Gratitude and engagement are useful antidotes to anxiety and grief. When I started to think about gratitude, there was a lot of positive stuff happening this year. In the day-to-day of home school, I’d forgotten the good stuff. I’ve written it down and kept writing.
Next up, I returned to the beginning.
When COVID started I had two goals: maintain my standards and don’t complain. No reason to abandon those. Useful filters.
Then I had a look around. How’s the vaccine timeline going?
“February or March” => hmmm, I should probably count on intermittent Home School, and COVID constraints, through the end of May.
Next spring is way too far out, even for a planner like me.
I decided to keep “base training” through the winter => sixty weeks of base training will completely transform my body.
Have you been paying attention to your wins?
What does better look like?
Weeks where I spend a day in the wilderness are better
Mornings where I wake up early, and train, are better
Hiking with my wife is better
The way I feel after I clean the house is better
The way I feel after I declutter is better
Setting a new PB in my home gym is better
“Better” requires me to break my inertia and take action.
Sometimes, getting to better requires me to endure actions that might not be fun.
2-7 hour drives
Touching every single item in a room => keep or ditch
Getting up out of my chair => the constant temptation to parent from another room
60-minute muscular endurance grinds => working through the despair of Minute 37
If I want later to be better then I need to deal with these realities.
Half a century is more than enough time for choice to impact outcome.
Here’s how I stack the deck.
Understanding three things greatly simplifies decision making:
Who bears the worst-case scenario
In most cases, knowing the above eliminates the need to make any prediction (of an unknowable future).
In investing, you can bet big when someone else bears your downside (non-recourse leverage, other people’s money). At home, you will want to be more careful.
You are going to be tempted to spend most of your time predicting an unknowable future.
Instead, figure out the payoff function, what’s the worst that can happen and who bears that downside.
Previous writing touched on the payoff functions for fame, financial wealth, strength training and personal freedom.
Tim’s blog did a great job of laying out on his worst-case scenario – shot in his own home as well as a brain dump of everything that can go wrong, and right, with fame. It was an enjoyable read but life is too complex to perform cost-benefit analysis for every choice.
Sounds good, doesn’t scale.
One of my favorite shortcuts is to teach myself the areas of my life where I have a lousy track record, and defer to my expert advisor(s). I look for advisors with domain-specific experience and a temperament different from my own then… …I do what they recommend.
There’s deep wisdom in stepping outside ourselves => What Would Jesus Do, or Buffett, or your coach, or whomever you think knows better than you.
Each time I choose, I open the opportunity to make a mistake. To reduce unforced errors, there are filters I use to eliminate the need to make a choice and to make the correct choice obvious.
First level filter => repeat my choice for a decade, where’s this likely to take me?
The first three are obvious, but that doesn’t stop many, many people from surfing close to the edge, or getting an emotional rush from having charismatic risk-seeking friends.
Sometimes I need to phase out a relationship, sometimes I need to adjust my own behaviors.
With marriage, specifically, it’s impossible to “see” just how challenging your life will become if you have kids. You’re going to be really, really stressed out for a decade. Every single one of my prior bad habits tried to make a re-appearance in my life!
There’s no easy way around it but you can significantly reduce your chance of disaster if you pay attention to how your potential mate approaches risk.
Personally, I like to drive with people. You can learn a lot about someone by chatting, and watching, while they drive in traffic.
It is difficult to let charismatic sociopaths out of our lives. These people are a lot of fun to hang around with, especially when we aren’t the target of their ire. It gets easier with a few bad experiences.
When you need to make a change, resist the urge to justify your choices.
Learn to ghost with grace.
What if we are the person that needs to change?
Owning my choices and considering where they might take me.
Mountaineering, peer choice, alcohol use, cigars, bike racing… as my life changed from “just myself” to “my young family” the following became clear to me…
The people who were bearing the downside had no choice in whether to take the risk.
To make myself feel better, I took out a long-term care policy. The insurance reduced the financial burden if I was disabled but didn’t address the mismatch between who was taking the risk and who was bearing the downside.
In my 40s, severe permanent disability could have been worse than death. In 2013, with three young kids and an impaired balance sheet, I was in a very different place than I hope to be when our youngest graduates high school (in 2030, or so).
Perhaps I’ll add back risky stuff in my 60s… right now, I doubt I’ll have the energy.
Divorce, violence and self-harm => the bottom half of the list.
Nobody gets married hoping for a divorce.
Nobody starts a drive hoping to get their car shot up in a road rage incident.
Nobody repeats a pattern of justified rage hoping to create a crisis.
But these things happen, and their seeds are small choices, repeated.
