The thing about advice…

Advice. It’s been given since the dawn of communication, and will continue be given as long as us humans are around. It’s the packaging of choice for encouragement, rebuke, and wisdom. It’s good, it’s bad, and it’s neutral. And it’s the thing that can lift us up, and thing that can hold us down. But the main thing to understand about advice…

It’s given and received by imperfect people. And that’s okay.

Hidden beneath the veil of advice is personal experiences, biases, blind spots, ego, insecurity, confidence, and every now and then…wisdom. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give advice. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t receive advice. It means that we should filter advice. And we should filter it without attaching emotion to it.

If it’s useful to us, keep it. If it isn’t, discard it. Just like this post.

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The Answer No One Wants to Hear

What workout program do you do?

It’s a question I’m asked at least once a week – in the gym, at a social event, from a reader, from a friend – and what they’re really trying to ask is “How do you look the way you do?”

I usually try to satisfy their question with some version of lifting weights, doing sprints, or rowing. This generic response will usually suffice, and the person will likely draw the conclusion that I must have some tricks up my sleeve that I won’t talk about.

But the real answer to their question?

I’ve had a heavy barbell in my hands or on my back nearly every day for the past seventeen years.

And therein lies the problem. While this is the truthful answer to their question, it’s not the one most people want to hear. Because if they wanted my advice and I told them to lift heavy weights for fifteen years straight, the conversation would be over before it began.

Repetition is the master of all great, predictable outcomes.

We are inundated with ways to cut corners in everything from our work to our workouts. Media thrives off of ways to burn belly fat, get rich, or feel your best in just a matter of weeks. Our social feeds are filled with friends doing some new 30 day workout or nutrition program.

We want the results, but we also want to see the finish line in the near future.

But alas, this is not how life works.

If I were to ask Seth Godin how to be a great author, he’d tell me to write every single day for the next 20 years.

If I were to ask Jerry Seinfeld how to be a great comedian, he’d tell me to write jokes and practice every single day for the next 15 years.

If I were to ask the top sales rep at any company how to be a great sales rep, they’d tell me to pick up the phone 100 times a day, every single day.

Success is not sexy, as much as we want to make it so. It also isn’t accessible via a shortcut, band-aid, or “hack”.

So now whenever someone asks me what workout program I do, I’m just going to tell them the truth, the answer no one wants to hear…

…that I’ve had this heavy-ass steel bar on me for 17 years and counting.

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The Only Thing That Matters When Creating Your Best Self

Why don’t you have any food?

This is a question I’m asked virtually every time someone is at my house. A quick peek in the fridge reveals some fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, and a jug of almond milk. A peek in the pantry reveals some rice, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, RXBARs, and baby food.

This is what our fridge and pantry look like every single week. It’s not because we don’t eat. It’s because we make eating healthy as easy as possible. Let me explain.

When we think of someone that is in really great shape, we think they must have incredible discipline and willpower to eat healthy and workout a lot.

When we think of someone that is very successful in business, we think they must work harder than everyone else and be smarter than most.

But in my experience studying successful people, both in my own network and through reading, rarely is it the characteristics we “think” lead to success that actually do. Instead…

Creating our best self boils down to making it easy to succeed and difficult to fail.

If you pull back the curtain on the daily lives of people we deem successful, there is a good chance they’re no different than anyone else. They simply make it as easy as possible to be successful, and make it as difficult as possible to fail.

Which brings me back to the food in my house. I am not in good shape because I have iron will. In fact, if you put me around a large pizza or a dozen cookies, they will both be gone in a matter of minutes. Instead, I am really good at controlling my environment, which then leads to my success. With food, I keep the bad stuff out of my house so I’m not tempted to eat it. With workouts, I set my bar low by simply trying to lift heavy weights for 30 minutes a few times per week. For some insurance, I fast nearly everyday until 1pm and have done so for the past 7+ years.

When we think of creating the best version of ourselves, we should be crystal clear about the characteristics we’re striving to normalize in our lives. Once we’re crystal clear about those, we need to ask ourselves:

  1. How do I make it easy to succeed at this?
  2. How do I make it difficult to fail at this?

Limiting the food in your house is a system. Putting the alarm clock in the other room is a system. Putting your fish oil or multivitamin next to your toothbrush is a system. Putting your phone on airplane mode while you write or make sales calls or work on your most important project is a system.

