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28 August

The End of Solitude

The End of Solitude
By William Deresiewicz JANUARY 30, 2009

What does the contemporary self want? The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge — broadband tipping the Web from text to image, social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider — the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.

So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn’t say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can. I was told by one of her older relatives that a teenager I know had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month. That’s 100 a day, or about one every 10 waking minutes, morning, noon, and night, weekdays and weekends, class time, lunch time, homework time, and toothbrushing time. So on average, she’s never alone for more than 10 minutes at once. Which means, she’s never alone.

I once asked my students about the place that solitude has in their lives. One of them admitted that she finds the prospect of being alone so unsettling that she’ll sit with a friend even when she has a paper to write. Another said, why would anyone want to be alone?

To that remarkable question, history offers a number of answers. Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value. In particular, the act of being alone has been understood as an essential dimension of religious experience, albeit one restricted to a self-selected few. Through the solitude of rare spirits, the collective renews its relationship with divinity. The prophet and the hermit, the sadhu and the yogi, pursue their vision quests, invite their trances, in desert or forest or cave. For the still, small voice speaks only in silence. Social life is a bustle of petty concerns, a jostle of quotidian interests, and religious institutions are no exception. You cannot hear God when people are chattering at you, and the divine word, their pretensions notwithstanding, demurs at descending on the monarch and the priest. Communal experience is the human norm, but the solitary encounter with God is the egregious act that refreshes that norm. (Egregious, for no man is a prophet in his own land. Tiresias was reviled before he was vindicated, Teresa interrogated before she was canonized.) Religious solitude is a kind of self-correcting social mechanism, a way of burning out the underbrush of moral habit and spiritual custom. The seer returns with new tablets or new dances, his face bright with the old truth.

Like other religious values, solitude was democratized by the Reformation and secularized by Romanticism. In Marilynne Robinson’s interpretation, Calvinism created the modern self by focusing the soul inward, leaving it to encounter God, like a prophet of old, in “profound isolation.” To her enumeration of Calvin, Marguerite de Navarre, and Milton as pioneering early-modern selves we can add Montaigne, Hamlet, and even Don Quixote. The last figure alerts us to reading’s essential role in this transformation, the printing press serving an analogous function in the 16th and subsequent centuries to that of television and the Internet in our own. Reading, as Robinson puts it, “is an act of great inwardness and subjectivity.” “The soul encountered itself in response to a text, first Genesis or Matthew and then Paradise Lost or Leaves of Grass.” With Protestantism and printing, the quest for the divine voice became available to, even incumbent upon, everyone.

But it is with Romanticism that solitude achieved its greatest cultural salience, becoming both literal and literary. Protestant solitude is still only figurative. Rousseau and Wordsworth made it physical. The self was now encountered not in God but in Nature, and to encounter Nature one had to go to it. And go to it with a special sensibility: The poet displaced the saint as social seer and cultural model. But because Romanticism also inherited the 18th-century idea of social sympathy, Romantic solitude existed in a dialectical relationship with sociability — if less for Rousseau and still less for Thoreau, the most famous solitary of all, then certainly for Wordsworth, Melville, Whitman, and many others. For Emerson, “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society.” The Romantic practice of solitude is neatly captured by Trilling’s “sincerity”: the belief that the self is validated by a congruity of public appearance and private essence, one that stabilizes its relationship with both itself and others. Especially, as Emerson suggests, one beloved other. Hence the famous Romantic friendship pairs: Goethe and Schiller, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Hawthorne and Melville.

Modernism decoupled this dialectic. Its notion of solitude was harsher, more adversarial, more isolating. As a model of the self and its interactions, Hume’s social sympathy gave way to Pater’s thick wall of personality and Freud’s narcissism — the sense that the soul, self-enclosed and inaccessible to others, can’t choose but be alone. With exceptions, like Woolf, the modernists fought shy of friendship. Joyce and Proust disparaged it; D.H. Lawrence was wary of it; the modernist friendship pairs — Conrad and Ford, Eliot and Pound, Hemingway and Fitzgerald — were altogether cooler than their Romantic counterparts. The world was now understood as an assault on the self, and with good reason.

The Romantic ideal of solitude developed in part as a reaction to the emergence of the modern city. In modernism, the city is not only more menacing than ever, it has become inescapable, a labyrinth: Eliot’s London, Joyce’s Dublin. The mob, the human mass, presses in. Hell is other people. The soul is forced back into itself — hence the development of a more austere, more embattled form of self-validation, Trilling’s “authenticity,” where the essential relationship is only with oneself. (Just as there are few good friendships in modernism, so are there few good marriages.) Solitude becomes, more than ever, the arena of heroic self-discovery, a voyage through interior realms made vast and terrifying by Nietzschean and Freudian insights. To achieve authenticity is to look upon these visions without flinching; Trilling’s exemplar here is Kurtz. Protestant self-examination becomes Freudian analysis, and the culture hero, once a prophet of God and then a poet of Nature, is now a novelist of self — a Dostoyevsky, a Joyce, a Proust.