I try to be alert to habits that can lead me astray.
Anger remains a challenge for me.
I pay attention to situations and habits that reduce my faults.
I focus on better.
Making a habit of the first-level filter, tosses all kinds of stuff into the forget-about-it pile.
Reminder about the 1st Filter => repeat for a decade, where am I likely to be?
The first filter very quickly gets rid of (most of my) bad ideas.
Here’s how I set priorities and shape my “to do” pile.
When I was an elite athlete, every decision I made was passed through a filter of, “Will this help me win in August?” At that time, the filter worked very, very well.
In 2005, I married and quickly realized my filter (of winning) would, if applied over many years, make a second divorce more likely. Deeply seared from my divorce, I really, really, really didn’t want another divorce.
I wanted a different result so I needed a different approach.
I needed to change my filter to…
“How will this impact my marriage?”
Your situation is likely different, but your need to know, and direct, your filter is the same.
Baby, or COVID, arrives… “How will this impact my family?”
Allocating time week-after-week… “What’s my real priority?”
Trivial irritations, the opinions of strangers… “Who gets my emotional energy?”
Every single person we meet has a filter => victory, vanity, external wealth, fame, likes, validation, please the person in front of me, attention, minimize conflict, how do I feel right now, what is the last piece of advice I heard… lots of people, lots of different filters.
It’s tempting to think that more money will result in less financial conflicts. However, I haven’t found that to be the case.
The habits that lead to conflict follow us up, and down, the socioeconomic ladder.
Similarly, if I can make a habit of de-escalation in one area of my life then my approach will follow me into other areas.
Earlier this year, my wife had her eye on a very nice jacket. For some reason, I became obsessed with the cost of this jacket.
Where did my feelings come from? I have no idea but I knew my feelings were unproductive. I knew because of the filter I apply to my marriage, “Where are these choices likely to take me, and my marriage?”
I knew it would be helpful to move on but I wasn’t able to shake my opinions.
So I funded the jacket.
Actually, I funded 7x the cost of the jacket.
That jacket was a massive write-off…
I placed the money into an account that is invisible to my internet banking.
I asked my wife to pay cash so I would have no ability to track her spending.
I felt better immediately.
It was one of the best deals I did pre-COVID.
I’ve been running my financials since I was 16 and managed to save 50 cents of every dollar I earned from 16 to 40 years old.
My first job out of college was in finance. My mentors made two observations about spending that stuck with me:
From the Managing Partner, “We could keep a better eye on the small stuff but that would make this place a lot less fun to work at and it wouldn’t make any difference to my financial life.”
From a Young Up-and-comer, “If you ever want to get someone then start by auditing their expenses.”
Apply these to myself
=> make sure my choices can survive an audit (by anyone, but especially my spouse)
=> being a stickler for fine detail will make the people around you miserable (especially if you have a life that can’t survive an audit)
As a leader, what does that actually mean?
In 2009, unexpected unemployment left us facing a financial crisis. I started by cutting my personal budget by 80%. I laid that out to my wife and said we needed to cut our family budget by 50%.
We made a budget, we implemented the changes and we went on with our lives.
Good enough was good enough.
Endless optimization makes everyone miserable.
Often there is a fear-based motivator that is driving our attention to fine-detail.
It can be near impossible to transcend fear-based habits!
Two things that might help:
1/ Set a “give a hoot” threshold.
Each year, I set a dollar-amount that is my “give a hoot” threshold. If something is below that threshold then I promise myself that I_will_not_give_a_hoot.
My total spend in the “give a hoot” category is ~2% of my total budget. The 2% spend cuts 90% of my external annoyances and gives me a lot of internal credibility when I say “we don’t have the money for that.”
Not getting wrapped up in the little stuff makes my internal life better and gives me the authority to direct the big stuff.
This policy is a bargain (but letting go is oh-so-tough).
2/ What about when the threshold is triggered?
When something big pops up, I like to pause and distance myself from the decision.
I’ve set my financial life up to create friction in my ability to spend money. The friction gives me time to ask…
What’s the goal? => How does this choice benefit my family, my marriage, myself…
If it won’t make a difference then wait.
Another filter => Am I willing to spend this money on someone other than myself? If not then wait, again.
Investing and spending => I do a lot of waiting and that’s OK because anticipation is often better than reality.
I spent yesterday afternoon at a car dealership and traded my car for a newer model. The new car will be “my wife’s” and I’m going to roll in the oldest car we own.
Knowing that my family is seeing me roll in the “old car” will make me at least as happy as a new car, which I can always get later.
Your spouse, your kids, your unborn descendants… all will be impacted by the choices you make with regard to spending and investment.
