Never could we have anticipated a time in our lives where we would be advised to have as little, or no contact at all with other human beings. There are now many states where legal action can be taken against anyone bringing together groups larger than 10–15 people. This is not normal, it doesn’t feel right, we hope it ends soon, yet here we are. While our current situation is far from ideal and far from over, there will certainly be lessons we may choose to carry with us when the dust begins to settle. In the meantime however, we’ve lost pieces of our days, and in turn ourselves, that we didn’t ever think would ever disappear.
A few months ago as I was lazily watching a movie with my (at the time) three and a half year old niece, I was reminded how much people rely on one another in social experiences. Every time I slowly began to nod off, she served as my wake up call, ensuring that while we were watching this movie together, my focus was not going to be anywhere else but on the TV. Opening my eyelids, grabbing my hand, or poking me in the side, she made sure — we laughed at the same time, jumped at the same moments, but most importantly enjoyed each others presence.
Judging from the majority of my daily interactions, it seems unlikely that her need to share an experience with me was a learned behavior. This was an intuitive response, it was her responsibility to share whatever she was watching with me, so that we held the experience and memory together. To me this was more enough proof showing that we are programmed as social creatures, but as we mature and grow out of the school systems, our understanding of the value social groups hold in our lives diminishes. Quite the opposite of children, whom we assume to have short attention spans, there are many people completely incapable of focusing their full attention on any shared group activity, and at worst — a conversation (you’ll notice how truly awful many are at paying attention the next time you try speaking with someone and rather than listening to what you’re saying — they’re lost in their own mental world, only concerned with whatever word vomit they want to force feed you next).
Social Perspective: COVID-19 Edition
The need to feel belonging in our communities is hardwired into our DNA, yet while we shuffle through the routine of everyday life it’s easy to overlook the barista, bartender, or cashier that remembered your name and exact order from the last time you were in the store. While for many — the opportunities to quarantine and work from home are possible, there are plenty of men and women that will continue to be on the front line every single day to make sure that our society continues to function. The most apparent and highest risk jobs in normal circumstances: doctors, nurses, cops and firefighters, now have to figure out ways to continue to do their jobs successfully, knowing well that the odds of becoming ill are increased greatly by doing so. To continue going out, to what is in many ways battle, everyday is courage most of us will never have to deal with. Let’s also not forget countless others professions who have now become directly in harms way, grocery store employees, train engineers, garbage collectors – keeping the essentials of our society running flawlessly. We need them now, and we need to thank them. My hope is that we come out of these strange times with a rekindled appreciation for humanity and the frailty of the things we become so accustomed to having everyday.
It’s quite possible that shared in-group attention may be the largest contributing piece of the puzzle toward understanding humans’ extraordinary inclination toward social learning. Being a part of something larger than ourselves, may help us assemble a better picture of the world as a whole and how we each make our contributions to the continuous evolution of our species. Along with that, today we can see the psychological power of co-experienced social media which may reside, in part, in it’s ability to supply audiences with a shallow/faux experience of shared in-group attention, without any feelings of empathy or love that is inevitable in person.
Action Item: Write down the things that you miss doing — even the smallest, most minuscule things. When life returns back to normal, periodically take a look at this list and let us not forget that it’s all something that could be taken away again.
Shared Social Value
When we share experiences, it causes us to feel as though we are thinking in the same way and increases how much thinking we do about one another. We may assume that shared interactions are exclusive to when we are verbally communicating with one another — but every day people spend time together in the absence of explicit communication. Take examples such as a gym or a church. Our lives frequently unfold socially, but also silently. Yet even in silence, when we share experiences, the mental space inhabited together is a place where our emotions and thoughts are amplified. These silent moments can be just as beneficial to our happiness. There are plenty of aphorisms to support the idea that we are social animals as well, and that our satisfaction in life is derived from co-experiences: “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste” (Charlotte Bronte); [personal favorite] “Ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none” (Snoop Dogg); “You cannot live alone in this world. The way to enjoy life is to meet people like you, to exchange ideas, to learn from each other.” (Eliud Kipchoge)
There are a handful of reasons that social interactions may benefit our species in the long run, and because of this it becomes apparent that we now almost always enjoy any activity more when there are other people involved. From a study in which each party watched videos either solo or with another person and then rated their happiness levels on a scale of 1–10 “Participants have a strong desire to experience commonality with the inner states of other individuals. Considering how others feel about an experience is part of the process of establishing a “shared-reality,” which helps people to better understand the world [37, 39]. Numerous studies have noted that communicating with others’ about a topic can fundamentally alter the communicator’s memory, judgement, and impressions about that topic . Similarly, observing others’ actions can influence one’s memory of their own actions.”
“A specific component of personhood may involve the self as an agent of information . In this light, the motivation to share experiences may not only be driven by a desire for social connection, but a desire to exchange experiential information with others, with the ultimate goal of facilitating decision-making and constructing a collective store of knowledge.” — Eshin Jolly, The Social Value
Along with casual moments of shared experience and connection we have in our lives, this camaraderie is taken to a new level when large groups gather with a unified goal. Races, parades, games, rallies — the energy and sense of connection we feel during these moments are heightened to extremes. We can even remember these times with greater and more vivid detail: songs the band played before a big basketball game or what the weather was like when we saw our favorite band in concert last.
We participate in events like this as becoming part of a tribe, we now have a unique tie to everyone that we shared that moment with, we can reminisce later about what we experienced or what we learned. The connection that we have with those people, to that specific moment in time, is something we cling to.
As we become increasingly aware of the immense value in-person interactions hold in our lives, I hope that these thoughts and feelings we have now are not lost once we return to our daily routines. I hope that this is just the break we’ve needed in order to take a big step back and to look at things we’ve always taken for granted: shaking hands with a new friend, visiting family, attending a yoga class, the buzz of conversation in a coffee shop, or even the chaotic atmosphere from a late night bar crowd.
“The ability to experience the world from a shared perspective has been theorized to be a biologically primitive adaptation that gave humans an unprecedented capacity for collective coordination and behavior…[which leads to] information that is co-attended with one’s social group conferring a critical evolutionary advantage.” Garriy Shteynberg and Evan P. Apfelbaum — The Power of Shared Experience
This means, if the number and complexity of skills acquired through social learning positively impact survival and/or reproduction, lineages with more opportunities for social learning will be prepared to respond and adapt with their increased set of learned skills as compared to lineages with little contact between the generations or strictly independent animals. The more frequently we interact, the more opportunities there will be for sharing which creates a larger collective knowledge base for the species to be passed on for thousands of years.
Application: Surround yourself with great people, when they see patterns, new opportunities, learning experiences, you experience these as well. With minimal effort, your individual knowledge will steadily rise to the level of those you surround yourself with.
“You ruin empathy by not having an opportunity to interact with other people. When you interact with other people and you see how they feel and you see their emotions and then you can put yourself in their shoes, that builds empathy.” — Esther Wojcicki
Times have rapidly changed within the last few decades. There are more opportunities for learning than ever before, yet the same goes for distractions. The question is: have we stopped valuing our time and allowed for our attention to be taken hostage? “Your goals are things like “spend more time with the kids,” “learn to play the guitar,” “lose twenty pounds by summer,” “finish my degree,” etc. Your time is scarce, and you know it. Your technologies on the other hand, are trying to maximize goals like “Time on Site,” “Number of Video Views,” “Number of Pageviews,” and so on. Hence click-bait, hence auto-playing videos, hence avalanches of notifications. Your time is scarce, and your technologies know it.” – Tim Wu
Without a doubt there is incentive to control a person’s attention (monetarily and persuasively). Content companies (News, soap-operas, streaming services) want to increase last quarter’s profits. To do that they need to increase advertising revenue. To increase advertising revenue they need pageviews. To increase pageviews they need people. What grabs human attention? Fear. Murder. Disease. Political campaigns do a very similar thing, but rather than the end goal being profits, it’s persuasion. We’ve become accustomed to headlines designed to play on our emotions:
“A school girl gave her lunch to a homeless man. What he did next will leave you in tears!”
“Don’t ever go to sleep without checking for these in your hotel bed.”
“Jennifer’s Botched Surgery! You’ll never believe what she looks like now.”
