Workouts for Wimps: Your First Real Pushup

The Art of the One-Handed Pushup by Andy Carvin

This baby can do a one-armed pushup - why can't you?

The pushup is one of the most timeless, absolutely essential bodyweight exercises there is. Along with squats and a few others, the pushup in some for or another is the foundation of every bodyweight strength training regimine out there – or at least every worthwhile one. If you want to get in shape, and you don’t have access to free weights, you better be able to do pushups.

So, what if you can’t?

What if you’re too weak or too overweight to do even a single standard pushup? No problem! There are lots of alternatives that you can use to work your way up to it. All of these have been tested and proven both by myself and Caroline. I was the kid that got laughed out of gym class for being too fat to do a single pushup, and Caroline was the yoga nut who weighed next to nothing but had never done a day of strength training in her life. Between the two of us, we know these should work for everybody.

Anyone can build the strength to do push ups if they follow the right progression. (Tweet this!)

The Staircase Progression

Staircase progressions are the method I used to get my 55 year-old mother, who I don’t think had even done one single pushup in her entire life, to get to the point where she was doing full sets of standard pushups on the ground. We’re not quite to one-armed pushups yet, but we’ll get there.

How it works:

All strength building works on the principle of progressively increasing resistance. Your body adapts, you up the resistance, it adapts again, etc. So if you’re not strong enough to do even one pushup, you need to start with something easier and work your way up to it progressively.

Making a pushup easier is all about physics. As excited as I get about physics, I’m not gonna go into details here – let’s just say the higher your head is in relation to your feet, the easier the pushup is and vice versa (this is also a handy way to increase the intensity, when you’re ready). A staircase provides a perfect platform to progressively increase the resistance on your pushups. You can find one just about anywhere, each step is equally spaced between the one above and below it, and you can easily measure your progress.

Start with your hands on the highest step you can reach with your arms straight out in front of you and your toes down on the floor touching the bottom step in a standard pushup position. Lower yourself to the stair as if it were the ground and you were doing a regular pushup. If the highest step you can reach is too easy, and chances are it will be even if you can’t do a single pushup on the floor, go down to the next step and repeat. When you finally hit a stair that’s low enough that you can’t do at least five pushups in a row, stop and take note of the stair one higher than that one.

That stair is where you’re going to start your actual workout. Now you may have an existing strength training routine, though if you can’t even do one pushup I’m guessing you don’t. If you do, you can work it around your pushup training routine which will be as follows – 3 days per week, with at least one rest day between each, you will do five sets of five pushups on the stairs. The first week you will start on the last stair that you were able to do five consecutive pushups on. The second week, you’ll move down one stair which you should then be able to do five consecutive pushups on. The following week you move down again. Eventually, you hit the floor – and I don’t mean from exhaustion – and can start doing pushups there.

Take a moment to congradulate yourself, and then get ready to start learning one-armed and handstand pushups…

Tips and Tricks

If you don’t have any other strength training routine, such as what might be included as part of a beginner’s fitness plan for example, then I would suggest taking around a 30 to 45 second rest between each set. That is, do five pushups, rest for 45 seconds or so, and then do another set of five. If you find that 45 seconds is too short, and you can’t do 5 full pushups with good form, then increase the rest time until you find your sweet spot.

If you find yourself requiring excessively long rest periods (2 minutes or more) then you may want to try an incidental training pattern. On your strength training days, everytime you go up or down the stairs stop and do one set of pushups. With the longer and more variable rest periods, you don’t have to worry about stopping at five total sets for a day, but do still give yourself the rest day. Then just bump down a step the following week like normal.

When doing the pushups, it helps the most if you lower yourself very slowly (count to 5 from top to bottom) and push back up very quickly (faster than you can count to 1). This will help build the necessary strength up as quickly as possible. Try not to rocket your upper body off the staircase. You can work your way up to plyometric and clapping pushups when you get to the ground.

Getting Negative

Don’t worry, I don’t mean mentally. In weight training, a negative is the part of the movement when gravity is doing most of the work – in our case, the part where you’re lowering yourself back toward the ground. Negatives are the way that I went from no pushups to handstand pushups.

How it works:

The negative is also called the eccentric contraction and, unlike eccentric relatives, is extremely beneficial and something you should get better acquainted with. A majority of the strength building activity in an exercise occurs during the eccentric phase of the movement. That means that if you just do that part, you can still get a majority of the benefits.

To do a negative pushup, you start at the top of the standard pushup position on the floor. Then, you lower yourself down as slowly as possible. Seriously, I want your arms shaking a little by the time you get to the bottom. Once you’re at the bottom, instead of struggle and fight and try to push your way back up with your arms, just get up. Yep, get back up on your hands and knees and put yourself in the top position and lower yourself down again. It’s that easy. If it seems like cheating, well, it kinda is – but it works.

Do five sets of five negatives three days a week with a day of rest between each training day and 30 to 45 seconds rest between sets. After one full week of training, try to work one single standard pushup into each set of negatives as the first rep. If you still can’t do it, increase each negative by five seconds, i.e., lower yourself five seconds more slowly with each rep, and try again for one pushup per set the following week.

Once you go a week of doing one full pushup in each set, go for two full pushups in each set for the next week. Keep increasing each week and before long, you’ll be doing five sets of five full pushups on the ground with no problem.

Tips and Tricks:

This method is pretty straightforward, so there aren’t really a lot of tips and tricks to it. If you’re concerned that you’re so weak you’ll get about halfway down the first negative and then plant your face into the floor like a scared ostrich, by all means put a pillow or rolled up towel between your face and the floor.

If you are having that much trouble with the negatives, you an also try the old fashioned knee pushups, where you use your knees as the fulcrum for the pushup instead of your toes. In my experiences, however, it’s hard to make the jump from knee pushups to standard pushups. What I did, back in my whale days, was to do negatives with my hands on a slightly elevated platform. In my case it was an office chair jammed up against the wall so it wouldn’t roll out from under me. A set of stairs, as mentioned above, makes a nice choice too. Anything stable that gets your hands a little higher than your toes will work.

