What’s Really Important?

My guest this week is Zack Gould. Zack is a father, husband, and entrepreneur, in that order. Zack co-founded G&N insurance ten years ago and Bobble On business consulting last year. What’s more, he lives an intentional life focused on identifying what is truly important and putting all of himself into those efforts. Through a dedication to learning and personal development, Zack has embodied the journey towards quality over quantity. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, or here:

http://makingkairos.libsyn.com/whats-really-important

Discussed in this episode:

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

The Go Giver by Bob Burg

Brian Koppleman “Why You Should Read Fiction”

Simon Sinek

The Infinite Game

Entre Leadership – Art Williams “Accomplishing Impossible Goals”

Social Media

Instagram

@zgonig

@bobbleoninc

@gninsurance

Twitter

@zginsures

@insurewithgandn

Podcast

https://bobbleon.com/bobbleon-podcast/

Websites

Impactful Practices

In this solo episode I wanted to talk about a few practices I have adopted in the past year that have been impactful for me. None of them have been new New Years’ Resolutions or but I know at this time of year a lot of people are looking at habits, goals, and practices. This is a companion episode to my blog post “What I talk about when I talk about practice.” The three practices I discuss are 1. Refraining from phone use in the first hour of each day. 2. Learning to play guitar. 3. Writing Daily Pages. You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or other services. You can also listen here:

http://makingkairos.libsyn.com/impactful-practices

A few things I mentioned in this podcast:

Three great podcasts:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ten-percent-happier-with-dan-harris/id1087147821

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-moment-with-brian-koppelman/id814550071

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-james-altucher-show/id794030859

Just for anyone interested, a couple youtube channels that have been helpful learning guitar:

Marty Music

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmnlTWVJysjWPFiZhQ5uudg

Paul Davids

https://www.youtube.com/user/Luapper

What I Talk About When I Talk About Practice

It is en vogue to look down or criticize adopting new year’s resolutions. As a fitness professional and someone who writes and podcasts about living a more engaged life, I have observed an increased emphasis on the adoption of healthy or positive habits. I do not intend to disparage either new year’s resolutions or habit formation. If you are trying to better yourself and increase your quality of life, I’m a supporter of that effort no matter when you initiate your renewed direction or if your focus is on the small unconscious behaviors that make up so much of our lives. What I do intend to advocate for is an intentional, repeated effort that lasts over a long period of time. It may have immediately observable impacts or it may take a long time. It could have a specific outcome attached or the pleasure could be within the act itself. What I’m talking about is Practice.

A distinction between a habit and a practice is that a habit is a repeated behavior that is done without thought; a practice is a repeated effort that is intentionally engaged over a period of time. 

We can easily think of both good and bad habits. A common habit people generally want to stop is biting their nails. It is a reflexive behavior that some individuals develop at a young age and carry over into adulthood. People don’t think about how biting their nails will be satisfying, they are simply in a state of thought and then they realize their fingers are in their mouth. Not a socially graceful habit. A habit that I often advocate for adoption is drinking a glass of water first thing when you wake up and last thing right before you go to bed. As someone who has helped people exercise for years, I am no longer shocked when a person makes the statement, “I don’t drink any actual water throughout the day.” I am not shocked due to the acceptable nature of this statement, but due to its frequent applicability. A controversial claim: living things need water. If you’re a person who drinks no actual water throughout the day, you should drink some. An easy place to start is to have one glass right when you wake up and your mouth is dry and one right before bed when you have a regular habit of brushing your teeth or washing your face. You may have to apply effort to remind yourself at first, but with time it will become a thoughtless act. A healthy habit.

If you want to stop biting your nails or start drinking more water, great. I support you. These are positive habitual changes that you can stack to make an improvement in your life. However, the positive impact of your conscious experience of life may be limited. As I noted before, a habit is a thoughtless repetition of a behavior. The reflexive nature of a good or bad habit means that you won’t have a conscious experience of the good or bad that is present or absent in your life.

