Check Engine

There are estimates that say that at any given moment, at least 10 percent of all cars on the road are driving around with their Check Engine light on. Personally, I think that’s pretty low. I’ve hopped in a lot of cars where that little light was illuminated.

 By Wikiuser100000 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

By Wikiuser100000 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

The crazy thing is that this tiny light is telling the driver that there is something wrong with the vehicle as soon as something is amiss. A relatively small investment when the light initially illuminates would prevent a much larger cost later on down the road when the problem has grown. Because inevitably, a small problem in any machine will start to put additional stress on the rest of the machine. These stresses cause other parts to wear prematurely as the entire system is compensating for the faulty part. Ultimately, if the problem persists long enough, even the smallest initial problem could result in a catastrophic failure.

Given a choice, I’m sure most of us would rather spend $100 fixing a small problem, instead of having to spend $1000 fixing a more complicated problem, or even worse, having to replace the car entirely!

But we’re not given the choice when the Check Engine light pops on. We don’t know what the little problem will turn into down the road if left unchecked, so the consequences don’t register with us. And $100 seems like a lot of money right now when there are other things that we need to do or buy.


Our culture is not good at foresight, thinking about the downstream consequences, long-term planning, and delayed gratification. It’s one of the reasons why Americans do such a poor job of saving for retirement; tomorrow is so far off in the distance and there’s so much we need to do today!

It comes as no surprise then, that we treat our bodies just as badly as we do our vehicles. According to the 2012 NHIS (National Health Interview Survey), 55% of Americans interviewed had experienced some type of pain in the past 3 months. More than 1 out of every 10 interviewed had experienced pain every day over the past 3 months. With numbers like these, it sheds a bit of light on the opioid/painkiller epidemic; after all, who has the capacity to live every waking moment with pain?

While there are many different types of pain, I’d like to focus on pain that comes from non-illness-related, non-traumatic musculoskeletal issues.

  • Musculoskeletal means that you’re feeling pain in joints, muscles, and other soft tissues.

  • Non-illness-related means that it’s not the result of any sickness.

  • Non-traumatic means that it’s not the result of some clearly experienced trauma, like a car accident or a fall. If you sprained your ankle playing tennis, obviously the pain is the result of the accident and given time to heal from the trauma, the pain should subside.

In most scenarios where there is no illness and there is no traumatic experience, the body is using the pain as a Check Engine light; it is telling us that there is something wrong with what we are doing, often mechanically. The problem is it requires a little bit of detective work in order to figure out exactly what the cause is and many people aren’t willing to invest the time.

 By Esther Max [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], from https://www.flickr.com/photos/esthermax/25251499775

By Esther Max [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], from https://www.flickr.com/photos/esthermax/25251499775

Unfortunately, the traditional response is to “walk it off” or push through the pain. Many individuals ignore the warning and continue to do whatever they’ve been doing. The hope is that they get stronger and the nagging pain goes away. Others choose to mask the pain by using painkillers and then return to the same activities. But they haven’t resolved the issue and when the painkillers wear off, they’re right back where they started. All of these responses are essentially putting a piece of tape over the Check Engine light and kicking the can down the road!

Initially, we may find that we can get by this way; but over time, the small initial problem starts to create a cascade of other problems as the body uses the only mechanism it has to communicate with us: pain. The body starts to scream louder about the problem to get our attention. And ultimately, if we don’t respond to the body’s call, the problems grow until there is a catastrophic failure.

Perhaps the body is overfatigued; maybe we’ve overtrained; or quite often, maybe there is something wrong with our body mechanics and the way we move. The solution is to figure out WHY we’re experiencing pain and come up with a game plan to address the root cause.

I was experiencing some regular pain in my right knee and hip for a while this summer. At first, I started to wonder if it was just age. Rather than try to “push through it”, I backed off and tried to pay attention to WHEN I felt pain. Through the course of the day, I started paying close attention to my right leg to see if anything unusual cropped up. Sure enough, whenever I was squatting, I felt a twinge in my right quad, specifically the rectus femoris. I focused on that area with my Trigger Point Massage Ball and found a really painful trigger point. After a few days of myofascial release, the knee and hip pain completely subsided and I’m back to my normal routine.

But I think of how many other people would have ignored the pain, possibly created bigger issues, and ultimately, might have ended up needing some sort of medical intervention, like surgery. The reality is I must have done something to create a situation where that trigger point formed, but if I immediately popped some painkillers, I would have probably thought the pain was the result of hip or knee issues. And that would have been what I unknowingly communicated to a doctor if the pain was around long enough for me to decide to get some help.

If we only paid more attention to our bodies, we could avoid catastrophic problems, avoid the side effects of painkillers or surgery, and live longer healthier lives.

A Much-Needed Proposed Solution to "Fake News"

In 2015, I saw a metric that said we had created more data in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. We are living in a time where we are generating incredible amounts of data. That leads to incredible opportunities for growth and advancement. But it also leads to huge problems.

 Fake News by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 ImageCreator

Fake News by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 ImageCreator

One of the biggest problems we see is the rise of inaccurate information, more commonly known as “fake news”, but it’s not necessarily affecting just our news. It is very easy for someone to post data online (via social media, blogging, news articles, research studies, etc.) that is untruthful or nonfactual. That seems innocuous initially, but when others incorrectly assume the data is true and re-post it or upvote it, our systems are designed to give that data preferential treatment. The more times that data is liked or shared, the more it is given the appearance of being truthful and that creates environments where bad data can influence real-world happenings.

There are many people, all around the world, working to find solutions to “fake news” because it is an existential threat. After all, if you don’t know what to believe, how can you make a correct, informed decision?

Many of the solutions are based on artificial intelligence and detecting when something is not truthful. This approach looks at things from the consumers’ perspective: if we can sift through the garbage, we can deliver something meaningful to the end user. 

This approach is flawed for a number of reasons. The key ones are:

  • As data continues to grow and expand, there is more bad data than good and our systems have to find the needle in the haystack. Systems have to grow bigger, faster, and more efficient at finding the good data at a faster rate than the growth of our data creation. It’s like fighting a fire that keeps expanding, so you have to throw more and more equipment at it. 
  • All it takes is one bad piece of data to slip through the system and the problem has resurfaced. You could eliminate 99.99% of the bacteria in the world, but if you happen to catch the last remaining bacteria, you’re still going to get sick.

I believe the “fix” we need is to approach the problem from the data creators’ perspective rather than the data consumer. What if we were able to get all the legitimate data creators to agree to produce data in a particular format and only gave preferential treatment to data that met all the requirements? What if a legitimate data creator was penalized monetarily for bad data that they propagated and the penalty was factored by the number of end users that consumed the bad data?

I’m calling for a voluntary Data Validation Standard (analogous to the voluntary ISO9001 Quality Standard in manufacturing) that can apply to all data that is being created, whether that is news, blogs, web sites, or social media posts. A data creator agrees to do certain things to validate their data and ensure its veracity. For instance, prior to publishing a research paper, someone must have independent replication studies that validate the results of the paper. Journalists must follow the SPJ Code of Ethics, which clearly calls for them to “Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, and Be Accountable and Transparent”, and format pieces in a manner that highlights the facts and clearly delineates the commentary or opinions used to provide context. A web site creator must provide a certification or validated reason why they can claim that they are a subject matter expert on the topic about which they’ve written. 

The benefit to the data consuming public is obvious: by doing this, we are providing a clear way to separate the legitimate data sources from those that could potentially be wrong. The benefit to the data creator is that it provides a competitive advantage by distinguishing themselves from all the rest of the creators and it establishes a measure of trust with the consumers who must choose which data to use.

In order for this to be successful, there must be additional measures:

  • There must be an independent auditing system that monitors the mechanisms that each data creator is using to validate their data. 
  • There must be a means for the public to identify and report inaccuracies by data creators that claim to be following the standard. 
  • There must be penalties, including suspension/revocation of their status as a legitimate data creator, for creators that violate the standard, especially repeatedly. Such penalties should be measured by the impact of the violation, which can be easily measured by reads and shares.

Since this will be a voluntary standard for data creators, it does not limit free speech. Creators are still able to generate any data that they want as they see fit, if there is no benefit to them by following the standard. End users will still be able to consume any data they want, but they will now have the ability to see sources of data who have taken the extra effort to validate their data, and can make better decisions about their data sources. 

This approach lends itself to scalability because the onus is placed on the data creator to do the work. Rather than sifting through every piece of data when looking for truthful information, we can more easily filter down to just the data creators that have established themselves as verified sources. It becomes a more manageable problem. 
 

Food as Medicine?

I recently watched a documentary called The Magic Pill by director, Rob Tate. In it, he highlights several cases where a change of diet is used to overcome illnesses such as autism, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. 

The movie has gotten its fair share of criticism for being part of the rash of trendy food documentaries that are scaring people into thinking that a particular diet is better than all the others. I don't condone these movies and see them for what they're worth: advertising for warring food companies. In my mind, the key is developing some critical thinking skills that allow us to parse the true from the false.

Because buried in all the propoganda and counterpropoganda is some truth:

Food is medicine.

The body uses food to fuel everything it does and the quality of the food is critical to the performance of the body. It's not unlike a car depending on high quality gasoline.

The body is capable of adjusting to whatever the environment sends its way. If a sugar-laden soft drink enters the body, it does one thing; if a steak shows up, it does something different. If a virus makes its way into the body, it reacts one way; and if ragweed pollen shows up, it responds differently. 

This is all the result of the body's desire to achieve homeostasis. Life can only persist under the right conditions and all living organisms have mechanisms to regulate the conditions and keep them alive. So even though the environment is constantly changing, the body senses the changes and tries to adjust all of its processes to keep things the same.

So any condition where the body changes, like weight gain or illness, is a sign that the body is trying to respond to some bad input. 

So why is it that people believe that fitness is the key to meaningful weight loss? 

If you feed a car bad gas and clog up the fuel injectors, do you fix it by running it harder? Of course not.

