Squat heavy and face fear

Squat heavy and you know the deep level of psychological transformation you undergo to dip into the hole and come back. Hard training is different from hard life situations. In training, you control the level of difficulty and commit to it. In life, you can’t control the level of difficulty or the timing.

This is why training is so important. Physical training can prepare you for the hardships of life. The preparation comes from your mental capacity to deal with higher levels of sustained stress. Whether it is a physical load or a mental burden of fear, the same workings within the mind and body take place in response. Training teaches you to continue to function with precision under pressure.

When you train under heavy load, you will learn to stay calm while under pressure. It is physical pressure in training, but your mind must also deal with that force. You may want to escape, you might fear that the load will crush you, or you might panic in the belief that you won’t be able to make the lift. When you reach the level of skill where you can train with loads over twice your body weight, the principles will be magnified.

The squat simulates these pressures well because the load is above you and there is no external resting point for the weight. Once you unrack the weight, you are directly between the load and the ground. Contrast this with the deadlift, in which the weight could be dropped to the floor.

Without an immediate escape, the way to properly deal with the load is to accept it. Become comfortable with the weight. Grip the bar ever tighter, pull it down into the groove between your shoulders and back, let the bar become part of you. Find balance vertically and horizontally in your new, unwieldy shape. Keep in your peripheral vision the plates at the ends of the barbell. Gently hold them in awareness.

Balance the bar like a tightrope walker. Stay between your feet, as if you were on an island in the middle of a massive blue ocean. Grip the floor with your feet. Root yourself down like a thousand year old oak.

Keep your back tight and your ribs locked down. Your body is a concrete pillar. Allow only the movement of your hips and knees, opening and closing naturally as you descend and then ascend.

The only other movement comes from the belly as you pull in air to the bottom of your lungs. Press against the belt if you wear one, or build up an airtight balloon with your abdomen in lieu of a belt.

When you’re squatting double your mass or more, you will begin to feel the pressure. It’s a different force from the one on your back. It’s the pressure of fear and intimidation. The familiar feeling, if you’ve been bullied, of a bigger or stronger enemy staring down at you, threatening to crush you. The pressure is in your mind now, it’s crept in from the weight on the bar and is now knocking on the door of your soul.

The first stages of this level of difficulty in training will be easier to navigate. By this point you’ve built enough strength to be able to suck in a deep breath and blow past the fear.

Later, when the weight becomes nearly unbearable, you’ll learn to face it. Rather than stomping through the thin curtain, you see that it’s now a wall. The fear can’t be shaken from your head. Now, you’ve got to stay with it in there. Don’t waste your time or energy trying to run from it. Rather, root your feet harder into the ground, grip the bar tighter against your back, and solidify your belly right against that fear. Face it, and accept it.

You’ll see that this new pressure, the fear and intimidation, are merely different forms of load. All you need to do is recognize this, and make this pressure as much a part of you as the bar and the plates on your back. The fear that soaks your heart, the intimidation that fills your mind, they are fine.

Tighten yourself up and lock them in as you descend, and rise.

Apply this to life. You don’t have to squat heavy to use this principle. The next time you face someone or something that scares you, don’t run. Stay and face it, grip it, make it a part of you, and rise.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Getting Sleep with a Newborn

Brilliant friends!

About a year ago, I wrote about how I was trying to figure out how to sleep better. I set a routine around a two-hour train commute, getting up at 4 a.m. and sleeping around 10 p.m. Having dinner on the ride home gave me time to digest before going to bed. This improved sleep quality, although I was still tired on many mornings. I wanted to relax at home and talk with my wife, and I often stayed up past my prescribed bedtime. So there was a stretch where I was squeezing it all in, the train rides and work, evenings and sleep, and strength training.

Well, that was twelve months ago and much has changed since. During my wife’s late stages of pregnancy, I started to drive to work in case I needed to come for her on a moment’s notice. This shortened the commute by about half an hour, but I couldn’t eat while driving. I traded the benefit of eating early with the joy of eating at home with my wife. Although I ate later and didn’t sleep as soundly, I did have a little more time to sleep in the morning.

Then, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby, and I went on parental leave. Just before my leave, though, I took on a management role at my job. At the same time, I accomplished the StrongFirst Lifter barbell coaching certification. Within a week, my life became quite different.

