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Flip-Flop

When I started my company almost 7 years ago, I was eating lunch with a close friend of mine’s father who had started his own firm 20 years prior. His parting advice was cryptic… he shook my hand and said: “Just hope you make more good decisions than bad decisions.

I thought to myself “What type of f***ed up advice is that?! Of course, I’m only going to make good decisions!”

What no one explained to me is when you begin a start-up, you make so many damn decisions. You make dozens a day: “Where should my office be? Who should do my payroll? How much should I charge for this project? What type of toilet paper will make my employees more productive?” You make so many decisions every day, you simply don’t have time to properly evaluate every decision. Even if you only make one mistake out of 20, you still end up making hundreds of mistakes a year: some big, some small.

As we move into every election season, every debate and every attack ad focuses in on the one thing all Americans can agree they hate: Flip-Flopping. If you’re a chronic flip-flopper, you might as well as be a pedophile.  Congress introduces between 4,000 and 9,000 bills a YEAR. You think a few mistakes are going to be made? Even if you’re batting .900, that’s minimum 360 crappy bills a year.

Here’s the big difference… when we make a mistake at my company, almost everyone knows it. We learn from it. We talk about it. We gain experience. Sometimes we change course. We try to not make that same mistake again. We grow. We don’t “stay the course” because of some decision we made four years ago.

In 2008, Obama embodied “Change”, not because he was half-African American, wasn’t George W, or said “Change” every third sentence… but because he was a clean slate. He hasn’t had time to accumulate the amount of mistakes a Kerry, Gringrich, Clinton, Romney has.  There’s no doubt about it, Obama is making mistakes. Will he learn and correct them, or will he “stay the course” or will he “flip-flop”?

If you think American politics are failing you… maybe it’s time to change what we expect from our leaders.

To reach the masses, some sort of big organization (whether) domestic and foreign branch affiliation, is not necessary. To reach the growing number of students, some sort of pre-conformed set must be established as standards for the branch to follow. As a result all members will be conditioned according to the prescribed system. Many will probably end up as a prisoner of a systematized drill.
Styles tend to not only separate men – because they have their own doctrines and then the doctrine became the gospel truth that you cannot change. But if you do not have a style, if you just say: Well, here I am as a human being, how can I express myself totally and completely? Now, that way you won’t create a style, because style is a crystallization. That way, it’s a process of continuing growth.

You know who said that? Bruce Lee. He wasn’t talking about politics, of course. He was talking about Martial Arts and kicking ass.  But Bruce was a smart guy, so I take his quote out of context for my selfish purposes.

As we near November, don’t expect someone new to fix all of the problems. He/she won’t. Politics for all of human history has been a juggernaut, a machine pretty much dedicated to keeping the status-quo.  But I don’t believe we need a revolution, we need leaders who are committed to methodically improving our situation — and this won’t happen until the voters reward leaders who know how to take corrective action.

In 2012, I hope we make more good decisions than bad decisions. You want your leader to kick ass like Bruce Lee, don’t you?

 

A Real American Hero

When I was nine years old my mom entered a contest where I won every G.I. JOE toy. It was 1985, pretty much at the peak of JOE. I won everything you ever wanted… the Hovercraft, the F-14 Tomcat, the Aircraft Carrier.

My mother did a lot of cool things growing up… but this was probably the most awesome thing any mother has ever done for their son.

It was a contest where you could send in a post card as your entry. There were no limits on how many entries were allowed so my mother created a postcard factory (kinda like Lazlo in Real Genius). There were 2 winners in the contest. Apparently they drew my name seven times before they found the second winner.

I had my choice between all of the Transformers, G.I. JOE or My Little Pony. Despite the lure of scented plastic ponies with combable hair, I opted for G.I. JOE.  My friends and I spent the next 3 weeks assembling and applying stickers to tanks, jets, battleships, missiles, and various other implements of destruction.

Before the contest I owned one action figure … but thereafter I swore allegiance to the brand.

