Your competitive advantage is sitting right here

Investopedia is an encyclopedia…about investing.  Which is probably where they got the name.  According to them, competitive advantages are conditions that allow a company or country to produce a good or service of equal value at a lower price or in a more desirable fashion. These conditions allow the productive entity to generate more sales or superior margins compared to its market rivals.

What in the world does that have to do with anything?  We shall see…

As a person who lives here in the western hemisphere in 2018, you are no doubt interested in being at least somewhat efficient in how you spend your time, attention, and money.  None of us like to spin our wheels very long on a given task.  If we are going to go somewhere, do something, or spend our money on something, we like to see something for it.

This is usually why we spend money on plumbers, electricians, dentists, lawyers, and Amazon Prime.  Hiring a personal trainer or utilizing a personal trainer from time to time operates on the exact same principle and can end up making your training time, the time you are spending NOT doing a million other things, much more efficient and valuable.

You are saying, “What in the world are you talking about?  Give me an example for goodness sake!”

Ok…you got it.

I feel like it is low hanging fruit to discuss why and how personal training could benefit someone who is not training at all.  All the same, I might write about that case sometime in the future.

In this example let’s assume someone who is already working out somewhat regularly, probably on their own, pulling workouts out of Men’s Health or attending our group CrossFit classes 2-3 times per week.  This person knows what they are doing to a large degree and they spend 2-4 hours per week working out already.  How could personal training benefit a person like this?

In our experience, no matter how seasoned the athlete there are almost always a few things about them you can count on:

  1. There are things they like to do
  2. There are things they don’t like to do
  3. There are things they would like to improve

Piggybacking on those 3 things the following:

  1. They usually don’t have a hard time doing the things they like to do
  2. They usually have extremely clever ways of avoiding the things they don’t like to do
  3. They usually don’t have a clear plan on how to improve the things they would like to improve

Periodic personal training can help people recognize where they have deficiencies and create a program to address those deficiencies.

Often times we are good at finding workarounds for the things that give us trouble.  But it is oftentimes the case that addressing those deficiencies head-on is going to be the fastest way for us to accomplish that which we are after.

The most obvious example we have in our facility is working on mobility.  There are more pots of gold at the end of the rainbow than people we meet over age 12 who don’t have some sort of mobility limitation that could be improved.  Additionally, working on flexibility is something that almost no one will do on their own despite the fact that it is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle someone can do to actually feeling better (diet would be the other big one).

So where is the competitive advantage?  When you hire a CPA to do your taxes, you turn over your paperwork and they make sure all the “T’s” are crossed and “I’s” are dotted before you file with the IRS.  By working with a coach/trainer and getting work on areas you either don’t like to work on or don’t know how to work on, you can accelerate your progress toward the end you seek.  All you have to do is show up and do the plan that is laid out for you.

That’s it.  Using the resources around you to help you create and stick to a program that will help you get better at the things that are holding you back specifically.  Save the heavy brain cells for other things like deciding where to go on your next vacation.  Use the resources around you to make the most of your time and effeort!

Why goal-setting is an absolute MUST

Goal-setting is an absolute must for people who want to succeed, find their true purpose, and create joy in their lives. Without clear goals, you will not have a clear direction on where you’re heading in your life. When you know your life purpose, determine your vision, convert your desires into achievable goals and then act on them, you’re virtually guaranteed success.

Ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish, what do you want to experience? What do you want to acquire? Who do you want to be?

Follow this simple acrostic, SMART,and you’ll be well on your way.

S- Specific: Be specific, answer questions instead of creating ones. Make sure the goal is very specific.

M- Measurable: Include specific dates and exact amounts in your goal. An example is, I’d like to have 50K in recurring revenue by July, 2018.

A- Attainable: Your goal must be achievable and I recommend some breakthrough goals to get you there as well. These goals will really push you to attain.

R- Realistic: Does your reveal who you really are, your true purpose? Is it in lines with the culture that you have created?

T- Time-Bound: Have deadlines and create target dates for motivation and accountability.
This week the Whole Life Challenge says, “Making strides toward your heartfelt goals or intentions is likely one of the most fulfilling things you can do with your life. The goal of this practice is that you can not only achieve what is important to you now, but that you can become better at simply identifying what actually is important for you to pursue.”

NOW is the time to set those goals.
Go get it!

– Coach Esther Stien

GOMAD- Weightlifting and My Results

Strength, the pinnacle and building block of Weightlifting. There is no special magic sauce (That is legal), shortcut or way around moving more kilos. You can do one of two things to make this happen, improve mechanics or get stronger!  Of course there are a ton of variables at play here to become a more successful lifter, but one thing is certain if you want to get stronger you have to get under the barbell and move weights several times a week. Another important thing to remember is that Olympic Lifting is a weight class sport, and sometimes the call to move up a weight class is needed to get stronger. Mass moves mass, so if you hit thresholds and want to bust through them then maybe it’s time to try gaining some weight.


