How to Build Batman-Like Discipline and Willpower

Roar by Gideon Tsang

Donning a costume and yelling may also increase your willpower.

Batman’s life sucks.

It does. He has nearly unlimited wealth and freedom as Bruce Wayne and he can never enjoy it. It’s nearly impossible for him to form meaningful relationships without the fear or pain of having that person murdered as a result of their involvement with him. His days are filled with rigorous training and his nights with battles that often come very close to being fatal. He’s eternally haunted by the memory of his parents and I don’t know when he gets any sleep.

So how does he put himself through all that hell? He has serious willpower.

Think how easy it would be for him to say, “You know what? Screw this Batman thing tonight. I’m just going to sit around the mansion, watch TV and eat ice cream in my fabulously expensive pajamas.” He doesn’t though. Even when he gets sick and any normal person would take a day off of a job that doesn’t involve getting shot at he still goes out there to do what has to be done.

Beyond the bottomless pool of money that is Wayne Enterprises it’s that discipline that has enabled Bruce Wayne to become Batman.

So how do we develop discipline like that?

Defining Discipline and Willpower

Though you could probably tease out some minor differences, for now I’m going to use the terms discipline and willpower interchangeably. Boiled down to its essence willpower is the capacity to do something you don’t want to do because you know that it’s the thing that needs to be done. In most cases this involves delaying gratification and suppressing or ignoring our instinctual desires.

When you walk by the big box of donuts at the office and don’t take one even though you want to, that’s willpower. When you really want to go watch TV or play video games but force yourself to sit down and get your work done first, that’s willpower. When the alarm goes off and you would murder someone in order to sleep five more minutes but you get up and go work out, that’s willpower.

This kind of discipline is what keeps us from doing the things that we get the instant gratification from in the understanding that we will get a much bigger benefit by avoiding those behaviors. It’s what keeps Bruce Wayne in cape and cowl instead of parked in front of his Xbox.

Willpower Is a Muscle

Whenever you hear people talk about willpower or discipline you often hear people describe it like it were another invisible muscle somewhere in your body. It’s a really good way to conceptualize it – willpower really does work a lot like a muscle.

Everyone has a different strength of willpower, some are more disciplined than others naturally, practice exercises your willpower and helps you build more of it and, like your physical muscles, your willpower can only exert so much force before it’s fatigued and gives up. In fact, like all your other muscles the strength of your willpower is even affected by your health and the foods you eat.

This may sound like bad news but actually it’s really great. Understanding how our own discipline works means we can work within that system to improve it.

How to Strengthen Your Willpower

When it comes to developing a stronger sense of discipline it all revolves around that concept of treating it like a muscle. We need to remember not only to work it out, but also to make sure we don’t wear it into the ground by expecting too much from it.

  • Know Your Limits – Like all your muscles your willpower has a limited amount of energy. Once that energy is tapped your willpower isn’t going to be able to do anything until it’s had some time to rest and recover.

    Since you know this is the case, don’t set yourself up for failure. If you knew you had to move a piano on Monday night would you go do heavy deadlifts and squats Monday morning? No, you’d be spent by the time you got to the piano and you’d be useless. So don’t do the same thing with your willpower.

    If you know you have particularly weak willpower, or are going to be put in a situation where you know you’re going to have your willpower tested, don’t burn it out on little things throughout the day. If you know you’re going to have to turn down dessert later don’t spend all day walking past cookies and donuts. Eliminate the things you can that sap away little bits of discipline so that your reserves are filled for the real tests you know are coming.

  • Do Your Exercises – Studies have shown that purposefully exercising your willpower actually makes it stronger. Just like with your muscles the key is to know how to exercise it properly and to develop a plan to do so. So what are some ways you can do that?

    The easiest way is to set up controlled situations where you know you’ll be tempted by something and then exercising your discipline to avoid it. Start slow here, particularly if you know you don’t have much discipline to begin with. Pick a task you should do but never want to, like meditation, and make yourself do it for a very short time each day – maybe 5 minutes. After a while, build that up until you have the discipline to meditate for 30 minutes each day.

    Another extremely easy way is to consciously force yourself to do some little thing you’re not used to doing. For example make a commitment to not use contractions in your speech, to brush your teeth with your opposite hand or sit up more straight. It may not seem like much, but every time you make the conscious decision to do it your work out your willpower just a little and it adds up.

    Be careful though – just like with your physical muscles overtraining can lead to problems. I also wouldn’t recommend training to failure. Don’t put out a giant plate of cookies to resist all day only to push yourself too far, give up and gorge on them. Always be mindful of your limits and keep at it and you’ll see improvements.

  • Stay Fed – Your muscles need energy to function and so does your willpower. Researchers found that study participants who were put through tests exercising their willpower showed decreased blood sugar and glycogen levels as a result of the exercise. As you burn up energy flexing your discipline muscles it makes it harder and harder to keep up.

    As it turns out replenishing blood sugar and glycogen stores, with sugar water or orange juice in most of the studies, helped mitigate those effects and allowed participants to do better on subsequent tests of willpower.

    That means a couple things. The first is that if you find your willpower waning you might be able to give it a small boost by snacking on something sugary. Now if you’re trying to stick to a strict diet be careful here, that’s not an excuse to go crazy on 10 pounds of candy bars, but a little snack can help.

    Second, it means that things that tend to wear out your glycogen stores – stress, lack of sleep, illness etc. – directly deplete your ability to exercise your willpower. Use this to your advantage by going into situations where you know you’re going to have your willpower tested well-fed and rested.

    Batman of course may be the exception to this – like I said I have no idea how he finds time to get enough sleep. Once you reach equivalent levels of discipline you can skip meals and never sleep while maintaining an iron will too, until then though you should get your eight hours and take care of yourself.

  • Stay Happy – I know it’s easier said then done, but your mood also directly affects the strength of your discipline. When you’re in a good, upbeat mood your willpower is stronger and when you’re feeling depressed, upset or angry it’s a lot harder to resist doing things you shouldn’t or force yourself to do things you should.

    Thankfully, you probably don’t have to worry about maintaining a second identity or avoiding death on a nightly basis. Even so it can be a bit tough to maintain a positive attitude.

    We’ve talked about ways to stay happier in the past. A few easy ways are to consciously make yourself smile more, to learn to follow your dreams, or to give meditation a try.

    Just like with lifting, music can also give you that extra mental motivation to do what needs to be done. If you’re finding you lack the motivation to sit down and get your work done instead of wasting time on Facebook, put on some of your favorite music and rock out or dance around or whatever you need to do to get pumped. Then sit back down and get stuff done.

  • Don’t Think About Elephants – Bruce Wayne is definitely haunted by the memory of his parents. It’s part of what defines him. Instead of running from that fact and trying to suppress his anger he accepts it and redirects it into a positive thing as Batman. If he tried to deny all that hate and bottle it up it would eventually consume him.

    The same thing happens to us when we try to avoid focusing on something unpleasant – or anything really. It’s like when someone tells you, “Whatever you do, don’t think about [blank].”