I liked G.I. JOE — I watched the cartoon and had hundreds of epic battles throughout my house and backyard. Though, in the thousands of hours I spent with Duke, Snake-Eyes and Stormshadow, I wouldn’t say I was especially influenced by the toy – although when a childhood friend, Bill, recently joined the Army to fly helicopters, I couldn’t help but think he was fulfilling his childhood fantasy of becoming  ”Wild Bill” (G.I. JOE’s ace helicopter jockey). I sent him my old Wild Bill action figure and file card. I hope it’s sitting on his chopper’s dashboard right now.

I learned a lot from G.I. JOE. The show’s public service messages taught me not to stick my hand in a garbage disposal and  I learned from the toy figures that doing a split could lead to a terrible groin snapping accident.

G.I. GrowRecently I read an article describing how over the years G.I. JOE’s scaled bicep size has more than doubled from 12.2 inches to 26.8 inches.*

Hulked-out action figures have been around for a long time. HE-MAN was popular around that same timeframe. He-man could probably beat any Joe in an arm-wrestling contest, but there was a clear difference between G.I. JOE and HE-MAN. First off, GI JOE was “real”.  He-man was from some lame make believe fantasy universe that had magic and circuit-board electronics, but no indoor plumbing. In the early eighties,  all of JOE’s vehicles were based on real US Army vehicles — GI JOE only needed 12 inch biceps and kung-fu grip to save America.

So now there’s numerous articles comparing GI JOE to Barbie and how little boy’s self-images are being ruined by the growing steriodization of action figures. I even saw a beefed up C-3PO on the shelves at target the other day. Seriously? C-3PO? Some things are sacred. Transforming the waifish protocol droid into Robocop is crossing the line. If you ever start to feel C-3PO could take you in a cagematch, you’re probably going to develop self-esteem issues.

One study showed that a higher percentage of men are dissatisfied with their chest size than women with their breast size, and the trend is increasing.  When I posted my article about motivators, by far the most common motivation response was “Vanity”.

I’m not saying that there’s a correlation between toys and the sky-rocketing teenage dietary disorders. I’m also not passing judgement on Vanity as a motivation to hit the gym… but I am giving this advice: If you have a kid, or you want to change your own self-image, you should focus on getting “better”… not bigger or smaller. Ego is measurable… Vanity is not. Ego can be objectively observed: you can have a stronger back squat, a faster 5k, or more flexibility in your hamstrings. Vanity is subjective, and almost always disappointing if  the benchmark set in childhood has a 55 inch chest.

When I started CrossFit, my coach, a Russian gymnast named Vasily, asked me what I wanted to work on. I replied “I’d like to lose weight.” He looked at me silently like that was stupidest response he had ever heard.  See, his job wasn’t to help me lose weight, or get bigger biceps. It was to make me faster and stronger; weight-loss would naturally come with that.  You can’t teach vanity — but you can make it a biproduct of your training.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.**

And, incase you’re wondering: Yes, I still have all of those G.I. JOE toys. Actually, my sister has them in her basement. (Sorry, Jody. I’ll come pick those up soon)


*Arnold Schwartzenegger’s biceps were 22.5 at their peak. I just measured mine at 16… perfectly adequate by 1980′s standards.

**Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Demotivators

Evil DemotivatorNo matter how much intrinsic motivation you possess, there’s no escaping Demotivators. These are the goateed evil twin brother of Motivators, hell-bent on derailing your perfectly planned New Years resolutions. Just like Motivators, there are intrinsic and extrinsic types. After some self-reflection, I identified mine when it comes to health and fitness:

Demotivators

These are what keep me out of the gym.

