but it's Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership that is about winning in general. Even if you don't like sports, or have an athletics background, this is a great book about how to be successful as individuals and in the work environment.
However, if you are an athlete or apart of a team environment now, this is a must read. Kerr dives into the legendary All Blacks rugby team, who are the winningest sports organization in the last 100 years, and shares over a dozen powerful lessons in leadership that originate from their legacy.
"Collective character is vital to success. Focus on getting the culture right, and the results will follow."
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
This American memoir caught my attention, as it received 2018 Audible Audiobook of the Year and a slew of other notable accolades such as Best Book of 2018 by the New York Times and is an Andrew Carnegie Medal and Kirkus Prize Finalist.
Laymon bravely shares his experiences with abuse, shame, joy, confusion, humiliation, and the physical and mental weight of growing up as a black man in the United States. It is powerful. Honest. And so real it makes your heart ache and question how we can let things get so bad in one of the world's "greatest" countries.
"I heard Grandma-ma. But, I saw and smelt what diabetes left of her right foot. Grandma-ma hadn't felt her foot, controlled her bowls, or really tasted her food in over a decade. This Sunday, like every Sunday before, grandma-ma wanted me to know it could all be so much worse. Like you, Grandma-ma beat the worst of white folk in the mean machinations of men every day she was alive. But ya'll taught me indirectly that unacknowledged scars accumulated in battles won, often hurt more than battles lost."
Reading doesn't always have to take a visual form. We are lucky to live in a day and age now where we can "read" with our ears. Take advantage of technology so you can sneak in some of these must reads throughout your day.
Sheila Olson, of fitsheila.com
Millions of workers in the U.S. keep the country going after dark, but their health may suffer in the long-term.
Who works the night shift?
Historically, overnight work has been limited to two categories: vital services and manufacturing.
Vital services include ER nurses and doctors, police and firemen. Manufacturing jobs run the gamut from early morning bakers to assembly line technicians.
With the modern addition of a digital infrastructure, more and more white-collar jobs are moving to the midnight hour. While this means more flexibility for the workers and their families, the benefits they get now may be offset by issues down the road.
Mental and physical health at risk
According to Chron contributor J.E.Cornett, night workers are more at-risk of certain health problems than their daylight-dwelling coworkers. This includes a higher likelihood of being in an accident and failing to get enough sleep.
The latter of these issues is a side effect of fighting the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which is the biggest danger of those who work overnight. Disruptions to the body’s desire to sleep at night and wake during the days has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Mentally, people who work overnight hours may be more at risk of depression, anxiety and poor self-image thanks to chronic sleep deprivation.
Reset the clock
While science is working on a way to control circadian rhythm, researchers have yet to make it happen. Until then, it’s up to individuals to find methods that help them sleep so they can remain effective at work and, more importantly, stay healthy.
Environmental factors at home are the first and most obvious elements to consider.
A restful bedroom environment can mean the difference between poor sleep and a solid eight hours of rest. But sleeping during the day is difficult since the body is conditioned to move in the light.
Angie’s List offers a few simple tips for encouraging sleep. These include adding blackout shades and comfortable bedding.
Those with family members at home during the day or who live in close proximity to noisy neighbors may also want to add a sound machine to their bedroom.
Even with changes to the bedroom, many night shift workers find it difficult to get enough sleep. Fortunately, a monophasic sleep cycle, which is a traditional seven to nine-hour block of uninterrupted sleep, isn’t the only option.
One solution to combat health issues associated with sleep deprivation is to practice biphasic sleep, meaning to sleep in a series of two sleep-wake sessions throughout the day.
Sleeping this way allows for multiple REM cycles and is a habit the body can adapt to fairly easily.
Sleep and health experts also recommend practicing good sleep hygiene, which means to set a schedule and stick to it. Eating well and getting enough exercise also contributes to the ability to achieve optimum sleep.
Issues that hinder sleep
Stress, pressure to get chores taken care of, and desire to spend time with family are all reasons cited for poor daytime sleep.
But issues such as watching the clock, drinking coffee less than six hours before bed and failing to establish a wind down routine can also play a part in an inability to get to sleep.
In summary, night shift workers are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting enough sleep. But, since sleep remains vital to overall health and wellness, ensuring daily sleep needs are met is imperative.
Shift workers are encouraged to find a sleep cycle that works for their needs and take preemptive measures to ensure they are allowed to sleep uninterrupted during their preferred times.
One of life's greatest tragedies is never having started on the path towards something we deeply desire because of self-imposed limitations.
Are you limiting yourself because you are too scared to start or change, unmotivated, too distracted by things that are unimportant, or not understanding your purpose? Tomorrow is not guaranteed, here is how we start living for today.
We can get so easily caught in the daily rhythms of our lives that it takes a catastrophic event like a death or illness to shake us from our stagnant routines and remind us of what really matters.
"Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with other people." - C. Chang
There is an exceptional Ted Talk by Candy Chang on acknowledging what we want to do before we die. Her talk, linked in the above quote, calls listeners to remember how brief and fragile life can be, and not to be overtaken by life's many distractions.
Daily monotony, material obsession, and technological distraction are all major detractors from building genuine relationships or valuing each day, if we let them.
Finding Deep Meaning
Knowing your purpose in this world makes living in the present moment a much more clear and achievable task. Simon Sinek, TED speaker and creator of Start with Why, has a host of resources to help you dive into discovering life fulfillment, many of which were born out of his own painful journey to self-discovery.
It is one thing to know ones meaning and purpose, but it is another to act on it. Doing is usually the most difficult part of any large undertaking. If it weren't, then everyone would be a fit, tan, well-groomed, multi-millionaire.
