Sweet is sweet, taking off armor, and a Turkish getup improvement

Brilliant friends,

Just some thoughts of the week. I’ve included something about food, something about mind cultivation, and a bit on strength training.

Sweet is sweet

Some desserts might seem healthy, but I have to look at the big picture. I got interested in the fruit preservation craze that’s rocking the paleo, homesteading, rewilding, and gluten-free communities.

I got some amazing strawberries from the farmer’s market, and delicious figs from my mom’s backyard, and made some compote and fruit leather over the last couple of days. I also made oat bars with flour and oats from a health food store. It was fun, but it certainly wasn’t beneficial to my body.

Whether it’s cooked-down fruits or processed sugars, it all affects me the same way. I get the crash, I feel crummy, and I wake up the next morning feeling hungover. I’ve noticed that gluten-free labels, all-natural or organic labels, and fad-diet-friendly ingredients are so good at disguising the same old problems. At the end of the day, you are still eating a bunch of refined stuff.

The only thing that’s been a consistently rewarding dessert for me is whole fruit or a sweet potato. I mean rewarding in that it’s satisfying, it doesn’t make me crash, it doesn’t give me acne, and it doesn’t make me feel hungover the next morning. Whole foods just seem to be the way for me. Looking back, I could have enjoyed the fruit as it was, fresh and whole, and walked away feeling much better.

Taking off armor

This is the practice of shedding the protective layers you built throughout your life: the reactions, the thinking, the precautions you accumulate to keep yourself from harm. The point is to uncover your heart and let wisdom and love shine. This is a concept from The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron.

Chodron says that whenever you come to a situation that is uncomfortable, you find an opportunity to grow. The growth happens when you figure out that you’re somehow shielding yourself from the discomfort, and you intentionally pull off that protective shield so that you can expose yourself. Through the process, you learn more about yourself and grow stronger in that domain.

This applies to so many levels of life. In physical training there’s always a weak spot or a point of discomfort that can be improved. It’s the movement portion over which you have some sort of mind block, whether it be a knee injury on the squat, or a shoulder tweak on the overhead press. Everyone has weak spots that can be exposed and developed.

This brings me to a tiny part of the Turkish getup, a strength training movement I’ve been practicing over the last year and a half.

A Turkish getup improvement

I found a sticking point in my half-kneel positions, both on the way up and on the way down. There’s a moment where I have the kettlebell held straight overhead, and I’m in a lunge position with one knee down and the forward leg planted.

I never realized this, but my hip flexor of the leg with knee down is still slightly flexed in the position. Another way to say it is that I’m slightly bent at the hips. I shouldn’t be – the optimal position is straight from the knee to the hips to the shoulders to the weight. On reviewing video I found it’s true for both sides. This flex causes my torso to be tilted forward. This in turn causes the weight to be in front of my center of balance.

The forward shifted weight causes what I have been perceiving to be a slightly uncomfortable moment. Both as I rise up and as I descend to the ground, I find that the moment my knee touches down there’s a bit of awkward tightness. I always felt a bit rushed or uncomfortable at this point, and now I pinpointed it.

I tried getting on one knee without any weight, with the other leg forward and foot planted, to open up my hip. I can lean forward very far if I let my front knee bend. However, when I kept my torso upright and focused on pushing back with the front leg, there was a lot of tension in the quad of the rear leg. I never noticed because I never thought to look.

I plan to work on mobilizing my hip flexors, which are the upper parts of the quadriceps that connect the femur to the pelvis. The fun part will be seeing how this affects that specific part of my getups.

The connection

So I learn another element of my movement on yet another day of practice. Run into an uncomfortable situation, identify the things that impede exposure, and remove to learn.

We do a lot of things on a regular basis and notice that sometimes we run into uncomfortable situations. The easiest thing to do is to hid from it, ignore it, or put up the defense for it. The more difficult way is to look at what is bothering us.

It could be a food that doesn’t make you feel great but is habitual. It could be the remark someone makes that offends you. It could be the nagging pain you feel when you walk.

We all have ways of skirting these sticking points in life. Ignore the symptoms, pretend you didn’t hear it, walk differently to avoid the pain. I find that there’s so much to address that I can’t hit on them all. But there’s always at least one thing that I can nail. One piece of armor I can let go.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Movement and the mind, walking in San Francisco

I recently heard a podcast between Daniel Vitalis and Ido Portal. Vitalis is a “rewilding” leader who teaches ways to live in tune to original human ways. Portal is a natural movement practitioner.

