My Lock Down Plans & Challenges

My fitness was great the whole 7 months I was unemployed. I knew going into it that more structure not less was going to keep me skyrocketing and it did. It wasn’t always emotionally easy to feel like I was doing something but I was actually always doing something.

In fact, getting a job with hours all over the place threw me off a lot more than I expected or would like to admit.

And now I’m effectively unemployed again. The store’s closed almost exactly when I said it would (I worked Tuesday and said I very much doubt we’ll be open Friday, even made a video about it). I had that feeling we’ve all had a bunch of times this week – like the facades of a Hollywood set just came down around you and you’re suddenly standing nowhere. There’s nowhere to turn because there aren’t any corners.

Then my self-training kicked in and I was like – get a pen and paper out and come up with some things you can track. Literally anything will do. At work last year we felt inundated with Brian Adams songs on the radio so I kept count and said I’d buy a round of drinks every hundred; and rather than hate Brian Adams after that his unexpected presence became neutral and then fun.

Still garbage though. Pure garbage and fuck him for being so damn Canadian.

The point is: Track anything, it’s soothing.

So here’s what I’ve got so far: The Kelly Starrett Squat Tabata. I’ve mentioned this a bunch of times all over the internet and IRL but it’s from K-Starr’s book Ready To Run. 8 intervals of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest – that’s known as a Tabata. Do it with squats and get as many as you can in each interval. Mine today was:

11, 12, 13, 13, 13, 14, 13, 13

(I actually did it while writing an email to my running clinic group and did it for them; then the email didn’t go through and all the text was lost. So…. bourbon. And that email was a lot like this post is going to be. But well deserved hate for Brian Adams. Because… bourbon.)

Next: Ice Bath Timer. Jarod (pretty sure that’s his spelling) is my co-worker Taylor’s boyfriend and a fellow coach among the running group and on a sweet 12k (which I proudly tracked on Strava, no link because I don’t know how) he mentioned being into Jocko, and David Goggins, and Tim Ferris, and probably a lot of the other heavy hitter influences in my life so I felt a kindred spirit.

Jarod also mentioned that his cold shower record was up to five minutes. And I had such an internal bro-moment like fuck, I’ve never timed it! but I’m sure I’m under 2 minutes so say nothing more.

Brethren,  I like my cold showers; and my hot, cold, hot, showers; and my hot baths; and for a while I getting into full ice bath submersion – easy and fun in the summer and when sun burned – and I always wanted to bring it back as an every-morning-first-thing kinda thing.

And now I can. And now I just did.

Barely got submerged. Got in up to my belly button, got out in brutal pain, got in up to my nips with my feet out the other end of the tub, got out in brutal pain, got in and slid down all the way to my neck with my knees and feet being completely out of the tub at the other end (it’s a small tub, as you gather) and called it a day. Insanely refreshed and awake. Maybe it’s not even the cold though, maybe it’s the insane fucking breathing. Anyway – 3 rounds of 12 seconds.

And to the physique stuff… My delts and my clavicular pectorals. Back in the game on those obscure little muscles. So I’m thinking a daily routine – therefore higher rep, lower weight – of two-plate hex press, classic pull overs, windmills, and of course incline dumbell press.

When I was unemployed I wanted to get to working out twice a day, one for the lagging physique spots and one for the overall full-body Spartan Race ready fitness. And now running has to factor into that too because I have every intention of running the marathon distance in May whether or not the marathon race is cancelled.

BTW PSA, this is the ultimate time to take up running – it’s solitary yet communal.

Plus:

  • It gets you sunlight and air
  • it’s trackable (meaning numbers matter and give you a sense of control and accomplishment)
  • It’s investigate-able (a word I’m making up to explain that you can read about it – and watch, and listen about it – and get better at it in the time you’re not doing it)
  • And it’s Fight Club-able (meaning it can blossom out into being the reason for everything – it can be the reason you eat what you eat, wear what you wear, sleep when you sleep)

Running brah, now’s the time.

I’d get you some shoes but the store’s closed.

Actually, joking aside, I can probably still help you choose the shoes you need, order them, return them if need be, exchange them and go from there. That would be a lot of fun for me and I hope it happens.