But we no longer live in the modernist city, and our great fear is not submersion by the mass but isolation from the herd. Urbanization gave way to suburbanization and with it the universal threat of loneliness. What technologies of transportation exacerbated — we could live farther and farther apart — technologies of communication redressed — we could bring ourselves closer and closer together. Or at least, so we have imagined. The first of these technologies, the first simulacrum of proximity, was the telephone. “Reach out and touch someone.” But through the 70s and 80s, our isolation grew. Suburbs, sprawling ever farther, became exurbs. Families grew smaller or splintered apart, mothers left the home to work. The electronic hearth became the television in every room. Even in childhood, certainly in adolescence, we were each trapped inside our own cocoon. Soaring crime rates, and even more sharply escalating rates of moral panic, pulled children off the streets. The idea that you could go outside and run around the neighborhood with your friends, once unquestionable, has now become unthinkable. The child who grew up between the world wars as part of an extended family within a tight-knit urban community became the grandparent of a kid who sat alone in front of a big television, in a big house, on a big lot. We were lost in space.

Under those circumstances, the Internet arrived as an incalculable blessing. We should never forget that. It has allowed isolated people to communicate with one another and marginalized people to find one another. The busy parent can stay in touch with far-flung friends. The gay teenager no longer has to feel like a freak. But as the Internet’s dimensionality has grown, it has quickly become too much of a good thing. Ten years ago we were writing e-mail messages on desktop computers and transmitting them over dial-up connections. Now we are sending text messages on our cellphones, posting pictures on our Facebook pages, and following complete strangers on Twitter. A constant stream of mediated contact, virtual, notional, or simulated, keeps us wired into the electronic hive — through contact, or at least two-way contact, seems increasingly beside the point. The goal now, it seems, is simply to become known, to turn oneself into a sort of miniature celebrity. How many friends do I have on Facebook? How many people are reading my blog? How many Google hits does my name generate? Visibility secures our self-esteem, becoming a substitute, twice removed, for genuine connection. Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Now, it is impossible to be alone.

As a result, we are losing both sides of the Romantic dialectic. What does friendship mean when you have 532 “friends”? How does it enhance my sense of closeness when my Facebook News Feed tells me that Sally Smith (whom I haven’t seen since high school, and wasn’t all that friendly with even then) “is making coffee and staring off into space”? My students told me they have little time for intimacy. And of course, they have no time at all for solitude.

But at least friendship, if not intimacy, is still something they want. As jarring as the new dispensation may be for people in their 30s and 40s, the real problem is that it has become completely natural for people in their teens and 20s. Young people today seem to have no desire for solitude, have never heard of it, can’t imagine why it would be worth having. In fact, their use of technology — or to be fair, our use of technology — seems to involve a constant effort to stave off the possibility of solitude, a continuous attempt, as we sit alone at our computers, to maintain the imaginative presence of others. As long ago as 1952, Trilling wrote about “the modern fear of being cut off from the social group even for a moment.” Now we have equipped ourselves with the means to prevent that fear from ever being realized. Which does not mean that we have put it to rest. Quite the contrary. Remember my student, who couldn’t even write a paper by herself. The more we keep aloneness at bay, the less are we able to deal with it and the more terrifying it gets.

There is an analogy, it seems to me, with the previous generation’s experience of boredom. The two emotions, loneliness and boredom, are closely allied. They are also both characteristically modern. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citations of either word, at least in the contemporary sense, date from the 19th century. Suburbanization, by eliminating the stimulation as well as the sociability of urban or traditional village life, exacerbated the tendency to both. But the great age of boredom, I believe, came in with television, precisely because television was designed to palliate that feeling. Boredom is not a necessary consequence of having nothing to do, it is only the negative experience of that state. Television, by obviating the need to learn how to make use of one’s lack of occupation, precludes one from ever discovering how to enjoy it. In fact, it renders that condition fearsome, its prospect intolerable. You are terrified of being bored — so you turn on the television.

I speak from experience. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored since boredom creates a market for stimulation.) It took me years to discover — and my nervous system will never fully adjust to this idea; I still have to fight against boredom, am permanently damaged in this respect — that having nothing to do doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The alternative to boredom is what Whitman called idleness: a passive receptivity to the world.
So it is with the current generation’s experience of being alone. That is precisely the recognition implicit in the idea of solitude, which is to loneliness what idleness is to boredom. Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself. Some degree of boredom and loneliness is to be expected, especially among young people, given the way our human environment has been attenuated. But technology amplifies those tendencies. You could call your schoolmates when I was a teenager, but you couldn’t call them 100 times a day. You could get together with your friends when I was in college, but you couldn’t always get together with them when you wanted to, for the simple reason that you couldn’t always find them. If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude.

And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life — of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing “in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures,” “bait[ing our] hooks with darkness.” Lost, too, is the related propensity for sustained reading. The Internet brought text back into a televisual world, but it brought it back on terms dictated by that world — that is, by its remapping of our attention spans. Reading now means skipping and skimming; five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity. This is not reading as Marilynne Robinson described it: the encounter with a second self in the silence of mental solitude.

But we no longer believe in the solitary mind. If the Romantics had Hume and the modernists had Freud, the current psychological model — and this should come as no surprise — is that of the networked or social mind. Evolutionary psychology tells us that our brains developed to interpret complex social signals. According to David Brooks, that reliable index of the social-scientific zeitgeist, cognitive scientists tell us that “our decision-making is powerfully influenced by social context”; neuroscientists, that we have “permeable minds” that function in part through a process of “deep imitation”; psychologists, that “we are organized by our attachments”; sociologists, that our behavior is affected by “the power of social networks.” The ultimate implication is that there is no mental space that is not social (contemporary social science dovetailing here with postmodern critical theory). One of the most striking things about the way young people relate to one another today is that they no longer seem to believe in the existence of Thoreau’s “darkness.”

