Making My Life Work Better

2019-11-27 16.58.34You’ll find a lot on my site about strength training. It’s a habit that’s served me well for 25+ years.

This year saw some changes. I went stale in my tried-and-tested program. I recognized my mojo was flat and wasn’t making much progress.

A few years back, a friend had done a backcountry ski program with Mountain Tactical. So I bought the latest version of that program, got to work and learned a few things. Currently, I’m using their in-season ski maintenance program. I’ll skip observations about the plans themselves and focus on general points that might apply to you.

How am I allocating my time and where is that likely to take me? Athletics, relationships, every single thing.

What is the purpose of your protocol? These days: (a) enough stress to get the benefits of exercise (cognitive & mood); (b) vanity; and (c) maintain my ability to ski & hike at a very high level.

With the MTI program, the sessions were so challenging that I needed to drop all other exercise. Dropping supplemental training probably seems obvious but, in my demographic, it’s common for people to do 1-2 extra sessions per day, and still think they are not doing enough!

The results were great. Even the nights with total exhaustion were “fun” => they made me feel like I was doing something.

Giving myself a full 24-hours to recover between sessions boosted my recovery AND reduced the mental stress of having to grind out a lower quality session when tired. It reminded me of my single-sport focus periods when I was an elite triathlete.

Within my training, I made a big demand on myself (for about an hour, 3-4x per week) then backed way off for the rest of the day. If you are finding, like I was, that all your sessions are blending into mediocre performance, with limited gains, then this tactic might help.

Seems obvious but it takes a lot of courage (for a compulsive exerciser) to back off. For example, I have a fear of weight gain and can use cardio to enable excessive eating.

Each one of us has blindspots. Mine are range of motion, quickness and coordination => fundamental components of high-level skiing. The program I bought contained box jumps, lateral jumps, side-to-side jumps, dynamic lunges, stretching and body-weight hip extension exercises. The act of seeking help gave me a nudge to do things I’d skip on my own. This works in our larger lives:

  1. Notice when your protocol stops working
  2. Seek expert advice
  3. Trim non-essential components

As an elite athlete, my “recovery” included 12-15 weekly hours of easy cardio. Easy cardio isn’t easy but that’s a different topic!

My easy-training hours have been replaced with walking, time with my wife and housework. This shift makes it easier (and more likely) to succeed within my larger life, which aims at a world-class marriage, thinking better and educating my kids.

What I value is reflected in where I allocate my time.

Removing Things That Make Me Stupid

2019-11-17 09.12.07

Sometimes the key to thinking better is getting rid of habits that tilt me towards stupidity.

+++

When I say “learning to think better”, what comes to mind?

I get a vision of learning new things (derivatives, higher level mathematics, stochastic modeling and probability).

For me, that’s not the answer.

I could spend 10,000 hours learning advanced techniques and be no further along than a decent graduate student. I’ve been reading The Alchemy of Finance => humbling!

The return on those hours would be low. A better bet is to get rid of the hours in my existing life that have a negative value.

2019_rip

Where might less effort, generate far better results?

Make a habit of removing negative information

Hands down, my biggest source of noise is my phone. I tell myself that my smartphone makes me dumb but is that true?

Why don’t you put it away? I tell myself…

Key relationships value quick feedback.

OK, what can you change with zero impact on your key relationships?

Delete:

  1. Chrome
  2. Google News
  3. WSJ App
  4. Instagram (I reinstall for 10 minutes each time I publish)
  5. gMail

Push the above into my office hours, get off my phone and do something useful.

Noise is both addicting, and draining.

The first time I read a warning about noise was 2005. Back then, my noise was newspapers and online chat forums. I did a good job of getting rid of newspapers and forums. I miss newspapers, it’s a useful reminder to read more books.

Gradually, I replaced the space I created with social media and apps. Facebook is the ultimate forum for creating noise and distraction. It is personal, visual and uniquely tailored to my biases.

2019-11-16 09.12.40

Removing noise is a form of continuing education.

I needed to take action with my phone to capture the opportunity for self-improvement when I’m at my kids’ sports practices.

What to read? Older writers, classic books, biographies, stories that help me remember how I fool myself: Taleb, Munger, Marks, Cialdini and Buffett.

Mistakes flourish in an environment when I’m surrounded by noise, feeling rushed and dealing with frustration.

Be less stupid.