    You can’t help but think about it. The harder you try to not think about it the harder it is to actually not think about it. Researchers have been doing studies on this effect for a long time and in every case the more we focus on avoiding something, the more difficult it is not to dwell on it.

    How does this tie in to willpower?

    Discipline, like we said, is the ability to either stop yourself from doing something you want to do, or making yourself do something you don’t want to do. Either way it has to do with overriding your desires. A lot of people think the best way to do that is to try to ignore them. They feel their extreme craving for a pint of ice cream and they jam their metaphorical fingers in their ears and start yelling, “I can’t hear you!”

    This doesn’t work though, for the reason we just discussed. The more you try to deny or ignore your craving for bad food or your desire to go watch TV instead of getting your work done the more irresistible it becomes.

    Instead of denying it the best course of action is to acknowledge it, decide what to do about it and move on. When you do that those desires lose their bite. Rather than ignoring your craving say, “Hmm, I really want some ice cream. I shouldn’t though, so I’ll go chop up an apple and sprinkle just a little brown sugar on it. That’ll be a lot better in the long run.”

    Think of it as Batman style mental jujutsu. By redirecting your desire to play video games and avoid work into a desire to roll up your sleeves and dominate that work so you can go play video games guilt free you take that negative emotion’s power away and make it something positive.

Being Your Own Batman

Will these techniques give you the strength of will to live like Bruce Wayne? Probably not to be honest, but I’m not certain any human could. What these techniques will do is help you build up your discipline until you can become your own personal Batman.

Being your own Batman means having the fortitude to get the things you need to get done done. It means having the willpower to stop doing all the things you need to stop and to do all the things you need to do. It means becoming strong enough to make your own life and the lives of those around you as best as you possibly can.

Have you used any of these techniques to improve your own discipline? Do you have any other techniques you’d like to add that have worked well for you? Share them in the comments!

Photo Credit: Gideon Tsang

Weaving Zen: A Life Lesson Learned from Knitting

Knitting Together by Kalexanderson

I too only knit in full Stormtrooper armor.

Have you ever been so frustrated, so infuriated, by a task that seems to be absolutely impossible that you want to hurl something heavy through the nearest window and put your fist through the wall?

That was me the first time I tried knitting.

Every loop, every stitch, I fought for tooth and nail. I’d struggle and push and work the needle in just to have it poke through the center of the yarn. No matter what I did I couldn’t get the needle through the right loop. When I finally did, the whole thing was too tight for me to pull the yarn through to make the stitch.

After probably close to an hour of fighting with those cursed needles all I had to show for my struggles were a few inches of hideously woven yarn and sufficient amounts of rage to boil water on my forehead.

I was beginning to think I was just not cut out for knitting.

That’s when I made the best decision I possibly could. I gave up.

Learning to Relax

Not gave up like quit, but gave up like quit caring. I remembered what I’d learned a decade ago playing Mario Kart. I relaxed.

It made an incredible difference. After unraveling the unholy abomination I’d previously crafted I started over, this time not caring so much that I did everything so perfectly.

Chaining on was a piece of cake. Actually knitting and purling was even easier. Within ten minutes I had a square of woven yarn twice the size of my previous creation and it actually looked nice.

Relaxing made all the difference in the world.

It made me realize that our moods and attitudes have a profound effect on our performance of day to day activities, even things that we wouldn’t expect. I was so frustrated and uptight about my difficulties knitting that I was making every stitch super tight – which just made everything exponentially more difficult for me. When I loosened up, so did my knitting.

I’ve heard other people describe similar situations with other skills. For example, while I’m not a shooter I’ve heard plenty people tell me that the biggest mistake most people make when they’re learning to shoot is being way too tense. They don’t start improving and doing well until they learn to relax.

This principle applies to the rest of our lives too. If you’re too uptight and stressed all the time you make everything you do exponentially more difficult. Conversely, everything you do will come a little bit easier if you learn to do it with a relaxed, mindful attitude.

Practicing Mindful Relaxation

The first step in applying this principle to the rest of your life is to learn how to be relaxed and mindful in the first place.

The easiest place to begin is by finding something that you can focus on in a simple, calm and mindful way. As it turns out, knitting works very well. There is a basic zen aspect to knitting in its repetitiveness, and if your mind starts to wander or you begin to become to frustrated it will quickly be reflected in your work.

Knitting well demands you be attentive but relaxed, mindful of what you’re doing but not rigid. It’s essentially like doing kata in a martial art, practicing yoga or lifting weights.

Incidentally, those are two other very good options for things you can practice to help learn the skill of mindful relaxation. Anything that you can do that requires your full, alert and relaxed attention is a good choice.

Once you’ve chosen your activity, you need to start practicing it!

Not just mindlessly though. The goal here is to strengthen your ability to be calm, relaxed and present. How do you do that?

To start with, you need to be happy. At least a little. If you’re finding that hard, force yourself to smile a little bit. Even if it’s a fake one, it can help cheer you up a bit.

Second, you need to be focused. Don’t let your mind wander. Don’t think about what you have to do later. Don’t worry about all the bills. You are doing one thing right now and nothing else. All of your focus is on that thing, nothing in the world exists but that thing.

Be careful, because some people tend to get a little tense when they focus that hard. Don’t think of it like concentrating, this isn’t like cramming last minute for a test the next day. You just want to let all the distractions and worries fade away until all that’s left is what you’re doing right now. Practicing a little meditation may help.

Get comfortable in that mindset and let it stay as long as you can. As distractions or other thoughts come up, brush them away again. Maybe smile a little more. At this point you should be feeling not so much a sense of fun, but a sense of peace.

Hold onto that feeling. That’s what you want to cultivate.

When you’re finished with your activity, wrap up comfortably and go about your day, but remember that feeling.

All throughout the rest of your day try to call that feeling back up. When you’re at work, or doing the dishes, call that feeling back up. Smile a little, and let yourself be relaxed and peaceful and in the moment.

Pretty soon, you’ll find that you can call that feeling up at will. Once you can do that, learn to bring it up as an automatic response anytime you feel yourself getting frustrated or angry.

Once you can do that, you’ll find day to day tasks getting easier, life won’t feel quite so stressful anymore, and you’ll likely see a gigantic boost in productivity.

All of that, just from knitting.

Have you tried any of these mindfulness techniques in the past? What did you think? Do you agree that things come easier when you’re relaxed, or do you succeed more when fueled by stress? Share with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Kalexanderson

Defining Minimalism

I want to be where your heart is home by Janine

Minimalism isn’t about empty space, it’s about full experiences.

When I mention to people that we’re minimalists the responses tend to fall into one of two categories. The first category involves people giving me looks like I just told them I habitually stomp on kittens and wondering aloud how can I live without item X, usually television.

The second group involves haughty scoffing and being told that we’ll never be True Minimalists ™ until we can fit all our worldly possessions into a single carry-on bag.

Both of these groups suffer from the same problem. They just don’t know what minimalism really is – at least not to us. I’d like to fix that.

Minimalism as a Tool

Minimalism is not a doctrine, or a club. You can’t apply for a minimalist card and there aren’t rules you have to follow to call yourself a minimalist. Minimalism is a tool.