The MySpace page, with its shrieking typography and clamorous imagery, has replaced the journal and the letter as a way of creating and communicating one’s sense of self. The suggestion is not only that such communication is to be made to the world at large rather than to oneself or one’s intimates, or graphically rather than verbally, or performatively rather than narratively or analytically, but also that it can be made completely. Today’s young people seem to feel that they can make themselves fully known to one another. They seem to lack a sense of their own depths, and of the value of keeping them hidden.

If they didn’t, they would understand that solitude enables us to secure the integrity of the self as well as to explore it. Few have shown this more beautifully than Woolf. In the middle of Mrs. Dalloway, between her navigation of the streets and her orchestration of the party, between the urban jostle and the social bustle, Clarissa goes up, “like a nun withdrawing,” to her attic room. Like a nun: She returns to a state that she herself thinks of as a kind of virginity. This does not mean she’s a prude. Virginity is classically the outward sign of spiritual inviolability, of a self untouched by the world, a soul that has preserved its integrity by refusing to descend into the chaos and self-division of sexual and social relations. It is the mark of the saint and the monk, of Hippolytus and Antigone and Joan of Arc. Solitude is both the social image of that state and the means by which we can approximate it. And the supreme image in Mrs. Dalloway of the dignity of solitude itself is the old woman whom Clarissa catches sight of through her window. “Here was one room,” she thinks, “there another.” We are not merely social beings. We are each also separate, each solitary, each alone in our own room, each miraculously our unique selves and mysteriously enclosed in that selfhood.

To remember this, to hold oneself apart from society, is to begin to think one’s way beyond it. Solitude, Emerson said, “is to genius the stern friend.” “He who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from traveling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” One must protect oneself from the momentum of intellectual and moral consensus — especially, Emerson added, during youth. “God is alone,” Thoreau said, “but the Devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion.” The university was to be praised, Emerson believed, if only because it provided its charges with “a separate chamber and fire” — the physical space of solitude. Today, of course, universities do everything they can to keep their students from being alone, lest they perpetrate self-destructive acts, and also, perhaps, unfashionable thoughts. But no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude. “The saint and poet seek privacy,” Emerson said, “to ends the most public and universal.” We are back to the seer, seeking signposts for the future in splendid isolation.

Solitude isn’t easy and isn’t for everyone. It has undoubtedly never been the province of more than a few. “I believe,” Thoreau said, “that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark.” Teresa and Tiresias will always be the exceptions, or to speak in more relevant terms, the young people — and they still exist — who prefer to loaf and invite their soul, who step to the beat of a different drummer. But if solitude disappears as a social value and social idea, will even the exceptions remain possible? Still, one is powerless to reverse the drift of the culture. One can only save oneself — and whatever else happens, one can still always do that. But it takes a willingness to be unpopular.

The last thing to say about solitude is that it isn’t very polite. Thoreau knew that the “doubleness” that solitude cultivates, the ability to stand back and observe life dispassionately, is apt to make us a little unpleasant to our fellows, to say nothing of the offense implicit in avoiding their company. But then, he didn’t worry overmuch about being genial. He didn’t even like having to talk to people three times a day, at meals; one can only imagine what he would have made of text-messaging. We, however, have made of geniality — the weak smile, the polite interest, the fake invitation — a cardinal virtue. Friendship may be slipping from our grasp, but our friendliness is universal. Not for nothing does “gregarious” mean “part of the herd.” But Thoreau understood that securing one’s self-possession was worth a few wounded feelings. He may have put his neighbors off, but at least he was sure of himself. Those who would find solitude must not be afraid to stand alone.

William Deresiewicz writes essays and reviews for a variety of publications. He taught at Yale University from 1998 to 2008.

blog
19 August

The 7 Steps of Goal Setting

Link to print out is here.

The Seven Steps of Goal Setting – Zig Ziglar (7 Steps to Success)

1. IDENTIFY THE GOAL If you don’t identify a target you will never hit it. When you identify a goal it means that you write it down and describe it clearly. Don’t set any nebulous targets. If you want to have specific success you must have specific targets. A goal “To improve my results” or “To spend more time on homework” is not specific. A specific goal would be “To increase my marks by 10% for each subject”.

2. LIST THE BENEFITS WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME? Once you identify a specific goal you need to list the benefits you will receive when you reach that goal. Let’s face it, we only do the things we want to do and are willing to do. If there are no personal benefits your motivation for completing the goal will be diminished. You will need all the personal motivation you can muster, and understanding what’s in it for you is vitally important.

3. LIST THE OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME There will be some rough spots on your journey as you work to achieve your goals. Many of them can be anticipated and if you can anticipate something you can prepare yourself in advance to overcome it. So, think it through and make a complete list of all the things that can prevent you from being successful. If you can’t think of everything, ask a trusted friend who knows you well to help you finish the list.

4. LIST THE SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED Knowledge gives us the power to accomplish things we would not otherwise be able to do, and skills give us the tools to take advantage of our knowledge. There is a direct relationship between knowing and doing, and successfully accomplishing your goals will require that powerful combination.

5. IDENTIFY THE PEOPLE AND GROUPS TO WORK WITH People do a better job when we have the help of others. They can help us with knowledge and skill and can offer valuable advice we need to be successful. So when you set your goals always consider the people and the groups you can work with that can help you be more successful.

6. DEVELOP A PLAN OF ACTION This is the most critical step and it involves thinking through the details of how you will achieve your goal.

