You Are Not A Dog

January is a time for goal-setting.  With that in mind, I wanted to talk about the idea of rewards.  Not the reward of doing something good for yourself (though we will touch on that as well), but more about the idea of rewarding yourself with something (think clothes, spa day, food, etc) for reaching one of your goals.  While this seems like a logical way to get yourself motivated, it turns out the truth is as the title states…”You are not a dog” and this particular rewards system does not work for our species.

I know some of you have already started an internal argument with me.  You may have had results increasing a good behavior or decreasing a bad behavior by using a reward as a shiny, gold, dangling carrot.  This could be true, but let me ask you, how long did these changes last?  Was it something short-term?  Were you able to continue this changed behavior over the long-term?  Are you motivated to continue?

While research still continues to pick apart motivation and change, there are some concepts that come up time and time again.  For example, the idea that there are 4 main motivators.  On one side people are extrinsically motivated, meaning they are motivated to do something for a reward or out of fear of a punishment.  Close to this is an external motivator.  These are the things you do because you feel you “should” and feel guilty when you do not complete them.  On the other side of the spectrum we are looking at internal motivators or things that align with our values.  Next to this are the intrinsic motivators or the things you LOVE to do, no real persuasion needed.

So the rewards I am talking about are those in the extrinsic category.  These are the deals you make with yourself (“after I lose 10lbs, I can buy a new dress”) that involve a reward or punishment.  This reward system has shown to increase the wanted behavior immensely in the short-term, but for long-term change, can actually hurt your motivation.

Let’s use exercise as an example.  You hate running, but you made a New Year’s Resolution to “get in shape”.  So you decide that for every day you get up and run, you get to buy yourself a fancy coffee.  So you head out every morning and suffer through your 45 minute jog, distracting yourself with music, and thinking only of your coffee reward.  After about 2 weeks, you decide it is not worth the coffee.  It is too awful.  So you start up your coffee pot at home, have a little session of self-loathing and resentment, and throw the idea “getting in shape” in garbage.

Now, let’s try this a different way.  You decide you want to “get in shape”.  So you decide to experiment with different ways of moving to see what feels best to you.  You decide you love swimming.  You love the silence in the water, the rhythm of the stroke, and the time away from your phone.  You exit the water feeling energetic, calm, and ready to take on the day.  You LOVE it.  You can’t imagine starting your day any other way.  That is the reward.

By taking the material reward away, you were able to focus on the things that were important to you.  The things that aligned with your values.  This was the reward for your changed behavior.  When you added the reward in, that was your main focus.  The reward undermined your intrinsic motivation and undercut the success of accomplishing your long-term goals.

So how do we connect with our internal and intrinsic motivation?  Well, start by asking yourself why you want to accomplish a certain goal.  What would change in your life if you accomplished it?  Why are you making it a priority in your life right now?  These questions will help reveal your values.

Now choose a step in the direction of your goal.  Is there an easy step?  Something that does not even feel like a sacrifice , something you may even enjoy?  For example, say you want to move more, but you don’t really like exercise.  BUT you do love spending time with your friends.  Is there a way to ask a friend to join you on a walk or at the gym so that you can socialize and work toward your goal of being healthy?

If you can’t find a way to easily motivate yourself, take a look at your values.  How do your values align with the next step toward your goals?  For example, you don’t have a friend that can meet before work for a walk, but you value moving better and feeling healthier and those values align with the act of walking.  So now, you are walking for your health, not just because you feel you should.  This also leaves room for variety.  Health could also be represented in a different movement, a mediation, or cooking a healthy meal.  You are not committed to one activity in order to reach your goal.

So when you think about all you want to accomplish, first ask yourself why.  Then get very clear about your values.  Try to find something that you already like to do or is easy to do to start moving towards your goals.  Then, move forward with your values in mind.  Get rid of the material reward and let your accomplishment, discipline, and transformation to becoming who you want to be in this life be your ultimate reward.

 

Additions vs Resolutions

I want to use this very appropriate time in the year to talk about resolutions.  I have noticed that the media surrounding this subject has changed over the last few years.  As a society, we have consistently failed at keeping our New Year’s Resolutions, so the popular message has turned to “stop making them”.  While I agree that resolutions put a lot of pressure on ourselves and I also agree that most people don’t follow thru, I believe this problem to be user error rather than the act of making a resolution.

