Saturday, October 31, 2009

How Will You Use Your Extra Hour?

I really enjoyed the video embedded above. The following segment was particularly shocking to me:
Did you know 21 year olds...
*...have watched 20,000 hours of TV
*...played 10,000 hours of video games
*...talked 10,000 hours on the phone
*...and they've sent/received 250.000 emails or instant messages

chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru
grains of dust, accumulated become mountains

When I went back to my college town to attend grad school, I bought a game system to share with some old buddies - we started playing a Final Fantasy game. It kept a running total of hours played, and after it reached about 30 hours, I couldn't stomach playing it again - every time I read that number, I felt my life ticking away. Occasionally, I remember this and all the time (and quarters) spent on video games of marginal entertainment value and shake my head. Yes, I think games and television have value, and yes, I'm still pretty amazing with a controller or joystick, but I'd trade a little vaunted "gamer hand-eye coordination" for a lot of other skills that I don't have. I really have no idea how much total time I spent, but I'd like to think it's a little less than the figures above.

40,000+ hours... assuming you sleep 8 hours a day, that's nearly 8 years of time! "Well, I would've probably wasted the time anyway", you might say... But, what if you didn't? What could you accomplish in 8 years of focused (or even not-so-focused) time? Fluency in 2 or more additional languages? Several college degrees? If you chose the right sport, people might be watching you on TV. If you worked 40,000 hours at a job paying $6.25 an hour, you'd be a quarter of a million dollars richer.

Among the scientific community, 10,000 hours is recognized as the amount of practice time needed to master a complex skill. It starts with one hour and daylight savings turns back the clock tonight. How will you spend that hour?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Naughty, Naughty Speed"

"Naughty, Naughty Speed"

Consider what we learn when we're taught the basics of right and wrong, prudent and imprudent. Even though speed is vital for success and can help us achieve great things, fast is rarely portrayed as noble, responsible, or smart. Often, it is characterized as reckless, naughty, and impatient. Wanting things fast means wanting immediate gratification, and immediate gratification is often judged as immature and irresponsible, even morally wrong. It's equated with impatience, short attention spans, and childish gimme-gimme attitudes.

Even the seemingly innocent Aesop's fable "The Tortoise and The Hare" whispers of speed's destructive potential. The moral of the story is most commonly given as "Slow and steady wins the race," with the emphasis on the dependability of slow. But like many of our societal judgements of speed, the key message of "The Tortoise and The Hare" is misguided. "Slow and steady wins the race" is a false claim based on a very limited interpretation of the story's plot.

Think about it: A tortoise and a hare agree to a race, and the hare scoots away as fast as he can go, leaving the tortoise in his dust. (Why does that tortoise think it's a good idea to race a hare, anyway?) But the hare is so sure the tortoise can't catch up that he stops to snack on grass and have a nap before bothering to actually complete the race. When he wakes, he sprints for the finish line. But as he dashes across, smug and sure of his victory, he finds the tortoise on the other side, patiently awaiting his arrival.

The hare doesn't lose because he's fast - speed does not work against him in any way. And the tortoise doesn't win because he is slow. The hare loses because he makes a ridiculous choice about how to spend his time, because he is irresponsible and arrogant enough to declare victory before he has finished. And the tortoise wins because he is brave enough to enter a race when the odds are stacked against him and persistent enough to make it all the way to the finish line without giving up or losing focus.

Speed's role in the fable is to exaggerate the lesson, to illustrate that even with a dramatic natural advantage - in the hare's case, speed - one must stay focused and resist underestimating the competition to win. On the flip side, one can race against unlikely odds if she is humble, courageous, determined, and focused. Speed isn't at fault in the hare's loss, and slowness is certainly not what won the race for the tortoise. Yet generations of readers and listeners have come away with the idea that slow is smart and fast is irresponsible.

It's true that the ability to delay gratification is one of the signs of maturity as children develop. But having mastered the skill of delaying gratification when we need to, why should we delay it on principle, for no extra benefit? And although there are some situations in which we will benefit from delaying gratification (more on that later), there's no need to dismiss it automatically as irresponsible or immature. Why do we believe that waiting for our reward is so noble? The "childish" impulse to have what you want when you want it is really no different from the reluctance to use snail mail when you can send email, to take the slow train when there's a fast one, and to beat around the bush when you want to get to the point.

But the lessons we're taught are confusing. For every story like "The Tortoise and The Hare," for every pithy quote that villifies speed ("Haste makes waste," "Rome wasn't built in a day"), there seems to be another aphorism, another lesson, that glorifies or encourages it ("A stitch in time saves nine," "He who hesitates is lost"). And while some aspects of speed make us instinctively recoil, we're quite attracted to others.

From "The Age of Speed" by Vince Poscente (pp. 33-37)

I've mentioned it before, but on Chris Doyle's (Head Strength Coach of University of Iowa Football) weightroom door is a sign that reads "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard". It bears repeating, regardless if you're a tortoise or a hare.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's In The Hips (That's Where It Is!)