All went well with my wife’s labor and delivery. When the baby was first born, we slept little. We woke the baby every couple of hours to feed her, day and night. We learned  she was having tummy issues with some of the food we ate. Until we figured out which foods to avoid to ease the pain of gas in her belly, our ears were tested by her unceasing crying. We discovered that whatever foods gave me gas, gave the baby gas, even if it didn’t affect my wife!

My wife and I were so short on sleep we had hallucinations. When I got up to walk the little human after her nursing, I was often in a daze of half-consciousness. I carried her around in the dark until my arms were numb with aching, my ears turned raw, and still I carried her more, holding her close. When she fell asleep in my arms, I would sometimes sit down and fall asleep too. I was amazed that my arms still held her when I woke an hour later, even when I ended up lying on my back with her on my chest.

My wife, still recovering from birthing our baby, stayed up to nurse her. Because she was also using the breast pump, the cycle of nursing gave her about an hour and a half of sleep at a time. She could barely wake when the alarm sounded, and often moved about with glazed eyes. She also endured the pain of sitting on a recovering bottom while nursing the baby for up to an hour at a time. Her parents and I prepared food and drink for her to have in bed. She needed all the nourishment she could get to make milk, and heal.

I saw a new kind of strength forming in us, the strength of parents. I had always thought of my wife as a warrior of sorts. Seeing her persevere as a mother in the most desperate hours of the night proved me right. It might not seem difficult to hold a tiny baby to let it suckle. But a nursing woman gives the essence of her being to her baby through her milk. All of her nutritional resources are tapped to make this food. She tirelessly wakes, positions herself and the baby so it can comfortably feed, and holds that position for fear of the baby unlatching. Every moment in the beginning is crucial for the baby to receive enough nourishment.

For the new mother, this must be done with her entire body in a state of trauma, just having been stretched to the point of bursting and just having gone through the event of birthing unparalleled by any physical sport endeavor. And, with that, only sips of sleep allowed by the universe despite her desperate thirst for it.

A newborn baby knows to drink from its mother, but the baby must learn to adapt to her mother’s body. She needs to get used to her mother’s breasts and belly and how to position herself in order to receive her nourishment. The baby will writhe and cry and even scream in agony in between good latches on her source of milk. And the mother must endure this initial adaptation for several days, if not weeks.

Seeing my wife go through this struggle gave me the false sense that I too was having the same struggle. But I learned that as the father, it was not my body feeding the baby. It was not me that needed to hold and nurse and stay awake and learn with the baby to nurse. I did everything I could to help position the baby, provide food and water for my wife, and set up a comfortable nursing place. But my role was different and I had to take that on without feeling guilt.

I heard from the maternity classes and books that the father must get sleep in order to be of use when the baby was born. I knew it must be true but didn’t realize the truth until the baby was born. It was hard to let my head rest when my wife was struggling. But it was necessary for me to sleep so that I could help her in my fullest capacity.

Ironically, it was so easy to fall asleep that I was able to nap almost on command. Since I didn’t work, I could actually drop down and sleep the moment I wanted to. The tricky part was to convince myself that I needed to sleep. There was always something to do! Between cooking, laundry, cleaning, and setting up breast pump materials, it was easy to get fired up about doing more. At times, I denied the dull ache of tiredness. But I learned to routinize sleep after a few terrible episodes of prolonged baby crying on no sleep.

A couple of days after returning from the hospital with our baby, I started a regular training rhythm with my kettlebells. Strength practice was one of the anchors in the storm of newborn care. It allowed me to create and release tension. Because I was able to create more tension in training than I had already built up from carrying and soothing the baby, I was able to release the whole of it.

Kettlebell training also rebalanced my body. I often carried the baby on one shoulder or arm longer than the other. After waking from a nap, I would be unable to extend the one arm fully, and one side of my back would be tighter.  Kettlebell clean and presses, swings, and Turkish get ups reset my nervous system and relaxed the tight areas. And of course, it made it easier to fall into deep naps.