What I mean is, we  make resolutions quickly, without much thought or reflection, and usually as a reaction to something in our life that we are currently doing or not doing that is making us feel bad about ourselves.  Instead of making “changes”, what if we thought about “adding” to our lives.  Using the New Year as a chance to reflect on what we want in life, what are some things on our bucket list, and what we feel are our top priorities.  Before making any promise of a resolution, make sure you have a clear plan of what it is you want to do with this life.

For example, I make a sort of “resolution” every year.  There are certain things I have always wanted to add to my life, and using the New Year to set up a plan on how to get it into a busy schedule feels motivating and keeps me consistent year-over-year.  Last year I added 3 things in, and in order of priority they were: 1) Learn Spanish, 2) Add Meditation in my routine, 3) Journal. I didn’t just make these resolutions and hope all would fall into place, I made a plan.  Any addition we want to add to our lives will take a sacrifice of time and a solid commitment.  It is important to know where that time will come from and the cost of the commitment.

For my top priority, I started to look at my options, between classes, tutors, and online courses.  Knowing I would needs consistency and accountability in order to commit to learning Spanish, I opted for in-person classes.  After a few months, the times were too hard to make, so I committed to one-on-one tutoring so that I could more easily work it into my schedule.  I am still getting tutored once a week.

For my second 2 priorities, I had to play with what worked.  Was morning or evening better?  Should I do them together or separate?  Should it be daily?  I started with daily and then worked my way to a place where I felt I could have consistency (which turns out is 3x/week).  All 3 of my resolutions are now just part of my life, they do not feel like a sacrifice of time or resources, it is just part of me.

I like resolutions and I like the New Year as a time to reflect and remind ourselves about what we want in this life.  You can do it whenever you want – 4th of July, Summer Solstice, your Birthday – it doesn’t matter, just make sure you take the time to reassess.  Without this time, we tend to get caught up in the day-to-day of our lives and never move onto the things we really want.

Here are a few suggestions on how to make productive additions to your life instead of resolutions that will never manifest.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is on your bucket list?  Is there something on there you could start working towards  or even complete this year?  What will it cost you in time and money?  Do you have those resources available to you or do you need to find them?
  2. When you think of what you want your life to look like, what do you see? Is there something you should add to your life to move closer to this vision?  Do you need help and guidance, or focus and time, or all of the above?  Where can you find what you need?
  3. Is there something you love to do, but have not had the opportunity to do it lately?  How could you add this back into your life?
  4. Do you need support?  What does that support look like and how could you move closer to finding it?

From these answers, start to make your roadmap.  What is the most important?  What can be accomplished easily with just a little effort?  What are your first steps?

Now give yourself “loose” deadlines.  You don’t want to leave everything open-ended or a whole year may go by with little progress.  Take a look at your roadmap and give yourself achievable deadlines.  Sometimes it is easier to give yourself mini-deadlines for all the first steps instead of one massive, end-goal deadline.

Now you have a plan for your additions.  Focus on these additions rather than changes. Make sure you have a clear reason “why” these additions are important to you.  The first thing my Spanish tutor asked me was “Why do you want to learn Spanish?”.  It is important for everyone involved to know the motives.

At the close of 2019, I am no where near fluent in my Spanish, but I practice every week and could easily travel with my “Spanglish”.  I will continue to learn and progress, not just with my Spanish, but with everything is this beautiful life.  And this year, I am focusing on making things (already handmade a few Christmas presents) and mapping out the future of my business (already met with and hired a business coach).

What will you do with you 2020?

“Embrace the Suck”

It happens daily.  I give my client an exercise or movement and they immediately respond with “There is NO WAY I can do that.”.  To which I say “Of Course!”.  I’m a trainer, who gets paid to challenge people and push them beyond their expectations.  Of course I am going to give my clients things they are bad at, that is the only way to grow.

Embracing the “suck” is my way of saying to get your ego out of the way and focus on developing and expanding your movement and mind in new ways.  Our bodies are designed to adapt, they enjoy new challenges and demands.  It is important that we feed the need or we risk the chance of getting bored, unmotivated, weak, and maybe even depressed.