There you have it – you now have no excuses for not being able to do pushups. Once you master this movement, you’ll be well underway to having the basics of bodyweight exercises under your belt. At least, until you decide your ready to go one-armed…

Anyone else have any helpful tips or tricks to add, or some other method they used to build up to standard pushups? We’d love to hear it!

5 Reasons to Never Follow Your Dreams

Prison Cell by Still Burning

Life should be safe and cozy - like a prison cell.

Let’s face it – life is scary. You have to wake up every morning and actually do stuff. There’s a lot of pressure there. You have to go out and slave away at your job everyday for money as the ticking of the clock beckons you gradually closer to the grave. It’s really kind of a bummer.

That’s why I say, don’t even worry about working that hard. The fact is, it’s not going to matter in the end. The best course of action is to just stay in whatever mind-numbing career you find yourself in now. Anything else would be too risky.

To help everyone realize how stupid it really would be to ever take a chance on anything, I’ve compiled this list of five really good reasons you should never quit you day job (or do anything else worthwhile).

  • Job Security – Being left without any real source of income, particularly when you have a family to provide for, is a really frightening prospect. Why would you want to fight and work hard for self-sufficiency and multiple streams of income when you can just settle into your nice secure career. As we all know, once you’re working for a company you’re stuck there – there’s no way anything could ever happen that would result in you losing your job for reasons beyond your control. With the economy so stable right now, there’s no reason to ever fear losing your job. It’s the perfect opportunity to put all the eggs you have into one safe, secure basket. Why be risky and chase your dreams, when you can take the safe route and crush them like everyone else.
  • Fulfillment – Fulfillment. It’s really, really overrated. You don’t need to feel fulfilled. You just need to think you feel fulfilled. Now, I hate to say it but your average 9 to 5 isn’t going to help you out any here. It’s soul-crushing nature is the whole reason you think you crave fulfillment anyway. No, the way to really fake fulfillment and be able to keep your job and pretend you’re really happy with life lies in one secret technique – video games. Pursuing genuine fulfillment is for suckers. Learning an instrument, traveling, bettering yourself? Come on. That takes work. Why would you want to do that when you can get a cheap proxy for that very same feeling by teaching your Sims to play piano, or raiding that new instance in WoW. If you need a little more, you can get fulfillment beamed right into your head by staring blankly at the television. This way, you can feel really proud about your accomplishments without ever having to actually accomplish anything at all!
  • Fitness – It’s for suckers! With the state of modern medicine, it will be no problem for them to keep you going in thirty or forty years when your heart finally gives out. They may even have the ability to replace it with machine parts by that point. Cyborgs! Yay! On top of that, what kind of moron really chooses to delay gratification? Sure, they’re pretty much guaranteed more satisfaction by eschewing the instant pleasures for the later ones, but what’s a guarantee anyway? Who wants to suffer now just to maybe live a decade or two longer? It may take a few years off your life, but having the pleasure of eating Big Macs everynight for a week straight is a small price to pay.
  • Consumerism – We all know that the real key to living a good life, aside from gorging yourself with fast food while playing videogames in your underpants all day, is to have lots and lots and lots of stuff. You need to have more stuff than your friends, you need to have more stuff than your family, you need to have more stuff than everybody. You need to have better stuff too. All that minimalism garbage everybody keeps talking about is just because they know they’re too poor to get as much stuff as you. Look at how happy all those people on Hoarders are. One or two may get buried in stuff-volanche from time to time, but that’s the price you pay for success. If you’re not buying shiny new stuff to push yourself into more debt everyday, well then you’re just a failure.
  • Freedom – People talk a lot about being free. The problem is, they don’t really know what being free means. They think it means being able to go where you want, and do what you want, whenever you feel like it. That’s not freedom! Real freedom comes when you have a whole bunch of stuff tying you to one place. Real freedom is having the choice whether to take your two weeks of vacation together, or separate. Real freedom is being able to choose whether to pay your mortgage on the due date, or before the due date. When you’re chained to a single job and anchored by the massive debt of a house that was way beyond what you can really afford buyoed by a nice cushion of credit cards, then you know what freedom is.

    So there you have it. Don’t chase your dreams, fill your life with faux-fulfillment from frequent TV watching and constant hours playing video games, leave fitness to the gym rats and bury yourself in a nice, safe burrow of debt lined with as many useless possessions as are necessary to make you feel more important than everyone else you know. That’s the real path to happiness.

Timeboxing 101: What, Why and How

The Passage of Time by ToniVC

With timeboxing, you can make the clock work to your advantage.

Timeboxing, or one of the many variations on it, is easily one of the best techniques for being more productive throughout the day. Timeboxing allows you to get the motivation up to do the things you don’t want to do, focuses your attention on the tasks that really need to be prioritized, stops you from wasting time on pointless tasks and makes Parkinson’s Law work for you. Oh, and I think it’s kind of fun too.

So what is timeboxing? Essentially, it’s taking a task and assigning a fixed period of time for its completion. Once you hit that time limit, you stop working and move on to something else, regardless of whether or not you actually completed your task.

How does quitting before we’re finished help? Well, let me show you.

Some Benefits of Timeboxing

Motivation

The first benefit of timeboxing is that it gets you rolling on daunting or unpleasant tasks. Think of something that you need to get done, but just can’t get the motivation up to do. Maybe it’s something huge like writing a 200 page thesis, maybe it’s something that you just really hate to do like clean out the garage, maybe it’s both.

When you’re faced with these kinds of tasks, most people’s natural inclination is to put it off. They procrastinate an do their best to avoid it, and waste a lot of valuable time in the process. The hardest step to take is always that first one.