The Running Business In The Time Of Corona

The progress of how things went at work is thus: First we went to no two people on shift, then Run Clinics got cancelled, then Run Club, then store hours got cut to 11-6 each day, and that brings us to now.

I had my first shift of the pandemic era yesterday and boy was it interesting. I thought it would be a ghost town because that’s what my last shift before the changes was like but it was worse. Not a lack of customers but actually an abundance – of returns.

Biggest day of returns I’ve ever seen, over 700 dollars in returns, and I was feeling like it reflected on me personally and like I was going to get in trouble for it but that’s irrational. Like, this is just business and I just happen to be the guy behind the counter today none of this is my fault.

And then I got a call from someone high up who grilled me about it as if it was exactly my fault. Not only the returns at my store but ALL OF CALGARY. Why is Calgary down? He demanded, why are multiple Calgary stores in the negative?

And when I debriefed the returns I’d dealt with that day he said multiple times, every time, “And you couldn’t talk her out of it?”

Which really disappointed me. Returning things is an anxious thing for customers and they want to be reassured that it’s totally okay and an easy process and you build up a lot of goodwill by relieving that anxiety.

Everything the company puts out talks about doing it for the community and it’s about life long relationships – which I believe in and I believe the founder believes in – and here’s this dude being a capitalist shark just seeing numbers and pressuring me to be a high pressure salesman.

We’re out here talking about how people are going to pay their rent and a wealthy man wants me to be shitty about someone returning a pair of shoes.

But you know what? He’s dealing with an unprecedented economic emergency too and probably has people breathing down his neck for answers it can’t possibly be his responsibility to provide.

He called me back and said it wasn’t his intention to grill me – the closest to an apology you get from guys like that – and while I was saying that yeah, you did grill me and it’s unfair he was like sure, sure, sure, I got other calls.

And he probably forget all about me. He’s a powerful guy and he’s got a lot of difficult phone calls to get through meanwhile I’m stuck with this interaction on my mind for days.

I had six customers that day and they all went well. They left happy and I felt I’d done them a service and was happy with myself.

It was 4 returns, a pair of sunglasses, and a hydration pack. And everyone wanted to talk about what’s going on, with the store, with gyms, with schools and hospitals. One person, the girl who bought the hydration pack (I knew all my returns were woman but I just realized all the customers I had all day were woman, odd?) said we must be doing great, with the gyms being closed. When I told her I had two of the returns tell me the exact same with – that with the gym being closed they didn’t need their shoes anymore – she was like oh that’s an excuse and went on to talk about how running is keeping her sane and she couldn’t live without it.

And she’s totally right. For people deep into running, it’s running that will get us through this. In times of oppressive anxiety running is freedom.

The impression I got from the people doing returns was one of deep anxiety. I think for some people – a lot of people – running is a middle class luxury sport and they feel guilty spending money on it in uncertain times. Imagine being a working mom out of work and while people are hoarding necessities at the grocery store you just bought new shoes. I can see the shoes would be an object of guilt.

And I’m sure that when this dies down and they need shoes again, it’s me they’ll think of.

Worst Is First Mentality

I have a procrastination problem – sometimes even with things I like and want to do. I tend to out-think myself and lose a lot of time waiting for the right time. I organize and re-organize my to-do list; I overthink and self-argue about what I’m going to listen to; I get coffee, snacks, beer, whatever… always trying to better do the thing I’m about to do and then never doing it.

What I’m doing now to work on the problem is – as I titled the post – Worst Is First Mentality. I think of everything I should do today and figure out which I don’t want to do, feel like I shouldn’t have to do, doesn’t suit me, doesn’t reinforce my self image, basically whatever is the one I most want to put off. And I do that. And I do it without getting a coffee first, or putting on a movie in the background, no crutches no nothing.

For one, nothing ever takes as long as you think. I remember when I’d put off the dishes til mid-day and I’d open YouTube and select a 15 minute video and crack a beer and feel all set up to do a chore and then… I’d be done. I’d still have 11 minutes of video left and a full beer.

But even knowing that I’d still put off doing the dishes for days until it seemed like such a hated chore that I felt better putting it off than getting it done.

