Category Archives: n=1

April Mix – Thursday Night Out

Image by: vasta

Haven’t been writing much lately…need to remedy that. Meanwhile, I have been listening to lots of music. Thought I’d share a mix of tracks that I’ve had in steady rotation lately. Feel free to download the mix here or listen using the embedded player below. Comments always appreciated and definitely post recommendations for further listening…

Track List:

(1) SebastiAn – Love In Motion

(2) 2 Bears – Be Strong

(3) John Talabot – When The Past Was Present

(4) Bad Lieutenant – Sink Or Swim

(5) Orbital – New France

(6) M83 – Midnight City

(7) Crystal Castles – Not In Love

(8) Porcelain Raft – Put Me To Sleep

(9) LCD Soundsystem – Someone Great

Life’s Too Short to Read Bad Books

Photo by: practicalowl

It took me a long time to learn this lesson. If I bought a book or picked one out from the library, I felt an obligation to read it, even if reading the book was not an enjoyable experience.  I had to train myself to believe that it was OK to put down a less than enjoyable book.

If within a few chapters the book hasn’t grabbed you, it’s not going to suddenly come alive in your hands. As long as I give the book a fair chance, then I have permission to put the book down and try another one. I don’t recall any Eureka moment, where I came to this conclusion. Rather, over time, I had to face up to the fact that Life is Too Short to Read Bad Books.

A bad workout plan or exercise regime should be treated the same way. Again, you have to give it a fair shot, like certain books some programs take a little commitment before they really get going. And, you have to pay attention and keep up with the plot. But, if you find that every time you’re going to the gym it’s a grind, it’s time to find another program. Seriously, like reading a good book before bed, going to the gym should be something that you look forward to. Life’s Too Short for Workouts to be Drudgery.

And, if you’re not mindful, drudgery can creep into the system. Here’s a personal example. Before I started reading and listening to conversations between people super serious about fitness and way smarter than me, I’d never heard of a back off week…lowering the training load for a block of time.

One such super smart person is Dan John. This fall I started experimenting with training inspired by Dan’s One Lift a Day program. Dan maps out a four week plan.  Each week the weights and reps change. What’s week four look like? Week Four: Off!

At first glance, week four was the weirdest thing about this program. I had never intentionally taken a week off. Once I decided to give the program a fair chance, a strange thing happened. Knowing that I was working toward week four, I worked harder during the other weeks.

To my surprise, during the first days of week four, resting felt natural. My mind and body welcomed the opportunity to forget about getting to the gym. Then, about five days into week four, I was really looking forward to cycling back into a new week one. So much so, that during ensuing turns through this cycle, I have had a couple of cheat days during week four, where I went to the gym to work on form or experiment with new exercises, nothing strenuous, just having fun in the gym.

Like a good book, this particular program has grabbed my attention and I am enjoying it to the fullest. Just as people have different tastes in books, they have different tastes in exercise and exercise programs. A backoff week may not be for you. Like my friend Nick Horton, you might be a Bulgarian at heart gradually pushing and adapting the body to new levels of stress every day…with No Days Off!

There is no accounting for taste, which is why I have adopted a general rule against giving books as gifts. I don’t want anyone feeling like they have an obligation to slog through a book that I thought they would love, but it turns out they hate. There is no excuse for not facing up to the reality that life is too short to waste your time on a joyless obligation to finish something that is meant to be enjoyable, but isn’t.

My advice, you can’t read them all, so don’t waste your time on books you don’t enjoy and given the wide variety of choices for exercise and strength training, don’t waste time on programs that don’t grab your interest or that have become drudgery.

Balancing the Stress Account: Advice From Nassim Taleb and a Navy SEAL

“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.” ~ Mark Rippetoe. (Thanks Anna)

It’s 0300.  I just woke up and can’t get back to sleep. My shoulder hurts.  The dog is having trouble breathing.  The landlord called yesterday. He wants his apartment back. I have a full plate at work and new projects rolling in. But, that doesn’t keep the bureaucracy, in its stumbling rush toward austerity, from eliminating my position, which means a transfer is in the works. I’ve moved a lot in my life, enough to know that it’s hard work.

Contingency Accounts

I’m lying there awake and I’m a little bit pissed that I’m not taking better care of myself.  The borked shoulder and a joyless mechanical workout program already have me demotivated. TKD is temporarily moved to a less than ideal space, so making excuses for not going is easy. I’m not eating as much as I should. I just don’t have the appetite. Oh, and how is not getting enough sleep going to help?