Setting a timebox for these tasks removes that feeling of dread. For example, you could sit down and commit to working on your thesis for 30 minutes, after which you can go relax. Whether you write 5 words or 5,000 in that 30 minutes is irrelevant, as long as you sit and write for 30 minutes. Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so bad. 30 minutes is nothing, and its easy to sit down and start if you know you’ll only have to siffer through 30 minutes of work.

The same goes for my cleaning example. If you say you’re going to go work on cleaning the garage for an hour and then quit, it’s not too hard to commit to. You know you won’t be slaving away all day out there, and chances are even if you aren’t finished by the end of that hour you’ll have gotten a lot done.

Timeboxing also becomes a little bit of a game. It’s kind of like a race, or one of those really frustrating Super Mario levels where the screen moves to the right and you die if you go too slow. Trying to see just how much you can accomplish before that timer sounds is a really good way to get pumped about whatever you’re trying to work on. This is particularly great for tasks like cleaning that will need to be done again, because you can continually try to beat your previous best and accomplish more within that timebox.

Time Bandits

No, not the movie. The second benefit of timeboxing lies in managing time-sinks. A time-sink is more like a heatsink than a kitchen sink, in that it sucks up all of your time (although the visual of all your time going down the drain is a good metaphor for it too). Basically, anything that you are prone to spend way too much time on everyday is a time-sink.

Some very common culprits are checking e-mail, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and catching up on your RSS reader, but there are lots of others. Timeboxing this activities and having a set cut off time will not only force you from burning too much time away on them, but also help you speed up the task itself. If you only have 10 minutes everyday to process your inbox, before long you will have found every trick imaginable to make that process as speedy and efficient as possible.

Timeboxing relaxation and reward time can also help us not get too carried away when we take a break and need to get back to work. It’s cool if you want to take a little time to chill out and play a game or something, but when you completely lose track of time and spend 8 hours straight stabbing things in Azeroth, that tends to hurt your productivity a bit.

By setting a timebox, you can allow yourself to relax and play, but not run the risk of getting so carried away that nothing else gets done. Play for an hour, timer goes off, work for an hour or two, timer goes off, play for an hour, etc.

This also works for combating perfectionism. Being a perfectionist over things is like being a walking time-sink factory. If all you do is obsess over the details and fret about whether or not something is absolutely perfect before you consider it done then everything is going to take ages to finish. By putting things in timeboxes you force yourself to call it quits and consider something finished when your time is up, regardless of how well it’s done. It may hurt, but it’s for your own good.

Dining on Elephants

You know the old, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” saying. Honestly, it’s a little to cliche for me – but I have to admit it’s got a bit of a point. When you have some giant, monster task the best course of action is always to divide and conquer.

Timeboxing gives you the perfect way to do just that, since you can isolate a specific area of a project, devote a set amount of time to it, and then move on to the next area. Not only do you guarantee you won’t waste too much time on one specific area of the project, but you also break the whole thing down into tasty, manageable chunks.

Once you have the task divided up, progress will start accumulating incrementally and before you know it, you’ll be all finished. How easy is that?

Our Friend Parkinson

We’ve mentioned Parkinson’s Law a few times before – “Work expands to fill the time alotted for its completion.”

Timeboxing takes that law, which is normally a very annoying thing, and makes it into our friend. By limiting the amount of time allotted for the completion of a task, we also reduce the amount of work. When you only have a short time to finish something, the process gets streamlined and prioritized so that only the truly important things get completed.

Since time is usually the easiest variable to manipulate, using it to leverage Parkinson’s Law against a normally difficult task is a great way to maximize your efficiency when working on something. Having a restricted deadline gives you no choice but to focus on the task at hand and completely ignore any distractions that may pop up. If you only have 15 minutes to rock something out, you’re not going to waste that time to go answer the phone, stop to check your e-mail, or go see what people have been talking about on Twitter.

There are lots more reasons why timeboxing is so effective, but I don’t want to get into too much here. There will be time for that later. The important thing, now that you know how much better you life can be with timeboxing, is that you know how to get started in the first place.

How to Start Timeboxing

Getting started using timeboxing is easy and, best of all in my opinion since I am a raging cheapskate, it’s free. Well, it can be free. You can buy stuff to help out too. All you need to get started is yourself, a task to accomplish, and some way to keep time. Since you probably have a watch, clock, phone, computer and various other electronic devices with clocks or timers on them, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Cheap though I may be, I actually went out and bought a mechanical kitchen timer for like $2, and made it my official timeboxing timer. I like using it a lot better, both because it’s loud and mechanical not electronic so I have less worries about it malfunctioning, but also because having bought something specifically for timeboxing makes me want to do it even more. Even if it is just a $2 hunk of plastic and springs.

Now that you have what you need, time for step one.

Find a Task

The first step to get started is to find a task. This can be any task at all, but there are some that lend themselves a little better to timeboxing. The first are tasks that you are having a lot of issues getting the motivation up to do. Usually, these are either big things, like writing a novel, or unpleasant things, like cleaning out the attic.

The second category of tasks that lend themselves to timeboxing are time-sink tasks. Things that you waste way too much time on when you do them. Like I said before, e-mail is one of the biggest culprits here with social media being a close second for most people.

It’s good to start small until you get the hang of it, but pick something and move on to step two.

Consider Your Goals

There are lots of things you can accomplish with timeboxing, and knowing why you’re getting into it in the first place is important. Once you’ve picked your task, take a few minutes to think about what you want to really accomplish by timeboxing it.

It may be that you want to get the motivation to take the first step, chip a little into some monumental task or just mitigate the damage of something you usually spend too much time on.

Regardless of your reason, it’s important to take a second to figure out what it is before you move on to step three…

Set a Time

How much time you set is going to depend largely on what your goals for the action are.

Do you want to get the courage up to get started on a hard or boring task? Set a short time, 15 to 30 minutes maybe, that you know won’t be too painful or difficult to commit to.

