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Mental Prowess Part 2: Joy is an Energy Pool

Joy in an image

Shenandoah Joy William Ward [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

I am reading Tribe of Mentors. The concept for the book is quite simple. Well known life guru Tim Ferriss decided there are a large number of people he wants to get to know better. To do so, he made a unique proposition to highly successful folks within and slightly beyond his network.

I, Tim Ferriss, am publishing my next book and I want to include you in the book, all you have to do is answer these questions.

Being published in a book with a widely read author is a pretty valuable proposition for just about any one. Needless to say he elicited responses from incredible people.

There are a few themes that show up consistently throughout the dozens of responses from highly accomplished individuals: fitness and meditation.

It is not surprising to see these things prioritized for folks. But if you think about it, for many of the respondents neither is “billable” nor directly contributes to their work.

Why are they valuable; so much so, that one would taut them in writing in a very public way.

Fitness and meditation are spaces to think! This post and the following three; is my take on what makes mental liberation so valuable.

Joy
In mountain biking you often see sights that are only accessible by trail and therefore cut off to many viewers. Please keep this a secret, but the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley is gorgeous! There are hues of blues you can only imagine, a rainbow of wild flowers popping on the horizon, and expansive mountain vistas. My Shenandoah Mountain 100 ride this year also packaged some magic.
Hours of rain the night before created less desirable traction conditions but also produced fantastical atmosphere. As I gained elevation I literally began to float among the clouds. As I maintained a pedal cadence, I could feel the beat of my heart radiating through my body, and the air was hazy making my view of trees and other riders seem to be apparitions. The trance like state put me in new dimensions of euphoria!

Processing the experience allows me to hold onto this blissful moment. It will linger in my mind as a pool of beauty to tap into when I need to be reminded of what is wonderful in this world! I have expanded an internal source of energy that no one can remove from me and is available at any time. Space to think allows momentary happiness to turn into life-long joy.

Performance Mindset

I have always been an active person. I grew up playing team sports both organized in public gyms and impromptu scrimmages in neighborhood yards. I ran cross country in high school and eventually retired from sport when I went to college. While studying to be a grown up, I came out of retirement when I was wooed into mountain biking. After a baptism at my first stream crossing, Saturday bike rides in the woods and on the roads became ritual. For 15 years my fitness had been maintained exclusively outside.

Stepping back into a gym changed my body but also enhanced perspective on success beyond the facilities doors.

In 2015, I entered a gym for my first indoor workout since freshman year of college. I bought a Groupon for Yoga. My friend Brandon, requested my support for his effort to get chest-baring-ready for a professional dance performance. Yoga captured my being. I enjoyed the physicality of the sessions, and found enlightenment in the practice. I dreamed about my mat and watched my body change. It was going great until our sessions were up.

Brandon still had 3 months to curtain and wanted to continue the path to professional form. He suggested we buy another Groupon, this time for Crossfit. Yoga had been great, so why not?

I entered my first crossfit gym for a 6:30 PM work out of the day (wod) on a cold February night. Intimidating is an understatement. The space was sparse with tortuous looking apparaty around the walls. The previous class was wrapping up and their strained looks showed desperation for seconds to pass and more than hinted at what was to come for me. The specimens of humanity present in the gym were lessons in platonic human-body form. I am not fat, but I certainly did not have ripples in those places. Music was blaring to pump up the athletes and likely to drown out the grunts of agony. The gym owns the title of “box” as inevitably a box is the only place you could imagine physical duress to take place.

Inside this box, there is much to learn from a mindset of daily performance.

The typical session for crossfit starts with a coach describing the routine you will endure during the next hour. The coach walks you through the technique and the strategy you will need for the performance. A coach shows the most appropriate positioning for a movement and suggests the most efficient tactic for completing the task at hand. Too much reliance on oneself in crossfit might lead to injury and likely will elongate the agony you must endure to finish.

During the chalkboard dialog, and in the midst of warming up the body and mind, the coach will note who is in attendance. It is important to document when we have done work and what we have done. In some crossfit gyms it is merely a name on the board, but technology is also used to preserve the information for greater analysis. Without documentaiton, the we cheat ourselves of both knowing our victories and understanding our weaknesses.

Once attendance has been taken, the plan has been made for the work out, and the technique tweaked through several rounds of building the motion or the volume of weight… the performance begins. The surroundings fade. There is little energy given to the cognitive efforts beyond the physical task at hand. It is hard to discern even what the blaring music is in the background, let alone what my colleague five feet away from me is doing. Is she ahead of me? And is that guy really doing more weight than I am? Those questions are not able to cross your mind. The challenge of the work, and the desire to excel at it, requires utmost focus on what matters, finishing. To complete the task you must do every rep yet only be thinking about the next movement required to conquer the beastly workout.

When the clock stops or the last round is retired, there is a chorus of euphoria. You hear the music of the room again. Your body is singing to the beat of your racing heart and tingling with the natural high of hard exertion. Your mind is back to a harmonious state thinking about the sense of accomplishment. You are rewarded for stepping up and performing!