But for the past 50 years or so, humans have been convinced that exercise is the key to losing weight. That somehow, muscle is the solution to the poor quality of our food supply. Because adding high-performance tires and taking a cross-country road trip will clean out those clogged fuel injectors, right??

There are a lot of great benefits to working out. You can get stronger to do all the things that you need to do in your daily life. By working with a movement expert, you can learn how to move properly to minimize damage to the joints. You can increase your stamina so that you can continue to do the things you love for longer periods of time. You can improve the aesthetics of your body by building up muscle in specific areas. There are even emotional benefits that come from pushing yourself physically.

But the musculoskeletal system is not directly responsible for managing weight gain/loss, so using fitness as the primary means of losing weight is a waste of time. 

Any experienced, certified personal trainer will tell you: "Abs are made in the kitchen" or "You can't out-exercise a bad diet". We've known this for as long as human beings have walked the Earth. 

This is not to say that fitness plays zero part in weight loss. After all, the muscles use energy that comes from food. But the part that they play is so infinitesimally small compared to proper nutrition that the biggest sustainable gains are almost entirely from changing what & how you eat. I work out because I enjoy improving my strength, endurance, movement, and the emotional benefits; not because it's going to help me lose weight.

So if food is the key to weight manipulation, is it so far-fetched to think that the body, in its search for homeostasis, could also change other aspects of itself in response to the things it ingests? Not at all.

It's no surprise that the rise in obesity and incidences of diabetes, heart disease, etc. have all taken place in the last 50 years where our focus on fitness has caused us to take our eye off the ball that really matters: our food. 

Expert Advice

Back in college, in the middle of studying for one particularly rough round of finals, one of my friends told the rest of our study group that he would normally go to the driving range to release some stress. Since we were all very stressed out, we decided to take a break and visited the local driving range together.

I consider myself an athletic guy, since I’ve played all sorts of sports and athletic endeavors (including baseball, which is relevant to this story), so I picked up a club and started whacking away at the ball. Often, I made contact (thanks to being blessed with fair hand-eye coordination) and the ball would go sailing. Where did it go? At the time, I didn’t care and it wasn’t the point. It was just fun to smack the little white ball.

And so began my first golfing experience...


Fast forward a few years.

I got invited to play an actual round of golf by some members of my team at one of my first managerial jobs. One of the guys lent me his spare golf club set and they gave me a quick explanation of the rules. My first game was nothing spectacular. I spent a lot of time chasing that little white ball back and forth, under trees, in the sand, on the cart paths, behind bushes. I was told I could stop counting when I got to double bogey.

And so began my golfing career.


Fast forward several more years.

I’ve played in a lot of work tournaments and spontaneous games with friends or colleagues. They invariably go the same way. I try to have fun but I have what most people call a tremendous slice.

For those of you non-golfers, a slice means that when I make contact with the ball, it takes off like it’s going to go straight and then makes a hard right turn. The ball usually ends up somewhere that it shouldn’t and I spend much of my time trying to get back in the vicinity of the rest of the people with whom I’m playing. By the end of 18 holes, I’m frustrated and swearing that I will never play again. As a result, I haven’t been terribly passionate about it and rarely play more than once or twice a year. 

For me, as a relatively athletic individual with good kinaesthetic control and an engineer that is acutely aware of details, golf has been an enigma. I respect the game and acknowledge the fact that there are so many factors that affect the flight and spin of the ball. I’ve been to PGA events where I have been in awe, watching professionals who make it seem so effortless. And yet, it eludes me. 

I’ve gotten advice from the hundreds of people that I’ve played with. Everyone sees how I swing and has a solution: swing slower, swing faster, open the club face, close the club face, drop the shoulder, swing level, buy different equipment, blah, blah, blah… I’ve sincerely tried every piece of advice I’ve gotten and very few have had even the slightest positive effect. It’s so bad, I have even tried accounting for my crazy slice by aiming completely away from where I want the ball to go! With each attempt I’ve made, I’ve been left even more deflated that perhaps it’s just not in me. I’m just not capable of being a good golfer.



Fast forward to the present.

Living in NC, we’re surrounded by some of the best golf courses and incredible weather. In spite of my troubles playing the game, I still enjoy walking the course and being outside, so I’ve come to accept my golf game and laugh it off.

And now, I want to share this with my wife. But I can see that as she’s starting her golf journey, she’s getting frustrated because the ball is doing all sorts of crazy things for her as well. I know I can’t help her since I can’t help myself and I don’t want her frustration to grow to the point where she resents the game. 

So I did something different: I bought her an hour lesson with a golf pro. I wanted her experience to be better than mine has been.

We showed up at the driving range for her lesson and I had no clue how it was going to go. Surprisingly, in that single lesson, this pro took a look at her swing and gave her little tweaks to correct her technique in a non-threatening way. Her confidence was soaring. She was launching some perfectly straight shots and having fun! Is this what golf is supposed to be?? Have I been doing it wrong all along? Is it really within reach for everyone? 

At the end of the hour, I was so impressed with her progress that I immediately purchased an hour lesson for myself. It took one swing for him to identify what the problem was. I spent a lot of my youth playing baseball; it was my favorite sport. I was locked into the various ways to swing a baseball bat and it was ingrained in my body. So when I transitioned to golf, I picked up the golf club like it was my bat and let it rip. After all, a swing is a swing, right? It turns out, not so much…

I was initiating the swing with my legs, which is a typical baseball swing. But in golf, the swing begins with the core; it’s the trunk rotation that does the brunt of the work. It’s a subtle biomechanical difference, but enough of a difference that it would send my ball flying scattershot. That hour has opened up a whole new world for me. 

 Back at it! 

Back at it! 

This past weekend, I spent my first hour at the driving range since that lesson and for the first time ever, I was hitting the ball straight more consistently than I have ever done. During the lesson, we didn't even look at the driver; but on this day, I wanted to test out my learning. I have literally never hit the driver straight more than an occasional lucky shot. But I launched 5 straight gorgeous drives in a row! I was having a blast and was looking forward to actually getting on the course as soon as possible!

So aside from being a great story in perseverance, what does this have to do with the rest of you?

Well, I’ve learned a few lessons that I want to share with you:

  1. A lot of people really don’t know how to swing a golf club. I have received all sorts of well-intended advice and none of it made any sort of difference in improving my game. My guess is that many of my friends started their golf experiences in much the same way I did: just hacking away. But some of them got lucky and through some unique combination of unorthodox habits, the ball just happened to go straight! So they kept doing it. Others were not so lucky. I’ve run into many folks who had similar or worse golf swings and we were all just struggling through it together; with nobody having a clue how to fix ourselves. And that's why you see so many different types of swings. The reality is that fundamentally, there's one way to swing the club properly; but there are a million ways to compensate when you don't know the fundamentals. 
  2. A lot of people really don’t know how to do a lot of things. We, as humans, have an overarching desire to fit in and that leads us to try to fake out everyone, including ourselves. For example, as a fitness professional, I watch what goes on around me at the gym. And I see a lot of really, REALLY bad technique. It has led me to believe that, much like a golf swing, people don’t really know what they’re doing; they’ve just been told that it’s a good idea to go out and do something, so they get out there and give it a go. It's the same thing with running; there are so many variations because nobody stopped to think what the best, most efficient way to run is. Most people just go and do it. Some people get lucky and feel something good where they want it when they hit the gym or the asphalt, so they keep doing the same thing over and over. Some are not so lucky and they start to feel a twinge in their lower back, recurring shin splints, or shoulder pain. Some may soldier through the pain, not realizing that they’re doing it to themselves, until something in their body breaks. 
  3. Don't underestimate the emotions of being unable to do something. As much as I enjoyed getting out on the course with friends and tried to stay positive about my swing, I dreaded the moment when I had the club in my hand, standing in front of the ball. I worried that the ball would fly off and hit someone or crash through someone's window. I worried that I would have to go digging around the woods to try to find the ball so that I could continue the game while everyone was waiting for me. But more importantly, I worried that this was something I could never do right. I imagine that a lot of people feel this about their "thing", whatever that may be. 
  4. There are a few real “professionals” out there, who take the time to really learn their craft and share that with others. It’s not easy to correct someone who is doing something wrong. First, you have to really know what you’re talking about. Then you have to be able to recognize what they’re doing wrong. Next, you have to be able to communicate how to get them from where they are to where they need to be. Lastly, you have to be able to manage the pride, fear, and other emotions that keep people from wanting to change. These talented folks are out there in just about every field of endeavor; these people who love what they do and are willing to help others figure it out for themselves. When you run across one, pay them because they’re worth it; listen to them because they will give you the truth; apply it because it will change you for the better. And when you find someone that doesn’t help you, run away! Nothing is worse physically and emotionally than bad advice.

Lastly, this has been a 20 year journey for me and I feel like I’ve wasted those 20 years. The good news is I finally figured out what I needed to do and I can spend the next 20 years working on it. I can practice intentionally and develop better habits. But it makes me acutely aware of the fact that there are a lot of people out there, struggling to figure out their “thing”. If you’re struggling with something, suck it up and get help.

And pay attention to the clues that your body is giving you. If your knees hurt when you squat, don’t keep doing it! If your elbow hurts when you hit a backhand, don’t keep doing it! If your lower back hurts when you pick something up, don’t keep doing it! If your shins hurt when you run, don't keep doing it! Get help before you do irreparable harm physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Have you been struggling to try to figure something out on your own too? I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments or on social media. When we open ourselves up for feedback, it's uncomfortable, it pushes us to our #unsteadystate, but we grow beyond ourselves!

Body Image

I’m not a supermodel.

I’m not a rockstar.

I'm not an actor.

I’m just an engineer and a leader and an entrepreneur. 

My jobs don’t require me to have a chiseled body. There’s no benefit, aside from the obvious cosmetic appearance, for me to have single digit body fat. So why is it that there is so much outward pressure from society to have these things? It’s not coming from any single individual or entity; the pressure is coming from everywhere.

And if I, as a middle-aged male, feel this external pressure, I can only imagine what it must be like for young females. I believe it's important to explore this pressure and figure out what we can do about it for the future.

