Dad at 40

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Archive for the category “Emotional Intelligence”

Financial Fitness and your Health – What the Heck is this thing called Taxes?

time for taxes

Well, as I promised, we are going to start taking a hard look at the reality of money and financial fitness. Again, this has a direct impact on your health because the more stressed out you are about money, the harder you work, the less time you have to recover, the less time you have to enjoy even the little things in life, the more your health will suffer. So, pull up a chair, grab your kids, and read this series together so you can learn something. Maybe you know it, maybe you do not, but read it all the way through. Or not. Frankly, it is your life and trust me when I say that when I am old and retired and balling big time because I have money and you are eating cat food, I will not think twice about it because I tried to help.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Protect your Social Security Number. This is not a joke. Do not carry that card around with you. EVER! Lock it up in a safe deposit box. Put it in a little safe at home that is fireproof. Do not let that number loose. Do not put it down for anything. Not at medical offices. Not at any place that seems sketch. Places like car dealerships, banks, and credit card applications will need it. And, prospective employers once they hire you. Otherwise, do not share it for any reason. EVER!!!! Identity theft is a real bitch and once you go down that rabbit-hole, there is no getting out!!!!

Taxes and You

So, do you remember your first job? I do. Man, I was so excited. It was H-E-B in Weslaco, TX. HEB is a grocery chain and one of the places where a lot of kids in Texas get their first job. I think I made like 5 bucks an hour back in 1989-90. It was not a lot. But, it was work. I humped carts. Carried out groceries. Cleaned floors. Whatever was needed.

I recall looking at my first paycheck. I cannot remember how many hours exactly, but let’s say for the sake of argument it was 20. So, here I am counting that paycheck. I worked 20 hours at 5 bucks an hour. Woohooo….I am going to get 100 bucks. And then I look at the check and I see all these words and numbers. FICA, OASDI, and this other stuff and I was thinking…ok…but where is the line with my 100 bucks. I get to the bottom of the paystub and there is no 100.00 amount there. What what?

Whoa Whoa Whoa HR lady…what the hell? Where is my money? Come on now, where is my proper pay? She raised an eyebrow and looked at me and then realized…it’s this kid’s first job. And he is an idiot. Perhaps my mother had said something about taxes at some point, but that shit was for old people. Not for me. But nope….nope….it was for me too. It was for everyone. And thus was the start of a very real lesson I learned – we pay taxes!!

Fast forward 28 years and not much has changed. I still pay taxes. But, and here is the funny thing, as much as we have advanced. As much as we know. As far as we have come, there are a metric shit ton of kids that do not have clue one about this concept. Schools are failing us because they are not teaching people what they need to know (sorry for this brief tangent). But seriously, I do not need to know U.S. History when it comes to reading my paycheck. Teach a class on that shit….please. But, back to my financial stuff.

So, rude awakening. I did not get my 100 bucks. Instead, I got like 85 bucks. Maybe a bit less. That was three whole hours of work. Maybe a Monday evening shift. I basically gave HEB a free day of work. Right!? That is what it felt like. But nope, no….they took nothing from me. I paid into a system designed to keep our country running. Although some will argue that it is a bunch of horseshit. By the way, those people are fucking morons. I really try not to cuss on here. Truly…but seriously…anyone that does not want to pay taxes is a FUCKING MORON. And if this is you, friend or random reader, then you too are a FUCKING MORON.

Now, I am not saying the tax code is perfect. Indeed, we in the US have one of the most complicated tax systems of the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (https://taxfoundation.org/2015-international-tax-competitiveness-index). Imagine, out of 34 balling countries, we are listed at number 32. Now, full disclosure, I have worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 20 years. And, for the record – I AM NOT SPEAKING AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE IRS. But, that does not mean I can completely remove myself from the knowledge, experiences, and observations I have made about that organization.

But, back to the 100 bucks. I was pretty steamed. And then when I left home and worked in the military, I started seeing all these deductions off my check. And I just resigned myself to the fact that this was how it was going to be. But, they added a wrinkle. I had to not only pay taxes, but then do this thing once a year called federal taxes. Wait, didn’t I pay them already? Now I have to send them paperwork? What is this infernal curse from hell???!!!! Worse yet, if you are from certain states, you also have to pay a state tax!!!! What the shit??!!!

Damn man. This sucks. Then, to add insult to injury, I go to the store to buy something and I get him with more crap. Sales tax? What the shit man? What!? Listen bro, I wanted those Nike’s that cost 50 bucks. I had exactly 35 left over. I am taking my girlfriend to Sonic for dinner and that is 12 bucks. I need gas in my car and that is 8 bucks. Then we are watching a movie which is 10 bucks. And I have enough for soda and a popcorn which is 5 bucks. But, you want an extra 4 bucks for these shoes. What the heck? Now I cannot have the soda and popcorn or I have to put less gas in my car. Or, I need to work more hours, but I do not get more hours. Taxes. Taxes. Taxes……

Remember those days? I do. And they sucked. So, my mom was good. She understood money. Why was it that I did not? Oh yeah….I did not listen to her. She is my mom, so of course that must mean that she does not get it. Perhaps your kids are way smarter than I was at that age, but based on observations I have made and conversations I have had over the years, kids are still surprisingly stupid about this stuff. And thus this series…financial literacy and fitness. Healthy choices, mentally, physically, and fiscally will make your life happier.

Taxes – Their Real Purpose

So, let’s start off with taxes. We will break these down and talk about what they mean and why. This may be stuff you know, but it is also done to be educational.

What in holy hell is a W-4?

When you get that first job (or any job), one of the first things you will do is fill out a W-4. This form is used to tell your employer how much tax to withhold. Now, You can see below, the format is pretty simple. Name. Address. Social Security Number (yes, used on federal tax forms).  You check if you are single or married (and tip, if you can do it, always check single, even if you are married). And then the number of exemptions you are claiming (tip – always claim zero). Sign. Forget about it.

w-4

So, quick explanation about withholding. Single zero means you are withholding the highest amount of taxes possible. But Rod, you work for the IRS you asshole. I know what you are doing. Jerk. But hey, let me help you understand this. Taxes are what makes our country go. You like roads? You like knowing the military is out there (whether you agree with them or not)? Then taxes pay for that and so much more. Taxes keep us from living in mud huts and driving donkey carts. So get over the tax issue.

Single zero means the government keeps the most amount of money possible. They keep it until you file your tax return and when you calculate what you should have paid and what you did pay, this turns into a refund or a balance due.

If you withheld 5000.00 in tax, but at the end of the year you should have only paid 2500.00, then you get a nice big check for 2500.00 back as a tax refund. Cool beans. But, you gave the government an interest free loan of 2500.00. Live with it. It helps our country.

Now, let’s say you are like screw the government. And you say Married Five (even if you are single). Now, you withhold 50.00 all year. But, you calculate your taxes at the end of the year and you owe the same 2500.00. Now, you need to send the IRS a check for 2450.00. Right…like you have it! Sure you do. Then you start to owe the government money. I cannot tell you how many people do this dumb shit. Oh, but I cannot afford to live. Hey, take that up with corporate America and your politician’s desires to not raise minimum wage. This is about finance.

Some people balance this out very carefully so they give the government as precise an amount as possible, let’s say 2498.00 and they owe 2500.00. A $2 bill is easy to pay. Write a check. Send in some stamps. Done. But, most people do not do this. You see, when the money comes in the form of a paycheck, people tend to spend it. No one thinks to put money aside for taxes. They just never do. So, end of the year comes, big tax bill due, and all of a sudden you are in debt to the government. Payment plans. Debt due. The government can garnish your wages. It is a real clusterfuck.

But, if you condition yourself to just go Single Zero, you will be okay 95% of the time. Sure, you have less to live on. But, learn to do it. Believe me, when you get a 2500.00 check on your refund, it is nice to pay off that credit card (which we will discuss in an upcoming chapter). But, if you get 100.00 per check extra, you spend it and at the end of the year, you have nothing to show for it.

This is from 20 years of working for the IRS that I make this observation. Do what you want, but I am trying to give you some sound advice.

Special Note: States with income tax requirements have their own version of this form you need to fill out. It differs for each state. I am from Texas, so never had to fill one out. But, be aware if you have a state income tax and ask questions when you go into your HR office.

What is FICA? And how much is the FICA Tax? (thebalance.com, 2017)

First off, your FICA is automatically calculated if you get paid on a W-2. This is your wage and earnings document. You will see your wages/earning. You will see your withholding. You can see social security wages. Medicare wages. Misc items withheld. You see who your employer is. They will identify you. Be sure your SSN is correct! Be sure you clearly read their employer identification number.

2011_W2

FICA Tax – “FICA” is short for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. The Act was introduced in the 1930s to pay for Social Security. Medicare was added later (thebalance.com, 2017) <– (By the way, notice this thing here….when you quote someone, even loosely, cite them! Learn this early. Prevents plagiarism).

How much is the FICA Tax? (thebalance.com, 2017)

The total FICA tax is 15.3%. That percentage is applied to the employee’s gross pay. The employer and employee each pays 7.65%.

Here is the breakdown of these taxes:

  • Within that 7.65%, the OASDI (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability program, AKA, Social Security) portion is 6.2%, up to the annual maximum wages subject to Social Security.
  • The Medicare portion is 1.45% for each employee, on all employee earnings.

The Social Security portion is capped each year at a set amount; the Medicare portion is not capped.

So, funny thing, as you can see above, some pretty chill folks have already written a lot about this stuff. Teaching it is no harder than saying go here, read this, and ask questions.

Now some employees are exempt from taxes. But, you should follow the flow chart in IRS Publication 505 for that. I will not even try to explain it. Generally though, if you make a very small amount of money and you would not owe taxes at the end of the year, you may possibly be exempt. But, the trick is to condition yourself to pay taxes. So, just pay them. Learn to live with it. This way, it will not be a shock later on in life.

See, pretty easy to read. This is what you get at the end of the year. Now, if an employer is small and says he takes care of this but gives you a handwritten W-2, be careful!!

I have seen these small employers give their employees these great documents and you pay tax and claim a refund and think all is well only to later find out that your small employer did not actually pay his or her tax (but still gave you a nice W-2). Guess what, you are on the hook for it! Sure, you can report your employer. Good luck with that. You pay until it gets sorted out. Bottom line. Crappy deal. So, smaller businesses (not all, but some) need to be watched carefully. Big boys like retailers, Amazon, and all other manner of big companies usually take care of this for you really well. I am not saying all small employers or handwritten W-2s are bad, but be on point with your money. Seriously.

Self Employed Contributions Act – SECA

Or, as I like to say, yes…you still have to pay taxes.

So, this one is the one that gets people all the time. And I do mean all the time. How does one explain this? You get paid one of two ways when you work. Your employer pays taxes and does part of the work for you (filing forms and such with IRS and submitting payroll tax) and you get a W-2 at the end of the year. This will clearly say W-2. Or, they just say this is too much work and we will give you a 1099. The 1099 then becomes your problem. Hope you know what to do. Good luck.

So, I am attaching a picture of a 1099 for you all to see.

1099-1

 

As you can see, some basic info on this form. Payer’s name and address (this is the company that hired you). Recipient’s name and address (this would be you). Payer’s Federal ID. This needs to be correct. Also, your Identification number is your SSN. Make sure it is right. Few other sections. Pretty much irrelevant. What you want to look for is Box 3 – other income. If you have income here, you need to report it. Especially if you worked for someone. However, they probably put it in the wrong box. It should be on Line 7 – Nonemployee Compensation. This is what happens when you are a contract employee.

