Compared To What?

How do we move away from comparing ourselves to others?

A comparison can be a useful motivational tool and help us move toward a goal. But it’s frivolous and dangerous for the most part.

Why?

Everyone is different. Your Mother was right – you are a unique snowflake.

What’s the use in comparing my body with yours? Thanks to genetics, you and I are quite different. Imagine our genes like Lego sets. Although there is freedom to build what you want, you’re limited by the pieces you’ve been given making copying someone else’s design futile.

Why is avoiding comparison important?

Comparing gives us license to do things because others are doing it.

Picture yourself eating at a buffet restaurant with friends. One of your buddies is going all out. She has a great body in your opinion and is devouring the desserts on offer. If she can eat like that yet maintain a fit physique, you can do the same, you tell yourself.

Hello, chocolate mousse.

This is irrational thinking. She could have an eating disorder, a super metabolism or it could be her once-a-month cheat meal. Never assume.

Comparison in the gym

Envy in the gym is common too and can lead to faulty thinking

After deciding on a role model you take note of his routine – a bodybuilding split focusing on one body part a day. He trains for two hours and guzzles protein shakes between sets.

To look like him, you must follow the same plan, you rationalise. But you fail to realise this man is a seasoned lifter and has developed the capacity to train this way over time. Through trial and error, he has discovered a style that works best for him, not you.

There’s no easy way to stop comparing ourselves with others. We’re inquisitive creatures and learn through imitation – children learn languages this way.

Invest time in understanding your body instead of comparing yourself to others. This approach lets us learn how we function best – as an individual.

Experiment with different methods, ask plenty of questions, observe those around you but don’t think you can create a carbon copy of your idol simply by adopting their habits.

We all have an opportunity to create the best version of ourselves through continual learning and self-experimentation. Don’t waste energy and resources attempting to create Frankenstein’s monster. You’ll be sorely disappointed.

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Self-Sabotage

“If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it”

That’s nonsense.

It’s not as simple as wanting a Land Rover Defender and the next day for it so be glistening in your driveway.

Self-sabotage prevents you from getting what you want. But by identifying insidious doubts and using strategies to negate them, there is a way to get that Defender (and not just imagine your beat-up Mitsubishi as a boulder-crushing beast).

Look at your goals – what do you really want in life? Take a fine tooth comb and analyse what it would take to get what you wanted. Do you still want it knowing the effort it will take?

Nothing of value comes easy, and you must be willing to make sacrifices. Big sacrifices.

What’s your gym goal? To squat twice your bodyweight or nail the elusive pull-up? If achieving a target is integral to you, does your plan reflect this?

Have you searched the net for a coach to guide you? Have you devoured every squat resource? Have you removed all extraneous exercises from your program?

No? Why the hell not?

I thought you said you really, really, really wanted to squat twice your bodyweight? Or punch out a pull-up? Or finally, achieve x?

That’s lesson number one for overcoming self-sabotage – conviction. You need to be sure of what you want. Change your mindset from ‘I’d really like to squat twice my bodyweight’ to ‘I will squat twice my bodyweight’.

Once you have a goal in mind, let it percolate awhile. Give it time to mature and make sure it’s something you want. Not something you kinda want.

Only when you’re certain – clear a path. Begin planning. Most know what to include in a plan but are afraid to trim the fat. Remove everything that blocks you from reaching your goal or is not necessary.

This is where most fall away. Why do you have calf raises in your program? Will that benefit your squat? No? Then scrap it. You can worry about developing the girth of your lower leg some other time.

Now that your goal is concrete and your plan is without deviation – there is one thing to do.

Act.

Start doing whatever it is you need to do to pull this thing off. Every now and again review your progress and make subtle shifts, if necessary.

Conviction + planning + acting = [insert goal here]

Make it happen.

Mindfulness Fundamentals

What springs to mind when you think of meditation?

Reverent Buddhist monks sitting in faraway caves? Vegans lecturing people on the dangers of sunscreen to coral reef health?

Me too.

I was sceptical when it came to trying meditation. Though after reading from reputable, non-hippie sources, I gave it a go.

I’ve found mindfulness practice to be less holy and more pragmatic than I first thought. Consistent practice helps me to keep a clear mind and make better decisions.

Many versions of meditation exist. Some focus on breath awareness while others are centred on repeating a mantra. But their goal is the same: to improve acuity.

Objectives

You’re not trying to block or stop thoughts from appearing. Mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts. Once you can recognise them, you can choose what to do with them.

Let’s say you’re in conversation with a friend. Something she says prompts a thought. Though, instead of interrupting your buddy, you pocket the thought. You don’t ruminate on it but allow her to finish what she’s saying.

Application

Find a comfortable, upright spot where you won’t be distracted

Stay upright or you’ll risk nodding off. Comfort is important too. During practice, you don’t want to be concerned with maintaining a position that makes your back ache. A good chair is best.

Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth

Start with a handful of larger-than-normal breaths. Then let your breathing settle into a normal rhythm.

Pay attention to the breath

The mind needs to be occupied by something. By paying close attention to your breathing, it fills the void that would otherwise be filled by internal chatter.

