Embrace Small Failures

Yesterday, wasn’t a chair-in-the-shower workout but I did need a chair in the kitchen to cook breakfast.

It’s been over a year since I read Professor G’s book (The Algebra of Happiness). I’ve been working on his advice to Embrace Small Failures.

A reminder to reach for a better version of myself

Historically, my training has been where I expose myself to the risk of failure. As the kids have become more self-sufficient, I’ve had space to bring some athletic challenges back into my life.

Challenging myself at 51 is a whole lot different than going big in my 30s.

I’ve been using Mountain Tactical out of Jackson, WY.

I first came across MTI a decade ago when a friend used them. I remember thinking, “no way I could do that.”

For what it’s worth, I had the exact same reaction the first time I heard about Ultraman Hawaii, no way I could do that.”

I won Ultraman three years later.

Day 3, Ultraman Hawaii, 52.4 miles in the lava fields

Each module from Mountain Tactical had me wondering, “am I going to be able to get through this?”

My latest was a 10-week training program with 5 workouts per week => 50 sessions total.

Lots has changed between the start of the block and the finish.

The biggest change had nothing to do with sport, it was a gradual shift from “temporary” shelter-in-place orders to an ongoing you-must-stay-in-your-home-to-be-a-good-person vibe. Depending on your peers & politics, your mileage may vary.

Back in March, I looked ahead to Session #50. I thought it was a type-o:

When I first used an 80-pound bag for the getups, I’d get pinned (for a while!) before figuring out how to get back up. There’s no prescribed way to get up, so I took relief in my struggles.

The plyometrics were more psychological than physical => a lot of post-workout soreness and a lurking fear of tearing tissue. Once I realized I could keep plugging along, it was a mental game of persisting.

If you’ve ever done step-ups then you probably noticed it is the “down” not the “up” that causes problems. Thousands of step-downs nearly gave me an overuse injury, but I never quite got there.

All in all, a perfectly set plan.

Cheap thrills with my fan pointing up for step-ups

There were a lot of small failures in the last ten weeks, not all athletic:

  • My psoas getting so tight I thought I was a hip replacement candidate!
  • My right calf blowing out
  • Losing patience with the kids

Overcoming the failures provides a deeper appreciation of the victories.

Find the win.


I did a Q&A with Andy on athletic transitions, lockdown and other topics.

Find The Win

We kicked off home school this morning by sharing “scrapbooks so far.”

Kids loved it!

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My early morning routine is a good example of applied psychology.

The routine incorporates…

  • a lot of winning
  • anticipation
  • a sense of purpose
  • a focus on “the clearly better”

I pay attention to “the clearly better” because it shows me where it is worth applying effort.

Worth repeating => When I choose, I spend effort, time and attention on things that leave an emotional taste of “clearly better.”

3:55am – The day started by waking up 5 minutes before my alarm, which makes me happy.

I’ve been going to bed at the same time as my kids so waking up 2.5 hours before them is cake.

4:00am – I’m downstairs and every single light on my main floor is switched on. Up Before The Enemy – we haven’t had any prowler reports before 6am. I give the bad guys an incentive to skip my house.

4:05am – Third win of the morning is a mug of coffee. I set the coffee up the afternoon before so I can look forward to it.

My Skull Mug is reserved for my toughest sessions and is hand painted by our youngest. I have another one from our oldest that says #1 Dad.

The difference between the best coffee I can buy and the cheapest is ~20c per day

4:30am – This morning was a lot of step ups.

I am my son’s margin of safety in the mountains => this knowledge motivates my prep

4:45am – Fat Boy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now comes on. I remember Okanagan Lake and a morning in August many years ago. Looking across the lake in the best shape of my life.

Pushing to the finish many years ago => I’m not that skinny in my memory!

5:00am – Decide I might want to remember my session, it was a lot of step ups… send my wife a text to come and take of picture of me.

Monica has been waking up in the “4”s during lockdown and looks absolutely fabulous when she arrives (Team Win!).

5:45am – My workout wraps up and I head upstairs to eat some muesli.

I prepared the muesli yesterday so I’d having something to look forward to while grinding out my step ups. While I advise people to be careful about setting up the exercise-sugar reward cycle, I’m not above motivating myself with a special breakfast.

Wake up, lights, coffee, music, workout, wife and breakfast => Seven Wins Before 6am

The only person who can screw up my morning win-fest is myself.

Attitude is Everything

Corona Diary 6 May 2020

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New thing => lockdown jiu-jitsu in the front yard!

Daddy G’s School of Self-Defense will roll through the summer, with support from our neighborhood black belt.

The pieces are coming together for our summer Basic Week.

I want our quality of life to be independent of the county’s ability to lock us down, again.