Albert Pujols (left), Dr. Mark Cheng (center), Dani Samuels (right)

A while back now, I made the third installment in the Squat Rx video series for YouTube. The topic was proper recruitment of the hips and hamstrings into the squat movement. I was surprised by a contingent of people that reacted negatively to the installment, claiming that the role of the hamstrings and hips was negligible. They were, of course, fools, and probably trolls to boot, but it underscored a general lack of knowledge about squat mechanics and, more critically, the central role of the hips in athletics and quality of life. It harkens back to a day not long ago at all when doctors would advise patients never to squat, and physical therapists and trainers would strap their victims to a leg extension machine to rehabilitate them, later turning them out on the field to re-injure themselves. These days, you see more and more trainers hopping on the glute gravy train (one apparently wrote a book on glute training!) - time will tell if they manage to take it to its illogical extreme with endless drills and isolation exercises...

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a golfer. I know absolutely nothing about golfing, but I told this person that properly functioning hips were central to ALL athletics, including golf. By the look they gave me, I could tell they were not convinced. Three minutes of searching on YouTube was all it took to turn up the video below. Marvel at the hip extension Tiger Woods demonstrates with this drive. Let it put the question whether golfers are true athletes or not to rest once and for all:

Related Articles and Links:
No Glutes = No Results - article by Kelly Baggett (Squat Rx referenced)
The Hips High Position in Throwing - thread created by Dan John at the IronOnline Weight Training Forum

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Plan? What Plan?

Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it's about seeking out a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.
1) Pick a target
2) Reach for it
3) Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach
4) Return to step one

From The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle (pg. 92)

Usually we don't start out going in a direction completely opposite of where we want to go, but coordinates that are incorrect a few degrees can end up miles off target if we just keep slogging away.

Have a plan. Follow the plan. Tighten the plan.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sleep Debt

"Recovery doesn't come in a can. Recovery is sleep."
- Dan John

In any class of 20 students, if I ask 'How much sleep did you get last night?', it is rare that more than 3 students have slept at least eight hours. Usually, a clear majority of them will have gotten less than 7 hours of sleep. There's always a reason, and in the mind of an adolescent, it's always legitimate or grossly unfair (remember the entitlement post?). Those sleeping habits will follow them into adulthood.

Americans, in general, have no patience for cooking, eating, sleeping, or bathing. We do not enjoy them. We resent the inconvenience and disruption to work, our social life, and 'down time' they cause. They are things to "get done". Rather than enjoy them, we view them as unnecessary distractions from the things we want to do, the things we have to do, and the things we feel compelled to do.

Most of us experience "sleep debt" occasionally. To make up for the sleep debt, we may eat poorly because fast food is quick, easy and pumps us up (temporarily). The "nutritional debt" makes it more difficult to repay the sleep debt. For example, when we lose sleep because of stress or work, we drink caffeine and sugar to power through the day. The caffeine and sugar wreaks havoc on our energy levels, causing them to spike and plummet. ...and the caffeine makes it harder to sleep. It is a vicious cycle and the only way out of it is rest and recovery, and/or breakdown. We 'sacrifice' sleep and good food, but it's not really a sacrifice - there is no clean break and no finality. Problems will surface eventually. Repressing debt does not make it go away. Eventually our debt must be paid one way or another; repress the sleep and nutritional debt long enough and payment will be extracted physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Like most people, I wish I could get more, but I rarely suffer from an inability to fall asleep. Even under significant stress, I can usually switch off quickly and get restful sleep. I have only two pieces of advice that may or may not be useful for people with sleep issues:

*Examine Your Dietary Habits*
I firmly believe that better sleeping habits start with an improved diet and quieting an overly active mind. Caffeine and other stimulants, even when stopped early in the day can impact sleep negatively. Give it up, if you can - at the very least, stop intake 8 hours prior to bedtime. Poor nutrition can leave your body and mind hungry even if the stomach is not empty. Eat better and more frequently - reduce the highly processed, the pre-packaged, and "fast". Eat a light dinner if it is close to bedtime.

*Reduce The Noise In Your Mind*
We have become addicted to distraction. It assaults us on all sides in the form of text messages, 100+ mind-numbing channels of television, YouTube, emails, gum, cell phone calls, faxes, endless playlists and MP3 shuffle, and yes, even blogs... When the distraction ends and we are left alone with our thoughts, we cannot relax. An inability to turn off thoughts and anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep and impossible to go back to sleep if you awaken in the middle of the night.
Do yourself a favor and begin to unplug COMPLETELY an hour or two before going to bed. Turn off your computer, television, cell phone, iPod, and the light.
If you find yourself swimming in thoughts and worry, acknowledge the thoughts and then release them. Like good meditation, good sleep requires you to be present - make a decision to stop the inner dialogue and give yourself permission to enjoy the restful eight hours ahead.