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.
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.
One of the best parts of trying to get really really good at anything, is the challenge of the process is going to provide you with an opportunity to learn about yourself.
I’ve spent the last 12-months getting strong.
It’s a good fit with staying at home.
Grinding away with my basement squat rack, I realized that I was probably enjoying this piece of metal more than the average 50-something person.
Routine, ticking boxes on a written plan, predictability.
Invert the previous line and you have the perfect recipe to ruin my morning => surprises, running on feel and random shocks.
Armed with self knowledge, it’s up to me to communicate and create a system to keep myself productive => written plan and a policy that we are flexible (but slowly, later and most certainly not today!).
So whether it’s a training plan, a home school schedule, a list of household cleaning tasks, a project management assignment… I need it written down.
Once that happens, “the list” keeps calling out to me, and I get a nice shot of endorphins each time I tick a box.
To execute, I need to keep it very simple – wake up (same time), spin on my bike, do my strength plan => then roll into household chores and get the kids rolling with home school.
All my non-family, post-dawn, obligations need to be in my calendar and 100% visible to my spouse.
My wife’s wired a little differently, she’s a “logger.”
While she smiles at my lists, I know that inside her phone is an electronic note that documents every bit of exercise she’s done during COVID. As a young swimmer, she’d log every single workout.
So she gets her fix from writing down what she does.
I get it, watching my savings grow was a big motivator in my teens and 20s.
When things “work” for you, you are going to have something simple that keeps you going. Pay attention to that thing and ask…
What was the structure of my life like when I was most productive, most engaged?
The dumbbells, above, sat around for more than a decade (!) until I bought a third-party training plan that required me to use them. I still only use them when required by the plan.
It’s worth remembering that the goal, of the squat rack and the DBs, was not to use the equipment. I bought the gear because I wanted to get stronger. The loss of strength from my early, to late, 40s was something I missed.
I wasn’t able to address my goal until I got my process correct.
In my case, the difference between wishing for a strong body, and having one, was the nudge I get from a written training plan that costs me $4.14 a week.
Despite living this reality => a good enough plan, done first thing daily => I’m prone to…
worrying about the specifics of the plan
dreaming about additional (expensive) asset purchases
tweaking the edges of the protocol
doing too much
Avoid your personal kryptonite!
What’s the real goal here?
What’s it going to take to achieve that goal?
How do we get you to do what’s required?
How do we get you to say “no” to non-core?
This process applies to every single thing in my life.
Training for an event, or striving towards a specific goal, is straightforward. Select goal, seek expert advice, simply your life and execute, while paying attention to how you get in your own way.
But what if the events are cancelled? What if the whole concept of “an event” has been put on hold?
Three key principles I keep in mind…
1/ Remember why you started in the first place. What was your core motivation before you got wrapped up in seeking external success/validation? Remind yourself of your core values.
2/ What’s your personal superpower? Where do you have the capacity to build, and demonstrate, mastery? This helps you sustain motivation in challenging times.
3/ Where do you want to be in 5 or, even, 10 years time? I laugh at myself with this one because my answer is nearly always… “the same as today, just a little bit better.” This is despite _knowing_ my life undergoes big changes all the time.
While kicking those ideas around, I also like to consider different benefits of an active lifestyle…
Physical Health // By mixing in some housework, I can rack up 12,500 steps a day and not leave my property. So I have this one covered.
Mental Health // For many of my athletic friends, this is the true driver of their program, even more so for my pals with family trees, or personal histories, of addiction. Here’s what works for me => split sessions AM/PM with a goal of never getting so tired you can’t make tomorrow’s split sessions.
Make the goal tomorrow, while having the energy to meet your non-training obligations today.
Long-term Functional Strength // If you’re under 40 then this might not be on your radar. Watching my grandmother age, then die, put it on mine. I maintain a large reserve of functional strength. Today, it’s useful in the mountains. In the future, I hope it will help me maintain independent living.
Vanity & Sexual Function // These goals can work together, or be opposed to each other. For example, a well-constructed anabolic phase, will build muscle, increase my energy and boost my naturally occurring recovery hormones. All good.
Babies and preschoolers were so overwhelming, I was forced to make choices/changes. If you’re struggling with a young family then the struggle, the process of choosing, is a useful teacher.
Where’s the point of “good enough”?
As I get older, I find myself saying “good enough” a lot more.
As a younger man, I might have considered this process settling for less. It doesn’t feel that way. What’s happening is I have a clear idea of the work required to get a little bit better/richer/faster and I know that work is going to get in the way of what gives my life meaning.
These days, I don’t get meaning from more.
With planning => where are you seeking to go? how will you know you have arrived?
If the goal of the plan is to have something to avoid existential angst then own it. Own it and know that you don’t need to push yourself quite so hard.