The wonder of crossfit is not over when the timer chimes. You still need to report on your work. Either publically or in private, you record your score. The documentation allows for consideration of your position, certainly by you, likely by your coach and if you really want to grow, by your peers. You have a mark to compare either to the past or to the future with yourself, and even with others. You have an opportunity to improve and consider what might lead to different results. Performance is not complete without evaluation.

Crossfit highlights the value of approaching everyday as a performance.

First and foremost, peak performance requires guides. There are people who have gone before you that can provide insight on optimum execution. They can refine your skills and expand your thinking. Their understanding of rudiments of life, business and recreation are what you can build your practice upon to achieve and exceed beyond your goals.

Peak performance requires preparation. The warm up is key to success. Anticipating the feel of an experience and tweeking the small things when the clock is not held against us allows the mind and body to do exactly what it needs to when it matters.

Peak performance requires focus. Circumstances change and are hard to predict, we have to be able to complete the task at hand regardless, and to do so requires that we focus on every step along the way.. We will certainly miss the minor but meaningful shortcuts if our frame of reference is wrong, and we will likely miss the mark if we do not keep it in sight.

Peak performance has destinations that you can celebrate. Smart goals, or knowing the intent of the performance, gives you something to pause and stand in wonder at your abilities. They are natural points for rest, reward and conjuring up the next idea.

Peak performance is achieved through analysis. It is hard to know if you have reached the peak if there is no marker. It is also hard to know where you are at in relation to the destination if there is no accounting. Documenting our work allows for constant reflection which leads to adjustments that lead to meaningful change. Knowing where you are at and asking questions about the position and how you got there, is the means by which we will conquer new territory.

What do you need?

During the pitch practice of a recent coaching session I asked my client “What do you need?” Although it is rare for anyone to come out and ask the question in this form, this is the point of a pitch, to address the resources we need in order to get to where we want to be.

Pitch practice is a part of every coaching session. I refrain from using “What do you need?” as a prompt until about the fifth session. At this point the client is comfortable, or at least starting to get comfortable, talking about them self. Rarely when I put this out as the initiator of our conversation is there a prompt and concise response. It is challenging for most to articulate what is needed to get where they desire to be. I think there are two reasons for the awkward pause.

First, we struggle to know where we want to go. If we do not know what our destination is, how will we know what we need to get there. For instance, I enjoy traveling. It is easy to imagine that my goal in life is “to travel frequently”. I think this is admirable, but it is hard to know what I should ask of others if I have no specificity in my destination. What I will need to stroll the boulevards of Paris is starkly different from what is required to bushwhack through the rainforest of Costa Rica. The means to get there, the knowledge once I am there, and the tools/resources I should have on hand vary incredibly between the two.

A desire to “succeed” in business is admirable but fails to define a real destination. There are many details lacking in this type of goal. Even the more specific goal of finding funding for business is lacking. Are you looking for equity, debt, or gifts? Intimately knowing the destination we are trying to get to will drastically improve our understanding of what to ask of others to help us get there. It will accelerate our flight to the beach.

Second, we struggle to ask for help. Ego often goes hand in hand with creative and entrepreneurial practice. Ego certainly is needed when an artist dances naked in the street or an entrepreneur assumes $700,000 in debt. Your psyche needs to be strong to endure that type of risk. However, rare is the person who can change the world on their own, or for that matter even their own life. We lack all the skills that are required to achieve our fullest potential. We weren’t born with the knowledge and even if our genes are perfect, we still need mentors to show us how to use them. It is a fallacy to think that we will never need help. The sooner we learn to ask for it, the faster we will achieve our goals.

How do we get to a point where we can put out into the world effectively what we need?

Reflection and humility.

We need to afford ourselves the mental space to comprehend our destination. It needs to be specific and timely. It is harder to hit the west coast at some future date then San Francisco by the end of October. We need to give ourselves permission to recognize we need help AND that it is okay to seek it out. Frequently, the biggest obstacle in life is our self, and many times it takes someone else to move us.

Are you ready to stroll the streets of Paris, hike the trails of Monte Verde, land the next big paying gig….  if you know where you want to go JUST ASK.

Practicing Practice

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Mel Brookes’ The Producers is what got me into a yoga studio for the first time. The story line really had nothing to do with the venture, but my friend Brandon’s casting as part of the ensemble did. He asked if I might join him on his adventure to professional “form” by purchasing a Groupon for 10 Yoga sessions. Thus began my journey to practicing a better me.

The decision was rather unexpected. It had been nearly 15 years since I worked out inside. Do not get me wrong, I love fitness. I had spent many weekends and probably too many weekdays riding through the woods of Patapsco State Park and navigating the roads of Baltimore County on two wheels. Why spend time inside suffering when you can do so while exploring majestic vistas?

Little did I know the new ground I discover on a stationary mat.

Yoga takes place in a studio. I always found this peculiar and my reservations were only exacerbated by the overly pleasant feeling of M power’s space in east Baltimore. The renovated building was thoughtfully appointed with muted tones, exposed brick, hardwood, and mild lighting. There was even a mural that exuded a sense of calm while reaching. The space was not one that I thought conducive to my understanding of physical growth.