[Note: I take nothing away from someone who chooses to work on their body to chase perfection. It is a difficult, strict lifestyle choice that requires great focus and discipline. But it is an aesthetic choice; it is not required in order to live a healthy life and therefore, that expectation should not exist for everyone.]


As a side job, I teach group fitness and run small group training. As a result of those classes, I feel as strong as I have ever been in my life. I know how my body moves and I can leverage it to do just about everything that I need it to do. 

Recently, we moved to a new city, so I rented a truck and moved all but the largest 5 items all by myself. Twice. The only reason I couldn’t move those 5 items myself was that they were too physically large to control going through doorways and such; weight was not the issue. So I asked a buddy to give me a hand.

Sure, I could have hired someone to do the work. But I was proud of the fact that I have the strength, endurance, and control to manage the day-to-day things that need to be done and do so injury-free. 


Every year, I go for my annual physical because being an analytical, data-driven individual, I look for trends. Very few things in life happen spontaneously; there is almost always a progression and there are warning signs visible to those that are willing to look for them. And year after year, my doctor tells me that all my health markers are positive. Aside from a lifelong case of asthma, I haven’t had any conditions that require long-term medication. By all accounts, I’m a very healthy individual. 


And yet, marketing to me and my family and my friends is all geared around the “ideal”. I come across perfectly normal people all around me, who are unhappy with where they are and spend inordinate amounts of money on shakes, supplements, meal plans, bootcamps, memberships, counselling, and trainers in order to chase the “ideal”. And their expectation is that I should be doing the same. But fortunately for me, I see no additional value in investing more of my time, money, and mental energy to chase down another 5-10% of my body fat. My self-worth isn't exclusively tied in to whether I have a six-pack or whether I look like the guy on the cover of Men's Health. 

The reality is that very few of the folks who do make the effort will ever reach the point where they’re finally happy. Why? Because by overwhelming us with images of hard bodies and washboard abs, we’ve been brainwashed into always thinking that we’re not quite there; the way our arms jiggle or the cellulite on our backside is a sign that we haven’t done enough. Because we don’t look like the model in the advertisement or the commercial. It’s a never-ending cycle that erodes away our self-worth, establishes a negative body image and constantly tugs at our wallets.

I work in the fitness industry and see this firsthand. I’m surrounded by some of the most beautiful people, who are as close to the “ideal” as anyone could get. And yet, a lot of them are as insecure as can be. Why? Because they work in an industry that thrives on the “ideal” and at any given moment, someone newer, hotter, and more “ideal” could come along to supplant them. I’ve heard that it’s the same in Hollywood and athletics.

For this reason, a lot of fitness professionals routinely live off a sketchy “diet” of chemicals that couldn’t really pass for nutrition: pre-workout shakes, intra-workout drinks, post-workout bars, BCAAs, muscle-building stacks, protein powders, and fat-burners. (Keep in mind that very few of these supplements have been evaluated or regulated by the FDA, so nobody is aware of the long-term side effects of using any of these.)

 U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Daniel Brosam via http://www.malmstrom.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/953233/dietary-supplements-fact-vs-fiction/

U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Daniel Brosam via http://www.malmstrom.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/953233/dietary-supplements-fact-vs-fiction/

And because there is no emotional satisfaction from eating chemicals, they end up binge-eating and starving themselves in a vicious cycle that leaves them hollow inside in spite of how close to perfect the outside is. It’s not uncommon to hear about whole cakes, brownies, bags of candies, and bottles of alcohol being devoured in a single sitting followed by starvation and strict calorie-counting as they prepare for the next show/event. Yes, your personal trainer, group exercise instructor, or the “trainer” you follow on Instagram may very well be doing this.

Too hard to believe? Read about this Instagram fitness professional

If fitness professionals (or actors and even athletes) experience such routine dysfunction, what hope is there for regular people who may need to legitimately lose some weight for health reasons or who are nowhere near where they want to be? If people that should be happy with their physical identity can’t be so in this society, where does that leave the average Joe or Jane? Let's face it: this is disordered eating and it can affect everyone. (Don't believe it can happen to you, men? Read about this member of the Seattle Mariners.) 


First, we have to acknowledge that our society is still focused on looks. Sex sells and beautifully unrealistic, often air-brushed people are used in marketing everywhere. Whether right or wrong, marketing companies tap into the fact that we want to be beautiful and we want to have beautiful things. The problem is we encourage this marketing practice by continually reinforcing these behaviors with our wallets. We've been talking about changing the way things are marketed for as long as I can remember (I still remember the uproar over Kate Moss back in the day!) and nothing has changed yet. Until marketing companies see a change in our behavior, they have no reason to change their tactics.

Perhaps an easier route is to standardize on what it means to be healthy as a society. In my mind, being healthy involves 3 things:

  1. Physical health
  2. Mental health
  3. Emotional health

In all 3 facets, we must not only be free from illness, but also be in a state of well-being. For the average person, this means we have to eat well, move well, think well, and socialize well. 

Eating well should be simple, but it’s so confusing when you listen to all the chatter from doctors, researchers, magazines, and the internet. What I’ve learned over the years is to stick to real food, not processed chemicals. Fruits, vegetables, meats… 

Regular people don’t need to take supplements, shakes, and powders if they’re eating a variety of real food. Sure, top-level athletes looking to push their bodies to the extreme need to look at supplementation because of the intensity of what they do and the limited recovery; but very few of us are top-level athletes. For non-athletes, the body can get everything it needs from real food.

These “nutrition & fitness” companies pitch their products as the shortcut to losing weight, using athlete and model endorsements to prey on our desire to be like the "ideal". But there is no shortcut. For hundreds of years, we’ve known how the body processes food and what it takes to lose weight. Anyone with a new diet book or pill or shake that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. 

Next is mental health. We need to have a proper mindset about our bodies. The truth is that very few people are genetically predisposed to look like the models in the advertisements; we all store fat differently. Additionally, we are the result of the accumulation of all of the damage that we’ve done over a lifetime; there are certain things that can’t be undone easily. If we spend 25-30 years eating junk, it takes its toll on the body; sure, we can get healthier, but we may not be able to erase all of the damage. So obsessing about how we look or the number that appears on the scale is a lesson in futility and not healthy because the frustration that we experience gets funneled into a negative self-image. “Everyone else looks pretty/muscular/lean; what’s wrong with me that I'm not?” 

Reconciling the fact that certain cosmetic goals are unrealistic and unattainable means that we can focus on improving the things that truly matter. Dropping your cholesterol, being able to climb the stairs at work without breathing heavy, lifting your kids without straining your back, learning to move pain-free. These are tangible things that can be improved through proper nutrition and physical training.  

Lastly is emotional health. While normal emotions can be great, excessive or overly-negative emotion can be harmful. If we are in a constant depressed state because of our perceived physical state or if we get angry at ourselves because we don’t look like the advertising models, we put ourselves in a downward spiral that is incredibly hard to escape. Not only do we harm ourselves, but that emotion can manifest itself in our relationships with others in unhealthy ways. 


By focusing on staying healthy, physically, mentally, and emotionally, regardless of how we look, we can start to remove the huge load under which our society must function and we start to lessen the power that marketing has on us as individuals.  

Moderation is the key. Even a healthy thing done excessively can be unhealthy. The WHO says that health should be: “A resource for everyday life, not the objective of living.”

For further reading or help, here are some resources:

NEDC - Body Image

NEDA

The Butterfly Foundation

Body Image Factsheet

Join the conversation! We can make a difference for ourselves and future generations, but we have to be willing to have these conversations to move forward with confidence. Use #unsteadystate on social media to let us know what you think.

Some Truths about Health, Fitness, Nutrition

Since we're entering a new year, it seemed appropriate to talk a little about health, fitness, and nutrition. 

As people get ready to make their New Year's resolutions, the most common resolutions revolve around "getting healthy". The problem is that there are huge misconceptions around what exactly it means to get healthy. Most people think they need to spend hours at the gym or starving themselves on some liquid cleanse. Those misconceptions are only reinforced by the marketing of all sorts of exercise equipment, shakes & supplements, or their favorite Instagram celebrities. (In their defense, if you think you're carrying the world's best hammer in your pocket, everything looks like a nail. And as an aside, if you want to know what it's really like to be an Instagram fitness celebrity, read this enlightening and honest post.)

So since everyone wants to get healthy, we should make sure we know what that means. Most people instantly equate getting healthy with having six-pack abs; but that's not the case. In the preamble to their constitution, the World Health Organization gave us this definition: 

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (1)

This means good health requires more than just physical fitness. We have to address emotional and social fitness as well. I believe the fact that we as a society focus so much attention on physical well-being contributes to why we have so many emotionally unstable individuals regularly in the news. 

The WHO also added that health is:

A resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. (2)

Health is a tool that allows us to live our lives. If we spend our entire lives focused on being healthy, we're going to miss out on living. I've known too many people who cannot miss a day at the gym or who get ridiculously upset when they screw up their macros at a meal. This is an unhealthy and unbalanced emotional state and it could be symptomatic of other problems. Too much of a good thing isn't necessarily better; it can be just as unhealthy as choosing a bad thing. 


Let's focus on physical, because when most people try to get healthy at this time of year, they're really thinking about improving physical fitness. Here again, society has people thinking that physical fitness is about having washboard abs and muscles popping. But that's not the case. 

Merriam-Webster defines "fit" as: 

Adapted to the environment so as to be capable of surviving

Being fit means that we can do the things that we need to do, without illness or infirmity. 

So, being fit has nothing to do with how you look; it has more to do with your environment and your body's ability to do everything it has to do. 

 Joe Looney, a player on the National Football League. 17 September 2017. Author: Jeffrey Beall. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joe_Looney_(offensive_lineman)_2017.JPG

Joe Looney, a player on the National Football League. 17 September 2017. Author: Jeffrey Beall. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joe_Looney_(offensive_lineman)_2017.JPG

An offensive lineman in the NFL may be 300+ pounds and look like he has a huge gut, but he is fit for the role that he plays. He needs mass to be able to push the line of scrimmage forward and/or block the opponent. His environment dictates that he needs to be big AND strong. 