Sometimes minimalism is a razor that you use to carefully cut the excess things from your life, other times it’s a lens through which to view the world in order to better make decisions, other times still it may be a fire hose to blast away the grime and muck years spent in a materialist culture have caked onto your lifestyle.

I already know this is going to surprise some people and anger others, but it’s a misconception to believe that you have to own very few things to be minimalist. For reasons we’ll touch on shortly most people do go down that road, but it’s not in any way a requirement. It’s entirely possible to own a car, a house, a TV and lots of other stuff and still be a minimalist.

Defining Minimalism

So if getting rid of all of your stuff isn’t necessarily a requirement for minimalism, how do we define it?

Minimalism to us is an attitude. In a society that tries its hardest to make us define ourselves by our possessions minimalism makes us take a step back and ask if the things we own are genuinely necessary to leading a fulfilled life.

At its core minimalism is a way of focusing on quality over quantity and objectively determining priorities.

That means that it’s not a competition. You’re not getting any points for being ‘more minimalist’ than someone else, and being minimalist for minimalism’s sake completely defeats the purpose. If you’re doing it for any reason other than to improve your own life, you’re doing it wrong.

That also means minimalist living for me is going to look different from minimalist living for you which will look different from minimalist living for someone else.

Minimalism doesn't have to look like this.

Minimalism doesn’t have to look like this.

How to Apply Minimalism to Your Life

The easiest area of life to improve – and consequently the area most people get hung up on when talking about minimalism – is that of your possessions.

In most developed countries and particularly in the United States there is an enormous amount of societal pressure to acquire more and better things. We’re encourage to rank and judge each other by what kind of car we drive, how big our house is and whether or not we’ve got the latest clothes and gadgets.

For a lot of people this system doesn’t exactly lead to a fulfilled, meaningful life. In fact for all the cool stuff we have nowadays one of the complaints most people have is a general feeling of purposelessness.

Minimalism can help you find your purpose by removing all the things that aren’t adding any real value to your life so you can focus more on the things that are.

A good way to start is to look at each thing you own individually and ask yourself if you really need it. You have to really be honest with yourself here, particularly since the fear of losing something is a lot stronger psychologically than any pain of its absence and it will be easy to convince yourself you might die if you throw out that CD collection you haven’t touched in ten years.

Once you get used to looking at everything you own and asking, “Do I really need this?” You can start applying the same principles to other areas of your life.

Advanced Minimalism

That minimalist razor isn’t just for use on your possessions. You can apply the same attitude to your habits, your goals, your work and just about every other aspect of your life.

We’ll start with your habits. Look at your daily routine and ask yourself with each thing you do, “Is that really something that will make me happier?”

It’s easy to spend hours and hours each day watching TV, paying video games or aimlessly poking around the Internet but is there something else you could be doing that would add more overall enjoyment to your life?

What about your goals?

I know one of my personal faults is I tend to be overly ambitious. There are so many things that I want to accomplish I frequently get tied up in knots trying to work toward all of them all at once. By going down your list of goals and ruthlessly paring away the ones that won’t have the biggest impact on your life you leave substantially more time to focus on the ones that will make the most difference.

Some Pitfalls to Avoid

The biggest problem I see is a lack of self-honesty.

The many faces of minimalism means that, even though I may not see the value in it, if you honestly would lead a less fulfilled life without your extensive collection of My Little Pony memorabilia than so be it – you are free to continue your Brony ways.

We get into trouble though when people delude themselves into thinking that way around things that aren’t really making them happier. Distinguishing between the genuine personal necessity of an item and the extreme fear of losing something can be very difficult.

Another problem I see a lot is people pursuing minimalism for the wrong reasons. Sometimes these people are well-meaning, other times they’re pompous jerks who just want another reason to assert moral superiority or compete with others.

Regardless of the motivations if you get into minimalism for the wrong reasons it can easily make you more miserable instead of more happy. While I think applying minimalist principles can make most people happy, I recognize it’s not for everyone. Some people are really happier surrounded by stuff they don’t need.

The key again (this should seem like a recurring theme by now) is to take the time to consider what would really make you happy and then follow that path – minimalist or not.

Do you agree with our definition? Do you think we completely missed the mark? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credit: Janine, Practical Owl

6 Excellent Reasons Why We Don’t Own a TV

Garbage Day by TJDewey

Sorry TV, we just don’t need you anymore.

When meeting new people most aren’t that surprised by our desire to travel the world, few are daunted by our outspoken rejection of the broken corporate lifestyle and most aren’t put off by the fact that we eat like cavemen – but there is one thing about us that consistently shocks people.

We don’t own a TV.

I guess it’s telling of the hold that television has on us culturally that, of all the ways in which we lead our lives down the path of non-conformity, it’s the absence of a flashing advertisement box that most people find inconceivable.

So why don’t we own one? I think Jonathan Fields Milburn of The Minimalists answers that question best saying, “Because I’d watch it. A lot.” Just in case that isn’t good enough for you though, I’ve put together a list of six reasons why we think owning a TV is a terrible idea.

1. Time

I have to credit my friends Jason and David for making the time thing click in my brain. In high school they were both crazy about the show 24. At the time it was considered really clever that it was one full day of 24 one hour episodes. When they explained it to me, I realized that meant that if you never miss an episode, you’re losing an entire 24 hour day to vegetating in front of the television.

That realization was a wake-up call for me, but as it turns out it gets much worse.

According to Nielsen in 2010 the average American watches five hours of television per day. Five hours. If you add all of that together that means you’ll spend 35 hours in front of the TV each week, about 150 hours each month and 1,825 hours each year.

So if you’re an average TV watcher every year you lose 76 full days to TV. About two months out of every year go solely to watching TV. Assuming an average lifespan that comes out to at least 12.5 years of your life sitting in front of the TV.

I’ll understand if you just threw up a little.

Twelve and a half years is a complete lifetime for some people. To think that sheer amount of time could be spent on something as wasteful as TV is mind-boggling.

2. Money

Having a TV is expensive.

Beyond the initial cost of the actual television itself – which can be substantial if your ego demands you have the latest greatest HD flatscreen – there are all the ancillary costs to think about. There’s cable to pay for, premium movie channels, DVD or Blu-Ray players, a theater style sound system, movie rentals and purchases, even the electricity cost of having all those things (made words by the fact that TVs and cable boxes are notorious vampire appliances sucking up power even when turned ‘off’).

Add to that the fact that according to another report by Nielsen the average household had more TVs than people and you have a substantial initial investment followed by nearly as substantial recurring costs. Is it seriously worth it?

You could easily save $5,000 on the initial investment (I’ve seen people spend more than that on a single TV or sound system, so it’s a reasonable estimate) and then a good $1,000 or so each year on those incidental costs. Cable alone here in Cincinnati can run around $600 per year, and that’s not counting movie rentals premium channels or electricity.

I can think of tons of things I would rather spend an extra $600 a year on than something that wastes all my time.

