Travel in Wellness and Spontaneity

You don’t have to iron out every detail of a trip to have a fun, safe time. Leaving room for spontaneity can let in some amazing experiences that you just can’t plan.

If you’ve ever traveled with me, you know I’m pretty obsessive about daily nutrition and mobility. If you have that same need for taking vitamins and doing your stretches like I do, then you know it’s tricky to plan longer trips. But being able to appreciate the small things during travel is a big part of why we do it.

A few wonderful things that deeply touched my wife and I during our last trip: free bus rides, belly laughs with strangers, spot-on food suggestions in unfamiliar neighborhoods, and a look into the real, raw character of locals.

A couple of weeks ago, we trekked through the crisp winter of the Pacific Northwest with packs secured to our backs. The steamy puffs of our breaths led the way, the air crisp and the streets shiny from rain. We came upon many friendly, robust people in the cozy shops along the drizzly streets of Seattle.

We made friendly conversation with shop owners along the bustling Pike Place Market, bus and Uber drivers, and baristas and waiters who diligently tended to coffee shops and cafes. The perpetual overcast sky made it extra lovely to step inside of stores and public transit. It also seemed to have weathered and made wise the residents of this town.

We rolled through the snowy redwood forests along the coast up to Vancouver by train, and found another town that was used to the cold, but very different from Seattle in character. English in numerous foreign accents mixed with equal amounts of musical French tones.

A bright young British waiter in Gas Town shared a list of places to see on New Year’s Eve; the brusque Downtown poutine restaurant owner with braided beard proudly served up excellent smothered fries; and the humble staff of a unique Aboriginal hotel welcomed us to a place full of First Nations art: bold, colorful, and spiritual.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the holidays. As with any great trip, though, we had a few, let’s say rough, days. I barfed my soul out (twice) from food poisoning. While I was sick in bed, the fire alarm went off in our hotel and we had to evacuate.

As soon as I was recovering, my wife had mild hypothermia after a short hike in the below-zero climate; on our way back we missed the bus and delayed our return to our hotel.

To top it all off, a hefty earthquake in Vancouver gave us a bit of a shake. Being Californians, we sort of let our attention drift past it and continued to watch Netflix in our room.

It wasn’t any one of these things that was particularly difficult. It was all of them combined over eleven days of travel.

In the face of these difficulties, though, we had a blast and made it back alive and well. Unlike me, wife does not like to set out on a trip without ample planning and a set itinerary. We used a foundation of tools and habits to navigate unfamiliar territory and unexpected circumstances.

We made many decisions – how to get somewhere, where to eat, and what to do next – on the fly using these tools. But the tools were only as useful as we were ready to benefit from them. We made use of habits to prime ourselves for spontaneity.


Have a Daily Routine

I know, I just said we were being spontaneous. But having intention and a general flow in mind for each day  allowed us to choose the end points as they appeared in front of us. We still avoided planning it all out ahead of time.

  • Mornings:
    • As much as I could, I journaled in the morning. I used the Five Minute Journal and my own notebook for solidifying thoughts. It helped to reflect upon the amazing, the stressful, and the mundane things that happened each day and to write them down in my own words.
    • Breakfast and/or Butter Coffee. We found the nearest, best coffee shop or cafe. I got a cup of coffee whenever I could to add to my thermos, which I prepared with grass fed butter inside.
    • First point of exploration. We didn’t restrict ourselves to a fully scheduled day, but having one place or activity to start served as a guideline.
  • Midday: We left this time of day open to continue something great from the morning or find something else to do before dinner. For example, a tour guide that took us below the streets of Seattle suggested getting food in the International District. This brought us to a hot, tasty meal in a dumpling house where I got my veggie fix for the day.
  • Evenings: The sun set around 4:30 p.m., so it was important that we started to think about where we were going to get dinner earlier. This allowed us to figure out how to get back later, or end up within walking distance of our resting place by the time it was dark.

Remain limber

Hips, knees, feet, back, shoulders, you name it. Traveling on foot is physical! Pick a simple set of movements and bring minimal equipment to do them. Body weight exercises require the least packing, of course.

  • I used one Iron Woody Fitness band in the evenings for strength, when we didn’t have an extremely tough transit the next day.
    • How I did deadlifts and rows: step on the middle of the band and, bent over with a solid torso, pull up on the ends. Grab closer to the feet, keep arms straight, and use hips to push up for deadlifts; grab closer to ends of band, remain in bent position, and pull up with arms for rows.
    • For resistance pushups: wrap the band behind upper back and hook the ends in hands. Get in pushup position, trapping the band ends on the floor. It takes a bit of adjusting on the ground to get in the right position. A bit uncomfortable, but a good exercise if you maintain a solid torso and keep your hips from bending.
  • I did hip mobility in the mornings before getting fully dressed.
  • Calf stretches and squats were perfect for waiting to cross intersections. Always happy to give locals fodder for conversation!
  • Overhead arm stretches on the bus and train, using the rail overhead.