Willpower is limited. Discipline is overrated. To create our best selves, we need to use systems – systems that make it easy to succeed and hard to fail.

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An Antidote to the Low Points of Life

I was lying in bed curled up in a ball, unable to do much more than glance around the room, trapped in my own head.

I wasn’t physically ill. I wasn’t coping with some great loss or catastrophe in my life. I admittedly didn’t even have that much to be upset about. But that didn’t change the fact that I was here – internally caving to the throes of life that all of us deal with.

I won’t bore you with the details, but a string of things occurring in my professional and personal life had left me mentally and emotionally paralyzed, unable to do anything other than retreat to my bed for the majority of this particular weekday.

I hesitate to use the word depressed, because there are people that have clinical depression deeper than I can even fathom, but that’s what it was a form of – depression brought upon by a string of setbacks. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, and it was pouring in my world.

Staring at the ceiling trying to process what was going on in my life, I was at a loss for what to do next, at a loss for how to claw my way out of another low point of life.

But being a writer that focuses on the mindset and habits that allow us to create our best selves, I knew the answers were at my fingertips. I just needed to dig in and apply them. So I set out to do what I’ve done so many times in my life – simplify the situation and execute on the solution. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Focus on Strengths All of us are good at some things, and not good at others. This was a moment in time where I needed to get back to focusing on my strengths. When you’re in a depressed state, any minor thing can set off a string of emotions and reactions. You’re frustrated, on edge, and sad. Doing things that are a struggle for you can result in deepening that state. Instead of pushing myself in areas that I struggle with, for the next two weeks following my bed-ridden day I only did things I was good at and that came easy to me. More on this in point #2.
  2. Help Others My outlet to do these things was other people. I gave hours and hours and hours of my time away to others, using my strengths to help others in the areas they weren’t as strong in. I joined the board of directors of a company I deeply admire. I spent a day with a founder helping to craft a management strategy. I spent a day with another founder helping to craft a sales strategy. I picked up the pen and wrote what you’re reading right now.

In effect, I just kept giving myself minor rewards by doing things I knew I was good at. When you do things you’re good at, you naturally receive the egoic reward of success. Couple it with giving that thing away for free to others, and you double dip into the tub of happiness by also receiving the egoic reward of giving.

I would be exaggerating if I said this was a perfect recipe for getting out of my low state. While it did get me out of it, I am still regularly returning to the state, albeit for shorter periods of time. What was days-long prior is now hours-long. But now when I dip back into the state I am armed with tangible and recent experiences of getting out of it. This helps me understand that it’s temporary, and these things pass in due time (and due action).

Life is not perfect. Even for people like me who write about creating the best version of ourselves. The reason I write is because, like all of us, I also have that worst version of myself that I’m trying to keep at bay. Creating our best self sometimes just means slightly improving our worst selves. And that’s okay. Because this too shall pass.

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Lemons: A Mental Guide to Life’s Hurdles

Yesterday would have been Cade’s third birthday. His birth and subsequent death seem like it was simultaneously ten years ago and ten weeks ago. Some things are as fresh on the mind as the day it happened while others are distant wounds, only remembering them from the scar left behind and not the pain. Needless to say, it’s been a journey since that day, with many ups and downs and everything in between. What follows is a reflection, a mental guide if you will, on how we can best navigate the lemons that life throws at us. They can be sour, or they can be turned into something much better, entirely dependent upon what we do with them. It is our reactions in life that determine our happiness – our responses to an uncontrollable world. Enter lemons.

Loss

Loss is arguably the deepest pain one can feel in the course of life. Whether it’s a family member, a close friend, or a child, loss unveils the harsh reality that life equals death – a veil that we so often try to not think about. The term that comes to mind when contemplating loss is “unfair.” It’s unfair to us, to the person we lost, to humanity. This is usually when emotions are steering the ship, not logic. Because death ultimately is fair. In fact, it’s the fairest thing we experience. One in, one out. We live, and then we die. Every single one of us. The situation itself may very well have felt unfair – a child gone too soon just seems wrong, a drunk driver seems avoidable, a deadly disease seems preventable. But death and loss in and of itself are the common thread that binds all of humanity. Even in those seemingly unfair circumstances, they lose their “unfairness” when we take a step back and realize how many people have experienced a similar loss. What was unfair before becomes a shared experience with countless others. This escape from the unfair mentality is step one in overcoming the lemon that is loss. Seen in proper perspective, these losses are things that bind us, not separate us. Unfair is isolation. Fair is shared experience.