How to capture attention:
For nearly all of human history, our ape-like ancestors have been playing a game of survival. With lethal danger lurking around every corner, fear is a reaction that has been programmed into our DNA to capture our entire attention at an instant. It has been beneficial to the survival of our species to be weary of threats, to run away at the first sign of danger, and in fact we are doing pretty well at surviving thus far considering 99.9% of all species to ever exist are extinct.
But now that we are living in a world with relatively low threats of death, or danger at all, we try to find new things to obsess over to create a hypothetical doomsday in our minds (i.e. trying to protect and save ourselves). Most every current media topic and conversation certainly will be the smallest blip in the grand scope of our lives, but we let these topics occupy so much mental space in our heads that it allows no room for free thought. We are living during the safest time our species have ever seen and rather than planning ahead, we get stuck in the muck of day-to-day news stories and controversy that lights up a primal part of our brain.
“In other words, [we] faced danger from predatory animals (ranging from mammalian carnivores to venomous animals such as spiders and snakes); from hostile members of [our] own species; from invisible pathogens, bacteria and viruses; from loss of status, ostracization, and ultimately social exclusion, which in ancestral environments could mean death”
These fear strickening stories that we see are nothing new, they’ve been working for centuries and will continue to do so. Those behind the keyboards and screens understand more about human biology than we would like to think. In the early 1800’s, a popular New York newspaper ran a series of articles which we would see now as a very sarcastic joke, but at the time without access to credible sources with the internet or smartphones, it was very believable to some. The stories later became known as The Great Moon Hoax – “As Grant described it, Herschel had found evidence of life forms on the moon, including such fantastic animals as unicorns, two-legged beavers and furry, winged humanoids resembling bats. The articles also offered vivid descriptions of the moon’s geography, complete with massive craters, enormous amethyst crystals, rushing rivers and lush vegetation.”
No sane person would argue that we have enough time to watch hundreds of Snapchat stories, comment on recent tweets, and know the score to every mid-season NBA game while still knocking out a full to-do-list. Staying up to date used to be reading one newspaper and watching an hour long segment of local news. That is not so anymore. We want to always be in the social loop for conversational purposes, but with the amount of content generated today not only is that impossible, it is also detrimental. (YouTube has roughly two human lifespans worth of new video posted in any given 24hr window~1.26 million hours vs. average human lifespan~694,000 hours. The Washington Post alone claims to publish an average of 1,200 stories, graphics, and videos per day). The journalist writing hundreds of columns per week have long since moved on from those stories that he or she was likely uninformed on to begin with. They’re now writing about the next hot button ever so pressing issue, which will surely be outdated by dozens of articles on the same topic in a matter of days.
“The world has become increasingly well connected in the past decades. This means that content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more rapidly.” says postdoc Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Since the available amount of attention remains more or less the same, the result is that people are more rapidly made aware of something happening and lose interest more quickly.
“Our data only supports the claim that our collective attention span is narrowing. Therefore, as a next step, it would be interesting to look into how this affects individuals, since the observed developments may have negative implications for an individual’s ability to evaluate the information they consume. Acceleration increases, for example, the pressure on journalists’ ability to keep up with an ever-changing news landscape. We hope that more research in this direction will inform the way we design new communication systems, such that information quality does not suffer even when new topics appear at increasing rates.”
Nothing is ever free. When we find things online that we don’t pay for monetarily, we are paying with our undivided and advertiser primed attention. We become the product. The world is peaking in the age of now. Need groceries? They’ll be at your doorstep in twenty minutes. Want to watch a movie? How about instead we click through nine different documentaries, turning each off after only seven minutes (most of which time we spent looking down at our phones, aimlessly scrolling between apps waiting for a red notification bubble to show up to make us feel important).
Television delivers people to an advertiser…it is the consumer who is consumed…you are delivered to the advertiser who is the customer. He consumes you. – Richard Serra
In the early stages of MTV, it was no problem selling millions worth of advertisements through the attention captured by music videos. Moving towards the late 80’s and early 90’s however, the awe of music videos began to seem bland to audiences, which inspired creators to lean in a new direction. The decline of music videos led to the beginnings of a new kind of soap operas, albeit one in which there were no script and the actors were low paid “average-joes”. This was a major win for the network because it allowed for them to employ less script writers, and produce more content at a lower cost. Reality TV shows are wildly successful because they allow viewers to vicariously through people they watch, seeing them as not much different than themselves. We connect more with the Kardashians fighting over which NBA star to date that week than we ever could with a sci-fi movie. Shows have become popular simply to gain our attention and in turn sell that attention to advertisers.
At a similar time, exuberant real-estate developer Donald Trump was pitched a reality TV show idea he initially turned down, saying that such shows are “for the bottom-feeders of society.” But seeing an outlet to showcase his hotels, wealthy lifestyle, and an overall brand building opportunity it became something he couldn’t refuse. Now shows like The Apprentice are a dime a dozen, and becoming lower quality everyday as companies try to produce more and more content to be a few minutes ahead of competitors with every release.
In the early 2000’s (while radio, television, and even some popular sites on the internet were already showing advertising in every form) we had grown to trust Google and their simplistic search engine to provide us with unbiased and correct results, results that were unwavered by the ad money pooled in from outsiders. This was the case until Google decided to begin using GoogleAdWords to drastically increase revenue on their platform. After that decision to profit from ads with sniper-like accuracy, an insecure teen was now self diagnosing an acne problem, while Google began showing dermatologists nearby as the first two listings of their search. Google has been able to effectively strike with custom tailored advertisements at times when we are most vulnerable online, assuming anonymity on the internet.
Facebook quickly caught on to what Google was doing and realized what a complete profile of millions of individuals they had ready at their fingertips. While they may not have had access to the questions we asked Google, Facebook was able to take sneak peeks into the daily action of our lives. Here is a video explaining Open Graph, the “magic” plug-in that allowed Facebook to tease us into oversharing everything about ourselves (showing other users you checked-in at a local restaurant, liked the band “Grateful Dead’s” page, follow a humane society, and who you listen to on Spotify. This tool was able to integrate Facebook with everything we do, see or listen to in our lives). With a more complete database profiling all users, Facebook was now much more successful in their targeted ad campaigns.
One reason for the mass of customers switching to Apple in the late 2000’s was not only because of the release of the iPhone, but because of the liberating statements and software teh company released at the time. Apple took a stand against the unruly attention market which was getting to know every detail of our entire lives when we shared information with Google, Facebook, YouTube (owned by Google) and more. The iPhone’s rise to popularity was a light in a dark tunnel, giving back the incredible access to information we have with the internet, minus all the bulky auto-playing ads halfway down the page. Not only were ads ruining the overall tech experience for everyone through pure ugliness, ads were also making pages load at inconveniently slow times. With the update to iOS9, Apple users on the app “Safari” would now have the choice to block ads, erase search tracking, and vast other amounts of privacy options.
Seeing an opportunity ripe for attention gathering, Twitter created a feed that did all of the searching for you. No more bouncing back and forth between websites, blogs, etc. to see the various well thought out writings and posts you wanted to follow. Now every person you meet has a profile where they package up every simple idea that passes across their mind into a certain number of characters and it is conveniently shuttled in one app straight to our phones to read at a moments notice.Twitter also began showing statistics on numbers of followers – which gave you credibility, legitimacy and a level of internet fame. It began the Instagram era of social grooming online, similar to what we see in groups of primates. It is reassuring and addicting to get constant confirmation of likes on photos and requests to be someone’s online friend.
As the internet has transformed, Netflix uncovered a long untouched vein of attention more valuable than gold. The ad-less platform encourages binge-watching, encourages you to escape from the monotony of everyday life and forget about any problems at hand. After one episode has ended, sure enough in fifteen seconds the next episode begins. One hour turns to four more quickly than any of us with a sense of control would like.
“Paying attention in a distracted world: it’s like bringing a gun to a knife fight.” – James Shelley
While it seems as though we are fighting an uphill battle the good news is, the inability to pay attention is the norm, so we are never alone. Taking control back is no easy task and is something that must be done every day. While some argue that the tech addiction and loss of attention is purely a part of today’s world, my worry is about the loss of capacity that humankind will collectively miss out on due to our inability to focus and concentrate.
And what are the costs to a society of an entire population conditioned to spend so much of their waking lives not in concentration and focus but rather in fragmentary awareness and subject to constant interruption?