So in order to improve our fitness, we first need to know what our environment requires of us. 

If our environment involves climbing stairs all day and we don't want to be out of breath, we should work on improving our cardiovascular endurance and leg strength. 

If our environment involves carrying heavy loads for short distances and we don't want to tire out, we should work on improving our upper body strength. 

But a professional marathon runner doesn't spend a lot of time power-lifting because the excess muscle will only add more load that they have to carry as they run! Power-lifting is not necessarily going to help them achieve their goals. 

This is called the theory of specificity. You need to train for the specific environment you'll be in or tasks which you'll be performing. 

General (non-specific) training, or functional training, can be good if you're just looking to improve general fitness. But, if, for instance, your environment doesn't require you to throw a 20 lb ball at a wall every day, you should talk to a professional to find out whether it's worth doing that particular exercise. Will it help you move in the direction of your goals or will it create obstacles for you? And if your trainer doesn't talk to you about your particular needs, find another trainer!


But what about losing weight? A lot of people resolve to lose weight. Well, the dirty little secret is that, by far, the biggest factor in losing weight is nutrition. You may have heard people say "abs are made in the kitchen" or "you can't out-exercise a bad diet". It's well-known and proven that this is the case. You can spend hours at the gym every day but it will make no difference if you're eating a diet that stores fat.

Ever notice that more people are hitting the gym than ever before? There are people going to big box gyms; they're going to boutique studios; they go to athletic/sports-based gyms; they go to yoga studios; they even use workouts at home on YouTube and other platforms. Yet for all the hours of daily exercise people are doing, we are told that the obesity rate continues to rise undeterred. Physical activity is, therefore, more than likely not the root cause; nutrition is the culprit. 

Exercise can help accelerate fat loss, but the key is what you ingest, so in many cases, it's better to get the nutrition under control before stepping foot in a gym. When trying to solve a problem, the best strategy is approaching it one factor at a time so you understand how each factor contributes to the problem. The thing no one will tell you is that it's even possible to reach all your weight loss goals without ever lifting a dumbbell or jumping on a treadmill.

So if your goals revolve around weight loss and you want to make the biggest impact on your resolutions this year, consider skipping the gym. Use the time you would be at the gym developing some better habits regarding meals. Talk to a nutritionist/dietitian. Invest the time into meal planning. And once the numbers are consistently heading in the right direction, layer in some exercise to help accelerate the process. 

Agree? Agree to disagree? Questioning the status quo is necessary to advancing a better understanding of things. Find your unsteady state and join the conversation.  


(1) - Constitution of WHO: principles, World Health Organization, 1946, http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/

(2) - Health Promotion Glossary, World Health Organization, 1998, http://www.who.int/healthpromotion/about/HPR%20Glossary%201998.pdf

 

SOMETHING>NOTHING?

"Doing something is better than nothing."

I hear that all the time. You've probably heard it too. Heck, you've probably thought or said it. It's the mantra that most people use to get themselves to hit the gym. 

But is it really better to just do something?


As a fitness professional and an engineer, I can say that I've seen a lot of weird stuff going on at the gym. The most basic movements are the squat and the push-up. Yet, relatively few people know how to squat; their chest drops, knees buckle, or the weight is on the balls of their feet. Similarly, there are people who just don't know how to do a push-up correctly. 

"But wait a minute, what's the big deal? At least these people are moving. And after all, doing something is better than nothing."

To some extent, that's correct. Many, many people perform unsafe technique at the gym and walk away, seemingly with no adverse effects, so it must be ok, right? Not necessarily.

The human body has an amazing ability to adapt to stress. When it is put in a bad situation, it will leverage every available resource to allow you to proceed. Someone takes up running as a hobby and not knowing better, starts running with their knees caving inwards. Over time, the habitual act of running this way creates a chain reaction of autonomic adjustments and adaptations. The feet begin to pronate. The hips tilt posteriorly and the upper body leans forward. Each of these things on its own isn't necessarily an issue, but over time, the combination of all the adaptations could lead to debilitating, chronic pain later in life. If this person knew that 20 years from now, they'd be experiencing pain as a result of the way they worked out, do you think they'd believe that "doing something is better than nothing"? Would you?


We live inside these human bodies all day, every day, so we take them for granted. They didn't come with an instruction manual, so we just do what we do without really thinking about whether we're doing the right things. After all, everyone is out there running and jumping, so we should be able to do it too.  

That's why the world-famous marketing slogan, "Just do it," resonated with so many people. We shouldn't make any excuses. Just get out there and get in the game. 

The problem is just doing it can be worse for us than not doing it at all, if we don't do it correctly. 

So rather than just work out or exercise, I believe we should work out purposefully. What exactly does that mean? It means that before you get started, you should take the time to answer 2 questions:

  1. Why am I doing this?
  2. Is what I'm doing getting me closer to my goal? 

So for example, if I'm interested in developing stronger legs, I should probably work on squatting rather than bicep curls. If I want a strong core, I should probably do some planks or hovers. This one is kind of a no-brainer and a lot of people try to do this...

The hard part is answering the second question. It requires us to really listen to our bodies for feedback. If I'm working on squats to build stronger legs, but I'm feeling discomfort in my knees, clearly something is wrong. I shouldn't just push through and hope it goes away. Perhaps some minor changes to the technique will help reduce the stress in the joints and focus the work on the muscles of the legs. Perhaps some myofascial release will restore mobility. There could be any number of issues, but without getting professional assistance, you'll never know. 

Another perfect example is the sit-up. Growing up, sit-ups were the surefire way to six-pack abs! Everyone did them even though we really weren't feeling the abs as much as the hip flexors and even though our back was always sore afterwards. Now, research has shown that sit-ups do focus on the hip flexors and take your back out of neutral alignment, so nobody does them anymore.

Far too often, because we've been convinced to "just do it", we push through the obvious signs our bodies are sending us and we create poor habits that create long-term issues.

Our bodies really do know the answers and they try to tell us all the time, but we just have to do a better job of listening. And it all begins with exercising purposefully

Every rep of every exercise of every workout will either move you closer to your goal or closer to injury.

Which direction do you choose? Join the conversation. Tag #unsteadystate to let us know what you think and feel free to share. 

In Response to Tom Junod's Article

This is a direct response to an article by Tom Junod called "In Defense of Participation Trophies" on espn.com.

Before anything else, I'd like to just start by saying that the arguments against participation trophies are not a partisan political debate. There are liberal and conservative individuals on both sides of the argument, as perfectly demonstrated by the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church stories recounted in Junod's article. By focusing only on anti-trophy conservatives in the article, we are being kept from having the meaningful conversation that is needed. I'll proceed without partisan arguments because this isn't a right vs. left issue. 


While the author was trying to defend them, the article was devoid of any real evidence that participation trophies are good. It was a "feel-good" opinion piece, but one that tried to convince readers that there was no harm. The problem is that just because it makes you feel good in the moment doesn't mean that something is necessarily good for you in the long run and that there isn't a lot of valid evidence against it. While I don't have any personal experience, I've heard that cocaine makes people feel good when they use it; but there's enough evidence of the long-term addictive effects that we, as a society, have decided that it should be illegal. This is what prompted me to write this response: a lack of facts with good intentions is still missing the facts and shouldn't be construed as a legitimate argument for or against anything. 

There are a few assumptions in the piece. The author says that parents must "have no objections" to the concept of participation trophies "or the arrangement would not exist." That's an incorrect assumption. Obviously, enough people have publicly objected to the matter because we're hearing those objections now, loud and clear. Allowing kids to take part in the culture doesn't mean acceptance of the culture; it means there are no other currently available options. 

Honestly, it doesn't surprise me that some parents, when asked as they were by Danny Downing in the article, would want their kids to get participation trophies. I don't have kids, but I can appreciate that I would want them to succeed at everything. Love does that you. But love's blinding effects can be just as harmful as good, if left to their own devices with no regard for the consequences. We would all do just about anything for our families and loved ones, but it's our understanding of society's mores and the consequences of our actions that keeps us in check. But if the action seemed like a good thing and had no perceptible consequences, we would have no reason to not proceed. So the question is: are participation trophies (and the culture surrounding them) a good thing or is it possible that they're doing harm?


Why do we think participation trophies are good to begin with? We want our kids to feel good about themselves, but why do we think these little pieces of plastic accomplish that? It speaks to one of the most basic, primal human desires: the desire to please others. We are driven by this innate desire to please because it makes us feel like a part of the group and in primitive times, when we were living under the constant threat that a lion (or some other big nasty) could snatch a weak individual, there was safety in numbers. Even though we're no longer exposed to the same threats from Mother Nature, those basic desires are hard-wired into our DNA and the need to please is very much a part of who we are.

I've seen it in action. As a part-time job, I teach group fitness and small-group training sessions. My job is to make adults do something that very few people in their right minds want to do: exercise! Exercising can be hard. We know the benefits, but that doesn't take away from the fact that sweating and breathing heavy in front of strangers is hard work!

So part of my role as the instructor is to motivate my participants to keep working hard. You'd be amazed how motivated a person can get from something as simple as acknowledging their hard work with a simple "good job" or "you've got it". They appreciate being recognized for their actions and they work harder for continued recognition.

So knowing this, it would be relatively harmless to tell everyone in every class that they're doing a "good job", right? Well, actually, it isn't so harmless. If someone isn't really working hard and they get told that they're doing great, one of two things happens: either they stay at the level that they are or they realize that the instructor must not be paying attention and they put in less work. So thanks to human nature, even though I may have the best of intentions, it leads to the exact opposite result.


In his book, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us", Daniel Pink (who worked as the chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore... To reiterate, this is not a partisan issue.) cites studies that show the long-held belief that rewards and prizes motivate people to do better work is flat-out wrong. When given a reward for doing a task, over time, people will need greater and greater rewards to do the same thing. In the long-run, the reward actually demotivates them. 