I realized, from all the books and articles and pamphlets on baby care we read, that most experts don’t remember the first days after birth. They might remember the general difficulty and the long nights. They know the timing of certain baby development landmarks. However, I doubt that more than a handful actually remember the intense pain, the relentless crying, carrying the baby beyond the limits of sleep, patience, strength, and consciousness. I doubt more than a few remember the intense anger and sorrow and confusion and utter helplessness. Most don’t remember the moments when they wanted to quit, to throw the baby, to slam a fist through a wall, to weep, to tear oneself apart, to murder doctors and nurses, and to scream at family and friends. And even if they did, there would be no way to remember how it actually felt.

Humans are capable of great strength. Motherhood and fatherhood are among the greatest builders of this strength. With each step beyond my own limits, I knew I was growing stronger. Tests of our strength are necessary to push deep into the soul, to knead the spirit and shape it into a more resilient form.

The physical involves the emotional and the mental. Our conventional academic view of life separates the physical happenings from the mental and emotional. It is imperative to deliberately push oneself physically in preparation for the great emotional and mental trials that arise throughout life.

With all that being said, I guess I will sleep easily when I need to. As much as I try to shape my days to optimize sleep, it is also important to keep pushing myself harder. I find it more satisfying to really go for it than to stay comfortable all day long. Why walk when I can run? Why stay silent when I can mobilize to action? Why let happen when I can make happen.

Optimize sleep time while optimizing the waking hours.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Big decisions and keeping up kettlebell training

In making big life decisions, there’s the weighing of pros and cons, the cost analysis, predicting the emotional impact, and measuring the effect on your loved ones. In the end, though, there is the decision. Sometimes you make that decision based on the sum of all the math, however inaccurate, you did. But I think it comes down to something deeper. There’s a feeling, an inner arrow, or a surrounding vibe that you sense as you let go of your grip on the details.

Let yourself feel the pull of your daemon, and you may come up to find that you’re facing the other direction, or that you’re a lot further down the path to a decision than you thought.

I’m working through some major life decisions now and am coming close to the end of the process. Not sure where I’ll end up yet, but wherever that is, I’ll be sure to place myself there with full commitment.

Currently, my kettlebell regimen has been suffering, but I’m still going with it. With a long commute, I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep and I’m eating dinner pretty late. This is catching up to me. I am very grateful that I can have dinner with my wife, our dog nearby, and that the sleep I get is in a quiet and dark place. I have also been traveling quite a lot, almost every weekend for the past month. Training every day with the 32kg kettlebell was hard, too hard, with my small recovery time.

I took a break for almost a week at the end of July. During the weekends that I traveled I took days off from kettlebell training as well. All in all, I trained an average of four days a week in July, and three days a week in August.

This is rough on my psyche, because I take pride in my training. I feel accomplished, energized, and ready to rock for the entire day after a morning kettlebell session. I’m happy that I gained strength over time with such a simple tool as the iron bell. Not being able to train for so many days of the week is not easy to deal with.

It’s alright though. For now I’ll keep doing my best. The hardest part is getting up in the morning and starting my routine. If I lay down to nap for a bit, or if I take too long making my coffee, I won’t have time for training. The trickiest part is going to bed earlier. There’s not much time from walking in the front door to greeting my wife and dog to eating dinner and going to bed. I want to draw my time with my wife out longer, but I withdraw from my morning when I do.

Yeaterday, I did my first full training session in five days. It felt great. Still doing Simple and Sinister, 100 swings and 10 getups. Swings are two handed right now. I ventured into one handed swings a couple of weeks ago, doing one set for each side.

Boy is that 32kg heavy. I’m able to get the bell up to the top of my abdomen, but not quite fully up to chest level. And my movement is restricted with the strain. Yesterday was all two handed swings. Got in a small set of pullups before lunch. I love days like that.

Today was a day off, because I had to write out some plans in the morning. That’s fine. I’ll get back into it tomorrow morning.

Live powerfully,

Steve

What is love

Love is deep. It is real. Love keeps you going, day to day, it keeps you whole, year to year. Love for one another, love for yourself, love for the world, love for the universe and the way of things – it’s acceptance of what is, what a person is, what the weather is, what life brings. Love is acknowledgment, isn’t it? It is the force of accepting everything as it is and the power to act while holding that acceptance in heart and mind. Then it is the power to embrace the good and empower it and let it grow. It is the power to feel the bad and acknowledge it, and to know when to keep working on it and coaxing it to good, and love is also the power that tells you when to destroy the bad.