Portal said that the human brain developed to the size we possess today in order to power greater complexity of physical movement. We have so much ability in our bodies to move in such intricate ways because of the size of our brains. I haven’t had a chance to verify the research behind this statement, but I have had an interesting experience last week that correlated with it.

Recently I was offered employment, which required an initial two-day training in San Francisco. I didn’t want to make the two-hour drive back and forth for two days, so I stayed with a friend near the training site. I took the train up to the closest station, walked the hilly streets the rest of the way, and then used buses and ferries to get to and from my various destinations through the week.

Because the City was mostly clouded and chilly, I had no qualms about hard fast walking. On my last day I walked over 12,000 steps and scaled 33 floors, according to my phone. I’m pretty sure that a few of the hills I climbed were at least four stories high. Add the stairs at building entrances, transportation terminals, and walking bridges, and 33 doesn’t seem like that much.

I noticed that I was much more upbeat than usual. From the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed, I had a very positive mindset about things. I felt like I could do anything.

My mood was lighter and I was also more willing to take on challenges. Part of my motivation was probably from the necessity of catching transportation before it was too late. I was on a schedule, and I had to make it on time to places. The other thing is that I was always very early for everything. I wanted to decrease the risk of being late as much as possible. I was up at five for a ten o’clock training. It’s such a great feeling that comes with being ahead of schedule.

Above all else, though, was the constant moving. I was walking, walking, walking. I loved it. My ankles became uber mobile. Up to three days after I got back, I was able to sit in a squat with feet much closer than usual. My normal tightness from sitting was absent, although I certainly sat a lot during training. At times I was sweating, at others I was huffing and puffing, and mostly I was warm and mobile.

My conversations with people were positive, productive, and often powerful. I spoke with some people I might not normally have spoken to. I was quicker to respond, more creative, and more alert. And I slept better.

Yes, there are many factors involved. Different environment, new job, temporary situation. However, I deeply felt the connection between lots of moving and mind stimulation. I don’t know if I would have been the same way had I driven my car everywhere, sitting for hours in traffic. I don’t think so.

Those four days in San Francisco will never leave my memory. Aside from the amazing training experience, my awesome friends who showed such kindness, and the humming life of the City, I will always remember the vigor I felt from significant movement every day.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The triangle pose and making the bed

There’s a lot of things out there that can get you healthy and fit. Choose a few and do them.

If you didn’t look much further than this page, then here’s one: the triangle pose. It’s a pretty simple yoga pose. I learned it once from a nice, quiet evening class in Alhambra a few years ago.

  1. Stand tall with your feet together and hands together at chest level.
  2. Take a deep breath into your belly.
  3. Open your arms straight out to the sides, parallel to the floor, with palms facing the ground.
  4. Keeping your feet pointed forward, slowly scoot them apart to the sides. Stop when your feet are at about the same distance as your hands, or when comfortable.
  5. Carefully pivot your feet to face the left. Left toes to the left, pointed as straight to the side as is comfortable. Right heel to the right, foot can be at an angle.
  6. Keeping your knees as straight as you can, anchor your hips back to the right and tilt your torso slowly over your left leg. Keep your arms straight to the sides like a “T”.
  7. Tilt down and stop before your torso bends. Let your left arm come down to your leg and rest your hand where it naturally falls.
  8. Position your right arm vertical and keep your head neutral.
  9. Balance by two mechanisms. Keep your left leg taut and “pull” against your hamstring. At the same time, push your hips forward and “lock” yourself into place.
  10. Take easy breaths, and try to breathe deeply through your nose.
  11. After a few breaths, once you’ve found equilibrium, pull back up. Keep your torso straight, push your hips back to center, and regain the upright posture with arms to the sides.
  12. Slowly scoot your feet back to center.
  13. Bring your hands together at the chest and bring yourself to full height.
  14. Have a gentle breath in, and let it out slowly as you relax your arms down.
  15. Repeat to the other side.

This might not be the best yoga pose, but it’s the one I do.

The thing I love about this pose is that it sort of stretches me out, especially in the midsection, and it just calms me down. It’s probably because I use it as a small meditation time. I feel so good after doing it, especially when I’m outside, but even when I’m indoors it’s great.