In November of 2017 I made a personal decision to jump from the 94 kilo class to the 105 kilos class.  I was competing at 91-93 kilos consistently and felt pretty good actually.  But turning 44 years of age soon and competing as a Master Weightlifter I knew that at some point in the near future I was going to shelf out and my gains would really slow down.  I wanted to make an attempt to put on around 10-15 good lbs of muscle to help me bust through that next threshold.  I decided to give the GOMAD a try for 30 days in January of 2018. What I am going to share is my experience with GOMAD and also my results at the end of the 30 day period.


What is GOMAD?

GOMAD is an old school technique that stands for GALLON OF MILK A DAY.  It is a method used for hard gainers (Like me) to gain size and muscle over a 30 day cycle.  I will tell you from personal experience that if you hear people say that the GOMAD is easy or wasn’t that hard, they aren’t being completely honest with you.  Honestly, GOMAD works for gaining size and strength, but no it isn’t much fun. I will let you decide if this plan might be right for you.  Keep in mind for length of this blog post, I am going over the finer points of this plan, there are pages all over the net you can read additional benefits and how this all works too.  So, what are some of the additional benefits for doing GOMAD?

Here are some benefits you can expect from GOMAD:

  • You will gain weight
  • You will gain strength
  • Milk is a cheap, natural source of ~2400 calories (128g of fat, 176g of carbs and 128g of protein)
  • Your appetite will increase (I found it hard sometimes to eat)

For those of you reading this at home we are talking about Whole Milk too!  2% and 1% milk are not going to yield you the results, you need those saturated fats to help boost your testosterone and aid your muscle gain. Most of the negative press you hear about GOMAD I never experienced, but there are sources out there that discuss these. Now, the claim is that you can gain 25-30lbs of mass in a month using GOMAD.  Well, I didn’t yield those results, but I did gain 14 lbs and saw huge strength gains in the month of January.My starting weight was 209lbs and my ending weight was 223lbs.  Did I eat as much as I normally did before starting?  Yup, I ate just as much if not more.  It helps to have a wife who cooks very healthy meals so that I get good dinners in each day also But, I will say that eating was really hard for me because I always felt so full from drinking milk.  Believe me it isn’t easy carrying a ½ Gallon jug with you all day long while you work.  I tried to take down a half gallon each morning by noon, and then finish the second gallon before I went to bed.  I also drank coffee and water too.  Two things will happen if you attempt this: You will pee almost every 45min to an hour and you will also become very ahem…regular if you know what I mean.


My personal results over a one month duration:

We are finishing a very aggressive 6 week cycle in preparation for the American Open Series 1 and the US Masters Nationals in April.  When I started the cycle my best Snatch was 110 Kilos and my Clean and Jerk was 140 kilos at 93 kilos (209lbs). By the end of the month I was weighing in at 101 kilos and can now snatch 118 kilos (260lbs) and have increased my clean and jerk to 145 kilos (318lbs).  We are also doing a front squat cycle and when we started my front squat max was 161 kilos (355lbs) and now I can perform 2×2 at that weight in 3 min on the clock.  I would guess when we test it again I should finish around 170 kilos (375lbs).  Now, these are real gains.  I want to discuss what happens when you stop drinking one gallon of milk a day now.  As soon as I stopped, I dropped about 6 lbs almost instantly.  But my strength gains remained, which was the goal all along.

Now, for you Crossfitters and whole 30 people trying to lose body fat percentage, this is NOT going to be for you.  I am guessing most women are not going to go for this either, unless they are serious competitive lifters who can’t gain weight easily.  But for skinny guys who are difficult weight gainers, maybe this is an option for you to bust through to that next level. Also remember, you can get plenty of gains eating a balanced healthy diet and following good programming cycles.  But if you need that extra push, give GOMAD a try, you might just find BIG gains right around the corner!

JD Stien

Notch 8 Barbell

USAW-1 Sports Performance Coach


Squats for the Booty and the Brain

Have you ever wondered what exercise has to offer outside of the physical world? Have you ever asked yourself what exercise does for your brain? I’m sure we have all heard the quote from the famous, Legally Blonde herself, Elle Woods, saying “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands.” According to science, when we exercise, we are in fact increasing the levels of neurotransmitters, essentially increasing our moods and relieving stress. When we experience stress, that stress releases a chemical, cortisol, which is very harmful towards our muscles and our gainz.

The director of strategy and program at the Center for Brain Health Brain Performance Institute, Dianna Purvis Jaffin, quotes: “What benefits the body benefits the brain. You are not a separate brain walking around on top of a body.” In the article, How Workouts Give Your Brain A Boost by Kristen Domonell, they identify the three brain benefits of exercise, those being: boost your mental fitness, banish stress for good, and age with grace. Take a read and see what your brain has to think of these!