Do you want to make incrememntal progress in something big? Set a longer time frame of an hour or maybe even two hours if you’re feeling motivated, just don’t go too overboard and burn yourself out.

In the beginning, the important thing is to just wing it and not worry too much about setting the perfect amount of time for your timebox, the more you play around with it, the more you’ll develop a nice intuitive feel for how long you should set for each task.

Get Busy

I would say this is the easiest step, but come on, this whole process is cake, and it’s not even a lie. No party submission position necessary here. Once you have your time set, get to work on your task, but make sure to always stop working when your time ends.

This is really important, because if you don’t, you’re not timeboxing. You’re pretending to timebox, but just doing what you always do anyway. That cake is a lie.

Work until time runs out, and then move on to step five.

Reward Yourself

When the timer goes off and you’re done with your task, reward yourself! There are lots of reasons why using rewards is great, but the best one is that this will keep you motivated and excited about timeboxing. On top of that, it will keep you fresh and happy when you move on to your next task, timeboxed or not.

Congratulations! You now know everything you need to know to get started timeboxing! Be sure to come back and let us know how it goes, and if you’ve been doing it for a while, we’d love for you to share any tips you’ve come up with to make timeboxing more effective.

Winter Molt Challenge: Success!

Roughly 141 days have passed (I’m not sure if today counts yet) and I am now officially at the end of Winter Molt Challenge.

I have to say, overall it has been a tremendous success. As of today I weigh in at 156.3 pounds and am 9.8% body fat. Now, technically my original goal was to reach 150 pounds by this date. I’ve found however that, with the strength training routine I’ve been following and my goal of obtaining as good a strength:weight ratio as possible, 150 pounds and under is just too light.

Charts and data are to come, as well as a general overview of everything that worked and everything that didn’t. In the meantime though I wanted to get something up today so no one is left hanging on the results.

The Science of Rewards

Lollipop by Sister72

Having the right reward can make all the difference.

Anyone who has been around children for an appreciable amount of time knows that the best way to get them to do something they don’t want to is to use a reward. Kid doesn’t want to go to the doctor so you promise them a new toy afterward if they behave, grades are slipping so you offer to pay $10 for every A you see on their report card, etc. Once they’ve been rewarded enough times for doing it, going to the doctor or getting better grades doesn’t become such a battle anymore. They may even start to enjoy it.

Ok, you may call those bribes, not rewards – doesn’t matter. The basic mechanism is the same regardless. The child has a behavior you want to correct, you offer a positive stimulus for engaging in the desired behavior and the child starts associating the behavior with the reward and begins to enjoy it. Easy.

Now, if this sounds a little bit like dog training that’s because, well, it is!

A part of dog training anyway. Don’t get insulted though and think I’m insinuating that your children are dogs (not that there would be anything wrong with that, I’m quite fond of dogs), classic conditioning is used as a part of dog training because it’s effective. Not just in dogs, but in pretty much all animals. Even better, we can use it on ourselves to motivate and condition us to achieve our goals.

Hormones & Neurotransmitters

The reason it’s so effective, in humans at least, is because of how our brains respond to rewards. That good feeling you get when you meet a goal, that high that comes from winning or earning a trophy, the sense of triumph when you beat a game on expert mode or unlock a new achievement on Steam. These feelings aren’t just all in your head.

Er, Ok, they are just in your head, but not in the imaginary way.

They’re a result of your brain chemistry. Of chemicals which are all in your head but more in a physical sense. Your brain likes rewards. It can’t help it, it’s a part of all of us. So when you set a goal knowing that there’s a reward at the end if you accomplish it, your brain starts releasing all sorts of very pleasant chemicals when you think about it. One of the strongest of these is dopamine.

Dopamine is some really strong stuff. It’s the main neurotransmitter linked with desire. When we get what we want, we get a good dose of dopamine and we feel good. When we don’t get what we want, we get starved of dopamine and get an unpleasant cocktail of stress hormones like cortisol. Not fun.

If you want a good example of how it feels to get a good shot of dopamine, think of the feeling of really deep love. Dopamine is one of the main chemicals released as a result of strong, devoted, never-want-to-be-apart love. Being with, or even just thinking about, the person you have those feelings for triggers a dopamine release. The cutoff of the dopamine supply is one reason why losing deep romantic love can feel like you’re dying.

So when you set a reward, thinking about earning that reward gives you little shots of happy, motivating neurotransmitters and thinking about failing to earn that reward gives you little shots of unpleasant, stressful neurotransmitters.

Just having a reward to work toward will naturally make you more motivated to succeed, and more concerned about failing. Additionally, if you make it a repeat process, your brain will start to associate that large dose of dopamine you get from finally earning that reward with whatever productive activity you assigned it to, making you want to do it more often with or without the reward.

The Price of Ownership

There’s a famous experiment that was run by Cornell University, where researches first gave students mugs with the school logo on it and then offered to trade the mugs for chocolate bars and then later gave students chocolate bars and then offered to trade them for school mugs.

Of the first group, almost none were willing to trade the mugs they had been given for the chocolate bars. It didn’t matter how much the students said they liked chocolate, the majority still chose to keep their mugs.

Now, before you attribute this to high school spirit, caffeine addiction or a sample set full of dieters – when the situation was reversed and the students who were given the chocolate bars were offered the mugs as a trade, the majority decided to keep the chocolate.

It turned out that no matter what it was, the students were always more likely to keep what they had rather than trade it away. This is usually referred to as the endowment effect.

The endowment effect basically means that when we assume ownership of something, we automatically make it a part of ourselves. Once we’ve made it a part of ourselves the loss of it triggers all those bad stress hormones and unhappy feelings triggered by losing a valued possession. This doesn’t just have to happen with things, it happens for ideas and people too. The best part is, you don’t even have to actually own something for the endowment effect to take hold, just the anticipation of owning something is enough to trigger it. Having someone tell you they are going to give you $50 and then later deciding not to feels just as bad as having someone just take $50 from your wallet.