As I’m gnawing away on this new problem, I remember reading a 2008 interview of Nassim Taleb.  At the beginning of the interview, the reporter explains that every year Taleb puts a few thousand dollars aside for contingencies – parking tickets, tea spills – and at the end of the year he gives what’s left to charity. The money is gone from day one, so unexpected losses cause no pain.

After reading this article, I created a contingency account (with my kids college funds as the charity of choice). Computer melt downs, emergency plumbing bills, unexpected car repairs, all became a lot less stressful, when the money was set aside in advance.

But, tonight I’m thinking of Taleb’s contingency account from a fitness standpoint. I  paid a lot into my fitness account over the last year.  I can’t get the sweat back, it’s already been spent building up reserves of strength.  One reason to build up those reserves is so they are there to pull from when you are sick, recovering from a traumatic injury, or pushing through an unusually stressful period in your life.  This thought reassures me in two ways.  First, I realize that I have the physical strength to get through this. Second, I know that missing the gym while my shoulder heals or because I’m too tired or stressed to go is OK for now.  When my shoulder is healed and my mind is clear, getting back to the gym and rebuilding that account is a priority.

With a Little Help From My Friends

There is another contingency account out there. The friendship account.  Give your friendship freely and it will pay you back when you need it most.  It sounds corny, but it’s true.  At home, in the office, on line.  From the Azores to Austin to Albuquerque to Alaska to Asia to Australia, friends and family came to the forefront. There was a telephone conversation with Mark, an email message from my Dad, chatting with Kevin, a picture posted by Matt, facebook comments from Amber and Anna, and dark chocolate from Kira.  Whether they knew what was going on behind the scenes or not, their support was and is a great source of strength.  This is a reserve account that we tend to forget about and may even neglect, but friendship really makes a difference when fate throws you a hard breaking curve ball.  Early in my career, I went to a very low profile retirement ceremony for a very highly decorated SEAL Master Chief.  He told me: At the end of the day, it’s not the adventures you’ve had or the things you’ve done, it’s the friendships you’ve made that matter most.

So, How Did It Turn Out?

The shoulder’s getting better. The dog’s on Clavamox (worked last time, so fingers crossed it works again).  We’ll ask our real estate agent to start looking for a new apartment. And, after a full court press by folks higher up the food chain than me, promises have been made to fund the position for the next 2 fiscal years (through Sep 2013).  This is long enough for Alex to graduate from high school and time enough for us to plan the next adventure. After a good night’s sleep, I finished this post, and now I’m going to the gym to do squats.

Backward Thinking – Why We Must Always Invert

Photo by: thiagofloriano

Invert, always invert

Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi (December 10, 1804 – February 18, 1851), considered to be the most inspiring teacher of his time and one of the greatest mathematicians of his generation, said: Invert, always invert. Jacobi believed that the solution of many hard problems can be clarified by re-expressing them in inverse form.

Backward Thinking

A lot of success in life comes from knowing what you really want to avoid – like early death and a bad marriage.  -Charles Munger.

Backward thinking as described in Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, 3rd Edition, is applying the power of inverting to help find the solution set to many of life’s hard problems.  Backward thinking is an easy to remember 3 step process:

(1) Invert.  Take a particular goal that you hope to achieve – now invert it to find your non-goal.  To do this ask: What don’t I want to achieve? For example, if your goal is to lose weight, then your non-goal is to get fat.

Once you have defined your non-goal, you are ready for step 2.

(2) Solve.  Step 2 is the analysis phase.  Here, we ask: What causes the non-goal?  In our example, the non-goal is getting fat.  Weight gain can be caused by: over-eating, lack of exercise, drinking too many calories, etc.  The object is to determine the primary factors that contribute to your non-goal.

(3) Re-invert.  Once you have your solution set, you re-invert by asking: How can I avoid that?  If the easiest way for you to achieve your non-goal is by overeating, then to improve your chances for losing weight, you need to focus on strategies that help you avoid overeating.

How can I f*ck this up?

If you have already achieved a particular goal, you can use the power of inverting to remind yourself what pitfalls to avoid, so that you can maintain success and make further gains.  For example, if you are in a great relationship, ask yourself, “Well this is great, what could I do to royally f*ck this up?”  Usually, it’s pretty obvious – probably the easiest top 10 list you’ll ever compose.  Avoid these things and you will improve your prospects for maintaining and growing the relationship.

your Top 10 Anti-Goals

For homework, consider your top ten anti-goals and the key factors for achieving them.  Then, for the rest of your life, do your best to avoid them. To get you started, I’ve inverted some popular goals:

To get ridiculously fat I need to…?

