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.

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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.

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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Mobility At Work

Having worked in an office, I understand when most people say that sitting for hours at a time is required.

After all, what the hell else can you do? Even though there are some avant garde companies out there that have standing desks, most are not so progressive. And although more and more workplaces will get adjustable seating, it doesn’t make a difference if people have no understanding of what to do with the tools at their disposal. Simply standing is not going to solve your back pain.

Believe me, I know. I’ve dealt with low back pain for years, and standing in shoes with elevated heels and pointed toes hurt my back as much as sitting did (yes, men’s shoes also have heels). Not to say standing is bad. It’s a step in the right direction.

But what direction to go? Answering this, and visualizing how you want to be, will guide you through each day for the long term. For me, the goal was to be a standing, upright, limber human being. Not just as work but in life in general. I didn’t want tight hips. I didn’t want aching knees and back. I didn’t want knots in my shoulders. I didn’t want to be a slouching leaning tower of persona.

The workload, and the fact that most of it is at a computer, limits most people to think that they have to sit. Well, rethink it. Visualize yourself as mobile and embody it.

You don’t need a standing desk to be mobile at work. Allow me a bullet-pointed list of ways to not be sitting in a corporate office, doctor’s front desk, home office, wherever:

  • Go knock on office doors or cubicle walls instead of email or phoning. Your impact will be greater.
  • Get up and walk for phone calls. Use an earpiece. You will be more creative.
  • Meet people in the middle of halls and spaces for talks, rather than where they or you sit. This is called a standing meeting and it doesn’t have to be super deliberate. Make it subtle like, “Oh hey, I was just going to see you, so, what’s up?” Things will be easier.
  • Body language does wonders. Learn to Jedi-maneuver so you stay standing and avoid going to your or another person’s desk. This works with your bosses too. Beware, they are probably more practiced in body language than you. The first few times you may find yourself somehow sitting in their office. But it’s only a matter of time before you are both still standing at the end of your exchange.
  • Time your sitting-prone activities. Have some emails you need to respond to? Set a fifteen- to thirty-minute timer to get them done. Then get up to finish, face-to-face, the remaining interactions.
  • Schedule email responses. If you respond live, there’s high potential to get an immediate response. How do people do this? I don’t know. But it’s insane. Schedule your responses to go out in the next hour or two. Outlook does this, and so do others. You just have to find the setting (usually in the same place as “read receipt request” type stuff). You will be able to send your answers and be free of your “work box” without having to return volleys of mail in the moment.
  • Take your shoes off at your desk, and sit cross-legged or with at least one leg crossed under you. Lace-less shoes make this much easier. This will save you a world of back strain. It opens up the hips and stops the pull on your low back from your pelvic and abdominal connections. Smelly feet? With increased “air time”, this problem will diminish.
  • Elevate your screen to eye level and brighten it so that you can easily see it from a straight-postured position. Why cause yourself to lean forward because it’s too dark to see? Life hack!
  • Keep your keyboard close enough to reduce forward pull at your shoulders. It helped to have mine on my lap. With laptops, this is going to be difficult. Get a separate keyboard to plug in (I am still paranoid about wireless stuff).
  • Wear flat shoes with wide toe space. If you must wear shiny dress shoes, go as flat and wide as possible. And keep them off as much as possible at your desk. Do lunch barefoot if you can. Fancy shoes are meant to not be worn.
  • Take your breaks, take your lunch. Don’t be a ninny about break time. Get the hell out of your desk. Chances are you are not a coal miner. So why take fewer breaks than coal miners do? Effective, executive-level people take breaks. They breathe. They get out of their setting regularly. How often do you actually see your CEO, COO, or CFO in her office? Making a connection now?
  • Ditch your phone. When you step away from your desk, put it on silent and leave it at your desk. It will survive without you. That’s what VM and texts are for. Follow this rule for the next bullet too.
  • Remember that you have to pee, and sometimes poo. Do not neglect this urge. Follow it, and take forever walking back to your desk. If done correctly, you will find many chances for standing meetings, Jedi maneuvers, and creative, on-the-spot solutions.

Want happier, more mobile coworkers? Forward this to them. Oh, and don’t be a ninny. Send to your boss.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Rested Decision Making

If you’re in management or an office job, and feel that sleep is not that important, you’re not alone. If you do think sleep is important, but just don’t get enough, you’re absolutely not alone. A lot of people in this world feel the same. I used to think lack of sleep was a cool thing, a war wound, a chip on my shoulder. But I learned the importance of sleep and rest after seeing the difference it made in my performance.

Sleep not only helps with things like strength training and illness recovery, but also with decision making.

I was a supervisor of a call center that handled phone calls with grieving families. There were intense calls and important decisions to be made every day. We operated at all hours of the day. It was hard to get a full night of sleep, let alone a full recharge of my batteries. Most of my years working there were in sleep deprivation.