7. SET A DEADLINE FOR ACHIEVEMENT If you don’t set a deadline for completing your goals you will not be able to be accountable to yourself, or anyone else. If you are not accountable for your goals you will not achieve them.

blog
12 August

Potential

Potential.

Everybody has it.

Few reach it.

It’s easy to assume that people despise mediocrity because the world is littered with evidence of humanity’s desire to excel—our obsession with talent, our reverence for heroes, even our love of money. It’s easy to assume that everyone wants to be his or her physical best because everywhere there are those wishing for a better body type or a better lifestyle. They fill our virgin ears with a symphony of sincerity and aspiration but listen closer. They clamor with empty voices.

The truth is that 90% of people just want to get by. We pretend our ultimate goal is to be the best version of ourselves, reading the right literature, quoting the right sources, joining the right gyms; but the reality is far less compelling. If we are truly honest we will admit that the level to which we might possibly rise is rarely our chief concern. More important is reaching the level where we can merely survive or, at the very least, mock survival. Getting there is much easier. Getting there requires less time, less pain, and less effort. Getting there is too often “there enough”.

I was speaking with my father the other day about a friend of ours whose son wanted to be a college football player. He had good size and natural talent, but he was a little slow and lacked the explosive quality most big programs look for in an athlete. One evening while having dinner with this family my dad suggested that the kid hang a bell at the top of the hill abutting their property and ring it every morning before going to school. Not only would sprinting up the hill begin to build the explosive power needed for speed and acceleration but the sound of the bell would become a symbol of his dedication to the goal. I wish I could say the kid went out and rang that bell every day, or committed himself to some other program in its place, but this isn’t that kind of story. He, like many others like him, chose instead to remain a card-carrying member of that mediocre 90%.

Why? Because greatness is HARD. Our bodies don’t care about potential. They were built to survive, not to excel, and survival has gotten pretty easy as of late. Our bodies don’t know that by being stronger and faster and leaner the likelihood of illness, disease, and injury drop dramatically. Our bodies only know that it hurts like hell getting there. It takes supreme physical and mental fortitude and an unflinching, genuine ambition to overcome these hurdles. Most of us lack this and it shows.

Now, maybe this kid would never have been great like Peyton Manning or Jerry Rice or Ray Lewis, just like some of us will always be at a higher risk for diabetes or arthritis than others, but that really isn’t the point. In this story his ability wasn’t being measured against theirs or any others, only against his own potential as an individual. He claimed that he wanted to be the best that he could be, to give himself the best chance to be a college football player. But when faced with the reality of what it would take to reach that goal he balked, exposing his ambitions as half-hearted and insincere, and his athletic future to be one ridden along the tired road to the middle.

This is an all too common tragedy.

After hearing this story, I sat for a minute and observed my father. He was visibly disappointed by the kid’s inability to commit himself to his goal. Yet I knew for a fact that my dad had wanted to lose weight for years and failed to commit himself to doing so in much the same way. This struck me as a prevailing irony, not just in this conversation but in our culture in general, so I decided to ask him when was the last time he “rang the bell.” He was lost for a second, then smiled wryly as he got my meaning. “Too long,” he replied.

Sadly, it seems that our praise of greatness and our distaste for mediocrity is an appreciation and expectation reserved for others. We expect Jordan or Tiger or Ronaldo to reach their potential every time they compete and we shake our heads when they fall short. But we shrug off our love handles and that occasional chocolate cake as acceptable losses. We cry for the children growing up without physical opportunities, yet lie on the couch and amicably waste ours away. We claim we’re too old, too fat, too injured, or too tired. The truth is we’re too obsessed with getting by.

The good news is that physical potential does not expire. It has no shelf life. Whatever state you’re in at whatever moment, you can always be better. SO BE BETTER. Too often people try to do this by setting a number to hit, a person to beat, or a mirror to impress, implicitly attaching a finite quality to the process. This focus is flawed. As you change and improve, so too should your potential growth and your ambition swell. Remember that fitness is a goal inadvertently attained through the systematic overestimation of yourself in all fields. It’s a byproduct of setting the bar too high, of striving for perfection and falling just short. It’s knowing that you’ll never get there but trying your hardest nonetheless. It’s constantly pushing your limits in every direction regardless of your skill. It’s finding a way to keep ringing the bell.
Do this and we inevitably yield the best version of ourselves.

Post courtesy of Blair Morrison – Anywherefit

blog
27 July

Do you have an “Appetite of Opportunity”? (Strategies for Eating Out)

Appetite of Opportunity

One of the key things we know about sustainable good eating habits is that “failing to plan is planning to fail”.  In this article, I’d like to talk about having a plan for when you are going out to eat.  One of the biggest, most telling, tools I use when talking to people about making dietary changes is a simple question:

“Do you know what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, tomorrow?”

And I don’t mean ‘kinda know’. I mean know specifically what you will be eating. People who make great progress, or who maintain a good level of bodyfat, will usually know this, as well as the next day, and the next!

They go to the grocery store to buy specific items for the meals they plan on eating. At first, they probably follow a specific shopping list to help them pick the right items so they can combine them in the tasty meals that will fuel their lives, and that they can prepare according to their schedules.

We talk about how to create a ‘Food Matrix’ (to help you plan) in our workshops, and we’ll post an article about that soon. The gist of it is that 3 meals a day with a snack works out to (7 days x 4 ‘meals’ = ) 28 times to cook/prepare. If you cook 5 combinations a week, and cook so you get 5-6 servings per combination, you’ll have all of your meals for the entire week!