Gardening in the summer heat teaches a man to love things. It taught me a little bit about how to love the bees that drank nectar and collected pollen all around me, as I did my work next to them. I fear the bees and their sting, since I’ve felt the digging pain of a bee sting. I didn’t want to get too close at first, because I thought that the bees would attack me if I threatened their activity. But I realized through my work there that I too had things to do, as a man I had a place there among the bees and very close to them. I learned to move and stand and crouch respectfully, to dig and cut and pull and throw all around the bees and their paths of flight without offending them. And I saw that they understood me to some extent too, that they smelled me and felt me near and knew I wasn’t there to harm them.

This is one way to love. To be with someone, to be brave enough to learn how to be close and engage, and to respect enough to keep distance and move without hampering and threatening. To acknowledge everything, to accept as is, and to work from your own principles on the goals that you must achieve, in harmony with all else. To be in this world, as yourself, and to acknowledge yourself and accept yourself as you are. And then to get the power to act as a good person. Love is the power to know that you are not perfect, and that you have many flaws, and also to know that you are awesome in equally many ways, that you have many excellent qualities, and skills, and essences.

Love can’t be perfected, although it is a sort of skill that can be practiced more and more to be made more powerful in a person. Look at the universe, which is not perfect in any way except that it is exactly as it is. Being that as a man is the same thing, and learning that is loving yourself and the world. The more I see who I am without the asterisk, without the resistance and denial of certain aspects or past actions or unfavorable traits, the better I can act and live. And this is how I can come to love myself. Not because it’s a thing to be accomplished, to get some kind of trophy for the ideal self-loving man on a pedestal, but because it’s the only way. Love.

Live powerfully.

Accept and move forward

I just had some thoughts about where I am in life today. Most people will view the Quit-your-job-and-travel idea as a romantic adventure that puts life in perspective and adjusts life goals into better focus. It is.

Few people understand that it’s hard to do. The friends we talked to as we thought through our sabbatical, as we planned it, and as we turned in our resignation letters and started packing, recognized the magnitude of our decision and goal. There was major excitement, wonder, and fear from everyone, including my wife and I. Of course, looking back, I would say we didn’t know what we were getting into. Looking forward, we worried about what we would do when we got back. We thought about the obstacles to traveling with minimal luggage across borders. And we dreamed about the exotic places, the people, the food, the natural features of other parts of the world.

When we did go, we did see amazing things. We did meet people that we loved, and we did savor wonderful foods. There was time enough to sit and to let thoughts come and go, to let anxiety dissipate, and to understand a different time realm from the “nine-to-five” machine. Sure we had to use our money to buy ourselves out of the box. But that didn’t change the things we saw outside of it.

When we did get back, it was hard. We lived with my mom for a few months. That got rough, naturally, so we lived with her parents for a few months. We looked for work and income for a while, and eventually we decided that it would be better to get an apartment. This really motivated us to find work. And we did. The grind was tough at first. Every day back from our travels, every day further from that openness of time and space, felt dark. But within that darkness we had warmth. We had each other and stuck to our dream. Our dream of living life outside of the box.

Even as I work every day, even as she works every day, we do it differently. There’s no more crushing anxiety. No more narrow-minded misery. Sure there are tough moments every day. Yes we struggle and stress as we solve problems. But we appreciate every bit of work we can do individually. We appreciate the time we have to make a meal and eat and talk with each other at night. We appreciate every minute of sleep we can get. The sun goes down, and it comes back up, and we hold on to our goals, our passions, our desires, and our discipline.

On the surface not much looks different. We’re not perfect by any means. And we understand we’re vulnerable. But the picture is bigger now. The goal is longer. The determination is harder and the fire burns cooler but longer. Every day is a bite into the gift of life, a step forward, and a pull upward. When something happens to get in our way, we’ll be ready to accept, adjust, and keep moving.

Live powerfully.

No complaining

No matter how hard we try, something unexpected can happen and throw off the results of our efforts. The art of living seems to be how we take that kind of blow and act during and afterwards. It’s hard to accept when life doesn’t go the way we expect. It’s hard when we have had success in the past, and with the same methods and skills we now meet failure. And it’s hard to change our ways to learn how to succeed this next time.