These 3 things will help me waste tons of time and get nothing accomplished…?

To ruin my most important personal relationships, all I need to do is…?

To avoid meeting new people and travelling to exotic places, I should…?

I really want to sabotage my mood.  To be supremely unhappy, I must…?

Get Smarter at the Game of Life

Achieving goals isn’t easy.  Apply backward thinking to clarify solutions.  Once you have a goal in mind, knowing what to avoid gives you half of the solution for achieving it and important guidance for where to focus your efforts.  Remember, always invert.

            Photo by: tim ellis

Another good rule…Life is far too important to be taken seriously.



Exploring Google+ this past week has been fantastic fun.  Google is back into social media in a big way, exploring the edge of what social media will become.  They are taking risks, not worried about looking foolish, and taking it all on with passion.

extended circles

Circles are a stand out feature within Google+, allowing you to organize your own ecosystem and explore and participate in a variety of sub-cultures.  But, your circles aren’t isolated and disconnected.  Rather, they overlap and touch at the edges.  Information travelling along extended circles can reach a very wide audience or you can dial into a micro-group.  It’s a little like exploring a city, while still being able to duck into a familiar coffee shop whenever you need a break.

Meanwhile, this non-linear approach should allow Google+ to be a vehicle for both business and pleasure.  Collaboration will literally be at your fingertips, with video hangouts, document sharing, and email all in one place.

Welcome to S/E/E

Most everyone from my inner circle is familiar with this project, but for anyone dropping by via extended circles, welcome to S/E/E and you can get the main idea here or get started with these posts:

Conquering Conditioning – How to Use the Pool to Improve Your Training

DIY Fitness Gear – Sandbag 101

Flipping Switches and Turning Dials

Going With Option 3 – DIY LÄRABARS

Lamaze for Snipers: How Tactical Breathing Can Improve Performance During A High Stress Event

Lamaze for Snipers: How Tactical Breathing Can Improve Performance During A High Stress Event

Photo by: Zetson

Spring comes early in Austin.  The warmth is welcome, as the young couple says good-bye to their son and his grandmother.  Nana has agreed to watch the boy while Mom and Dad head to the hospital for the birth of little sister.

This is a scheduled induction. Mom’s first birth went very quickly and everyone wants to be ready for this one.

It’s a quick drive from the couple’s home to the hospital.  The administrative procedures go smoothly and Mom is set up in no time.  The doctor breaks her water and, as expected, contractions start.  But, the unexpected happens too.  As the labor progresses, the readings from the fetal heart rate monitor raise some concern with the staff.

Dad is standing by ready to provide moral support, encouragement, and do whatever he is told to.  Watching and listening, he is alert to every word.  He recognizes that there is an issue with the baby…something about the cord being around the neck.  He knows that’s bad. The doctor instructs the nurses to attach an internal monitor directly to the baby to get better readings. As the monitor is attached, baby’s heart beat stops.  It just stops.

The doctor is professional to the core.  He is calm and collected.  But, his concern is evident.  He is alert to the situation.

Dad senses danger. Without anything to do or say, his body takes over.  He can feel his heart pounding and he can hear the rush of blood in his ears.  His peripheral vision narrows. He focuses on the doctor. His eyes dart to his wife, then back to the doctor.  By now he has tunnel vision and feels light headed.  Where is the heartbeat?

His breathing is shallow and rapid.  The doctor politely indicates the chair next to the bed.  He uses the arms of the chair to steady himself and sits down.

Baby’s heart beat comes back up and everyone breathes. As the birth continues, Dad gets back on his feet, helping Mom with her breathing exercises and providing moral support.  The doctor’s suspicion about the cord was correct.  He unloops it and baby is born safe and sound. Mom and baby are fine. Dad is fine too.

I wish I had known two things the day my daughter was born: (1) Expect an initial drop in heart rate as a potential reaction to placing the internal monitor; (2) the breathing exercises designed to help my wife handle the stress of child birth were there to help me too.

The instant that heart beat dropped off of the monitor, an adrenaline pulse went through my body and strong physical responses followed.