So with the New Year my resolution, my guiding principal was Tidy & Prompt. And in the spirit of that I started doing the dishes first thing every morning. In the silence, and the low-light, uncaffeinated while boiling the kettle.

And then it’s done before I’ve even thought about it and there’s nothing hanging over me for the day, nothing I should be doing while I try to focus on what I’m doing.

I used to believe in, and advocate, The Cascade Effect. I believed that working out first thing in the morning set you up to blow through everything else in a day joyfully. And I didn’t notice that it stopped working for me. I trusted that what was once true would always be true. Until Wes Watson said it doesn’t take discipline to do something you enjoy doing. To make the habit of working out everyday I had to do it first thing, but once it was a habit and once I loved it (not merely enjoyed it but loved it – something I should write about in the future) then it actually became a distraction. It became a procrastination tool. I’d feel like I had done something important and expect an afterglow cascade effect to take care of everything else. I built an auto-pilot that stopped taking me to my desired destination.

And now with honesty and effort I’ve built a new auto-pilot. I don’t even think about doing the dishes every day and I don’t even think about putting off other things until after this video or when it’s bright outside. Seriously, as a weird end-note here I also had a problem of thinking the little emotional boost of a sunny day was a vital stepping stone to getting something done.

I guess that’s the key – I tricked myself into thinking I could make myself feel like doing whatever. And if I didn’t feel like it then my goal was to find a way to make myself feel like it. But really the goal should have been to do it regardless.

 

Proscribing People Diet & Exercise (Without Being A Dick About It, Hopefully)

I know I wrote about this already this week but I had a memory today and it’s relevant.

When I was a kid I was given St. John’s Wart and told by my caregiver “We’re both going to take it for awhile, for our memory.”

It was a lie. I was depressed and this was being done with the good intention of fixing me. Which is extremely condescending, dis-empowering, disrespectful, and every other bad thing.

And as a depressed person and an internet person I also see millions of tweets like:

Me: *is extremely depressed*

Everyone: Just go for a walk!

Which I get but I’ve seen it so many times now I feel like it’s the depressed people being dicks at this point. But anyway…

What you never want to do as a role model – and if you’re into fitness and you’re recommending fitness to others with the hope of helping them that’s exactly what you’re being so cope – is give someone the impression they’re not good enough or that this is going to solve their problems.

Depression is real; stress is real; job loss and debt and rejection and existential crisis is real. If your only problem is you don’t exercise then yes, exercise will solve your problem otherwise you are going to have all the same problems.

But it’s like lifting weights – the weight is always going to be as heavy as it is, nothing turns 100 pounds into 75 pounds, but your footwear, your stance, your breathing, your nutrition, and a lot of other factors (like even music) will effect how heavy it feels.

If you were going for a really heavy lift and I thought you had poor shoes on, or like a single hiking boot, I’d get your attention and help you.

And so it is with life. You may be crushing under the weight of something and it isn’t going to change but you can be set up to lift it strong or you can be set up to lift it weak.

I can’t know exactly what you’re going through and nothing is going to magically make into one of the special people who doesn’t have that problem but I have lifted some serious shit in my time and I can at least help you with a form check and add to your base of strength.

 

We Love People By Trying To Get Them Healthy

And it’s tough.

You don’t want to come off judgey or pushy with people you care about but how we express love for ourselves is how we’ll express it for others and for us health psychos that means being healthy.

Health and happiness aren’t mutually inclusive, you can be healthy but not happy; however I don’t think you can really be happy without being healthy. Like, I think you actually have to be healthy to enjoy hedonistic, unhealthy foods even. Have you ever eaten massive, indulgent burgers everyday? It stops being fun.

But getting someone who is doing that (i.e, me in my 20’s) to see that is tough. Fit people telling others what to do can seem like saying they’re not good enough and causes them to take a defiant fine-the-way-I-am-and-even-proud-of-it stance. Like me, in my 20s.

So what are some strategies to love someone as they are AND help them on a path to getting better?

Number one for me: Vitamins as gifts. Taking vitamin D one winter was the first step to realizing my mood is my nutrition period. It doesn’t matter what you tell yourself to think because you and thinking is downstream of the chemicals at your body’s disposal.