If the purpose of planning is to “have a plan” then the plan itself need only be reasonable. Most days… tick the box. Occasionally, push the envelope.
The news cycle isn’t my friend. It’s a distraction from what gives my life meaning. It’s an easy way to pass time spinning my wheels on topics I can’t influence.
So, to sort out my thoughts, I need to address the fire hose of information flow that arrives daily.
The best technique I know for clearing the mind and setting priorities is a cyber-break => pull the plug completely for 7-14 days.
It’s wonderful and, while difficult to execute, the world has yet to miss my absence.
I’m going to try the “light” version in August => shutdown my computer after each use (it takes forever to boot up, major friction), remove Safari / Twitter from my phone (more friction), and take notes but don’t publish.
That’s probably 100 hours going back into my August. As well as creating time, it will create space because there will be less noise arriving.
Simple, not easy.
Similar piece from 2011 – based on a conversation with the most successful guy you’ve never heard of – despite having a ton of financial wealth, his mode of operation has nothing to do with money. I’d forgotten about his tutorial to me.
What’s the cost of a life with meaning? From 2016 – Pay The Price.
~100 posts during COVID and over 66,000 words published this year. Do a little bit each day and you’ll get somewhere.
How’d you spend lockdown? Wrote a book, educated my kids, loved my wife and got really strong.
What one thing, if it happened, would change everything?
Well, if you’re a family then your “one thing” might be having your kids achieve the capacity for independent living. We achieved it, briefly, this past week.
Wake up, sort breakfast, clean up, do home school, snack then light housework.
The kids were occupied long enough for me to do a classic Colorado hike and get back for lunch. This is big because it frees us from needing our school district to open => to provide childcare.
The kids, working together, can educate and feed themselves.
What’s this worth? As much as 20 hours a week, every week, until a vaccine is deployed.
Spend time to get time => the process was 8 weeks, involved 3 tutors, ~$6,000 and a lot of project management from yours truly.
COVID is a binary life for me – I am either on my property, or in the backcountry.
Five days a week, I’m inside two square blocks.
This is not my first choice for the next 25-75 weeks!
The kids tested out of their next grade-level math, which gave them a confidence boost.
I don’t see how they will be able to mix into a higher grade’s math class but that’s a problem for the future.
For now, we’re basking in a job well done!
Knowing the kids are ahead makes me feel more relaxed about how the fall will play out. School districts across the US are delaying their re-openings.
The above provides me with a case study to share a high-performance mindset with you.
In personal planning => use time to create time => life is about time. If you are surrounded by people that think otherwise then you should change your situation!
It cost me eight-weeks of effort to free as many as 1,000 hours.
This is a highly valuable option => especially in terms of removing the fear, and horror, of a full academic year worth of online learning!
In performance => we need to think clearly to perform at our best => placing yourself in a position where you have the feeling that you have already won will calm your mind and enable your best to flow through.
Now, I certainly don’t feel that we’ve won against COVID (unforced errors aplenty at the Federal level) but it is clear our household is doing well => just need to keep myself out of the hospital.
I am chipping away at the crisis’ ability to disrupt my life and clawing back my ability to direct my own time, within the constraints of the reality of the virus (masks, social distancing, closures).
My daughter and I are doing a summer essay project. I wasn’t able to get this quite where I wanted before hitting my writing duration limit of two weeks. So I’ll pull the key points to the start and publish:
Marriage is an agreement to never knowingly hurt each other. Digging deeper, this implies a promise that I will take the time to absorb my spouse’s value system.
If you’re not sure then wait. Wait until you are willing to constantly offer yourself. Getting out of a poor marriage is awful and being in a great marriage is fabulous. Choose wisely.
Renew vows every morning. Every new choice provides the opportunity to leave the mistakes of the past.
You have a hidden superpower. You have the ability to create your spouse. First and foremost by who you become in the years ahead. Secondly, in the aspects of your partner you choose to support.
Finally, your relationships, your life => it only needs to make sense to you and your partner.
There’s a paradox. My current marriage, which works very well for us, depends on a path of going through my first marriage, which ended in divorce.
Success via failure.
Marriage Life Cycle
With each passing year, the “getting married” becomes less of a factor in my life. As we near fifteen years together, the “staying married” has been stable for a long time. These days, where I focus is the enjoying of marriage.
Getting => Staying => Enjoying
Prior failure is painful evidence that I might not be as smart as I think I am or, perhaps, I’m not in the right spot to find what I’m looking for.
Can I articulate what I am looking for? If I can’t articulate my needs then I’ll default to a set of criteria outside myself, outside my true needs. This is the old advice to start with the end in mind.
A kind companion with whom I enjoying sharing all aspects of my life => that might be a good starting point. Sharing “all aspects” has a decent shot at enduring through the stages of life and reflects a core value of openness.
For me, the step after that was to park myself in a place (two places, in fact) where there were a lot of people who shared my interests.