Yesterday I was thinking about how physical training tests the spirit to fight and thrive. It does so because hard exercise requires the will to accept pain in order to win. Whether you train your body or not, it’s the same deal with the mind, isn’t it? When we have adversity and perservere, we pass the test of our spirit to fight. We get stronger. If we don’t succeed, we still get stronger.

As long as you keep your mind on the goal, there’s no need to languor about the hardships. The hard stuff, the tiredness, the stress, the injustice, it’s part of the exercise of your spirit, your willpower.

I think that complaining about the hard stuff is like grunting too loud at the gym. Everyone knows that lifting a heavy weight involves strain and effort, sometimes gigantic effort. There’s no need to make noise about it. The act of lifting that weight is enough to make the body stronger. The strain, the struggle, the fight in itself is what builds your body and even your mind. To yell or groan or make other unnecessary show of the pain is irrelevant and ridiculous. It’s a call for attention, an indication that a person is not satisfied with the growth from training. This person is looking for acknowledgment of their effort and they will not get it from anyone who understands nature.

And so I look for parts of me that still want to complain. When am I looking for acknowledgment, when I could be still and realize my growth? When do I not feel satisfied with the work I have done, and instead look for approval?

When I’m in the midst of the struggle, I often lose sight of the goal. I try to remember that this hardship or that is sometimes a random occurrence that I can’t control. What I can completely control, as Ryan Holiday writes in The Obstacle is the Way, is my own self (142). And that involves not complaining, not looking for attention or acknowledgment of my struggle, but accepting the hardship, savoring the burn, realizing that I am in the middle of growing and achieving my goal.

Live powerfully.

I’ll make my body

This was the response Teddy Roosevelt had for his dad as a young kid crippled with asthma. After a childhood of miserable breathing attacks, young Roosevelt took up his father’s offer to train his body to strength and overcome his weakness. The Obstacle is the Way, written by Ryan Holiday, says that “We craft our spiritual strength through physical exercise, and our physical hardiness through mental practice” (136).

It turns out that physical training also strengthened Roosevelt’s spirit. He developed the inner grit to face the obstacles of family deaths and wars. And he exercised every day through it all.

I’ve always known that exercise and physical training shaped the spirit. I just never really had the guts to say it. Hard physical training, running, doing drills, and lifting weights to the limits of the body, fatigues and builds the body. However, go deep enough, let the level of difficulty get hard enough, and you find that your spirit is tested. There’s no measure of this. It’s simply a matter of whether you will stand the pain and hardship, the burning muscles, the aching lungs, the heat, the cold, the impacts, whatever the pain may be, and whether you will continue to push ahead. It’s a matter of whether you will return for another day of training after that. This tests your spirit.

I don’t mean spirit as a separate ghostly entity contained within our minds or bodies or hovering around somewhere in another dimension. I mean spirit as the strength of the will, the determination to do, the absolute resolve we have to move forward through fear and pain. And I do think that physical training can show you your spirit, and it can bring it to life, and maybe even make it stronger.

I say “maybe” because there is also the factor of the mind. The second part of this phrase in Holiday’s book says we build “our physical hardiness through mental practice.” No matter how much weight I can lift, no matter how fast I can run, if I don’t want to do something tough, I won’t and thus I can’t do it.

Training every day with the kettlebell keeps my body lean and strong. This is only possible to do with the mindset that I will train every day. The physical training itself does not build my resolve to train every day. Actually, it makes me not want to train. It’s hard, it makes me sweat, it makes me use up a lot of energy, and I have to be out in the cold in the dark. Only the mindset that this is good for me allows me to cherish all of these “painful” things. Because I have set my will do exercise like this every morning, I have done it. And because I’ve been doing it, I see the strength of body and spirit I am developing. This is rewarding, and then of course the rest of it becomes fun. I savor the sweet, cold air in my nostrils and lungs. It cools me down after each set of swings. My feet have come to be fond of the biting cold ground. It’s a wonderful texture to work against to keep balance and exert maximal force.

I don’t feel sorry for myself when it’s raining outside. I love it. When I step out of my office into the night, I am comfortable with the dark and the cold. I can walk or run for block after block for the train station, and I’m not bothered that my lungs burn or I sweat or that I am panting. I love it, because it’s a great capability I have to be able to move fast and hard.

This chapter in the book is called “Build your inner citadel”. What a great lesson in life, that physical training is connected to spiritual strength and that mind training enables physical strength.