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Boulder County announced they were going to let us join the safer-at-home order on Saturday. Phase One opening for Boulder starts this weekend. Tweens, teens and adults must wear masks in stores and wherever social distancing isn’t possible.

At the State level, positives continue at >400 per day. Against this background, the testing positivity rate is trending down and the folks in the hospital with COVID-19 are well down.

Colorado didn’t see the sharp drop in positives that other geographies have experienced. We are far more loose than Hong Kong, a place where I have friends and family.

Cinco de Mayo Taco Tuesday was fun.

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EXPERTS

I’ve been around world-class practitioners for 30+ years.

  1. I pay attention to people with experience doing. Practitioners, ideally with multiple successful outcomes. The best people rarely come across as smooth. I am biased towards smoothness in presentation.
  2. I pay attention to advice within the practitioner’s domain. For example, Taleb on risk (defer to him) vs Taleb on nutrition (defer to my experience). When we have a positive opinion of someone there is massive cognitive pressure to agree “with everything.” Therefore, I publicly state, often, it is OK to disagree.
  3. I need to remember blindspots and past errors. I have a rich history of these things! Unfortunately, I am hardwired to attribute my mistakes to others. However, what is really happening… my process fails and I repeat a past error.
  4. Decision making needs to be driven by a process that slows me down and makes my errors visible. Every important decision I make is run past 2-5 people. Emotionally, I am looking for approval => another unfortunate hardwiring! At my best, I am open to reasons to avoid taking action.

My life is more sensitive to the impact of a poor decision than another good one.

Something I learned from Charlie Munger, each change is an opportunity for error to enter the system.

Can you explain your decision making process to a child?

It’s a good test of the system.

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OTHER PEOPLE

Related to creating a system to reduce bias…

I apply effort to remind myself that people, who disagree with me, aren’t stupid.

My mind likes to downplay, denigrate and disregard my adversaries, both real and imagined.

When a “bozo” makes a good point, I share with my wife.

Similar to parenting => better outcomes by seeking to increase positive vs negative interactions (inside your head)…

It takes effort to find the good in all people.

Fear and Panic

Yesterday, my local CostCo sold out of Charmin in 15 minutes.

My cognitive capacity is so lit up I can’t remember my daily calendar.

Stress makes us stupid.

So…

#1 – execute my strategy, made before the current crisis

One of the nice things about following a rebalancing strategy is you are very likely to have sold (a little) at the peak. My pre-crisis rebalancing happened January 4th and I sold enough to cushion the psychological impact of recent declines.

I rebalanced on Monday and again today.

Limit down opens => phew!

#2 – lean into fear

Since 2014, my portfolio assets have been 60/40 in equities/bonds. For the last six years, I’ve expected bonds to get hammered by rising rates. It didn’t happen. Been wrong the entire time but it didn’t hurt me.

For my long-term capital, I’d rather use a 90/10 strategy (90% in equities). The trouble is getting there. I have zero confidence in my ability to pick the right time to shift. So I created a re-weighting strategy based on VTSAX/SP500.

A simple rule: as the market moves from 20% down to 50% down, I will rebalance equities upwards from 60% to 90% of portfolio holdings.

Today’s rebalance moved me to 63/37. The 63 is held 42/21 VTSAX/VTIAX.

Simple to execute => each time, I rebalance I check the %age off the peak, if we’ve set a new low then adjust the equity weighting upwards. Otherwise, steady as she goes.

This simple strategy is not easy to do => either I want to rush more money in (FOMO) or hold money back (plain old fear).

#3 – real estate

When your neighbors are stocking up on TP in preparation for the end times… it’s generally not a good time to be selling real estate.

What about buying? Real estate prices respond much more slowly to feelings/sentiment. At the last downturn, local real estate didn’t “get cheap” until 18-24 months after the crisis.

I suspect we’re going to see the residential market stop dead for a few months.

After that? I have no idea.

#4 – family

My family has been watching me stock the house for three weeks. They were amused but now we are ready.

I’ve been reassuring the kids they are going to be OK. There’s a lot of fear around.

At school, our youngest heard that “old people” were dying. She took me to one side and asked if I was going to be ok => Yes, Sweetie, I’m going to make it.

That said, a finance background is useful for understanding the impact of compounding. Our state saw a 33% increase in positive tests today. Keep that going through the end Spring Break and we will have 4,200 positives in 16 days (from 44 at Noon today).

Notwithstanding an absence of positive tests in Boulder County, I’m going to start home schooling on Monday. A significant burden on myself but a small price to slow the spread.

#5 – community

Will Colorado’s experience follow Italy, Hong Kong or Taiwan? I don’t know.

What we know for certain is there will be a large, sudden burden on the lower end of our communities. Consider giving a sizable donation to your local food bank.

We also know we will save lives by staying away from each other.