Arriving at a point where I had a shot at success was an achievement.
However, even at that point, my relationship CV was horrendous:
Five divorces in my immediate family, including my own
Blindly heading towards financial ruin
No sustained success in relationships
No proven ability to stay put
Addiction, alcoholism and mental illness throughout my family tree
All of the above were extremely useful as I gradually inverted my personal history => with a crystal clear idea about how to screw up a marriage => just do the opposite.
July 4th, 2005 => I embark on my second marriage with a clear thoughts on:
What I didn’t want in a relationship.
Where I didn’t want to live.
What it takes for me to ruin a relationship.
It was easier to figure what I didn’t want, than what I did. Most importantly, the pain of my prior mistakes left me motivated to change.
Where is this behavior, this choice, likely to take me?
I knew where my past choices had taken me – not where I had wanted to go!
Caring Enough To Change
Being motivated to change is not unique.
I’ve met many people with a passionate drive to overcome themselves. Often, this drive is applied towards conventional success => monetary wealth, power and sexual partners. I was this person. I had an opportunity to achieve a world-class marriage but decided to apply my energy elsewhere.
Our prior mistakes do not need to be renewed each morning!
The starting point in my own transformation was giving up on relationships. I spent 1,000 days seeking to make myself the absolute best (athlete) I could be. The physical outlet of this pursuit let me burn away a prior life of achieving what others valued. Extreme fatigue was a useful way to peel the onion and figure out who I wanted to be.
Marriage is journey:
facing common challenges
about which you have limited experience
Time => success is very different at 25, 50 and 75 years old.
Stress & Adversity => across long time horizons you are guaranteed to face adversity:
Babies and toddlers
Near death experiences of kids and each other
Death experience of parents and grandparents
Alcoholism and addiction
Menopause, cancer, dementia, heart disease
Stuff happens to everyone, regardless marital status. We face these major events largely clueless about how to deal with them. How you handle stress, within your relationship, will have an outsized impact on outcome.
How To Love is a great resource on this topic and will help you increase the odds towards relationship success.
How do you get to a marriage that is better than you ever expected?
Wait until you are ready to continually offer yourself.
Looking back, I think my first marriage was driven, at least in part, by an unwillingness to be alone. However, I am cautious about memory because I am an expert at fooling myself and back-fitting a coherent personal narrative.
On the other hand, the failure of my first marriage was absolutely due to an attitude of what I was going to “take” and a disregard for bringing anything, other than money, to the relationship. It’s an attitude that followed me for many years, in many different parts of my life. It didn’t serve me well.
What would I tell my younger self, or my kids, about marriage?
There’s no rush, rather than searching for what you think you need, turn inwards and work on becoming the person you want to marry. Once you are married, you’ll be able to apply this habit into supporting your spouse. Together, you will each become better partners.
Create your spouse => I look for ways to support anything that builds my spouse into the person I’d like them to become.
Often when I read advice on how to love, it centers on what to avoid in a partner. Rather than avoidance in others, seek to self-cultivate the traits you want to receive.
In response to my observation that I need to challenge myself to avoid sliding towards mediocrity, a friend asked, “where do I start?”
Ask yourself, “What one thing, if it happened, would change everything?“
Simplify all the BS and focus on your thing, first thing, daily, for a long time.
My last 20 years can be summarized as a series of “one things”
Get out of this town
Do the plan
Find more love
Be the brand
Stop Using (beer, anger, fear, self-pity, sugar, bread…)
Break The Chain
Get Up Early
You must keep it really simple – life will constantly throw stuff at you, while your habit energy pulls you towards your status quo.
The true cost of the status quo is hidden.
Choose wisely => pick a “one thing” that sets up a positive cascade when you get it done.
I’m going to get a lot done in June. Everything I accomplish will track back to my core goals:
wake up by 4am
Here’s how the positive cascade will work:
Up by 4am
Up… well, I might as well workout
Working out… well, I might as well do it right
Finished, showered, feeling good… What’s important now?
Home school the kids by executing the schedule
Looks dirty over there, mini-cleaning break
Within that work flow, I calendarize fixed blocks of time to meet my outside commitments.
My calendar (my life, really) is 100% transparent to my wife. I remind my kids to leave me alone immediately before I start.
I get interrupted a lot – just the way it is, don’t complain… don’t retaliate.
So if you’re struggling then consider…
1/ Am I picking the right stuff? My ability to execute is much stronger when I’m doing stuff that matters to me. It takes uncommon honesty to own the fact that you’ve spent most your life trying to impress others.
2/ Keep it simple. Before you can put two people into orbit (Space X in the news this week), you must master in the basics. What might those be? Save some money, exercise daily, keep your house clean and always keep small promises to yourself.
Still having trouble?
Simplify, lower the bar and let compounding work in your favor.