But Rod, I work there. I have worked there. Yes. Yes, you do work there. But, for taxation purposes, you are a contract employee. It is a term. Just accept the reality.

Box 4 – federal income tax withheld. This one is tricky. You can ask them to withhold tax. It would be cool if they did. However, most places pay on a 1099 because they do not want to deal with the hassle of paying anything for you to the IRS. So, this will most likely be blank. It would be awesome if they did, but be mindful of it being zero.

NOTE: Ask clearly and concisely if they plan to pay you on a 1099 and if they will withhold taxes.

If they say 1099 and we will not withhold taxes, then you are now in the twilight zone. Read this next part carefully!! Depending on how much money you make, you will need to make estimated tax payments. What the shit Rod? What do you mean by that? What the hell is that? So, if you are filing by yourself and you made next to nothing, then you will not need to send money in. However, let’s say you are a car salesman. You are strictly commission and they say you are paid on a 1099. Weird, but it happens. Great. You are projected to make 60,000.00 this year. You earn $5,000.00 per month. When you get that check, you immediately take out a percentage of your income, say 15 to 25% and set it aside. That could be anywhere from $750 to $1250.00. Put it in an account. Do that every month. Every three months, you will write the IRS a check called an estimated tax payment. You will use Form 1040-ES. Payments are made in April, June, Sept, and Jan. Failure to do so could result in an Estimated Tax Payment Penalty. Basically, you do not follow the rules, you get a penalty. Hey, do you like to light money on fire? I hope so, because you might as well do that.

So, make estimated tax payments. The range varies based on the amount and the form has instructions for you to calculate your payment. But, you better do it. If you do not, not only will you owe a tax bill at the end of the year, you will have a penalty to boot. Don’t be a dumbass.

I bet you never heard that in high school economics or home economics class. Hmmm? If I am wrong, good. They taught you. If I am right, then seriously pay attention to this shit. Learn to do things right. I shit you not, two things you cannot avoid in this life: Death and Taxes.

But why do I have to pay this. Call it self-paid FICA. Everyone that works pays it. Including self-employed and contract employees.

You could get paid under the table. Sure. Spend your whole life doing this. I am not saying you should. In fact, it is illegal. But I hope you invest wisely, because you will not get any social security benefit without it.

Are we learning anything yet? I hope so. Because seriously….this is a lot of damned writing for people to ignore.

How Long Must I Do This?

Great question. As long as you work. Simple section. Cool, right?

Why are you telling me all this?

Listen, ignore it. Seriously. Ask me if I care. Also, this is filtered through my experiences and observations. So, when any of you have 20 years of experience working for the IRS and seeing the things I have seen, feel free to tell me what you know is better than what I know.

But here is what I have seen….people that have no clue about this stuff. And it gets them into trouble. Then, they stay up late and night worrying about the huge tax bill they owe. Hey man, I did not realize I had to pay taxes. Hey man, my buddy told me I did not have to pay as much. Hey man, I am super stressed out about this. Hey man, why do I have to pay all that interest on what they say I owe? Blah blah. Because that is how it is. I wish I could give you a better answer. But, being ignorant of the rules does not mean you are exempt from following them or being penalized for not knowing them.

Learn how to do your taxes. Get the basics down. Have a clue of how the numbers work. Understand that you need to do this, year after year. Forever. Keep those papers safe. Protect your social security number. I will do an actual section on filling out taxes soon. This posting was just about knowing what taxes are. Understanding how your money is affected. Getting a clue about what to do and why we do it.

But hey, blow it off. Disregard it. Do not listen. My stuff is on point. You can be the one staying up late with collection notices from the IRS. You are the one that could wake up and find everything but $1 in your bank account because of a tax levy. You could call one of those settle your taxes for pennies on the dollar scams and pay them more money than you owe in taxes to “settle” your debt.

But it is stressful. You are always worried. And, you live beyond your means and do not meet your tax obligation.

I remember one person calling and getting mad and saying you cannot tell me how to spend my money. You are right…when you owe nothing. But, if you owe the government money, guess what….they can and do tell you how you can spend your money. And…they can enforce it.

Your choice. But, you cannot escape it. Well, actually you can. Hope you like foreign countries. Maybe Yemen. How about Iran? But if you like living here in the United States, then you pay the price. So, hope you all learned something. Share this with your kids. Trust me…make them read it.

 

Financial Fitness and your Health – Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness

Money.png

Part I of a short series I plan to write –

So, I blog a lot about health and fitness. Healthy living is important. But, one thing that I have noticed and that I often think is overlooked is how financial fitness contributes to our overall sense of well-being and happiness. Thus, I have decided to write a series on financial fitness. Now, many of you will ask what my qualifications are for such an endeavor. None. I am not a financial planner. I did not study finance. I am not a banker or an accountant. However, I have had 20 years of working for our taxing authority in our fine country. More importantly, I have made every mistake imaginable when it comes to money. So, while some people come at you with a “I know better” attitude because they have had some formal training, I come at you with a “please, for the love of all that is good, listen to me because I have made every mistake imaginable” attitude.

First thing first – MONEY BUYS HAPPINESS.

We want to tell our children that money does not buy happiness. Stop trying to sell them that load of crap. I appreciate those of you that are religious and devout. I appreciate those of you that truly believe that money does not buy happiness. But seriously…it does. This is about framing. You frame the argument in such a way that it suits your needs. Check out this little article…and it really does sum up what I am saying:

http://www.financialsamurai.com/only-the-poor-or-super-rich-say-money-cant-buy-happiness/

Now, I am not trying to be mean to people that are classified as poor. On the contrary, I am hoping that by discussing this, some folks can turn things around. However, there are levels of poverty that are so overwhelming, that there is not much we can do about it as a society. Even more so now, when we have leadership that frowns upon handouts, helping hands, or anything that reeks of what they have labeled as socialism.

But, there are some hard truths we need to accept. Money does buy happiness. Yeah…I can see people saying that I am full of crap. Screw you, Rod…ass. And that is cool. I get it. You keep selling that horseshit to all the generations. It is cool with me. Frankly, I do not care…as I have money. And, newsflash…I AM HAPPY.

Of course, you will say things like “studies show it is not true” and thus, you find comfort in knowing that a study said people do not think money buys happiness. Now, according to this article, money does not buy happiness:

http://www.menshealth.com/guy-wisdom/why-money-wont-make-you-happy

So fine, Men’s Health is not the be all, end all of academic literature. But, according to this article, 415 people were surveyed. What I cannot make out is whether they were 415 people in Spain. Or 415 people in Canada. Now, if it is Spain, the percentage is not too bad:

Spain – total population – 46,070,540. So .09 millionth of the population. Sweet.

Canada – total population – 36,652,298. So .01 hundred thousandth. Sweet.

And if we just used the US – well, it would be an abysmal number. These are the numbers they decided to use to justify that money does not buy happiness. To put this in perspective, if I were to go back to the place where I grew up and state that the entire region known as the Rio Grande Valley of Texas has a population of 5 million people and I wanted to conduct a survey to determine if people are happy living in the Rio Grande Valley, I would take my fancy PhD and learning and create a survey and find my sample size. So, I go to the local mall and question approximately 7.4 people (so maybe one of them is really short). Great…got my random convenience sample and I am ready to run calculations on this to effectively state for publication that all 5 million people of the valley have now had their voices heard because these random 7.4 people walking the mall answered my questions. Sold!!

And we have a book or a paper stating money does not buy happiness. It has to be legit. Has to be. They’ve got some math in it. Some people wrote it and put it in men’s health. Hey man…they said that once you have pasta in Tuscany, eating food at the local Chili’s sucks. Once you have seen the world, going to San Antonio to see the Alamo blows. I agree. Totally.

Wrong! All wrong. Massive assumptions made that are wrong. Paper is wrong. I will disagree wholeheartedly. See, there is another article that talks about wealth as well and it states:

“Often using small or methodologically flawed studies as evidence, positive psychologists restate over and over the claim that money is of minimal importance to wellbeing. “Increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness” writes Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania in his seminal positive psychology book, Authentic Happiness.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert discussed a similar idea in his wildly popular TED talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness, now viewed over 12 million times. He quoted as evidence a methodological train-wreck of a study from the 1970s that suggested that a small group of lottery winners were no happier than a group of paraplegic accident victims. (Although Gilbert graciously later admitted that the study actually didn’t even really show that much.)”

Look at that….right here… using small or methodologically flawed studies as evidence…kinda like me saying hey, 7.4 people are telling us 5 million that they represent our views. Wait…Rod…hold on…maybe that PhD shit means something. You might actually kinda know what you might be saying…and I hate you for it.

What’s the Effing Point Dude?

For a great many people the idea of money buying happiness is counter to everything we are taught. We are conditioned to think it cannot buy happiness because many of us grow up without the kind of money one would think is required to attain happiness. People tend to think that this means millions of dollars and wealth the likes of which very few people possess. Some studies consider the baseline level of wealth to even be considered in this discussion a minimum of $25 million dollars. Seriously…get the hell out of here. 25 MILLION!!?? No, no, I think not. The point is to reframe what the concept of wealth is. We need to ground the idea and concept of wealth in something more tangible and realistic for people. And we need to teach our youth about this concept. Instead of telling them it does not buy happiness, we need to condition them to understand that it does….with certain conditions. Now, conditions are hard to monitor and that will be up to the individual delivering the message. But, it is a lot better than telling people it will not buy happiness because that is just not true.

This is the full article where I got the above quote:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/17/money-cant-buy-happiness-wishful-thinking

Seriously, take a moment to read it. Some of you may disagree and that is totally cool. Frankly, it does not change the following reality – your faith, your morality, your honesty, or any of these other personal beliefs will not be accepted as payment for your bills.

Now, you can argue that you just will not incur bills. Cool. Nothing like living in a tent in the middle of a field and living off what you hunt and fish without any of the creature comforts of life. I respect you for living that way. However, if you are like most people, you will need a home or apartment. You will need electricity. A car. Food. Some minor form of entertainment. Healthcare. Human interaction. Some hobby. Etc. Etc. And these things cost money.

Let’s say, for example, you like running. It is your passion and it is a low cost thing. But, you need running shoes. Preferably good ones. If you do not have them, you run the risk of hurting your feet. So, that incurs a cost. Admittedly, rather small, but a cost. Or how about bike riding? Sure, you can buy a Huffy 10-Speed at your local Wal-Mart, but the poor thing will fall apart if you put it under the strain of constant 50 to 100 mile rides. Hence, you get a better bike. Those bikes are not cheap. So, to indulge in your low-cost or no cost hobby that will take hours and hours of your time, you need to invest money. Back to that pesky money. The money does not make you happy. But the action does. Without the money to afford the activity, your happiness goes down.

So, money does not directly buy happiness. But, it allows us to do the things that make us happy. Everything has a cost. Unless you simply like walking to the local library, you will find things cost money. A buddy of mine loves to buy records. It is his passion. But, without a car, how easy would it be to go from garage sale to garage sale looking for records? Without the 100 bucks or so that he takes with him to go on out and do this, how easy would it be to indulge this hobby? Without the solid job that allows him to pay the bills, how much time might he be able to devote to this hobby which grants him happiness? Etc. Etc.