*post was inspired by Tim Wu’s latest book, Attention Merchants*
*Note: This is a lengthy post – in order to fully describe the process underwent, it needed to be. If you want to skip to hear about the race itself, I recommend that too, read to what interests you*
The idea of paying money to run in a foot race, by my own free-will, hasn’t always been something that had much appeal to me. Even after having casually ran for some number of years, there was never any interest in waking up early on a Saturday morning and joining groups of over-energetic, chirpy, smiling runners bundled up before the sun rises, ready to take north of 50,000 steps for “fun”. While I was disinterested in most aspects of running any race, there was always one thing that did grab my attention though, and that was the immense challenges they presented. The challenge of training, scheduling, preparation and building new routines infatuated me.
Less than one year ago the longest run I had ever been on without a walking break was 6 miles. Anything further than that seemed like an impossible feat. Trying to comprehend that a marathon was over four times that distance terrified me. I hadn’t put any time or effort into understanding the process behind what motivates someone to run a marathon, nor did I even know what an ultra-marathon was – and frankly I didn’t care, it all sounded bad. Running for over 9 hours? Thanks, but no thanks. If it weren’t for curiosity, there would have never been any runs over 6 miles. But these races always made me wonder how good that feeling of finishing must be for hundreds of thousands of people to go out and put themselves through torture year after year. I’ve never at any point in my life considered myself a runner. I still don’t consider myself a runner, rather I am more interested in the rippling effects that taking up such a monotonous activity like running has on the rest of my life. Speaking for most who participated in sports growing up, until recently I only viewed running as the worst part of sports, the punishment for making a mistake or upsetting a coach. If it weren’t for one late night bar conversation a few drinks in, I doubt I would have ever signed up for a race.
Soon after that conversation, using curiosity as fuel, I decided to start a training schedule. During my first few weeks as I began to ramp up miles to the point where I was becoming sore every single day, I realized quickly that I was going to need help along the way. I had so many questions that were unanswered. What shoes will I wear? How much should I eat during training? What’s a lactate threshold and why are people talking about it? How does that help with running? How can I improve foot turnover? How do you stretch your psoas muscle? How much should I eat during a run? Do I need to lift heavy weights? Will my nipples bleed by the end of the race? Will I ever get to the point I can run four hours without stopping? How should I pace myself? What training program should I pick? Where should I track my runs? Is this even healthy? Why does my knee hurt? In order for me to begin to tackle the 20-30-40 mile weeks that were called for in training, I needed to rewire my brains perception of running. Not only that, but I needed to completely reteach myself how to run. I needed to look everywhere I could to try and mimic behaviors of those accomplishing similar goals.
What I started doing what seeking out the help of anyone who was running these crazy distances in order to normalize the action in my brain. I went to local running stores and made friends with the workers, I followed runners like Courtney Dauwalter, Zach Bitters, Cam Hanes and David Goggins on social media, I wanted to be as fully immersed as possible. I even had an accountability partner that had agreed to run my first marathon with me, and continued to challenge and push me up through my ultra-marathon training. Having these people around me, they effectively acted as my safety net. Anytime I was unsure of what I was doing, anytime I thought it might be too hard or I was too tired, they were there to keep me in check.
There was never a morning throughout three months of running where I woke up without any self doubt. Every single day I questioned whether or not it was even worth it, whether I was making any progress at all, and if I would even care a year from now. There were runs that weren’t as enjoyable as others, some days I would go out and feel winded within a mile or two, other days I would feel great for ten or more. While they differed greatly in that regard, where runs were always in agreement was the feeling of a accomplishment after finishing. Once I completed another day of training, checked another box off the schedule, I had another little win to smart my day. It was a euphoric feeling knowing I was fully committed to reaching a destination I had never been before. The act of running itself is still not the reason that I want to run a race, but rather to relearn things I thought I knew, to question my previously held beliefs, to learn how to plan and execute the steps necessary to cross a finish line, to push limits only I had set for myself and how I could apply these steps to everyday life. In that, it gave me enough reason to sign up for an ultra-marathon.
12 Week Schedule
In early December when I made the decision to run an ultra, the next steps were to began researching training programs and schedules recommended for a fifty mile race. Similar to the training for a marathon, training blocks were between 12-20 weeks, which could be tailored to anyones own ability depending on current level of training. Having just recently come off running a marathon, I had a solid running base established so I decided to opt for a relatively shorter time frame for my training. As compared to marathon programs, with an ultra the main difference was the drastic increase of the overall miles per week. Some of the longer training runs would be upwards of 20-28 miles which meant a much larger time commitment. In addition I was also adding in a frequent back-to-back days of long runs in order to get my legs ready to be able to move even while being incredibly sore.
As with most running programs, in the early phases there was heavy emphasis on interval and speed work which aimed to increase my anaerobic capacity. There are different names to these strategies (Lactate threshold training, heart rate zone training, VO2 max training) all which in general aim to improve the efficiency of the bodies ability to transport oxygen and process lactate (running faster for longer without “bonking”). I tried to stick to the schedule as best as I could everyday, but as we all know life gets in the way sometimes and I occasionally had to move some things around. Rather than fretting the small details and making sure I did exactly what my schedule said to do everyday, I was allowing for life to remain somewhat normal but still to be sure that I was getting in all of the miles each week in some form or another. Whether that meant splitting some long run days into a morning and night run, or moving a run back a day due to scheduling conflicts, there is no substitute for running the miles suggested in any program.
I personally found it most effective to track my runs and hold myself accountable by doing so both on my phone, and also on a sheet of notebook paper taped to the back of my bedroom door. I wanted to make sure it was the first thing I looked at in the morning and the last thing I looked at before going to bed. On top of the runs, I spent many days during the weeks of preparation doing strength work which was vital to keep my leg muscles strong enough to support the amount of pressure they were being constantly put under. Most of this work was light or body weight – high rep workouts, focused on specific muscle groups that improve running form and speed (box jumps/step ups, weighted lunges, and plenty of hip mobility work). But of all training, what may have helped me the most was one quote I had written at the top of my schedule “Self-confidence comes from the promises that you keep to yourself.”
The constant weekend long runs presented both mental and physical challenges, they were designed to prepare me for what I anticipated to come during the race. They also assisted in quickly reminding me in the midst of ramping physical exertion to a level I had never touched, I needed to put the utmost priority towards recovery. This included better sleep, dialed-in nutrition, religiously stretching, weekly yoga, daily sauna sessions, meditating, etc. Without mental clarity and focus waking up each morning with a why, completing a training block like this would have been impossible (there were a more than a few frosty 6:00am days where I had to get in an eight or ten mile run before work – where I was very much questioning my own sanity). As I allowed for more time and focus towards the goal of running 50 miles in under 10 hours, I had to cut out some things in my life that were subtracting from what I was aiming to accomplish. During the last 6-8 weeks of training, there was unfortunately much less time for Netflix or drinks on a Friday night. To be able to complete the longer training runs on a Saturday, there was no opportunity to nurse a hangover for most of the morning and afternoon. I had to be content knowing that I needed to cut back on some of the weekend activities I had become so accustomed to.
One incredible way I was able to measure fitness and recovery scores, with crazy amounts of data ,was with the wearable I’ve been using for the last year, called Whoop(<—highly highly recommend Whoop to anyone wanting to achieve any type of fitness or health goals). Whoop helped take some of the guesswork out of the training and assisted in making accurate decisions in accordance with my body, which unlocked a new way of thinking I had previously thought untouchable. Whoop helped throughout the entire process to keep track of many different data points including calories burned, training adaptation (tracked with heart-rate-variability as well as resting heart rate), but most importantly sleep and recovery. Whoop tracks data 24/7, then provides you with recommendations on training and sleep needs for the day, and most importantly aggregates all of this information into performance assessments that you can view by the week, month or year. This allows you to take a broad-scope view of how your body is physically adapting and responding to training. Not only that but it also allows for you to analyze how different activities throughout your day may impact your sleep and recovery, allowing you to try and set yourself for a better tomorrow. Whoop allows for you to take inputs such as meditation, supplementation, caffeine use, phone use, consistency of sleep, and many others and then spits out a summary as to how each input plays out for your overall health, fitness, and recovery capabilities.
