Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lessons from DUNE (Part II)

Last July, I posted Lessons from DUNE (Part I) which shared the lessons of "The Law of the Minimum", "Motivation is Overrated", and "Sustainable Growth". In the second installment, I present four more lessons for life and lifting, inspired by the words from Frank Herbert's science fiction masterpiece "Dune".

Add some spice to your life!

Lesson #4 - Learning To Learn
Many have marked the speed with which Muad'Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis. The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis of this speed. For the others, we can say that Maud'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe that they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson.
- from "The Humanity of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan

Thankfully, some of the first skills we learn are some of the most important (such as walking and talking) and we learn them quickly. Unfortunately, as we age, time and trauma have a way of beating our natural impulse to learn right out of us. Sometimes the best intentioned friends, parents, teachers, and coaches contribute to the death of confidence and curiosity. If we punish mistakes, which should be a natural and welcome part of the learning process, we do not motivate and we do not teach. As I've written about before, competence precedes confidence - building competence takes time and encouragement.
Like the great Muad'Dib, if you want to be the best, surround yourself with most supportive and competent coaches in the galaxy - teachers that are more concerned with your well-being than a paycheck. Know that you are capable of success. Know that every experience, good or bad, carries a lesson and learn from it.

Lesson #5 - Fear Is The Mind-Killer
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." 
- The Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

I used to believe that if I wasn't a little nervous before I trained that I was not training hard enough. But, if there is  excessive apprehension or anxiety when lifting, it will affect tension and technique negatively.
If we are truly "in the moment" there is little time to waste in fear. 

When we are in the grips of fear, one means of managing it can be the breath (See The Centrality of Breath (Part II) for more on the subject). 
Fear and its friend "doubt" exist in the future. They do not live in the present but they do beckon us away from it. Fear is the mind-killer, the killer of now.

Lesson #6 - Know Your Purpose
"Always do it for an overriding purpose - and know your purpose!" (said by Baron Harkonnen to Count Rabban)

As Dan John is fond of saying "The goal is to keep the goal the goal." It's a lot easier to say than it is to do!!  Having an overriding purpose is so important - without one, people tend to flit from one goal to the next, to the next, and to the next, never making substantial progress in any single direction. Trust me, I know what this can be like.
Have an overriding purpose in the gym, at work, at home, and in life. Can't think of anything? Then, start with big general goals like, for example, "Get strong" in the gym, "Be a better husband" at home, and "Make a difference" at work and in life.
Eventually, if you stick with it, you will need to establish more clear goals for your training and life but, a goal of "get strong" should at least keep you in the power racks a few times a week and out of the Zumba class. If your goal is to be a better husband, maybe you can keep yourself from flying off the handle the next time your better half asks you for the 100th time when you're going to fix that screen door... You get the picture, I hope.

Lesson #7 - Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (the SAID principle)
"The mind can go either direction under stress - toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training." 
- Bene Gesserit Axiom

There was a period of time, that I would absolute pound myself into the ground every time I went to the gym. It worked great and I gained strength and size... for a while. And then it did not work. Eventually my Herculean efforts became less and less Herculean - I found that training myself to exhaustion trained me to be exhausted. Don't, don't, don't make your hard work hard. Train to make it "easy" - easy like "Easy Strength" (a la Dan John and Pavel), or "easy like Sunday mo-or-ooorning" (a la The Commodores - one of my favorite songs).

Related Post:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Other People's Squat

I don't spend a lot of time scouring the internet for resources about squatting, but occasionally I run across really interesting and thought-provoking articles (I also run across a lot of Squat Rx plagiarized work, but that's a subject for another time...). I don't always agree with everything word for word in articles I find on the net, but always enjoy the hard work and time that has gone into thoughtful pieces. Check the following links out and let me know what you think.

The "Best" Squat by Pavel Tsatsouline

Virtual Squat Seminar by Jim Wendler

How To Squat Pain-Free by Mark Bell

Squat Perfectly - FOR YOU - Every time by Dave Dellanave

Tigger by Jon North

Friday, January 25, 2013

Rituals - Dan John

Rituals are checklists "alive." I am a huge believer in them. As a teacher, I began each class with a short prayer - Lord, the sea is so large and our boats are so small.Amen!
Then I would clap my hands and we would go. Students have done amazing imitations of me and they are always based on this little ritual I used to kick off class. 
The ritual is, in a sense, the checklist in action... 
Rituals also inform you it's time to get going. A coach one asked me when I started preparing for a track meet. I thought backwards from the throw and realized that it was when I took Sugar-Free Orange-Flavored Metamucil in the few days leading up to any competition. For me, tasting that tangy orange powder begins the process of preparing me for competition. Much like you start a meal with prayer not only to thank God, but also to let everyone know it is time to eat! 
I have so many rituals - like smiling before I throw - that I think I might overwhelm myself with all of them. Except they work! Why not write everything in a ritual? Because it can be so much information that you get lost in the details and lose the mission or the goal. I smile before I throw, but that's not on my checklist. Sometimes, a ritual is just that - something we do when we do it. 
I won a poetry contest years ago with a poem about tossing a handful of dirt on my mother's grave. I just stood there for a moment, then reached over and tossed a handful of dirt. Father Daniel Derry and my cousin, Bill Spillane, both told me, "We didn't know how Irish you were." I had no idea why I did it, it was totally spontaneous and all I can think, still to this day, is it was something I saw others do. That's where rituals live when down best: They sit deep inside you and well up from that place when you need calming and control. 
(From Dan John's latest book - INTERVENTION
I wrote about this topic in Dan John's newsletter a while back - the need for a routine. A routine (ritual) helps you focus and be in-synch. Having can be very crucial to consistent performance, but it should be flexible. If it crosses the line into superstition, it will be an unbending prescriptive pattern that, if broken, raises anxiety - exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I Can Be Lazy... Tomorrow

There are a lot of things that I'm not very disciplined about - shaving, finishing books I've started reading, and writing letters. But, there are three things that I try to do every day: walk the dog, read to my son, and lift weights. If I don't have an outstanding session, or miss a day because I'm sick or overwhelmed, I don't beat myself up about it, but understanding that motivation is overrated and maintaining the right habits is all-important, I try not to skip for silly reasons.

The mind is quick to give reasons why I should take a day off; why I need a day off; why I deserve a day off. On those days when the mind is protesting loudly, I tell it "Not today. If we really need the rest, we can be lazy tomorrow. Today is a good day. Keep moving."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

No Time for Digestion

Here in the United States, we have a real problem with binge consumption. We don't really savor the food we eat, and we are constantly eating. How we are ever able to completely digest the contents in our stomachs and intestines is beyond me. It's no wonder that intermittent fasting has become a popular means of giving a break to our overstressed digestive tracts.

But this isn't really just about food. We do the same thing with most experiences. After we've seen an amazing movie at the theater, we get home and as soon as we are back in our living rooms we turn on the tube to watch something mindless and not particularly interesting. We don't "need" it, we just do it. There's no time given to "digestion".

In the weight room, after a workout, good or bad, we do not sit with session's (or even a set's) merits or failings and reflect. We do not let that session or set speak to us (as it often does a moment or a day later) - instead, we rack it, we journal it, and then we plan the next one to build off a good performance, or make up for a bad one.

No time for digestion.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"My Creed" by Harold Arnold Walter

I would be true,
for there are those who trust me;

I would be pure,
for there are those who care;

I would be strong,
for there is much to suffer;

I would be brave,
for there is much to dare.

I would be friend of all-
the foe, the friendless;

I would be giving
and forget the gift;

I would be humble,
for I know my weakness;

I would look up -
and laugh - and love - and lift.