There was a point where I started to pay attention to my rest. I wanted to recover from chronic exhaustion and tiredness. So I started looking into ways to get more sleep, and to rest my mind when I wasn’t in the office. I found that when I was able to get a full night of rest, I had high executive function. My decision making power was greater, and decision fatigue was offset. I think the biggest reason for this was that I was more able to prioritize.

With a full night of sleep, I was better able to manage my time and tell people “no” or reschedule things. I had more mind energy to deal with the stress of saying “no”, and more foresight as to the importance of doing so. Because I was able to see the full picture, I knew that it was of the utmost importance that I handle the task that mattered most. With insufficient rest, I had trouble dealing with persistent requests from people bringing up non-urgent issues.

When I prioritized well I was able to keep myself from doing spur of the moment biddings from others. Less distractions meant more focus on the important things. This fed a positive feedback loop. I felt better because I was doing things that mattered, and doing things that mattered made my day easier to navigate, and this made me feel even better.

I also felt more positive when I had a full night of sleep. A positive approach helped me say “no” to people in a generous, gentle way. I didn’t have to offend anyone through rejection, and I didn’t have to feel bad about it. I had the energy and mindset to be kind to people, even when they had the most urgent or emotionally charged problems thrown in my face. It was simply a matter of letting them know I would get back to them shortly. And I did.

I was doing the most important, and often the hardest, things, feeling great about it, about getting it done, about the rest of the day getting easier because of that. Prioritizing and keeping on task really does snowball into amazing days, and sleeping a full night increased my chances of doing this. And this really allowed me to treat others with more attention and respect, because I was taking care of myself and my work.

When fully rested, I trust myself more. I have a more positive view of myself, my abilities, and I dive into difficult tasks or situations because I know they are important and I know I can handle them. If I’m tired, this becomes much harder. My self confidence goes down, naturally, because I’m not sure if I have the energy to handle tough situations. How can I when I myself don’t feel taken care of? I think it’s just natural.

Strong trust in myself means I stick to my instincts, follow my gut, and let my intuition lead. In turn, doing this makes me feel better about myself. I’ve gone a certain route based on my own feeling, and found good results. I reinforce the idea that I’m trustworthy and capable.

Lastly, with plenty of sleep, time seems more abundant. I just feel more relaxed, even with deadlines or the end of the day approaching, or in really critical circumstances, because I feel more capable of using my time. I just know that I can handle whatever comes, and things don’t seem overwhelming.

For some good reference on the importance of sleep, check out Arianna Huffington. I heard about her book on sleep through the GaryVee show. She has recently been encouraging the world to sleep. In particular, she urges people in top positions of leadership to get their shut eye to help them make better decisions. She sleeps eight hours a day. Even her employees sleep well. And they’re kicking ass.

Live powerfully,

Steve

How To End Fridays On Time

You work an office job and want to get out at a reasonable time on Friday. Start right now. Four o’clock is your cut off time.

Today is your chance to end this week strong. End with the beginning in mind. How you finish Friday is how you finish this week. The end of today determines your outlook on Monday morning. Think about that. But more importantly, let’s try it.

During my corporate stint, Friday was the perfect day to start thinking about Monday. As I finished things up each week, how I left the office made a difference. If I had my head held high, proud of the week, excited for the next, then Monday morning was fresh. I would be back the next week feeling positive about things. My energy and mood were better. I was more willing to get started.

If I left on Friday with my tail between my legs, allowing myself to feel like a failure, Monday morning would be slosh. As a matter of fact, the whole weekend would suck too. And since a lot of days ended like this, a lot of days began the same way. No matter how much work I did, and how well I did it, things would come up that I would allow to ruin my day.

So found resources in leaders like Tim Ferriss and Dave Stachoviak. I started to put a ton of energy into making those last hours of the last day a positive time. It did the charm. Leaving on a fresh note brought me in the next week on a fresh note. Toward the end of my short career, I was coming to work pretty pumped each day. But I had to engineer that.

Tasks

Choose a definite end time to wrap things up. If I wanted to be out the door by six, I had to stop taking on new tasks by four. Interviews, meetings, data collection, those things seemed benign and even exciting when thrown at me last minute. But then I would find myself at the end of it, hours past when I wanted to leave, tired, and feeling like I had been abused. That was my fault.

If you report to someone, check with them a few hours before you’re going to leave. Let them know you’re figuring out what needs to be finished for the week, that you’ve taken care of most of it, and you want to know if there’s anything last minute. Perfect. Now your boss has a final chance to throw anything at you. With plenty of time for you to finish and leave on time.

For everything that’s in your control, figure out what you want to finish and what you’re going to pick up next week. You need to determine the end for yourself.