Many of you see me in the gym. I love working out. But, I have a job that allows me the flexibility to be in the gym daily. I make enough money so that I can get my butt in the gym for an hour or two a day. I make enough to buy the supplements that help my body stay fit. Now, I try to pass on knowledge and information to people about fitness, so I can save others money, but at the end of the day, it costs to have this hobby. So, the gym makes me happy, but the cost associated with it is footed by my paycheck.

When I get too overloaded, I take a vacation. I go somewhere. Some people like Europe. Or fancy places. I like Disney and Universal Studios. Not much cheaper than Europe. Trust me on this. But again, money. And make no mistake, whatever you may think…when I am there..I am damn happy.

I saw someone recently purchase things. This person says money cannot buy happiness, but all of a sudden with money things start to get purchased. Hmm….I will not say hypocrisy, but more like reality.

Now, the trick here is to keep yourself grounded in reality. Money only goes so far before it stops making you happy and starts making you crazy. That is something each of you has to figure out. Hence, this series on financial fitness. That is where most people struggle. And let me tell you…and I will reiterate this for everyone….I say this because I HAVE MADE EVERY DUMB CHOICE WITH MONEY IMAGINABLE. I am not saying this because I am somehow better than anyone reading this blog. I say this because I am the biggest idiot about this you can imagine. But, I gutted it out and figured it out. So, at 43, I have found a peace and balance. This means it is never too late to get to where you want to be.

So, the point here is that money matters. Sure, faith and hope and love and community and all these things are important. I do not disagree in the slightest. But, money matters. It allows you to have security. It allows you to pay bills. It gives you time and freedom to do things you love. It allows you to go to church instead of working every shift you can to make ends meet. It allows you to go on a run instead of working two jobs to pay bills. It allows you to afford a few little things that make you happy instead of always looking through the window at something you can never have. No, material things are not all that matter in this world, but they do make life a little nicer. It is a balance. Sure, the library is a great free resource and plenty of people take advantage of free things to do in the places they live. But, it is not always that easy.

So, let’s start by acknowledge that money matters. Money does buy happiness, if not directly, indirectly. It buys security. It buys comfort. Let’s start teaching our children that it matters instead of telling them that it does not buy happiness. Make sure they kids understand the value of the dollar. Make sure we frame the conversation properly. As I move forward with this series on financial health, I am going to start describing things like investments, credit scores, smart money moves, dumb money moves, jobs, college, and all the things where we blow money out of our asses. Some of you may think I am the biggest jerk out there…and maybe I am….but I am going to give you a perspective from my point of view. It is not necessarily right, but it is not necessarily wrong. It gives you a different view…a glimpse from another direction. What you do with it is up to you.

But, I will say this. I have been poor. I have been dirt poor…as an adult. I have had to beg for help from friends and strangers. And it was hard on me. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Very hard. I paid a heavy price for it. It took its toll. And I am no longer poor. And I can most assuredly tell you, that I am a heck of a lot happier now. Less stressed. More relaxed. More engaged. I get to do what I want when I want. I get to work-out, write, parent, chill, and enjoy life. So, if I am full of crap, cool beans. But, and maybe it is only anecdotal, I can tell you that it buys me quite a bit of happiness.

The next chapter will be coming soon….and seriously..share this with your kids and let them decide. Because this is the real deal shit….

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation – Why Goals Fail and Succeed

what are your goals?

A question was asked about energy levels on my FB feed today. I think it is a good question. It got me to thinking about some possible answers. When I write, I write from experience. I do not write to you all in some prescriptive sense, telling you that my way is the right way. I write because my failures have given me insight into myself. I then like to share those thoughts and experiences with you and each of you have the choice to take what I say and mold it to your needs. Some may agree and some may disagree, but if it gets you thinking, then we have measurable success.

But to the question about energy levels, I think it might go a bit further. As humans, we are conditioned to set goals. Get to this point. Graduate high school. Graduate college. Get a job. Buy a car. Buy a house. Have children. Prepare for retirement. You can literally add anything in there you want. Each one of those things are goals we set for ourselves. They are measurable and attainable. I can go buy a car. I can go get a job. Pretty easy.

Then, we move into other goals depending on our philosophical leanings. If you are religious, you may say get closer to God. Or if you are academic, you might say continue learning for the rest of my life. These are more nebulous as you can never truly measure your closeness to God or just how much you learn relative to others.

So, we get to fitness. This is what I try to focus on (and back to the original question about energy levels). You see, I tend to think that people set goals for themselves. For example, you might say I want to lose 15 pounds for summer beach season. Or, I want to look good in a tank top. Maybe you have gained some inches on your waist and you decide you want to fit back into those 36” waist pants in your closet.  Perhaps you want to fit back into those size 8 dresses. But if you truly examine those goals, they are what we call extrinsic goals.

Some of you may know what extrinsic means, but just in case:

Extrinsic – not essential or inherent; not a basic part or quality; extraneous

Most of our wants are extrinsic in nature. The car. The house. Money. Looking good. Some would argue that they are shallow goals. I would not. We all work hard and we want things. So, no one should feel bad about that. You earn it, you use it the way you want to.

Now, we talk about intrinsic. Once again, pardon me for defining this for those of you familiar with it:

Intrinsic – belonging naturally; essential

We often set what I like to call extrinsic goals. We want to reach a certain point for a certain reason. As we slowly approach that point, we start to slow down. Now, you may think this is silly or not really think it applies, but I will ask you to think about many times you have seen a video of someone losing a race because they let up at the last second. Ever seen those? Person thinks they are going to win, raises their arms in victory, and ever so slightly slows down. That person in second place digs deep and grinds hard and pushes past to win by an inch (notice that theme….a game of inches….). The look of shock and disbelief on the person who just lost is sad yet funny at the same time. You think to yourself, that is what you get for easing up.

But, therein lies the rub. People tend to ease up when they think they have accomplished the goal. So, is it that energy is going down? Or is it that people are easing up because they think they have reached their goal? Are these the same thing? On the surface they appear to be. But, energy going down could be attributed to illness. Work life balance. Any number of things. Easing up is quite simply a person thinking they got what they wanted and they ease up. In my mind, these are very different.

So, as we look to set goals, we have to understand what we are doing. Are we setting intrinsically or extrinsically motivated goals? I think this makes a world of difference. But….and this is a big but, it flies in the face of what we are generally taught. We are always taught that goals should be measurable and attainable. The smart person will set a goal – lose 5 pounds. They can attain it. This is a common fitness philosophy. While it is not wrong or bad (as I have done it myself), it is also not necessarily right or good.

Now we start getting into the complicated stuff. Come on dude, you have a goal of trying to bench 400 pounds? Now you are telling me that goals like that are crap? Yes and no. I will use my goal of 400 pounds. When I first started pursuing that goal, it was for one simple reason. I wanted to bench 400 pounds so I could rub it in the face of all the guys I remember that played football when I was in high school who made a big deal out of benching 225 in the school gym. There I was struggling to bench 95 pounds (which is the bar and a 25lb weight on each side) while they benched the bar plus two 45lb weights on each side. Maybe they laughed at me. Maybe not. Really, who cares? It was high school man. But, in my mind I was going to show those dudes up. Lift, lift, lift. Boom….I got hurt. Hurt enough that I had to have shoulder surgery to correct it. Too much, too fast, and for the wrong reasons. Extrinsic and also shallow goal.

Fast forward a few years. I gained some weight after the surgery. I enjoyed food a bit much. I got lazy. Why? Extrinsic goals are easy to abandon once you reach them. I lost X number of pounds. I looked great for swimsuit season. I fit into that dress for the big party. Whatever it is. Then it is over. You start to slide back into bad habits. You search aimlessly for the next thing you want to be healthy for, the next thing you want to look good for. I have seen so many people fall into the vicious cycle. It is partly because we set goals and once we reach them, we sometimes stop. Now, some people will then set another goal, but sooner or later, you stop setting goals. Then your goals flip from losing 5 pounds to not gaining 5 pounds. Not gaining 10 pounds. This leads to poor eating habits. Gimmick products. And l know I sound judgmental when I say gimmick products and I am sorry for knocking something you may believe in, but what happens when you can no longer afford your products? What happens when the cost becomes prohibitive? Is it only people who can afford Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, or whatever other fad system or product is out there that are able to get healthy and lose weight? Is it really that special tea or shake that makes the difference? Or are these things crutches that we use so that we do not have to commit and use this thing we have called willpower?

So, when I looked at myself one day and realized that I had stopped focusing on me, I had a choice to make. This really coincided with the election cycle. As I saw the constant bickering and recrimination and the negativity that existed in the world, I just said enough. Not only did I put my hand over the mug, but I dumped its contents out and started over. I took a long and hard look at myself and asked myself what I was doing. More importantly, I asked why I was doing it. Did I want to do it so I could be admired by others? Did I want to do it so I could rub it in the face of people who I had been jealous of as a teen? What was my motivation?

About this time, I was gifted with my son Luke. As I looked into his little eyes, I saw a vision of a strapping and energetic teenager that would want to go hiking and riding roller coasters and exploring caverns and riding bikes. Would my body hold up to that level of activity when I was 55? Not at the rate I was going. So, I would say a profound change came over me. I have heard people say that the moment they accepted Jesus Christ in their hearts, they felt this profound change wash over them. Well, for me, it is like that. As soon as I let go of all of these extrinsic motivations, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me. I cannot describe in any better way than that. I stopped caring how I looked to others. I stopped caring how I compared with others. I stopping caring what others thought. Oh, I still clown with my friends and say some silly things, but make no mistake that being playful and silly doesn’t change the immensity of the philosophy shift I experienced.

Rather than set these limited goals – benching 400 pounds, I simply said I need to be better. I need to be healthier. This flies in the face of traditional fitness objectives. Lose 20 pounds. Fit into a pair of pants. Fit into a dress. Nope, I set a vague and nebulous goal. Some would say what the hell does it mean to be healthier or better? Exactly!!! What does it mean? It means nothing and it means everything! What the shit dude….I am really starting to hate you! But think about this….really think about it. It means that instead of setting a goal of a mile, I just decided I was okay with an inch. One inch at a time. One quarter-inch at a time. No one set goal. I just said do better. Make better choices. In doing so, I just said get up and get back in the gym. As I brought that cookie up to my face, I asked myself if I really needed it. Slowly, but surely, I started to change. Not just externally, but internally. I was free from the burden of trying to be something for society and I was happy with just being the best me I could be. Whether it is 5 pounds of 50, if you are the best you that you can be, then you are moving forward. The great thing about being the best you is that you can always be better. You are never hitting the finish line. Therefore, you will never let up. Just strive to do one more pushup. Say one more kind word. Make one more person laugh. It drives you from the inside.

Fast forward a year and I am pushing that 400lb bench press. Not because I want to show off, but because it is movement forward. It is a part of the journey. A waypoint. Not the finish line. I changed my eating habits. My thinking habits. I started blogging again, this time focused on health and fitness. I realized that health and fitness does not start in the gym, but inside you. You do not need a program, a class, a gym, a trainer, or anything else. You need to find the drive and willpower within yourself to move. To change. To better yourself. We have tools that can help with this, such as those classes, that gym, that bike, or any other tool. But, if we were without them, we could simply run, do push-ups, and do other body weight exercises to stay fit. We would not need a buddy to push us. We would push ourselves. This is the hardest state to achieve. It is brutally hard to get to that point. You feel like you are climbing Mt. Everest. That is one of the most difficult and technically challenging climbs in the world. But, for those that do it, they feel a sense of accomplishment like no other.