Once, I was at a yoga class with a slightly eccentric teacher (looking at you Full Throttle Yoga), and someone asked the question “What’s the big deal with handstands these days?”.  The response was so honest.  The instructor replied “There isn’t anything special about them.  If you’re an a$$hole, you’ll still just be an a$$hole in a handstand.  The reason we are doing them is to challenge you to do something new.  After you accomplish a handstand, you may go out in your life and accomplish something else.”  Just the act of going upside down can lead a person to gain confidence in themselves and their abilities.

The idea is simple, practice what you suck at more and spend less time practicing what you are good at.  Our fear of failure lurks in every part of our lives, including our workouts.  It is important to start identifying your fears, asking yourself why you don’t like to do this or that and start to slowly put yourself in uncomfortable (but safe) situations.

Reaching outside of your comfort zone and moving in different ways not only expands your physical skill set, you can literally strengthen your brain.  Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout your life.  Exercise has been shown to increase the grey matter in your brain (actual neurons) and it triggers a reaction that stimulates neuroplasticity.  When you try something new, something you are not quite sure how to do, your brain looks at is as a riddle.  Your brain immediately starts to try to solve the problem, working out the different routes to success.  So the long and the short of it is that you get the brain benefits of not just exercise, but also of problem solving.  So stop thinking about pumping up your biceps, and starting thinking about pumping up your brain.

I know, I bet you are starting to cringe at the very thought of being embarrassed or bad at something, but hear me out.  Moving out of your comfort zone and challenging your mind and body is not only stimulating and fun, it is a sign of maturity and can allow you to grow way beyond your own expectations. I am by no means saying you must go out and do a handstand.  It can be something as small as saying “yes” when you would normally say “no”.  So, pick something attainable, just on the other side of your comfort wall, and bit-by-bit, impression-after-impression, make yourself stronger in every meaning of the word.

Play Day-to-Day

The world is a heavy place with a lot of responsibilities.  You have responsibilities to your family, to yourself, to your work, not to mention simple responsibilities like taking out the trash and washing the car.  It seems everyone right now is weighted down with this sense of responsibility.  I normally add to those responsibilities with solutions of how to take better care of your body, but today, lets take a breather.

Today, I want you to approach your day with a little more play.  This doesn’t mean you have to skip the office for the playground (but you should skip instead of walk), just add a sense of joy and lightness to your day.  I will even make this post brief so you don’t have to be so adult and READ, you can just DO!

Here are just few easy ways to bring some play to your day-to-day:

  • Play games – Busy at the supermarket?  See if you can duck and dodge your way through the crowd without bumping into anyone!
  • Notice what you like – The sky, the color of the car next to you, some ladies hat, the wagging tail of a dog.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.
  • Engage with strangers – When you lose the game in #1 and you bump a stranger, smile, laugh, make eye contact, or give them a compliment.  You can do this with people you don’t bump into (and probably get better results) as well.
  • Enjoy music – Sing or dance or just carry the tune in your head as you go about your daily errands.  When you notice someone belting out Whitney Houston in the car next to you, don’t you smile and think that person is having the BEST time!
  • Smile – Just cause.
  • Move – Exercise is great, but as adults, we have even taken the fun out of that.  Challenge yourself to skip, hop, crawl, chase (children and dogs are excellent playmates), instead of just going for a jog.
  • Laugh – At how much we take ourselves seriously when we have absolutely no control over anything.

Have a happy day my friends!  If you feel like it, let me know how you found play in the comments below!  Also, let your friends know so they can start playing too!

Opt Outside! Treadmill vs Outdoor Running

The great debate – treadmill walking and running versus outside.  Well, you can tell by the title, I have my own clear winner.  But, if you are still reading past the headline, I bet you want to know more…you want to know the WHY.

In a nutshell, when you run or walk outside, the muscles of the leg have to propel you forward.  When you run or walk on a treadmill, the muscles of your leg have to catch you as you fall forward.  So even though it looks like the same exercise, they are actually two different exercises using different muscles.

When you are on a treadmill, the floor is moving under your feet.  With each stride your body is hitting this moving surface and getting pushed into a forward motion.  Your opposite leg then has to get out in front of you and hit the treadmill before you fall forward.  So with each stride you are literally just catching yourself from falling instead of running forward.