What do you feel when you breathe in? Focus on your tummy rising and falling. When breathing out, feel the air passing out of your mouth.

The sensation you focus on is not important, just keep it breath-focused.

Don’t get frustrated by incoming thoughts

Each time you find yourself being drawn in, bring your attention back to the breath. It could be minutes before you realise your mind is off track. That’s normal.

Count each breath to keep yourself accountable.

Start small

Begin with short practices of two to three minutes. Build your sessions to ten minutes, and beyond, with time.

Ten minutes a session is enough for me. I found more benefit from adding extra sessions in throughout the day rather than making a session longer. It’s like hitting the reboot button.

Summary

Does ‘mindfulness’ still have you picturing a guy with dreadlocks chained to a tree munching on a veggie burger?

I hope not.

Just as you go to the gym to train your physical body’ mindfulness practice is training for your brain. You’ll be rewarded with better concentration, mood and patience.

Mental Rehearsal

Mental rehearsal, like visualisation and imagery, are common terms in elite sport. What do they mean? Are they worthwhile? And should you include them in your day-to-day practice?

Rehearsal is imagining an event or moment. Picture yourself performing well. But don’t make your performance perfect. Make the re-creation accurate. If you’re squatting heavy, feel the bar’s pressure. Settle the butterflies in your tummy.

Mental rehearsal helps to:

  • Build confidence
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Improve the efficiency of motor patterns

It works because the brain can’t tell the difference between something you’re doing or something you’re imagining.

Use

It can be used to practice gym lifts or public speaking. The application of mental rehearsal is limited only by your imagination.

Benefits

Increased training time

Quality practice leads to success. The more practice the better. Mental rehearsal bypasses the hurdles that limit how much you can practice. Things like:

  • Commitments, such as family, friends and work
  • Injury
  • The need to rest and recover
  • Lack of appropriate equipment
  • Poor training conditions, like bad weather

Confidence

Nerves sharpen the senses but too much anxiety can hinder performance. Mental imagery helps build comfort through familiarity. When it’s time to do the ‘real thing’ you’ve already done it a hundred times. It’ll be like brushing your teeth.

Image result for mental rehearsal

Example

Your goal is to squat 200kg. Your training program calls for squatting four times a week. In addition, you mentally rehearse the lift each morning and evening (fourteen sessions). Therefore you train the squat, in some form, eighteen times a week instead of only four.

What does it look like?

Create a mental image of the squat rack and the bar loaded up to 200kg. Picture the entire process taking place as vividly as possible – the set-up, unracking the bar and squatting.

Keep it realistic. When executing the movement, in your head, re-create the struggle and effort. Try starting from the warm-up and feel the session become harder.

Weaknesses

Beginning mental imagery can be a frustrating process. How do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you know if it’s having any effect?

It’s difficult to evaluate the success of mental imagery. Changes to performance and your confidence are good indicators. Be patient. Don’t give up after a few attempts. Also, the practice shouldn’t take hours out of your week. A few minutes a day will suffice.

Application

You must commit long-term to see the benefits of mental imagery. Start with a three-month block. This gives you enough time to improve your imagination skills. Also, it allows for the brain to develop more effective motor pathways for your chosen task.

What are your thoughts on mental rehearsal? Have you used it? Did you find it effective? Leave a comment below.

 

How Do You Respond To Crises?

While channel surfing, I stumbled upon a triathalon.

The leader and defending champion was in complete control. He had created a sizeable lead during the swim and bike legs. Suddenly, he got a flat. As he changed the tyre, his opponents ate way at his lead.

The change didn’t go smoothly. He fumbled with the broken tubing and he was passed by other riders. He cursed and carried on and lost his cool as precious seconds trickled away. His tantrum further hindered his tyre change. His head was filled with rage and frustration instead of being calm and clear.

There was a lot weighing on the race – money and championship points – for instance. But his response wasn’t helping his cause. Is this how he responded to other challenges?

A crisis shows your character. Do you panic, lose your cool, or are you stunned into submission?

Crises are unsavoury experiences, but they’re an opportunity to show your inner steel. Keep a steady head and don’t let emotions override the way you act. It’s easy to curse and scream and take out your anger on those around you. But if you can harness this energy you’ll overcome the crisis without any casualties.

Become exceptional in the face of crises.

The Waiting Game

You spend your life waiting. You expect to wait in line at the post office but other waits are less predictable.

Waiting might seem like a waste of time. But becoming good at it is useful. It helps to lower the frustration that wells up when you’re forced to bide your time.

What strategies can you use to make waiting a pleasant and productive experience?

Be prepared

Develop the ability to shift when a delay occurs. Change your expectations. Have the foresight to use your newly found ‘free time’ to do something useful. Like writing a to-do list, for example.

Observe

Take a look around a waiting room. Most people apart from the very old, very young or very stubborn will be hunched over their phone. Probably trying to beat their Candy Crush high score.