The triangle pose is one of those things I’ve just been very grateful to have picked up and use almost every day. I can take it with me anywhere, and it helps to anchor me. It’s like making the bed every morning. Another simple practice that brings continuing benefit.

We’re always going to see the newest diet or exercise or gadget that’s supposed to make all the difference. If you’ve taken some practices into the fold before, and stopped doing them because of different reasons, try bringing some of those little things back. Some of the best long term practices don’t always make a big impact the first few times, but over the months and years you get a lot out of them.

What simple practices do you have?

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

Doing better instead of doing more

Atul Gawande, the famous physician author, writes in his book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance about the consistent miniscule actions that make elite doctors successful. He talks about the mindset of absolute commitment to excellence. Very few physicians uphold the highest standards in their work, and the few who do live by that level of commitment.

This came to mind as I thought about doing swings and getups every day. It can get a bit mind numbing after months of doing the same exercise, over and over. The principles of technique, form, and strength before volume start to slip here and there. I start to get accustomed to doing all the reps, all the sets. Every so othen the most important aspect of strength training escapes me: to do each swing with maximal force and each getup with maximal attention to form, and to stop when that can no longer be fulfilled.

It’s a matter of integrity, too, I know. You have to be honest with yourself and admit when you don’t have the strength to finish a set. But I think before any of that, it’s this absolute commitment to excellence. Just like with diets, I think that strength programs are easy to start, hard to keep going. To keep going the right way, that is.

Pavel Tsatsouline insists in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister that each swing must be done with full force. At first this seems like a no brainer. Sure, I’ll do my best every time, why not? Then as the weeks and months pass by, I find myself trying to finish sets with some not-so-hot swings toward the end. What gives?

Pavel talks about this natural preference within us to sacrifice strength for volume. When we get tired, it’s our instinct to try to get it all done, even if it means suboptimal output to reach that end. I’d rather hit the ten reps with a few weaker swings at the end, then stop at six when I feel my strength going down. It’s a strong urge to accomplish or finish a task, that’s socialized or built into me.

The thing to train for is maximal strength. It doesn’t matter exactly how many repetitions and sets get done. Yes, there are basic numbers to follow, and this helps us understand the general volume that is needed to increase strength. But the real cores of training strength are learning to do the movements and then doing the movements with maximal force.

Most school systems teach us to finish all the problems, write a prescribed number of pages, read a set number of books, achieve a certain GPA. This is ingrained in most of us from around age five to around age 21. How do you get away from that in a world that actually rewards the quality of the output?

Maybe I’m getting too deep here, talking about the education system and sociology. But that’s my mode of thinking, that’s where I come from in terms of schooling. So to me it’s about thinking but also doing outside the box.

Physical training is one of the most basic places to start with conditioning yourself in any aspect of life. It’s physical, so it’s right there. To do it, you are involved not just with your body but with your mind. You structure your learning, you commit to repetitions in order to improve, and it’s all inclusive. I even think the soul gets something out of it.

So in summary, I’m trying to say that we can think about physical training as the practice of giving the best in order to make that best even better. Rather than sticking to our grade school habit of making the teacher happy and hitting all the numbers, we can play to nature’s true system of improvement through excellence.

We can take care to only give maximal effort, and to withhold from doing anything that is not so. This is hard. Very hard.

Live powerfully,

Steve


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Seven Minutes

There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness. People are striving to be in the present and enjoy the moment.

There are certainly effective ways to make it easier to be in the moment. Remove distractions.

When you are spending time with someone, for example, switch your phone to airplane mode. Or turn it off. There. That’s a whole portal of messages, notifications, and pings that you close. And keep it that way until you’ve said good bye to the person or people with whom you had committed to spend time.

Now the only thing that will distract you from what someone in front of you is saying is something the person next to him is saying. And notice the organic ebbs and flows of conversation. They say conversation naturally slows or pauses every seven minutes…

Live powerfully,

Steve

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What I’ve Been Chewing

I know it’s been too long since I’ve written to you.

I’ve been traveling and figuring things out lately, and haven’t sat down to write in a while. There’s lots I want to share with you. Here are several things I’ve been pondering, developing, and talking about with people around me. Most of them you’ve seen from my blog before, but wellness is never a one-time deal for me. Being healthy is about practice, trying, developing, and building layers.