In order to improve overall health and avoid any sickness that could wreck a week or more of training, maintaining a high quality diet was something that I needed to be unwavering in. While I generally eat a plant-based diet (70-80% of calories), for training I slightly tailored my usual eating habits to intake more carbohydrates (CHO) than I typically would. My diet rarely varied day-to-day (apart from cheat meals Saturday nights in which nothing was off-limits), and while I was not measuring or weighing out food everyday, I was periodically checking my macro-nutrients to ensure that I was getting everything my body required. On most days my goals were to get at least: 300-400g of carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, quinoa, oats…a lot of oats and fruit). I also was aiming for around 90-110g of protein (PRO) to help with the muscle breakdown I was experiencing on these runs (chicken, grass-fed beef, bison, beans, sardines, salmon, cod, garden of life protein powder). Along with eating whole foods and removing all added sugars or processed food, I was supplementing with a multi-vitamin to remove the likelihood of any deficiencies, and also adding in roughly 5g of creatine monohydrate/day (most studied, safe, and proven performance supplement – with many misconceptions <–here is a video explaining the process in which it works).
When the training began to taper down in the last couple weeks, I wanted to make sure I had a rock solid plan ready to go for the actual race. It was a given that there were going to be setbacks during the race, but I wanted to limit the number of setbacks that would arise with detailed preparation. While studies focusing on nutrition during ultra-endurance events are somewhat limited, I was able to gather enough to give myself framework to build out from in my plan. Based on my bodyweight, I wanted to make sure I was taking in at least 60g CHO/hour along with 5-6g PRO/hour (minimum of 2700 calories, at the end of the race I estimated I ended up somewhere around 4000 consumed) to try and maximize output for such a long race. Based off training run paces and looking at past years results for the race (muddy, water filled trail race), I was estimating to finish around 10 hours or less. Some insight that I had picked up on from talking to others who had run ultras before was the likelihood of gastrointestinal issues in the later phases of the race. In everyday life when we eat, our body shuttles blood towards or digestive system in order to process the food we have just eaten. With an ultra-marathon, there is no way around the inevitable stress you will experience due to the lack of resources available for digesting food. Knowing this information beforehand allowed me to plan to front load my eating during the race to hit the overall numbers I needed for the entirety of the event (~400g CHO, ~50g PRO, etc.). With this race in specific, there would be multiple aid stations along the routes we were running (3-12.33 mile loops, 2-6 mile loops), which I accounted for in planning what I needed to eat mid run, and what I would be able to eat in every rushed aid station break throughout.
Another tip I picked up from veteran runners was making sure to try out different running products before the race, to see how they would each react with my body. Everyones fueling strategy is different in races, goo’s vs gels vs gatorade vs carb drinks and many more. In a marathon you’ll see slight differences in these choices but generally they are all similar products, with an ultra-marathon every rule is thrown out the window and these differences are amplified. In an ultra you’ll not only see all the gels and goos that are in a marathon being consumed in larger quantities along with quite a bit of fruit, but there was also and entirely different group of runners that threw down anything from Chick-fil-a, PB&J’s, Coca-cola, cookies, pizza, you name it and someone eats it. Thankfully I’ve gained quite a bit of leeway with my stomach tolerating large amounts of food all at once from daily intermittent fasting, and this helped in taking in the crazy high nutritional demands that help produce a better time. Many of the people I talked to said that an ultra-marathon is 40% training, 40% eating and 90% mental (the joke speaks to the kind of people who run these races). My favorites that I had chosen from testing on some of my long training runs were GU’s Stroopwaffels, Maurten gels, SPRING Wolf oatmeal fruit mix, and Tailwind carbohydrate drink. From there I was able to from there look at the nutrition facts to determine how many of each I would need to eat and could set a timer on my watch to remind me when to eat them. My plan with these was to be certain I was hitting the bare minimum of what I needed to consume, and that every additional thing I ate or drank at an aid station was an added bonus (by the end of the race I couldn’t stomach anymore goo’s and I was operating exclusively on jelly beans and grapes).
The race started at 6:00am which meant I needed to wake up at 3:45am to get one last meal a couple hours out from race time and to give me adequate time to stretch out and get my mind ready for the day. Surprisingly enough with an event like this, I did not have any pre-race nerves or anxiety to fight off, as I knew that I was in for an all day mental battle. With running a trail race through water and mud, I needed to make sure that I had proper gear that wouldn’t break down in the elements. I wore Feetures Ultra Light Socks that were great for shedding water, along with the high mileage “waterproof” trail shoe HOKA Speedgoat 3 (after 6-7 hours they had taken on a decent amount of water and felt 3-4x heavier than the start of the race). I also wore a running vest capable of holding all of the products I needed to take with me for each loop to eat along the run.
Looking back now, the race day went by like a blur. I am able to remember some moments with incredibly vivid detail, and then there are other stretches that I must have been in complete auto-pilot, blank spots in my memory. The first hour of the race was amazing, running through a forest on a trail that was completely foreign to me, I was finally beginning what I had trained hundreds of hours for. I knew that there would be many ups-and-downs throughout the course and I needed to be mentally prepared for both the highs and the lows. Trying to stay even-keel was the only way to manage the emotions in a way that I could tolerate them for such a long time frame. What I wasn’t prepared for was the first emotional low hitting me like a brick wall early into the day. Doubt began the moment that I looked up and saw the marker for Mile 6, then looked down at my watch and saw that I had already been running for over an hour. I was barely 10% done with the race. As the next half dozen miles dragged on, I luckily was able to tail behind some guys that were happily conversating and blasting 80’s rock music to keep my mind off of the task at hand, which led to me finally making it back to the trailhead to complete the first loop in a little over 2 hours.
Having family there to support and talk to for a couple of minutes after completing each of the loops was a huge mental break for me and got me through some dark spots as I questioned my own sanity. My second go around on the loop was somehow much easier than the first, and felt like it flew by. I ran with and made a new friend in a triathlete who had completed hundreds of races over the course of her running career and we were able to clip off mile after mile with relative ease for the next couple hours. This made me aware very early into the race that accompaniment was going to be absolutely necessary to keep my sanity, and to stay out of my own head. After finishing the first two loops and going back out having already ran a marathon, self doubt again began to creep in, in a way I had never experienced before. I was no longer running near as effortlessly as before, and knew that I still had quite a ways to go. To make things even worse, at this point every runner in the race was extremely spread out and running at their own pace, which meant I went over one hour without seeing a single person (77 people entered the 50-mile race, 42 finished. After 30 or so miles it’s easy to imagine how spread out everyone is). At this point I was sick of listening to both music and podcasts so the only thing I could hear was the slight breeze high up in the trees and the thud of each additional step I took. I was doing everything I could to entertain myself, whistling, singing, reciting motivational videos I had watched, and at one point I was laughing hysterically out loud because at the time humor was the only thing that could lighten the mood (if anyone saw this they would have instantly considered me mentally insane).
After what felt like years of running, I again made it back to the trail head with roughly 12 miles left to go. Thinking the hardest part of the race was over and that I was on the homestretch was a foolish mistake on my part. In the span of the next 6 miles, which took almost an hour and half (Miles 39-44), I was mentally and physically broken. Everything I saw made me upset, I wasn’t able to lift my feet high enough to clear the tree roots and was constantly tripping, my legs were cut up from thorns and covered in mud, while my fingers were sticking together from constantly spilling Tailwind and Heed drink mixes as I was running. My only goal at this point was to finish, it didn’t matter if I had to walk or crawl to the end, I just wanted to finish. As I shuffled my way back to the trailhead yet again (44 miles in), I was certain that I was going to have to walk the final miles if I wanted any shot at finishing without going to the hospital. I spent a good chunk of time at this aid station mentally preparing myself for what was to come in the final miles (this stop included a bathroom break, four Advil, Vaseline, and a couple handfuls of candy). Taking off for the last lap I had a heavy leftward lean to my run and a chip on my shoulder from how hard I had worked to get to this moment. Knowing I had 6 miles left to go and couldn’t possibly hurt or feel any worse than I currently was, something inside me broke. Passing a fellow runner and seeing they looked just as defeated as I felt, there was a sense of camaraderie, togetherness in shared suffering. Somewhere in those last miles, it felt like I had unlocked an area of my mind I never knew existed. With a potent mix of adrenaline, Advil, and anger, I finished the race with strong running – shaving over 15 minutes off from my previous 6 mile loop.