So, this post is a possible answer to the question of why do energy levels drop. Why do we ease up? Why do we fail? I think, and I stress the word think, it is because we have the wrong perspective when we set goals. We want something we can measure. We have been conditioned to look for the measurable. This is not bad. Obviously, you have to measure progress when you run a marathon or prepare for a competition, but if that is a smaller part of the whole “I am making myself the best me possible” then it is fine. If those goals are your only reason for doing something, you will most likely fail once you attain your goal. So think about this as you set goals. Especially as we approach a new year in 7 months. We love to sit down and make resolutions. But I say resolve to make yourself the best you possible and you won’t need resolutions. You will be living it daily.

Good luck out there…think that over. Ask yourself why you do what you do. The answer may surprise you.

 

 

Flying in the Danger Zone – Social Media and Mental Fitness

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I have been a bit silent lately because of some interesting events in my life, but I wanted to address this topic because I have

  • Seen postings about it on my feed
  • Thought about this at length and want to address it.

A big part of my philosophy is having good to great mental health. This is so critical to overall fitness. Fitness is not just your ability to lift weight, ride a bike, swim a lap, or run some miles. Fitness is so much more. It is proper eating habits. It is getting enough sleep. It is understanding yourself. And, above all else it is having a great and stable mindset.

So, the challenge we have here is the mindset. Honestly, people fail at fitness and wellness because they lack the mental fortitude to succeed. Now, a pretty talented guy by the name of Scott Peck wrote a book called The Road Less Traveled where he dives into a few more things than I want to address right here, but the critical takeaways for me were his notions of discipline. These are the things I openly advocate and discuss. Remember, very few ideas are new anymore. They are simply subtle remixes of past ideas and framed in new ways to help people understand things. So, the concept of the discipline, according to Peck is laid out in the following steps:

  • Delaying gratification: Sacrificing present comfort for future gains.
  • Acceptance of responsibility: Accepting responsibility for one’s own decisions.
  • Dedication to truth: Honesty, both in word and deed.
  • Balancing: Handling conflicting requirements.

The basic premise is that life is difficult. We all probably realize this by now, especially those of us in our 40s. However, it is made much more difficult by the introduction of this new and very dangerous animal called social media. So, for the purposes of this posting, I want to focus on social media and the impact it has on us as individuals.

Social Media, Media, and the Long Lasting Effects on People

When we think of the negative influence of media, we tend to think about things like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and all these other instant media tools that expose us to the world. As parents and friends, we do our best to help those around us, but because life is difficult, we sometimes tend to let certain things slip (which is mostly unintentional). We strive to provide our children with the tools they need to be successful. In this day and age, that is the smartphone, the tablet, a computer, and other technological wonders.

But, we should remember that long before we had social media, we all were prisoners of the role that media played (and continues to play) in our lives. It is pretty easy when you think about it. How many times do you gaze at a magazine cover? When you watch those infomercials online, ever notice it is fit or attractive people? Department stores have increasingly smaller and bustier or larger and more muscular mannequins to display clothes? Everything is geared towards this mindset of attractive and fit and beautiful. We are constantly flooded with images, both direct and indirect, of these things – fit, slim, beautiful, handsome, etc. I promise you, there are companies out there that sit around for hours a day figuring out how to try to influence your thinking. They are trying to hack your subconscious so that you can feel shame and remorse about the choices you make if they do not align with the product they are selling. So, the After-Boomers and Generation X-ers have all grown up with this. We, as Gen X-ers, also dealt with the advent of technology. I still recall being in that transitional phase switching from typewriters to computer based word-processing. We witnessed the birth of the mainstream information age and now we are knee deep in this technology.

Enter our children. They are children of the technology age. We jokingly lament that they will never know a rotary phone. That they will never see the bag cellular phone. That they only know things like smartphones. That they bury their heads in those same smartphones and pay more attention to that universe than the universe around them. Well, this is pretty accurate. Now, technology is a tool. Much like a framer uses a hammer to hit a nail, technology is a tool to solve problems. But, the hammer was a passive tool. It was simply used to execute a task. Technology is an active tool. It can solve problems, but it can also create problems. It can send messages to people and we often cannot control them.

We have seen the effects of this over time. We see the stories of people being radicalized through online websites and forums. We have seen stories of children and young adults joining organizations that are dangerous to them and to others. We have seen people prey on others. We even created a term for this called “catfishing” and we have seen evidence of how dangerous this is. I can most definitely say that there are long term effects to technology and media use.

Social Media in Theory and Practice

So, a theory about social media is that it was designed to bring people together. But, if you look at the original concept of Facebook, it was designed to allow students in Ivy League schools to judge each other in a hot or not type situation. Sure, it has turned into a social media powerhouse, but that was its initial intention. A system built to judge. As we try to find the good in things, we want to argue that system like this build community and bring people closer together. It allows people to share their lives with friends so people can stay connected across great distances. We talk about socially sourced learning. We learn from others and social media allows us to do this. So, there are good intentions there. But, there is a saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

What social media has become is something more than a method to establish community. There is a terribly dark underside to this technology. It has created sites where fiction is held out to be fact. It has resulted in the incessant bullying and teasing of people. It has been used to shame and humiliate people through the spread of false stories, true stories, and worst of all, unflattering or embarrassing images. People have taken their lives because of this. It is scary for a parent to have to deal with this. But therein lies the rub, a parent is re-actively dealing with this. REACTIVE. This is the critical word.

I can only use my own experiences as a parent. So, I will. I have an adult son, who happened to be a teen during this blowup of social media. I spent many an hour talking to him in detail about social media and the challenges and pitfalls of this system. More importantly, I explained to him that social media was irrelevant to his life. Thanks Rod….great. You make it sound so easy. Social media is irrelevant to my kid’s life. Done. Thanks. Jackass.

But seriously, let’s think about this. If you take the time to start to show your kids from the beginning the dangers and the benefits of social media, then perhaps, just perhaps, they will not be enslaved by it. My first thought – why do you let your children even get on social media? Of course, I gave my son a choice and he chose not to engage in the system. He had a profile, but really, he just avoided it. But, let’s just say your kids really want to be a part of the social media movement and you agree to it. Well, now you have to do your due diligence as a parent. You have to explain the rules. You have to show them the consequences. You have to have those tough talks with them. I find that a lot of parents are reluctant to do that. They are reluctant to think that their kids can fall prey to these systems.

Let’s take the most common element. The selfie. Oy….the selfie is the bane of the existence of many a parent. The selfie has moved from the basic selfie of a person doing something silly to the scandalous selfie of a person doing something scandalous. Kids have no concept of the dangers of selfies. As a parent, you are also reluctant to talk to your angel about sending pictures of their privates to others. I would ask you to leave comments, but I will not…but how many of you have shown your kids images of “leaked” selfies? Hmm??? Any of you? Any of you show your kids pictures of that guy showing off his penis? Or that girl showing a very revealing look at her vagina? Probably not. Let’s just get past the legal thing here because if your child is underage, that constitutes child pornography and could get your kids into serious trouble, both as the sender and receiver of the images. Let’s assume they are of legal age. No laws being broken. Let’s assume your sweet little girl is deeply in love with that boy. She sends a picture of her breasts to him with a big smile on her face and blowing him a kiss. Six weeks later they break up in a bad way and all of a sudden that very private picture of her breasts is now flooding a private Facebook group or being texted around with some very unflattering comments about your daughter. Her friends either think her breasts are too perfect or really crappy…either way, they unleash the hate. They then send it out to even more people. Next thing you know, your little girl is getting all these jeers and sneers in school. Worse, they may have shared her cell phone number and she is getting lewd and obscene messages. However, you never took the time to talk to her about this possibility. Before you know it, her grades are suffering, she is withdrawn and sullen, and you have no clue what is going on.

This is why so many young women have hurt themselves. Or gone into hiding. Or been humiliated online. The same can be said for boys. Trust me, it is pretty traumatic for a kid who is navigating the journey of self-discovery to get told he has a small penis. Everyone says it. Or says it looks weird. Your son has no way to compare it with anyone else. He will certainly not look up facts to realize that the average penis size in the country is probably about 5.1 inches in length…hardly the record breaking length one would hope for (Journal of Urology, 1996). So, all of a sudden your son is beside himself because everyone thinks he has a small penis…and they say so in the most hurtful ways. Again, not like you try to prepare your kids for this. Who would? What parent is comfortable showing their child these images? Hence, if this ever happens, you are in a terribly reactive position trying to console your child. Right…that works so well.

Of course, those are images. What about words? Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has written extensively on the concept of words that hurt and words that heal. He details how words can be devastating. Or they can be uplifting. Let’s take something very simple….like missing the game winning shot. Imagine you take that shot, since no one else has the courage to do so (or you simply got stuck with it) and you miss. People around you have two choices – uplift you or tear you down. Sure, we want to win and hitting that shot would be great. But, does missing it end the world? Is it that bad in the grander scheme of things? No. But in that moment, the choice will be made to say “you effing suck, loser” or “it’s okay, you did your best and we are proud of you, we will get them next time”. Yes, you still smart that you missed the shot, but you are not torn down by your peers. It makes a world of difference to know you are still supported and cared for even if you fail. Words can have a healing effect. Or they can be brutal.

As a parent, we have to teach our kids to tune out those words. But, what if we ourselves do not know how. We are slaves to words. We give them such power over us. So, in turn, we use them back in the most hurtful of ways. We will say demeaning things about others in retaliation for things said about us. We will use equally hurtful words to hurt others as we feel we have been hurt, or wronged. And the cycle continues. I myself have been guilty of this and still, on occasion, find my mind going to this place. It is hard to be the bigger person. To turn the proverbial cheek.

We are stuck in this endless and vicious cycle and we seem to be always living in this world.

How Do We Stop?

This is the most difficult question to answer. First off, it starts with us as adults and we have to pass it on to our children. It is about educating ourselves and focusing on that mental fitness so we can have better overall health.

We have to understand that words can be brutal, but that they are only brutal if we give them power. The more we empower them, feed them, the more powerful they become. So, you have to take that power back. Words are just that…words. They can be mean. They can be hurtful. They can sting. But, in the end, they are just words. And they can be ignored. We must learn to report these issues to a parent and to a person with authority. As parents, we must follow-up and document interactions with persons of authority. We must remember to warn our children of the dangers in words. We must work to build their self-esteem. We cannot all look fit and ripped. We come in all shapes and sizes. We have challenges to our lives. Words cannot define us. They cannot break us. They are simply that…words. The sooner you begin teaching kids this, the better. The more your children react to words, the more power they have. We have to teach ourselves and our children to remain calm and show little emotion to words.

How about images? Well, that one is way trickier. Oh man…that is a loaded gun. No joke. Kids especially are so self-conscious about themselves. Acne. Puberty. Growth spurts. Voice changing. Hair in weird places. You name it. It is difficult. Then, to top it all off, you have a revealing image of yourself circulating around the world on the internet now. Ouch. That hurts. It really does and you as a parent feel helpless. More importantly, you may even react angrily to the fact that the image exists. Or you make a futile attempt to contain it, which just confirms its existence and fuels its sharing even more. Reactive. Proactive. Establish rules.