Nutrition on the Go

It’s difficult to eat well on the road with limited resources, so draw a bottom line below which you will not drop. I packed some stuff and found the rest on the go.

  • Good fat is non-negotiable for me. It’s my best fuel and wellness weapon. This is usually something that’s hard to pack and carry, so finding fresh sources of good fat is key.
    • Butter coffee. I get unsalted grass fed butter at specialty grocers if available. To prep for the day, I slice a chunk into my Thermos in the morning, and add a cup of the best possible coffee once I find it. Shake and magic. Best butter so far: Kiwi Pure, New Zealand brand from Whole Foods in Vancouver. Bam!
    • Egg yolk – the unparalleled healthy fat fix outside of grass fed butter. When there’s no Whole Foods, cafes that serve eggs are key. I get my yolks minimally cooked, like soft boiled, poached or sunny side up.
  • Green leafy veggies. Best bet is Chinese restaurants. Bok choy, on choy, you choy. Delicious life savers.
  • Micronutrients. I bagged my supplements in day and night portions. Eleven days’ worth fit into a small plastic tupperware. Each morning I pack a day baggie with me to take with butter coffee or breakfast. For this trip we brought an extra suitcase, so we usually had a room to return to each night. This allowed us to keep things there while we walked around the city.
    • Mornings: Vitamins D, K2, B12, Methyl Folate.
    • Night: Mg (Natural Calm powder in water), Vitamin C, and Kelp.
    • Other essentials:
      • Extra Vitamin C. One of the cheapest and most effective supplements. I pack almost a full snack baggie full and take a little throughout the day if I have the sniffles.
      • Activated charcoal for food poisoning and after eating wheat, beer, wine, or fried foods.

Last Minute Navigation

So how do we do things last minute? Here are some of the apps we used:

  • Yelp and Foursquare (better for international) for single source coffee, the nearest bank, and the tastiest croissant.
  • Google maps for public transit.
  • Hotel Tonight app for last minute hotel deals. Genious tool found by my genious wife.

Books we read for quick background info on places:

  • Lonely Planet Seattle. Gives both objective and opinionated reviews and tips.
  • Frommer’s Seattle Day by Day and Frommer’s Vancouver and Whistler Day by Day. Great culture insights to both places.
  • Fodor’s Vancouver & Victoria. Great guide to neighborhoods for pedestrians.
  • All of these books had the maps in good shape from the library, so we made good use of these as well. Nothing like a good paper map to see the bigger picture! I know, I can be old school.

So, use habits and tools to allow yourself to make decisions as you go and to travel in wellness. The important thing is to be open to the spontaneous interactions with people and get yourself immersed in the moments that happen. Prepare and then explore!

What have you used to find your way around unfamiliar towns? Are there specific habits you’ve utilized on longer trips? I’m planning on more travel in the near future, so any insights will be appreciated!

To powerful living!



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Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge Steve Back BrilliantBeastBlog.jpeg
The beautiful Lynn Canyon suspension bridge in North Vancouver


The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day

How to Make Butter Coffee

Iron Woody Fitness bands

My go-to Kelly Starrett hip mobility exercise



Hotel Tonight app

Lonely Planet Seattle (Travel Guide)

Frommer’s Seattle day by day

Frommer’s Vancouver and Whistler Day by Day (Frommer’s Day by Day – Pocket)

Fodor’s Vancouver & Victoria: with Whistler, Vancouver Island & the Okanagan Valley (Full-color Travel Guide)

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Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

I will only link to tools that I have used, found meaningful, and that I believe could benefit my brilliant readers.

Decision Fatigue

Brilliant Friends,

Decision-making burns resources as much as physical activity. It requires mind energy and biological fuel, sometimes as much as hiking a 14-mile trail or playing a two hour long game of football.

Tim Ferriss talks about the biological cost of each decision we make. We have a finite amount of decision making power per day, and it is essential to an effective life to allocate that resource wisely.

This probably is not the first time you’ve heard this principle, and you’ve probably dwelled upon and implemented it in your life.

So just like with physical performance, we can build up our capacity to make decisions and to make them better and better.

One tool for increasing decision making capacity is the 80/20 principle. I’ve found that certain people demand more of my resources than others, and it’s often not someone that I want to spend more of my decision making power on.

