Where does the time go?

24 05 2013


I really dropped the ball this past month. I’d love to blame the plethora of mundane tasks I do daily like washing dishes, vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing toilets. I could point to all the time spent on even more pressing matters like keeping the lawn mowed and hedges trimmed to the satisfaction of the god-forsaken HOA. On a more positive note, we can’t forget the many hours spent working out. Finally, I could top off the list of excuses with all the truly exciting events that come with raising three daughters. There’s all those benchmarks so common in the life of a busy little two-year old, which are just as thrilling for me the third time around, as well as attending all of the plays, open houses, track meets, and ballet and  gymnastics classes of her older sisters.

I’d love to blame this busy life for not posting. It simply wouldn’t be true. I’m sure there’s plenty of bloggers out there, with schedules just as busy a as mine, who manage much more frequent posts than this. Extraordinary accomplishments come from extraordinary effort, whether it’s at work, as a parent, or in being a world-class athlete.

Let’s face it. I’ve failed miserably at posting even once the past six weeks because I allowed an apparent case of ADD to take charge. In between all of the above mentioned necessities, I got wrapped up in researching logical fallacies, which led to digging out all of my educational psychology books, and diving into some cognitive psychology. In the process I also stumbled into a discourse with an old classmate regarding creationism, which rekindled my fascination with the current trends in science denial, and eventually led me to get all caught up in the latest idiocies committed in the name of religion, and viola – nary a post for far too long!

All of these varying facets of the human condition fascinate me, and there never seems to be enough time to read everything I want to. For every book I check off my list of “must reads,” I add two more. Of course, all of these topics also play into my pursuit of being the best dad, teacher, and citizen that I can, which means I’m building up a backlog of topics to write about as well.

I can’t imagine inconsistency and unreliability are part of any proven formula for building up a large loyal readership, but be that as it may, onward…

In the final analysis, it’s not ADD, ADHD, nor any other malady that interrupted this work in progress. It was just  a lack of self discipline. I could have spent a bit less time reading those textbooks, or saved the debate regarding the existence of god for another day. I let my whimsical wants dictate my direction. Sure, just “going with the flow” can be fun now and then. As a normal modus operandi, however, this method will get you nowhere in a hurry.

There is more “self-help” literature out there than any mere mortal could ever read, and just like all of the dietary and/or fitness advice out there, much of it is junk. Most of it rehashes what’s already been said, repackaging it in varying ways in an attempt to cash in on a booming industry. The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, by Stephen Covey, is one that I highly recommend.  His is a basic treatise on the fundamentals of succeeding in whatever endeavor you choose to pursue. It’s been years since I’ve read it, but I make reference to it on a regular basis, when I’m teaching my kids, when I’m coaching an athlete, or helping someone with their fitness goals.

His time-management system of four quadrants is a great way to break down activities, and best organize one’s time. As a parent of a two year old, there’s quite a bit of time spent in quadrant 1 that is unavoidable.  matrix-for-job-aidsEnough time spent in the second quadrant may lessen the impact of this aspect of child-rearing, but it’s a fantasy of the highest order to think it could be eliminated.

I, however, am constantly guilty of the simple pleasures that come from participating in quadrant four. This is where our whimsical wants of the moment drag us down, fill up our precious time, and keep us from accomplishing what is truly important.

It’s easy to justify all of the reading I’ve been doing in the name of self improvement. The real issue, however, is whether that reading is more important than the other things that I’ve made a priority, especially when it interferes with those higher priorities. As Covey so succinctly states in his third habit, Put first things, first.” Obviously the past few weeks of whimsical reading interfered with my goal of posting once a week. So, to borrow another habit from Mr. Covey’s book, it’s time to sharpen the saw.”

Food for thought…

11 09 2012

Welcome home!

After an amazing three days of backpacking with my two eldest daughters, I returned to the suburbs rejuvenated.  Life here can be a bit overwhelming, surrounded in all directions, as we are, by Malvina’s “ticky-tacky.”  I feel the need to escape on a regular basis in order to avoid slipping into the mind-numbing role of complacent, zombie-esque consumer in this superficial, material, and very beige suburbia.  As John Muir so eloquently pointed out,

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (Our National Parks , 1901, page 56.)

I jumped back into our daily routine Monday morning, getting the girls off to school, and taking a brief moment to re-engage the outside world through a cursory scan of the headlines and Facebook.  The first one to grab my attention was an NPR article on yet another study regarding diet.