That means that when you set rewards, you’re investing a part of yourself into attaining that reward. By having something that you know you will get when you accomplish your goal, you make failing to accomplish that goal just as painful as losing what you promised yourself as a reward. Believe me, that makes for a very strong motivator.

Putting It Into Practice

How do we make use of all this handy new information about rewards? Well, we start setting rewards! Ok, so there are a few little things to watch out for.

First of all, try not to shoot yourself in the foot with your reward. It’s ok if you want to make your reward for losing ten pounds a day long ice cream binge, just as long as you get right back to the habits that lost you those ten pounds after your glutton day.

An even better idea would be to reward yourself with something that itself continues to contribute to your goals. For example, “When I lose 10 pounds I’ll buy myself a new set of free weights”. Not only is a shiny new set of weights going to be a decent motivator (we’ll get to picking things you care about in a second), it’s also going to directly further your goals.

It’s also important to pick rewards that you actually want and to save the higher value rewards for the higher value goals. If you’ve got something you really want to accomplish or are really struggling finding the motivation for, give it one of the biggest, best rewards you can think of.

That should get you started with using rewards to keep yourself motivated and accomplishing things. Are there any other tricks you like to use when setting rewards? We’d love for you to share them with us in the comments.

Conquering the Fear of Failure

Flying by FelixTsao

Failing isn't really as scary as it looks.

Fear of failure is a seriously crippling thing. It’s also deeply rooted in our subconsciouses. How fun. Fear of failure makes us freeze out on stage and forget all of our lines. Fear of failure makes us not commit to things, to never get started in the first place or – worst of all – to purposefully sabotage projects that are going well before they really get going.

I have no science to back this claim up, but I would still bet that if you went around and asked everyone why they don’t quit their job and follow their dreams, why they haven’t sold all their junk and run off to travel the world or probably even why they aren’t trying to improve themselves that the most common answer would be – fear of failure.

Being afraid of failing is a natural thing. That being said, it’s still not a good thing. It keeps us from going where we want to go and doing what we want to do. It makes us miserable, anxious and in a lot of cases depressed. I’m sure someone smarter than I could devise a way to turn those around and harness fear of failure to make it work for them.

The Problem with Being Scared

In some cases fear is a good thing. If you’re in danger you need to know about it. Fear keeps us from doing a lot of really dangerous, crazy things. The thing is the world’s a much safer place than it was 50,000 years ago (not that I’m complaining), but our brains don’t know it yet.

Your brain can’t really distinguish the feeling it gets from turning a corner and finding an irate mother grizzly and the feeling it gets from being in the spotlight in front of a huge crowd. In one of those cases, that fear response is appropriate. In the other, not so much.

When that fear response is triggered, as I’m sure you already know, your body goes into ol’ fight-or-flight mode. That means a big dump of performance enhancing stress hormones into your brain, adrenaline and cortisol being two big players. This big release of hormones and neurotransmitters is fantastic if you need to run from a smilodon, pick up a car or fight off an assailant. They are not so fantastic when you’re trying to remember your lines, or get the motivation up to follow your dreams.

On top of those direct fight-or-flight triggers, fear of failure often grows into a sort of general dread about what might happen. Dreading something means it creates a lot of stress, stress means lots of cortisol and lots and lots of constant cortisol release means you’ll start feeling really run down before long.

That feeling of dread also causes us to do really stupid things. How many things do you wish you could do, but are too scared to do because you’re afraid of failing? How often have you passed up a really fantastic opportunity just because you didn’t think you were good enough, or you were worried it wouldn’t work out?

I have even known someone personally who had planned to start her own business, put tons of work into it, even gone and done pitches for prospective clients, but when inquiries started rolling in for work – she dropped it. Excuses were made, she said it would be too difficult, it just wasn’t the right time, blah blah blah. It was obvious though, she was just too scared that she would fail if she kept going so she chose to give up instead.

How to Fight Your Fear of Failure

Fighting isn’t really the best word for it in my opinion. I think it’s a bad idea to fight your fears, in fact, I pretty much always think it’s a bad idea to fight something that’s part of your nature. It’s too tough of a battle to really end well. Instead of fighting your fears, you need to learn to dismiss them.

As I pointed out, nowadays the physiological fear response we experience is unnecessary for 99% of the situations we feel it in. It sounds silly, but our brains don’t know that the audience isn’t going to savagely maul us if we mess up. In fact, because of our fantastic imaginations, a majority of people way, way, way overestimate the potential consequences of their actions.

We can fix that.

Next time you realize you have some dread, a gnawing fear or a deep apprehension of the future, stop and ask yourself, “Honestly, what is the worst case scenario?”. Give it some really good thought too, sit down and work it out. Think about what the absolute total worst that could happen is.

Ok, now you might be a little more scared, but bear with me. Now that you’ve come up with the worst-possible-case-doomsday-apocalypse outcome, how likely is it really to happen? Is it even that bad? What would you do if it did happen?

Now think about what probably would happen if you failed. Is it really that bad? What are you so scared of? Let’s look at a real world example.

Say you want to quit your day job and start your own business, but you haven’t yet. You’re too scared that you’ll fail and lose everything. Let’s even say you’re the sole income supporting a wife and two kids. What is the worst possible thing that could happen?

The business tanks, you have no income, you lose your house, your wife leaves you to avoid having to eat the children and you wander the streets for the rest of your life, destitute and abandoned. Then you get hit with a meteor.

Honestly though, what are the odds of that? What might really happen if you fail?

The business tanks, you support yourself on whatever savings you have until you find another 9 to 5 or try another business venture. Maybe things get so bad you have to sell your house and downsize, boo hoo. Maybe you can’t find a job and have to flip burgers for a while. Oh well. You won’t be on the streets, you won’t be starving and you won’t be dead. Why is that so scary?