Mood Management 2019

2019-11-02 14.02.09

One of Taleb’s best insights:

It’s better to make the system robust to reality, rather than seeking to change the way people are.

He applies the advice to financial greed but you can extend the idea across domains. For example, I consume less sport because…

It’s better to make your mood robust to reality, rather than rail against cheating. 

Outrage is a distraction from the work I need to do. So is fear, and I found myself feeling fearful in a meeting last week.


I spent most of my working life in a job where there is a financial incentive to mislead me. Recently, I was sitting in a meeting and the CEO lit up my spidey sense:

  1. He showed over-reaction to small stimuli
  2. He told me he was honest
  3. He showed a lack of impulse control

I pay attention to the trifecta because it usually means there is a secret around me.

It could be innocuous => I can be insufferable when hyped and nervous. Anyhow, the lesson here is not about the CEO. I looked inside:

  • Repulsion => the feeling that I might get ripped off is unpleasant.
  • Hubris => I caught myself thinking, “if only this guy was more like me. He could be so much more…”
  • Catastrophizing => my mind jumped to the worst case scenario => he’s a crook and I’m going to lose my investment!

Fortunately, I didn’t act on any of these feelings. Merely watched them come & go.

I reminded myself that I can only be deceived when I want something.

  1. What do I want to have happen?
  2. Why am I in this meeting?

I was in the meeting to avoid making a mistake in my life.

Someone else’s life is beside the point.


2019-11-02 14.23.47

But what was I seeking? What was causing the uneasiness?

This summer, I felt a push to start writing again. I had been reading books and listening to author interviews. There was something, essential, missing from their dialogue.

The humility to see that the optimal plan is rarely optimal.

I studied world-class experts, sharing world-class advice. Advice they could not implement in their own lives.

I wanted to shout, “If you are right but you can’t get it done then you are not right!”

Then I came across this Goggins post on Instagram

When you don’t know yourself nor do you care to know yourself, you end up spending the majority of your time trying to please other people. People who like you when it’s convenient for them, when you are doing something for them, when you are making them feel better about themselves, etc.

The entire post is gold. Wildly excessive fatigue strips everything away and leaves you with the truth, your truth. DG is lucky he’s writing it down. We are lucky he’s sharing.

You see, what I was feeling was a conflict between knowing the author’s advice works and seeing him not being able to implement. It was what drove the question in last week’s blog… Who gets the benefit of your best advice? Frankly, who cares. And more importantly, who am I to care?

Repulsion, hubris, catastrophizing => replaced with gratitude, for access to world-best advice, and an opportunity to improve myself.

Sport, finance, relationships… absent desire, we can never be deceived.

Attention Is Expensive

2019-10-18 07.31.22Let’s start with a story.

When I was younger, I never let a lack of knowledge prevent me from confidently sharing my theories about anything (this remains a weakness, BTW).

One day, I was holding forth and my buddy Jeff (board-certified orthopedic surgeon) chuckled and said, “I would call what you just said G-medicine.”

Later on, he took me aside and said, “Buddy, you know there’s a reason we go to med-school.”

He left it at that, which was a wise way to deal with an over-confident guy, who’s outside his field of competence.


I had some follow up questions about fasting and optimizing for one-rep max.

To address tactics, I need to step back and explain strategy.


Body, mind and spirit => What are you trying to achieve?

You need to know because attention, effort, willpower and thought are expensive.

So fasting, one-rep max, wherever you are focusing…

What is your payoff from your protocol?

Effort is expensive. Spend it wisely.


2019-11-02 06.03.09-1My philosophy is:

  1. Know your goal
  2. Keep the protocol simple
  3. Access believable people to tell you what’s required
  4. Use simple benchmarks
  5. Use habit energy to make life flow on autopilot

My protocol…

  1. No Zeros => remove days where I don’t train
  2. Get Outside the box and into nature => even if the box is a Gulfstream, or a boardroom, it remains a cubicle
  3. Seek Mastery => surfing, moguls, powder, swimming, sailing => moments of flow await!

Be honest with yourself. Is your physical life where you want it to be?

  • Work before work rate => Develop work-capacity before you do work-rate training. One-rep max is a “work-rate” benchmark that is certain to decline over time.
  • Don’t fool yourself => nobody fasts for health & longevity => we are either looking for an easy way to lose weight, or creating caloric “space” for binges.