Low And Slow May Be The Way To Go When It Comes To Dieting

This also reminded me of another one I’d read last week, just before I headed for the tranquility of the mountains.  I posted this one from the BBC on Facebook:

People can be fat yet fit, research suggests

These two studies help clarify a few health related issues.  The first addresses the relationship between the glycemic index of food and weight loss, and is one more in a long list that indict the highly processed foods that have become so prominent in our lives. The second notes that cardio-vascular fitness has little to do with body-type, and everything to do with activity level.

Although there are continual advancements in our understanding of the food/body/activity connection, the fundamentals have not changed.  When you read all of the studies, there are a couple consistent threads throughout.  They are summed up in the saying, “calories in, calories out.”  This is simplistic at best, but a good place to start.  The quality of the two factors is of critical importance.  This is where all of the studies continue to separate fact from fallacy.  Here’s a simplified version of what we know, definitively.

  1. Highly processed foods, are bad for you, period.  A healthy diet consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, some lean meats, and nuts.  The rule I’ve taught my girls is easy to remember: Healthy food is food you recognize.  If you have to read a label to know what it is, it’s probably not very good for you, and if you can’t understand what you’ve read, it’s poison.
  2. Regular, physical activity is vital.  The more sedentary your daily routine is, the more important a fitness routine.  For exercise to be effective, it needs to be regular, frequent, and intense.  If your workouts aren’t challenging, you’re probably not accomplishing that much.  They should include a cardiopulmonary response (increased heart rate & respiratory) and resistance training, which is proven to be not only good for the muscles, but for the bones & joints as well.

Good news, right? Given the severity of today’s growing obesity epidemic and the subsequent cost to society at large, two more pieces to the puzzle is welcome news.  Once again, science has confirmed what health/fitness professionals have known for years.  Now everybody is going to start eating more fresh, whole foods, and exercising daily, right?

Probably not.

One thing I’ve learned over the past 30 years of teaching and coaching is this: logic is of secondary importance.  A little secret sales people have known for years, is that people buy based on emotion, and then justify the purchase through logic.  That’s why they’re always trying to get you to sit in that new car, feel those leather seats, and imagine yourself screaming down the highway.  Watch a few advertisements on t.v. – it’s all about emotional triggers.  Any logical facts are just thrown in as an afterthought.

Whether it’s a new car or a new idea, emotion is the driving force that initiates change.  Tony Robbins, the well-known motivational speaker, talks about this in his books.  People are uncomfortable with the unknown (change) and tend to be lazy.  Therefore the impetus to change must be greater than the comfort of the status quo.  The two strongest forces for change are emotional: the fear of pain and the desire for pleasure

I’ll use the diet/fitness example to illustrate.  Everybody I know who’s out of shape and eating improperly (it’s usually both) would admit that their diet could be better, or that they need to exercise more.  They might even read the above articles and chuckle about how they should “work on that.”  Yet they don’t make the change.  They’ll wait until the doctor tells them their LDLs are too high, or they have a heart attack, and then fear will motivate them to start.  Or perhaps they’ll start to be embarrassed by their physical appearance (fear of ridicule) and they’ll join a gym in anticipation of eventually looking like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. (anticipation of pleasure)

In addition to our natural resistance to change, it’s difficult  to sort through all of the choices available.  There are so many health studies, “lose weight quick & easy” diets, and  ULTIMATE fitness routines out there, that it can be overwhelming to decide which would be the best.  Furthermore, since these various schemes often contradict one another, they undermine any faith an individual might have otherwise had in their effectiveness.  This just adds to the difficulty already inherent in effecting change.

All of this adds up to a whole lot of people living unhealthy lifestyles and feeling like it’s just too hard to change, if they’re even aware of it.  For those of us who already recognize the importance of these choices, and are trying to live accordingly, it can be hard to understand how anyone would choose otherwise.  I, for one, feel obligated to share my experiences in an attempt to help others make healthier choices for themselves.  Here’s to living well!

p.s.  Here’s how the conversation often sounds (at least the list of excuses) when talking to someone “struggling” with the BIG decision.

C’mon folks, Correlation does not imply Causation!