These items mostly came out of traveling and being “on the road”, meaning no gym, no permanent home, limited resources for training and cooking. I hope you find this useful, whether or not you’re traveling. After all, I started a lot of these things while working in a corporate office and living in Los Angeles. So it’s all transferable. Here they are.

Gentleness

There’s a book I love called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron. It’s about the wisdom in accepting your circumstances, loving yourself, and not rebelling against who you are. The book is written by a Buddhist teacher, mostly for people seeking the philosophy and technique behind Zen meditation. I read this in college, and the book has carried over to all other aspects of my life. Including physical training.

One of the biggest downfalls of the fitness industry is that consumers are not encouraged to take things slow, to work on themselves gently, and to train for the long game. Trainers, coaches, supplement companies, and magazines are full of the notion that the body has to be broken to become better. It’s your body. You don’t have to break it, or suffer, to become stronger. That’s not how things work.

In the short run, you might get big muscles, snaky veins, and a six pack. I understand the need to have these things. It’s been pounded into our psyches by mass media, and it’s part of our primordial urge to be fit. But what about the long run? Will you be well, functional, pain free, and freely moving years, decades down the road? Do you care?

There is a way to be strong and to remain strong for the long game. And that way involves gentleness. It requires you to learn about your body in every possible way as you develop your wellness. Be gentle with your eating. Be gentle with your body, your moving, your training. Be gentle with your mind. This comes into play when you realize that you are not going to get some specific result immediately. Eating a salad today won’t make you skinny, lean, and virile tomorrow. And it doesn’t help to eliminate fats, proteins, and carbs from your diet. See how going rough leads you into a downward spiral?

Step back, make gentle pushes, observe results. Test yourself, but don’t break yourself. The object of the game is to grow, to learn, to be healthy, happy, and capable.

Barefoot training

Feet have a structure and function that work only when they are unhindered. You have the ability to redevelop your foot structure, the right stance, the right walk, and the right movement patterns. It starts with taking off your shoes. Go barefoot at home, around the hood, and wherever you can in the outdoors. It’s just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. So start tiny.

We will see many products hit the “barefoot” market. Shoes, sandals, socks, sports equipment, and hopefully even transportation that lets us be close to barefoot all day long. I think this is progress. However, these products do not make you barefoot. Simply using your bare feet is different. Barefoot cannot be replicated. A “barefoot running shoe” is not barefoot. It is a shoe.

Train barefoot. Do strength training without shoes or socks. You can do them all if you start from zero, go gently, and progress responsibly. I have done deadlifts, squats, kettlebell, and body weight exercises barefoot. Orthopedic insoles did not help me. I had prescription plastic insoles for most of my adolescent years, into college. The pain of walking, running, and standing in shoes went away like magic. But guess what the price was? My feet got flatter and weaker, more prone to strains, and less and less able to hold me up the way they are supposed to.

Then I started following Kelly Starrett, and shed the insole supports. I wore flat shoes instead. Then I wore huaraches. But nothing beat walking barefoot outside, running barefoot on the grass and sand, and lifting barefoot at the gym. These activities, over three years, rebuilt the shape and mechanism of my feet. I now have arches.

So this is where I would link you to a product that I used, but I can’t because there is no product. You just simply need to take off your shoes and socks. However, there is technique that you need to use for proper development. Just like with all other parts of your body, such as your knees, your back, and your shoulders, for example, feet have a correct position and movement pattern. Place your weight on the parts that are meant to hold weight: the sole, the outer blade, the balls of your feet, and the toes. You’ll see that your arch, or insole if you don’t yet have an arch, doesn’t have to touch the ground. You’ll feel that springiness in your step. Walking, running, jumping. Try them all barefoot.

Figure it out and rebuild yourself from the ground up. If you need coaching, I can help.

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Fat first

From five years of self experimentation, drinking butter coffee almost every morning, traveling and eating for optimal energy, and talking with others experimenting with eating more fat, I continue to find that “fat first” works. This means eating fat for the first meal of the day, whether that be in the morning or afternoon or night. It means eating fat before eating other foods during any meal, or at least at the same time. Try grass fed butter melted into rice. And “fat first” means making sure to eat good fats, from good sources. Why?