3. Freedom from Advertising

In 2011 $72 Billion was spent on television advertising. That’s more than was spent in Internet, radio, newspaper and magazine ads combined. You might say they don’t affect you, but they do.

With an average of 8.5 minutes of commercials per half hour of television, that means you’ll spend twenty two days of your life, nearly a month, just watching advertisements.

Now I’m not necessarily saying that all advertising is evil, but in most cases it’s not necessary. It’s not meaningful. Though they are trying to persuade you otherwise, advertising is not going to substantially improve your life.

So why spend almost a month of your existence watching it?

4. Increased Creativity and Intelligence

Doing creative things or being exposed to creative activities directly correlates to being more creative overall. That means that engaging in a passive activity like watching television is likely to do little to nothing to help make you a more creative person. If you have goals like ours of pursuing a life based around achieving freedom by creating something meaningful and helpful to others, than damaging your creativity is like shooting yourself in the foot.

You may argue that some TV shows themselves are creative enough to be inspiring, but let’s be honest – 90% of what’s on TV is just a regurgitation of the same old tropes and themes. That’s not even counting the countless hours of reruns people sit through on a regular basis.

TV may also be causing you to miss out on the opportunity to be more intelligent. Studies (1, 2) suggest that reading has a direct positive affect on your intelligence. When you read a lot, you become smarter.

Conversely, other studies (1, 2) suggest that TV watching correlates strongly with decreased intelligence and poor educational performance.

In other words, people who read a lot are on average significantly smarter than those who watch a lot of TV.

Why spend five hours each day damaging your mind when you could be improving yourself?

5. Improved Sleep

Even though it’s frequently repeated that the best way to get a good night’s sleep is to stop any form of electronic entertainment at least an hour before bed, around 75% of people still report watching TV right up to when they go to sleep.

Is it any wonder than that terrible sleep quality, and all the physical problems associated with it, are a common woe in our society?

People who shut the television off more than an hour before bed consistently report an easier time getting to sleep, feeling more rested upon waking and having deeper, uninterrupted sleep patterns. That’s not even counting the habit of many to stay up late and sacrifice hours of sleep every night just to watch a specific show.

Considering most people already suffer from a severe lack of sleep it’s ridiculous to compound the problem with TV.

6. Higher Quality Relationships

When you’re not spending most of your family time silently transfixed on your flat screen an interesting thing tends to happen. You actually have conversations.

When you remove TV from the picture you have five more hours everyday to actually connect with your loved ones, or even to go out and meet new friends – something you can’t do sitting on your couch watching American Idol.

Don’t argue that you have to watch TV to be able to discuss all the popular shows with friends and coworkers. People have been having conversations just fine for all the millenia that preceded the invention of television. You’ll manage. Besides, the thought of spending five hours everyday on something that adds no value to my life just so I can spend more time talking about that thing that adds no value to my life makes me want to slam my head into the wall.

It’s better to spend time creating meaningful, valuable relationships than it is to sit in front of a box and drool.

Common Excuses

As I mentioned before, TV is deeply ingrained in our cultural identity. As a result, suggestions to eliminate it are often met with fervent opposition or even, on one memorable occasion, genuine outrage.

That knee-jerk reaction tends to cause people to scramble for excuses for why a television is an essential part of their existence the loss of which would render their lives bleak and meaningless. Let’s look at some of the more common ones.

  • TV entertains me / makes me happy / relaxes me, therefore those 5 hours each day are not wasted. – At first glance this sounds like a valid argument, particularly because who am I to say what you should judge as a worthwhile expenditure of your own time. The thing is if you take an honest look at some of the other things you could be doing, you’ll find there are plenty of activities that are equally entertaining, joyful or relaxing that have genuine positive benefits for your life and none of the damaging effects of constant TV viewing. While I can’t make the decision for you I’m certain if you made an effort you could easily find better things to fill that time.
  • I only watch educational programs / documentaries. – Nice try, but even prolonged exposure to educational TV in children had an overall negative correlation with intelligence. Comparatively reading, including fiction, had a strong positive correlation on intelligence. Honestly, while there are some quality educational programs out there, the majority is Ancient Aliens, Ghost Hunters, Doomsday Preppers and similar drivel.
  • I have to see what happens on [insert popular show here]! – You don’t. You really don’t. I understand that people often form extremely strong psychological bonds with characters on TV. That’s what the show’s writers, producers and actors are going for. In reality the world is not going to end if you miss your favorite show. Your life may actually improve because of it.
  • I need it for the news. – Television is easily the worst medium for getting the daily news. Even excluding the fact that some national news networks have shown to actually leave people less informed than people who don’t watch news at all (*cough* Fox *cough*), it’s an overall inefficient medium. If I want to know what the latest developments on the Syria massacres are I can either sit through four hours of banal election coverage and punditry until they decide to run the story I’m waiting for, or I can just get online and find it. TV news forces you to sit through all the fluff for the stories you want, if your goal is to become informed it’s the very worst way to do it.

How to Kick the TV Habit

So you’ve come around and decided I have a good point, but aren’t sure if you’re ready to sell your flatscreen yet? The best way to do it is to ease into it. Commit to a full week with all your televisions unplugged and stashed away in a closet somewhere. Once you see a week’s not so bad, try thirty days.

Before long, you’ll find not only do you not miss it, when you do go back you’ll miss all the great things you did in its absence. Few things make you feel like you’ve got no time to get anything done than wasting that time on TV.

Honestly, once you’ve kicked the addiction you don’t have to completely swear off TV or media altogether. TV and movies done right and treated as a social experience can be a great way to connect with people. One of the best movies Caroline and I ever saw was the second Twilight movie – not because the movie was actually good, but because we went on a Wednesday on a school night to the 10:30 pm showing and had the theater to ourselves to play Statler and Waldorf.

For all the reasons I gave here, I really don’t think TV is pure evil. I like TV, just like everyone else. It’s the addiction that causes most of the problems.

We do subscribe to Netflix, and watch occasional things on Hulu for free (with AdBlock turned on mind you). Now, before you cry hypocrite, it’s an extremely rare thing. We go to great lengths to make sure that our TV time doesn’t cause a detriment to the rest of our lives and average about a single half hour show a night and the occasional movie ever other weekend or so.

They key is finding the right balance.

If you are going to try to kick the habit I would suggest going a full month with no TV – including things like Netflix – before slowly reintroducing it in moderation. We’ve fallen victim to compulsive marathons of shows we really like in the past, and it doesn’t help if you’re replacing five hours of TV with five hours of Netflix.

Do you think you can toss out your TV? Have you actually done it, or tried to do it? Do you have any other suggestions, or do you think I’m out of my mind? Leave a comment!

Photo Credit: TJDewey

Meditation 101: Meditation for Beginners

At the Feet of an Ancient Master by Premasagar

Though it may help, an ancient tree in the serene wilderness is not necessary for successful meditation.

There are few disciplines that have as numerous and as far reaching benefits as meditation. Beyond the psychological benefits of promoting a sense of centeredness, well-being and clarity of thought it also has numerous physiological benefits – relaxation, lowered blood pressure, reduced stress hormone release and a lowered heart rate just to name a few. In addition, no one has ever shown meditation to have any negative side-effects.