Extrinsic Demotivators

  • Injury / Health Restrictions – We’re not indestructible. We cannot escape our own age, genetics and medical history. Well, not yet… but science is working on it. Until the days of RoboCop are here, we need to find ways of fixing and working-around the problems we have, and preventing problems in the future. The best defense is a good offense: check out the Mobility WOD.
  • Temptation – Temptation!  There’s no end to the awesome stuff you could be doing or eating instead of working out. In the history of man-kind, there’s never been more temptation. People can blame McDonald’s Happy Meals all they want, but it’s really thanks to your hunter-gatherer ancestors that you’re designed to crave crappy foods. The problem is, you can’t eliminate all temptation that surrounds you. You can only control your own reaction to the stimulus. For a good book about the subject check out David Kessler’s The End of Overeating
  • Time - My philosophy is that you should spend atleast an hour a day on your body. Whether it’s exercising, stretching, or taking a nice soothing ice bath (disclaimer: do not take an ice bath for a full hour. You may lose the ability to stand, or possibly contract hypothermia).  I don’t have kids yet or an hour long “Atlanta” commute, but I do spent 50-60 hours a week infront of a computer at work. Often more. I found that I needed to make time, and usually the only guaranteed time is the morning.
  • Expense – Belonging to a Crossfit or Pilates/Yoga studio is a hard bill to swallow if you’re used to paying $29.99 a month for a Globo gym**. The “big” guys profit model is entirely based on the fact that: (A) most people who belong do not show up and (B) Very little instruction is required to use machines.  Even Spin classes will commonly have 20-30 bikes with one instructor. Compare that to a Yoga, Pilates or CrossFit class where the ratio is usually less than 1 to 10. Of course, with better teacher/student ratio comes higher costs (just ask anyone involved in the American education system for their opinion).  Pay now or pay later… just make sure you’re getting what you paid for.

Intrinsic Demotivators

  • Boredom –  Ever give a high-five to the guy next to you on the Elliptical?  Probably not. It’s pretty hard to get amped up about things like Stairmaster.  Note to self: If you’re bringing a magazine to the gym, it’s a good indicator you’re probably doing the wrong activity.
  • Frustration – You’re not guaranteed six-pack abs after 3 months of P90X. Ever do all the “right” things and not get the results you want? Did you plateau? Some of this frustration can be fixed with proper goal setting, but if you’re impatient with results, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.
  • Apathy –  I define an apathetic person as someone with little or no intrinsic motivation. They should read my other post and tap into their inner-awesomeness.

So when you’re making your New Years Resolutions next month, consider your Demotivators – find them, then crush them.

**For you non-CrossFitters, “Globo Gym” is the Dodgeball inspired term that we use to describe mega-gyms like Crunch and LA Fitness.

How to live longer

I had an interesting conversation a while back with a friend named Nick. I asked: “Why am I not a better driver?” I’m not a bad driver… but I’m not any better than I was when I was 20.

The average Atlantan drives 66 miles a day. That’s well over an hour a day behind the wheel. It seems that if you practiced anything for over an hour a day for 15 years, you’d be totally awesome at it. But we’re not. Why are we not James Bond caliber drivers who can parallel-park blindfolded while simultaneously seducing a woman (in a 60′s sexist kinda way)?

He had a great response:

In business consulting, we have a saying. If someone has been working the same job for 10 years, they do not have 10 years of experience. They have one year of experience which they have been repeating for the past nine years.

It sounds like Nick has been responsible for some Office Space “Bob” moments: “So what would you say you do here?” – but I did take away something from his response.

Essentially, repetition does not equal improvement. Okay… seems obvious. But is it? Do we apply this to the rest of our lives?

I have a half-baked theory about time perception. It’s pretty well accepted that the older you get, the faster time goes by. I could have sworn I just graduated high-school (I’ve been out of grade school longer than I was in it). Yet, the older I get, the faster the years seem to be accelerating.

My theory is your little brain can only handle so many memories. If you have a “repeat” memory, it tends to get dropped . [For example, you simply don't need to remember every beer you've drunk because you've drank so many of them (well some of us atleast). But, I bet you remember the first beer you drank.] You typically only retain the newest, best, worst, first or the most impactful memories.**

As you get older you have less and less original memories, which means less and less remembered time. If life is flying by, it’s probably because we’ve essentially begun a life of commuting (metaphorically speaking). We’re not crappy drivers… we’ve just been driving the same stretch of road over and over again.

Sooner or later we need to take our lives off cruise control.

If you want to live “longer” you’ll need to be trying new things, constantly learning, making mistakes and adding to the best, worst, and most impactful memories of your life. I’ve been blessed to be with a wife who constantly seeks travel and adventure, surrounded by friends who live to make those impactful memories, and a workplace that demands constant learning. I believe I’ve lived a long time so far.

**NOTE: my brother-in-law, Josh, has pointed out to me that I have discussed this theory so many times that his life is speeding up because of it.