Because fat is filling, fat is the building block of cell membranes and your nervous system and your brain, and fat gives you energy. Eating good fat from healthy animals ensures that you get the nutrition your body and brain needs before you fill up on other things like starch. Eating fat first means you get satisfaction and feel fuller from it. It helps guide me in my meals, because as long as I eat good fats I know how much of other stuff to eat. I feel more balanced in my urge to eat rice, veggies, and meat when I am eating good fats. Don’t think I don’t eat carbs. I eat lots of carbs, because I need it for my body composition, level of training, and daily activity. But my eating is moderated by the fat I’m eating. I guess I can say that fat is my primary source of satiety and energy, and my starting point for measuring hunger and portions.

Here’s an example of how fat is my nutrition measuring tool: if I feel the munchies, cravings, or urge to eat dessert at night, despite having eaten dinner, I’ll rewind through the day to see how much fat I’ve eaten. Most times, I’ll realize I forgot to mix butter into my rice, or didn’t have my usual butter coffee, or didn’t get the chance to eat any good quality fat that day. If I can, I slap a slab of grass fed cow butter onto some sweet potato and have at it. Fat first.

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Kids and perfect form

I am fascinated by kids who are allowed to develop physically without the restraints of bulky sneakers, cribs, seats, and overprotection. My friend lets his son walk, run, roam, climb, and play more than most parents I’ve seen. He also lets him do this barefoot, even outside. When shoes are necessary, they are soft, flat on the bottom, and flexible enough for the feet to do their natural job. The result is incredible.

My friend’s son is a dense-bodied mover, and he is able to hold his core rigid when he’s lifted off the ground, flipped overhead, and swung back down. He holds perfect spine alignment as he deadlifts a suitcase off the floor. This beloved mini-athlete sometimes gets into a yogic child pose, stretches out on his belly, and lifts his arms and legs off the floor in a reverse plank. It’s all play to him. And he’s barely a year and a half old.

I laugh and marvel at his feats of mobility and strength. At the same time, I feel excited about what this little kid represents. He shows me it’s possible to have a perfect squat as natural and easy as yawning. He proves to me that movements like the deadlift and positions like straight feet and straight spine in the squat are natural. It gives me an example to follow. Since the kid hasn’t been molded into cushy shoes, and since he hasn’t been confined to classroom chairs, his movements are intact. He pushes his limits all the time in the weight of the bins he lifts, the suitcases he pushes, and the stairs he climbs.

Doing these things is challenging in themselves, but doing them with minimal risk of injury and optimal strength is natural only because limitations are not yet put on our little friend. So what if you’re starting today, having already gone through the body-morphing gauntlet of “civilization”? You’re not alone. Modern life’s walls came up, boxed you into the appropriate shapes, and contracted your physical and spiritual expressions into the norms of the day.

It’s not about being a kid, or about glorifying childhood or youthfulness. No. Just look at the human form in its beginning stages, and you can find movement and position as it was meant to be. You can train your malleable body to obtain the strength, movement, and positions of human expression. The full squat, the unhindered overhead arms, the use of joint torque, and spine alignment are all obtainable with training and practice. Possessing natural physical expression and the strength to maintain it will free your mind and soul to build toward your greatest goals.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Practice

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I’ve been to less than ten yoga classes ever. I realize that might be more than most men, but even so, ten classes isn’t much for something I value so highly. Yoga is meditation through the moving and posed body, to me. As much as I love it, I have gleaned just one pose from those sessions: and I don’t even know what it’s called.

I love this pose. It connects me to the ground and the sky. I find my balance through it, and it’s gentle enough that I can do it first thing in the morning. I get a great stretch in my hips, groin, and shoulders. Also, I get some development in my foot arch by doing it.

The other reason I love this pose so much is that I get the chance, on sunny mornings, to have some sun time for my  eyes. I’m recently using the Bates method, created to improve vision. I’ve worn lenses for most of my life, and only recently have been discovering that I don’t always need them. So it’s been great time out in the sun as well.

It strikes me how little of what I learn from classes, books, and the internet actually sticks in my mind and gets put into practice. I am an avid learner. I believe that well thought programs or stories or instructions are to be carefully absorbed, digested, and correctly put into practice. There’s a big difference between your quick news article, telling you that omega 3’s are good so you should eat flax seed, and a book, which provides carefully gathered information and deep thought to tie it all together. So when I come upon good instruction, I take care to look at the details.