4 09 2012

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Although we all love to joke about how our children are making us older, we all realize that this is just a joke, right? It is true that they may make us feel older, due to the seemingly constant state of being more physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged than in any other time in our recent memory.  The obvious fact is that we are aging with the passage of time, regardless the number of children, if any, we may have.  Even though the presence and ever-increasing number of offspring may correlate to our getting older, it does not have a causal effect on our age. In life, as in science, “Correlation does not imply Causation.”

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, correlation is defined as a “mutual relationship or connection between two or more things.”  Causation, on the other hand, is “the action of causing something.”  The correlation of things is often very easy to experience, whereas the actual causes might lie below the surface, hidden from our immediate view.

Traffic around here in the suburbs is at it’s worst early in the morning and late in the evening, as the sun is rising and setting.  This very obvious coincidence would have been considered a causal relationship by our ancient ancestors.  Remember the peoples that worshipped the sun and moon?  Their belief was based on the same type of logic.  Over the past few centuries we’ve outgrown such simplistic connections, haven’t we?  We all recognize that, although the increased traffic patterns might correlate to the rising and setting of the sun, one is not causing the other.

Amazingly, these two concepts are still frequently confused, leading to some pretty outrageous conclusions.  Often this confusion is manipulated by those who would obfuscate the truth for their own purpose.  Watch Faux News or MSNBC for some excellent examples.  Much of the vitriolic ranting coming from pundits and politicians in our caustic political arena intentionally blurs the lines between correlation and causation.  People from the far extremes of a discussion are notorious for confusing the two in order to support their claims of legitimacy.  It’s so much easier to make a direct connection between our current economic debacle and the villain of your choice.  One side argues that our sitting President, a black, socialist radical is leading us down the path to hell, while the other side blames those greedy, corrupt bankers and corporations for all our ails.  Both are great story lines for a mini-drama on AMC, but antithetical to actually resolving any part of our very real predicament. (but I digress, this is another topic for another day)

If you’re looking for some fun reading that builds on this causal/correlative issue, try Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Here’s a simple example from the concrete, physical world of fitness.  (I won’t mention any names, in order to protect the guilty)  I have been told numerous times by individuals, who quite frankly, don’t like to run, that “running is bad for you.”  The claim is that it’s bad for the knees, hips, (insert body part of your choice here) because of the impact involved.  Their desire to prove running is bad, in order to justify not running, clouds their ability, or willingness, to distinguish between correlation and causation.  The result of this: people make a potentially detrimental health choice based on misguided logic that running, an activity the human body was designed to do, is bad for you. Running can and often does correlate to injuries, and the more a person runs, the more opportunity there is for another factor to cause injury, but it does not cause injury.

So, what does cause injuries while running? Here’s a list in order of importance. Fortunately, you will also note that the most important ones are also the ones we can do something to remedy!

  1. Improper diet.
  2. Insufficient water intake.
  3. Poor sleeping habits.

I grouped these together at the top, because they create the foundation upon which everything else is built. As with most of our western medicine, we want to be able to simply take a pill to fix whatever might be ailing us. It can be too overwhelming to consider that the core of our entire lifestyle is the root of our predicament.  The hard truth of the matter is clear: to expect any fitness routine to achieve a high level of success without addressing these fundamental things as well is really naive!

Here’s the other causes

  1. Running incorrectly. I believe this is the biggest cause of most problems that occur. There is an assumption that running is just running. Unless you’re learning to do hurdles or pass a baton, I don’t think there’s a lot of instruction ever done on “how to run.” Because of my personal experience, I am a huge proponent of the “Pose” method.
  2. Running too much too soon. Just like any other fitness routine, you need to build your body up. Increase your distance and intensity as your fitness improves.
  3. External forces (i.e. Inappropriate equipment, rocky/slippery terrain).
  4. Genetic defects. Some individuals may have joint or other structural issues that make running an inappropriate choice for fitness.

Before you write off running as an activity that is just too “dangerous,” identify the facts and base your judgement accordingly.  Before you pass judgment on the hot topic of the day, (i.e. politics, religion, economics, parenting) do your research.  Don’t be deceived by the correlation of seemingly causal factors.  CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

Excuses, excuses…

29 08 2012

Livin’ the life in the Bozone.