#6 – immunity

Something simple, but not easy, for readers of this blog => cut your training in half.

Take your program, cut it in half and watch what happens with the infection rate in your state.

If your state is on a log-scale infection rate then it will become apparent far more quickly than any fitness loss.

Your immunity will get a boost from this change and you’ll preserve all the health benefits from exercise.

#7 – cash, debt and leverage

If you have an emergency fund then this would be a good time to make sure it is liquid. I have three-months expenses sitting in my checking account.

Not willing to lean into the market downturn? Consider using surplus cash to pay down debt.

If the downturn persists then do you know what can ruin you? There are many types of leverage => I’ve written about this a lot.

 

 

 

 

Habits and Happiness

vail

Two recent reads: Atomic Habits and Willpower Doesn’t Work.

What I got from them…

Drive all knowledge inwards. This is a very old lesson. For best results, apply teachings on yourself first => do this for a very, very long time.

Many of the changes I have made (in the last five years) are in anticipation of being surrounded by high-energy teenagers and the conversations we are going to be having years from now.

When you are making positive changes, expect the people around you to get uncomfortable and test you. Don’t be surprised if the people closest to you start to bring up the errors of your past. When that happens I smile to myself, “They clearly have nothing recent to use. I’m making progress!”

Pay attention to the “why.” Many of us desire improved habits to cram more into our lives. More money, more beauty, more external success… chances are you have enough already.

Whenever I want to make a significant change in my life, I must create space, and mental bandwidth, to step outside my existing habits.

With three kids, some of the most valuable time in my life feels a lot like “empty” space, or even “wasted” space. I see the folly of this thinking by inverting and asking, “What does stress feel like?” => rushed, crowded, busy

What choices, am I repeating that, create stress? Social media, high-conflict people, cable news, an inability to say “no”…

What choice might create space?

What one thing, if it happened, could change everything?

Happiness is the gap between cravings. This gem is inside Atomic Habits. If you write a lot then sometimes you’ll spit out a deep truth.

Self-help doesn’t work because it teaches techniques we use to reinforce our cravings.

  1. How well do I know my cravings?
  2. Where are they likely to take me?
  3. What are the choices that reduce my cravings?

Using the techniques in the books to guide, or replace, cravings… very useful.

Understanding what’s driving my attraction to technology, social media… great stuff.

One example from my own life => connection and approval => I can get this, at a much deeper level, from a child than from Facebook.

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Widen the space between cravings => improved feelings of wellbeing

Use the books to cram more into my life => probably a reduction in space and reinforcement of cravings => no improvement in wellbeing

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Pay attention to what works.

  1. One win early
  2. Forests
  3. Routine
  4. Being slightly under-scheduled

Radical change might not be required.

Your Life

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Last May, I challenged myself to publish 50 blogs.

The process was triggered by an article encouraging me to embrace small failures. There is a little bit of risk associated with publishing, and risk makes me feel good.

I have a policy whereby I only publish if I’m ok with the article being the last thing on my site. This is a good email policy as well. I only publish/send something if I’m OK with it being my last interaction with you.

The final two goals were to leave a record of this period for my kids and find out if we (reader/writer) have overlap in our areas of interest.

The goals were useful, especially the practice with risk-taking.

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Two things were even more helpful.

#1 – document the key strategic decisions in my life. Do not trust your memory, or your ability to remember over time. Our memories are selective and self-serving.

#2 – talent, hard work, luck => their impact is real. However, the largest impact in your life is knowing what you want to achieve. Most people never compare their daily choices to their goals. Writing helps me get straight in my head.

Marriage => athletic wife, who is kind to me

Home Life => kids who respect my desire for harmony

Financial Life => simple, low cost, long term gain oriented, enables me to spend most of my life exercising in nature

Physical Life => able to do fun things with my wife and kids, separately

Each of these implies a certain “what to do.”

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I am bombarded daily by ideas about how to pack more into my life => my need is not more. I have plenty to do!

The “what to do” helps me prioritize => for example

  • an athletic wife implies supporting the athletic aspect of her life
  • harmony at home implies routine and adequate sleep for the kids (and using incentives for them to change disruptive behaviors)
  • financial life goals are a filter for eliminating ideas that will take time away from my real priority (of exploring the Rockies)
  • physical life goals get me lifting weights early in the morning – start every day with a win

The best filter I have is my early wake up. It encourages me to say “no” to a lot of attractive stuff.

Another “not to do” is overlaying “my” goals across my spouse. It is endlessly tempting to help her improve her life (by being more like me).

Finally, watch that your journalling doesn’t become a never-ending list for Santa, or your ego.

Your life only has to make sense to yourself.

Choose wisely.

Athletic Beyond 45

2020-02-02 13.12.35Middle age is going better than I expected.