I happen to live in a city that’s so blue it’s indigo.
Each time we have an election, I tend to “lose” on most the ballot measures I support. I put “lose” in quotations because we’re fine either way.
We’re fine because I spent my life making it difficult for any government to have an impact on me. From an early age, I tracked “total taxes as a percentage of net worth” and worked it downwards.
They could conscript my kids (for an unjust war of choice), they could irritate (or inspire) my fellow citizens into armed rebellion or I could get shot up in the random shootings that are part of our culture.
Scoring the current administration, they’ve done a good job on 1, lousy on 2 and the same as all prior regimes on 3.
Most everything else is noise.
Have you noticed that our President is still alive?
He’s not only alive, he’s doing campaign events. Now, for all I know, he’s been shot up with horse steroids. Still, he’s still out there.
His survival, the survival of an overweight 74-year old with a fondness for fast food, is an interesting data point – if we can get past our personal biases to see it.
His recovery reminded of the importance of “will” in getting things done.
He didn’t have to take the stairs when he returned from Walter Reed.
Another data point, one that I posted over the weekend, is 1,000+ of my neighbors caught COVID in September and our hospital admissions barely budged.
The chart below is Boulder County hospitalizations April to now.
There’s some uptick but not what I would have predicted given the confirmed positives in our community.
We had a lot of September positives.
The chart below is August to now.
For me, this shows the benefit of living in a healthy community, having fellow citizens who protect the most vulnerable and our imperfect mitigation measures.
The larger lesson is a clear case study for the danger of applying global averages to niche samples.
Seven months ago, I took actions based on the projections of smart, qualified people. Our current reality is far from those predictions.
Data, no opinion required.
It is near impossible for anyone to see, consider and modify an opinion based on information that doesn’t fit with prior held beliefs.
Don’t spend any energy trying to convince others => rather, build systems to help yourself think better.
I try to make mental notes when I’m surprised.
It is far easier to notice a surprise than to change my mind.
The President being ambulatory and our hospitals being empty of COVID patients was very surprising.
The return to in-person learning will have a different impact on our community than the college kids.
I’ll illustrate with a little math…
me => my household => my close circle => my circle’s cohorts => ????
1 => 5 => 15 => 300 => ????
Within my household (5), we have two families that we have a lot of contact with.
These families have three kids each (3×5).
The kids are in different classes, one family has a surgeon and the other an international IP lawyer. So, when we open the schools back up, my three-step network is going to increase => say 30 to 300.
Four-step network? I have no idea => 5,000? It’s invisible to me.
Against the network jump, there are mitigating factors:
A hyper-vigilant, vocal minority => we have an active citizenry and teachers who want to stay healthy
Masks => decent usage in business and educational settings => our state remains under a masking order
Free, easily available testing
Existing action template from shutting down the College Outbreak => I’ll post the chart below => the bottom fell out => on the way down, testing went up and positivity fell => I never would have predicted that outcome
We’ve gone from being scared to open our mail (March) to the start of therapeutics coming online (October).
Collectively, the best way to keep the schools open is opting-out of group activities.
The highest value opt-outs are gatherings with the Three Cs (Close Crowds in Closed Spaces).
We’re going to opt-out of low-benefit connection and stay well away from CCC-connections.
There’s been a lot of death and dying around me lately. I thought I’d share some ideas that you might find useful if you find yourself in a similar position.
First up, for me, grief is better than depression or chronic pain.
Depression is like carrying around a void. The void is always there then, one day, it’s gone. There’s a lot I can do to prevent a downward spiral (into the void) and I’ve gotten better and better at self-management.
Pain: I’ve been fortunate that my longest block of chronic pain was 14 days. It was like carrying a small fire. Over a decade later, I feel gratitude remembering the moment I noticed the pain was gone.
With grief, there is space between the (trembling) waves that arrive, at unpredictable times. I pay attention to the space, it feels great.
At hospice training, they encouraged us to mourn the small losses to prepare ourselves for the inevitable larger ones.
The practice of leaning into small losses will serve you well.
Did you notice the mental setup?
Things could be worse
I can handle my problems
These issues are actually good ones to have – this is a opportunity to practice my coping skills
What I Control
I can’t make myself sleep. I can set an alarm and wake up at the same time, every_single_day.
I don’t control my moment-to-moment neurochemistry. I can exercise in nature and avoid excessive fatigue.
I can’t control my thoughts. I can control:
who I spend time with
where I spend my time
what I say, write and read
where I surf on the internet
Control the controllable – accept the rest.
Grief often manifests as anger.