Ever since I can remember I had always wanted to run a marathon. I’m not quite sure why. I was never much of a runner. In fact, I was never much of anything athletic. I never tried Cross Country. I was on the Track team for about one month as a lackluster discus thrower. Somehow, running a Marathon seemed epic.

I’m not built like a runner. I weight about 185 pounds and most of that is in my torso and arms. I’m not exactly gazelle-shaped. With a bulky upper-body and skinny chicken legs I’m shaped more like a tee with a golf ball on it.

Despite no background in running I attempted my first marathon when I was in college. Not to give away the ending but it was somewhat of an epic fail.

How not to run a marathon:

It was 1999. I trained following a book which took me through increasing amounts on long distance running until I peaked with a 20 mile run just over one week before my marathon. I would guess that towards the end of my training I was running 40-50 miles a week.

During this training I managed to strain what I now believe was my IT band. I ended up with a pretty serious pain from the top of my hip all the way down to my knee. Additionally, my right knee had been aching all through my training. I wore a bulky knee brace to “protect my knee.” I also wore cushy motion-control shoes at the advice of every magazine, book and shoe-store at the time.

The day of the marathon I had not fully recovered and decided to run the half. I believe I ran it in about 2 hours, but my memory is fuzzy. I what I DO remember is the screaming pain in my IT band as I had pushed it way past its ability.

I rode MARTA back with some friends and I had a hard time concentrating on post-race conversation. In fact I was doing my best not to vomit all over MARTA’s (then) upholstered seat covers. It took weeks for the pain to cool off.  Both knees took a serious beating from the training, and never fully recovered. My nipples were also totally rubbed disgustingly raw from wearing a cotton shirt. I felt miserable and my desire to complete a marathon ended that very day.

Me and my scabby chest hung up our running shoes for good. This was only 13.1 miles and I was hobbling away bruised and broken. I guess I was too old to run (after all, I was pushing the old age of 22) — I stopped running for over 7 years.

Then I found CrossFit

For those of you unfamiliar with CrossFit, you’ve obviously never spent any time in a confined space with me longer than 5 minutes. For those of you who have… I apologize. It’s not my fault. It’s the cult’s.

Without going into elaborate details of CrossFit (I’ll save it for another post topic), I will say it exposed me a few important things which transformed my ability to run:

  1. Michael Johnson demonstrating bad-assery... and forefoot running. Look at how he lands on the balls of his feet. Sure, Michael is not a marathoner, but the mechanics are the same. Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHG5vB8hX4E

    Squatting and Other Natural Movements- Squatting seems simple enough, but I realized I had never taken in very seriously. It really transformed how my legs functioned. Literally within weeks my “chronic” knee pain had gone away and I was running again.

  2. Fore-foot running. Hunter-gatherers didn’t run in plump motion-control shoes. They ran barefoot. When you run barefoot you naturally absorb the hundreds of pounds of impact you create on your knees and hips with every stride.  CrossFit specifically endorses POSE running which teaches you to alter your body alignment so you are landing on the balls of your feet instead of your heels. Similar concepts can be found in books like Chi Running. Not only is it safer and easier on your joints, it’s faster for most of us too.It turns out, the more expensive your shoe is, the more like you are likely to get hurt. I now firmly believe “motion-control” shoes are a commercial driven scam.  I switched to a very thin-soled Puma running shoe for training and a super Saucony lightweight track shoe about a month before the actual race.
  3. Anaerobic training. When done properly, short fast-paced workouts in the anaerobic threshold produce greater benefits to your VO2 Max. Very few of my workouts lasted longer than 20 minutes.

Two Months of Training

CrossFit has an offshoot called “CrossFit Endurance” where your typical CrossFit training is slightly augmented for endurance races. My home gym BTB put together a friendly Endurance program. Along with a handful of others, I trained for 2 months following the CrossFit Endurance:

  1. 5-6 CrossFit workouts a week (Without going into too many details: lot’s of fast-paced weight-training and “gymnastics” like pull-ups, push-ups and ring-dips. This also included some running and indoor-rowing).
  2. 2-3 additional running workouts a week (hardly any of my workouts were longer than 2 miles). Mostly intervals, hill-runs and sprints.