Why?

Because choices that made sense when I was younger have been replaced by a lifestyle that’s a better fit for where I want to take myself.

Let’s run though the major adjustments.

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You might not want what you think you want: athletics is the best way I have found to keep myself engaged and apply energy. Look around and you can see plenty of examples of middle aged men getting themselves into trouble by not managing their energy.

So I will sign up for a race to keep myself out of trouble? Not so fast…

  • Engaging in athletic competition is different from being athletic.
  • Fit for competition is not fit for an engaged life with meaning.
  • To be the sort of father/husband I want to be, I need to avoid athletic competition.

The requirements of racing well, and my competitive peers, exert an inevitable pull on my life. A pull I enjoy but one that takes me away from where I want to be in 5-10 years time.

There are different ways to define excellence and the traits that ring most true to me don’t have a clock attached to them.

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The most specific component of race fitness is the least valuable to my wife and kids. 

In your mid-40s you will notice a change in how you respond to training. Specifically, sustained tempo is a lot more fatiguing. This intensive-endurance pace is a core part of training for performance.

As a middle-aged athlete sustained tempo will gobble up your energy and leave you spent for other aspects of your life. If you are in the clutch of negative addictions then this can be a very good choice to make! However, you will have nothing left towards building a life that your future self will value.

This reality was tough for me to face. I know how valuable tempo training is to athletic performance. It was made easier by stopping racing, and reminding myself that I didn’t want the family lives, and marriages, of my competition.

Letting go of deep fatigue enabled me to re-establish consistency, which was being shot to pieces by minor injuries, slow recovery, illnesses and low motivation => all of which stemmed from giving myself more load than I could absorb.

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About those injuries… stop hurting yourself.

Somewhere in my recent past, I realized I was constantly managing low-grade calf injuries. At the time, I wasn’t training for a race, or even doing much mileage. There was no reason to endure the constant setbacks.

You’re likely to have similar moments and the performance gurus will encourage you to grind through. I’d encourage you to pause and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Where is this likely to take me? Elective orthopedic surgery?
  2. What is my goal here? Alienate my spouse and estrange myself from my kids?
  3. Is there a better way to achieve my goal? Or perhaps a better goal to achieve!

In my case, I replaced the running with hiking and functional strength training. I can do these before my family wakes up or alongside my family. My best athletic memories of my 50s are shared experiences, in nature, with my family.

With a young wife, and three kids, I’m slowly filling the state of Colorado with happy thoughts. When I’m 70, they can carry the backpack!

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Reality is enough for me. If you’re tempted to use drugs then something needs to change.

Shooting your knee up like an NFL lineman, boosting your hormonal profile to beat an athlete who’s spouse just walked out the door, taking health risks to train alongside college kids…

  1. Where is this likely to take me?
  2. What is my goal here?
  3. Is there a better way to achieve my goal?

A focus on athleticism puts me in a continual state of rehabilitation from the process of aging naturally => functional strength, quickness, range of motion and extensive endurance.

Being freed from external requirements lets me do the right thing for my health, year round.

  • Place a demand on yourself, then recover while working on a project that benefits your larger life.
  • While expanding your life beyond athletics, remove whatever screws up your sleep patterns. My 4:30am wake-up makes poor choices obvious, immediately.

This approach will enhance your biochemistry naturally and not mask errors.

To learn by iteration, it is essential to physically experience my mistakes.

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Victory and Vanity

How are you going to feed that part of your personality that craves recognition, thrives in adversity and wishes to dominate others?

Can you see your desires? Have you considered what is driving your desires?

You might simply be over-scheduled and seeking socially acceptable personal space.

It’s worth looking deeper.

When I looked deeply everything was there, positive and negative. There are many ways to spin our motivators.

Recognition can come from my children, who are hardwired to be impressed by me. I look pretty jacked to a seven-year old.

Personal growth through facing adversity can come from the final few reps of a set (or simply getting out of bed some mornings). My endurance mantra… many people would like the ability to do this right now.

Domination is a tricky one, especially when surrounded by women and children. At my best, I turn it inwards and seek to overcome my negative traits, specifically my urge to resort to force, rather than skillful engagement.

We often let each other off by saying things like.. “everyone is different”, or “you need to find your own way.” I disagree. We are very, very similar within our cultures and wired to follow social proof.

If you want to change your motivation then change your location.

I’m parked in the fittest zipcode in America, training in nature, with a young family, thinking daily about a handful of men who are presenting their best selves to the world.

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Finally, remove the friction between your current habits and the life you want to lead.

I have a home gym, I wake up at 4:30am and there aren’t any email/social apps on my phone.

I created a situation where there was nothing for me to do between 5 and 6am in the morning.

So I write, or train => activities that leave me satisfied in hindsight and help my future self.