If you fail, you just roll with it. Cut your losses and try something new or admit that you did your best and go find another job in whatever industry you left, or maybe somewhere else. Once you’ve actually sat down and thought things out, it’s just not that scary anymore.

Failing Before You Start

Now that you know that the outcome of actually failing – precisely what you were so afraid of – isn’t actually a big deal, it’s even worse to let fear of failure stop you from working toward your dreams.

I’m always completely amazed when people say they wish they could do something, but are too afraid of failure to start, and then get frustrated that they can’t follow their dreams. It amazes me because if you never try, all you can do is fail.

I understand completely the fear of striking out, but refusing to swing or even to step up to the plate all because you might strike out is ludicrous. In order to avoid the unpleasantness of failing, people make themselves fail from the outset by giving up.

I’m reminded of a quote from the signature of a member of a Parkour community I was a part of four or five years ago, I’m not sure who to attribute it to but it went something like this – “The only way to fail is to give up or to die, and I’m not giving up.”

The point is, as long as you’re alive and willing to keep trying, you haven’t failed yet. If that’s the case, why be so scared of failing? If giving up is the only real way to fail, why give up to avoid failure?

Getting Used to Being a Failure

If you are particularly scared of failing, I highly suggest you try this.

In the past, I used to be afraid of failure in a lot of areas. I was great at rolling with the bad stuff when it came my way, but there were a lot of opportunities that I could have taken that I passed up because I was scared of the potential consequences. Learning to look at things honestly and see how inconsequential the consequences of failure usually are helped a ton.

If you need a little more help getting over it, I suggest you try a little exercise to condition yourself to failure. Every so often, maybe once a week, find something you’re doing and allow yourself to fail at it.

It’s best to pick something inherently benign (I don’t want a flood of e-mails blaming me for failed marriages, that’s your fault) since you want to make sure there won’t be any bad consequences from the failure. Honestly, whatever you pick you’ll start to see that your failure really didn’t matter. The world is still here. No one died. Your life isn’t ruined.

After a few of these practice sessions failing, when you actual find yourself faced with something you’re scared of failing at, you can think back to those times and remember that it really isn’t such a big deal – there’s no reason to be nervous.

The only way to fail is to give up or die.

Have any of these techniques worked for you? Have you used some other way to conquer your fear of failure? Tell us about it!

The Paleo/Primal Diet 101: The Basics

Caveman by Sabeth718

Thankfully, eating like a caveman is a lot easier than it used to be.

I eat like a caveman.

Well, ok, not exactly like a caveman. We don’t know with 100% certainty how pre-agricultural man ate and I admit to enjoying the occasional bottle of wine, bar of chocolate or aged cheese – all of which I can pretty comfortably say wouldn’t have been easily available 20,000 years ago. Let’s not get too bogged down in particulars here though, compared to the vast majority of my modern man compatriots I eat like a caveman.

So why do I eat like a caveman and not the way everyone else eats? Let’s take a look at two average specimens of good ol’ Homo Sapiens and see if we can’t solve this riddle.

  • Caveman – Our paleolithic specimen is tall, even by today’s standards. He’s what most people would probably call ‘ripped’ (think Olympic gymnast or sprinter) with a body used to running down animals twice his size for dinner and running from animals twice his size to not be dinner. He gets a good nap in everyday, and even has straight, cavity-free teeth.
  • Businessman – Now our modern day speciman on the other hand, is several inches shorter than his ancestor. What he lacks in height, he makes up in girth as he’s currently 60 lbs. overweight. He gets winded if he takes the stairs at work, and needs several strong stimulants to make it to lunch which comes from a box or a drivethrough window. Oh, and he’s already losing his hair at 30.

So what happened? In a word, agriculture. Mankind had just spent around 100,000 years slowly adapting and evolving to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. 100 millenia’s worth of subtle, trial-and-error tweaks had made us pretty good at living in that environment.

Then, we had to go and mess things up.

Ok, so agriculture wasn’t all bad. We wouldn’t be here today without it. Agriculture provided a surplus of food, which let us settle down and invent the Internet. Eventually, anyway. The problem is, this all happened in the span of about 10,000 years. That may seem like a long time, but in evolutionary terms that is less than a blink of the eye.

It’s like waiting until you’re 95 years old and then deciding you want to be a professional linebacker – our bodies just couldn’t handle the sudden change. We had enough food to survive, but that food made us sicker, shorter and weaker than we had been a few thousand years previous.

The main culprit? Grains. We didn’t really eat grains before we domesticated them. They can be hard to find, they have to be processed to be consumable, and they have comparatively little to offer nutritionally.

Grains, unlike some other plants, don’t want us to eat them. They are full of two very nasty chemicals, lectins and gluten. Both of these cause systemic damage to the human body, causing inflammation, intestinal damage, allergic reactions and all sorts of other unpleasant things.

On top of this, grains consist almost entirely of carbohydrates. Extremely dense sources of carbohydrates are extremely diffcult to find when living as a hunter-gatherer and as a result, made up very little of our ancestors’ diet. Our bodies adapted to make the most of the carbohydrates that they could get.

The basic process is that carbs are turned into glucose which is then used for energy and to feed your brain and help some other body processess. The extra glucose is then stored as fat since, back then anyway, big doses of carbs were few and far-between and times of starvation were a real risk.

There’s more to the process involving Insulin and some other fascinating bits of body chemistry, but I’ll leave that for another time. The point is, too many carbs in our diet nowadays makes us fat. We don’t have to battle a horde of irate bees over their honey to get a sugar rush anymore, we just have to open a box of cookies or down a soft drink. That’s bad.

So how do we fix it? We eat like cavemen! Or at least as close to it as necessary to get the benefit of expressing our genetics in the way evolution shaped them to be expressed.

What do I eat?