Enter in the adoption of a practice. A practice is an intentional engagement in a behavior that is repeated over time. The conscious intention of a practice makes it distinct from the mindless nature of a habit, be it good or bad. A common application for the use of practice is in one’s adoption of meditation or yoga. It would be a rare person who just falls into meditation without some intention to begin, indeed I know of no historical examples. Similarly, even the most naturally flexible person does not just find themselves holding contortions and controlling their breath without intending to seek out a position. Both of these practices take intention, thought, and repeated effort. That last component can be a sticking point. Everyone feels their mind race and their muscles tense when they start meditation and yoga, respectively. It is only after repeated efforts that individuals start to experience comfort in the practice. What is more, I would add the adoption of a practice is generally hindered, not helped by attaching a specific time bound goal. You will be able to sit as long as you can sit. Your thoughts will come as they come. You will be able to hold a position as long as you can. You’ll be able to express a position when you can. Striving for numbers will not help, engaging the practice will help. Despite this lack of immediacy in return, you rarely hear people complain about the lack of benefit to their quality of life from an engaged, rigorous practice.

I don’t have a formal meditation practice. I don’t do yoga. I don’t pick those examples as the only practices to be advocated for. What I do have is an intentional and engaged practice of physical activity that brings me joy and positive experiences just in the act of completion. I do have mindful practices that I engage in daily that I enjoy and gain insight from that is a positive experience unto itself. I don’t have a specific, measurable, or time bound goal from either, though that sort of goal setting is a seperate part of my life. My practices are my practices. My life is better simply for having engaged them because my conscious experience of them is positive. What I would advocate for for anyone looking to bring more quality in their lives is not to only identify specific achievements to hit or mindless habits to shed or gain, but to seek out an intentional repeated behavior that will bring you benefit just in virtue for having done it, be it physical, mental, spiritual, or social. Find something that will make your life more full just for having engaged your time in that manner. That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about practice.

Shout to Allen Iverson.   

The Mundanity of Dramatic Change

I have seen many people make dramatic changes. I work in the fitness industry. I am in long-term recovery from addiction. I have seen people undergo physical transformation. I have been witness to spiritual awakenings. In all such cases, I find a common thread, an essential component to lasting dramatic change: mundanity. The practice of undergoing a meaningful change is largely comprised of mundane events and choices.

The imagery and testimonials in various media forms, however, present a different story. According to many soothsayers and sages of nutrition, physical practice, meditation and (gasp) self-help, there are books, diets, and mindsets that will instantly change your life. Of course, this is what we want: an instant, bloodless revolution that will lead us to a new physical and psychological freedom. A bolt of lightning, a flash of light, a moment of clarity that will forever change the way our lives are lived. I’ve witnessed moments that seem like that, even experienced mild versions of the sort, but they’ve never had the deep effect of a true dramatic change.

Let’s look at the common example of someone who wants to lose weight. Someone with the dramatic goal of losing one hundred pounds. A generally accepted healthy rate of losing weight is one to two pounds per week. That’s it. One, maybe two pounds. Over the course of seven days. A sustainable and healthy change of behavior that leads to the loss of one pound, maybe two over the course of seven days can be very small at first. It’s not a radical elimination of a class of food or enrolling in the most grueling exercise regimen there is. It is a small behavioral change that is repeated over the course of seven consecutive days. If someone is able to keep this sort of behavioral change up for an entire month, they will have lost somewhere between four and eight pounds. For someone who wants to lose one hundred pounds, this will not even be noticeable on sight. For thirty days our subject has made small decisions each day that has led to the loss of weight that will not even be noticeable to others.

What will happen though is that after a few months of diligent work to making small behavioral changes, there will be moments of recognizable progress. Maybe the first one is about three months in when an article of clothing fits noticeably different. That’s ninety days. Ninety days of decisions to go left or go right. To take the stairs or the elevator. Add cheese or not. Drink soda or water. Take a walk or stay home. Day after day, for the one day when a shirt fits differently. This fitting will feel profound and perhaps provide motivation for the next ninety days of continued mundane decisions.