  • Tell your children if they do something like this, keep it neck down.
  • Do not put your face in it.
  • Don’t have your favorite teddy bear/personal item in the picture.
  • Do not make it obvious it is you.

But, you must clearly explain to them and show them what happens when it is out there. You must show them proof that many before them have sent out these images and they end up online. You have to show them that if they want to play a dangerous game, there are dangerous consequences and they must be prepared mentally for the blow back that may occur. That silly old saying, “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” holds dangerously true.

This is the most difficult talk of all. You have to explain that taking one’s life is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. You have to impress upon your children that it is okay to talk to you. That there will be no recrimination or anger. That they are beautiful and handsome regardless of their appearance and that you could care less about these words or images and that they should chalk it up to a painful exercise in trust and move on with their lives. No, it will not be easy. And honestly, saying “I don’t give a fuck” doesn’t work. They will care. You will care. It will be tough. But, again…temporary. Fleeting. And one dumb action will not define a life of potential achievements. You have to show them that the media does not control them. They control themselves. The more unrelenting the pressure becomes, the more they need to remember that it is fleeting. That there are people in the world with real problems. That they life they would potentially sacrifice for something so silly is the life that a child dying of cancer would gladly like to have. Trust me, I bet a teen or young adult dying of cancer would gladly post a 1000 naked pictures online if it meant they got to live life….marry….have children…love….and laugh.

What we cannot do as adults is give in to the fear. We cannot stoop to the level of anger and frustration that we so often do. We have to remember that kids and people that do these things were just not taught better. And, if your kids do these things, then we have failed them in teaching that lesson. But, we do not have to compound that failure by making it worse. We have to start over. We have to teach self-love and confidence. It is not about how we look, but how we perceive ourselves.

See, this is a critical part of mental health. And mental health is a critical part of fitness. And fitness is not just lifting weights or being strong physically. It is about understanding yourself and your place in the world and loving yourself as you are. You change yourself for you, not for society. Not for someone else. Social media and technology is a tool. Nothing else. Tools can harm. But only if you let them. Education is critical. Self-love is so important. Grace and compassion from you as a parent is absolutely needed. And at the end of the day, just laughing it off is good advice. Sure, you may have to change schools. Home school. Or just change the paradigm, but again…so temporary. Life goes on. It is hard. But it is worth living.

 

Power – Why Understanding It Matters

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I have been observing the world around me quite a bit, especially myself. In taking this long and hard look at the world, I have galvanized this idea about power. This is nothing new, per se, but it is often something that people do not think about. So, I wanted to share my thoughts about this. It is necessary because it is a crucial part of fitness – specifically mental fitness. But, do you really understand power? Honestly, do I understand it? I think I have a grasp of it and I am going to share with you what I have observed and surmised.

First, let’s get a basic definition of power as it applies to what I am discussing. According to Merriam-Webster:

Power – 1b: legal or official authority, capacity, or right

2a: possession of control, authority, or influence over others

We function in a society where definition 1b applies to us. We have police. We have employers. We have authority figures. In leadership theory, we discuss the different types of power – legitimate, referent, coercive, expert, and reward. Thus, power is measured in a very real sense. Many of you may have experienced this in your lives. The person that is so skilled at a job or task that everyone defers to him or her. Or the person that can give you something you want so you defer to him or her. Or the person that simply inherited the title of CEO and you are obligated to listen to. We see this every day in our work lives.

However, the power that I want to discuss is the second. It is the more damaging of the two definitions and the one that most directly impacts us without us even knowing. Let me explain, but I warn you, that this topic may be very uncomfortable and I will use some examples that may bother some of you to bring this point home.

Why Power Matters

Power is critically important to us as individuals. Without it, we feel lost. Now, some of you may say that you have no power. But that is not true. In the legal or official way, you may have no power over someone else (unless you want to use the parenthood thing). But we still have power. So, if you take one of the most extreme things that robs people of power and examine it, you can see what I mean. Sexual assault. It is a violent and degrading act. It is illegal and in no way acceptable in any place, way, shape, or form in our society. But, as individual adults, we engage in sexual activity. So, is it the sexual part that really kills it? I would argue that it is not. Not in the slightest. It is the violation of your ability to choose. Of your right to say no – man or woman. Of your right to walk away from a situation by choice. When you are robbed of that right by force, it is terrifying. You have lost your power. Your power to choose. Your power to walk away. Your power to remain safe. Your power in knowing that you have rights. It is violently stripped from you and you are left holding the pieces. You are left powerless. It is devastating to people. So, as you can see from this very real and visceral example, power matters.

We do not have power over our employers. We cannot just tell them to pay us. We cannot cancel a layoff. We cannot stop the closing of a factory. We have no power there because it is so far beyond our reach. But, in our own sphere of influence, power is something important. I have the power to choose when to do something. When to see someone. When to engage in an activity. For the sake of this discussion about mental wellness, let’s leave out religion. Yes, I understand that one can argue that an action is God’s will, but I do want to want to tell a sexual assault victim that it was God’s will for them to be sexually assaulted. It is a choice that the person makes – to try to take power or to give it away.

Generally, the extremes on this scale are in the realm of taking power. When you violate someone’s trust or violate their privacy or their personal space, you are making a choice to take power for yourself by whatever means necessary. And, more importantly, with a total disregard for the effect on the person you are taking it from. This is why bullies just cannot process the damage they do. Everything comes from this need to have power. The more someone craves it, the more they are willing to do. It can corrupt even the best of people. For some that exist outside the normal spectrum of behavior and move into the sociopathic and psychopathic, you get crime. Terrible and horrible crime. It is all a mechanism to acquire power.

Power and Your Life

Well, shit Rod….what do I do then? Power is not a bad thing. It is just something we have to recognize. We have to understand how it influences us and how it changes us. We have to see the role it plays in all we do and why it is critical to be hyper aware of it. But wait, that makes no effing sense man? Did you smoke some weed or something? WTF are you even talking about!!!

Think back to a time in your life that does not involve work in which you felt powerless. Perhaps you were diagnosed with an illness. Perhaps you had a terrible end to a relationship. Perhaps your significant other cheated on you. Perhaps something personal and private was revealed. Ever know someone who was afraid to tell people they were getting divorced? Ever know someone who was afraid to admit they were gay? Ever know someone who was afraid to profess a love for someone else? What do all these things have in common? Think about this….they all involve a person losing power. Not the official power like an employer, but that personal power that they had in their lives, whether it was real or perceived.

I have been divorced. It was painful and heartbreaking. I was embarrassed and hurt. I tried so hard to be a good husband, but it was not enough. Circumstances just derailed the marriage. But, I did not want to talk about it. I have loved someone from a distance. But, I was afraid to say anything because if I was not loved back, I would make a fool of myself and that person would know how I felt and I would be powerless (admittedly, I made a pretty big fool of myself anyway as I thought I was hiding it and really wasn’t).

On the flipside, there are times when I have given my power away. I have lost love and lamented that fact. I have been sad and moped around. I have let people walk all over me because I care about them only to have them use that against me. I have held on to anger and recrimination. I have been mad for years at people and things. How many of you have been there? Come on now…I see all the Facebook posts, so I know at least a few people out there have been through this. We cannot all be Taylor Swift and write songs about our broken hearts to try to take our power back.

So, we live our lives doing this dance. We dance around this concept of power. We say it is not important, but it really is. We do our best not to lose it, but we give up far more often than we would like. We fight this herculean struggle to maintain some measure of power over ourselves and our lives so that we can function. And, when we lose it, we start to unravel, little by little. Facebook is an interesting place because you can usually see this in your friends’ feeds. You watch people post these oddly personal messages about how someone did them wrong and how the original writer does not care and that it was this other person’s loss. But, if they did not care, why are they posting about it? Hmmm…

Oh yeah…because they care. Because it hurts. Because they feel powerless. So, by posting they think that they are taking their power back. But in reality, they are just giving more of it away. And, they are letting everyone see just what is happening in their lives (and I will discuss this concept in my next posting). For some, it becomes all-consuming. I think we have all seen people like this. Think really hard about this, but do you know anyone like this in your life?

Reality

Power can corrupt. This is a real fact. But, that is only if you keep seeking more and more power. We are each captains of our fate. We each have our own internal power. And the thing we need to focus on is identifying what that power is and nurturing it. We have the power to choose. We have the power to think. To love. To give of ourselves. To share. To laugh. To break bread with others. To feed our minds and our souls. To care for our bodies. This is the power you should nurture. This is the power you should not give away. You can say that “he/she took my power to love” or “took my power to laugh” or “took my power to trust” but that is just not true. You gave it away! You let some person have it. That person has control over you. You may think they do not, but trust me when I say that they do. If you are still lamenting what was instead of focusing on what is….then they have taken the power you have given them.

Fitness is not just exercising in the gym folks. Fitness is mental health too. You cannot move forward if your mind is not coming along for the ride. You have to see what you are sacrificing. You have to understand what your power is and whether you have given it away. You have to take it back. You have to stop focusing on who did you wrong and start looking to who will do you right. You have to look to the future with a sense of wonder and excitement, not dread and despair. If your destiny is to be alone, so be it. You can still laugh. You can still break bread. You can still feed your mind. You can still care for your body.

Your power can give your strength. Or you can give it away to someone who is undeserving of it. So, why would you do that?

I can speak from personal experience. There was a time when I was concerned only with power. How do I get power? I felt powerless. No matter what I did or how hard I tried….I kept coming up short. But, one day, I just decided to not care. I started being authentic to myself. No, that does not mean I was a hard ass or mean or overly vocal. I just started smelling the roses. Laughing at the funny things. Appreciating the times that mattered. The less I craved power, the more it fell back into my lap – and not the official kind, but the personal kind. I started to be in more control of myself. As I gained that control, I was able to curb bad habits, create new ones, and change my perspective. I stopped bickering and fighting what I perceived to be ignorance. I just realized that people will do what they do. My power is to live my life in a way that makes me happy. For me, that is the gym. For you, it could be something different. But you have to find what that is. It is your first step to healing yourself.

So give it some thought. Really, take a moment to think about this. Do you own your power? Or are you pretending you do? What keeps you from owning your own power? Who do you give it to? Why? Does he or she deserve it? When you can honestly answer these questions, you have taken your first steps into freeing yourself. The first steps to a healthy mental outlook (although for some, you may need some professional help to get you there). Then, you can start to focus on other things, like the gym, or your work, or your relationships. You have to fix your relationship with yourself first and foremost.

Hopefully this helps you frame power in a way that helps you take yours back. But make no mistake, the more you think that you never give it away, the more you probably do. And just know, we all give parts of it away all the time. We have to unless we are a CEO somewhere, and even then, we would answer to someone. What you have to really try is to keep the important parts for yourself…..laughter, love, kindness, generosity, intelligence, compassion……or you’ll find yourself going down a very dark hole alone.

Good luck to you….and as always…feel free to comment or start a discussion. It never hurts to express yourself.

Your Song – The Correlation between Fitness and Music

my song

Cor·re·la·tion – a mutual relationship or connection between two or more things.

As I think about things to write, I come up with idea after idea and I find myself prioritizing the things that I want to share. I have things lined about protein, workouts, diet, blenders, and so many other topics. But, this one stuck out for me a bit – Music.