I calculated I ran somewhere around 50-60 miles TOTAL training for the marathon. Many marathoners will run that in a week. The longest I ran was a 10k early in my training. There were a lot of Crossfitters who had done this successfully before me – but I still felt a little uneasy as race-day approached. On top of my nervousness, pretty much any traditional runner said the same thing “Uhhh… ok. Let me know how that works out for you.” [said with a dismissive "you're screwed" tone in their voice].

Hitting the Wall

The first 2/3rds of the race I felt fantastic. I felt so good that I had visions of myself running ultra-marathons. Atlanta is fairly hilly and I found my lung-capacity was helping me tear up hills while others dropped their speed considerably. At mile 18 I felt my first sense of fatigue and my speed dropped considerably. By the time I hit mile 23 I hit the proverbial wall. It was miserable. Emerging from Piedmont Park I was pretty sure I would need to walk the remaining 5k.

It’s hard to explain what hitting the wall is. Technically your glycogen stores (basically “carbs”) are exhausted and your body needs to start burning fat. It’s kinda like trying to light a fire with the heavy log versus tiny twigs. Very hard to burn. You have way more fat than carbohydrates stored (well…at least I do). That’s not what you’re thinking at the time. See… running a marathon, you don’t get “winded”. Assuming you’ve trained properly, you’re never really breathing hard. Instead, every muscle is leadened. My calves were burning really hot, and even my biceps started spasming a bit from holding my arms up. At my lowest point I had a heavy feeling of fatigue set in my chest. I remember thinking “holy shit! It would not surprise me if my heart just gave up and stopped beating right now”.

Hitting the wall is a fairly typical occurrence for novice marathoners at that exact distance. In retrospect I was pretty sure I was also very very dehydrated. My urine was coke-colored – that can’t be healthy. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I walked to the next aid station and took down a couple extra cups of water.

I remember the volunteers at the Georgia Tech water station were extra peppy. I felt bad I couldn’t muster the energy to acknowledge their enthusiasm. All I could think about was putting one leg infront of the other.

Then, something clicked. All my energy came back. This was enough to re-energize me so I can finish the race strong. It was good timing too. My wife was there to cheer me in at the finish-line, so I’m glad she got to see me when I was standing tall. 15 minutes before I was a mess.

The Aftermath

"I'm only smiling on the outside" -- Photo stolen from Mark Adams Photography who managed to snap it as I approached the finish line. (http://www.markadamsphoto.com)

I ran it in 4:21 – which comes out to just under a 10:00 mile.  For those of you who aren’t distance runners, I’ll try to put this in perspective. This was an average time for Atlanta’s marathons, but other cities are far more competitive. In order to qualify for the Boston marathon I would have needed to be 65 years old with that time.  Oprah ran the D.C. marathon in 4:27 … so I guess I can always claim I beat her… slightly. G.W. Bush’s Houston marathon time is somewhere near 3:44

Admittedly, I’ll never win a marathon… but I can rightfully have a 26.2 bumper sticker. I don’t think I’ll be running one again very soon. But it did take me through something I’ve never experienced before. To train for the marathon was one thing. Motivating myself to eat right, workout 6-8 times a week, push through pain that I could, rest when I could not. But that type of motivation is pretty familiar to me. The final stretch of the Marathon itself was not. I would say it was a good 3 miles of a mental and physical challenge that few people ever experience. The feeling that is… well… is fucking awful. To push through it proved something to myself.

After I crossed the finish line I saw a lot of people I had kept time with. I spent a lot of times look at their back, passing and being passed by the same people. I thought like we had gone through something together. I wanted to shake their hand, high-five, or plan a reunion or something. I felt like we went through something that few people ever do, and I was proud of it. It was fairly emotional, accomplishing something I wasn’t able to accomplish 10 years prior.