Rewards also demotivate in another very important way. We're intelligent creatures and we can tell when someone is trying to motivate us to do something that we wouldn't otherwise care about. "If they have to give us a reward to do this, this is probably something crappy that I don't want to do." So the reward has actually demeaned the task and taken away any inherent motivation that may have been there naturally. 


So getting back to the article: "parents wanted them to have the experience of receiving a trophy". Over time that "experience" of success without doing the requisite work has the potential to demotivate the kids and potentially make them dislike the very activity that we want them to do. 

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem like a big deal to hand out a participation trophy and it may seem like there are "no untoward effects". The problem is the long-term deleterious effects of this "reward" culture. Those far outweigh the possible short-term "feel good" benefits.

So how do we get kids to enjoy the activities and get the most out of them?

The most important way is to allow them to develop an intrinsic motivation for the activity. An intrinsic motivation is one that comes from inside you, as opposed to an extrinsic motivation, which comes from outside. Reading a textbook because I know I have a test coming up is extrinsic motivation; reading science-fiction because I love the genre is intrinsic motivation. One good way to have kids develop intrinsic motivation is to not force them to try to be good at everything they do...


I feel bad for the author because he explained that he was made to feel like s--- playing sports while growing up. I am not advocating that we return to that mentality. I grew up in the same environment and in spite of the fact that I didn't have participation trophies, I loved my time playing sports. I wasn't the most athletic guy growing up, so I didn't win a ton of trophies for my sports prowess. From as early as I can remember, my parents emphasized that I should try everything. They put me in little league baseball, youth basketball, bowling, swimming, martial arts... You name it and I probably tried it as a kid!

I wasn't expected to succeed at everything, but I had to give my best effort. I remember getting some 3rd place ribbons in swimming before everyone else had their growth spurts, but that's about it. I remember my Mom telling me that I won't know what I'm good at unless I try a bunch of stuff. As I've heard before: "You learn from failing and getting back up; but you learn nothing from being perfect." So, sports for me was about getting out there, having a good time, and trying my best. Sure, I envied all those big championship trophies, but that drove me to want to work harder and also to find my specialty. I loved getting out there and having a blast with my teammates. More importantly, I learned to really enjoy playing sports for the fun of it. There was no pressure; there was only the potential for upside!

I won my first sports championship as an adult, playing for a recreational co-ed softball team! (And I cherish that trophy!) To this day, I still jump at opportunities to go out and play sports. The funny thing is my love of sports and physical endeavor got me started on the path of fitness. It's through fitness that I found one of my talents and it's also through fitness that I found my wife. 

Finding that internal motivation for kids is also about the attitude that we as adults have. If we show a genuine interest in sports and in our kids’ activities, they see it and get it. I’m not saying that we should fawn all over them and act like they’re the second coming of Michael Jordan. Rather, pay attention and let them know that we saw them doing a good job out there (when they really did do a good job out there!) instead of spending the game on our phones. Kids pay attention to everything and it’s those little incidental comments that make a world of difference in their lives, more than some cheap plastic trophy. I knew when my dad told me I did great, it meant that I was, because he also let me know when I wasn’t trying my hardest. 

Kids are looking for love and encouragement, not disingenuous praise. Let the job well done be its own reward. 

And that speaks to my final point: nothing can replace a parent's love. One of the reasons we are even having this conversation is partly because parents oftentimes feel guilty for not spending enough time with their kids. We live in a hectic crazy world with all sorts of demands for our time. Know that as a parent, every decision we make will either lead to a self-confident, well-adapted child or to one who isn't. There are no shortcuts. (It’s one of the reasons why so far, I have chosen to not have kids.) And handing out a little trophy may make us feel less guilty, but it doesn't necessarily help our kids.

A trophy will never be anything more than a momentary pleasure. But a parent's influence will last forever. Recognize that influence and appreciate the responsibility that comes with it. If we as a society do that, we will all be tremendously better off. 

Agree? Disagree? Either way, join the conversation and use #unsteadystate! It's only through open discussions that we can move forward as a society... If you enjoy the conversation, please share away!

Least Resistance

So, I was listening to the news during a recent drive and heard some interesting information:

Certain communities have made the decision to delay the start of school in the mornings because new research shows that students are chronically sleep-deprived and it is affecting their performance.  There is even a movement called "Start School Later" that is lobbying legislators to change the school schedule.

Seriously?!?

Where were these people when I was going to school?!?

It's just like those school boards up north that close school when there is a hint of snow in the weather report. Back when I went to school, there had to be at least a couple of feet of snow on the ground before they'd even consider closing school! 

All joking aside, my biggest complaint about the whole thing is that this is characteristic of the way our society works nowadays: we find a symptom to a bigger problem and we turn everything upside-down to try to fix the symptom rather than focus on the real problem.

  • Got a common cold? Let's put you on a steady stream of antibiotics!
  • Got a sore knee? Let's set an appointment for surgery!
  • Overweight? Let's do burpees!
  • Got a Presidential candidate that doesn't appeal to the establishment? Let's re-interpret the rules! (Yes, both parties.)

The "Start School Later" group have pulled out all the stops to bolster their argument with all sorts of research. They refer to research that says:

  • kids are averaging less than 8 hours of sleep per night in stark contrast to the CDC recommendations of 9-10 hours,
  • 20-30% of high school students fall asleep at some point during the school day, [Nothing new here! This has been going on for as long as there have been kids at school!]
  • when 1 school changed their start time to 8:55am, there was a 70% reduction in the number of car accidents involving teens. [Seriously? I question how you can create a scientific link between changing the start time at school and the number of car accidents that teens have. They are completely unrelated events!] 
  • One report even says that they "estimate" by starting school later in the morning, over their lifetime, a child will earn $18,500 more in wages! [Wait a minute! How can we estimate someone will earn almost $20k more simply because their school started classes later?! Now I'm going to start blaming my schools for limiting my earnings potential!]

Here's a great one: 

Sleep-deprived teens participate in more violent and property crime than other teens. ["Wake Up Calls (Fast Facts)" from http://www.startschoollater.net/]

You can't assume that lack of sleep causes teens to participate in violent crimes. Where does this "data" come from? Most of it is self-reporting. So what if the researchers asked a bunch of juvenile offenders if they slept at least 9 hours each night? Do you think it would be bad-ass to admit to getting a full nights' sleep? So there is the possibility of flaws in the stuy and yet, this is supposed to be proof that school should start later...

Let me just say that, as an engineer who has spent much of my life adhering to the scientific method, I am appalled by all the "research" that we routinely hear reported in the media and through lobbying firms like this one. The majority of the time, the studies are incomplete, unsubstantiated, taken out of context, and can be used to draw practically ANY conclusions and support just about ANY argument. [If you don't believe me, watch this. In spite of the humor, he makes an abundantly legitimate point.] 

A Simple Solution

It sounds like the problem is that kids aren't getting 8 hours of sleep per night. It seems to me like there are 2 solutions to the problem: 

  • We can turn the world upside-down and force schools to start later...
  • Or, we can just get the kids to go to sleep earlier...

It's not easy to spot because it's tucked away on their website, but the folks at Start School Later confess that "poor planning, electronic and other distractions, and poor parenting can certainly contribute to the problem". So they're essentially admitting that the kids may just not be getting to sleep early enough for all of these reasons...

Wouldn't it make sense to address the planning, distractions, and parenting before we start legislating a change that may not resolve the problem?

And here's where you ask me: Alex, why do you think changing the start time won't help?  

Because there's been research to back it up. A study in the scientific publication, Sleep, found that students who delayed their school start time ended up going to sleep even later! Tell them they can go to school later and the kids are going to stay up later, doing whatever it is that they're doing! The researches suggested that "larger improvements to sleep patterns may be necessary to affect health, attendance, sleepiness, and academic performance". 

Shouldn't we leave the responsibility for the child to the parent? Isn't it up to them to make sure the kids aren't playing with their smart phones 'til the wee hours? Isn't it up to them to make sure there are no distractions?

Changing the time doesn't do anything if the discipline (in both the parent and the child) is missing. The extra time will be used to continue with the distractions because that's the path of least resistance. 

And isn't changing the start time also the path of least resistance? It's so much easier to pretend that we're doing something rather than doing the hard work to deal with the real problem. 

Let's talk to the parents. Educate them on the importance of getting their kids to bed early. 

How about coming up with some technological or social solution to the very real problem of needing to be constantly connected via phones and other devices? Maybe we should treat it like the addiction that it can be. 

Lastly, how about leveling with our youth. Letting them know how their future depends on the choices that they make today. You'd be surprised... They may just decide to go to bed on their own...

 

 

Looking For Feedback

As a manager for much of my professional life, I've been responsible for hiring new employees and developing existing employees. Employee development is incredibly important for both the company (because every company needs to have up and coming talent to take over as other employees leave or retire) and for the employees (because few people want to be in a dead-end position with no opportunity to move up).

I'm also a National Trainer for LES MILLS® and I train people to become group fitness instructors. In this role, I spend weekends giving instructors the tools to deliver various fitness classes in a way that is true to the essence of the programs, as they were designed.

In both roles, I enjoy mentoring folks to maximize their skills and move forward in their careers. I've been fortunate that I've had a lot of great mentors in my life, so I feel the need to pay it forward.

When I get asked for advice, I try to make it as constructive as possible. It doesn't mean my advice is always right; I don't think being a mentor means giving the right answers, but rather getting someone to think about things from a different perspective.

Most people appreciate the advice and move forward in their attempts to work on the feedback. But I've seen a couple of other responses too...

1. The person who is looking for THE ANSWER™.

They want to know exactly what they need to do. They're not looking for a dialogue or an opportunity to figure things out for themselves. They are looking for boxes to check. 

"Give me a checklist of things I need to do and I'll have it done by next Wednesday!"

THE ANSWER™ isn't always about the destination; often, it's more about the things that you learn and develop on your way to the thing you want. There are a lot of things you can't shortcut, like making good wine and cheese. In the same way, shortcuts in life often prevent us from reaching full development. 