No one can control how their body reacts to a high stress incident, but we can learn to manage our physical response.  Controlled breathing, is an effective way to consciously bridge the mind body connection. Slow deep breaths helped me recover, but I didn’t have a plan or a breathing pattern to follow. At the end of this post, you will be much better prepared than I was to manage a high stress incident.  Learning about and practicing tactical breathing will give you a tool that keeps you in the game during a high stress event…so that you can help yourself and your loved ones.

Breathing & Blinking

Heart rate, digestion, salivation, perspiration, diameter of the pupils, sexual arousal, and many other physical reactions occur involuntarily, without conscious thought or control.  These actions are managed by the autonomic nervous system, a control system that runs automatically. The subdivision of the autonomic nervous system that takes primary control when you are exposed to a high stress incident is called the sympathetic nervous system. During fight or flight reactions, the sympathetic nervous system is in full effect.

Breathing and blinking are two functions managed by the autonomic nervous system that can also be consciously controlled. The ability to control our breathing offers us a pathway that may be used to consciously influence the autonomic nervous system.  During a high stress event, as the sympathetic nervous system starts to pull you into why think – when I can react mode, the ability to access this pathway can be particularly helpful.

Tactical Breathing

Photo by: vramak

In the book On Combat and in his lectures, LTC Dave Grossman describes a four count method of breathing.  This is a self-regulation method taught to police officers, military members, and others who must perform with a high level of skill in the face of deadly threats.  There are four phases to this breathing pattern.

Phase 1: Breathe in through the nose for a slow four count (1, 2, 3, 4).  Notice your belly expanding.

Phase 2: Hold the breath for a four count (1, 2, 3, 4).

Phase 3: Slowly exhale through pursed lips for a four count (1, 2, 3, 4).

Phase 4: Hold empty for a four count (1, 2, 3, 4).

It is recommended that you cycle through the pattern at least 3 times.

Try it now. After three full cycles – How do you feel?

When this breathing pattern is employed during a stressful event, you will feel yourself coming back into control…a relaxed breathing pattern returns, your racing heart slows, peripheral vision expands and hearing improves.

Experiment with this breathing pattern.  Try it, when you are tense or anxious.  Try it, when you are calm and relaxed.  Do you need a longer count? Then tweak the pattern and count to 5 or 6. Do you need more cycles? Add them.  Experiment to determine what combination is most effective for you and dial in your own personal tactical breathing pattern.

LTC Grossman explains tactical breathing:

Deploying this tool

Photo: Yamam

You don’t have to be on a hostage rescue mission to use this tool. Self-control is a key element for successful performance no matter what the endeavor.  For most of us navigating through the stress of a normal day will present plenty of opportunities to practice this technique.

However, if there is a particular stress inducing situation that you encounter on a regular and recurring basis, then you may be able to condition yourself to automatically deploy your tactical breathing pattern. In the section titled Tactical Breathing in Warrior Operations, LTC Grossman discusses police officers and ambulance drivers using behavior modification techniques to make tactical breathing a conditioned response to hearing the sound of their sirens.  There is no reason that you can’t do something similar to condition yourself to engage your tactical breathing pattern before a test, a work presentation, an athletic competition, a musical performance, etc.

Special Circumstances

Also, be alert to special circumstances where this technique can be a life saver.  On Combat includes personal anecdotes from several individuals who used tactical breathing to: (1) lower their heart rate after experiencing a heart attack; (2) remain calm after a car accident and patiently wait the arrival of rescue workers; and (3) help prevent debilitating migraines.  Tactical breathing is not a substitute for proper medical treatment, but it is a way that you can help yourself and help your care providers by remaining calm and keeping your head in the game during a medical emergency.

Share the Knowledge

Teach tactical breathing to your children, so they have a way to calm themselves.  When rendering first aid or as a first responder, consider sharing this technique with the person you are treating.  Use it as a way to help comfort someone who has survived or witnessed a traumatic event. Be creative in your use of tactical breathing and when confronted with a high stress event remember the answer is right under your nose.

The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley.
The Adrenaline Dump: It’s More Than Just Breathing by Dr. Michael J. Asken
Breathing Ladders – Gym Jones
The Centrality of Breath (Part II) – Squat Rx
Breathing Pattern Development – Boddicker Performance
iPhone App for Tactical Breathing.