The latest example of this is in Kettlebell – Simple and Sinister, a book about beginner kettlebell training by Pavel Tsastouline. I love this book. It’s simple, concise, and comprehensive. The thing is, every word in this short guide matters. As I began kettlebell training, however, I couldn’t possibly incorporate everything from the book into my actual behavior. It’s always a matter of time and effort when learning something new. There’s just so much already programmed into my mind and body. It is taking lots of trying to add new movement and muscle recruitment, change old ways that don’t work, and get rid of the harmful patterns.

So as I learn to swing and get up with my precious modified cannonball, I keep going back to the text. There is literally always something that I haven’t incorporated, or something I missed, or a completely forgotten technique from the first few times I read it. And every time, it’s like an exciting new task to get it better in my next training session.

Practice makes perfect, they say. But what makes practice?

Will.

I look for information so that I can improve my self, my life, or the world. To take something from outside, however small, absorb it, and then make it a part of my daily life to my benefit, is the ultimate purpose of information. Yes, there is “entertainment value” in things. But even entertainment is a form of improving life.

The internet keeps growing. The rate of information growth increases by the second: every second, the amount of info added to the net is more than the second before it. This makes me sort of panic. How am I going to access it all for my advantage? I can speed read all the articles in the universe and end up with tired eyes and ears, if I use the audio versions too.

But none of it matters except that I can make practice of the stuff that matters.

When you took what you learned, tried it, liked it, and began doing it regularly, you made it a practice. And practice can make perfect. But through practice you also cultivate that golden fruit, experience. Pavel refers to Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan:

“We are built to be dupes for theories. But theories come and go; experience stays.”

Make it a practice.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Conquer; But First A Break

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The utmost control. Falcon 9 to deep space. photo credit SpaceX

Control is increased with ample rest.

Control is lessened with insufficient rest.

You will rarely get praise or encouragement for resting. As a matter of fact, it’s more likely that you’ll get condescending or patronizing comments from friends, family, coworkers, or your boss, for taking a break after working only a short period of time.

Pay them no heed. Listen instead to Benjamin Franklin, master of accomplishment: “He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.”

Apply this to physical control as well as mental and emotional control. A rested mind and body will empower you with more control over your muscular actions, your words, and even your thoughts. Emotions become smaller in scale and manageable when you have the energy to face difficulties. Reactions that you thought automatic are suddenly under your command.

Resting is simple. The act of resting can take many forms: sleeping, sitting, laying down, closing the eyes, relaxing, breathing deeply into the belly, loosening the muscles, mobilizing joints. We all know how to rest. But resting so is often trivialized and forgotten.

Realize that if you want to have better results in the end, rest is critical. You may not receive praise for taking rest. But the same people who criticize you for taking a break will also be the ones to give praise for the quality of your accomplishment made better through rest.

It is just as important to your performance to fully rest as it is to give full effort. Rest involves a good night’s sleep, but you can also gain tremendous recharge from periodically resting throughout the day.

Make it a point to stop your efforts before fatigue. Switch off while you are still strong, just past your maximum output, before non-productive tiredness sets in. For example, if you are trying to convince someone of your point of view, to win them over to your side of a tough argument, push the discussion to an intense point of disagreement, taking it further and further though you know it won’t go anywhere at the moment. Just as you or the other person is about to boil over,  cease your fire. Change the subject. Take a break and use humor to relax the mood, and give perspective to the differences you have. Things are not so serious. Once rested, you’ll find you can continue at full force. Your colleague, after the lull, will have his defenses down. Your opinions will seem less of a threat. The result will be greater and more impactful than if you were to endlessly press forward in an exhausted state. Do this repeatedly, over hours, days, weeks, for as long as you must until you reach your goal of winning him over.

The point is that giving it a break allows you some slack. You gain time and energy to build up another set of counterargument and creative problem solving. Pulling back also gives your colleague the impression that you are giving way. It puts him at ease, and loosens his control of the situation and ultimately disorients him.

Remember the simple lesson: you have more control in a rested state. With control comes precision. You will accomplish your tasks and handle interactions with ease, through use of well-aimed efforts and words. You eliminate unnecessary expenditure. The saved energy allows you to assess situations with greater clarity as they change, giving you the advantage of reorganizing efforts as needed. Risk diminishes because you can deftly position yourself for oncoming difficulties or possibilities.