Simple metrics let you create the habits that enable larger projects. Looking backwards over the last year:

  • < 10 zeros (days without exercise)
  • 15th year of stable body weight
  • 200+ days on trails or snow
  • 350+ days awake before 5am

I know I could be more, too much time is wasted on my smartphone.

I must remember that life is empty without connection. So be open to change based on painful feedback from my closest relationships => my wife and kids are brutally honest with me!


Higher Order Effects

I have empty space in my life so I can reflect on where my actions are likely to take me.

  • I have an addictive personality in a family tree with mental illness, addicts and eating disorders. Kinda indicates caution with self-starvation! Respect your history.
  • Be cautious with putting pressure on your spinal column, heavy lifts and explosive movements. Powerlifting injures can be for life. Respect reality.

Where are you likely to go with your protocol? You OK with that?

What’s the worst that can happen? You OK with that?


Fragilities

What is going to derail you?

My depression triggers are: poor nutrition, irregular sleep, alcohol, missed endorphins and excessive fatigue.

My entire life is a positive-feedback loop designed to keep me rolling.

Much of my “not do” advice is related to the risk of ruin. My depression triggers are defined as fun by my peers.

I need to be OK with saying “no” because… Depression isn’t fun.


Nature Has Useful Information, even if unpleasant

As you age it will be tempting to access Big Pharma to fool yourself, particularly if your self image is wrapped up in physical performance.

Before you act, consider…

What’s your competitive advantage? I think better, and choose slower, at 50 than 28. Taking myself to 11 with testosterone would GREATLY increase my error rate, across all domains. Not worth it.

My competitive advantage is taking the best ideas and integrating them via new habit creation. I can do this until I die.

Fatigue is information that guides me away from physical ruin => my mojo feels like it’s a tenth of where I was at 40, but my life is better because I am a better person.

Once again, overriding nature greatly increases my risk of injury. Injury can be the first step on a downward spiral towards depression/ruin. Not worth it.

Surprisingly, getting physically worse isn’t worse.


Anyhow, lots here.

When it comes to positive change: set a low bar, and do it daily.

I live near a cemetery, which helps me remember my expected value is negative infinity.

Death is an outstanding reason to be true to yourself.

A Better Set of Problems

2019-09-14 07.05.49My favorite place in the United States is Blue Sky Basin.

From Blue Sky, you can look west and see The Mount of the Holy Cross – it’s a humbling view, which reminds me of beauty and personal insignificance.

Mountains are good that way!

2019-09-13 14.44.34When I tell folks about my mini-adventures, they might say “I wish…”

  • I wish my spouse…
  • I wish my kid…
  • I wish my boss…

Pay attention to your spoken wishes, and do.

2019-09-12 17.40.11

Am I willing to do whatever it takes to turn my wish in to reality?

Using my son’s hiking, I have insisted, “I will never…”

  • drive long distances
  • walk slowly
  • carry everything
  • give up “my day”

Going deeper, unlocking the benefits of marriage required me to modify what I thought were my best qualities.

Well, do you want it enough to change?

2019-09-14 07.45.21.jpgSecond, pay attention to the reality that you’re going to feel the same!

Memory is different than experience…

…and my experience often feels like a problem.

My experiences are largely forgotten, replaced with new problems I dream up. Fortunately, I am free not to take myself too seriously.

This insight, requires paying attention and not taking my thoughts too seriously in the moment.

I started by noticing my #1 habit that was clearly making things worse => acting on anger in low-stakes situations.

What is your #1 habit that’s holding you back?

2019-09-14 07.52.57.jpgWith a bit of luck, I have a few hundred Blue Sky laps remaining.

Each time I look over to Holy Cross, I’ll be reminded of a job well done.

Fill the world with reminders of your best self.

Years, Leverage, Time and Ruin

2019-09-10 07.55.51The benefit of creating a good position is you can choose not to leave it.

Each time I change strategy, I open the door for error.

2019-09-10 06.08.38A quick review, I calculate financial wealth as:

Net Family Assets [divided by] Annual Cost of Living

The formula spits out an answer in years, not dollars.

To figure out if an idea is “worth it,” I convert to years.

I also consider:

  • Leverage: do I have to borrow, what’s the total dollar value of my exposure, how large/far can things move against me?
  • Time: I have control of my schedule – might this idea change my ability to control my schedule?
  • Ruin: reputation, relationships, finances, health… how does this idea change my exposure to ruin?

I have a lot of (bad) ideas. Thankfully, most don’t get through my filters.