Test your brain here!

-Coach Tara Heck


Social Media in Bed

Many of us stay up way too late in bed scrolling through social media before we actually fall asleep at night, but few actually pay attention to the negative effects this really has. I have  noticed this personally, how much harder it is just for me to fall asleep on the nights that I stay up staring at my iPhone. It is very easy to do, especially when you hear the phone buzz right next to you. It is hard to resist the urge of checking that latest notification and a common unhealthy habit done by SO many. A simple trick that is odd getting used to is just turning your phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode. You can also set up your phone to turn on to “Do Not Disturb” at the same time every night, that way you won’t have to remember to turn it on. Do this a few minutes before you actually begin to wind down for the night and I guarantee you WILL notice the difference. There has already been tons of research and scientific studies proving that late night social media scrolling and even late night television has a negative impact on our quality sleep at night.

Check out this article talking about some of the negative impacts these screens have at night: Scary Ways Technology Affects Your Sleep

-Zeke Cutler


What water does for us

H2Oh… Really?! Yes, I went there.. Because today’s topic is all about the importance of staying hydrated. What does water actually do for us and why is it so important.. Keep reading to find out.

As human beings, we physically can NOT live without water. It is the most critical nutrient that we can provide ourselves. Take a few seconds to think about how you feel when you’ve gone all days or even hours on end without drinking water. Probably sluggish, exhausted, unmotivated and unable to focus, etc. So, what does water actually do for us?

  1. Forms saliva (which aids in our digestion).
  2. It is needed by our brain to manufacture hormones and neurotransmitters- Our brain is actually composed of 95% water (which is why you might be having trouble focusing).
  3. Acts as a shock absorber for our brain and our spinal cord- (sounds pretty important if you ask me).
  4. Allows our body’s cells to grow, reproduce and survive.
  5. Regulates body temperature through sweating and respiration.
  6. Lubricates your joints.
  7. Flushes out body waste and toxins- (Keep track of how often you use the restroom throughout the day, you will notice a big change!)
  8. Helps deliver oxygen through our entire body.
  9. Essential in building muscle, strengthening, endurance, etc.


Let’s discuss number 9 briefly.. Water IS NECESSARY for building muscle, making your muscles stronger and increasing their endurance (aka how many reps you can do before fatigue!) Are muscles are made of mostly water so they NEED water to do the best they can do. Water helps transfer your nutrients and electrolytes to your muscles, keeps them full of energy and helps get rid of the toxins and wastes that your muscles might want to hold on to.. So drink that water and let’s recover together!

– Coach Samantha Jones


How exercise can change your life

How Exercise Can Change Your Life

What is exercise? According to, the true definition of exercise is: “bodily or mental exertion, especially for the sake of training or improvement of health.” The improvement of health is what really catches my eye. I think for the general population, most people don’t look at exercise as an improvement of health, rather than just a physical activity that we all dread to take on. So what is it that makes exercise so unappealing? Is it the thought of having to break from your recently addictive netflix series or is it the fact that you’ll have to get all sweaty and add a little extra effort into your daily schedule? On another point, what makes exercise worthwhile? To me, exercise is more than just the physical perspective, it’s emotional. Exercise is one of my biggest stress relievers; and when life gets just a little too crazy to handle, I know there is always a bar there when I need it.

Now, most people look at me and assume I’ve always been involved with fitness in some way. This statement may be true, but what most don’t know, is the reason behind it all. I was a competitive gymnast for fourteen years and let me tell you, exercise played a major role during that time. In gymnastics, conditioning and exercise is practically a fifth event. However, I wasn’t the athlete that looked towards it, like most. It wasn’t until a shoulder injury, causing me to leave the sport I so graciously loved, that exercise was the only thing I had left to look forward to. It was a completely new road for me, because for the last fourteen years of my life, I ate, slept, and breathed gymnastics, and in one blink of an eye, just like that, it wasn’t. So, like I said, exercise is my emotional outlet. When I no longer had gymnastics to lean on, I leaned on the gym. Even though I lost a love in my life, I found one in fitness. Exercise brought many benefits into my life to void what I lost after gymnastics. Exercise was more than just keeping me in shape, it brought joy into days where I needed it most, and it taught me patience, perseverance, and hope. Exercise soon began to shape my life, and shape the person I am today.


There is so much more to exercise than most people realize, far beyond just the improvements of our well-being. I recently stumbled upon a New York Times Article explaining the seven surprising benefits of exercise, those being: Exercise is great for the brain, you might get happier, it might make you age slower, It’ll make your skin look better, amazing things can happen in just a few minutes, it can help you recover from a major illness, and your fat cells will shrink. Exercise does more for a person than just the physical aspects. Take a read and find out what exercise can do for you.