As a mentor, I believe my role is to be a sounding board and help to provide a direction. Nobody has  THE ANSWER™ and those that claim they do are trying to sell you something.

2. The person who is asking for feedback, but doesn't really want feedback.

"But I'm doing that already" or "that doesn't apply to me". The presumption is that I am dead wrong or blind.

Any time feedback is interrupted or met with excuses or a "but," it's a pretty good indicator I'm working with someone who doesn't actually want feedback, UNLESS I tell them what they want to hear. These people aren't seeking feedback. They are seeking validation. They want to be told how good they are or explain how the system doesn't understand how good they are.

If you truly want to grow, you have to take the feedback, even when you don't like it. A mentor tries to provide what they see combined with their own life experiences. I wouldn't offer feedback if I didn't see something worth mentioning, yet often with these folks, I feel like I need to have video proof to get the point across.

I remember in my journey to become a National Trainer, I actively sought feedback from people who had been through the process. I took each nugget and acted on it. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought, "I'm already doing that". If someone told me I needed to work on something, they clearly saw something and there was room for me to improve.

So as you proceed on your path and receive feedback, how do you respond? Are you looking for THE ANSWER™ or validation? Or are you really, truly, genuinely open to feedback?

We can't move forward unless we know where we are and where we want to be. 

 

Fixing Mistakes

Nobody likes to admit that they've made a mistake. It's a bitter pill to swallow when you realize a decision that you've made caused you to head down the wrong path. It's always so easy to just ignore the mistake and keep moving in the same direction. After all, you're still moving, right? You may not know where you're heading, but it beats going backwards.

The problem is that the direction in front of you may very well be taking you further and further away from where you want to be. It takes courage to backtrack and change course to get yourself going in the right direction.

Now imagine if there were a lot of people following your lead... A LOT more people...


 

If you look at American sugar consumption over the past 185 years, you'll see a crazy trend.

Stephan Guyenet and Jeremy Landen, Whole Health Source

Per person, we eat over 5 times more sugar, in all its forms, than our counterparts in the 1820s.

That might be enough to make you want to skip dessert tonight. But the reality is that sweets aren't the main culprit. Sugar is being added to everything: ketchup, breads, yogurt, cereal, and even beef jerky!

It comes down to marketing; the food companies want to make food that tastes better than their competition and there's no easier way to make food taste better than to add sugar! The problem comes when you begin to realize that your taste buds can become desensitized to sugar; the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you need in order to achieve the same level of sweetness.

And that's how we end up with a graph that looks like the one above...


Sugar exists naturally in a lot of foods and in naturally-occurring doses, it wouldn't be a big deal. But in the battle to win the taste buds of the American consumers, food companies have added ridiculous amounts of sugar to products. A typical 12-ounce can of soda could have as much as 11 teaspoons of sugar! Consider that some organizations recommend that a typical adult male should limit their added sugar intake to 9 teaspoons per day and you start to see there is a huge problem.

Consuming too much sugar has been linked to diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and scientists have begun to study whether it is linked to illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer's disease. In spite of that, it's undeniable that eating a bunch of extra sugar just isn't intuitively good! Cavities, weight gain, sugar crashes...

I have a lot of friends in the fitness industry and this is usually where they tell me that it's up to us as individuals to monitor and take responsibility for what we eat. Under normal situations, I agree with that completely. But the reality is that non-fitness professionals are finding it exceedingly difficult to do this. Food manufacturers add sugar to about 74% of the processed foods you find in the supermarket.1

Aren't they supposed to identify the ingredients on their label?

Sure, but the manufacturers use as many as 61 different "names" for sugar that they're adding to products:  Barley malt, Cane juice crystals, Corn sweetener, Dehydrated cane juice, Dextrin, Evaporated cane juice, HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup), Maltodextrin, Mannose, Panocha, Refiner's syrup, Sweet Sorghum, and Treacle are just a few.

No wonder people don't always realize what they're eating...

On top of that, most people don't recognize the link between excess sugar and poor health. I have had conversations with individuals who do not realize that one of the main reasons they may be unhealthy is that they are eating excessive amounts of sugar. Part of the reason for this is, just like Big Tobacco has done in the past, the sugar industry and food manufacturers publish "independent research" that is misleading to the average person.

There's so much mis-information making the rounds that a group of scientists from University of California, San Francisco; Emory University; and University of California, Davis have created a new website, SugarScience.org, with the goal of sharing the latest research on sugar and its impact on health in a transparent manner.


 

Here in America, health care costs are rocketing upwards.

Source: U. S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Office of the Actuary via Project America

According to Forbes, in 2012, health care costs were at $3 trillion; last year, they surpassed $3.2 trillion.

In 2013, CreditSuisse published a document evaluating global sugar consumption.

They estimated that excess sugar consumption accounts for 30% of our US healthcare costs, or about $1 trillion, as a result of afflictions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

$1 trillion because we consume too much sugar...

But many of my fitness friends would probably insist that it doesn't affect them because they make good choices. They'd be right that they're not visiting the doctor, but we're all affected by this.

How much are you paying in health care insurance? Many companies are finding it hard to subsidize the huge health care expenses so they're passing along the cost to their employees. We're getting pushed into high-deductible health insurance programs, where we are responsible for a larger portion of the health care bill.

Will Medicare/Medicaid be around when you need it? With health care costs rising out of control, these programs are going to run dry unless there are serious reforms.

The reality is that as health care costs continue to rise, one way or another, we're all forced to pay some share of the costs. But what if we can take actions now that will save us $1 trillion annually?


 

So how do we move forward? There isn't one simple solution. We've been heading in this direction for a long time and it's not going to be easy to change course. So what can we do?

  • Annual US sugar consumption (based on 156 pounds annually per person and 350 million people in the US) is about 27 million tons. A tax of 50¢ per pound of sugar purchased (in all its forms) across-the-board will generate about $27 billion. This should be used to offset rising health care costs.
  • Companies shall be required to identify how much sugar (in all its forms) has been added to each food product. [Last year, the FDA issued a proposal to do this. As expected, many food companies are arguing that it will "confuse consumers". To date, there has been no word whether the proposal will move forward.]
  • Companies that add sugar greater than 5% of the serving size (by mass or volume) will be subject to an added sugar penalty per gram of added sugar above the threshold. (Naturally occurring sugar, as in fruits, or zero-calorie sweeteners would be exempt from the penalty.) This will move companies away from adding sugar at will.
  • No food product having more than 5% of the serving size in added sugar can use the words "organic", "healthy", "natural", or the like. This is a gross misrepresentation and only contributes to the problem.
  • Candy manufacturers will be exempt from the penalty as long as their products are clearly labelled as candy. The plan isn't to eliminate all sugar; it's to keep companies from adding sugar indiscriminately to all foods and not clearly labelling that they've done so.

I'm proposing these measures to kickstart the conversation; it's one thing to just complain, but it's another to propose solutions. If we stand pat, the problem will only continue to get worse. And the sugar industry has lobbyists and researchers that continue to obfuscate and draw attention elsewhere.

I keep hearing that change can't happen. That the world is what it is. But the truth is that the world is what we allow it to be...

We have to be the change we want to see in the world. We can't leave it to someone else to do it for us. Unsteady State is about carving a path and leading even though it's easier to sit back and follow.

Join the conversation! If this resonates with you, share it and use #unsteadystate!

 

1 Ng, S.W., Slining, M.M., & Popkin, B.M. (2012). Use of caloric and noncaloric sweeteners in US consumer packaged foods, 2005-2009. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,112(11), 1828-1834.e1821-1826.

Different but the Same - Why are my squat mechanics off?

I'm starting to believe that people aren't always interested in finding new information or the truth, as much as they are looking for validation of what they're thinking. I've been coming across instances of this more routinely over the past couple of months and I'm starting to think that the internet just facilitates this thanks to a glut of information. At any given moment, you can find something that will say exactly what you want to hear. The latest is an article making the rounds in fitness circles. It was a discussion on how the length of the femur affects the mechanics of a person's squat.

Purely on face value, it was an interesting read, but nothing revolutionary. What piqued my interest was the response that it was getting. I saw fitness professionals and group fitness instructors jumping on the bandwagon, expressing how this explained why they could not keep their chests up while they squat or why they should be careful not to coach everyone the same way.

The premise behind the article is that fluctuations in the length of the femur is one of many factors that may affect your squat mechanics. Things like heel elevation, ankle flexibility, and torso length will also play a role. However, it appears that since the title mentions femur length, this is the chief factor that everyone latched onto.

As a fitness professional and mechanical engineer, I call foul!

Especially on those folks who are criticizing the fact that in BODYPUMP®, we coach everyone to do the squat the same way.

[Disclaimer: I'm not speaking for LES MILLS® here. I am speaking as a mechanical engineer who happens to know a bit about moving parts. These are solely my opinions and do not reflect the opinions of the company.]

I understand what the author of the piece intended to say and the basis for his premise is true.

But here's the thing: as much as we'd like to believe the contrary, we are all much more similar than we are different.

Want some proof? Ever seen a toddler squat?

kid_squattingToddlers come in all shapes & sizes and I have yet to meet one who can't squat. They're small, you say, so it's a small difference in femur size from one toddler to the next. Sure, but if you look at a 1" difference at their size and scale up 3 times to our size, that would equate to a 3" difference in femur length.

In the videos accompanying the article, they demonstrate that there's a femur length beyond which the body will be hard-pressed to maintain an upright torso. He slid the little mechanism around to demonstrate this, but he explained that he was "exaggerating" to make a point. It was easily 2-3" of additional length on the little mannequin, which would probably be proportional to 6-9" of difference on a full-size human. It would be a statistically small percentage of the population that would have a 9" variation from average.

(And for each person with a 9" longer femur, there should be someone with a 9" shorter femur who is complaining that it's too easy to keep their chest upright in squats. To date, I have never run across one of these people.)