Yoga has teachers. I knew the stereotypes of the smooth, soft and near tantric voice of a Yogi when I started my pursuit of wellness. Nearly all of my teachers have fit that vision with pleasant demeanor and kind spirits. Early on I did not appreciate the role. Developing endurance, muscle, and refining motion did not in my mind match calm, collective and gentle invitations. I thought my guide to strength would need to be the essence of brute and judgement.

Yoga relies on being still. I had knowledge of the poses prior to my engagement with Brandon. And I have now done many crow stands, lizards, cobra’s and a zoo worth of other positions in my training. How could the body benefit from stacis? And why would any athletic endeavour start by finding your breath and setting an intention? Did we need weights? Should we be running to get our heart rate up? I thought athleticism was defined by mobility, agility, and speed.

Yoga is a practice!

  • The space is called a studio because it is where you go to refine your craft. There is no audience, it is all about you and your work. As such that space needs to inspire and provide freedom of mind to explore what is possible.
  • It is lead by teachers. Learning is about enabling the student to try. We only try when we know we are safe and judgement does not impinge. A great yogi is one who reveals the guide that resides within the student.
  • There is great strength in stillness. No wisdom is required to build a system that can be toppled. It takes fortitude to create something that will endure. The static structures of the universe endure the test of time.
  • Our breath is a reminder of our humanity, our starting point. It is a fundamental principle that we can acknowledge and utilize as a compass. We must quiet our being to find the most important things in life.
  • A journey without a destination is a challenge. Setting a goal is the first small step towards prolific achievement.

My practice of yoga has been incredible for my whole being. I am more flexible. I am stronger. I am more open. Most importantly the spirit of the experience has allowed me to reach more. I try things personally and professional I would not have done so prior. I am practicing more and performing far better in all facets of my life. Practicing practice changes our life by changing our future selves.

Taking the Next Step

I have been saying that a lot to folks lately. It is time for my own.


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Excellence: the quality of being outstanding or extremely good

This past weekend Jenn and I traveled to Asbury Park New Jersey. The Jersey shore was felt but not truly experienced which makes for great, yet pleasant, people watching. My quick note on Asbury Park, they are doing boutiques right. What separates a boutique from a small shop is awareness of audience. You can carry highly curated and high margin goods but you have to be aware of your niche market. The beauty of Asbury is the easy vacation destination of a monied population with Brooklyn style, and the shop owners know it!

Beach trips are about reading in the sun whilst smelling tanning lotion and absorbing the beyond time notion of the ocean. You have to work to not be contemplative. I was prepared to spend my time exploring the images of Christ through History and the initial espousers of existential philosophy. Instead I got worked out by crossfit. No, I did not do WOD after WOD but rather discovered Ben Bergeron’s (he is the smiley man atop this post) book Chasing Excellence.  (Thanks to Jamie Gasiorowski co-flaneurer, and my Beatrice of Crossfit)

The book was meh on writing, but the content was on point. It left me questioning myself and my processes. Of course I wish I was in the running for fittest human on the planet; but my age, and likely my genetics, will hinder that pursuit. I found myself exploring excellence in my work. 

What does it mean to be an excellent agent?

As I am reading a coach talk about making excellent athletes, I realize my role as an agent is to make excellent artists. To be an excellent agent is to excel at making excellent artists.

So what makes an artists excellent?

That is a big question!

There is a lot of debate about what art is, so to define what makes an excellent artist is yet another level. As an agent, my definition of art and therefore an artist is what I hang my shingle on, and what will seperate me from others in the field.

In my mind (and as of today) to be an excellent artists is several fold:

Mastery of a medium

Unending supply of ideas

Ability to communicate in words

There is likely universal acceptance that mastery of a medium is part of the definition of an excellent artist. For even the non-art-scholar their is respect and appreciation for the ability to do things with a medium that others cannot. The technical prowess and the craftsmanship of an artist is likely what first separates them from the mere mortals of communication. An artist can make a canvas say things that other people are unable to make the blank page say. The ability to manipulate a medium is also important because it allows ideas to be put into action.

But where do the ideas come from?

When we speak of creativity, we are talking about the appearance of ideas out of seemingly nowhere. Observations, connections and unexpected mash ups are the essence that puts art beyond the category of craftsmanship. An excellent artist can readily chat you up on concrete scientific knowledge or delve into the current political state of society or certainly explore the cultural phenomenon dejur. Artists are not only aware but have given thought to the world.

There are geniuses out there who have mastery of a medium and a never ending supply of ideas that can whip reality into alignment by the mere act of bringing something into existence that did not exist before. However genius is hard to come by, just as the perfectly proportioned body for ultra fitness is elusive to the majority. What most artist also require to be excellent is an ability to communicate through words. Yes, they must master a second medium. An artist certainly does not have to, nor should they, define the meaning of their work, but they must be able to provide the context of the matter for it to transcend from object to subject. An excellent artist must be articulate either in spoken word, or written, to enable ALL audiences to find meaning in their work.

Now, if only I had a concept for a gym to equip an artist to work on the traits of excellence.