  • Meat – Sorry vegetarians, but this lifestyle probably isn;t going to work for you. I’m being all-inclusive with this category. Beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, & any other animal it is societally acceptable to consume. You want all your meat to be grass-fed, not grain-fed. It’s worth checking into, since eating a grain based diet is just as bad for the animals you eat as it is for you. You want your eggs to come from free-range chickens (Omega-3 enriched are a nice bonus) and your fish to be wild, not farmed.
  • Vegetables – Go crazy. Eat as many different vegetables as you can handle but stay away from the extremely starchy vegetables whenever possible. This includes potatoes. Sorry. Also stay away from corn. Corn is a grain, not a vegetable, and is particularly bad for you, especially since it is in everything now.
  • Fruits – This is the only place you should be getting your sugars from. I indulge in a bar of dark chocolate every once in a while too, but it is extremely rare. Too many fruits may hamper weight loss efforts a bit, but for overall health they’re great.
  • Fats – Stick to good, naturally made fats. That means no to margarine, shortening, canola oil, vegetable oil and peanut oil. The why’s are somewhat complex, but you’re far better off sticking to olive oil, lard, butter, avocado oil & one of my personal favorites, coconut oil.
  • Extras – Things like nuts and seeds can make a fantastic paleo appropriate snack, or a good way to bump calorie intake up a bit if you’re having trouble adjusting to the diet changes. Be careful though, nuts and seeds pack a lot of calories in a little package and shouldn’t be eaten in too large of amounts.

That’s it! That’s what I eat. Now on to what’s equally as important.

What do I not eat?

  • Grains – This one should’ve been obvious. This also includes anything that has grains in it. That means no bread & no baked goods. It also means no corn and nothing with high fructose corn syrup in it (trust me, you won’t miss that).
  • Refined Sugar – All the sugar in my diet comes from either fruit, honey or the previously mentioned occasional treat. No more soft drinks, no more sugar in your coffee and no more candy.
  • Dairy – There’s a lot of arguments about this one. On one hand, our ancestors never would have drank milk past infancy, and certainly not that of another species. That being said, a lot of people can handle milk tolerably well, and butter – though our ancestors may not have had it – seems to not have any of the detriments of other dairy items. Personally, I avoid milk, eat lots of butter (from grass-fed cows), and enjoy a good aged cheese now and again.
  • This is the basic outline of what it means to eat like a caveman. I could explain all the health benefits, talk about all the people who have gotten into the best shape of their lives eating this way or share my own personal story, but who cares about all that? My advice, try it for 30 days. 30 days is nothing, and if you don’t feel like a whole new person you can always go right back to eating donuts and drinking soda.

    Anyone have any personal success stories they would like to share? Leave them in the comments!

Why You Should Be Grateful

Empty Bowl Project by Carabou

Don't take what you have for granted, it might not always be there.

I wholeheartedly believe that one of the best things that you can do to improve your quality of life is to learn to be grateful and appreciative.

We’ve talked about ways to improve your quality of life before, and touched on gratefulness there, but it deserves its own article.

Having a strong sense of gratefulness or appreciation is extremely important in developing an overall sense of well-being and happiness in life. All too often people find themselves losing sight of what’s really important, growing unhappy with their situation and becoming upset over everything.

Learning to be grateful helps solve all of these problems. Understanding how lucky you are to have the things that you do have often puts into perspective how inconsequential it is when you don’t get the things you want. Gratefulness lets us look at a bad situation which might otherwise really upset us and say, “You know, I’m gonna let it go. It’s really no big deal.”

Next time something bad happens to you, stop and think of the millions of people who probably are substantially worse off than you. If you’re reading this then you have electricity, an Internet connection and, presumably by extension, some money. There are countless people with none of those luxuries

Having a well-developed sense of appreciation for what you do have also keeps you from listing towards the whirlpools of consumerism. When you appreciate what you have, minimalism comes naturally and it’s easy to determine what you really do and don’t need.

The most important thing to remember is that as long as you’re still alive, it could be worse – you could be dead.

It’s optimistic to assume you’re going to get a full 100 years. You may not even get the 80 or so that citizens of most industrialized nations have come to expect. Given that fact, does it really make sense to let the bad things bother you when you could spend them being happy about what you’ve got? You have to take care to avoid complacency, which is another article in itself, but if you’ve got such a short time why spend it upset and unhappy?

Putting It Into Practice

So how do you develop a sense of gratefulness if it’s something you’re currently lacking? The first way would be to work on your sense of empathy and of objectively looking at the consequences of a situation. When something bad happens, step back for a second and think of how that compares to the suffering of people who are in genuinely life-threatening situations on a daily basis.

Consider the fact that there is an unending number of people who have died as children. Not to depress anyone, but when you compare to people who never had the chance to live long enough to have a job, let alone be fired from one, it seems kind of petty to be whiny and upset about it.

Another good way to develop a true appreciation for something is to lose it. Try going for a weekend being as minimalist as possible. Empty your fridge and flip the circuit breaker off for a day or two (though if your house has one, you may want to leave the switch to the sump pump on). Nothing will make you feel as thankful as going without running water for any appreciable amount of time.

Of course, if you’re going to try a minimalism experiment to see just how much you take things for granted, do use your head about it and don’t do anything that’s going to hurt anybody

Any thoughts on being more grateful, or good ways to learn to appreciate the things you’ve got and not take them for granted?

Fluent in 6 Months: Progress Update

Having learned from my Winter Molt Challenge that regular progress updates are not only tedious to produce but, honestly, probably not that interesting to read this is going to be the only check in for this challenge until you get our final result.

We’re now a little past the halfway point and I am extremely pleased with our progress. Our 1,000 words in 30 days mini-challenge worked out really well, though I’ve found it a little difficult to quantify exactly how well we did. I can, however, tell a huge difference in our comprehension as a direct result of the vocabulary boost.