Taking Actionable Steps
Fear is one form of paralysis that keeps us from doing the things that propel us towards success and happiness.
Mel Robbins, another well known TED and motivational speaker, talks about if-then planning and anchor thoughts as they relate to getting past fear in her book, The 5 Second Rule.
An anchor thought is a thought that is relevant to the situation you are about to enter that can calm you if you need it. It sets you up for success before you step into a situation you know you're afraid of.
Robbins uses the example of her fear of flying. As she starts to feel the gut reaction of anxiety as the plane ascends or undergoes turbulence, she shifts her thinking from the fuselage splitting in half followed by a fiery death to arriving at her destination and enjoying a pleasant meal with a client or family.
"Plan A, don't get nervous. BUT, if I get on the plane and I start to panic and start to feel afraid then I have my plan B." - M. Robbins
The point is, give your mind the context it's looking for, that way it doesn't escalate the fear and you can put the kibosh on anxiety before it hijacks your stomach and thoughts.
I can automatically think about this for myself when it comes to public speaking. It is something I absolutely dread and get unpleasant physical reactions to when I allow anxiety to take over the controls.
Instead of allowing myself to not saying anything at all because I'm so self-focused on everyone looking at me and staring at physical imperfections or waiting for me to trip on my words, I shift my thoughts to the value of what I have to say.
I recognize that what I have to say is important, and that if articulated well, they can absorb the information and then implement it into their own lives, thereby having an easier time because of it. This reduces my anxiety as it shifts my own focus off of myself and onto what's important - them.
The point to all of this, is that even the most successful people in the world struggle with the things you do. We are all human.
And we can also all learn from one another to better understand how to live our lives with meaning and fulfillment.
I want this of you! My yells of encouragement from the room I currently sit in only go so far, so join the self-made movement to receive email updates with more helpful content.
People will sell you whatever they think sounds good in order to take your money: "5 Steps to Skinny Thighs", "4 Weeks to Six Pack Abs", "101 Ways to Lose Weight".
I really wish these people would switch to selling used cars, because most of us can't be fooled into buying a car with brakes that don't work.
However, many of us fall victim to one of the biggest American paradoxes of the 21st century, we are an unhealthy nation obsessed with health.
The list of fad diets available to you on the internet or in the form of books should be a downright crime. I'm going to be blunt, but why do we think we can have a healthy body without putting in real work?
Where many of us go wrong, is that we've been programmed to believe we need to look a certain way and get caught constantly comparing ourselves to that unrealistic image.
We start believing that I need or have to lose weight to look like the actor or actress I saw on this or that ad, or that I want a beach body, six pack, or to fit into my wedding dress.
What we don't realize, is that these vanity driven goals are the first step towards failure. How do you think the health industry makes millions? It's messed up, but it's largely off of your desperate need to look a certain way and cyclical failure in doing so.
I'll let you in on the secret these companies and gyms don't want you to learn: if you want to achieve all these outcomes, then you need to reprogram your mindset, and here's how.
Go Against What Society Wants
Everyone is a little vanity driven, I totally get it because at times I am too, it's what makes us human. Yet, what society has placed premium on for years now, is for you to look a certain way. What you should want, is to feel a certain way.
Through education and my own experiences working with my clients, it is my firm belief that if we reprioritized our values and placed health and the pursuit of happiness a step above appearance, our goals would be easier achieved.
Look more closely:
Without your health you can't be your best for your family, friends, partner, etc., and in reality, happiness is one byproduct of good health, it leads to lower stress levels, more energy, better hair, skin, and nails, more confidence, higher sex drive, and so on. Ah yes, just a few ingredients that help to cultivate happiness.
So why are we focusing on appearance first? Appearing healthy does not mean you necessarily are, just look at the misconstrued reality Social Media and Photoshop can create.
Your happiness has to be genuine, social media doesn't know when you are lying to them, but at the end of the day, you do.
Go Towards What You Want
So how about this, imagine your goals as they pertain to health, because for all of us that can be very different.
For me, I love to wake up feeling stronger, more mobile, in less pain, and more energized throughout the day. What results as a natural byproduct of these things is a happier me and healthy body.
The health industry is smart, they also don't see you as a person, but as a consumer. This is a disservice to you, it does not have to be all about pant size, body fat percentage, or looking like the Calvin Klein or swimsuit models you see in ads.
See through it! YOU are important, not the bottom-line of the supplement companies and gyms trying to take advantage of your human weakness.
No More "Shoulds"
My final take away, try not to be so self-focused on this image you have in your head of how you should look because you will likely venture down a dark path of disappointment and unhappiness.
The worst outcome? You create an unhealthy relationship with food, labeling them as bad or good, and view exercise as punishment. If not you, someone you know.
I "Won't" Power Challenge
What is the "stickiest" habit in your life? What would you like to give up or do less of because it's undermining your health, happiness, or success?
I "Want" Power Challenge
What is the most important long-term goal you'd like to focus your energy on? What immediate "want" is most likely to distract you or tempt you away from this goal?
Many of us fall victim to the distorted societal view of fitness and taking shortcuts to get there.
If we actually reversed the common way of thinking, from appearance driven work to health driven work, ironically, appearance would be a natural, and more likely outcome.
Motivation is a tricky and fickle thing, and making sure we are selecting the right motivating factors can have tremendous impact on our long-term success. Take on the "Want, Won't, and Will Challenge" inspired by The Willpower Instinct, and start reprogramming your mindset today.
McGonigal, K. (2012). The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York, NY: Avery.