It’s important for me to triage the people, questions, concerns, and problems that I choose to engage, especially at the start of my day.

To do this, I have to be sharp with the responses I use to address people. If I determine that someone is bringing up a problem I choose not the address in the moment, I let them know that we’ll return to that later. The hard part is how to do that without making them feel bad, but sometimes I can’t worry about that.

To follow the 80/20 principle, I choose to spend 80% of my decision making energy on the 20% of problems that will make the most impact for my company, life, and well-being.

Having a set of premade decisions for common problems helps to conserve resources. For low-cost or low-level decisions, pick a route and stick to it every time you are confronted with the same or similar problem. This saves you the time, energy and attention it would have taken to weigh all the options every time. And you become more consistent.

For mid-level decisions, where the cost of a mistake is significant but not debilitating, it often comes down to a simple choice. Both sides, both possibilities, both forks in the road could be good options, and it simply comes down to the one you choose. For these problems, practice going with your gut feeling.

Trust your intuition, feel out the right one, and make the call. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t waste resources.

For the high-level, high cost, irreversible decisions, put all your time, effort, and attention into making the right choice. Sometimes it will never reveal itself to you as the correct decision, but you can conclude that it was the best possible thing to do.

And that’s what matters at the end of the day.

Let me know your thoughts.

To powerful living,


Click below to hear Tim Ferriss’ podcast on How to Avoid Decision Fatigue

Wikipedia article on Decision Fatigue

A BULLETPROOF® article on Decision Fatigue caused by poor nutrition and how it traps people in poverty

Get Sunlight

Brilliant Friends,

Get sunlight every day as soon as you wake up, or as early as possible in the day.

Sun touching your skin induces production of vitamin D, essential to thousands of gene expressions.

Sunlight causes production of sulphur, also essential to your body’s functions. It gives you the sort of “high” that you might have noticed from being outside.

So being in the sun helps your body function and literally makes you fell better.

It can will help set the circadian rhythm in you, if you’re having trouble sleeping early. This also helps you get up earlier, feeling ready to go sooner after waking.

If you can’t get outside first thing in the morning, or you have to push it off because you’re running late, do it later. Just try to get a little every day. Start somewhere. You’ll find that you want more and more of it, and it’s a habit that gets easier and easier to do.

To powerful living,

Steve Ko

Join My Newsletter

Brilliant Friends,

I’m writing about strength. Mobility. Mind cultivation, meditation, focus. Good eating of real food. Earthing and connecting with nature.

Meditate with me, go deep on strength training, throw off your shoes and have the earth’s energy. Eat well, sleep better, be stronger through exploration of food, thought, and form.

Change the world with me. We are each a part of the universe, and as we become better, the universe becomes better. Realize your power. I’m seeking to release my true potential, and I ask you to do the same.

Live powerfully!


The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Meditation and Powerlifting

My Brilliant Friends,

I used to think meditation was for religious people, or Buddhist monks. I first tried it in high school though and noticed some very real benefits to sitting, breathing, and focused mind exercising.

More than just “clearing” the mind, it’s a practice of setting yourself back to zero. Equilibrium.

Meditation helps me to take root in myself and come from a place of solid foundation. I’m aware of myself, who I am, why I think and feel what I do in specific situations, and how I react to cues. Knowing this through quiet breathing and awareness of the things that live in my mind allows me to let it go and just be myself.

During my first powerlifting meet, breathing and awareness helped me to stay calm and focused. More than the amount of weight I was attempting, the newness of everything, the nervousness of being there for the first time, and being in front of the judges and spectators could have been an overwhelming wave of stimuli. I warmed up a bit and went to my car to turn on the emWave2, for some breathing, calming down, and focusing. This substantially leveled me out and positioned me to utilize all my skill and strength that I had built up during training. I successfully achieved my goals for squat and deadlift. Bench press wasn’t a great concern, but I did hit a PR as well.

EmWave Powerlifting Meditation

Some short and long term benefits of meditation that I experience:

  • Calms nerves
  • Self awareness. Seeing where thoughts come from, identifying fears.
  • Letting things go that are necessary baggage
  • Reduces effects of lack of sleep
  • Focus and concentration improve
  • Ability to be clear minded in the middle of stressful situations
  • increases oxygen to the brain and rest of body
  • Happiness
  • Pure joy and bursts of laughter, if you get deep enough long enough
  • Helps relationships, from increased self-understanding
  • Mind healing. You become aware of traumas, sources of stress, and become empowered to work through them.

For powerlifting, it’s invaluable. Anything that requires a high level of performance can benefit from focused breathing and mental equilibrium.