While I did feel a strong sense of accomplishment and was proud of what I had done, the finish line wasn’t exactly like what I thought it would be. There weren’t feelings of relaxation or victory, and actually was more like the opposite. I knew that I had put myself through immense suffering, but I also was aware of how artificial my “suffering” was. What I experienced felt minuscule compared to what others have gone, and are currently going through. I was and am still aware that running 50 miles is an incredibly difficult task, but I knew that the race would eventually end. The end was always in sight. What kept coming to my mind as I stood near the finish were the millions of people battling things much more difficult, every waking moment of their lives. Cancer, famine, depression, corruption, abuse, there are too many to list. The pain and suffering of not being able to walk for another couple days pales in comparison. Running an ultra-marathon has afforded me a level gratitude I don’t believe I would have ever been able to experience without putting one foot in front of the other for well over 9 hours, and for that, I couldn’t be happier about making the decision to do so.
“Your body will argue there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.” -Tim Noakes
“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.” -George A. Sheehan
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Teddy Roosevelt
On a lighter note: “Any idiot can run a marathon, it takes a special kind of idiot to run and ultramarathon” – Alan Cabelly
Let’s face it, we all have a media addiction. Apart from going completely off the grid there is no way to avoid it. On average adults over the age of eighteen spend more than eighty one hours every week consuming some type of media — TV/radio/computer/phone. There are no groups exempt from this daily information overload (sorry Generation X). Catchy headlines are imbedded in sneaky places: they flash across the bottom of TV screens, pop up at the top of your Google search, and are played out on a radio stations we use as background noise. Try and read “For a great low rate you can get online, go to the general and save some time.” without getting a jingle stuck in your head. Now if you really want to remember that jingle forever →watch Shaq’s video ← of himself rapping the jingle. Whether we are stuck on the latest HBO series or flipping to the seven o’clock news, we are in contact with some form of media more than I’d like to think. It’s really, really hard to unplug — even if you ditch the smartphone, you surely use some type of computer at work, and in between a few Excel spreadsheets there’s always time to head over to ESPN, CNN, BuzzFeed or Reddit to check out the latest news. Where we decrease consumption through one channel of media, we likely make it up with another.
Scarcity of information is clearly not an issue and our struggles from overconsumption creates absentmindedness and lessens our ability to focus.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
— Herbert Simon
For most it seems that there is no choice as to what amount of media is consumed throughout the day, but we can all recognize and be aware of what we consume. As seen below, there are staggering statistics on our time spent connected to media daily.
Tim Wu (author of my latest read Attention Merchants) expresses his concern over our freedom from big brother and the sophisticated algorithms responsible for suggesting/recommending the next Netflix series or YouTube video. Platforms that have given consumers *a choice* of personalized programming have historically made the end users much more engaged. When the TV was first introduced into homes, it required effort to walk across the living room and change the channel, but with the invention of the remote control, that changed quickly. The remote control created more active users than before as it offered a customized experience, it allowed for channel surfing to be the norm. As soon as a viewer would lose interest, with a click and point they were now able to flip through dozens of shows in seconds. The more able we are find content that interests us, the stronger the grip on our attention becomes. My personal vice, YouTube, is so attractive because of the perceived control to choose between the millions of short clips uploaded daily.
Our media platforms and channels can be anything from a cooking blog to a gaming console. Most younger individuals unsurprisingly prefer phones while older generations always choose TV, even if that means re-runs of I Love Lucy. When Apple added the screen time feature to really show us all the addictions (literally) at hand and my report showed I was spending 200+ minutes per day on my phone. I was embarrassed. While I do not believe all time I spend on my phone is useless. I do believe; however, there are better and worse ways to let hours pass by while staring at a four inch screen — one capable of accessing the greatest accumulation of knowledge that the world has ever seen. Our screen-time is customizable no matter what device we pick, but it is very apparent how we can tailor information on our smartphones. Every time we unlock our phones and open Candy Crush or Instagram, we make a decision of what we are putting inside of our minds.
“What is it that is so interesting about what’s happening everywhere else but where you are?” ― Eric Overby, Senses
Social media receives the most attention and also receives it’s fair share of blame for consuming so many hours of our day. Most view excess social media consumption as a negative, which more often than not seems to hold true. But the content on social media is no different than any other media source we may choose to consume. We interact on our platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) the same way that primates on Animal Planet would use social grooming in groups. Staying up to date on old friends starting new families isn’t inherently negative. But living in envy while watching others live lives that seem so amazing and comparing them to your own is dangerous.
“Much like an upscale art gallery, we choose what pictures to post, what moments to snap, what statuses to share. We edit and filter, and why not? In a world where we’re struggling to make our place, we want to — to borrow an old adage — put our best foot forward. There’s nothing wrong with this. So long as we are aware that what most people propagate online is merely a highlight reel. It has been rigged to appear perfect. As such, it should not be used as a measuring stick when comparing ourselves to others.”
— Kaitlyn Guay
Unfollowing people and being purposely uniformed on topics that do not interest you is a way to narrow down the massive amount of information thrown our way. No sane person would argue that we have enough time to watch hundreds of Snapchat stories, comment on recent tweets, and know the score to every mid-season NBA game while still knocking out a full to-do-list. Staying up to date used to be reading one newspaper and watching an hour long segment of local news. That is not so anymore. We want to always be in the social loop for conversational purposes, but with the amount of content generated today not only is that impossible, it is also detrimental. (YouTube has roughly two human lifespans worth of new video posted in any given 24hr window~1.26 million hours vs. average human lifespan~694,000 hours. The Washington Post alone claims to publish an average of 1,200 stories, graphics, and videos per day). If you want to truly see how useless most news is, try reading a paper from last week. Ask yourself how these outdated articles have personally effected you within that last week. The journalists writing hundreds of columns per week have long since moved on from those stories that they were likely uninformed on to begin with. They’re now writing about the next hot button ever so pressing issue, which will surely be outdated by dozens of articles on the same topic in a matter of days.
When you stop taking note of every minute political conversation, or didn’t catch the end of last award show, some may view you as “out of touch” or ignorant. There is some level of knowledge that may need to be held in order to make decisions such as voting, but in reality you can inform yourself via trusted sources, summaries, and excerpts all in a few hours to save you time. There is a fine line between staying informed and staying unproductively busy.
As humans we are hard wired to emulate our idols, When we watch enough reality TV or faithfully listen to a podcast, eventually we will start to mimic behaviors of the individuals we pay so much attention to every day. When our thoughts are focused only on the crime highlighted on local news, what next virus outbreak is going to take us all out, the never ending Presidential impeachment, or Jenna’s recent influencer trip to Bali — it’s easy to see how we are plagued with pessimism and become cynical. We replace our car filters, HVAC filters, drink filtered water, yet it is uncommon for us to filter what we spend so much time consuming throughout the day.
These people and shows we follow can be our filters for thousands of hours of podcasts, videos, hundreds of books, recommending health and wellness tips or a recent book that’s a great read. Those we follow will do almost the work for us. Similar to rebuilding a habit (←self promoting a previous post of mine on habits), rather than trying to drastically alter behavior, we can keep the cue and reward systems the same while replacing the stuff in the middle. This process is important more now than ever because simply by curating social media feeds differently we can either be inspired or defeated. We have countless options now to tailor exactly what information we are intaking.
“No one learns in a vacuum. People are incredibly social creatures, and the way we learn is very often a direct result of those around us. We learn to speak from hearing our parents, we learn how to interact from everything around us, and we often learn by imitating others.”
— William Bonney
We learn so much from those around us, and have access to so many great thinking, motivating, and passionate people. By curating feeds and choosing to follow those we want to be like, whenever we are faced with decisions, most likely we will fall into the pattern of those whom we pay most attention to. When we are aware of what people and information we surround ourselves with, we take a step toward becoming someone we want to become.
On a day like today, I find it hard to believe that everything happens for a reason. To try and say that the planet will be better off without you alive – that this was supposed to happen, makes no sense. What you were able to accomplish in forty-one years of life is more than most will ever dream. 5x NBA Champion — 2x Finals MVP — 18x All-Star — 4x All-Star MVP — 2x Gold Medal Winner — Eerily now #4 in All-Time Points — Oscar Winner — That’s without mentioning every Lakers record that you hold after staying loyal to the same city, team, franchise, for 20 consecutive seasons. There’s no way I can wrap my head around what happened or, more importantly, why it happened.