The extreme example of this is to cook all of your food on one day, then pre-package everything for the rest of the week. Most people will budget enough time throughout the week to prepare 3-4 times, and make sure they have enough left overs to carry them over.

Now that we have covered how to plan for eating at home, let’s talk about going out to eat.

Having a plan for eating out will help you stay on track, while also not looking like a weirdo when you pull out your own packaged food at a restaurant. I define ‘eating out’ as going to a restaurant for dinner, buying lunch at work, stopping by to pick something up on the way home, etc.

First and foremost, you need to decide if you are going out to eat for sustenance, or for pleasure.

For many people, eating out was a treat growing up. It didn’t happen all of the time, and it meant that you got to eat foods you don’t normally eat. Restaurants naturally cater to this by making their foods as tasty as possible (so you’ll buy more).

This is where I came up with the term ‘Appetite of Opportunity’.
When faced with tasty foods that you don’t normally eat (that you just paid for), you are likely to eat more than you normally would. You are going to order lots of different things. You are going to eat as much as you can (not as much as you need). You have the ‘opportunity’ to eat lots of yummy food, so you are going to have an ‘appetite’ to match.

There is nothing wrong with this on occasion! Eating food should be used as a time to enjoy ourselves and connect with other humans. The problem comes up when we mix up our intent of ‘eating for pleasure’ and ‘eating for sustenance’.

If you are dining at restaurants frequently, you need to go with the intent of eating for sustenance most of the time. Select an establishment that has healthy options. Pick the right things on the menu. Only eat what you need and take home the rest.

About once per week, or 2-3 times per month, eat with gusto. Enjoy the food and the company you are eating with. Do not stress about the food or how many calories you ate. Order the appetizer and the desert. One “bad” meal in 30 or 40 will not derail your goals! You want your friends to wonder in amazement at your gains while still being someone who can put away so much delicious food!

Tips for eating for sustenance at restaurants:
Decide BEFORE if you are eating for sustenance or for pleasure!

Location, location, location! Go to an establishment where you can get decent meat and vegetables. Chipotle, Baja Fresh, Steak Houses, Seafood, Whole Foods, or any place with a good omelet.
Be picky on the menu. A ‘salad’ may be good, but one loaded with croutons, dressing, candied nuts, etc. and is the size of a manhole cover, is bad. Find something loaded with veggies (REAL veggies and not corn, potatoes, and the like), and a good amount of protein.

Change up the order. Get the burrito in a bowl. Get the burger without a bun. Switch the potatoes out for veggies. Ask for fruit instead of toast.

Don’t eat the bread/chips they offer for ‘free’. These filler foods actually make you eat more of your entrée!

Know your portions. Divvy up your plate before you dive in. Eat slowly, and plan on taking the rest home, leaving it, sharing it, or giving it to someone outside who may need it more than you!
Suppress the “Appetite of Opportunity”! Fill up on the healthy stuff, and don’t just keep eating because the food is in front of you. You aren’t going to starve if you don’t eat until you are stuffed!
Side note: Many people believe that eating healthy is expensive. Research says that this is not the case. The reality is that eating healthy food, prepared by someone else for money, can get expensive. If you are looking to save some dough (pun intended), put more time into preparing your own meals. Save the money for ‘going big’ when you are eating for pleasure!

I hope this helps you plan for success, while still enabling you to enjoy life’s pleasures. While it is okay to stretch our willpower for short periods of time, it is much more important to build habits that take us where we want to go while still enjoying the journey!

blog
20 July

Metabolic Conditioning And The Fitness Pyramid

By Zeke Cutler

The image below represents the fitness pyramid that we use as a framework for athletic development when working with athletes of all shapes and sizes. The important idea with any pyramid is that it is built from the bottom up.

This pyramid takes our key components of fitness and places them in building order. The bottom of any pyramid has to be the strongest because it supports everything that is built on top of it. You cannot reach the top without first establishing a solid foundation. If the base of the pyramid is not solidified then your entire pyramid will collapse.

At the bottom of this pyramid, we can find nutrition. As many of us know how we fuel our bodies will greatly determine how well we perform. If you are not taking in enough healthy and beneficial nutrients then your overall health will lack greatly. Once our nutrition is in check we can then move on to the next building block called metabolic conditioning. This idea of metabolic training refers to conditioning exercises intended to increase the storage and delivery of energy for an activity. Our body has 3 main energy systems, ATP-phosphate (explosive power), glycolytic (mid-distance), and oxidative (>90 seconds) and we should be able to utilize each of these.

Too many times I feel like many athletes overlook this vital component of our pyramid, metabolic conditioning. If your goal is striving for fitness then this cannot be ignored. This also means working out in all aspects of our metabolic conditioning. Not only doing the short 5-7 minute workouts. We must exercise our anaerobic side along with our aerobic side. If you’re the person that cherry picks and only does short 7-minute workouts and skips the longer conditioning workouts then your overall fitness is going to lack. While 1 rep maxes and short workouts are fun, it is not what our pyramid is built upon. Build the foundation or the entire pyramid will collapse.

Stick with the programming and as I’ve said before DON’T cherry pick.

See you all at the box!

 

blog
17 July

Olympic Lifts And Their Place In Your Training Program

When I was in High School in the early 1990’s weight lifting was not part of my athletic training on a regular basis. About the only sports that had any emphasis on weight lifting was Football and Wrestling. Basketball and Track athletes just didn’t spend much time in the weight room during that time. That was a real shame because every athlete should be spending a lot of time developing strength and speed. It wasn’t until my freshmen year at Indiana University that I got introduced to weight lifting on a much larger scale. I was recruited to run track and field by Sam Bell and the staff he had in place at IU took a very different stance on power and strength and the importance of it in a sport.