Anger isn’t all bad – my anger might have nudged me to toss Facebook into the trash and that’s been a plus for 2020. Anger also motivated me to cut my intake of politics, another useful shift.
While I might not control my anger’s arrival, I can influence its departure and notice each time I choose not to act on my anger.
Not acting on anger – there have been some useful wins in that department over the last few months.
The Role of Steady
I went for a long hike on Sunday.
Afterwards, I was looking at the pictures and noticed it was the first time I was smiling, rather than wincing, in a long while. I’m laughing as I type because, all summer long, I couldn’t figure out why my face looked so screwed up in pictures.
Other than walking around in nature, the only other time I’ve noticed feeling really good was after an hour riding easy.
I haven’t done much anaerobic exercise. In the past, I’ve noticed sustained high-intensity exercise isn’t useful for mood management. There’s a brief high followed by a lengthy hangover, when I’m emotionally vulnerable and my will is tapped out.
If you are prone to “euphoria-then-crater” then watch out. I have good systems for keeping myself in check. I never train with faster people when I’m on edge, even a virtual leaderboard can get me into trouble!
How might I know I’m on edge? I could assume it based on the deaths around me.
If external reality doesn’t register then try looking inwards and watch for triggers being triggered…
…anger, sadness, hunger, sugar cravings, sleep pattern changes and/or small cuts that are slow to heal.
The list above is my early-warning system (of impending doom!).
Keep the good stuff in your life.
Schedule the good stuff with yourself, your friends and your family.
Focus on doing the good stuff and have faith you will overcome.
One of my best friends died last week. I’ve been thinking about him, a lot.
First up, what a beautiful legacy.
Over 20 years, every single interaction I had with him was positive. Much of what I teach my kids, I learned from him.
A question I often ask myself, “what remains undone?” My list is pretty short => teach my kids to teach themselves. In his life, Kev got to see that goal achieved and much, much more.
When I was worked up over the ethical lapses of someone other than myself… “Of course, you’re right but you might feel different about that later.”
When he wanted to do a crazy number of Ironman races and I objected. “I hear you but I need to do it now.”
In response to my focus on always building competence (A.B.C.), “That’s a good one. I think building confidence is even better.”
Kev’s pattern was listen, agree, then share a very simple idea and… leave it right there.
Very early in our friendship, I was worked up over something. He reached out and shared a quote from a book I’d recommended to him… do your work and stand back. He was always preparing me for my next step.
My last interaction with Kev was an email he sent me talking about a massive bowl he’d found online. There was a period of our lives when we were training so much that we stopped using plates and shifted to pots / mixing bowls. For 15+ years, he’d chuckle to himself each time he saw a particularly fine bowl.
I have so many great memories – we did some seriously crazy stuff.
Kev once promised to run through a wall “if that’s what it takes” – I never asked him to do that but I was involved in…
A 100 rep squat set – I’d heard about “muscle breakdown training” at the Olympic Training Center and he volunteered to give it a shot. The protocol didn’t catch on…
A Salton Sea loop when it was 110F in the shade – I wish I’d been on that ride as a better understanding of the insanity of my heat camp training program might have saved a mutual friend from a serious bout of overtraining syndrome.
Riding up Arthur’s Pass (West Side!) in a rain storm with running shoes tucked in the back of our jerseys. “We ride and if we can’t ride, we walk it in.”
How to remember Kev?
Riding in the desert, shirt-free and his hair blowing in the wind.
Our district is aiming to phase back in-school learning.
The first step is the K-2 kids heading back, this morning.
We’re keeping our youngest online as we have two more, who will be home learning into October/November.
We feel comfortable with our district’s back to school plan. This is a change from how we felt in mid-August.
The university re-opening went as expected – positives blew up and they shifted back to remote learning last week (for at least 14 days). Many have criticized the university but I think they did an excellent job on campus. We learned a lot.
In Boulder, public health placed ~20 private residences, effectively, on house arrest due to the residents ignoring repeated public health orders to chill out with their partying. All 18-22 year old residents are restricted with their ability to gather.
We’re told most of the COVID transmission happened outside of the school environment, which I took as good news.
Throughout the pandemic, culturally, we let things “play out” before we get to actions that appear obvious at the start (masks, frat parties, social distancing, bars).
I remind myself, most populations will not agree to government regulation until they’ve experienced negative consequences from not being regulated. Our governor has done a decent job of working within this reality.
Our district set Mondays as a non-student contact day so we’ve shifted our Home School Week to run from Tuesday to Saturday.
Saturday Catch-up Day => whenever one of our kids starts trippin’ about a deadline… we re-assure them, “Saturday is catch up day.”