Keep in mind, too, that if we're talking about BODYPUMP®, we're not even talking about full-range squats; we coach partial range squats geared to minimize the risk to the general population. Femur length plays much less of a role when we're talking about a 90° squat.

So if our femur length isn't as big a factor and we all start out knowing how to squat properly as toddlers, why do we see so many difficulties in adults?  The reality is we "forgot" how to squat properly and years of neglect/abuse have impacted our mobility. Flexibility, improper length/tension relationships, and lack of core strength create mechanical obstacles. And years of laziness has told us it's so much easier to just tip from the hip to pick something up rather than squat, so we lose proprioception. It's the old adage:

If you don't use it, you lose it.

And then along comes an "expert" who intimates that our (or our participants') inability to squat is a result of the length of our bones...

So we jump all over it. Because having an excuse to not do something is easier than finding a reason why we can.

- Get in front of a camera. Film yourself and try to figure out why your body moves the way it does.

- Understand the reasons why we coach the way we do and mimic those things in your own body. If you can't, really try to figure out why it is; don't just accept the first thing you see, hear, or read on the internet!

When push comes to shove, our bodies are essentially the same. What we do with them over the years and how they respond to that activity/inactivity is where the differences begin to appear.

Unsteady state means questioning, learning, and growing. Join the conversation using #unsteadystate or reach out to me directly! 

Cam's Really Horrible, No Good Day

 Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, CA! Denver vs. Carolina [courtesy of nfl.com]

Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, CA! Denver vs. Carolina [courtesy of nfl.com]

So I'm just getting back home from a little R&R this weekend. We took a little vacation and got to watch a little football, just as a big percentage of the American population did. We were supporting our Carolina Panthers and were a bit disappointed to see them lose. To make matters worse, Cam Newton had a pretty bad press conference and everyone lit into him for walking out on reporters after sulking his way through the post-game interview.

He has since explained that he doesn't like to lose, that he wasn't ready to talk to the media at the time, and that he's got emotions like the rest of us. You can also hear very clearly in the video that a jubilant member of the Denver Broncos is being interviewed within earshot.

That doesn't necessarily make it ok for him to react the way he did and I'm not writing to defend him...

Rather, I'm calling attention to the fact that we have only ourselves to blame. Yes, while he's responsible for his actions, I think we, as a society, need to take a good, long look in the mirror and shoulder part of the responsibility.

Why? Because our society is creating an environment where our young people don't know how to respond to adversity. Because in this world of "participation trophies" for everyone, people don't really know what it means to lose. Because kids are coddled and have no idea how to respond when things don't work out the way they expect.

Don't believe me?

  • CNN reported on a study that showed kids who are overvalued by their parents have a tendency towards narcissism later in life.
  • HBO Real Sports recently did a piece entitled Trophy Nation in which they talk about the ramifications of handing everyone a trophy for just showing up. In it, Dr. C. Robert Cloninger says, "The technical term is 'partial-reinforcement extinction effect.' If you constantly reward a kid, you spoil them and don’t build a capacity for them to be resilient to frustration."
  • There is anecdotal evidence that students who grew up without adversity lack the fortitude to get through technical and engineering programs because they're too difficult and here in the U.S., we're left with fewer technical adults who can troubleshoot or diagnose problems. Heck, most people can't even tinker anymore.

This very topic even reached the NFL last year. James Harrison, an Outside Linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, took to Instagram last year when his sons received participation trophies:

I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues

A photo posted by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on Aug 15, 2015 at 10:09am PDT

It's in this environment that a star athlete like Cam Newton has grown up. It's in this culture that he thrived and made a name for himself by succeeding at every level. And it's quite possible that he has never experienced a failure equivalent to the one he felt this past Sunday.

I don't condone his behavior, but I certainly understand that unless we do something to change the culture, we're only going to see more people act the same way. It's time we start to teach our kids that it's ok to fail. Criticize him all you want, but we need to start looking at the part we, as a society, play.

Agree? Disagree? Change doesn't happen until we start to talk. Reach out to me, @ultrasmoov on Twitter, and use #unsteadystate. Join the conversation!

I can't

I have asthma. It's a chronic condition where my lung capacity can sometimes drop off and it becomes difficult to breathe. It's a mild case and I've fortunately never ended up in the hospital like other folks I know. This is partly due to the fact that with the help of doctors, I'm managing it fairly well. It hasn't stopped me, in my adult life, from doing all the things I love to do, including fitness.

But earlier in life, I learned that asthma had the ability to very quickly prevent me from exerting myself. The agony of being unable to breathe freely weighed more heavily than the desire to do certain things, and I learned that it was easier to say "I can't."

Let's go for a run. "I can't."

And soon, "I can't" became a convenient excuse.

"I can't..."

Hearing those words calls to mind a petulant child, refusing to do something...

"I can't..."

These words have the power to do harm on a monumental scale. So much so, that in my opinion, they don't belong in the vocabulary of successful or aspiring-to-be-successful individuals.

"I can't..."

By their very nature, often these words do nothing more than perpetuate a lie and that's where they do their damage.

When was the last time you said, "I can't"? What were you doing? "I can't stay on my diet"; "I can't lift that weight"; "I can't run that distance"; "I can't do THAT"...

"Can't" by it's very definition means incapable of doing something.

"Incapable" in its simplest form means lacking the capacity.

So whenever we say "I can't", what we're really saying is that we lack the capacity within us.

But the reality is that we're all human beings. Barring specific physical/mental ailments that may create very specific limitations, our capacity is very similar. If one person can climb a ladder, others should be able to climb the ladder; if one person can lift a weight, others should be able to lift the weight; if one person can solve a crossword puzzle, others should be able to do it as well. Our human bodies have certain capacities and the reality is that we're all more similar than different.

If our capacities are essentially similar, the big differences come in the way that we use those capacities. If I know I want to accomplish a certain task, I will apply my resources and work towards that task; through practice, I get better at the task and stronger in whatever skills are necessary for the task. On the other hand, if I believe the task is impossible, I will not bother and may even unconsciously sabotage myself. And the longer I don't do it, the less skilled I get and whatever capacity I had atrophies: if you don't use it, you lose it!

By saying "I can't", we take the responsibility and power out of our hands. "I don't have the capacity to do this, so why bother?" And in that instant, a world of damage has taken place. You've given yourself permission to be complacent and to not try. You've placed a limitation on yourself that is most likely totally artificial.

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. - Michael Jordan

“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” - Robert T. Kiyosaki

I've seen this firsthand every time I've tried to train someone how to do certain weight-lifting moves correctly. It's not that their bodies lack the capacity to do the movements because the truth is that anyone can do it. It's that they've never been coached how to harness their power to move the weight properly. Because of that, they've convinced themselves that they were incapable, that they would never be able, or perhaps even became scared of the task itself. It's a matter of overcoming that fear of the unknown and in the case of weight-lifting, allowing the body to move the way it instinctively and naturally can.

It's not just limited to physical endeavors. We do this to ourselves everywhere: "I can't remember names", "I can't have a healthy relationship", "I can't deal with technology", "I can't..." Actually, yes you can; you've just decided not to...

"I can't" holds us back. It prevents us from doing the things that we're capable of doing. I learned a while ago that "I can't" was actually holding me back more than my asthma was. So I've made a concerted effort to eliminate "I can't" from my vocabulary.

In my experience, successful people don't use "I can't." Doing so relinquishes power. Instead, they make conscious decisions and retain that power. They'll say "I don't want to" or "I won't". It's not that they're incapable; it's that they choose not to. And this gives them the freedom to try and either fail or succeed.

The next time you're about to use that four-letter word, ask yourself if you're really incapable or if you're just scared to try. Change your vocabulary and in doing so, change your mindset.

Let me know how you're finding your unsteady state! Leave a comment or tweet me (@ultrasmoov) using #unsteadystate. 

Reality check...

To everyone that "pressured those disgusting people at GoDaddy" for putting together their Lost Puppy Super Bowl commercial, I feel obligated to let you in on something: it's not real life... It's comedy. It's clearly a spoof of the Budweiser commercial that is also airing during the Super Bowl this year; there are several identical shots used and it couldn't be a coincidence.

This is no different than Saturday Night Live or Mad TV or South Park. They took what will surely be a beloved Budweiser commercial and spoofed it. Whether it was funny or not plays no part in whether it should air or not. I've seen plenty of skits on SNL over the years that probably should never have seen the light of day, but as artists, they have the right to put it out there. The marketing person that came up with the concept is still an artist, even though they sell their work for commercial use.

No puppies were harmed in the making of this commercial and this commercial isn't condoning illegal activity, so there are no violations of any sort except for possibly bad taste. But the response to bad taste isn't to pressure the company to not release it. I seem to recall someone else who recently tried to pressure a company to not release a film that he thought was in poor taste. Yeah, I just drew a straight line from North Korea to you.

Instead of getting upset about a stupid commercial, why don't we channel that emotion towards ending puppy mills or ending dog fighting? Probably because it's easier to complain from your easy chair that you've been offended than it is to get up and actually work to end some of the REAL horrible abuses going on in the world.

Be the change you want to see in the world. Don't just complain about things.

Unsteady State means questioning why we do things and trying to rise above the petty arguments that blind and distract us from the real issues. We may not always like the result, but it's not about us. It's about the greater good. Sound off and let me hear what you think!

Making better sushi

I love watching movies around the holidays. Because of the weather and the hordes of people rushing around trying to get last-minute presents, sitting at home with a movie has always appealed to me. It's a great opportunity to get caught up on that movie you wanted to see during the year, but didn't get the chance to go before it was pulled from theaters. Surprisingly, I didn't get a chance to watch any good movies this year (although I did catch up on some Modern Family and South Park episodes, and just recently finished watching True Detective... (That's going to be a whole other blog post once I've fully digested it!) I was thinking back to last year, and I recall that I watched a movie called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you don't have an issue with subtitles, I recommend watching this movie to gain insight into a unique way of doing things.

It was a documentary about Jiro Ono, an 85 year old Japanese man who just so happens to serve the best sushi in the world. He's had all manner of celebrities in his small three-Michelin-star restaurant, including heads of state.