What I learned

  • A lot of people ask if I thought I would have done better if I would have ran more and followed a more “traditional” training method. I reply, “No.” I tried that before and it failed me. I am not sure if CrossFit Endurance will ever breed any Boston Marathon winners. But that isn’t the point. I can say I completed a marathon without sacrificing as much as most people do. I heard a quote by the CF Endurance guru: If you look at the guys who win Triathlons and Marathons, they don’t look healthy. They look like Meth addicts. Sorry, that’s not my fitness goal. I’m not a specialist. I want to be able to do anything and everything.
  • The one thing that such small amounts of running didn’t prepare me for was the toughness of my feet. I got a blister a mile 6. I had thought ahead and stowed away a change of socks and supplies in a mailbox, on mile 18. But I wasn’t able to address it for 12 miles. By that time it was the size of a couple ketchup packets. Fresh socks felt like a miracle though, and I don’t think it slowed me down.
  • I would definitely have drank more throughout the race. I mostly ate gel-packs for fuel. Not sure if I would do it again. About 13 miles in I was seriously craving some salt. At one point I passed a little pretzel on the road and seriously considered doubling-back and eating it off the ground. Yum.
  • The aftermath… no pain. I even did a post-race workout at BTB about 4 hours later that day. I was back in the gym 4 days after that. During training I had experienced nagging ankle and calf issues that had me taking regular ice-baths, but after the race I recovered quickly.
  • Oh… and my nipples were fine, thanks for asking. Mostly because of better clothing and a miracle product called Body Glide. At least I learned something from my first experience.

Timeline of Human Evolution

If you haven’t seen this yet, it might help put some things into perspective. You spent 99% of your most recent evolutionary history running around barefoot, climbing trees, and eating FearFactor-caliber nastiness you wouldn’t touch today. You spent even less time than that using tools… like spears, fire and sporks. If the modern era (1900 to today) were ONE pixel wide the timeline of homo-sapien history would look like this — that’s after you enlarge the graphic:

Click to Enlarge

That’s over 100,000 years (some research says as many as 200,000) where we were pretty much anatomically and mentally the same as we are now. We weren’t exactly “cavemen.” We were homo-sapien.  Walking, talking (well… maybe grunting), socializing homo-sapiens.  Apparently, we spent a lot of time running around catching our food with our bare hands.* 10,000 years ago we discovered agriculture and everything changed — not always for the better.

Sure, now we have pretty awesome things like Trucker hats and Bocce Ball**, but we also have a whole host of diseases and ailments that we didn’t have over 10,000 years ago. Basically, We’ve got 99 problems but food ain’t one. Arthritis, Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes are all recent phenomena and almost certainly life-style related.

It surprised me too when I found out we used to be taller and healthier when were were hunter-gatherers than we are now***. Sure, you ran a much greater chance of dying back then. Most deaths were trauma-related. With no antibiotics, that splinter could become deadly infectious. There were certain “occupational” hazards too… like being killed by whatever you were hunting. Life-spans on average were short (around 35.4 years old).  But, that’s average.

The point is, your body spent 100,000 years adjusting to it’s environment. The way you walk, the way you sleep, the way you sweat, the way you breathe is all conditioned to survive in a pre-agricultural world. Even some of the crap we put up with once had importance: your asthma, your color-blindness, your ear-hair. There’s a reason for it. Unfortunately, our bodies and mind are not well adapted to the way we live now.

Am I suggesting we abandon civilization and go back to subsistence living?  Well… not really. I like my fried chicken, warm showers and trucker-hats. But I don’t think we can ignore our own human history if we want to be happier and healthier.

Notes:

* Check out Born To Run – a good read, and some pretty awesome half-baked theories on why we were “born to run”. Inspirational, funny, and pretty fascinating.

**Abbey just gave me this awesome Bocce Ball themed trucker-hat.

***According to Pandora’s Seed, a great book for nerds on this subject. An anthropologist studied skeletal remains in the Eastern Mediterranean and found:

  • The average height for a guy living 30,000 years ago was 5’9.7″.  Not so bad for subsistence living, eh?
  • Our “low” point was 5000 years ago – when were still getting this farming thing figured out – was 5’3.5″
  • Today were averaging  5’8.6″

Edison’s Medicine

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but instead will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause of the prevention of disease.” – Thomas Edison


That’s Thomas Edison looking all disgruntled – like Bender from the Breakfast Club.

I wanted to write a post about Demotivators – the evil goateed twin brother of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators – but before that I wanted to discuss something else that I’ve been thinking about lately: Self-Discipline.

If self-motivation is the ability to inspire yourself to take action, then I define self-discipline as your own internal ability to control your own behavior. Sorta related, in a My Two Dads kinda way.