Thinking about what you would have surely accomplished in the decades to come is gut-wrenching. But what you talked about most in retirement, and what you were most passionate about up until today, was always your family, Vanessa, and your four daughters. Trying to imagine what Bianka, Capri, Natalia, and Vanessa are going through is something that I will never be able to conceive. They had a father, husband, friend, and a leader pulled out from under their feet. We all lost an inspiration today. People say that life isn’t fair, and today I consider myself one of those people. There are far too many *what if’s* in all of our minds right now, playing out scenarios in which the unthinkable did not happen.
As I sat down this morning to write an unrelated post, I was having a hard time stringing together more than a couple sentences at a time. My mind was off thinking about such insignificant tasks to the grand scheme of life: switching laundry to the dryer, prepping meals for the week, and if I were going to go out for a run or not. I forced words onto a screen in hopes they would magically turn into something I could post. Eventually, I gave up, drove home, and walked in my front door, being greeted with the news that I will never forget, a moment that stands still in time. TMZ had posted an article saying you had passed away. It didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t seem real. I didn’t believe it. Someone so invincible as you couldn’t just go like that. Without even a goodbye? There’s no way.
As minutes passed like hours, the reports kept coming. Suddenly I was faced with reality; this was really it. As I waited for you to tweet, post, or share something saying that you’re okay, I realized that the moment wasn’t coming.
Now, as I sit, trying to gather my thoughts from this tragic day, I am still having a hard time writing. I am struggling to relay thousands of hours of memories into a few short paragraphs. There is no shortage of thoughts. Thoughts of sitting up on my kitchen counter, wearing my new Kobe’s, eating cereal and watching the recap of your eighty-one point game. Dreams of going to school and showing everyone that I was wearing your shoes. Thoughts of jumping up and down on my couch, trying not to scream and wake my parents after you willed the Lakers to back-to-back championships. Thoughts of the pointless debates where I was determined to prove that you were the greatest basketball player of all time. Thoughts of the shirts, jerseys, posters, blankets, and clocks that used to cover my room. Thoughts of driving six hours round trip to see you get a triple-double in Denver. Thoughts of you giving hope to a young kid, showing me that if you set your mind to something, you can achieve it. I never realized that having never met you, spoken to you, or interacted with you, you have had such a profound impact on my life. The only comfort I have now is knowing that even after your passing, you will continue to have these same effects on me.
All I’ve been able to think about today is that if this kind of tragedy can happen to you — an icon, a warrior, a legend, a superstar, it very well could happen to me at any moment. Our time here is finite, and none of us know precisely when our last moment will be. There are no guarantees, no matter how smart, how strong, how determined, or how beautiful you are, it can be taken in a matter of seconds. Saying that there is a reason for something as terrible as this, to me, seems disrespectful to you, your family, and your friends. I’ll never be able to understand why this happened. Now I have to come to grips with it. Maybe it’s all a part of the mystery of life. If someone had it all figured out, with no questions left to ask, what would be the point in living? Maybe the worst kinds of tragedies send shock waves to hundreds of millions of people to get over our differences, get out of our own ways, and to love one another unconditionally.
In your Oscar-winning video, Dear Basketball, you remind us to savor every moment that we have left, the good and the bad. To give each other all that we have. That no matter who we are, we will always be a kid at heart. You gave us lessons to live by, told through the medium which you were most familiar with. Basketball.
This morning I was not thinking about how fortunate I have been in my life. I was not counting how many things I have had gone right for me, and how lucky I am to have such great family and friends surrounding me. But tonight, I am thinking about how grateful I will be to wake up and see another day. Tonight I am thankful for what you have instilled in me, shown me, and taught me.
You showed me that hard work does pay off.
You showed me resilience.
You showed me how to never be afraid of doubt.
You showed me that obsession can be your best friend.
You showed me that by being your best self, you can inspire millions.
You showed me to never be scared.
You showed me that basketball wasn’t it for you, that family came first, and that writing and storytelling aren’t just for a select few.
You taught me that when you think you’re working hard enough, you can always press a little further.
You showed me that in forty-one years, you can leave a stamp on the world.
Thank you for being a mentor, an inspiration, and so much more. Thank you for always giving one hundred percent. Thank you for being someone I always will look up to. Thank you for giving a young kid a dream. Thank you Kobe.
Thanks to endless advice I have read and listened to — from dozens of people I respect, for the last two weeks I have forced myself into participating in a slightly altered version of a gratitude journal. Every night I have sat down and grabbed a notebook where on one page I will scribble specific times throughout the day that I felt genuine happiness, and on the opposite page I add times that I felt not so happy. I creatively titled these *happy page* and *sad page*. I’ve had to battle through one or two hand cramps from jotting down the various occasions throughout my day, but it has been well worth it. I’ve also learned a ton from such a simple activity, but what strikes me most interesting is the glaring difference I see when comparing the two pages I have written out.
For background — I am someone with no real knowledge of psychology, (unless you count a couple of books and podcasts) and highlighting these happy and sad moments in my day made me curious. I wanted to understand how and why our happiness changes over time. After a few Google searches and falling trap to YouTube’s auto-play feature, I unintentionally dug way too deep into a theory well known in the psychology as the Hedonic Treadmill, or Hedonic Adaptation. “A hedonic treadmill is the tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or the achievement of major goals. According to the hedonic treadmill model, as a person makes more money, their expectations and desires rise in tandem. So the rise in income results in no permanent gain in happiness.” The ideology that we have a base level of happiness was derived from this popular study, which tracked the self-reported happiness of individuals who had recently experienced life changing events.
Rather than trying to explain the study on my own, here is the conclusion that I skillfully was able to copy and paste. “Study 1 compared a sample of 22 major lottery winners with 22 controls and also with a group of 29 paralyzed accident victims who had been interviewed previously. As predicted, lottery winners were not happier than controls and took significantly less pleasure from a series of mundane events.” While we can assume there were initially extreme emotional reactions from these events, the previous is stating that after some time the participants gradually either progressed or digressed back to the same base level of happiness.
It is easy to look at your own life and see major life events that have impacted you positively and negatively, but for most of us these events are few and far between. You become a new mother/uncle/grandma/etc →happiness levels (hopefully) through the roof. A loved one you were close to passes away →you experience sadness like never before. We are more likely to see small fluctuations in happiness daily/weekly/monthly, to a lesser degree than those life altering events. Having become enthralled with learning about Tesla and SpaceX after reading an Elon Musk biography, here’s a perfect illustration of the ups and downs we may experience, in line with the Hedonic Treadmill —and of course based around my recent obsession.
Eventually I was able to escape the theoretical hole (pun intended) I dug myself into and I took a step back to digest what I had been learning about. Now I believe the Hedonic Treadmill theory makes a ton of sense and holds true often, as the study and graph show us, but it also feels like a bleak and gloomy way to view the future. Is the study saying that we can never make lasting emotional gains? Or is it simply letting us know that one major shift in life will not make or break us. If it is making the assumption that no matter what you do in life you will eventually return back to this base level of happiness, there will be no motivation or incentive to improve your current conditions. Personally, I didn’t like the sounds of that at all — so having the unrelenting optimism that my mother forever instilled in me (thank you mom), I set out to cherry-pick information or a quote that would show the contrary. That we areable to create improvements in long-term happiness — as seen below.
“The very good news is there is quite a number of internal circumstances . . . under your voluntary control. If you decide to change them (none of these changes come without real effort), your level of happiness is likely to increase lastingly.” — Martin Seligman
What we can certainly take from the Hedonic Treadmill theory is that our natural state of emotion is not euphoria. We all live on a giant scale of feelings and emotions (←sports fans click here) that is constantly fluctuating. What I am now aware of having tracked my emotions and what is surrounding, is how I am able to make decisions that lead to incremental boosts in happiness every day — and hopefully for the long haul.
When I look back into my notebook now, it becomes obvious that these moments I’m writing down on the *happy page*, are all repeatable actions that I can choose to do over and over and (yes) over again. Nearly everything that boosts my level of happiness in a day is an intentional action that I had complete control over. By taking note of what makes me happy, I can choose to incorporate these in my daily life. Cooking, rock climbing, playing pick-up basketball, FaceTime with friends and family. Looking at the entirety of the list, I am actually not writing anything on this page that was a purely a result of circumstance.
However…on the opposite side of my notebook, the *sad page* tells a much different story. Nearly everything on this side was a product of circumstance outside of my control. This list included: roommate leaving out dirty dishes, rainy and cold on the weekend, coworker not listening to a story I’m telling, random guy in a Prius cutting me off. Let me rephrase this: I was not expecting any of these things. I was hoping for better situations, and when I was let down I was becoming upset for for things outside of my control. I have been stressing over circumstances that even if I attempted to change them, the end result would be the same.