The man is obsessed with the notion of continuing to make better sushi and delivering the best possible experience to his patrons. How does he do this? By focusing on the details. He has his staff massage the octopus meat for 40 minutes to ensure it is perfectly tender; not thirty or thirty-five minutes, exactly 40 minutes. He's worked out the perfect amount of vinegar to add to the rice, which gets fanned for a specific amount of time so that it can be served at body temperature. He even pays attention to his customers as they sit at the table: are they left- or right-handed so that he can serve everything exactly where it's most convenient to make the meal an incredible experience. He has literally dreamed of sushi!

Some of you probably think he's crazy. In Japan, he is called a shokunin - someone who spends his whole life pursuing the perfection of his craft. A master.

You don't get to be world-class by taking shortcuts. Michael Jordan's intense practices with his teammates followed by hours of work on his own is the stuff of legends. Tiger Woods is said to practice 7-8 hours a day.

Bruce Lee, no slouch by any means, put it best when he said:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

If we're going to spend time doing something, why wouldn't we work to do it as well as we possibly can? Isn't our time worth more than putting in a half-hearted effort?

Part of the problem, in today's culture, is that we have so many things vying for our attention. It's hard to prioritize, so we're constantly thinking about what's next and not giving nearly enough attention to the present.

For example, as a national trainer for a company that produces pre-choreographed group exercise programs that instructors have to memorize, I hear things like:

  • So what if it's a deadlift instead of a dead row? It works the same muscle group, right?
  • I have to learn 6 different programs, so sometimes I mix up the choreography. Why do they always use the same music in all my programs?!
  • It's only the abdominal (or cooldown) track; it doesn't matter if I do the exact choreography.
  • It's only group fitness. They'll still get the work as long as I get most of it right.

Would you be happy with the service technicians fixing your car if they said they fixed most of the issues?

What would happen if a bridge designer ran most of the calculations for the bridge?

Tacoma Narrows Bridge [Lenz, Garrett. "Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse." 10 Nov 2008. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 11 Jan 2015. <http://youtu.be/lXyG68_caV4>]

Every job is important; especially one in which people are putting their well-being in your hands. And it's not just group fitness. There's an attitude in which people can't focus on the things at hand; they're just getting through what they're doing to move on to the next thing. But if you want to be world-class at anything, every thing matters.

So does that mean we can't make mistakes in life? That we have to be absolutely perfect before we do anything? Of course not. But there's a difference in saying to yourself "I'm going to strive for perfection in everything I do" rather than starting out by giving yourself permission to not bother in places where you'd rather not.If you do your best and make a mistake, that's fine; accept it and move on.

So here's one way of avoiding this problem: Make it Matter! In everything you do, make it matter. Don't do things just for the sake of doing them. Put yourself into everything you do fully and completely.

And maybe one day, we can all find our "perfect sushi".

When you give yourself fully and completely to all that you do, you start to find your unsteady state! Let me know if you're making it matter in all you do. Use #makeitmatter or #MIM and share a story of how you make it matter. Spread the word!

Black Friday!

So here in the United States, November means two things: Thanksgiving and Black Friday! Black Friday

Black Friday is the official start to the Christmas buying season.

Stores used to open at midnight Thursday night and stay open through the weekend. Most recently, they've started opening as early as 8pm on Thursday night (which unfortunately means Black Friday is spilling over into Thanksgiving).

These stores put together incredible deals to attract new shoppers. Where else can you get a brand new 60" plasma television for $10?!? And most of these deals have very limited quantities because companies would go out of business otherwise!

Over the years, Black Friday is also a night for incredible drama. In their attempt to get one of the 5 available Xbox units on sale for only $5, people trample all over each other, use pepper spray on each other, and threaten each other. And even worse is how they treat the employees who are giving up their Thanksgiving holiday with their families to open the store: they yell at them and blame them for not having enough Wild Wacky Action Bikes in stock, and out of fear of missing out on the early sales, I even read that someone had once defecated in a washing machine floor model! Seriously.

The madness makes you realize that a lot of people have forgotten the spirit of the season that they're supposed to be celebrating. The holiday season is about love, kindness, peace, and happiness. Giving gifts is a part of the season, but not necessarily at the expense of treating everyone else like garbage.

For some reason, on Black Friday, people focus on their own needs and wants, and completely ignore everyone else.

In much the same way, I've seen a lot of people focused on their own needs when it comes to Reebok and its new Les Mills® clothing line. I've seen some disrespectful and impolite comments on Facebook and in blogs.

I get it. Everyone wants the latest gear. But that's not an excuse to forget that there are actual people behind the logos, Facebook pages, and websites.

Reebok has stated that they underestimated the demand of the worldwide Les Mills® instructor population. They're making efforts to make more product available, but working in the manufacturing industry, I know that you can't magically produce more inventory on a whim; it takes time and planning, especially if you don't want to rob Peter to pay Paul and jeopardize future products.

I guess what I'm most concerned about is that as part of the LES MILLS® family, we talk about being One Tribe. We're supposed to be one family, supporting each other, and respecting each other. Well, we just had a huge new group of people join our tribe and yes, they're bringing along some fantastic, shiny new gear. They're also going to help us spread the word about battling global obesity and help us change the world. There's so many great reasons to welcome them into the Tribe with open arms, rather than make them regret the decision to join us.

We're not entitled to have that BODYPUMP® tank top or those BODYJAM® jeans any more than the Black Friday shopper is entitled to that plasma television. If they run out of stock, we shouldn't badmouth the employees and threaten to never shop there again. I guarantee you that they're just as upset at themselves for not having more stock available.

Just remember that we're all part of this movement together...

Relax. Breathe. Put things in perspective: Be happy that we actually have the freedom to do this thing that we love, because if you read current events, you know a lot of people in this world don't have that luxury... As a culture, we've begun to drift into this unhealthy place where we don't give a damn about anyone else; where everybody is out for themselves. It's always been true that you have to look out for yourself, but for some reason, now we have to step, trip, and spit on the rest of the people as we pass them by. There's a general lack of consideration and courtesy for others.

Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

In this increasingly electronic age, where you can type anything and put it out in the world in a heartbeat, we forget that there are others affected by what we type.

I wonder if recalling the golden rule before we hit SEND would cause us to re-think what we just typed.

I wonder if it would cause us to act a bit more civilly the next time we're in line at Best Buy on Black Friday, to remember that the person next to us is no different than us. Or that the employees behind the registers are missing out on their holidays so we can buy our gifts.

We have to remember that it's not always about our needs and wants. It's about having a meaningful experience during our time here and making every moment count for something. It's not about tank tops and televisions. Do you want to be looked at as an example of what not to be or as a role model to be looked up to? Do you want to leave a bad impression on someone or do you want to make a difference? Because that's really what matters in the long run...

Join the conversation. Reach out to me, @ultrasmoov on Twitter, and use #unsteadystate. Join the conversation!

Golf lessons

Some guy who is much better than me at golf.  [Source: thegnac.com]Golf can be a ridiculously frustrating sport. And still, I have attempted to play the game for many, many years.

I say "attempted" because I don't consider myself an actual player.

Back when I was living in Western NY and we had about 4 months of good weather, I was fortunate to get out 2 or 3 times a year. That's not nearly enough practice to get better, so I considered myself lucky to crack 100.  (Most of the time, I didn't even bother taking score.)

There are so many minute details involved in swinging a golf club that it looks like magic when someone can consistently hit great shots.

Among the myriad of things to think about and perfect, there's your stance.  Then there's your grip on the club, your backswing, your follow-through, your shoulder position, your hips - and that's just you and your body!

There are also external factors like the wind, and where the ball is lying (and I always seem to find myself in shin-high grass that won't let go of my ball!). Even the golf clubs themselves impact your swing.

It's enough to make you crazy.

Clearly, I haven't found the right combination of details because I have what's known as a "boomerang slice."

When I hit the ball, it shoots off like a rocket towards the hole, and then, as if it has a mind of its own, it hangs a right in mid-air and ends up somewhere else entirely.

The ball has actually been known to turn so sharply that it ends up behind where I started! I've tried anti-slice clubs and balls, but not even technology can save me.

But to me, the most frustrating part of golf is this:

After playing an absolutely horrifying round - peppering every fairway except my own with golf balls; trudging through every sand trap; and donating case-loads of balls to every pond, creek, storm drain, and puddle on the course - I would resolve to never pick up another golf club.

Then, on my last shot of the day, I make one incredible shot that so impresses the people I'm playing with it leaves them "ooh"-ing and "ahh"-ing.

I stand there in awe, feeling like the golf gods just aligned the planets, my body, my swing, for the sole purpose of sucking me back into this game that I suck at most of the time.  I get just enough of the taste of perfection that I want to come back and do it again.

Miraculous swings and sucky games aside, I'm not going to be a professional golfer in my lifetime.

For me, golf holds a different attraction. Aside from the obvious joy of being out in nature and spending time with friends,

Golf is a microcosm for life:

  • In golf, the ultimate goal is to get that little ball in the hole. But the harder you squeeze the golf club and wish that ball closer to the hole, the farther away it gets. It is only in relaxing that you get closer to your goal.
  • Every shot you take is different: the circumstances, the lie of the ball, and even your body are all different every time. You have to forget about every bad shot that you've taken before and every good/bad shot that you'll take in the future.  You only have this one: the shot in front of you right now.  You have to be fully and completely present.
  • Lastly, it's easy to give up when things aren't going your way. When the ball is flying everywhere except where you want it to go, it's maddening and you say four letter words and throw your club on the ground. With each stroke you take, all you can do is keep aiming for that hole.  Each shot - however good or bad - is bringing you closer to your goal and that's progress - even if it doesn't look that way.  You just have to keep swinging.
  • In golf, just like in life, the worst thing you can do is give up.

 

Remember to follow me on Twitter (@ultrasmoov) or Facebook. Click the link below to find me. And I'm looking forward to telling you about LFB's first golf experiences!