Naturally, it will take less time and less effort to clear a yard of debris, or execute a difficult assignment, with periods of rest. You will have projects done without going in circles. Email sorting will become a neat, packaged task rather than a harrowing maelstrom. And in the end, you will have accomplished more with less work.

Finally, think of the effective tug-of-war team. The game is almost always initiated amongst a group of people not trained in any sport together. They’re merely gathered together for a work event or special reason. However, one team always wins. More often than not, the team that cooperates, pulls in unison, and uses a rhythm of pull and relax is the team that wins. This is because giving slack between pulls allows a moment of rest. Each member can quickly readjust their footing, their grip, and their posture in that moment to exert maximal power. Their efforts create a series of short bursts that destroy the sustained, ever weakening pull by the other team. They will never meet defeat by a team that has no organized effort.

Control is of the utmost importance in delivering effective action. It will enable you to build the world you intend. And rest is the fertile ground from which control regenerates.

Live powerfully,

Happy For Now

Right now, I’m happy.

It’s not that I’m well-rested. Nor that I’m well-fed. Nor that I’m sitting in a comfortable home on my earthing mat. Nor that the sun is bright outside, promising a beautiful day for training later. It’s not that I have family near me. Nor that I feel vibrant, strong, mobile, and well.

I’m happy because I am appreciative of all of this. I’m happy because this is what I let myself expect, want, and feel good about. I desire more, ultimately. I have dreams. And I will see them through. But I am at the moment, just now, here, satisfied with who I am, what I am, what I have, what is here.

I am not ecstatic, overjoyed, or excited. I am calm, serene, and still. I won’t be in this state for long. I won’t be happy all day, every day. It will fade, and I’ll enter one or another mood, state of mind, point of focus. And that’s okay. Happiness to me is about moments. It’s about ebbing and flowing, entering and exiting a state of awareness, an appreciation of the environment. And as transitory as it is, I still enjoy it and have it when I will.

Happiness for me is something to pull in and hold when it comes, then let go when it’s gone. What choice do I have? I can’t hang on to something that’s no longer there. Happiness is something I can be sure will come again, even though I let it go this time. Happiness is not nature’s permanent gift to me. It is a temporary reward for a state of mind I build. It is a result of mental, emotional, and physical work I give. And yes, it will fade. The rich aroma will run out. The warmth will dissipate. And I’ll accept that, in order to fully embrace and enjoy it when I have it.

To be sad, to grieve, to feel glum when happiness fades, can give way to greed. Greed is the opposite of happiness. To continuously want more, to not enjoy while something is in my hands, is to be greedy.  Greed is an absence of appreciation. It is constantly grabbing for something else, just out of reach, letting the good I have in my hands slip out in my grope for something else. It seems simple and innocent enough to feel this way, but you can see how greed feeds dissatisfaction, unhappiness, sadness, and anger. These feelings can lead to cruelty. Why should someone want to act gentle, considerate, and positive, when they are never satisfied? When they feel discomfort, unquenchable thirst, and grating want? Something as innocent as reaching, when you have something already, can lead to shameful consequences.

Happiness is not settling, though. Being happy does not mean you sit for the rest of your life once you’ve gotten something you appreciate. Settling is a determination not to grow. Happiness, rather, is the momentary appreciation of what I have, and it doesn’t dictate that I will not work for something else. It is a continuous state of taking, basking, and letting go. In this way, I can be happy all my life, although I won’t be happy every moment of life.

This is the difference that confuses many people, myself included. Happiness is not an ultimate state. It’s not a heaven at the end of life, a permanent place to dwell and forever feel “good”.  Quite the contrary. Nothing is good in infinite quantities. Golden retrievers, the Prius, coconut water – how undesirable they’ve become through ubiquity! Scarcity makes a thing valuable, cherishable, desired, delicious. Happiness is scarce. It is a rare fruit, something I can come upon, pick, and enjoy at points along the road. How much better a single, ripe pomegranate by chance, hanging from a happenstance tree branch, than a boxful at the store? If you have something all the time or everywhere, it’s just not as good. And that’s why happiness is so sought – because it’s so rarely had.

How to be happy more often then? It has a lot to do with your placement of needs and means of living. What you expect from yourself, others, and the universe will determine the threshold at which you find yourself satisfied. But you can see that this isn’t all. Even if your “current” needs or wants are eventually met, your standards might have changed by then. The other component to being happy, then, is to hold steady the expectations you’ve set for yourself – at least until you’ve achieved them and allowed yourself to reap the benefits of that achievement. Even if for only a moment, you will be in possession of happiness for the appropriate amount of time, and at the appropriate time.