Meetings

Meetings come in all shapes and sizes. Even random drop ins by people took up my time and pushed other things back. So it was important for me to let people know that I could not meet with them after a certain cut off point. I would let my boss know what I was doing and then either:

  • Request that the interrupter find and implement a solution
  • Say I was busy and ask for another appointment
  • Deal with emergencies if I could in a short amount of time
  • Keep my door closed
  • or Ask for an email summary for non emergencies

The key is to stop intruders at the door. Do not invite them in with friendly greetings or hesitations. Keep them at the door and you have a much higher chance of preventing prolonged, unnecessary talks or task assignments. I’m talking about your boss, too. Keep it delicate and polite, but assertive, and even your boss will learn to respect your boundaries.

Emails

At my cutoff point for the day, I completely ignored emails. You will think that’s not possible. Believe me, it is possible. And you won’t get fired. If someone has something so urgent that you will get fired over it, or they will, and they don’t get an immediate response, then they will call you. Or show up at your door. I did this for over a year and ended up with far fewer email crises, better face-to-face interactions, and fewer needless interactions.

Phone Calls

Where I worked, a phone call was usually more urgent than an email. I also engineered that situation to be so. At my cutoff point for the day, I did pick up phone calls. And my immediate greeting was curt:

“Hello?”

“Hi, Steve, it’s so and so. How are you?”

“I’m actually in the middle of something, what can I help you with?”

“Oh, then never mind, it can wait.”

“If you send me an email, I can respond Monday.”

“Oh, I need something today. Can you help me with so and so?”

(Non-urgent or can be delegated) “You know what, I’m pretty tied up right now. Can we ask so and so to help with that?”

More often than not, the person would wait to bring it up again the next week. In short time, I got fewer and fewer last minute requests. Either people stopped because they no longer saw me as the jackpot of last minute work, or they learned themselves to not have last minute work to do on Friday.

Every once in a long while, there really was an emergency. And I did have to stay later than expected to take care of it. But these instances became further and fewer between when I stuck to these principles.

Engineer the workweek you want to have. End Friday with a bang. Start Monday with a bang. And enjoy the weekends between.

Live powerfully,

Steve

P.S., it’s the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. Get out there and enjoy the outdoors this weekend!

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How to Manage New Ideas

There are a few effective options.

You could shut down the idea. You could explain how there aren’t resources available for this idea. You could let her know that you don’t have time for her idea.You could explain why this idea is bad.

Or worse yet, you could pretend to listen, and give a well-crafted response that effectively steers her away from her idea. Brainwash her into mediocrity.

And you could return to your job of managing. Job well done.

But you don’t. You lead.

You take this wonderful distraction from your mindless tasks and make yourself present. Take a deep breath, or three as the idea is being explained. You figure it out. You ask your employee to detail the parts that don’t make sense to you. You present obstacles from your perspective. You present your fears of what would happen if that idea were to materialize. The change it would bring. You bring yourself into the conversation.

You lead this brave person down the winding, twisted road of maturing the idea. Letting it take root and grow in her mind, and in your mind. Letting it blossom into a vision. A plan.

This may not conclude with the first talk. But you don’t stop until you have led her through the cultivation of a strong sapling of the idea, and it is agreed that both of you are climbing the same tree.

And now that the idea has taken root, and grown out of your own mind, you have little trouble bringing the seeds to your manager. And finding a bit of the same courage that your report brought to you. Because she did the hard part of initiating the conversation. You only have to explain, with earnest effort, how this could change the organization. Or the process. Or the dynamics. To make things much better.

Management is the art of getting the job done with limited resources. Or maintaining the idea that resources are limited to just what they are limited to.

Managing in a factory is inevitable. There are many cogs, and when one starts to squeak, you give it oil, and make sure the job somehow gets done. You tamper ambition and energy that strays from the set product or method. You make sure that things run smoothly.

But people have ideas. They have inspiration. They have dreams. And it’s hard to pretend to be a cog in the machine. Even when their children’s livelihood depends on it. Even when their rent is on the line. Yes, it is on the line.

Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Or the next day. But eventually, in the plain view of the Universe, seemingly joint, but truthfully separate, paths diverge.

So, in the midst of managing, be sure to lead. Become fluent in the language of new, the tongues that can change, the ideas that can infect and make things uncomfortable and different. Because you have the ability to translate that into the language of old. Of manufacturing.

Our world is growing. We have long surpassed the age of factories described by Marx, and entered the world of free thinking and knowledge embodiment encouraged by the same thinker.

If you speak only the language of management, you will be left behind in a pile of cogs. All others will follow leaders into the growth of ideas, constant change, and fearless exploration. People want to be well, not just fed. Including you.

You can hide, you can quiet the thinkers, and then you can pretend to have been a believer all along as change begins to obliterate the walls around you. Or you can be true to yourself now and allow yourself to resonate with truth from others. And hold the hammer in your hand that obliterates rotting walls.

So lead the holders of seeds to fertile soil and give them water.

To powerful living,

Steve