Outside, the ground is stable, so your foot has to push against that stable surface and push you forward.  For one, this takes a lot more strength and muscle activation to do than running on a treadmill so you will actually burn more calories and get a better workout.  Secondly, and my favorite part, is that it is safer on your body.  By pushing yourself forward, you are using your body the way it was designed to be used, as well as using all the muscles of the back of the leg to help counteract the effects from all your sitting time.  Total win.

When we go around catching ourselves from falling instead of propelling ourselves forward, we put a lot of stress on our hip, knee, and ankle joints.  Not to mention the load we put on our feet.  This extra load leads to some of the most common aches and pains among runners – plantar fasciitis, hamstring tendinopathy, and runner’s knee just to mention a few.  Where as running (correctly, more on that below) outside can actually help strengthen some of the most commonly weak postural muscles in the body.

So you are now convinced to take your run outside.  Fantastic!  Just a quick word…It is also possible to do the “fall and catch” outside as well.  This usually occurs because the mobility in our hips and ankles restricts our body’s ability to move our legs in the appropriate way.  So make sure you spend time opening up your hips (try these hip openers) and your calves.  In fact, you can start right now with the exercise below!

Class Review Wrap-Up

This year, one of the things I wanted to do was try new things in the fitness world.  I am always reading and researching and learning from the other therapists and trainers at my studio.  I also try to soak up as much knowledge as I can when talking to the great practitioners in my network, but I haven’t actually been out there to try what the other guys are doing in a while.

So, I worked my way around local and online classes that I had always wanted to try.  It was a fun year exploring the different class options that are around Boulder.  Even if the class did not sit well with me, I always learned something, saw things from a different perspective, and, usually, I had fun.

Below is a quick summary of the experiences I had over the last year.  What I loved and what I wouldn’t try again.

My Favorites:

Outlaw Yoga  – The best yoga class I have ever taken.  I had the added benefit of doing it outside, on a beautiful, Colorado morning, with friends, but Mark still rocks no matter what setting you put him in.  This class was fun, challenging, and Mark’s organization and cueing were spot on.

Boulder Movement Collective – My exposure to BMC and the movement training of Ido Portal has made a lasting influence on my own training.  Fluidity and rhythm are now as much a part of my training as alignment, balance, and strength.  It has been a fun and challenging year adding these new elements into my training and I continue to get into the BMC studio whenever I can.

Not My Favorite:

Yoga for Athletes – If you have read my reviews, this should not be such a surprise.  I was deeply disappointed in this class.  I thought I was walking into something that would focus on alignment and posture specifically for an athlete, instead I got an unorganized, very informal class on a cement floor.

Additional Reviews:

 

 

 

Daily Health Checklist

In times of high stress, it is easy to get out of our daily routines.  It is easy for us to feel overwhelmed and defeated, to lose our way, and just feel a sense of “making it through”.  We seem to only have the energy and the focus to get the day-to-day tasks done and our ability to care for ourselves starts to fall to the wayside.  However, it is during these time of high stress that we most desperately need our good habits.  We need sleep and good food to help us regain our strength and energy.  We need a plan we can blindly follow till we right the ship and feel like ourselves again.

I have been there, folks.

Last week, I was reading an article on the importance of a checklist.  The reporter had interviewed a doctor about a recent surgery that had gone bad.  The doctor was able to save the patient’s life, pumping the patient’s heart with his own hands.

“But skill and brainpower were not the reason Mr. Hagerman survived.  (Dr.) Gawande says what actually saved his patient’s life was a plan the surgical team had made before they began the surgery. This plan wasn’t grand or complicated. In fact, it was a humble checklist.”

Pilots, doctors, fireman and other high-stress occupations use (humble) checklists all the time so they can follow a plan even under the most difficult situations.  If these work when something goes wrong while fighting a fire, I am sure I can get one to work for me when my life is crazy.

So, I created my own checklist.  A daily list of reminders that is not too demanding, easy to follow, and allows me to keep my health and self-care a priority as life gets crazy.  Download the following checklist for the next time your life gets overwhelming and be prepared.  Health doesn’t have to be “grand or complicated”.  In our busy lives, simple and easy is the way to go.

Download Your Daily Health Checklist Here