You don’t have to do this consciously, like keeping a record of the things you want and then checking them off one by one. This sort of blatant, systematic approach might kill the whole thing. But if you are the type to need or take extreme satisfaction from doing such methodical things, then it might benefit you. You might actually find clearer, more recognizable moments of happiness. For others, the process can be a bit more touch and go. It can be something you think of every once in a while, setting goals and making note of your desires and only coming to it again when it is in front of you to achieve.

Either way, it’s important to see that happiness isn’t a permanent state of being. At least it’s true for me. And that being happy, when you are, can be a deliberate action, especially if you are not in the practice of allowing yourself to be happy. Study yourself. Are you the type of person who puts off reward, and feelings of satisfaction or achievement, even if you have truly done something well or achieved or gotten in possession of something you desired? Do you delay these feelings of gratification because you would rather wait for a greater moment of accomplishment, the ultimate desire met?

There’s much benefit from this sort of discipline. However, you might want to break down the accomplishment into smaller segments. Because as great as the reward may be for that ultimate accomplishment, you may never find yourself enjoying it or being happy. For, when you do reach it, how do you know that you won’t simply feel that there’s something better? And there’s always better, given the type of person you are. As much as discipline can give you great results, it takes discipline to acknowledge when it’s time to rest and celebrate. To never feel happy or satisfied can damage your well-being. It is good to let yourself enjoy what you have accomplished, although it might not be the ultimate goal.

That is, if happiness if what you really value.

Live powerfully,

Steve

NL 147 Coconut Water Bali Beach The Brilliant Beast Blog.jpg
Me, enjoying a coconut on a Bali beach. Happy. photo and editing by Audrey

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Pound-For-Pound Most Powerful Tools

I like to share some tangible things that help me in my “quest” for wellness. This time it’s a book. Actually two.

There is nothing that pound for pound has the changing power of a book. After all, how much does one printed word weigh? Is that even measurable in ounces?

Multiply that by hundreds of thousands and it barely amounts to one or two pounds. But the power that those words have in instructing, revealing, and illustrating truths for the mind can hardly be contained to a measurement.

Fire in the right hands can produce the advancement of civilization, and in the wrong hands can destroy it.

Then again, sometimes all you need is a candle flame to get your job done. Think melting butter versus searing steak.

There isn’t one book that’s right for everyone. And no one will find every book useful. This is all the more important when you consider the time, energy, and attention it takes to read a book. It’s a significant investment.

However, a few swimming strokes down the cresting wave are more effective and less tiresome than a hundred against it. The right book can catapult you forward. So pick your book wisely.

With any book you consider, read a bit first if you can, like the first few pages, the summary, or listen to the first minute of audio sample. Determine if it’s going in the direction of your endeavors. Will it be a powerful advancement toward your goal, or futile effort against it?

One human struggle close to my heart is the work-life balance. I believe people struggle to achieve this because it doesn’t exist. Just like the act of swimming and the act of riding a wave, I believe work and home life can either go along with each other, supporting and building up the counterpart, or clash against each other, drowning one and weakening the other.

It appears very simple to me: either build, with focused work, your own livelihood; or pay, with work, toward the livelihood of someone else’s dream in which you truly and strongly find inspiration.

Here are two books that have helped me on both faces of the coin.

The Four Hour Workweek if you intend to create your own business. It isn’t perfect for everyone and every type of endeavor. But you’ve got to take a glimpse to see if it resonates. Tim Ferriss makes plain the paradigm shift of separating yourself from the 9-5 working ranks, and to take initiative to start your own business.

The 48 Laws of Power if you want to learn the intricacies of dealing with politics in the workplace, and increase your influence on your own destiny. Many choose to let others lead, allowing them to take the brunt of the hardships of initiative and fear. These people would rather enjoy success in managing, making decisions, and helping to propel the endeavors of the leader they admire. It takes great skill to acquire and build power. This book by Robert Greene is a sure stepping stone to increasing your longevity in that art.

I hope you find one of these to be a powerful stroke toward the exciting wave that is your life. If you’ve read either or both, please comment on the effect the book has had for you. Even if it’s a year later. You never know who might find your words meaningful.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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