While you wait, watch others. There is a lot to be learnt from observation as any infant will attest to. How does body language differ? What actions are producing positive outcomes that you can emulate? And what should you avoid? Detecting subtleties and applying what you’ve learnt will make you more effective in your future interactions.

Waiting is an opportunity. Next time you miss a flight, don’t curse the sluggish baggage crew, thank them for the chance to hone your people skills.

The Clarity That Comes With A Cold

There is a distinct unpleasantness that arises when illness rears its ugly head.

First, you put on the victim’s hat, demanding “Why me?”. Next, comes denial, “I’m not sick. This runny nose? Well, I haven’t dusted in some time. Yeah, that explains it.” Then begins the blame game: “If it wasn’t for that sniffling Kevin, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. Now I have to suffer!”

As the sickness settles in, you realise you’ll be spending the next few days laying low. This is where the most telling thoughts make their way into our consciousness. Despite hating your job, you covet the thought of working. You haven’t exercised in weeks but now can’t wait to get back in the gym.

Illness is a great leveller. It puts everything into perspective. Despite your clogged sinuses may, your mind is clear. You realise you were taking life for granted. You promise yourself, “Never again.” You vow to approach life with zeal – once you can breathe out of your left nostril.

With time, the cold subsides. It no longer feels like you’re swallowing loose change with every gulp. As you recover, your outlook on life is a little different. You hold the door open for strangers. The gym becomes a second home. You look to make the most of life. But it doesn’t last. It might be weeks or even months, but soon holding the door open becomes a chore. You’d rather get a tooth extracted then spend another minute exercising. What can you do to maintain the sickness-induced mindset?

Reminders

Has a quote struck you with such intensity that it knocked you off your feet? No? Me neither. But you’ve felt the impact a good quote can have on your day.

Once a quote or moment activates that golden mind state, act fast. Write down how you feel: what was the trigger? Find time each day to review your thoughts. Soon, the quote will lose meaning. So before it does, find a new thought, quote or piece of media that produces a similar head space. Continue this cycle until a positive mind state becomes a habit. You’ll no longer need a cue like you don’t need to think about technique when brushing your teeth.

Apply yourself in this vain for months. At least 6 to be safe. Good luck.

Why Is Planning So Challenging?

Plan ahead; be prepared. Apart from that magical time around New year’s, planning is often forgotten.

The problems surrounding planning are:

  • Presence – how can you remain ‘in the moment’ when your thoughts are occupied by the future?
  • Foresight – hindsight is twenty-twenty but there are no certainties in the future so how can you prepare for what it has in store?
  • Keep track – you’ve planned ahead but how do you stay on the right path?

You need to strike a balance. Most of your time should be occupied by the present, though failing to plan is like a ship with no destination; aimlessly floating about the seven seas.

Also, reassess often and adjust as things change. Regular reminders, like mobile apps, can help with accountability.

Like a captain uses a map and a compass to find land, planning helps to guide you toward your goals.

Harness Your Intuition

Cultivating internal tuition is an important tool for anyone who wants to lead a healthy life.

Listening to your internal cues, like hunger, is part of the intuition puzzle. But we often don’t consider the influence of mood and mind state. If we can cater to these factors not only does our performance and longevity improve, but also our experience.

Following routines is part of life but it’s important to ditch your habits when your body’s telling you otherwise.

Many people underestimate their fatigue signals and the benefits of rest when it comes to staving away illness. Why do I feel so tired, it’s only 8 and I normally sleep at 10? Instead of listening, you push through to maintain the status quo, despite the craving for rest.

Failing to listen to your intuition will cause your performance to suffer and opens the door to sickness. Also, it impacts your ability to recognise future cues making it harder to comprehend what your body is trying to tell you.

Similarly, you need to learn to adapt what you’re doing, including your physical training, based on how you’re feeling emotionally.

There are a few ways you typically respond to your emotions. You…

  • Ignore them
  • Let them dictate your behaviour
  • Use them to your advantage

You’re mostly guilty of the first two responses. However, with time and practise, you can harness your emotions. The first step: achieving awareness. If you can develop an innate awareness of your emotions you can control your reaction.

Pause, recognise then refocus – how can you use this emotive state to your advantage?

A Matter of the Mind

Ever get that feeling that you should do something but don’t want to?

Maybe it’s making a phone call or apologising to a loved one. Starting the task is challenging though once it’s done, a huge weight lifts off your shoulders and you know you’ve done the right thing.

The same is true for mindfulness practice. I’m reluctant to call it meditation as that has people thinking of monks solemnly contemplating the mysteries of life in a faraway cave.

So we’ll call it mindfulness.

Mindfulness is any practice that strengthens the mind: mental rehearsal, visualisation and focusing on keeping a quiet mind are examples. You neglect mental training despite your reliance on your brain and a lack of time is an often cited reason.

‘I can’t afford to spend 10 minutes sitting doing nothing’

If you have these thoughts, it’s time to start practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness training is like a defragmentation of your brain. It improves clarity, clears away junk files and helps you to better organise the data in your head.

Next time you find yourself woefully short on time or your brain feels like it’s labouring, practice mindfulness even if only for a minute or two.