To make it simple, Self-Motivation says YES (cool artsy fun dad), Self-Discipline says NO (lame control-freak dad).

The most common example that comes to mind is Nutrition. Eating a Zoned Paleo diet requires a very high degree of Self-Discipline.  My own personal experience shows me that I have a great deal of Self-Motivation, but very poor Self-Discipline. Trust me, if the best way to reduce body fat was entering hot-dog eating contests, Crossfitters would dominate the Fourth of July Nathan’s Championships. We’re talking like 70 hotdogs.

Self-Discipline isn’t just about eating healthy. Here are some examples where we must exhibit it in Crossfit:

  • Choosing to SCALE instead of completing a WOD Rx in increase work-output
  • Focusing on technique during O-lifts instead of muscling the bar over your head.
  • Pacing yourself before and during a distance race to avoid burn-out.
  • Completing full range-of-motion on a pushup even if it costs you time on Angie.

Here’s where I feel my balance of Self-Motivation vs. Self-Discipline. Pretty disproportionate. What’s yours?

Where does self-discipline come from? Why don’t we all have a complete mastery of our own behavior? Part of me thinks we didn’t always need so much damn self-discipline.  Hunter-Gatherers ate what they could get their hands on. Little cave-children weren’t required to sit quietly at a desk for 5 hours while an elder explained abstract concepts to them that may or may not have application in their future. What we call hyper-activity and A.D.D. were probably necessary survival skills 50,000 years ago.

But in the good ol’ day  there was self-discipline. Hunter-gatherers could not spend more calories obtaining food than they would get in return. What we now call “lazy” we used to call “saving energy”. If we were learning the ability to sit quietly, it was when we were learning the ability keep still and silent while we stalked our prey. We learned these skills early, in application. It was necessary for survival.

These days I find that people who exhibit a high-level of self-discipline live healthier lives. If we could tap into what gives us self-discipline and work it like a muscle, there would be much less need for self-motivation.

To see how this factors, do the math:

Rich vs. Fight Gone Bad

Action shot of Rich stolen from gettingcrossed.com - check his site out.

Eating a loaded Chipolte burrito AND chips is somewhere around 1800 calories. Remember your Fight Gone Bad calorie count on the rower? Did you break 10? 15? Fire-breathers might hit 20. How much self-motivation is required to row 1800 calories?

Now, how much self-discipline is required to resist that beautiful tin-foil wrapped burrito and go to the grocery store instead for some lean meats and vegetables? For some of us, apparently a lot.

In my Level 1 Cert the idea was presented that you eat 21+ meals a week. If you’re doing 3-on-1-off, you workout five to six times a week. If you’ve got goals to reduce your waist-line, you’ve got about 4 times the amount of opportunity to kick some ass if you focus on self-discipline.

Where do we find this inner “strength”?  Some people were born with it … some people have to practice it … some people find it with religion.  (is it a coincidence that all three Crossfit Games male winners were very spiritual people?).

Seek Homeostasis:

To be the devil’s advocate, there’s a dark-side to this. Disorders like Anorexia exhibit ridiculously extreme levels of self-discipline — Certainly not “healthy.”  Healthy people seek balance, not extremism. I’d like to see my pie-chart start to look more 1:1.

I think most “normal” people get motivated about once or twice a year to “get in shape”.
Everyone I know has occassional spurts of “I’m going to start eating right” or “I’m going to start going to the gym.” You get all motivated. You join a gym, buy a product endorsed by Chuck Norris, you start eating an all-bacon diet. You lose 7 pounds! You brag to your friends…. then….nothing.

It seems like self-motivation is a psychological timebomb lasting 3-6 weeks… then… undramatically fizzles out and disintegrates like a Wile E Coyote contraption. Why is this? Why can’t we maintain healthy mental-state for our entire lives?  Are we actually meant to be lazy sacks of fat?

I’m sure there’s a hundred books about the subject, but I’m not one for reading so I’ll make some half-baked theories:

Humans weren’t really meant to intrinsically motivate themselves (that is, self-motivate). In hunter-gatherer times you had so many extrinsic motivators (external pressures like starvation, predators, and an environment which wanted to burn, freeze, or crush you) that you always stayed motivated.  You had no choice.