Live powerfully.

Being nice on the road is powerful

What a blessing it is to be alive!

The rising hint of sun and pink sky

The blue mountains etched with grey

The cold air in my nostrils

No coffee is too hot to drink in this cold morning. The steam from my mouth unfurls with refreshing vigor.

The street along the train station parking lot is often packed with cars heading toward an adjacent freeway entrance. There’s a left turn lane to turn into the lot, and I have to wait until it clears a bit to make the turn. The drivers heading in the opposite direction are in queue for a stop sign at a three way intersection up ahead. They don’t usually move very fast, but I used to have some trouble getting through. People wouldn’t stop, and sometimes they would speed past but end up blocking the entrance. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it gets a little stressful when I’m trying to make a train.

Well, from my road experience, especially in Los Angeles but also in the Bay Area, I found that it’s often more powerful and multiple times less stressful to be nice. This sounds like horse poo but really this is true for me.

For example, when I need to switch lanes on the roaring 101 freeway toward downtown LA, and there’s a driver parallel to me in the lane I need to get to, I could speed up and slide in front of that car, causing a bit of excitement and cheap pride on my part, and some stress and worry on the victim’s. That’s if my plan works easily. If the other driver is also doing what I’m doing, playing the domination game, speeding up too to block me out, well then both of us end up stressed regardless of who “wins”. Assuming we both make it out alive. When you’re dead, well, there’s no stress.

Alternatively, I could simply let off on the gas as I check the mirror, signal and check over my shoulder, and slide in behind the car. Stress on me? No. Stress on the other driver? Quite the opposite.

Here’s another one. I’m in a traffic jam and need to switch lanes, and signal and do the shoulder check and all that. Then the driver in the car the next lane over slows down and makes space for me to switch. What a cool gal. Before I go zooming off, I give a big wave long enough for her to see. Whether she actually sees the gesture or not, I don’t know, but I do know that every time someone’s given me that wave of gratitude I get good vibes. It totally acknowledges what I’ve done for the person, and reinforces that behavior in me. All that, for such a tiny move!

I’ll also say how cool it is for someone who has the right of way, or has the road advantage, to give the small gesture to go ahead before them. It comes as a nod, a slight wave, even a finger point in the direction you want to go. These are cool moments, quite heroic in the way that can’t be forced, admirable. Tiny, tiny gestures, but great actions. World-changing.

Back to the train station entrance. Today I wasn’t in a great hurry, thanks to good hustling upon waking, but I was ready for a little bit of friction as I neared. Lots of cars as usual, and as usual one driver that was in a position to help me did not. No worries, I waited for the wildebeest to pass. The car behind them was stopped. Not only that, but this person actually signaled for me to pass by flickering their headlights! Not high-beaming, which even with good intention can be obnoxious, but switching the lights off then on. What a subtle yet graceful move! Simple and brilliant.

I gave a good, long wave of acknowledgment as I passed. What a winner there. To be nice is one thing, and in itself it’s something to be admired and acknowledged. It is good for the world. To be nice with good taste, that is skillful and extraordinary.

Who would think to flicker their headlights off and on, rather than high-beam? Very few people. But now there are two of us at least.

Kind actions are often subtle, quiet, and in a funny way, embarrassing to the beneficiary because they’re vulnerable. They are like gifts and in a culture of independence we don’t like to receive unsolicited help. Many of us don’t even know how to receive. But we can learn.

Live powerfully.

The Down and Dirty of Creating a Morning Routine

The idea is to establish a complete and aggressive schedule that lets you accomplish essential start-of-day tasks and puts you in a winning position for the rest of the day.

Part of this is taking care of basic needs. Nutrition, elimination, and basic hygiene are some elements that are necessary to a good start to your morning.

Another goal is to include some type of meditative and physical exercise to get yourself warmed up and energized.

Steps

1. List the essential tasks in your morning. Things you must do to feel healthy and good for the rest of the day.

2. What is your deadline? If you work away from home, at what time must you leave in order to be comfortably on time? Determine a comfortable estimated time of arrival at your workplace, train station, or other final destination for work that is controllable. Then, use experiment or your most trustworthy phone application to find the time that you must leave in order to meet that ETA. Take five minutes from this leaving time. This is your “walk out the door” deadline. If you work at home, choose a start time and subtract a minute or two to get your deadline.