Music is an interesting animal – it can calm us, inspire us, mend a broken heart, motivate us, and elicit so many other emotional responses. It has a unique power to do things in ways that we cannot comprehend, but we can relate to. Here is a very academic article explaining it all:

http://www.jyi.org/wp-content/uploads//articleimages/3680/Shafron%20JYI%20Vol%2020%20Issue%205.pdf

In a nutshell, music allows us to look at deeply emotional things and process them in a way that makes sense to us and is even therapeutic. So, when we find ourselves feeling particularly emotional, we search out that song that gives that emotion meaning. Or that song that transports us back to a happy place.

Music and Fitness

But Rod, you write about health and fitness mostly, so what does music have to do with that?

Most health clubs and gyms have music on in the background. Perhaps it is just for the background noise or it is because people enjoy music, but I always find that the music being played is not suited to my pacing or tempo. It just slows me down. As I try to focus on the weight movement and pace of my repetitions, certain types of music just screw me up. It is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes I tune it out, but sometimes it is a catchy song I like, but that is not right for the gym. Sometimes, and I do hate when this happens, a kiddie jingle or song pops into my head and I cannot get it out of there no matter how hard I try. Seriously, try working out with the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round going through your head,

So, if music can throw me off, is it then possibly for it to amp me up?  Well, according to this article:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/psychology-workout-music/

music has a significant effect on athletics. I tend to think back to my days in high school when I played basketball. We would always open our pre-game warmup to something like Marky Mark’s Good Vibrations or Gun’s & Roses Welcome to the Jungle. It was always something upbeat and harder hitting. So, it is naturally something we all strive for. I know a lot of people like loud beats. Rap. Metal. Heavy paced music to push them. I cannot walk through the gym without seeing someone using a pair of Beats headphones and listening to something. And, I always wonder just what is on their music player. So, there is a definite correlation between the intensity of the music and working out. Pacing. Beat. Rhythm. Tempo. These things matter.

Taking it up a Notch

However, I want to take it up a notch. I am not just looking for the song that is fast paced or heavy hitting. I started to look for the song that not only motivated me, but that fit the narrative of my life. I have a ton of workout songs. They meet all the criteria that I seek when working out. But, I keep coming back to one song that is a metaphor for my life. And yes, it is pretty cliché, so nothing I can do about that. But, for me, the song is Eminem’s Lose Yourself. Yes, I get it. I have a professional job, make a solid salary, and do not have the challenges his character faced in the movie 8 Mile.

But, let me break it down why it pushes me so hard:

Look
If you had
One shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?

For me, this resonates. As I look back on my life, I can tell you I had moments to seize. Moments to capture. And I let it slip. We all have those moments. This does not mean we will not get them back, but they get fewer and farther between. And sadly, for some of us, it is only one moment….usually based on our socio-economic status. So, this is a powerful motivator for me.

Yo
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop b
ombs, but he keeps on forgettin’
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s chokin’, how, everybody’s jokin’ now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!
Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity

I have had these moments in my life. Moments where I choked. Where I could not find the courage to speak my mind or say what needed to be said. These were valuable and teachable moments for me. They helped shape how I see the world now. I swore never again to hold back and to speak when I needed to speak.

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime you better

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime

The refrain. You have to lose yourself truly in a moment. You have to put yourself out there. Take a change. Be passionate. With great risk comes great reward. Of course, with great risk comes the potential for great loss. Playing it safe might be the wise choice. But, playing it safe may also be the wrong choice. I call this living by the sword and dying by the sword. Although I do think you can fight for more than one opportunity.

 No more games, I’m a change what you call rage
Tear this motherfuckin’ roof off like two dogs caged
I was playin’ in the beginnin’, the mood all changed
I been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage
But I kept rhymin’ and stepwritin’ the next cipher
Best believe somebody’s payin’ the pied piper
All the pain inside amplified by the
Fact that I can’t get by
with my nine to
Five and I can’t provide the right type of
Life for my family ’cause man, these God damn food stamps don’t buy diapers

At a certain point, I just had to get serious. I had to buckle down. I had to make a choice to move forward. To push forward despite the struggle. I need to do more with my life. I needed to claw my way out of the hole I was in.

And on and on. This song, while not a direct reflection of my life, resonated with me on a metaphorical level. Couple that with an intense beat and powerful emotions it elicited from me and it became an anthem of sorts, despite its clichéd nature. See, it is not about what other people perceive it to be, but what it means to me. How it moves me. How it drives me to push myself. There is not just a connection because it is a good workout song. It is a song that reminded me of aspects of my life. Of my failures. Of my mistakes. And yes, I conquered them. I am lucky. But I am not exempt from making those mistakes again. We can become complacent in our lives. We settle. We stop fighting. We stop pushing ourselves. That is a weight I carry every day. So, this one songs drives me to remember that and it fuels me in the gym. It makes me push harder. It makes me push the weight. It makes me want to succeed because I know I have failed.

So, this article is about your finding your song. Finding that one song that is not only your workout song, but the anthem that drives your life. Whatever that song is, you must find it for yourself. I am not judging what it is. If it is Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Metallica, Nirvana, Jay Z, Kanye, or whoever else, you need to find it. You need to use it to drive you.

And if it drives you in your life and inspires you, then use it in the gym. Apply it to your health and fitness. Use it while you run. Use it while you lift. Use it to motivate you to walk around the block. Push yourself. Drive yourself. Challenge yourself. Demand more from yourself (safely and within limits). But you must make that choice. So, find your song. Find your anthem. Find your musical fuel. As Eminem says:

Success is my only motherfuckin’ option, failures not.

Healthy is the New Skinny

exercise

Society has done a number on all of us. We are constantly inundated with images of beautiful, skinny, handsome, fit people in just about everything we see. Heck, just right now I finished a few hours of mentor training (required by my job) so that I can help mentor veteran’s in my organization. While taking this training, I saw nothing but what I would consider to be handsome or beautiful people. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Skinny. Muscular. Etc. Etc. Etc. It is just a part of the world we live in.

Just the other day, I read a story about Amy Schumer. Say what you will about her comedy or her views, but I consider her an attractive woman. She is not this tiny, waif-like figure either. She has a nice womanly body. However, someone tried to shame her about her body. This lady said the following:

“I can have my opinion and you can have yours. I’m tired of the media and publications trying to push the FAT agenda. It’s not healthy and it’s not pretty. What is wrong with featuring healthy and fit cover models?”

Read the entire article for a taste of what this lady really thinks.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/amy-schumer-in-style_us_58e5030be4b03a26a3684695

But here is the thing, Amy Schumer is not fat. Not even close. And hold on, what part of her looks unhealthy? And what part of her is not pretty? Maybe she is not some supermodel on the runway, but where is she not fit or healthy? Again, disliking her politics or opinions is a far different thing than saying she is unfit, unhealthy, or not pretty. What message does that send to women out there?

Marilyn Monroe, who some considered to be the epitome of a beautiful woman, was the same size as Amy Schumer. A 14 back in the 50s is the same as a 6-8 in modern clothing sizes. But, the important thing here is something she said:

I don’t want to be bone thin, and I make it a point to stay the way I want to be.” Movieland Magazine July, 1952

She was happy whatever her weight happened to be. It was her choice. So, I just find it disheartening that people have this perception that fat (as subjectively defined) is not healthy or pretty. Let’s be really honest here, pretty is in the eye of the beholder. And healthy is determined not by a look, but by medical tests. A doctor tells you that you are healthy, not some silly swimsuit designer.

Now, is there such a thing as too heavy? Yes. There is. When your weight starts to affect your joints or your mobility, you may need to do something about it. When your weight starts to impact other people, say for example sitting in an airplane seat (and yes, I get that airplane seats have become smaller over the years), then you may want to consider changing something. When your weight starts to impact your ability to participate in life, then you may want to look at modifying your dietary and exercise habits. But, if your doctor determines you are healthy, your life is not seriously impacted by your weight, and you are genuinely happy in what you do and how you look, then more power to you. Do not let societal expectations dictate to you how to live your life.

But Rod, you post pictures of your abs and talk about working out. Yes, but that is my personal journey and decision. It is a test of my own mental fortitude to hit a goal and maintain it. I am not saying every guy out there should be going for flat, defined abs or lifting weights like I do. That is my personal choice. I want people to find their zen place. I want people to exercise for the sake of exercising. I want people to breathe easier and walk comfortably. I want you to be able to lift your children or grandchildren. I do not care if you look jacked or normal or even a bit overweight. Sweet sassy molassey….life happens. We have jobs, families, children, responsibilities, and a list too long to mention that demands our attention on a daily basis. So, we do the best we can. If the best you can do is cut our soda, then awesome for you. Perhaps you give up eating chips. Great job. Maybe you give up sugars for six months. Amazing. Maybe you start walking around the block. Or doing jumping jacks. Or something to get your heart pumping.

This is all it takes. Getting healthy can be a challenge for some, as diabetes and other ailments can be a challenge. But, it is not impossible to make small gains. What you should never, ever believe is that skinny is always healthy. Don’t believe me? Read this:

http://www.foodmatters.com/article/why-skinny-doesn-t-always-mean-healthy

or this:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oz-garcia/thin-health_b_918942.html

or this:

http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/diet-fitness/weight-loss/5-health-problems-caused-by-being-thin5.htm

Now, I am not saying that you should not want to be thin. I am saying that being thin at the exclusion of properly achieving it is dangerous. People think that thin is just eating way less and losing weight. There is a science to being thing just like there is a science to getting fit and muscular. You have to do your homework. It is a lot of work to main the proper nutrition in small enough amounts to stay health while nourishing your body.

So, the moral of this story is focus on being healthy. Focus on exercising to add some variety and mobility and enhance your muscle tone. You do not need to work out at the levels that some people do (such as myself and countless others). You just need to find a balance in your life where you enjoy some moderate exercise and a good, healthy diet. If at the end of all that, your body naturally gravitates to a size 10 or better for women….then so be it. If you are a hefty guy, but you can run and walk and do all the other things everyone else does, then be happy. Ignore the magazines. Ignore the media. Ignore the bullshit message shoved down your throats. If you are happy with yourself when you look in the mirror, then that is what matters most. If you are unhappy at the person looking back, then ask yourself how to use good science to help you with your goals.

Healthy is the new skinny – to me that simply means that being healthy is really the new ideal that we should all strive for. We should all be monitoring our specific biological needs and getting the proper medical testing to determine our overall health. Then, and only then, do we create a game plan to address the challenges we face medically.

For now, if you take nothing else away from this, take this – learn to love yourself and be happy with yourself. Only you know if you are unhealthy. If so, try to change it, one bad habit at a time. One inch at a time. Good luck out there. And know this, you always have support here…….

Your Greatest Enemy – You

unable-sm

Being healthy is daunting. Being fit seems even more daunting. You see the achievements of some and look at yourself and say “I will never get to that point” and you give up. It happens. To all of us. This is nothing new. You step on a scale and your weight has gone up. You are beside yourself because you have spent the last month in the gym and you are not lighter. Instead, you are heavier! You quit. Life kicks your ass enough already, you do not need to add this to the list of things beating you down.

Now, some people will do the research and realize that they may have a weight gain because the density of muscle is far greater than that of fat. No, muscle does not weigh more than fat!! However, muscle takes up about four-fifths as much space as fat (Kent, 2015). And, the more muscle you gain, the more weight you can conceivably gain. But, you said it does not weigh more than fat….dude, what the hell.