Sunday/Monday, I’ve tried to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The pics in this piece were taken yesterday in the Collegiate Peaks.
Use It or Lose It
Our girls didn’t do much math August/September. I was surprised how fast they forgot what they learned over the summer.
Concepts learned quickly are forgotten just as fast, if not reinforced frequently.
That said, because Summer School left them ahead, they “forgot” themselves back to grade level. So not a big deal.
We restarted our math tutor for the girls this past Sunday. She’s posting assignments across the week (one page each of Tuesday=>Friday) and runs through the assignments on a zoom call at the end of the week.
Pandemic schooling is like bear market investing => any return over 0% makes me happy.
We are grateful to live in a district with dedicated, and flexible, teachers. As a result, we are doing a lot better than a 0% return!
Sports & Friends
Swimming is one of the few sports operating quasi-normally. We started our middle schooler on a year-round swim team. She’s swimming 5x per week, 1-2 hours per session. In September she swam two meets, one dual & one virtual.
Our other two swim 2-3x per week, lessons with each other, no outside kids.
A friend of the family built a climbing wall on the exterior of their house. Our youngest is part of a “climbing pod,” which struck me as a very Boulder thing.
Soccer, jujitsu, indoor climbing, hiphop dance and all the other stuff we’ve experimented with over the years… all on hold, at least for us.
Somehow, searching my way to that title popped up Tim’s Blog on being famous. The blog has a Bill Murray quote about fame, “try being rich first.” The blog is an interesting read, by the way.
I’ve spent a lot of time with rich folks.
“Rich is better than famous?” – that didn’t feel right to me but, heck, Bill Murray knows more about both than me.
Here’s what I’d like to teach my kids… rich is a trap.
For yourself => the never-ending treadmill of personal spending and consumption => a trap of more.
For your family => if you’re lucky enough to see your way through the hoax then you’ll have to convince everyone around you to modify the lifestyle to which you’ve trained them (COVID, or any external crisis, can help).
Pretty risky, especially as there is a much more useful target to give yourself.
The downsides Tim writes about in his fame blog are infringements on personal freedom.
The fame upsides strike me as an external forms of recognition, a universal desire.
The thing is, once you target external validation, you’re trapped.
External validation is a need to be weaned, not watered.
Something I do well is back-fit a future goal on top of my present reality. It helps me stay the course.
As you age, what’s it going to be like? I have coached some very special older folks, and paid attention. Here’s what I’m expecting.
More time but less energy — the energy “step down” from 45 onwards was a surprise — the fact that it was happening before I saw it, is something I remind myself as I head towards 60.
You are going to want to delay the inevitable physical decline — there is a lot of good news here — if you start building your physical reserve then you can push the decline WAY WAY out. I’ve been fortunate to watch athletes manage themselves from 60 to 70 and beyond.
The key recommendation for you, if you plan to live past 60 then start strength training now, just a little.
When I was a speedy young man, there was a controversy about strength training. As a coach, I’d be asked “where I stood on the topic.” Sitting here a couple decades down the track, it makes no sense that smart people argued passionately against strength training.
There is a guaranteed large future payoff when you create a strength reserve – against aging, against illness and against injury => aging, illness, injury => unless you’re taken out in an accident, these events are absolutely certain for your future self.
That’s the physical.
For the mental, I see two components:
Humility & Patience – a useful combination if one desires to be seen as a wise old man!
Kindness (towards the ugly) – consider it self-love for my future self 😉
I have a vision for what I’d like to be doing. My daily writing project during the first 20 weeks of COVID was a test run. It went well.
By the way, you can create a personal niche, while learning about favorite topics. The game plan: one classic book per week and choose the best idea inside. Cap yourself at ~450 words for a summary that includes three personal examples. Do that every week for two years. ~45,000 words across 100 good ideas.
A friend sent me Stray Reflections, which gave me the above idea and reminded me… don’t be put off by a lack of experience, rather, make a daily habit of doing what it takes.
How will I know I’ve succeeded? Well, success doesn’t matter.
Freedom matters. Not being owned matters. Personal safety matters. Being engaged in working towards mastery, matters.
I’ve done so much and it’s all in the past. None of my success has stuck with me. If you are a striver then I’m a voice from your future. What stands out in memory are my setbacks and errors. They motivate me to avoid repeating mistakes and iterate towards better. A feeling of moving towards better matters.
Beyond the grave is a sentiment I felt strongly immediately after our third child was born. In 2012, I spent a month writing my kids a book. Now that they are older, I give my kids myself, rather than my work.
In sharing myself, I offer an ethical framework through which my kids can navigate the world.