I was first introduced to Olympic lifting by now former head of USA Weightlifting Coach Frank Ecksten. He would always watch me Olympic lift and say “Stien, being strong and slow isn’t going to help you much in sports”. Frank would always tell me that I had to use my God given speed the correct way in the Olympic lifts. Then he would say watch those guys over there move. He was referring to the massive human beings across the weight room from me. They were the following individuals: Coach Randy Heisler (Former Olympic Discus Thrower and eventual men’s Head Track coach at IU), Gregg Hart (Multiple Big Ten Championships in the discus and school record holder), Brett Sullivan (Shot Put 62’ and Discus Thrower), and Zach Fleming (Big Ten Outdoor Shot Champion 60+ feet). This squad was the epitome of power and strength. I remember watching them lift and thinking how it could be possible to snatch and clean the weights that they were moving? Most of them weighed in around 125 to 140 kilos and pretty much all of them could power snatch upwards of 125 kilos. I think that was the point Frank was trying to make to me. I had to learn to move efficiently and with a lot of speed to produce that much force on the bar.

What is the importance of the Olympic Lifts and why should we include them in our strength and conditioning programs? First, nothing produces more power output than the snatch and the clean and jerk. When you take into consideration the weight moved, the distance it travels and how it must accelerate nothing even comes close. That is why weightlifters are so athletic. Those guys listed above with the exception of one also had 35 plus inch vertical jumps as well. Athleticism is determined by how well one moves when it matters most (Strictly opinion here). If you have a big athletic guy or girl who can’t move on the field or floor, then they are really not going to help you much when the game is on the line. There is an overall awareness of the body in sport. In fact, if one is aware of their body in space that is a behavior that is hard to improve upon. If you can snatch a heavy weight of over 125 kilos, then you have incredible body awareness (This is also known as kinesthetic awareness).

Dan Brown owner of Lift Lab Co. gives another reason athletes should add Olympic Lifts to their training regiments. “At the end of the day, I like to tell people this. Weightlifting is not a strength sport. It is a change of direction sport. The sport is about how fast you can get up and get down. Weightlifting is about producing, absorbing, and transferring force. Are these not the characteristics you want of your athletes? Don’t we want to increase the speed at which they change direction? Don’t we want them to be able to produce large amounts of force when a ball is snapped (Produce force). Don’t we want them to stand their ground when someone hits them? (Absorb force) Don’t we want them to be able to redirect an athlete that runs into them? (Transfer force)”.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples I have heard to illustrate the importance of weightlifting. There are also other benefits from Olympic lifts that include balance, speed, accuracy, agility, timing, core stabilization to name a few.

The key to adding these lifts to your training programs is being able to teach them effectively, and that is our goal at Notch 8 Barbell. We want to educate everybody on how to perform the lifts safely and successfully. I like to teach using the ARM method. ARM stands for Accountability, Repetition, and Mechanics. Think of this like a three legged stool, if you are missing one leg of the stool then you will fall over! If you have no experience with the quick lifts, that is okay, we can help you learn! Whether your goal is to become a competitive lifter or a better teacher of the lifts yourself, Notch 8 Barbell is here to help! Contact us today to schedule your first free trial session with our coaching staff!

JD Stien
Notch 8 Barbell Head Coach
USAW-1 Sports Performance Coach

blog
05 October

Celebrate the Quiet Personal Bests

By Esther Stien

“I want to get a pull-up.”

“My goal is to be able to do a muscle-up.”

When it comes to gymnastics, there’s no question getting your first pull-up and your first muscle-up are incredibly rewarding moments.  But sometimes by putting so much emphasis on such tangible milestones, we forget to celebrate the smaller personal bests—and the equally as important milestones—along the way.

Think about your pulling strength—your eventual road to a pull-up and muscle-up as being on a 100-step staircase.  In this way, pull-ups and a muscle-up are simply just two other steps on the staircase, no less, or no more important, than the step before or the step after.  Using this analogy, let’s say a ring row with a perfectly horizontal body is step 25 on the staircase, while a pull-up is step 50, and a muscle-up is step 75.  The pulling strength you gain going from step 49 to step 50 is equivalent to the strength gained moving from step 50 to 51 (where step 51 might mean you can do 2 consecutive pull-ups), yet we’re more likely to celebrate reaching step 50 than 51. I ask why.  Why is getting a pull-up somehow more important than being able to do two consecutive pull-ups?  It comes down to ego and our perception of what is important.  But if you change the way you think about your pulling gains-and your fitness in general-to being a staircase where no one step is more important than any other, you will have way more to celebrate along the way. You also won’t get as frustrated and impatient waiting to reach step 50 because you’ll also get enjoyment reaching step 46, 47, 48, and 49, too.

My challenge to you:  Set 5 small goals along the way to your ultimate goal, and remember to pat your-self on the back when you reach them.  Because, gains are gains!

blog
13 September

3 Reasons to REMEMBER your numbers!

by Zeke Cutler

As coaches, we can’t help but get a little heavy-hearted when we ask a client a question such as, ‘What’s your 1RM clean?’ and we are met with a blank stare. Worse still is a confused look followed by, ‘Which one’s the clean again?’