Let’s do some math. According McArdle, Katch, and Katch (2014), the density of fat is .9 g/mL and that of muscle is 1.1 g/m/L. Thanks Rod…that makes perfect sense. I appreciate you clearing it up. Asshole. But weight (heh…see, I have a sense of humor), what this means is that if you have 1 liter of fat, that weighs 1.98 pounds. And if you have 1 liter of muscle, it weighs 2.3 pounds. This is based on volume in your body. So, let’s say that you have:

10 Liters of fat – 19.8 total pounds

And you work-out hard for many, many months and turn it into 10 liters of muscle, then you’ll have

10 Liters of muscle – 23.3 total pounds

You will have gone up 4 total pounds in weight. But damn man, I wanted to lose weight. Well, if you create 10 liters of muscle, you will have changed your body significantly and most likely look completely different, but you will have gained weight. So, that can be hard to fathom. More importantly, you are battling a psychological process that takes place when you see yourself daily – to yourself you seem unchanged, or hardly changed.

This is a byproduct of looking in the mirror every day. You just do not notice your changes. You could be far more muscular or slimmer, but you will not know it. Then, you step on that damned scale and your weight is up. Now, unless you have been eating like crazy, it simply means you are changing fat into muscle which looks smaller but makes your weight go up as the volume is what you see, not the actual weight. So, at this point a lot of people either give up or slack off and go back to bad habits. It never fails.

Understanding Yourself 

So, we talked about the science. Cool. Now you have an idea of the weight and density of muscle versus fat. That is the first step. Next, throw out the scale or use it very sparingly. It really does not help. But, that is a pretty easy one. I am just putting it out there. More important than the scale, is to understand yourself.

As a species, we are generally averse to pain. Who wants pain? I do not mean the pain that is so bad that you hurt yourself, but pain in general. If we have it in our lives, we certainly do not want more. If we have it at work, we want to be out of that job (although sometimes we are stuck in it which leads to other issues, like depression).  So, you have to accept that with health and fitness comes some discomfort.

Let’s take a look at this in more practical terms. I want to be healthy. Man, those nachos are so damned delicious. Guacamole, fajitas, tortilla chips, ten tons of cheese, tomato, onion, and what the hell….let’s add some more cheese and then salt them up and top it off with a margarita (maybe two). 78,000 calories later and you feel so good and stuffed and happy and you love it. Sweet. On the flipside, your healthy friend is looking at the same menu and is looking at their lite menu choices. He or she would like two fajita tacos on whole wheat tortillas with a glass of water and some sliced tomato and avocado on the side. And you are staring at them thinking “you dumb mother***er, I ought to slap some sense into your dumb ass for ordering that” because they are harshing your buzz and being a total killjoy. 1100 calories later, they are done eating while you are enjoying your mountain of diabetes inducing food.

Now, how is that causing discomfort? Seriously, do you all think that eating like that is easy? It hurts. You can smell the richness of the food next to you. You can see everyone around you enjoying those margaritas. You can practically taste how good it is. As everyone is laughing and drinking it up, you are drinking water and eating a very lean meal. Come on folks, healthy people want to enjoy food too. They want to just pig out sometimes and have a plate of nachos. They want a drink. They want to enjoy some soda. But, in the end, they know that as much as they want this, it is incredibly bad for them. So, sometimes, we just avoid those friends. Why be a buzzkill? Trust me, I have been the guy at happy hour that just has a glass of water while everyone drinks. It is no fun for them and, honestly, no fun for me. So, like-minded people tend to stick together.

Fitness is discomfort. It is being able to say no. It is knowing that you will be taking the road less traveled to increase your overall health.

Faith and Fitness

I see so many people out there that are religious, and I am not knocking the basic concept of religion. In principle, religion is good because it relies on faith. You have faith in God to deliver you from evil. Yet despite this, you tend to avoid dangerous places. Why? If God will deliver you from evil, you can go anywhere, anytime you want. Ta-da, end of story. But the reality is that you have to be responsible. God will hear your prayers, but the dude is busy, so sometimes he does not answer every prayer (but he does hear them). Right? So, with fitness and health, you have to take charge. And the faith is not necessarily in God, but in yourself. You have to look in the mirror and say I can do this. I have it within me to overcome this adversity. I can ask God for help. I can plead with the universe to help me in my life, but in the end, it will be the choices I make that define me. God will not tell me to put down that margarita. God will not make me put down that nacho. Why? Well, if you believe in the concept of God, he gave you free will. You have a choice. You have a choice to be good or be bad. You have a choice to be healthy or be unhealthy. It is that simple.

So, my next suggestion is direct some of that faith and belief to yourself. Believe in your ability to overcome the challenges you face. Do not quit when the going gets tough. Do not quit when the scale moves up a bit. Instead, rededicate yourself to your goal. Use realistic measures to determine if you are changing your body. Do those pants fit better? Is that top looking nicer? Can I do extra push-ups? Can I walk a little farther this week than I did last? Does a picture of me from six weeks ago look different than a picture of me from today? These are the metrics you should be considering when you look at yourself.

You should find it within yourself to not be your own worst enemy.

Facing the Wall

We all hit the wall. This is that point where we think we have had enough. Runners often face it when training for a marathon. Cyclists hit it. Pretty much everyone undertaking a physical or mental challenge faces the wall. You come up on it and see it looming high and wide in front of you. You stare at it and stare at it and just decide you cannot get around it. This is where your faith in yourself must come into play. You have to find a way to scale that wall. You have to find a way to break it down. That is the wall that keeps you from succeeding, not just in health and fitness, but in your life. We all face it. Fear is the fuel to the fire that drives you to be your own worst enemy. Failure is scary. I may be laughed at. Mocked. Derided. But you know what – who cares!! Tune it out. You have to tune out the negativity. You have to focus on the positive. When a runner hits that wall, they have a choice. Stop and quit. Or put one foot in front of the other. Crawl. Drag yourself until you cannot drag yourself anymore. You prefer death to quitting. You have to have the mentality that you will not fail.

If you want to see what that looks like, take a minute and a half to watch this video. Just fast forward to the 1:20 mark. Watch what this 16-year-old girl does. If she quits or asks for help, that is it. So just watch….because if she has the courage to do what she does…what is your excuse?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqBerM9FPwA

We all face the wall. It is exacerbated by a lack of faith in ourselves and a lack of knowledge about the science behind health and fitness. It is further compounded by people who would see us undo all the progress we make just to satisfy the need to drink, eat, and party. We have one life. If you choose to do those things, more power to you. We all pay a price for our choices. But, if you choose the path of health and fitness, you will pay a price too. But, the overall gain you get for being healthy is like doing your research and picking a winning stock as opposed to hitting the blackjack table and hoping you get a blackjack hand dealt.

Stop being your worst enemy. One day, you might even thank yourself for it. Good luck.

The Price of Being a Woman – Seen Through the Eyes of a Man

So, first and foremost, I cannot begin to comprehend the actual price of being a woman. I speak academically and anecdotally. I have spent a lot of time doing research and a lot of time focusing on fitness and health. More importantly, I read a lot of everything just to try to stay well-rounded. In my 43 years, I have seen and experienced a lot. Thus, I am taking a risk with this post and talking about something that many women find sensitive. But, I am trying to show that I do not just dimiss this issue and that it carries weight for me.

beauty

For the Guys – Framing

First and foremost for the men that will take the time to read this. Let’s be honest – we have objectified women. I would like to say that we are more evolved and more considerate and compassionate. But, we have used terms like smoking, balls hot, hottie, sexy, fuckable, and so many others. Conversely, we have used terms like brown-bag special, fugly, and so many other pejorative terms that it really makes us look bad as a gender. Even now, I find it a real challenge to break from those bad habits. You see, we have been just as conditioned to expect something as women have (which I will discuss momentarily). Now, if there is a guy out there who has never used any terms that objectified women in any way, I will be truly shocked. Is this wrong? Yes. Does it happen? Oh hell yes…all the time. I am lucky though, I have sons. I am not forced to face the reality that men objectify my daughter because I have no daughters. So, we do this….and worse yet, some of us that do it have daughters. It is like women are open territory, but those people with daughters can exempt their little girls from that reality (and I say little girls because to a parent, regardless of age, they are out “little” children).

But, we do not learn. I myself struggle with this still. It is something that men in general grow so comfortable with, they do not realize they do it. Think about this – at the gym, the store, a park, the mall, wherever you may be, you will naturally gravitate towards the woman who is attractive versus the woman you perceive to be unattractive. She gets ignored. Don’t believe me?

Try this article from way back in 2002:

http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=123853&page=1

Or take this one from 2011. This is interesting, it basically is the old prettiest girl at the dance may actually not be asked to dance theory. It is mathematically calculating that there is a probability that women who are more attractive are often less engaged or messaged because men think they have more suitors than they really do. It suggests that women who may have some slight imperfections may 1.) be attractive to some folks who like those imperfections and 2.) may be seen as potentially more available because fewer men will be contacting them as they are not rated as highly as “hot” women. Wait what? That is real???

http://www.businessinsider.com/surprising-statistics-about-hot-people-versus-ugly-people-2011-1#

At the end of the day, women are forced to deal with a lot by society. Notice, not just men. But society in general.

Imagine all this crap that women have to deal with and then you add the insult of pay. Women make less pay than men. Now, you toss into this equation that women perceived to be “beautiful” will make more than women perceived to be “not beautiful”. Man…this really sucks. The least we can do is try to understand it from a woman’s perspective. It is a real drag to know that your wife, sister, female friend, daughter, or really, any woman out there has to deal with this. And holy hell Batman, let’s not even start talking about it if you are some type of minority or exist outside the norms. Here is some data for you:

http://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/

So that was for the guys…..