At the 2014 California State Championships in Irvine, I pulled my first “official” deadlift of 391 lb. Watch me take a deep breath in and out before grabbing the bar, in front of the judges and everyone.

I didn’t really know if that was gonna come across as weird, but I wanted to give it a try because it’s something I do at the gym before challenging sets. Most often, at the peak of our performance demands, the challenge isn’t in our musculoskeletal capabilities, but in our minds’ ability to allow that power to be released in full.

On my hardest training days, when I had trouble getting myself to put on my shoes and get out the door, it was a battle of my mind. I didn’t want to face the heavy weight on the bar, for fear of failing, fear of getting injured, fear of being weak. I dragged myself many times to the gym when I did not want to go. And when I got there, most of those days I performed better than ever once I tucked my head under the bar and lifted it off the rack. The key was to jump through the fear, grip the bar, and do what I knew I could do.

Tim Ferriss encouraged me through his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, to “feel the fear and do it anyways.” He challenges his readers to identify the worst case scenario, the thing we feel most afraid of, and when we do that, we realize it’s not so bad after all.

To do this, especially in the moments of paralyzation from our greatest fears, it helps to have trained yourself to go the route of courage. I’m more able to face challenges now if I am meditating regularly and identifying my weaknesses, my kryptonites, and simply knowing that they exist. I recognize my weaknesses in real time because I know them. I practice pausing before I react, focus on the problem at hand, and harness my resources and skills to effectively address the problem.

When the problem is a heavy weight in front of me, and fear of getting crushed by it, getting injured, or embarrassed, it’s in the mind that I first address all of this. I take a moment away from the bar, close my eyes, and take a deep breath or two or three. I concentrate on the breath going out, revel in my brain’s love of oxygen, and come back to my core self. I become me again, let go of the thoughts and nagging possibilities, and when I’m clear and strong, I open my eyes and step up to the bar.

Only then can I grip the bar, suck in air, and crush it.

To powerful living,


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Steve EmWave2 Meditation Powerlifting

Note: the links to the EmWave2, which is a heart-rate variability device used to aid in meditation, and the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, are affiliate links with I get a percentage of their sale if you use the link to make a purchase. I only share things that have made a significant impact on my life in this blog. Hope you check them out and enjoy!

An Introduction

Getting a down signal from the ref at the 2014 USPA National Championships in Irvine, California. I pulled a 391 lb. dead lift at 168 lb. body weight. Started the day with 2 cups of butter coffee.

Many have delved into the world of body building, and have experienced shortcomings from pain, exhaustion, and mental fatigue.

To the select few who realize this is not acceptable, I welcome you to join me in being strong, clear minded, and living a life of quality.

My story began with a change in the way I looked at training and exercise. I played football and rugby through high school and college, and was ripped, athletic, and fast most of my life. I had done the workouts for team sports, the men’s magazine lifting programs, and was a dedicated gym rat with a three day a week work out schedule. I looked good and was happy with that for a while, but later this didn’t satisfy me. I was tired of feeling sore, feeling aches from previous sports injuries, and not really knowing if I was any stronger than a week or month prior.  I also had a hard time keeping on muscle. If I didn’t go to the gym every other day, I would see pounds of weight drop and strength decline. I tried changing sets and reps and exercise programs to keep my body guessing, as this was supposed to encourage growth. This was a lot to maintain and I had a hard time doing so.

I started looking for a training program that focused on real strength. This led me to powerlifting and a progression philosophy. I adopted a 5×5 training method from that focused on incremental strength gains, not drastic program switches. The five powerlifting exercises remained exactly the same, and only the weight increased with each and every training session. I started from the very beginning, lifting only the bar on some exercises.

I not only felt better from the decreased stress on my body, but I also saw a steady increase in my strength. Lifting lighter weights gave me the luxury of refining my form in the squat, deadlift, and other exercises. I achieved a 370 lb. squat and 391 lb. dead lift after one year of training this way, at 168 lb. body weight. However, the training wasn’t the only factor to my increased potential. Food was the other part of it. In fact, without the changes in my diet that I had serendipitously come upon shortly after starting this training, I would not have progressed to this level so quickly if at all.

Three months into my training, I met a buddy at the gym who just so happened to have started the same training philosophy as I had, at almost the same time. We talked about our common satisfaction with the progression training, and about putting ego aside to learn proper form at lower weights. At the end of that training session, he mentioned, almost in passing, something called BULLETPROOF® Coffee. It was coffee with grass fed butter and MCT oil blended together. This sounded strange to me, and I was instantly fascinated by the way he described the high level of focus he got from it. I went home and tried it, and never turned back.

