persistence

Was there a day this week where you went to bed dissatistied with the way you spent it?

How many days was that the case?

If that number is hard to deal with (which at times it most certainly has been for me), one of two things are wrong.

Either the way you’re spending your time isn’t aligned with the stories you want to tell about yourself, or your expectations aren’t in line with what’s reasonable.

This worst is when it’s a combination of the two.

We all deserve to love what we do.

But sometimes loving what we do requires us to work hard at loving it.

Long story short, I’m trying to put on a little bit of useful weight. Skip to the bottom for the delicious recepie I’m using to jam breakfast back into my mornings.

Unfortunately, I’m not bulking up just for the hell of it. In order to continue being competitive in higher level jiu-jitsu competitions, I need to be stronger than I am.

As it turns out, this is harder do than I thought. First of all, getting strong hurts. A lot. Which doesn’t make training jiu-jitsu any easier either.

In spite of the pain, I’ve just started the Stronglifts 5×5 workout program. A number of muscly people I trust have reccomended it as a good starting point for building the type of strength required for jiu-jitsu.

The program consists of two alternating body weight workouts, each comprised of compound free weight exercises with the intent of progressive overload.

If that was gibberish to you (like it was to me a few weeks ago), what this means is that the program has you switch between two workouts which don’t involve any machines or special equiptment. You show up, lift free weights and progressively add a tiny bit more weight each session until you can no longer complete 5 reps at a given weight in an exercise.

Avoiding machines at the gym and focussing on free weights means there is a whole lot more balance and posture involved in the lifts. Because Each exercise activates (and agitates) a big portion of your body, so you have to focus on keeping your whole body activated throughout each lift, and need to focus on less total exercises to get results.

I’ve never been one to get motivated by superficial physical incentives. Muscles are nice, but if I were desperate for them I would have started going to the gym a long time ago.

I’m going to the gym primarily to hone the tools I take to war on the mats.

But what I’ve found out is that in order for all that work to mean anything on the mats, I need to pay a lot of attention to what I eat while I’m off them.

If I want to gain muscle mass, I need to be consuming roughly 4000 more kilojules than I’m used to eating every day and a large portion of that needs to be protein. At my current size, I’m simply not putting in enough food to offset all the energy I expend exercising. Which is a good problem to have. But still…

As someone mostly disinterested in the prospect of breakfast most mornings, this was a troublesome fact to uncover.

However, I think I’ve stumbled across something which is going to solve my problem; peanut butter protein shakes.

Luke’s Peanut Butter Protein Shake

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 scoops vanilla flavoured protein powder (whey or plant based)
  • 1 banana
  • 2 table spoons 100% peanut butter
  • 1 table spoon chia seeds
  • 1 table spoon honey
  • 1 date
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 cups milk of choice

The best thing about this recepie is that you can prepare it ahead of time.

Just put everything except the milk into a container or zip lock bag and pop it in the freezer. When you’re ready to have it, empty the contents of a container into your blender, add your milk and blitz away!

I’ve prepared a batch of these in advance, and am now looking forward to each morning when I get to slurp down a meal which feels like a treat, even though it’s a necessity.

What is, is. But what will be has the potential to be influenced by your action.

Luck serves those who generate their own opportunities. People who make things, whether they’re artists or entrepreneurs, stand a better chance of good fortune than those who deliver a service designed by somebody else.

Why then, doesn’t everyone just make stuff? Probably because it’s hard. And even harder to do from a place of suffering.

Some people are bound by circumstances outside their own control.

While others are caught within cycles of suffering they generate for themselves.

Suffering usually starts from an unavoidable place, but it lingers for as long as we allow it to feed on the scraps of our minds.

Generating anything of value from a place of suffering is more work than it needs to be.

Take the time to solve your sufferings. Then get to work on the rest.

What if instead of cataloguing your skills and achievements, your resume listed your weaknesses and failures?

This document is called a Failure Resume, or a CV of Failures. And it might be just what you need to do before you find your next success, or encourage those around you to find theirs.

The professor who popularised this idea explains it like this:

“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible while the successes are visible.

I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days.”

Johannes Haushofer

A 2016 study showed that students who were exposed to their hero’s failures as well as their successes worked harder and got better results.

Failure is a natural part of all success.

Acknowledging this and tracking the lessons you’ve learnt from your stumbles can inform the things you might try to succeed or fail at next.