Read more here!

-Coach Tara Heck

Quiet Time

Quiet Time

Is anyone else feeling rushed in the morning? Like there’s not enough time to get it all done before the day even really starts? No matter how early that alarm clock goes off it should have been earlier? Does chaos reign supreme as you hustle to start your day? Do you get out the door feeling off balance, already behind schedule and discouraged?

People who know me won’t be surprised that my morning routine was disciplined: workout; shower; pets tended; kids fed, situated and out the door; and last but not least, getting out the door myself. Hectic? Yes. Effective? Maybe. I began to find that more often than not, when others were falling behind, my motivational tone of encouragement was yelling. I was anxious worrying about what was being missed or forgotten. I began to dread mornings. No matter how quickly I tried to accomplish my list, or how many corners I cut, it seemed like there were roadblocks turning up at every opportunity. Something seemed determined to derail my success and steal my joy. I LOVE being a mom but I discovered that I didn’t like the mom I’d become. My behavior didn’t reflect my values and beliefs of what love truly is….selfless, sacrificial, gracious, forgiving. This well crafted disciplined plan of mine, good though it was, needed to be re-evaluated.

While surveying my friends for better options, one shared that she started her days with 30 minutes of seclusion, unplugged from everyone and everything. My first impression? “She’s crazy! I can’t do that. It would never work!” Then I remembered that a change needed to be made for myself and those around me. What did I have to lose?

So, I set that alarm clock 15 minutes earlier to give myself that uninterrupted time. Baby steps. I started reading a brief devotional followed by a quiet time in prayer. I admit, at first it was difficult. It was hard to keep focused without the challenges of the upcoming day creeping in. It was awkward. I felt like I was doing it wrong. I guiltily felt like 15 minutes wasn’t long enough. I remained committed and continued to fight for that precious time. As this practice became more consistent, God honored that time I set aside to fellowship with Him. I saw a shift (for the better) in my reaction to people and situations. Unconsciously, I was applying what I was learning. I was starting my day reinforcing what was important to me. What once seemed impossible is something I now eagerly look forward to each morning. Now it would be difficult for me to imagine starting my day any other way.

Is every morning now perfect? Nope. But I’m making progress. Is your morning routine working for you? If so, carry on and disregard. Do you feel like it’s lacking? Missing something? Consider a change. Why not try a quiet time of…….yoga, journaling, exercise, meditation? Take the challenge. You will be better for it. Your day will be better for it and the people you encounter will be appreciative.

For you night owls reading this, a quiet time before bed will help you de stress and rest better. The time of day isn’t as important as the practice itself. It will end the day on a good note and give you a jumpstart on the next.

– Coach Esther Stein



How Did You Sleep Last Night?

I’m sure you’ve heard me or any of the other coaches talk about the fitness pyramid and what it means in our daily lives. I constantly stress on how the foundation is so important to your overall health and performance.

We all agree, the foundational component of general fitness/health is nutrition but there is another major key component that is nearly as important as what we are feeding into our bodies. We live in a fast society. We are always going. Trying to get to the next thing. Caffeine overloads because the alarm went off too early and you got to bed a little later than expected. Since you are reading this I know you care about your health and are looking for areas to improve. I’m sure you understand that working out and eating well are essential but how often do you think about some of the other factors that play into your health? Remember, fitness and health is a package.

As I said before, there are many components that play major roles. You can’t choose only a couple and ignore the others. How about your sleep? And I mean quality sleep. Not just the time you spend lying in bed catching up on Netflix or groaning in the morning trying to find the snooze button. I mean actual time spent REALLY sleeping. Tucked under those warm blankets with the fan on. Dreaming of ocean waves. Drool on the pillow. Beethoven symphonies playing in the background. Ah! Sounds so nice.

So many of us go all week not getting nearly enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is a common habit for many and gets ignored regularly. Oftentimes, I find myself failing in this area as well. If you truly care about your health, fitness, and well being, then sleep sufficiency should be very important in your lifestyle. I encourage you to take some time and figure out how you can effectively improve your time spent resting peacefully under the covers. Not only is sleep essential for day to day functioning but also long term vitality.

If you’re already getting around 8 hours then chances are you are just fine. On the other end, if you are only getting about 4 – 5 hours per night, then this is something worth working on. Set some targets of trying to get to bed even 30 minutes earlier on some of those nights where you are really struggling. You can see it doesn’t have to be anything drastic at first. For most of us, we struggle during the weekdays. With doing this 4 – 5 days a week you’ve already added an extra 2 – 2.5 hours into your weekly sleep cycle. Start small and see where you can dig out some time and improve. Keep trying to increase those hours of nightly rest until you can get to a healthy optimal time. Sleep isn’t for the weak!

-Coach Zeke Cutler

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.