Modern man has some extrinsic motivators: but not many when it comes to health and fitness. (Admittedly, I have almost none). So it leaves us with two choices: change our lifestyles so we have more extrinsic motivators or master our intrinsic motivators.  Since not many people seem like the prospect of abandoning all civilization and returning to a subsistence living, I’d say we need to look internally.

Here are some Intrinsic Motivators - I’m sure there are more that you can think of – but these are the ones that come to mind when I think about what drives me.

  • Vanity – You are motivated by how you look. You’re either tired of looking in the mirror and seeing something you don’t like, or you like other people looking at you. This is probably the most ubiquitous motivating factor for getting people into Globo gyms. The problem is… it’s also one of weakest. It’s hard to look long-term if this is your primary motivator.
  • Ego – You want other people to respect you for how you perform in sport or how fast/strong/big/ripped/thin/lean you are. It was easy to tap into this in high-school or college, but the older you get, the less other people give a shit about how awesome you are. Sorry, but they have more important things to worry about.
  • Habit – You’ve made exercise and diet such a routine that you no longer need active motivation. This is probably the strongest of all of the motivators.
  • Competition – Basically, you want to out-perform. Some people are either self-competitive, or competitive with others: The biggest bench press or fastest 5k time. Before Crossfit, runners, bicyclists and triathletes were the only large community of regular adults who regularly tapped into this.
  • Enjoyment/Fun - Wow… that would be something: to actually enjoy the physical activity that makes you healthier and stronger.  I was never much of an athlete, so I never got into sports like basketball, baseball or soccer.  This left a pretty gaping whole in my life in terms of fitness.
  • Health – You simply want to feel better and live longer.  Wait! Shouldn’t this be first on this?!   I wish it was, but outside of Yoga enthusiasts, I can’t think of many physical activities that are purely health-driven that don’t tap into the above motivations.

The map is different for everyone, because everyone is motivated differently. Here’s what my Intrinsic motivation map kinda looks like. I’ve learned in the past couple of years I am way more self-competitive than I ever would have thought. I get upset when I miss my PR on a 5k or a benchmark WOD, so it drives me to work hard, eat right, and do my best to train smart to avoid injury.

Once I had thought these through, it changed how I approached working out and eating right.  Take Nutrition. It’s not fun, the vanity aspect takes months to see results and there is usually no “ego” in eating right. I needed BTB’s 90 Day Paleo-Challenge to keep me on track for straight 3 months.  We took before/after photos (vanity), we took body fat measure measurements (health), we became a spectacle to outsiders by going all Caveman in our diet (ego) and we competed to see who got the best results (competition).

And incase you were wondering, here are some of my Extrinsic Motivators -

  • Doctor’s Orders – A lot of people are suffering from disease and illness directly related to diet and exercise. These people must change their lifestyle if they want to live. People can’t “feel” their cholestorol levels.
  • Coach – having someone who holds you accountable for showing up to the gym, following through with your diet.
  • Vocation – Some modern jobs still require a high degree of fitness, for example: fireman, law enforcement, construction, military, and professional sports. My job involves me sitting at my desk for 8-10 hours a days, so there isn’t much motivation from the workplace.
  • Peer Pressure – Whether its your family, friends, or colleagues who “pressure” you into exercising and eating right – either directly or indirectly. This has a negative connotation, but in reality can be one of the most uplifting.

If you want to stay committed to any program you must tap into multiple intrinsic motivators, and make sure your programming considers them. You can’t rely on one to keep you going day-in and day-out. One motivator will usually fail, you need others to be there to keep you going.

So… having drunk the Kool-aid, it shouldn’t come as a surprise why I feel that CrossFit facilitates most of these factors. Pre-CrossFit I was able to tap into 1 or 2 of them. With CrossFit I’m regularly tapping into 6 or 8 of them.  Sure I have phases… since I’ve started CrossFitting I’ve had 3 or 4 extended periods where I was out of the box overwhelmed with demotivators (another topic).  I can’t say I’ve been as committed as I’d like to be – but I can also say that I’ve been more committed to fitness that I ever have in my life consistently for the past 2 years.