Bad days are a natural part of any meaningful pursuit.

There will be days when the things that normally fall into place just don’t. The writing doesn’t flow, your technique doesn’t work or the weight simply won’t go above your head.

It’s easy, and natural to feel exhausted and defeated; like progress rests on the other side of a swamp you might drown in before you cross it.

I had a bad Jiu-Jitsu day today; my body felt weak and slow. I felt as if I was two steps behind every one of my training partners. It was hot, and I felt like vomiting for most of the session.

Times like these are a valuable reminder that sometimes growth feels like drowning, and that’s okay – as long as you keep showing up.

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I’ll be back at the gym at 6am tomorrow, and I’ll have every opportunity to find my feet again. If things still aren’t working, there’s always the next session, or the one after that.

Losing finite games only becomes a problem once you stop playing the infinite ones.

It’s hard to do, but so are most things that matter.

“Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep redefining what you do until this is true.”

Naval Ravikant

In both art and business, we are usually defined by those we can be likened to.

We’re lumped into genres or styles, niches and roles.

When competing for success, we are often assigned a category.

Maybe you were proactive enough to assign yourself the category which best defines you.

This is great news, on one condition;

That you’re the best in class.

If you’re going to allow yourself to be defined by a category, ensure that you’re the best fish in the pond.

When in doubt, dig your own pond.

Don’t be a slightly-above-average animal photographer when you can be the world’s best Quokka photographer.

(Photo: Natalie Su)

Never call yourself a ‘pretty good’ sales assistant when you could be the best speckled beanie salesperson in the state.

Why would you be a writer with a blog when you could be the only young West Australian writer with a BJJ blue belt who publishes original work daily?

(If there’s another one, someone let me know, I’d love to meet them.)

You do you.

I only ask that you do us all a favour and do it brilliantly.

“How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable.”

Seth Godin

Refining a technique minimises the intensity required to execute it.

This refinement is achieved through practice.

Practicing techniques is most effective when you’re able to apply them thoughtfully.

It’s difficult to apply a technique thoughtfully when you’re applying it with maximum force; so when we practice, it’s usually at around 70% intensity.

This princilple applies to physical techniques, like Jiu-Jitsu submissions, but also to mental techniques.

When you’re trying too hard to force a submission, you’re compensating for bad technique, and your overall progress suffers.

Try too hard to write, and you’ll never write anything. Try too hard to meditate, and you won’t get much out of meditation either.

Consistent performance at 70% is worth more than sporratic performance at 100%.

For certain pursuits, like Jiu-Jitsu, it is sometimes required that you are able to perform a technique at 100% intensity.

This requires occasional testing of the limits of your technique. This extra 30% intensity should be a bonus, not the norm.

The potency of your 100% depends on how consistent your 70% performance has been in practice, not how often you practice 100% exertion.

When you operate at 70%, you leave yourself enough resources to notice mistakes and implement feedback.

Fail to leave yourself enough bandwidth to consider the limits of your technique, and you might never master it.

Remain playfully engaged with improving through every chance to practice, and you’re guaranteed mastery of any technique with enough invested time.

Once mastery is achieved, your technique at 70% will well exceed the technique of most others clumsily operating at 100%.

Mastering the art of practice is the key to mastering everything else.

Build good habits. Master yourself. Do things you love.

Then persist.

Are you a writer?

How would you know?

Writers tend to write, right?

But how often, who for and how well?

This line of questioning is ambiguously annoying for a reason; there are no hard and fast metrics which dictate what a writer is or isn’t.

If you write anything at all, you have a case to state.

Whether or not you’re a writer depends entirely on whether or not you think you’re a writer.

The same goes for dancers, photographers, fighters, models, philosophers and nearly everything in between.

You become a writer (and cease being an ‘aspiring-writer’) the second you decide to mold your definition of what a writer is to include yourself.

I believe you should do this with everything you’re passionate about.

The ‘aspiring’ part of ‘aspiring writer’ is a safety net. It shields your work from scrutiny and justify mistakes.

Unfortunately, the shield perpetuates itself.

There’s not much use in considering yourself an ‘aspiring’ anything. Making mistakes and processing critique are both essential to growth.

‘Aspiring’ implies that the goal is to get good enough to shed the preface. It implies a destination which is an absolutely arbitrary definition.

It’s better to be a bad writer than an aspiring one.

Nobody is going to respect your work or hold it to a professional standard until you do so yourself.