For all of the proven benefits of meditation, most of them achievable with an investment of only five to ten minutes per day, why isn’t everyone meditating?

The most common answer people give is, “I just don’t know how to get started meditating.” That’s understandable. There’s a lot of mystique in modern Western culture surrounding the practice of meditation and that can make it appear strange, esoteric or even daunting. Thankfully, that’s all just misconception. You can start meditating today with these simple steps and in no time at all be reaping all those great benefits.

Meditation Misconceptions

One of the biggest barriers keeping people from trying meditation is the air of spiritualism that surrounds it in popular culture. While for many people meditation is a genuinely spiritual practice, it doesn’t actually have to be.

Regardless of your particular thoughts on spirituality, the primary psychological and physiological benefits of meditation stem purely from chemical reactions to the induced state of calm and relaxation and the mental exercise of learning how to focus on a single thing without allowing your mind to wander or fall prey to distractions.

In essence, meditation is mental exercise. Much like physical exercise it not only teaches you a skill but also creates physical changes within your body.

The sheer volume of different kinds of meditation also can turn away people who are absolute beginners. We can continue the comparison above between meditation and physical exercise in that the word ‘meditation’, like the word ‘exercise’, can mean a variety of different practices.

Just like the deadlift and the bench press work different areas of the body but with the common overall goal of making you stronger, different meditation styles work on different areas of your mind with the general overall goal of improving your thinking and self-control.

It would take forever to go through all the different styles of meditation, and this is a beginner’s guide anyway so I don’t really think it’s necessary. If you’re just getting started and don’t know what to do, the best form of meditation to start with is concentration meditation.

Concentration Meditation for Beginners

Concentration meditation is probably the most basic form of meditation that still gives you all of the psychological and physical benefits most people are looking for – namely reduced stress, clarity of thought and improved focus. It’s also the easiest to do.

The basic idea behind concentration meditation is to work on focusing on a single thought, sound or object at the exclusion of all other things. This is harder than it sounds, particularly with the demands of modern living and constant barrage of input from technology we’re programmed to always be bouncing around from thought to thought in our heads. Some people call this ‘Monkey Mind’, and this meditation technique will teach you how to fix it.

Bear in mind that, while relaxing, meditation is work. You’re training your mind, so take it slow at first. Starting out with two to three minutes of quiet meditation each morning and working up from there is a good way to ease into it.

So how do you get started?

How to Meditate

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable place to meditate – It’s extremely important that you find a place where you won’t be disturbed for the duration of your meditation. The purpose is to learn to ignore distractions, but that doesn’t mean you want screaming kids, buzzing cell phones or a blaring TV in the background. I’m not saying it has to be beneath a waterfall in the wilderness either, but it should be somewhere in your home where you know you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Settle into a comfortable, relaxed position – Contrary to popular imagery, you don’t need to be sitting in full lotus on the floor to meditate. You can sit however you’re comfy, in a chair, on your bed, you can even lay down if you’d like. I would recommend making sure to sit with good posture and a natural curve to your back – not slouching – but other than that it’s most important that you’re comfortable. I personally prefer not to do it lying down because I tend to fall asleep, but you can try it that way as well.
  3. Choose something to fixate on completely – What you choose can be anything, and can involve any of your senses. If you are a complete beginner an easy one to start with is to focus all your attention on your breathing. Don’t try to control it. Breathe naturally but focus all your attention there as you breathe in and out. Some options involving other senses are to fixate on the flame of a candle, to speak a mantra or make a sound such as the iconic ‘Om’, to listen to the clicks of a metronome or even to just repeat the word ‘one’ over and over in your mind. The idea is to find something that you can focus 100% of your attention on the exclusion of all other things.
  4. When your mind wanders, gently refocus it – Inevitably, your mind will wander to something else. Thoughts will pop up that yell for your attention. You’ll worry about your work, or some other problem. You’ll start thinking about needing to buy more candles. Something will come up. Instead of fighting it, try to acknowledge the thought and then send it on its way. Once you’ve done that immediately refocus on whatever it is you’re working to focus on. I like to think of the other thoughts as little paper boats floating by on a stream in front of me. I acknowledge their existence, then send them on down stream and pay them no more mind.
  5. When your mind wanders, gently refocus it, again – Your mind will continue to want to wonder, but keep at it. If you’re like me you might even have the thought of, “My thoughts keep bouncing all over, this is impossible, I can’t focus at all”, but treat that thought like all the others and keep going. Understand that meditation is a skill and will take practice. In time these wayward thoughts will come less frequently and eventually you’ll have no problem turning on your laser focus.
  6. After your time is up, stretch and shake it off – This step is optional if you decide you prefer to meditate before bed, but I find I prefer morning meditation and this step really helps pull me back to be ready for the day. Either way, when your meditation time is up let yourself come down out of it gradually and naturally with a positive attitude. Even if you don’t feel it yet, you’ve accomplished something by working on your focus and you should end each session with a smile and a well-earned sense of achievement.

The best way to start using this meditation technique is with two or three minutes spent practicing each morning. Like physical exercise it can be difficult to stick to, or more work than you originally thought, so it’s best to start slow.

As you get more used to it and start developing it into more of a habit you can increase your time to five minutes, then ten and so on until you reach a length of practice that fits your needs. Once you’ve mastered this form of meditation you can also start moving on to more advanced forms if you’d like, although honestly I find the concentration meditation to be one of my favorites and one of the most beneficial.

Even if you keep it to five minutes every morning, this routine will go a long way toward improving your focus and drastically reducing your stress – two things I think nearly everyone could benefit from.

Once you’ve tried them, or if you’ve tried these techniques in the past, leave a comment and tell us how it went! I’m also happy to answer any questions or clarifications that might come up. Happy meditating!

Photo Credit: Premasagar

How Mario Kart 64 Taught Me the Key to Success

Mario Kart! Let's Go! by Pixteca

A wise guru indeed...

For me growing up there were three games that formed the Holy Trinity of the Nintendo 64: Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, & Mario Kart 64.

Ok, so Starfox 64 and Super Smash Bros. 64 also deserve honorable mention, but Holy Quinary just sounds like a shrine to Sliders so we’ll stick with the Trinity.

Out of all those games, Mario Kart 64 easily had the biggest impression on me.

Why?

Because it taught me the secret to leading a happy, successful life.

Wisdom from the Road

Jump back a decade or so and there I am sitting in my room with friends racing full tilt around the Rainbow Road.

I was Yoshi – because we all know that Yoshi is the best – and I was losing. Badly.

Every lap I’d fought my way up to the front of the pack, and every time some catastrophic slip up had plummeted me back down to last. You should know, as an aside, that I did not handle frustration well as a child. By this point I was absolutely furious.

With each stupid turtle shell, each accidental hop off the edge into oblivion, each star-powered buffoon that blasted me out of the way I became increasingly agitated. I didn’t even notice that the more angry I got, the more I wanted to hurl my controller through the TV, the worse my racing got.

Finally, on the very last lap, something snapped.