Questions Not Answers Improve Motivation

In the recent research report, Motivating Goal-Directed Behavior Through Introspective Self-Talk: The Role of the Interrogative Form of Simple Future Tense, psychologists discovered that the linguistic form of your internal dialogue impacts your external performance. In fact, there is a significant difference in performance depending on whether you are using declarative self-talk (I will do 250 sit-ups!) or interrogative self-talk (Will I do 250 sit-ups?).

Image by: crystaljingsr

Why Form Matters

Declarative statements tend to be linked to external motivation.  External motivation takes the form of the carrot or the stick. For example, motivating employees by promising a bonus for finishing a project early is using the carrot.  Telling them that if the project isn’t finished on time, they will be fired is using the stick. 

On the other hand, the authors report that previous research has shown:

(1) Open ended questions tend to generate thoughts about accomplishing a goal, without accompanying feelings of these thoughts being imposed by someone else (Sheldon, Williams, & Joiner, 2003). (2) Rhetorical questions within a strong message increase the perception of the message source as less pressuring and therefore less threatening to the autonomy of the message recipient (Burnkrant & Howard, 1984). (3) The question form is universally perceived to be more respectful of the autonomy of the person addressed (Pass the salt. vs Can you pass the salt?) (Hotgraves & Yang, 1990).

Intrinsic motivation vs. external motivation

The results of this study, demonstrate that the positive aspects of the interrogative form carry over to self-talk. One possible reason for this result is that using the interrogative form encourages intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is evident when people engage in an activity for its own sake, without some obvious external incentive present. Intrinsic motivation facilitates intention, and intention leads to external performance of goal directed behavior.

External motivation creates weak or limited intent. Coach John Wooden, described the weakness of external motivation as similar to the motivation created by a prison guard. Like a guard watching over a chain gang, you can force people to just do it, but as soon as you turn your back, they are running away from you.  There is no sustained intention to reach the external goal.

By using the declarative form, our self-talk mimics the prison guard, forcing us to behave a certain way for a little while, but as soon as an excuse presents itself, we are off and running.  On the other hand, this study finds that if, rather than telling yourself to do something, you ask yourself: Will I do it?, the scale tips away from external motivation and toward internal motivation.

For more on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation see: (1) Jeff Monday’s 4m 56s video: Behavioral Economics of Intrinsic Motivation Remastered. (2) Dan Pink’s 18m 37s TED talk: The Surprising Science of Motivation


It’s In The Details

I suspect that there are at least two additional reasons why the interrogative form is more effective than the declarative.  Using the declarative pretty much ends the conversation, whereas asking a question invites follow-on questions.  Note, follow-on questions are what makes the Socratic method an effective tool for teaching critical thinking skills, as follow-on questions lead students to explore the details of an issue and to consider exceptions to general rules.

If I ask myself a simple question: Will I stick to my schedule today?, I naturally progress to questions like: How will I organize my day? Will I be disciplined in starting and ending projects?  If I get off schedule, will I make the effort to get back on schedule? Now, I’m putting my mind to good use, as these new questions, focus on the small things necessary for accomplishing the big thing and I consider how to handle exceptions like getting off schedule.

Through the use of follow-on questions, the details and corresponding action steps come into focus.  Once the details and action steps are laid out, forming the intent necessary to complete an initial small step is less difficult than forming the intent to accomplish an entire, potentially overwhelming, project.  This is the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step concept.

Meanwhile, getting off schedule is treated as an exception to be managed, rather than as failure. Thus, switching to the interrogative leads to: (1) focusing on the detailed action steps necessary for consistent performance (which could help facilitate intent) and (2) acknowledges exceptions to perfect performance (which leads to considering ways to manage them).

Verbs for thought

Having discovered a significant effect from changing self-talk from the declarative to the interrogative, the authors of the report wonder what effects using different verbs may have. They list can, should, and would as verbs worth exploring.  Of the three verbs suggested, should jumps out as an important question to ask.  I can’t help but wonder if introspective talk using should leads to improvements in ethical decision making.

Will I lose 5 Pounds Before Summer?

After reading this post, will you use that voice in your head more effectively?  All you have to do is make one simple change.  Rather than engaging in self-talk that tells you what to do, ask yourself: Will you do it? Will I lose five pounds before summer? Will I stick to my workout schedule?  Will I spend more time with friends and family? Will I get organized?



Overtraining? Prospect Theory in the Gym.
Longevity and the Distribution of Healthcare Costs.
Do Nutrition Labels Increase Food Cravings?