3. Make a list of times. At the top, write the deadline. Place your essential tasks below this. Order your tasks to follow a natural sequence for your body and mind. Remember, you will end at the bottom with the first moment if consciousness, the moment you wake. The next thing you do after waking could be physical and rigorous exercise, or it could be gentle and slow journaling. Think about this deeply and create the order of all your essential tasks.

4. Next, determine the number of minutes you want to give each task. Write them next to each task. Do not try to easily assume that ten tasks will fill an entire hour of your morning routine. Think hard about how long things take. For example, do you really need 45 minutes in the shower? Try imagining a 5 minute shower. If you actually went from 45 to 5 minutes, you would have 40 extra minutes to do some awesome, fulfilling morning tasks. With that being said, showering may be the best part of your morning. It is up to you to decide what you want to get done and then how much time you will give those things.

5. Calculate the times and find what time you will need to wake up in order to complete all tasks. Surprised? Decide whether you will go to bed and wake up early to make this happen. If it’s too early, adjust the durations of your tasks and consider eliminating some tasks. This compromising may cause you to reconsider waking up early.

6. Open up your alarms setting on your phone or computer. If you don’t have multiple alarms, you can either write your schedule clear and large on paper, or purchase however many analog alarm clocks it takes. Set your deadline alarm with an appropriate, no nonsense label like, “Walk out the door”. Have it actually sound an alarm, something alarming.

7. Set the start time of your penultimate task, label it if possible, and make it silent if you have family or roommates. Go down your list of tasks, setting alarms for the start times of each task, labeling them, and silencing them if you want.

8. Set your wake up alarm. If you have a second alarm clock, preferably a battery- or windup- powered mechanical clock, set the wake up time on that too.

9. Place the secondary alarm clock outside your bedroom door. Have it on the ground if you can bend over reasonably well, or somewhere a bit lower than comfortable. This will make you move and will wake you up!

10. Place your primary alarm, the one with all the alarms on it, even further away from your bedroom. The next room over or the living room, depending on your home layout. You will now have to hustle to turn this second alarm off. Furthermore, this means you will need to leave your phone, if that’s where the alarms are set, outside of your bedroom. You won’t be needing it once you’ve gone to bed. Put that thing on airplane, plug in the charger that you’ve cleverly removed from your bedside nightstand, and get serious about sleep.

11. Go to bed, wake up when your alarm goes off, and get your morning started.

Live powerfully.

Ringing in a beautiful day with my kettlebell

Two weeks into Simple & Sinister training, doing daily sessions of one hundred swings and ten getups, I saw that I was getting strong in a new way. I did not learn to control a swinging mass through powerlifting. Nor did I lay on the ground and lift a weight up to standing, guiding my shoulders through all these different frontiers.

When I was two months into it, the daily training got me stronger still in new ways. I formed and tore callouses. I recovered faster from training. My work capacity increased. I became more disciplined.

When I was four months in, I started to feel like I was really getting a handle on the bell. Swings felt easier, more natural. Getups became less of a workout and more of a practice.

Six months in, I realized I was getting even stronger. I was beginning to develop skill and could see between the frames. I saw the inner parts of the movements I thought were seamless and found weakness and hesitation. I didn’t always pull back with my lats on every swing. I sometimes tensed too much and became weak at the top of the float. I found more effective cues and more efficient methods of executing the movement. And on every stage of the getup I felt tiny instabilities, slight immobilities, and ounces of doubt that had built up over time. I began to work on these in-between gaps.

Nine months in now, I wake up and see that there is a stronger familiarity with the kettlebell. What once was just a sphere that I swung and lifted has turned into a more granular entity, with endless bumps and nooks and crannies and irregularities. Every bit of the molded iron has some say in how it will move and challenge me. And I am learning enough of the language now to respond in an elementary way.

I’m finding that it’s better to relax and treat the swing like a game of throwing the bell forward. Better to take on the spirit of a playful dog than that of a charging bull.

I’m also seeing that getups must be done with full intention. There is nothing outside of the goal of pushing that mass up and focusing on it until it’s back on the ground. Everything revolves and builds up to that.

I take up the same kettlebell every morning and find a new lesson prepared in that cold iron each day.

Live powerfully.