Stress is created when the reality of our world does not meet our anticipated model we created in our head.
Since beginning this process of journaling, I have been attempting to become more aware of those situations out of my control that are affecting me negatively, and letting them pass by. I have learned that to add more mood boosting activities into my daily routine, to not leave my happiness to happenstance. For example: While I am generally happy in the mornings, I do not wake up on Cloud 9. If there is someone out there that opens their eyes in the morning and is instantaneously cheerful, I have yet to meet them. We are all human and can agree that getting out of a comfortable and warm bed (especially in the winter), frankly sucks. When I wake up I know that I am at, or below, my base level of happiness. But by choosing to act onactivities from the *happy page* in the morning, like coffee and light reading, this helps boost my happiness and unfolds into a great start to my day.
There are far too many happenings in my day that I’ve let pass by, without ever giving a second thought to how they constantly affect my emotional well-being. Until now I’ve never take a step back to view how I respond to everyday events. Without this journaling experience, I may have never become aware of some highs and lows in my own life without writing down these times day after day
Most everyone has had to painfully sit through a lecture from a teacher, manager, or self-help guru, explaining different strategies on how to successfully set goals. Some of the more popular plans include SMART goals, Balanced Scorecards, and the creatively named— BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Different types goals and success plans can be found just about anywhere you look. Hypothetically let’s say you ask any ten people in your life whether they’ve had any goals within the last year, odds are likely everyone would say yes. We will always be surrounded by goals, sometimes of our own choice — finally getting that promotion, improving a relationship with a loved one, shedding a few pounds before the trip to Cancun. Sometimes they are dangled in front of us, in hopes to entice a specific behavior — such as meeting a lofty sales quota for the next month. It’s also known that we fall short of the reaching the vast majority of our goals (up to a 92% failure rate for New Years resolutions), leading to a loss of both morale and confidence. However, there may be an easy way to gain confidence and increase likelihood of accomplishing whatever it was we originally set out to do. It may sound counterintuitive, but start trying to set really, really, really small goals.
January 1: “I’m going to lose fifteen pounds before this summer.”
Sounds like a reasonable goal right? In fact for a lot of people, it probably is an extremely reasonable thing to do. Then after a full month of eating healthy and busting your ass at the gym, you step on a scale andddddd…you’ve gained one pound since you started all this hard work. But you stick with the program, grind out another month. You’re excited to see how close you are to your goal, you step back on the scale…only for it to tell you that you’ve lost a whopping two pounds in as many months.
What usually happens next in a story like the one seen above is complete destruction to the weight loss plan for the remaining months until summer. The wheels have now completely fallen off and it’s back to the La-Z-Boy, with Girl Scout Cookie and pizza boxes littered across the living room. Why is it that even when we work hard and push ourselves to uncomfortable places, we still lose confidence and feel defeated somewhere along the path?
Let’s say you want to try and learn ten songs on piano within the next year. This would check every box to qualify as a SMART goal. It’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable and Time-bound. Most would be able to make a case that it would also meet the requirements for a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. While a year may give us adequate time to learn ten songs on piano, three hundred and sixty five days also will provide many reasonable excuses that take priority over learning piano. Injuries, illness, travel, relationships — stuff comes up. We push things back. Sometimes we have to, sometimes it is easier to do so. Sometimes we work too hard too fast and end up despising what it was that we intended to do. We need to find a sweet spot, we need to see success. Find somewhere that is enjoyable, satisfying, and worth our time.
Big goals such as learning piano can be hard to wrap our heads around, especially if attempting to do something we’ve never done before. We may not even know all the small steps it takes in order to reach that goal. When we feel the slightest bit of doubt, or miss one day on a set program, thoughts start bouncing around our head convincing us that we are inadequate. It may constantly feel as though we are pushing tons of stone up a mountain. First we take a day off, then a week, then a month. Unfortunately, this can create momentum rolling right back down that steep hill, the wrong way.
If you’ve ever watched any type of sporting event, you can quickly recall dozens of times that one momentum shift drastically changed the rest of a game. Falcon’s fans are all too familiar with this concept as we saw in the second half of Super Bowl LI.
Your team pulls way so far ahead that you have begun the champagne showers. Already making plans to go to the Super Bowl parade. Next thing you know after a couple of big plays it feels like your team is now now incapable of doing anything right. Your team is never able to regain control of the game and you end up looking something like this when it’s all said and done.
Rather than fighting momentum, work with it. Make it our friend as we complete many small goals in a week, rather than taking our chances at a few big goals — all of next year. (Click hereif you need a “rah-rah” clip illustrating a possible scenario of good momentum) Doesn’t it make more sense to set short term, achievable, frequent goals — in order to taste a bit of enjoyment along the road? These little wins, day in and day out, boost confidence and make us much more likely to gain some positive momentum in the uphill battle. Finishing many small tasks, whether they are related or unrelated to an overarching goal, help in becoming much more aware of what good momentum feels like. Here are a few examples of ridiculously small goals:
“Get my life in order” — Clean my room twice a month.
“Write a book” — Write for at least 10 minutes three days this week.
Try it out today, take note of how it makes you feel. See if this is an idea that can be used long term in your work or personal life. This strategy may not work for everyone, but I have found it to be essential in assembling a path toward things I want to accomplish. Keep the dreamers mentality, but also understand and appreciate the need for momentum and confidence. Try making that big hairy audacious goal an achievable, tangible, logical goal — and see where this takes you.
Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Bill Gates. All wildly successful entrepreneurs. Often portrayed as some of America’s heroes, they have a celebrity type status leading to roles on tv shows and even making appearances in Marvel movies. We constantly see them being put on display as examples for how we should lead a successful and happy life. With intense work ethics and a powerful drive to win, they seem to have more in common than not. They’ve amassed fortunes building tech/software companies in which the financial result is a net worth so immense (combined net worth =~$315 billion) it would make LeBron James envious. Each of their lives have created inspiration and impacted the world in many positive ways, but the uniformity in their ventures has created a dogma that becoming an entrepreneur is a preferred path to take in life.
I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.
— Phil Knight
For these business magnates aforementioned, it is safe to assume they are pursuing what we would deem a passion or vocation. Not one of them would choose to switch industries or jobs if they had the choice. For most of our young lives we are pushed to do what they’ve done — find our calling, a job that we find truly rewarding. The day after I graduated from a university with a business degree, this narrative changed and I was quickly pressured into making what I thought was a lifelong career decision. It was as if I was not only choosing for myself, but also for my retired self, forty or fifty years down the road. Of course I had a strapping two full years of internship experience under my belt and thought the only real way to success is to start a business, move to a new city and bunk it with some friends whose diets consist of ramen noodles and take-out pizza. Any route I chose outside of the start-up world seemed like a bit of a let down.
I believe that issues arise when we only allow for such a narrow window of career paths to be regarded as fulfilling. It is todays norm hearing friends and coworkers alike talking about how they are sticking it to the man and starting a new business venture from scratch. For many 20–30 year olds, they would rather be unemployed than having to admit working for a Fortune 500 company.
Never having to take orders from a boss and buying a ping-pong table that fits perfectly in between the bean bags in your office, what could be better? We are constantly being sold on all of the positive aspects of entrepreneurship having rarely seen a true depiction of how hard the work may be. If the business that someone chooses to start is in line with the long term vision for their life, then we may see the potent mix of passion and work that results in the Mark Cuban and Gary Vaynerchuck types.
But what about the firefighter that quit his job to open up a gym, only to find out that while he may love lifting weights, running a business that involves selling memberships can be a nightmare. Or how about a project manager that leaves a dreaded 9:00–5:00 job with a company where she loved her boss, coworkers and four weeks vacation time. What if now she is running a t-shirt business which never allows her to turn off her phone in fear of missing a sale, is unable to make her sons basketball game because of crucial meeting with a new manufacturer, and to top it all off hasn’t taken a vacation in over two years. These sacrifices are surely worth it if you are one of the lucky few who has figured out exactly what you want in life, but they may be unnecessary for those of us still trying to figure it all out.