Step two is using the pain for good. The only way to turn a negative into a positive is to do something with it. There are people out there hurting in a similar situation that need you. They need the comfort of someone who’s been there and can share in their experience with them. By doing this that thread of humanity becomes connected and stronger. When we use our pain for good we inherently make the world and the tiny sliver that we play in it better.

Anxiety

We live in an anxious age. From politics to racism to war and terror, we needn’t look far to find something to be anxious about. And this anxiety can become crippling. We have access to more information than ever before in history, and with this information comes a responsibility to use and view it appropriately. This is the part that hasn’t caught up with the speed of change. We’ve democratized access to information without democratizing how to absorb it and what to do with it. It’s like giving a teenager access to a credit card without teaching them the basics of personal finance. They’re on a collision course with financial disaster and don’t even know it. This is the state of information and anxiety.

Our brains process millions of pieces of information every single day, most of which aren’t absorbed. The ones that do stick are a product of frequency – the more we hear them the more sticky they become. What do you think are the bits of information that stick in our minds when we’re constantly reading a feed of shock headlines, people’s inherently biased opinions, and click bait designed entirely to suck us in? If you guessed the anxiety-riddled information, you’d be correct. Scare tactics are what makes the media world go-round, and what keeps a large chunk of us coming back for more.

The keys to overcoming this anxiety-driven information are frequency and appropriate understanding. Frequency is the practical solution and is as simple as controlling our inputs. I disabled my Facebook account last June as the political landscape began to heat up. I stayed off until December when I assumed the flame had died down. I was wrong. My feed was even more littered with emotionally-ridden opinions and little respectful dialogue. And so after a matter of days, I once again disabled my Facebook account, this time likely for good. In an instant, I fundamentally shifted the primary source of my information input, which in turn shifted my susceptibility for anxiety. And the news? It has little to no room in my life, not because I don’t care but because I know the truth isn’t found in the news. When it comes to opinion-driven commentary the truth almost always lies somewhere in the middle, and this is where appropriate understanding comes in. Two people can have the exact same set of information and come to two very different conclusions. This is human nature, and trying to unify us under a single mindset is a biologically impossible and undesirable task. While we may not agree with someone, that doesn’t discount that they came to their conclusion based on the cards and information they were dealt. When we combine a ruthless distillation of our information inputs with an appropriate understanding of other’s opinions, we limit our triggers for anxiety and can respond to the world with logic, not emotion.

Struggle

Every human on the planet experiences high points and low points. Some days life is great, and some days life is miserable. There are a number of factors that go into determining the highs and lows, but it’s our mindset that affects how long we stay in the lows. Maybe you’ve recently been laid off from a job. Maybe you’ve been on the job hunt for a long time and your hope is running thin. Maybe your relationship is on the rocks or you feel mostly alone in your journey. In these moments I like to think of the big picture and the bigger picture. The big picture is when we step back from our situation and remember that we’ve been here before and came out okay on the other side. This isn’t our first low point, and life generally worked out in our favor in the past. Our previous struggle led to our previous breakthrough. This is simple, but it’s true in its simplicity. Lows are temporary pit stops on a long journey. Understanding this is what inserts hope back into the situation, and that hope keeps us moving forward until we’re out of the valley.

The bigger picture is taking an even bigger step back and viewing our problems in the context of the billions of humans that have called this planet home. We have our struggles, but our struggles are not unique, and they likely are nowhere close to the struggles that other humans experience daily. We may not have a job, but we likely have the resources or people in our lives to know where our next meal comes from. We may feel insecure or lonely, but at least we don’t have a war being fought outside our front door. We may feel stuck, but at least we live in a time and place where we can create our own opportunities. Struggle, in essence, can become a selfish endeavor. We get caught up in the “me” when what we need is a step back into the “we.”

We are all born into this world, and we all are taken from this world. In between is a series of highs and lows, and having the ability to see the forest through the trees is what makes it tolerable. We are anything but unique in this sense, and that’s a good thing. Our struggles aren’t special, and we don’t deserve special attention or circumstances because of them. When we accept this we become free. Because while we may still be chained to the circumstance we are not chained to our mindset within it. The lemons are handed to us, and we choose what to do with them. Sour or sweet, the choice is ours.

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