With the first few cups of the butter coffee that I tried, I was amazed by the mental clarity and brain energy that it gave me. Plus it was delicious. It changed the game for me at my job, as an overnight shift lead at a call center. I was sharper and more resilient to fatigue than my coworkers by multiple factors. I had always been an avid coffee drinker and used coffee as a key technology for enhancing my training sessions and overall performance as a human. Naturally, I wanted to know what it would be like to do strength training after drinking some of this power fluid.

I started to drink the concoction before strength training sessions, and again I never turned back. The energy it gave me was different from that of traditional nutrition like carbs. Unlike carbs, the good fats provided me with a sustained high level of energy and mental focus. It lasted through the entire training session without any sort of energy crash. I was so focused that I could control myself better, like not drinking water between sets, breathing calmly under the bar, and paying absolute attention to form during my heaviest lifts. I was regularly in a flow state, and I tapped into the predator mode of mind and body that was only attainable with such nutrition as quality fat.

This was my intro to the world of eating good fat. I slowly added grass fed butter and MCT oil into everything I ate. This pushed carbs to the back end of my days, as I did not need it for energy in the morning. Eating more fat and learning the potential negative effects of gluten significantly reduced the amount of bread and pasta that I ate. I started to experience better and more stable mood, and more consistent body fat levels. My joint pain from previous injuries faded. I no longer had to pace my kitchen ten minutes after waking to shake off the debilitating lower back pain.

Being satiated with true nutrition freed me from cravings, mood swings, and exhaustion. Before I discovered good fats and progression training, I would work, work out, crash into exhausted sleep, and awake demon-possessed with rage, pain, and frustration. These states of misery used to be normal life for me. The people I loved hated waking me up. I believe what is stated by the research that connects wheat to inflammation, and thus joint pain and brain impairment. When I started to avoid wheat, I noticed these incredible improvements in my body and my mind. This transformed the way I looked at eating and I started to learn what foods I really did and didn’t need. I tested my diet changes against my strength training, and was surprised that even without tons of bread, expensive and gas-producing protein shakes, and pounds of chicken breast every week, I was getting stronger and clearer than ever.

With changes like these I felt the best and strongest I have ever felt in my life, and I plan on being even more so. You want just as much as I do to be clear minded and strong. You want to be the best person you can be, making the sharpest decisions and acting in accordance with your values. Intelligent and resilient people like you and me can daily engage our potential to become the brilliant beasts that we are. I welcome you to join me on this path to discovering what it means to be more fully human. I am not perfect, but I am better.

To powerful living,


Take Barefoot Walks to Relieve Stress

Why Barefoot?

I love walking barefoot.

I do this often, outside on the sidewalks in my neighborhood, and I get a lot of energy from it. I started doing it to ground, or earth, myself. Earthing means to reconnect to the earth’s electromagnetic field charge and to restore electrical balance to my body.

There have been a lot of studies about this, and the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever! shows scans of people’s electrical charge changing after grounding themselves.

Concrete is actually a slight conductor of electricity, and as long as it is connected to the earth underneath it will allow for earthing when touching skin to it. Walking barefoot on the sidewalk calms me down inside, and I feel like my stress drains out through my feet.

Of course, walking itself contributes to relaxation. Moving, just bringing myself through space, exerting physical motion at the end of my day, or in the middle of it, releases tension from stressful situations. I do not deal with frequent physical dangers, which is true for most of us today. I go through emotional ups and downs, and I fight to resolve issues, and I use a ton of energy in the form of creative thinking and processing, and my body just doesn’t get to be big part in any of it.

I can feel myself tense up physically during the day, and sometimes I don’t even notice it until I get away from it all. We as humans, just like any other living being, are physically geared to deal with problems that we encounter or perceive in our minds.

Think about this: You are walking alone outside at night, to get to your car, and you see a tall, broad-shouldered person walking quickly in your direction. Does your heart rate increase? Do your palms get sweaty? Do you tense up, ready for an attack coming your way?

Even if it’s just a friendly neighbor going about their business, I can’t help but keep track of where they are, if they are looking at me, or just looking as if they are going to pass by without trouble. My eyes are darting, my breath gets shallow and quiet, and my belly tightens.

These sympathetic responses are designed to carry out whatever quick, effective, and powerful task our minds determine is needed for defense. Thus, when I’m encountering disagreements with coworkers, approaching deadlines, or facing immense workloads, my body is also preparing to resolve these problems.

So I walk at the end of a long day to unravel my body’s fortifications.

To powerful living,


Learn more about Earthing