If our subject stays on the path for a whole year, they will hit their goal and lose a total of one hundred pounds. The decisions will vary. Some will be more difficult than others, but the end result will be a completely different person. Perhaps an outsider will see a picture from one year’s Christmas party to the next and be astounded by the dramatic change. They will assume that there must have been a drastic change and serious tumult for such a change to result, but they will be wrong. The number of profound moments will be dwarfed by the number of small, mundane choices.

I sit here writing this with over nine years in recovery, working on ten. From the perspective of the self-destructive, everyday-drinker, that is miraculous. What a dramatic change, but that is only looking at the two data points farthest from each other. Day one was not incredibly dissimilar from day two. Yesterday was not much different from today. I like to say that the night before I got sober, I got drunk. There was nothing in the night of my last drink that I hadn’t continued to drink off in years past. The difference is, the next day I didn’t. I went to a place where people get help to stop drinking and got help. It was harder at first, and got easier as time went on. I was told that it would get better, and it did.  

There have certainly been moments of profundity during my recovery, but most moments have been made up of mundane behaviors such as going to work, going to the grocery store, putting on a nicer sweater than normal for a family function, nothing in and of itself revolutionary. It was just one small step at a time. No step a large departure from the preceding step. I know predicate felon heroin addicts who now have good jobs and warm families. They did the same thing I did. It’s not a unique story and the steps taken are not mysterious, mystical, or ethereal; they are concrete, logical, and well established.

While the notion of dramatic change through adopting one extreme practice that leads to incredible results is appealing in the short term, that is not what I have seen work. What I have seen work is plain work itself. More people fail from boredom than from lack of ability. The exciting choices don’t last. It is the dull day in and day out commitment to simple practices that lead to dramatic change. 

Finding Your Place

New Podcast Episode with Steph Hunt!

Stephanie Hunt is Director of the African American and Latino Studies program at Brookline High School. Steph loves her job. When I first met Steph, she told me that she had a dream job and planned on staying there until she retired–someone who found their life’s work. In this episode we discuss Steph’s own development as a biracial child growing up in two very different neighborhoods, her passion for the study of history, and how she found her work as a teacher. We also discuss some of the dynamics of today’s teenagers, the challenges of being a teacher, and the best characters in the Wire.

Episode available on iTunes, Stitcher, or Libsyn: 

http://makingkairos.libsyn.com/finding-your-place

Discussed in episode:

Brookline High School

http://bhs.brookline.k12.ma.us/

African American and Latino Scholars Program

http://bhs.brookline.k12.ma.us/aalsp.html

METCO Program

http://www.doe.mass.edu/metco/

Atlantic Article from April 2019 on METCO program history and current status

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/04/boston-metco-program-school-desegregation/584224/

Hidden Brain Episodes Referenced:

Zipcode Destiny: The Persistent Power of Place and Education

https://www.npr.org/2019/12/09/786469762/zipcode-destiny-the-persistent-power-of-place-and-education

People Like Us: How Our Identities Shape Health and Educational Success

https://www.npr.org/2019/06/03/729275139/people-like-us-how-our-identities-shape-health-and-educational-success

Read: Who Fears Death

Listen to: Still Processing

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-new-york-times/still-processing

Watch: The Watchmen

Meeting Introductions

I am an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for a long time now. I got sober by attending twelve step meetings. As many people know, when you identify yourself in a twelve step meeting, you say, “My name is ‘X’ and I’m an alcoholic.” For many, this simple identification is a powerful event in itself. Many people who struggle with alcohol have a hard time admitting that they are an alcoholic, sometimes to themselves, but certainly to anyone else. The simple act of identification allows a person to name their problem, accept it for themselves, and recognize that they are amidst a group of people who all have the same issue. There are many different formats to meetings, but in some there is simply a group of people sitting in a circle who share their experience, strength, and hope on a certain topic. As we go around the room, everyone says their name and that they are an alcoholic.