These filters work with EVERYTHING… alcohol & drug use, mistresses, felonies, off-balance sheet financing, sleeping late, losing emotional control, binges…

2019-09-07 06.15.45

How can I put “years” into family wealth without increasing my risk of ruin?

In 2009, we executed a four-year plan that put us in a better position.

A key part of that plan was downsizing, borrowing (30-years fixed at 3.25%) and pulling 65% of the equity out of our primary residence.

It was highly inconvenient to change and we expected the smaller place to be a step down. However, our minds adjusted and we love our existing place. The move paid off in “years”:

  • Our current place runs at half the cost of our old house.
  • The capital we withdrew, earns enough to cover the cost of our current place.

I looked at moving again but there wasn’t any benefit to us after taxes, commissions and hassle. So we’re going to wait and watch.

Remember, “doing nothing” maintains an option to (make a better) change later.

2019-09-05 19.33.32The Elephant(s) in The Room

Childcare and school fees have been a fixture of the last six years. It has been a big number – about double what we pay in housing costs.

Our youngest is in Grade One (yay!) and we just lost our favorite sitter (not so yay). The result is a big slice of the family budget gone.

My first thought was to replace help with even more help. I have a habit of throwing money and other people’s time at my problems. It’s a carryover from my days in finance – where I aimed for maximum subcontracting in my personal life.

Then I had a thought…

  • Consolidate the kids’ schedules (we often have three in three different places)
  • Help out in the afternoons (I’ve done nothing for a few years)
  • Take over the cleaning (ditto on my lack of input)

It’s ~20 hours out of my week => prior thoughts on money and time.

The other elephant in the room is my cash flow deficit. It’s been rolling at 4% of assets for years. I’ve ignored it because our assets have been appreciating at a faster rate. My comfort with deficit spending reminds me of 2004-2008.

So I could “buy” the family a shift from a cash flow deficit to a surplus. Worse case, I crack a bit and hire local kids to help me out. I’ll still cut my cash burn by ~80%.

When I explained my plan to my wife she asked if my plan would make me happy. I said,

“I don’t expect to be happier but I noticed that being a better man never made things worse.”

Vision Sixty

2019-08-20 07.58.18Seven years ago, I asked my smartest pals to share their experiences with sabbaticals. It was a very useful exercise. Rather than a sharp, and sudden, sabbatical, I made a choice to change slowly. I gradually shrank my working life and replaced it with more family engagement.

Over the last year, I’ve been tapping my supervet buddies in a similar exercise. I am asking about their 50s => any lessons, any tips, how’d you find it?

2019-08-20 06.26.25The answers have been all over the map.

  • Everything gets easier
  • Worst decade of my life
  • Best years of my life

ZERO consistency in what people say, but clear themes when I look at what they actually do. They keep on, keeping on.

Despite what we tell ourselves, there is little practical decline through 60. Obviously, I’d be miles behind my 37-year old self in any sort of race. However, even in my sedentary pals, it’s more of a “slowing down” than a decline (in function). I saw this in the supervet athletes I coached. A clear, annual, decline didn’t start to happen until ~70 years old.

In comparing me-with-me, there’s very little lifestyle change forced upon us. The changes are more about coming to terms with “less.” Less vision, less skin tone, less aerobic capacity, less recovery capacity…

Middle age struggles tie back to seeking “more” => relationships, heart problems, injuries, dissatisfactions… the damage comes from the stresses of striving.

My happiest older pals have found a way to come to terms with what they have, and what they’re not going to have.

2019-08-20 08.53.10-1

If “more” is going to challenge you then it will be obvious (injuries, depression, a-fib, drama, binging, addiction).

I like to remind myself, “Reality is enough.”

My mind is ALWAYS spinning ideas for more. I pay close attention to how “more” makes me feel – exhausted, neglecting my family, worried I’m going to get caught out.

2019-08-17 09.20.59Get your winning done early and pay attention each time you taste a lack of satisfaction after striving.

Look deeper into your drive, passions and interests => what lies beneath your compulsions?

For example, I like spending time in forests – my speed of movement through the forest is something I track, but has no impact on my satisfaction.

What’s your gig? My gig is sharing a connection to nature with people I love.

The “lack” is deeper than the “more” we seek. I had to back off to find out that satisfaction was behind me.

2019-08-15 17.22.14How would you describe your desired outcome over the next 5-10 years?

Active, polite, easy-going, positive. These are the traits of my older pals that I enjoy spending time alongside.