Giving someone vitamins as gift will get them to take them for a while and likely they’ll let it run out but hopefully they’ll notice what the lack of vitamins feels like and take them from then on because they feel like it, not because you ever told them to.

You can meal-prep or snack-prep for someone close to you. I hear there are people who use food as love anyway so this shouldn’t be too out of the ordinary.

The point is I-made-you-something or I-bought-you-something communicates love better than telling them to include something in their diet or to go out and buy something.

Exercise is the master class I have yet to master though. People will get good emotional feedback from eating healthy pretty quick. I had a friend tell me the first day he didn’t have a huge, over-the-counter sandwich for lunch he noticed right away he didn’t feel like garbage in the afternoon.

It takes a long time to see and feel the benefits of regular exercise though. Extremely especially for people who think that exercise is only about losing weight. They will experience (or we fear they will experience) any recommendation to exercise as body-shame.

But even with people who know there’s big emotional benefits to working out and who haven’t built a habit of it yet it’s tough to be a Drill Sargent for people you care about – even though you’re doing it precisely because you care about them.

The inclination is to express your love by letting them be comfortable; by telling them it’s okay and they don’t have to take on anything more right now. We’re used to pushing ourselves and being austere and knowing exactly how tough we can talk to ourselves – but with others we go for the softest possible touch and move up from there until we give up.

In relation to anybody we know what the deal-breakers are and we know (vaguely) what the the ideal would be – but we don’t know how to navigate the in-between.

And it’s tough because I know all advice is autobiography. When I was a musician self-expression was the only reliable path to happiness for me so I recommended it, sternly, to everyone. It eventually became wrought and unreliable and I found that health was a much more reliable path and so now it is the hammer I use on the nail of anyone else’s unhappiness.

With so many people it simply may not be their time yet and you have to keep loving them anyway – and remembering that your encouragement is an act of love from you to them rather than a burden from them to you.

But you know, I also think back on some of the bizarre, hurtful, or unhelpful things people have said to me over the years on my faltering journey towards health and I see they always came from a place of love on their part – but it was a lazy, fearful love. People encouraging me not to quit drinking because I was fine; people telling me not to work out because I might hurt myself because I’m sickly; people telling me not to try something again and that maybe I wasn’t cut out for it because I’d failed and my feelings were hurt.

Bold love should make the people you love braver, it should make them joyfully want to be better, to reach higher and be sure they can reach higher. Your love shouldn’t be complicit in holding someone back – just as your self-love shouldn’t be complicit in holding you back, right?

My Surprisingly In Depth Thoughts & Feelings About Whiteboards

I don’t actually like them.

That’s it. That’s the whole post. This post is really about my love and respect for paper.

Here’s the story I want to tell in chronological order:

I’ve owned dozens of small and extremely large whiteboards over the years and tried a number of times to track goals on them. It never works out. Because whiteboards are ugly and writing on them makes my ugly writing even uglier and it’s stupid and uncomfortable to write on something that’s vertical and since it’s temporary anyway fuck it.

But it’s clearly so efficient… no. No method is efficient if you end up not using it.

I was inspired by a study I saw about people who wanted to organize their mail. Which must have been a hella old study I guess. Some people built a folder from cardboard while some bought an expensive, nice looking folder specifically to organize mail.

The high cost folder group organized their mail for longer and more diligently and enjoyed it. And even if nothing else they said they felt they had to use it because hey, they paid for it.

So I first switched to poster board. 14 by 22 inch sheets of basically construction paper. And I got my girlfriend to calligraphy three months across the top and my goals down the side. They were beautiful and they were permanent marker, they were tangible, they were a history being recorded.

You can wipe something off a white board and it’s like it never existed. And you know that even when you’re looking at it.

But with paper it’s always there. Even if you crumple it up and throw it away that piece of paper always says what it said.

Eventually all the goals became habits and tracking them wasn’t necessary anymore. Which what this post was originally going to be about – Your goal should be to turn all your goals into habits and then I discovered I’m irrationally serious about whiteboards.

Anyway I stopped tracking big, arching goals on poster while I was still writing work outs in a notebook. Which felt like a misuse of paper. Whole pages used for 2 or 3 vertical lists. Not enough context to be a history – it didn’t need to be a book, it could simply be on scraps.