It’s been a while, but I have also worked in a large professional organization. We had a lot of meetings in that setting as well–one on one meetings, team meetings, interdepartmental meetings, and working group meetings of people assigned to a special project. Often times we would start the meetings by going around the room and having everyone say their name and their job title and function, so everyone would have an idea of who was at the table and what they did. Everytime we had one of those meetings, as the introductions were going around the room, I would tell myself, “Don’t say ‘I’m Nate and I’m an alcoholic.’ Don’t say ‘I’m Nate and I’m an alcoholic.’ Don’t say ‘I’m Nate and I’m an alcoholic.’” I’ve identified in one way so many times, I didn’t want to fall back on the habit. The embarrassment and shame that would ensue!

If you work in a large professional organization where there are meetings where people go around the room and identify themselves, there is a good chance someone in that room who is repeating that same reminder to themselves. You have no idea who it is, but I guarantee you someone is living with that same low grade anxiety each time the introductions go around the room. What is more, to avoid the shame and embarrassment, I’m sure there’s a host of other identities that people are holding back. If you don’t feel that same twinge of anxiety, know that the meeting is starting out a little easier for you.

Just So You Know

“Just so you know, I can’t fully extend my right arm, so when I’m demonstrating this movement, one of my arms will be bent and the other will be straight. When you do it, lock out both your arms. I’d appreciate the show of solidarity, but it will be better for you to use the full capacity of both your arms.”

I’ve said some version of this countless times during my career as a fitness coach. If someone asks, I could explain more about erb’s palsy, but usually we’re strapped for time and we move on quickly. I’d love to tell you that I’ve delivered the news of my own physical limitation so many times that it leaves me unphased, but that’s not true. It is my job to help people learn how to move in a safe and efficient manner, so that they can get the best results from each workout. This fact is contrasted with the fact that I am physically unable to perform many movements in the optimal fashion because I have a physical limitation that I’ve had since birth. Due to the limited mobility and range of motion in my right arm, I’ll never be able to give a full demonstration of some movements.

I don’t know what the clients I work with think of this. I have been able to successfully coach clients to make improvements in their olympic lifts and gymnastics using means that I am actually not capable of utilizing, so I believe that I have some credibility in the way I have been able to help others. Additionally, I have worked hard to be able to do a ton of movements with one impaired arm that many people with two good arms can’t do, so I believe I have some credibility for the results I have been able to achieve for myself. Despite that, I’m still self-conscious.

When I made the decision to coach, I counted my story and example as a strong positive feature to my appeal as a coach. I am not a natural who took to each movement with effortless athleticism. In my own journey, I had to work through tedious progressions and put in extra time. In any instance where using two arms was needed, I was at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, I persisted. Most people, even with no acute physical limitation, are in a similar position: many fitness movements don’t come naturally; everything feels like an uphill battle. I thought my own story could be relatable and inspiring. I believe that has been the case.

But I don’t know that for sure. As a coach, I have some doubt or self-consciousness about my own physical limitations creep in on a daily basis.

As an athlete, I’ve received many flattering compliments on my physical ability, especially despite the physical limitation of my arm. When I’m looking to perform, I’m looking to perform better than everyone, not just better than you’d expect for a guy with limitations on one side. Likewise, I’ve gotten compliments on my physique and the strength of my erb’s palsy side. I’ve even received messages on social media from other people with erb’s palsy who ask “How can I strengthen my erb’s side to get symmetry like yours?” I certainly appreciate that sort of feedback. It makes me feel like I’ve worked up to having my limitation be barely noticeable. I’ll feel quite good about my physical state.

Then, I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in a picture or video when I was less conscious of my position. I’ll catch a glimpse of my arm jutting out in the mirror. My eye immediately fixates on my erb’s palsy arm. It looks so much smaller and weaker than my left arm. I hate the way it props up in front of my torso, rather than just hang by my side. I think about how this is how I must be seen by everyone else. How my crooked arm must look so peculiar to every observer.

These feelings of self consciousness are not something I verbalize. If you were to ask me about how I feel about my arm, I might talk about how it has taught me so much about grit or how I don’t let it hold me back in any way. However, it most certainly has a mental hold on me at some point every day. I don’t dwell on this and have come a long way in acceptance, but I have my self conscious moments each day. 