For the Women – Framing

Now, my observations for women. When I was being the typical guy I had no idea or paid little attention to all you faced. Now that I am trying to undo years of programming and terrible habits, I am seeing so much that just shocks and annoys me. Let me see if you all think the following challenges are real. I will just list the things I see (and I know this list is not all-inclusive):

  1. Magazines – what the shit? Every magazine cover I see has some completely photo-shopped woman on the cover. She is in a bikini, the perfect dress, or something incredibly cute. She looks like someone who is completely happy, gets a perfect night’s sleep, and has not one care in the world. I mean, seriously. What the hell? I saw the cover of women’s health at HEB and I photographed it for you all. blogimageGet. Her. Abs. Just three moves. Really? Just three? I am going to guess the three moves:
    1. Be rich
    2. Hire a trainer
    3. Hire a chef
      Ta-da….you too can have Gywneth’s abs. And Sexy, easy hair. And hotter orgasms. But, if you have jobs, kids, bills, stress, no time for the gym, no time to cook super healthy meals, limited budgets, and shitty relationships, well, you may struggle just a bit to get her abs. But seriously, that probably only impacts like 1% of you all.
  2. Is it just me or are all the sizes getting smaller? I see super cute stuff in the petites and smaller sizes. Then I got into the bigger sizes and it just looks like you went from being a young and happy dresser to dressing for church or an office luncheon. And seriously, even stores like Sears and JC Penney seem to glorify ridiculously over-sexed clothes for girls at a younger and younger age. Listen, I am no prude, but at a certain point (and maybe this is just me aging or something) it gets exhausting just trying to find something nice looking that is attractive and fairly modest and affordable. And yes, I look weird walking through the ladies clothing section at stores, but I have to do my research.
  3. Toys – Barbie. Bratz. Or whatever popular toy exists out there for girls. Seriously. How about end of a work day and frazzled Barbie? Or how about dealing with the kids all day Barbie? Maybe the just left the mammogram Barbie? These toys promote an unrealistic expectation of body image. I mean, you ladies are getting hit over the head with this from an early age. Every doll seems to have a thin waist and big boobs. Oh yes, tons of makeup too. And seriously, why does it look like every toy doll has the perfect life?
  4. Mall mannequins – is it just me, or are you all noticing a disturbing trend with mall mannequins. I mean, now they have nipples popping out and looking all sexed up. At least in this regard, guys get it too because I see male mannequins that look like NFL players. But seriously, you ladies really get clobbered over the head with this one. Super small waist. Rather large and perfect mannequin boobs. How about the mall mannequin that has had to breastfeed? Or the mall mannequin with boobs that are too large but she cannot afford a breast reduction? Or maybe the “she lost a lot of weight and has some excess skin” mannequin? These are real challenges that women face. But no, it is always the perfect mall mannequin.
  5. Makeup section – I have seen so many women get inundated with requests to give them a free makeover. Or let me help you look better with our new product. Or you walk through a mall and someone accosts you telling you I have this perfect cream to help with the bags under your eyes – but I will just do one eye so you can see the difference (translation, buy my products so you do not look like an older than you should be woman). Wow, I mean I never really noticed it until I started to really pay attention.
  6. Nightwear and underwear – sweet sassy molassey. What the hell? If you are not wearing something lacey and cute, it is basically considered granny panties. Gee thanks for making me feel good. Oh yes, that stuff is at the very back of the area…hidden behind four trap doors, and pretty soon will require you to sign a waiver to buy it indicating that you acknowledge you are old and beat. You need thongs! I mean, I guess they are comfortable. Sure, they look great with pants, but is having a piece of material crammed up your ass really comfortable? Someone please tell me….because it does not look comfortable to me.

These are just the things I see that are obvious. How much more do you all face? I mean, there is probably a ton of stuff that I have overlooked. And worse yet, I have been part of this problem. I am a part of this problem. I am working hard to break these bad habits, but bad habits are hard to break and like all things, you will find yourself having setbacks.

As I thought about this for my blog, I also started thinking about the why behind it. What is the driving force that pushes women to do what they do? You see, for years, I wanted to be fit because I wanted women to look at me and want me. Yet, I always failed. I not only failed, I failed spectacularly. But, one day I just let that go. I stopped caring what other people thought and just focused on fitness. I focused on myself. My mental health. My physical health. My state of mind. I applied discipline and consistency to myself and one day I woke up and not only did I have the body that people admired, I was actually healthy. I stopped caring how I looked. I was okay with a breakout. I was okay with being hot and sweaty. I was okay that I looked like crap in the gym. I tuned out all the noise. And it happened. Now, funny enough, I talked to a lot of women in my gym and the ones that are the most successful tune out the noise. They do it for themselves. They grind it out. They are not doing it to meet any societal standard or expectation. They just do it to say they can. Now, this is not to say that the woman who does it for the sake of looking good when others see her does not make progress, but I see those girls come and go. They drink hard, party hard, play hard, and live hard. I respect that. Nothing wrong with living the way you want to. But, the ones that do it for themselves are consistently in the gym busting their asses. I see them putting in the work….the effort….and the time.

So, as you ladies look to start your health and fitness journey, ask yourself why you are doing this. Take a moment to truly check in with yourselves about your motivation. You can make strides for any number of reasons, but it is my hypothesis that those of you who do it for yourselves and remove any of the bullshit distractors (i.e., societal expectations) will truly have the most success as you move forward.

My Takeaways

So, as I ponder this and think about this far more than I should, I had some thoughts. These are general thoughts and suggestions for both men and women.

  1. Ignore the media and the hype – it only serves to distract you from your true goals of being healthy and happy.
  2. Treat yourself – not just mentally, but physically. Exercise is not punishment. It is a reward for your body. You will feel better and be healthier (but it takes time).
  3. Remove negative influences – cut out people who would doubt you and your ability to succeed. Family…friends…all of it.
  4. Stop searching for affirmation – insecurity is a real challenge. To compensate, we try to seek affirmation that we look sexy or fit into some expectation. Post pictures because you are proud of your accomplishments and to prove to people that they too can reach a goal they set, but do not do it because you want people to think you look great.
  5. Not all attention is good attention – remember, the attention you seek is not always good attention. You are always free to want what you want, but sometimes, what you get can be far worse.
  6. Confidence is sexy – believe in yourself. Do not doubt yourself. You may not be perfect, but none of us are. We all have to push ourselves to be better.
  7. Compassion is the best – be kind and considerate to others. Help each other reach goals. It is not a competition with anyone but yourself. Do not tear each other down. Lift each other up. Support each other. Lend a hand. Share a kind word. Be humble.

Most importantly, I think we should understand that men and women are different (not that we don’t get that). But men, for the love of God, chill out. Stop looking at women like they are meat and you are hungry. I know this is easier said than done. But take a moment to get to know them. Right, like that is not obvious, but I mean really get to know them. There is a study that shows that woman are pretty much willing to overlook all flaws in a man (except for height, women love height). Obesity. Baldness. Skin problems. Women look for your best qualities and try to love you for that. But we typically look at their looks. Great…..they are willing to overlook our flaws and we sell them down the river for theirs. So yeah…come on guys.

Women….you are all beautiful. Yes, some of you have better external looks than others and societally we need to change how we treat women in that capacity. But, do not lose sight of your beauty. Do not let yourselves be defeated by despair and self-loathing. Love yourselves. Know that you give life. Know that you nurture and provide comfort and shelter. Know that your kindness and compassion is necessary for children to flourish and blossom. Know that if your kids become the typical guy, it is not your doing, but the impact of society putting pressure on boys to act like idiots. Do not lose hope because of a scale or because you are being marginalized by the patriarchy. Do not let media advertising fool you into thinking you are not good enough or amazing enough. Embrace who you are….and simply work to make yourself the best you possible without trying to conform to any expectation that people have of you…especially us men.

I still think to this mother who wrote about the whole bathroom debate some time back…and though her thoughts were about the issue of who uses what bathroom, her message about women and girls was loud and clear – you are warriors. Take a read….

http://americannewsx.com/human-interest/mom-shreds-every-bathroom-banner-startling-rant-everyone-must-read/

Yes, it is extreme and blunt and uncomfortable, but I can tell you that it is very real…even more so in this day and age. I do not think all men are bad or that all women have to be preparing for a complete gender war….but I think that we all can learn a little something from each other. I think we can all work to better ourselves. My focus is on health and fitness, for the sake of health and fitness. But I do recognize the challenges that we all face to be better.

Hopefully I have not insulted any women. I really am trying to look at it through your eyes. To see my faults as a man. And to try to raise my boys to be men that are better than me so that they can in turn pass it on one day. And, I do this by framing health and fitness as a body and mind positive experience. Good luck on your journey…and please share your thoughts. I do not mind being wrong and I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Keep in mind, these are just my observations…I could never know the full depth of all you go through.

Fitness and Life – A Game of Inches

So, as I pondered what particular topic I wanted to write about next – proteins, stacks, workouts, motivation, and a host of other topics, my mind kept coming back to this idea, this belief that our lives are all about acquiring inches to move forward.

Thus, I want to share a speech with you. It is a completely fictional movie speech (Any Given Sunday), although rumor is it was based off a real speech. For me, it is a metaphor for so much more than football. It has resonated with me for a long time now (and for this blog, I have changed it a bit to reflect the reality that we all face – my changes to the original are in red):

I don’t know what to say, really. You are facing the biggest battle of your lifeand it all comes down to this moment. And either you heal yourself… or you’re going to crumble. Inch by inch, moment by moment, until you’re finished.

You’re in hell right now. Believe me. And you can stay here and get the shit kicked out of you, or you can fight your way back into the light. You can climb out of hell. One inch at a time.

Now, I can’t do it for you. I’m too old and that is not my job. I look around, I see your faces and I think … I mean, I made every wrong choice a person could make. I have been irresponsible with my money, believe it or not. I have chased off people who’ve loved me. And sometimes, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know when you get older in life, things get taken from you. That’s — that’s part of life. But you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches.

Because in life, the margin for error is so small … I mean, one half-a-step too late or too early, and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast, you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of this life, every minute, every second.

In your life, you fight for that inch. In this life, you tear yourself and everyone else around you to pieces for that inch. You CLAW with your fingernails for that inch.

Because you know when you add up all those inches, that’s going to make the fuckin’ difference between WINNING and LOSING! Between LIVING and DYING!

I’ll tell you this — in any fight, it’s the person who’s willing to die who’s going to win that inch. And I know if I’m going to have any life anymore, it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that’s what LIVING is! The 6 inches in front of your face!

Now, I can’t make you do it. You have to look at the person staring at you in the mirror. Look into those eyes. Now, I think you’re going to see a person who will go that inch with you. You’re going to see a person who will sacrifice themselves because they know when it comes down to it, you’re going to do what it takes to get that inch.

That is your life, people. And either you heal now…. or you will die alone. That’s it, folks. That’s life. That’s all it is. Now, what are you going to do?

This was a great speech delivered by Al Pacino (one of my favorites) and the power with which he delivered it was amazing. The first time I heard it, it had little impact on me because it was just a movie and I was too busy fighting my own demons to understand what it really meant. But, as I heard it over and over, it started to take on a completely different meaning for me. It became less about football and more about life. I was always trying to go for the big score. Trying to get the proverbial heroic touchdown or slam dunk. Every moment I spent trying to get that was a moment I sacrificed on the fundamentals of my life and health. I kept putting off for tomorrow what I could do today. I kept ignoring the inch in front of me hoping that I could take a foot or a mile!

And as I got older, I gained wisdom. Slowly. Painfully. I gained focus and resolve. I realized I had only this life to make a difference. To change myself and maybe, just maybe, change others for the better. And that despite losing so many inches while chasing a mile, I could still claw those inches out. They were still all around me.

It starts with yourself. Heal yourself. Put your demons to rest. For some, it is easier than others. I am not a therapist, but I can tell you that you have to want to move forward. We all need to put our energy into breaking free from that which holds us back so we can claim that first inch.

It starts so small….a tiny hint of movement. It is barely perceptible. We have all probably felt like we are stuck, not moving forward at all, even moving backwards. But, if you keep working hard and believing in yourself, you’ll get that forward movement. I am not saying that living a healthy life will solve all your problems, but it is something you control – you own. You can fight for those inches. You can claw for those inches. You can change yourself and see results. Yes, you will stumble and fall. You will have setbacks. But ultimately, you can and will prevail. And as you stand there victorious, you will realize you have the strength to conquer so much more.

And it doesn’t take anything fancy. Just willpower and dedication and desire. You just have to commit. You have to truly claw and fight for each inch. And that is why this speech resonates so much for me.

We succeed not because life dropped success in our laps. We succeed because we clawed for it. We fought for it. And when we finally stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and started focusing on what we needed, it changed us for the better. It is important to be a part of a team, and friends and support helps. But, we have to be prepared to go at it alone. We have to fight for our lives with our last breath.

Because you know when you add up all those inches, that’s going to make the fuckin’ difference between WINNING and LOSING! Between LIVING and DYING!”

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