We both now regularly read the news in Korean everyday. We are also working through Korean books. I can’t say we have 100% comprehension at this point, but it’s sufficient to read and then usually be able to relate about 80% to 90% of what happened.

What I am most pleased about overall, is that we are no longer slaves to English subtitles on Korean shows. Much like the books we don’t always get everything, but we can now enjoy an entire TV show in Korean without the aid of an .srt file. Of all our accomplishments, I find that one to be the biggest and most motivating.

I’m also finding that our conversations with native speakers are becoming progressively easier, with much fewer corrections being necessary.

With roughly two months left, I’m eager to see how our challenge ends. Given our progress so far, I have to say I’m extremely optimistic.

5 Reasons to Practice Parkour

London Parkour by JB London

Getting in excellent shape is just one benefit to parkour training.

Parkour.

If you’re not practicing it, you should be. If you are, well, then you don’t really need to be reading this do you? Go outside and have some fun.

Anyway, back to the people who are the actual targets of this article – people who don’t practice parkour. You might be wondering, “What in the world is parkour anyway?”. I’m glad you asked.

Parkour, as defined by Mark of American Parkour, is “…the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment.” Now, that’s just speaking strictly of parkour, there’s also freerunning. I’m not really going to touch freerunning for right now, since there’s a lot of debate over what ‘real’ parkour is and I don’t want to get into it here. Suffice it to say that parkour is moving over obstacles in the most fluid and efficient way possible.

Put another way, parkour is the art of making the entire world your playground.

So, why should you care enough to give it a try? I’m glad you asked that too. Here’s five reasons.

Parkour Can Be The Ultimate Fitness Plan

Without going too much into the history of it all, parkour was very heavily influenced by a man you’ve probably never heard of before named Georges Hébert. Hébert found when travelling through Africa that the people there were in a state of fitness that put the people back home to shame, even though they never followed a structured exercise routine. This lead him to develop a fitness system he called the Natural Method, where each training session would involve a variety of real world movements like running, jumping, crawling, climbing, throwing etc.

His method resulted in substantially more even body development and significantly better fitness than the methods commonly in use at the time. Parkour took some inspiration from his method, and by its nature develops the body in much the same way.

When you practice parkour you walk, you run, you sprint in bursts mixed with periods of slow movement (sound like interval training?), you vault over things, you roll, you climb, you crawl, you jump, you balance. Almost every way you can make your body move, parkour practice will find a way to make you do it.

This kind of free flowing circuit training is fantastic for your fitness level. Even without working out more, just by going out for a few regular parkour training sessions, you’ll find your strength, balance and likely even flexibility improving. Additionally, it’s all real, compound, full-body movements. These aren’t some isolationist bicep-curl-esque exercises, training for parkour prepares your body to use its fitness in real world situations.

Parkour Gives Increased Confidence

Some people suffer terribly from a lack of confidence. In most cases, it takes a lot of work and practice to build them selves up and get used to the idea of being and acting confidant.

Parkour is a natural confidence builder, as it slowly takes you from not being able to do much to being able to do things that you never would have guessed possible. When you look up at a wall that you know is higher than anything you’ve ever been able to scale before and you commit and manage to make it over, you feel like you can accomplish anything. After a while, that feeling starts to bleed out into the rest of your life.

Whenever you start feeling unconfident about something, your job, school, whatever – you can think back to the time you got over that wall, cleared that gap or landed that precision and remember that if you can do something that awesome, you can do anything.

Parkour Brings More Creativity and a Better Attitude

Parkour, in a sense, is all about the obstacles. If there were no obstacles, you couldn’t have parkour.

Psychologically, that fact starts to affect you after a while. While once you might have seen a wall, a fence or a gate as an obstruction, something that meant you shall not pass – you now see as a toy, a piece of playground equipment, a fun challenge.

It doesn’t take long, after starting to look at every physical obstacle you find in your path as a challenge to be tackled with enthusiasm, that you find yourself seeing mental obstacles in the same way. Rather than hit a problem and immediately get frustrated, you’ll find yourself excited with the prospect of a challenging problem to overcome.

Parkour also fosters creativity. The goal is to move over the obstacles in as efficient a way as possible. That usually takes some creativity on its own, but lots of people (particularly those more inclined toward freerunning) also try to clear obstacles in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.

That means that once you get into it, you start deconstructing objects to figure out what the most efficient way to get past it would be, and how to make that look really good. Everytime you look at something you’ll be practicing your creativity.

Parkour is Extremely Fun

Maybe it’s the very fundamental, animal-like movements, maybe it’s the feeling of putting all your strength and energy into something and not holding back, maybe it’s just the intensity and the joy of flying through the air – I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about parkour that taps into our primal nature.

Practicing parkour makes you feel like a little kid again, screaming your head off as you run from whoever was ‘it’ in a game of tag. It’s like the feeling of having an all out sprint just for the fun of it. There’s just something fantastically fulfilling about it. Not to mention addictive.

Honestly, to understand how fun it really is, you just have to go try it. I warn you though, it’s addictive.

Parkour Makes You Feel Like a Ninja

Ok, so this last reason may be a bit egotistical, but who cares? Parkour & freerunning both, aside from being wonderful exercise that will get you in fantastic shape, excellent ways to make you more confident, creative, & positive and a source of fulfilling, exuberant joy, just plain look cool.

Everyone always wanted to be a ninja. Now you can be. Well, kind of. You can feel like one. Not to mention you get to be a part of an enormous, friendly, welcoming community of like-minded individuals from all over the planet who are joined by a love of fun and personal development. Seriously, there are some great people in the parkour community.

So there you go. Five good reasons (or, maybe four good reasons and one ok one) why you should be practicing parkour. To end, just in case you’re still a little confused what all this is, check out these videos. The first is about pure, strict parkour – the other is about freerunning and acrobatic parkour. Watch them. Get pumped. Go get started.