Being bad at stuff is great. The worse you are, the more you have to learn.

Those who identify as ‘aspiring’ tend to be the most fearful of failure.

Become petrified enough of failing, and you might just scare yourself out of ever getting the practice you need to reach your destination.

Stop aspiring, start doing.

Find what you love.

Show up.

Do the work.

Embrace the failure.

Grow.

When we ruminate too intently on the pains our future might hold, we experience a portion of that pain in advance.

People with empathy internalise the pain of others when they witness suffering. It helps us to connect, to understand one another, and to care for eachother.

When making a decision, we usually consider the effect it might have on others. In doing so, we are essentially imagining future versions of the people our decisions may effect, allowing us to empathetically consider the potential outcomes of our actions.

We are so good at this that we usually do it intuitively.

I don’t take an online yodeling class at 1:30am because I can imagine that my neighbours (and their baby) might find it difficult to sleep in the presence of such glorious sound.

Unfortunately, there is a little glitch in this otherwise wonderfully human system; we can’t help but also imagine ourselves as a future person. We possess an inescapable and often rather concerning future self.

Anxiety is the pain we absorb while empathising with our future selves.

Harbouring a bit of this pain is sensible, but too much acts like poison.

We consider people ‘anxious’ when the pain they are experiencing in advance is disproportionate to the actual risks their furute presents.

“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Seneca

Your anxiety is as useful as it is actionable.

If you can’t do anything to address a concern, there is zero gain in accepting preliminary pain on your future self’s behalf.

You’ll have to deal with it when your future self arrives at the worrying destination, so what sense is there in experiencing the pain twice?

Getting stuck empathising with future you is dangerous because this process feeds upons itself.

Once painful worrying becomes a habit, you might find yourself worrying about the worrying.

All of a sudden, your introspective empathy has turned toxic, and you’re so caught up inside yourself that you can barely muster the energy to look out.

Illustration by Catherine Lepange from Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind

There is no simple fix to this cycle.

It’s a grueling, often shameful, thing to break.

But it can be done.

I suggest starting with one of these:

Being ‘in control’ is a mindset.

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.”

– Epictetus

Being in control of things outside yourself is relative to your influence over them, but being in control of yourself requires nothing more than feeling in control. This is a skill, and we can practice it.

Feeling in control requires you to acutely focus solely on the things which you can change.

We can change much more than we usually give ourselves credit. Even in times of hopelessness;

While we may have no control over a a thief who wishes to break into our home, we do have control over how we prepared we are for that possibility; installing security screens, cameras and investing in insurance are all measures we can take to minimise the possibility of disruption.

We also have power over how we react to being stolen from; we can grow fearful, bitter and angry, or we can deal with the problem as best we can, prepare ourselves better in case the circumstance arises again, and move on.

The problem with reacting angrily is that there’s nothing to be gained by allowing those emotions flourish. The thief has been and gone. There is no perpetrator to receive the justice of your anger, so what are you to do with it?

It feels good to embrace negative emotions in times like these. To imagine what you might do if you found the thief. How good you’ll feel if the police find them. You may find yourself playing these scenarios over and over in your mind, your emotion building as the visions become clearer.

But with no way to act on or utilise these feelings, thinking this way is nothing more than self-pollution.

This thinking does nothing to change what happened, nor does it aid in actually realising your imagined capture of the thief.

It’s useless.

We can’t control the actions of others, their reactions to our actions, nor the hand we’ve been dealt in the game of life.

Unless a feeling informs action, you don’t need it. That doesn’t mean that like a stray cat it won’t try to stick around, it just means you should probably avoid feeding it incase it decides to live with you permanently.

Take care not to obsess over things which fall outside the bounds of your control. When we do, especially if the thing scares us, we often wind up ruminating; thinking in abstract circles about how concerned or bereaved we are about a problem, without committing any energy to actually resolving it.

Ruminating about problems is useless, because problems require solving.

Solving is active where rumination is passive. It implies that action is being taken in the direction of a solution.

Nobody cares how worried you are about climate change, but plenty of people care about how you’re planning to vote at the next election.

People value action because it drives progress.

We can take control of our lives by choosing to focus our attention not on rumination, but on actively seeking out problems we have the capability to solve through our own individual action.

Accept everything which you cannot change, focus solely on those things you can, and pursue them with rigour.

There is no more powerful endeavour.