Rather than give in to the substantial rage that had built inside me, I just let it all go. Maybe you could call it defeatism, but I think that sounds too negative. I realized at this point that I was at peace with whatever happened. I just didn’t really care anymore.

And you know what? My racing improved.

When before everything that could go wrong had been, now everything aligned perfectly. I was untouchable. I was in the zone.

I rocketed up to first like it was nothing and won the race. At first, I considered myself lucky. As time went on though I began to wonder if there was more to it than that.

I tested my theory out through more and more races and it held. The more agitated I got, the worse I played. The more detached I got, the better I played. At first I just thought learning to detach myself from worry and frustration over the outcome was just a handy trick to rock my friends on Mario Kart. Then I learned to apply it to the rest of my life.

Embracing Relaxation

When I made a conscious effort to do in the rest of my life what I did in Mario Kart – stop worrying and let things flow – I found that everything I did came easy to me.

No matter what it was, even things I had formerly had a really hard time with, everything always just seemed to work out in my favor. On the rare occasion things would still go wrong, it always seemed like it wasn’t so bad and some other opportunity would present itself as a result of the problem that was even better than the original.

The more I taught myself to relax and not worry, the more successful and happy my life became.

Everyone called me lucky, but I knew I was making my own luck.

How it Helps

This isn’t just anecdotal, studies have shown that people who are considered ‘lucky’ often are just benefiting from being more relaxed and mindful.

In Dr. Wiseman’s study referenced above participants were given newspapers and asked to count the number of photos in them. The group who considered themselves lucky correctly completed the task in a few seconds while the group who considered themselves unlucky took an average of two minutes.

What was the difference?

The people who considered themselves unlucky were almost always too stressed out and focused on the task of counting the photos to notice the headline inside that read “Stop Counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

When you learn to let go of your worries you allow your relax and be observant. When you’re observant, you miss fewer opportunities.

Relaxing in this way also opens up the doors to intuition. It taps into a process akin to the Taoist concept of Wei Wu Weiaction without action.

Wei Wu Wei in very simple terms is being so attuned to the current moment that without effort you automatically take the most correct or beneficial action. It’s a topic that deserves volumes all on it’s own, but the best example is if you’ve ever been in ‘the groove’ or ‘the zone’ while playing a sport.

That feeling where everything is going right, when you’re no longer thinking about what you’re going to do you just act, that’s Wei Wu Wei. Most people that get pegged as ‘naturals’ in some activity or another are just people who are intuitively good at putting themselves in this state.

Being able to consciously put yourself in ‘the zone’ makes you act like you’re a natural at everything you set out to do.

How to Relax

Now some of you might be saying, “Wait, I am stressed all the time. You can’t expect me to just decide to not be stressed!”

It came naturally to me, but some people are just naturally high-strung. Caroline’s been learning how to de-stress and not worry so much ever since we met. Luckily, there are some techniques you can use.

  • Take a long deep breath – I know it’s kind of stereotypical, but that’s only because it works. Stopping to shut out the world long enough to take a deep breath helps get your attention off of whatever is stressing you. Breath control also triggers physiological responses that produce a calming effect.
  • Exist in the moment – When you’re taking that deep, slow breath focus all of your attention on it. Nothing else exists, there is no past, no future, there is only the experience of that breath. Understanding that the past is gone and the future doesn’t yet exist helps you focus on the present moment. When you do that, you find there’s no need to worry about the future anymore.
  • Accept the stress – If you’re still feeling stressed after doing some controlled breathing, confront that feeling. Acknowledge the fact that you’re stressed, and dismiss it. Tell yourself that you understand why you’re so stressed, but you don’t need to be anymore and let all those feelings drift away. It sounds like hippie stuff, but trust me – it works.
  • Face your fears – If you’re stressed out from worry or fear, and the realization that the future doesn’t exist and is nothing to be scared of hasn’t helped, play through the worst case scenario in your mind. Chances are, unless you’re going to literally die as a result of failure, the worst case scenario isn’t the end of the world. Once you see that even if everything fails you’ll still be fine, you can brush away the fear and be present enough in the moment to succeed.

These are just a few ways, there are even more involved methods like meditation, the point is just to get you started.

The more you teach yourself to let go of worry and stress and be present, mindful and relaxed the more successful and happy you’ll become. All because of a particularly enlightening game of Mario Kart.

Do you have any other tried and true methods for learning to let go of stress? Have you stumbled upon any other great truths while playing video games? Share them with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Pixteca

The Four Zen States of Mind

Zen Circle 1 by Triratna Photos

The circle is a common representation of the idea of mushin.

As much as Caroline picks on me for being a Zen master and never getting stressed or concerned about anything, the fact is I am not one. Even so, that hasn’t stopped me from finding ways to apply Zen principles to my everyday life.

I’ve always had a love for the martial arts and a side passion for philosophy, Eastern, Western and everywhere in-between. I’ve found that the parts of philosophy I really love are the parts that you can directly apply to life. Maybe that’s just a reflection of me following Bruce Lee’s philosophies, who knows. Either way I think the real meat of philosophy is in practicalities, not pontificating or postulations. As a result I’ve collected four states of mind from Zen teachings and the martial arts world that you can work toward to make you a happier more effective person.

Shoshin

Shoshin (初心) is the first state of mind we’re going to talk about. Shoshin means “Beginner’s Mind” and is characterized by an attitude of eagerness and openness when beginning an endeavor. When you are in a state of shoshin you should be feeling enthusiastic, creative and above all optimistic. Think about a time when you were getting ready to start something new that you had always wanted to do. You were fired up and ready to go, you knew it would be great and you were open and ready to do or learn whatever it was you were about to start. That’s shoshin.

When can you use shoshin?

The most obvious use for assuming a state of shoshin would be whenever you’re about to start something new. Working to approach every new endeavor, even ones you may be nervous about or dreading, with an attitude of open eagerness helps to make most situations that you once thought were unpleasant much more enjoyable. One of the key aspects of shoshin is an absence of preconceptions and a general sense of optimism. When you are in a state of shoshin you shouldn’t be thinking too much about what you think is going to happen, you should just be eager to accept whatever comes and assured it will all be for the best.

This release of preconceptions and attitude of viewing everything with fresh eyes is one of shoshin’s most valuable qualities. You can work on placing yourself in a state of shoshin even when doing something you’ve done before to keep each experience fresh and to ensure that you aren’t making poor decisions based on preconceived biases. It also helps train you to keep a positive and eager outlook about everything that might come your way.

Fudoushin

Fudoushin (不動心 also Romanized as fudoshin) means “Immovable Mind”. This state of mind is characterized by a steadfast determination and absolute control over oneself. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean one in a state of fudoushin is being stubborn, or angry. Rather a person in fudoushin is calmly resolute and cannot be swayed, tempted or concerned. A man sitting peacefully in the eye of a tornado would be a good mental image to exemplify the idea of fudoushin.

When can I use fudoushin?