Let me reiterate: WE DO NOT care what your numbers are. This is a big reason why we use the TrainHeroic app. You are able to view the WODs, and log workout times and weights to keep an accurate history. You can even keep your own personal Excel spreadsheet or notebook to log workouts and lifts. The important thing is that you DO remember your numbers—no matter what fitness level you’re at!

Why?

1. For the sake of your fitness!

Being aware of how much you can back squat, front squat, shoulder press and snatch is going to help you continuously make strength gains in the gym.

Let’s say, for example, tomorrow’s lifting session is 5 sets of 3 back squats at 80% of your 1 RM, and you have no idea what a heavy back squat is for you—let alone a 1RM—then you’ll essentially be playing the guessing game during your strength session. You might end up going too heavy, or too light, or wasting valuable time figuring out how heavy you should be lifting that you might even run out of time to finish your working sets. Bottom line: You will not get the most bang for your buck if you don’t have a good understanding of what your body can do.

Similarly, when it comes to the conditioning workout, if you know, for example, exactly how many pull-ups you can do when you’re fresh, or what your best power snatch is, it will allow the coach to help you scale the workout properly so you’re able to preserve the intended stimulus of the day.
What’s the intended stimulus of the day, you ask?

By this, I mean each workout we do has a specific intention. Fran (21-15-9 thrusters and pull-ups), for example, is meant to be a sprint. If done correctly, Fran should challenge your lungs, and maybe your pull-up muscular endurance. If Fran takes you longer than 7 minutes to complete, it isn’t going to do this. In other words, a 15-minute Fran is more of a test of strength than anything, which is fine; however, if tomorrow’s workout is also a strength workout, then you will not reap the benefits of this week’s aerobic capacity threshold test if you don’t scale Fran properly.

To help you scale Fran properly, it’s imperative you know your numbers and skill level: You need to be aware of what a heavy front squat, thruster and press is for you, as well as where you’re pulling strength is at.

In short, knowing your fitness numbers will ensure your fitness is always improving!

2. For the sake of your happiness!

PRs do two things:

1. They drive people nuts on social media when you constantly post about your #gainz
2. They make you feel warm and fuzzy inside

Let’s focus on the latter…

It’s human nature to be excited about tangible achievements.

There’s nothing like the feeling of doing something you didn’t think you’d ever be able to do, whether this means getting your first pull-up or muscle-up, or hitting a back squat personal best.

Further, once you’ve been training for a while, PRs happen less and less frequently. But even if you’re plateau-ing in one area, you’re probably still improving somewhere else. And being in touch with where you’re at will help you appreciate wherever you’re improving.

If you have no clue where you’re at, and you show up everyday like a blank slate, you’re essentially stripping yourself of many of the joys that go along with working hard on your fitness.

3. For the sake of your coach!

When an entire group class of 20 athletes knows their numbers, the entire class will benefit from better coaching.

One person in the class oblivious to what’s going on has the potential to interrupt the class and essentially hijack the coach’s time, leaving 19 others to their own devices. Meanwhile, when the coach doesn’t have to spend time talking about scaling and helping people figure out how much weight they should put on the bar, it frees him up to give ‘higher level’ coaching cues, be it strategic or technical.

So at the very least, even if you’re not sold on keeping track of your numbers for the sake of your fitness or your happiness, do it for your coach!

Write your scores down after each training session and set up a system that helps you easily refer back to your numbers. It’ll mean the next time you show up and you’re working with 80% of your 3 RM back squat, instead of feeling and looking perplexed, you can smile at your coach and confidently tell him how much weight you’re about to put on the bar. It will make his/her day. See you all at the box!

blog
29 August

Why is Changing your Diet SO DIFFICULT?

One of the absolute hardest things as a coach is getting our clients to change their diets. For whatever reason—lack of time, motivation, willpower, or a massive sugar-addiction — it’s much easier for people to commit to a gym routine than it is for them to stop eating processed foods, or to break their overeating habit.

I’m not suggesting there’s a magic-bullet solution; we believe in different strokes for different folks, but here is some FOOD for thought—and various options and resources — if you’re struggling to change your diet. Hopefully one will resonate with you.

1. The WholeLife Challenge!WLC red_logo

Check out their website here: https://www.wholelifechallenge.com

We are excited to take part and represent Notch 8 in this challenge! Don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity in having access to the IN-Body testing before (Saturday Sept.17th, and after the challenge as well). This body measurement testing will give you a baseline of data before and at the completion of the Whole Life Challenge. Sign-up is at the front desk, follow the Facebook event page that was posted, or check out www.vitruviancomposition.com for more details.

Three things we like about the WLC:

TEAM ENVIRONMENT:

The WholeLife Challenge can be turned into a team competition. Having teammates to lean on, who are going through the same thing as you are—as well as having support and people to hold you accountable—really resonates with many WholeLife Challengers, who have had great success improving their diet and body composition.

MORE THAN NUTRITION:

When you sign up for the WLC, you will be asked to track not just your diet, but also things like your hydration, fitness, mobility and sleep. The idea is this challenge is meant to improve your entire lifestyle, not just your body composition.

VARIOUS LEVELS:

Not everyone is looking to follow the same diet, and not everyone is ready to eliminate everything all at once. The WLC offer various levels, so to speak, that allow you to choose how extreme you want to be with your changes.

2. Develop a healthy relationship with food

As a registered dietician and professor at the University of Western Ontario, Jennifer Broxterman, who also owns NutritionRx (http://www.nutritionrx.ca), reiterates the importance of developing a healthy relationship with food.