What we should do is leave the door open that one day we might prefer a different type of work than what we do today. Maybe the accountant realizes he is better fit running a local restaurant or coffee shop, or the clothing store owner is better suited conducting research analysis for a large firm. If we are capable of finding tasks and projects that we enjoy and they also create income, (hypothetically) we will never work a day in our lives. For some this may be creating the next Twitter but for others it may be teaching at their alma mater. We are right in celebrating these brilliant individuals who are creating products that improve our lives — but we should similarly celebrate the beaming truck driver who has travelled over 500k miles in 30 years, seeing more parts of the country than we can imagine.
Charles Duhigg, author of the New York Times best seller,The Power of Habit proclaims “There’s nothing you can’t do if you get the habits right.” Many will dismiss this statement as an impossibility, quickly conjuring up dozens of ideas and tasks that they would never be able to do. While I do believe there are truly some things that may be impossible (perpetual motion, imagining a new color, expecting honesty from politicians), Duhigg’s statement still has stuck with me for the greater part of five years after having read this book.
We’ve all seen or heard of the posts and videos guaranteeing that if you do this one thing everyday for the next month or the next year you’ll be able to ___________ (fill in the blank— lose weight/make a million dollars/etc). Most of us will brush these catchy headlines off as click bait and cheesy advertisements, but what if we were able to look past the fluff and see how we can apply certain aspects of others success to our own lives? What if we mimic their behavior and see if the same habits that worked for the CEO of Company-XYZ would also benefit us?
Anyone with a calculator can tell you that if you sleep for an average of eight hours per night for your entire life, you will sleep for approximately 33.3% of the time you spend on this planet. Something lesser known is that many studies suggest somewhere around 40% of what we do in our waking hours is automatic behavior, executing habits deeply ingrained in our subconscious mind. Have you ever left your house and driven to work, the store, a friends house, and when you arrive you feel as though you can’t remember how you even got there? That is your subconscious at work — automating pieces of your life that you frequently repeat in order to save mental energy for other, likely more impactful, choices you will make later that day. Assuming the studies are correct, this only leaves an available 27% of our day to thoughtfully make decisions.
Habits can be incredibly hard to form, as anyone that started up a new workout regimen this year has likely already found out. Although difficult to form, the nail biters and fidgeters will be the first to tell you habits are also incredibly hard to break. So how long exactly would it take for us to change a couch ridden evening routine to an evening that incorporates a bike ride or yoga class? Likely it will take more than two months according to this data. Placing a time frame on exactly how long it will be until you are acting out of automation when lacing up your sneakers for a run makes tackling a new routine manageable. After a week, two weeks, or a month, when you are absolutely sick of weight training after work every night, you’re able to say to yourself “If I can just get through one more month, this workout won’t even be a decision any longer. It will take no more mental effort than slipping into a pair of sweats after I get home.”
Once a habit is in full effect, it feels almost as though you are wearing blinders to seeing anything other than the behavior or action you have created. For example: I have established a habit to drink a large glass of water after my lunch to fill my stomach up, rather than eating one of the free cookies left in the break room at work. It’s not that I don’t see the cookies when I walk by, I am very aware of how great one would taste if I chose to indulge. But after having pushed through two months of avoiding them everyday, when I look at the cookies my brains automatic response is “You don’t eat those. They might be for other people, but they aren’t for you. They are not part of what you eat in a day.” The same goes for how I’ve created a running habit over the last year. I set out my shoes, socks, shorts, t-shirt and jacket all the night before. Now, as I stumble my way through a groggy morning and a run doesn’t sound at all enticing, I see all my gear laid out and my brain automatically says “Put on your shoes. This is what we do. We run.” There is no back and forth of whether or not I should run because it’s too cold outside, running is now just another part of my morning.
After changing just one habit, no matter how big or small, it gives you a sense of control. It makes you assess other events that seem to just ‘happen’ throughout your day with a different lens. In the book The Power of Habit, Duhigg compares changing a habit to a mental workout, the more you train mental muscles, the stronger your willpower becomes. What is so exciting about an increase in willpower, is how contagious it can be. “As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives — in the gym, or a money management program — that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked. Once willpower became stronger, it touched everything.”
As I have tried to change habits of my own, I have realized that you may not succeed the first, second or even third time. But if you have the persistence to continue to act on this new behavior time and time again, eventually it will stick. Thankfully this means will only be another 58 days or so until that New Years Resolution becomes an endeavor that you are likely to repeat for years and years to come.
Alarm sounds at 5:30am, my flight back to Nashville boards in less than two hours. The week at home for the holidays has come to an end. My head is pounding yet I am unsure why. Too much tequila? Possibly. There’s a bump on my head from last night — the daily pool parties with family may have finally gotten the best of me. Surely that could be it. Or is it because I had to say goodbye to a three year old niece and nine month old nephew who will have passed major milestones in their lives before the next time I get the chance to see them? Maybe my headache is because I know that I’m leaving what seemed to be a return of normality, what I was accustomed to for the majority of my life — my entire family together under one roof.
My family is extremely close, staying in touch with one another constantly throughout the day via; texts, calls, FaceTime, and even Snapchat. There are hundreds of miles between the states that we each call home (Colorado, Tennessee, Nebraska and Texas), yet technology allows us to keep up to date with every nuance of each other’s lives. As my sisters and I have gotten older, we slowly have moved further and further away from home as we try to make headway in our own lives. We never moved to intentionally distance ourselves from family, but rather because we all are confident enough to try and maximize the potential of our individual lives. My parents did an unbelievable job of raising three kids to be independent, loving, and kind. They never sat down and gave us explicit lessons on how we should act in certain situations or how to treat another person in a relationship. They didn’t need to. Growing up we watched as they lived and exemplified these qualities in each waking moment, interacting with coworkers, friends and strangers alike. There were constantly three sets of eyes on them copying their every move and they never faltered in showing us right from wrong.
When my sisters and I were young, my parents made sure to take us on trips, allowing us to see that the world is much bigger than what directly surrounds you. Traveling to see other parts of the country and the world is nearly always an ego shattering experience. Being places you’ve never been and seeing that you are a piece of a much larger picture drastically changes the perspective through which you view your own life. It has helped me change my way of thinking and rationalizing events that may happen on a standard day. Traveling has allowed for our family to continue and see each other frequently despite distance, for which I am grateful.
As I yet again say another somber goodbye to my family and head back home, I have to remember and remind myself of the reasons I moved in the first place and how many benefits can be manifested in a “fresh start”. Making a decision to move to a new city, knowing no one, and without having ever visited the city left me extremely vulnerable. Away from all forms of protection and comfortability I had ever known, there were many moments in the weeks and months after I moved that I was sure I made a huge mistake. Seeing photos and videos of old friends all together while I had yet to establish a new friend group was a difficult thing to cope with. I had spent years establishing a social group I felt at home with, before picking up and moving on a whim.
I have been alone more in the first year and a half after moving than I had previously spent alone in many years combined. It was uncomfortable at times. I had to find ways to entertain myself. What I chose to do with my time for the first time ever felt like completely my choice. No peer pressure, no family influence, no social obligations. Just me. When any person has free time, they generally make a choice of what to consume to occupy that time. Highly stimulating food, weeknight drinks at a local bar, Netflix and social media seem to be popular choices — which is exactly where I went, it’s what I was used to, it was comfortable. As new friends came and went, I was able to take a step back and see how my actions throughout life have been greatly influenced by those around me. Physically seeing the truth behind Jim Rohn’s insanely popular quote, “You’re The Average Of The Five People You Spend The Most Time With” has made me conscious of how I was squandering away so much valuable time.
I’ve been lucky to have found new and old friends to surround myself with that inspire me, push me, and help me learn. Looking at how I’ve improved in spending my free time now (reading, learning music, running, cooking, traveling) is a testament to those around me. I don’t believe I would have been able to make such strides towards health and wellness so quickly in life without having been around these people swaying my decisions in a healthy direction.
This last year I’ve seen first hand what can happen when you commit yourself to a goal, having ran my first marathon. There was (and still is) no part of me that wanted to go run day after day, but I knew that if I could manage to get through those long and exhausting miles in the morning, each decision I made later on in the day wouldn’t seem so difficult. Running has allowed me to make more choices based on logic and reasoning, rather than emotion. I value my health and well being, physically and mentally, more now than ever before.
As I look forward to next year, I’m grateful for everyone that has led me to where and who I am today. I’m excited to see what next year will bring and how many more opportunities for growth there will be.