So I switched to index cards. I’d write my daily to-do list on one side and my work out on the other and at the end of each week I’d review the little stack with pride. Or, better, with guilt because something was on the list 3 days in a row and it was an accountability reminder.

Then my girlfriend wanted to get into a work out habit and routine of her own and what did I do to try and help? Brought out the whiteboard.

I wrote my work out on half and hers on the other. I felt like it would be a visual reminder for her to hit a work out and that we were in it together. And besides I felt like I was starting to waste cards because I was writing the same things in the same order (since my training shifted from the various and explosive training for Spartan to straight forward muscle building for the winter).

What happened? I started improvising my workouts because I didn’t feel like wiping and writing everyday and for her it became part of the living room scenery instantly.

Fuckin’ whiteboards.

When To Schedule Your Work Out

For me, if something has to get done then it has to be the first thing I do in a day. I’m so prone to procrastination and defeatism that everything else becomes a maybe; my mood might spiral down and down all day until I can’t bring myself to do anything.

So when I started exercising I knew where it had to go. I started with a one minute plank every morning and the empire of my fitness was built from there.

Of course when I started running it was the same thing. Alarm clock, running clothes, make a single cup of coffee, headphones (same playlist everyday), run. And it was wonderful. Being up and active in the summer morning sunshine set me up better for the whole day. The cascade effect was real – a good morning become a joyful and productive day.

When strength training came in the picture I started with the same principal. My “French Press & Bench Press” tattoo commemorates that era, winter now, where I’d wake up in the cold and the dark, make coffee, and silently move weight under a single white light. So austere.

However – that became a time crunch. It’s hard to get moving moving in the cold dark morning and my hour-long-on-paper work outs always had to get adapted on the fly to fit the real life hour I was working with. Eventually I came to enjoy waiting until I’d eaten and thought and warmed up and was excited to work out. And I found that saving the work out til later was a good way to shake off afternoon or evening doldrums and have a second burst of productive energy.

Then I came down with a case of unemployment and could put anything anywhere on my schedule. The curse of too much freedom blackened my days. I didn’t want to work out until after I’d eaten and I didn’t want to eat first thing in the morning so I’d wait. I’d wait to eat, wait to work out, and while I was waiting all I did was wait. I didn’t want to do anything real since I was saving it for after the work out – believing that the cascade effect was paramount, how could I joyfully and productively do dishes if I wasn’t glowing from a work out after all?

And then, like I said up top, my mood would sink. I was scrolling Twitter for bad news and watching YouTube for frivolous trivialities, being equally annoyed at myself for engaging with both. Until I lost my why. Why work out, why clean up, why anything, especially when tomorrow is equally as blank as today and I can do it all then – when I assumed I’ll magically feel different and inspired again.

Here’s the twist though – I’d still always work out. Even if I was dragging so much ass in the beginning that it turned into a 3 hour work out with pointless YouTube videos running the whole time I always did it because I knew – even I didn’t feel – that it would halt a self-hating spiral.

Plus, it’s really easy to stay on your diet and fitness goals when you can’t go anywhere or afford any indulgences.

(People think the rich are thin because they can afford personal trainers and tons of equipment and the fanciest organic super foods and no, it’s because they have time. When a rich person is busy it’s because they’ve scheduled a million optional, usually enjoyable things. When a poor person is busy it’s because transportation and wage laws are stacked against us and we can’t pawn off cleaning and childcare. But… I digress… *makes mental note to do a Friday Fitness logo in all black holding a red flag*)

What I’d mess up though is that working out became all I’d do. There was no cascade effect. I’d not-felt-like working out, then I’d crossed that mighty bridge and worked out anyway, then my sense of accomplishment for the day was fine and I’d start relaxing.

So what I’m trying now is: Trying to use the work out as the reward. Getting important things done early and with the energy and excitement that I put into working out. Because the cascade effect doesn’t work when you do something everyday and you know you’re going to do it everyday. You don’t get momentum off doing something inevitable, you get it from doing something that seemed crappy but then in reality wasn’t bad and didn’t take long.

Like someone tweeted a while ago:

*puts something off for 4 months

*gets it done in 11 minutes