We were on vacation in Montana earlier this month, and while visiting my favorite coffee shop up there, I acquired the latest copy of Outside Bozeman.  It’s a great little magazine that helps keep me in touch of much of what I love about that area.  As it’s title implies, it covers all of the great outdoor activities that the Bozone has to offer, from hiking, biking, skiing, and running, to hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling.  It also plays on the local/native/tourist genre, as various authors make jokes or commentary about all the tourists and “newbies” from the perspective of a local.  The nature of this banter  is not lost on this fourth generation “native,” and I find the irony of such thinking highly amusing.

One of the articles in particular hit upon a subject close to my athletic and coaching-minded heart.  “Born to (Eventually) Run”, by Jeff Wozer, had me laughing to tears – and verifying the condition of my internal organs.  In it he logs his “training” as he prepares for an upcoming race.

In addition to being funny as hell, his was a great expose’ on the human condition.  I suppose that is, in part, why it was so funny.  All too often, we sabotage our ability to be the best that we could be by making excuses as to why we can’t do the very thing we know we should.  We see what we want to accomplish, and understand the steps we have to take in order to do so, but then we “excuse” ourselves right out of ever getting it done.

Here’s one of my personal favorites.

When I still owned a martial arts school, I would often hear from former students who wanted to get back into training.  Of course, I was always very supportive of such a goal, and would do what I could to help them initiate said change, from giving them a current class schedule to offering them private lessons to help with the transition back.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Yeah, I’d love to, but I’ve got to get in shape first.”

I just love that logic: I’d love to get in shape, but I’ve got to get in shape first.  Let me see if I understand that correctly.  You can’t begin to do something until you do it first.  Now THAT makes perfect sense.

“I’m not smart enough to go back to school.”

“I’m too overweight to lose weight.”

The fact that these statements defy logic doesn’t really matter, however.  I realize that these excuses are just the cover story, beneath the surface of which lie the true, but unspoken reasons.

“I’m afraid.”

“I’d be embarrassed.”

“I’m just too busy.”

“I don’t know how.”

“It’s too far.”

“I can’t afford it.”

Here’s the logic that matters most: in the end it is OUR choice that decides, not anything else.  We can focus on all of the excuses for not doing something, or we can focus on the reasons for doing something, but in the end it’s still OUR choice.  Instead of making a long list of excuses why we can’t do something, we need to get in the habit of making a  list of reasons why we should, and then get busy.

In the beginning…

15 08 2012

How seriously should we really take ourselves?I’ve found that I talk about myself way too much.  I always seem to find a way to weave some life experience of my distant past into whatever conversation I’m a part of at the time.  I can only imagine that this must be annoying to those around me who might just have their own thoughts to add to the conversation.  The first step toward fixing something is recognizing it needs to be fixed, right?  Well, I’m working on this one.

I could claim I’m just a product of a surreal technological reality where everybody has something so important to say, that everybody should want to read it.  Never mind the fact that nobody really gives a rat’s ass that I just arrived at Starbucks, or that I’m having a really super-great day:)  I could blame it on Facebook, or the Blogosphere,  but that would be bad science.  All of this techno-stuff arrived long after I had already honed this habit of mine.

It could be argued that this tendency is proof of my egocentrism, and this may be the case.  I don’t think of myself as being that self-centered, but does anybody?  Perhaps I’m really insecure and am just trying to build myself up in the eyes of those around me, thereby creating a safe haven for my otherwise very fragile ego.  What would Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung have to say about all this?

My intent, however, is not to brag about myself, nor make myself the center of every conversation.  I just fall into the trap of thinking that if a person understands how I came to a particular conclusion, that it will help them come to the same understanding.  This can lead to rather long, looping diatribes, because my understanding of any particular topic comes from a whopping 47 years of thoughts and experiences.  You see, it all started when I was just a wee lad…

What is the point of all of this, and how the hell does it have anything whatsoever to do with making the world a better place?  I believe we all need to look deep inside ourselves and try to better understand what makes us “tick.”  We should  take some time on a regular basis to re-evaluate ourselves.  Where are we? How did we get here? Where are we going? The answers to all these questions will help us achieve whatever goals we set for ourselves, but only if we are brutally honest with ourselves.

I believe that to be effective, a person has to lead by example; so here it goes.  One of the things I need to work on as a husband, as a father, and as a teacher, is to be a better listener.  I need to talk about myself a little bit less, and listen to those around me talk about themselves a little bit more.  Finally, we come to the point of this entire entry: What can you work on improving?


Learning to tackle and grapple.

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Musings of an aspiring martial artist and father