But what does that even mean?

“If you’re questioning whether you have a good relationship with food, think about your relationship with water. You drink water throughout the day, but there’s no pressure about how much to drink or when to drink. You drink when you’re thirsty,” Broxterman said. “Most people have a natural relationship with water.”

She added: “If you’re thinking about food every 5 minutes, if it’s always on your mind, and you’ve lost that natural ability to listen to your body, then you probably don’t have a healthy relationship with food.”

One way to help become healthier is to stop labelling foods as good foods and bad foods, and to stop beating yourself up when you mess up, she explained.

“One of the things I often tell people is it’s a lot like brushing your teeth. Everyone has forgotten to brush their teeth here or there, but you normally don’t beat yourself up about it. Not brushing your teeth once does not lead to a spiral effect of not brushing your teeth for a week. But that often happens with food. Someone ‘cheats,’ and then this spirals into a week of bad eating,” she said.

While Broxterman believes it is important to eat whole, unprocessed foods most of the time, she believes it’s equally as important to indulge guilt-free here and there. The guilt-free part is the key, she said.

It is the wanting what you can’t have philosophy, she explained. Preventing yourself from ever having a cheat meal will only lead to obsessing about all the food you can’t eat more than you should.

The point is, if you mess up, forget about it and move on.

3. Nutrition Coaching with your personal Coach!

If you’re the type who needs one-on-one in-person coaching and someone to hold you accountable, then maybe it’s worth considering working with your coach.

If this is you, reach out to your coach and ask how he or she can help you reach your dietary goals.

blog
19 August

What being a MadLab Group member means to you—the client

– by Mark McCollum

If you have been coming here for a while, you’ve probably heard that we’re part of the MadLab Group (http://madlabgroup.com/).

But what exactly is the MadLab Group? And how does it affect you?

The MadLab Group is a worldwide network of gyms, who have worked together to figure out best practices. In other words, to figure out how to run a gym that best maximizes success for the clients, the coaches and the business.

5 MadLab Group Features that Pertain to YOU—the client

1. Fundamentals/Personal Training

When you started training with us, you most likely went through a one-on-one introductory ses-sion with a coach, and then 10-20 personal training sessions with this same coach, where he/she worked with you on your strengths and weaknesses and got you prepared for classes at a speed that was comfortable for you. And before you were graduated to group classes, you had to reach a certain fitness level before qualifying.

If we’re doing it right, then you probably developed a relationship with this coach and feel like you have someone in your corner helping you reach your health and fitness goals.

Can you imagine what your gym life would look like without having gone through personal train-ing? If you had been thrown right into the fire of group classes on day 1? If you would have been asked to snatch on day 2? It probably wouldn’t have gone all that well for you, right?

Many gyms do just that: They throw you directly into the fire of group classes, or they put you through a 12-person group fundamentals program and you never learn the movements properly because you don’t receive enough one-on-one attention. Best case scenario, you get by be-cause you happen to move well and be athletic. Worst case scenario, you get injured or over-whelmed and quit. Through it all, you never get the chance to really get to know your coach. In fact, you probably are never even given the option to have a personal coach.

A one-on-one intro day, followed by 10-20 personal training sessions, is part of the MadLab prescription. It’s what we have discovered is best for performance, for health and safety, and for longevity at the gym.

2. Coach for Life

We’re not interested in New Year’s revolutionist clients. We’re interested in clients who are looking for a coach and fitness program to keep them healthy and fit for life.

The same way most of us have a family doctor our entire lives, and likely an accountant and maybe even a lawyer, our hope is that your MadLab coach becomes your fitness, health and wellness, and nutrition coach for life—someone you turn to to help you when you’re 20, when you’re 40 and when you’re 85 years old.

Believe it or not, this is RARE in the fitness industry today. What is more common are personal trainers or CrossFit coaches who stick around for just a couple years. The reason they leave the industry is because they can’t make a living coaching. For the client this means the gym you’re at is often marred by a constant revolving door of coaches.

MadLab’s biggest goal is to professionalize the industry so its coaches can earn profes-sional wages and become career coaches—meaning they stick around for years, even decades.

For YOU, this means you won’t have a constant revolving door of coaches; you’ll have someone in your corner for life.

3. MadLab-trained Coaches

Let’s be honest: The fitness industry is somewhat messed up. Anyone can call himself a person-al trainer, whether he took a weekend course or did a four-year educational program.

MadLab coaches have all been through a two-year apprentice coach diploma program (the MadLab PCDP—professional coach diploma program) (More on the details of PCDP in an upcoming post).

In short, your coach knows what he’s/she’s talking about—how to keep you working toward you goals, and how to keep you injury-free.

4. Hybrid Memberships

Maybe you have taken advantage of our hybrid membership options, and maybe you have not.

But one of the features of a MadLab Group gym is you always have the option to do extra one-on-one personal training on top of your group classes—even if you’re a five-year veteran—with your coach to work on any specific weaknesses or skills you want to improve upon. Another op-tion is to talk to your coach about getting an individual program.

5. Worldwide Network of Gyms

If you travel—for work or pleasure—there are MadLab gym’s all around the world. (Stay tuned for a map of all 180-plus MadLab facilities coming soon).

When you show up at a MadLab gym in another city and tell them where you’re from, not only will you have the piece of mind that you’re in good hands, you’ll get the royal treatment from the MadLab family.

Location
8131 Kingston St. Avon, IN 46123
Email
Send A Message
Phone
317-443-2152