Fudoushin once cultivated can best be used in situations where you are under stress. These might be genuinely dangerous situations like a house fire or they may be fairly benevolent ones like car trouble or problems at work. The idea of achieving fudoushin in stressful situations is, I think, one of the quintessential stereotypes of the Zen master here. Most people picture the old monk reacting serenely in the face of extreme or mortal danger and that is essentially what you’re looking to emulate.

Now, I certainly hope you never find yourself in a situation where your life depends on you keeping a calm, collected head. Even so normal day to day life can be seriously stressful. A pursuit of fudoushin can go a long way to keeping you sane. You may never need to react calmly in a disaster, but being well versed in the art of taking a deep breath and letting the stress go could keep you from hurling your computer through the window when it crashes without saving your work.

Mushin

Mushin (無心) means “Without Mind” and it is very similar in practice to the Chinese Taoist principle of wei wuwei (爲無爲). Of all of the states of mind, I think not only is working toward mastery of mushin most important, it’s also the one most people have felt at some point in time. In sports circles, mushin is often referred to as “being in the zone”.

Mushin is characterized by a mind that is completely empty of all thoughts and is existing purely in the current moment. A mind in mushin is free from worry, anger, ego, fear or any other emotions. It does not plan, it merely acts. If you’ve ever been playing a sport and you got so into it you stopped thinking about what you were doing and just played, you’ve experienced mushin.

When can I use mushin?

Always. Honestly, I have yet to find any task where my performance was not improved by getting my head out of the way and just doing. Our thoughts wander, they bounce around through our heads and distract us, cause us to worry, cause us to over think things or become overconfident. When you quiet your mind and exist in the moment as an entity that has no concerns about the past or the future but is fully present and acts intuitively you can perform without distraction.

Beyond all of that worries, doubts, regrets and fears serve no purpose other than to cloud your judgement and make your life worse. By learning to live only in the current moment and let everything else go you can lead a much happier more peaceful life.

Zanshin

Zanshin (残心) literally translates to “Remaining Mind” and really has two parts. The first aspect of zanshin is a general and constant state of relaxed awareness or perceptiveness. This state means that although you’re not actively watching out for things you are constantly aware of your surroundings and situation. The second aspect of zanshin is a concept of follow through. In martial arts proper expression of zanshin is your actions and mental state after you have performed a technique or defeated your opponent.

When can I use zanshin?

The awareness aspect of zanshin is useful always, and can easily be cultivated along with mushin. In fact, learning to develop a state of mushin also helps cultivate zanshin as zanshin is best achieved by always being present in the moment and not letting your mind wander with distractions.

The awareness aspect of zanshin doesn’t have to just relate to your physical surroundings though. True zanshin means constant situational awareness. That means being present enough to notice when someone might be upset with you, or recognizing when your financial or career situation may need some improvement as well as being perceptive enough to identify the opportunities that arise to make positive improvements.

The follow through aspect of zanshin will also make all of your endeavors more successful. Proper follow through ensures that even if you fail at something you attempt, you can see the results of what you did and learn from those mistakes leading you to a success on your next attempt.

There are other states of consciousness, as well as various techniques to help train one to achieve them, in Zen Buddhism and in martial arts, but I think these four are the most powerful for improving people’s day to day lives. Do you have any others you would add or good ways to practice these? Leave a comment!

Photo Credit: Triratna Photos

Lessons from the Master: Be Like Water

Tranquility by Sean Rogers

Water is not only essential to life, it makes a pretty good role model.

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.” – Bruce Lee

Being like water is a fairly common goal within the world of martial arts, regardless of style. Students of everything from gong fu to karate to muay thai have sought to improve themselves by emulating its fluidity, force and formlessness. Not only martial artists can learn lessons from it though. So what does it mean to be like water, and how can doing so help improve our lives?

Formlessness

Another quote by Bruce Lee that’s often tossed around is this one:

“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Technically that was him reciting lines he wrote for his role on the TV show Longstreet, but I think it still reflects both his thoughts on the matter and an essential property of water that can seriously help people in their day to day lives.

Water, as he says, is shapeless. It doesn’t fight when it’s put into a new container, instead it adapts and changes to perfectly fit its new home. If an object is dropped into the water it doesn’t fight back it just moves out of the way and swallows it up. This formlessness and adaptability is a quality that everyone should strive to achieve.

So how are some ways we can practice this attitude? Think of all the times you’ve been forced into a new situation. Maybe it’s something benign like going to an unfamiliar coffee shop or maybe it’s something more serious like losing your job. What have your reactions been like?

For most people change, no matter how small, is at the very least uncomfortable if not completely terrifying. The natural reaction when people are forced into a new situation is to flee or to fight to get back to the way things were. Instead, try to be more like water. Let go of all that energy you’re wasting trying to cling to the old way things were and let yourself reshape to fit your new surroundings.

The key to achieving water-like adaptation to new situations is understanding the concept of formlessness. The reason water doesn’t fight when it’s placed into a new environment is because water doesn’t have it’s own form. There is no one ‘shape’ of water, it assumes the shape of whatever its container is.

The best way to achieve a similar lack of form is to work on letting go of your self-created identity. I’m not saying you should completely abandon your personality, but rather that you should come to accept yourself as a malleable being. Once you understand that, like water, your defining aspect is that you are constantly changing you can easily adapt to any new situations that may arise.

Fluidity

Ok, I understand that fluidity and formlessness are essentially the same thing since formlessness is a general physical property of all fluids, but bear with me here because fluidity as a concept for our purposes has a slightly more nuanced meaning that separates it out.

When water is flowing, like in a stream or a river, it’s difficult to stop. You can try and push it back but it will slip around you and continue on its way. Like all currents it finds the path of least resistance automatically and follows it without effort or hesitation. If there is even the slightest crack or weakness it will find its way through and keep going.

You can apply this principle to your own life through the practice of wei wuwei (爲無爲) or action without action also sometimes referred to as effortless action. The idea of wei wuwei is central to Taoism and is characterized by releasing conscious control of your actions over to the flow of the infinite Tao.

In more Western terms – go with the flow.

As I said this may sound a lot like the above point of adapting to your surroundings but it’s slightly different. Adapting to your surroundings means changing yourself to become as comfortable as possible in the situation that has presented itself to you. Being fluid, or practicing wei wuwei, deals more with how you deal with obstacles.

Traceurs will understand this concept well. The idea is that when faced with an obstacle you react instantly and naturally taking the path of least resistance around it and moving on. Rather than slam into obstacles you let the natural order of things take its course as you glide around them.

Here obstacles doesn’t necessarily mean physical things. These can be any blocks to your progress tangible or not. When manifested into your general attitude it can also be an effective way to overcome mental blocks. When you hit a block in your thinking or creativity don’t dwell on the problem, just accept that its there and move on.

Dealing with problems this way is not only more effective, it keeps stress to a minimum as well.

There are likely other lessons that you could learn and apply from observing the properties of water, the way when it’s focused into a single stream it can cut through steel, the way a tiny trickle of it can dig out the entire Grand Canyon given enough time or maybe the way it’s nearly incompressible. Can you think of any other good additions? Leave a comment and share them!

Photo Credit: Sean Rogers

When to Start Exercising

111021-F-XH170-120 by The U.S. Air Force

Man, woman, child, grandparent - doesn't matter. Start lifting now.

People are very, very good at coming up with excuses for avoiding things that they think are unpleasant. It’s human nature. The problem is, frequently these unpleasant things they work so hard to avoid are things that are actually really good for you. Of all of these, exercise seems to be one of the most common.

The excuse that bothers me the most is the age excuse. The more common one is ‘I’m too old to start exercising‘ although I do occasionally also hear ‘I or my child is too young to start exercising‘. Usually these two complaints are even more pronounced when we’re talking about weight lifting.

The most baffling part of that to me is those are the two groups I think need to start lifting most. Ok, I’ll be honest, I think everyone should be lifting weights. Regardless, elders who have never lifted need to start right away because the clock is ticking. There are tons of benefits for older people who lift, increased bone density, improved mobility and most importantly greatly improved stability. For kids it’s important to start lifting as soon as possible so they can get the maximum possible benefit from a young age. Most studies agree strength training does not stunt growth in children, so don’t try to use that as an excuse.

In case you need a little extra push, here’s two examples for a little inspiration.

Naomi Kutin: Age 10

Naomi started lifting around the age of 8 under the guidance of her father, and has been setting world records for her weight class ever since.

Winifred Pristell: Age 70

Winifred, a great-grandmother of three started lifting at 48 and now competes in powerlifting competitions.

No matter how young or old you are, the best thing you can do is to start exercising right now. You’re never too old and you’re never too young. Even if you’ve never done a push up before you could always start with a basic bodyweight circuit or dive right into things with some high intensity interval training. The point is to stop complaining and get out there and do it.

Know of any other inspirational fitness examples? Share them with everyone in the comments!

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

My Weekend Of Starvation

In Her Absence by Brian Hathcock

48 hours of self-imposed deprivation.

This past weekend I decided to try an impromptu experiment. I know intermittent fasting has a wide range of health benefits, but how would a reasonably extended fast affect me? Unfortunately, I didn’t have the ability to go get blood work or anything done beforehand or afterward, so this was more of an unofficial personal experiment. Regardless, it was an interesting experience.

The Method

I originally set out to go for an entire weekend consuming nothing but water and, in the morning, coffee. My plan was to have one last large meal on Friday night at 7 p.m. and then not eat again until Monday at 7 p.m. for a total of 72 hours without food. In reality, for reasons I’ll explain a little further down, I only continued the fast until Sunday at 7 p.m. for a total of 48 hours. In the interest of doing what I could to combat any potential muscle loss, I did extra workouts on both days including strength training and high intensity interval training.

So, for 48 hours (Friday 7 p.m. to Sunday 7 p.m.) I consumed absolutely nothing but water and coffee and performed moderately taxing bodyweight and barbell strength training workouts and high intensity interval sprints.

The Results

Overall, it was a really interesting experience. I noticed some very basic changes in body composition, but the best parts for me were the miscellaneous effects I noticed and the benefit of the experience. Let’s look at some of those effects.

Weight

If I had a reliable way to do it I would have measured bodyfat percentage as well but unfortunately I couldn’t, so I was left tracking weight. The first day showed the most dramatic change – a loss of 1.5 kg or 3.3 pounds. The second day of fasting resulted in another smaller loss of 0.6 kg or 1.3 pounds.

After the fasting was over, I continued to track my bodyweight to determine if the changes would last or if the next few days of eating would put me right back where I was. The first day of eating showed an increase of 1 kg or 2.2 pounds. The next two days of eating, however showed subsequent reductions of 0.4 kg (0.88 pounds) and 0.2 kg (0.44 pounds). That brought the overall total to a net loss of 1.7 kg or 3.74 pounds of bodyweight.

Measurements

Being an informal experiment I didn’t take extensive measurements, only waist circumference. The first day of fasting showed a reduction of 1.5 inches. The second day of fasting resulted in a reduction of 0.5 inches, corresponding to the smaller drop in bodyweight. After the third day of eating, my waist circumference had increased by 0.75 inches. That makes the net total of 1.25 inches (-3.17 cm) lost around my waist.

Miscellaneous Observations

There were a handful of things I found interesting about the experiment that didn’t really fall into any specific categories.

  • Reduction in Body Temperature – Part way into the end of the first day of fasting and all through the second day I found it extremely difficult to maintain body temperature. My wife, in the same room wearing clothing with comparable amounts of insulation, would be perfectly comfortable while I would be teeth-chatteringly freezing. I wound up putting on a jacket and sitting in front of the heater in our office in an attempt to get warm. Conversely, as soon as I broke my fast I became overheated and even started sweating and felt extremely warm after every meal for the next few days until I started feeling normal again.
  • Discomfort Plateau – This is the primary reason I decided to end my fast early, the reaching of a discomfort plateau. One of the reasons for attempting this experiment was as a personal test to see how much deprivation and discomfort I could take. I found out though that the hunger of a fast doesn’t increase linearly. Instead, I became extremely hungry by the middle of the first fasting day and then stayed that hungry until I ended my fast. This indicates to me that I could arguably handle any length of food deprivation since the discomfort doesn’t increase past a certain point.
  • No Reduction in Performance – During my fast I showed no reduction in performance in any of my exercises and had no trouble adding to the amount I was lifting on both days. Additionally, there was no degradation of my mental faculties. Honestly, I felt like my thinking was even more sharp and focused than normal, although I’m not sure if it actually was or if that was imagined.
  • Taste Enhancement – This may be another one that’s just all in my head, but everything I eat now is exponentially more flavorful. I can detect more spices and ingredients in foods and taste more differences in water from various sources. I’ve noticed it seems like it’s slowly going back to normal, so I might be re-acclimating to things. I suppose that’s why they say hunger’s the best spice.
  • Comfort with Hunger – Not only have I found I’m much more comfortable being hungry, but I’ve also found that it takes less food on average to satisfy my hunger. I’ve heard people suggest this is the result of my stomach reducing in size in the absence of being stretched out by food, however as far as I can tell that’s just conjecture and I’ve not seen any reliable scientific backing for that claim.

Conclusion

In total it was an interesting experience, though not one I would likely be soon to repeat. The loss of 3.74 pounds and 1.25 inches was a positive benefit, and I didn’t find any downsides to it except for the feeling of hunger itself and the issues with keeping my body temperature up. That being said, I didn’t test any other general health markers or design it to proper experimental rigor and therefore there may have been plenty of ill effects I simply missed.

Would I recommend any to do this? Regularly, probably not. If you absolutely positively need to lose a few pounds or a few inches immediately, this could be an option though it may not be the healthiest long term. I do think the experience itself is worth trying at least once for everyone simply to get exposed to the discomfort of true hunger. Few people who live in wealthy, industrialized nations ever really get to feel what it is to be hungry. I also think it’s a good exercise in willpower and teaching yourself to ignore temptation.

What does everyone else think? Has anyone else tried any extended water fasting? Did you have a similar experience? Share it in the comments!

Photo Credit: Brian Hathcock