My physical limitation is something that I can acknowledge as a source of strength. I am truly proud of what I can do and how I’ve worked to be able to do it. At the same time, I will acknowledge that it is something that still is a source of self-doubt and shame for me. I acknowledge that today only because I know that I am not alone in having self doubts and insecurities about my body. Maybe I’ll come to a place of better acceptance or maybe I will always have those doubts, but I will not live in either of those states alone. 

The Space You Occupy For Others

“You could have been anywhere else in the world right now, but you’re here with me.” Jay-Z

The best hour of their day. That is a common refrain for fitness coaches. We know that most people’s lives start with an alarm, are filled with responsibilities, and have few moments for self care and play. We know that when our members get their hour in the gym, it is a time when they don’t have to answer emails from their boss, make sure their kids are where they’re supposed to be, or worry about the size of their next bill. When a fitness class starts, it is a group of people who will be tackling a physical task with camaraderie. At the end of the workout, people will embrace physically to celebrate their shared experience and revel in the completion of their task. It is such a privilege to be a steward of this space.

I have noted on a number of occasions my transition from an office job to coaching fitness as a positive move towards a more fulfilling life. There are certainly a number of factors that contribute to why this change has been so fulfilling: I love physically training; I love learning about different methodologies of training; I love helping people; and I love seeing the progress and change in people’s lives. However, the part of my job that I think I find most fulfilling is the emotional space that I get to be a part of others’ lives. 

As I said to begin with, the gym is a place of refuge for many people I have the privilege to work with. Though they may start their day uncertain of how their commute, work, or meetings will go, they know that they can look forward to that satisfying hour at the gym–that hour where they will get a physical release from strenuous activity and a social bond from the fellowship of their classmates. It is my job to make sure that experience is consistent and open to all. I need to make the newest member of the gym feel welcomed into the community and safe in the physical pursuit. I need to make the experienced member feel engaged in the community and physically challenged to a new level. I need to make sure the fitness theory and methodology is explained, I need to make sure the class is organized, and I need to make sure it’s fun. I need to hype people up, I need to make sure the music is right, and I need to have my own personal style. My members could be members at any other gym in the area, but they’re with me and I need to honor that. It is such a privileged position. I feel honored to hold such a position in the lives of the people that I see on a daily basis. 

For any fitness coach to really make a connection with people, that connection has to take deeper roots than shere physical training. You must get to know the person, who they are, what motivates them, and what they truly enjoy. I love that I get to see people progress not only in the gym, but be a part of their journey through life–getting new jobs, finding a life partner, starting a family. I may not be a pivotal or central figure in all or any of these people’s lives, but I am a presence in something that they choose to do repeatedly over time. For many, the only thing they will do more consistently and longer than going to the gym is going to work, and they get paid to do that.   

For anyone who pursues fitness, the benefits carry well outside of the gym’s walls. Similarly, what my responsibility as a steward of this space has taught me is to be mindful of the space that I occupy in the minds of others in any of life’s endeavors. For anyone you interact with, you can choose what you bring to the table. Are you someone who brings complaints or solutions? Do you bring gossip or information? Are you interacting or speaking? Bringing positivity or negativity? Love or hate? We all have a choice in what we will bring to our shared spaces. The responsibility of caring for special place for others has taught me that I can bring a positive contribution or not. I am in no way perfect at carrying this example to the other aspects of my life, but I have been taught the lesson. I can now be more mindful of the space I occupy for others.

A Mindset of Service with Justin Wright

My guest for this episode is Justin Wright: performance coach and athlete. Justin and I talk about his journey from dedicated high school wrestler to CrossFit Games team athlete. In addition, we talk about the dark period of Justin’s life where his athletic career took a precipitous fall do to his own mindstate and mental approach. As a result, Justin invested in his own mental game and now seeks to spread that knowledge with others on a mission of service.

http://makingkairos.libsyn.com/a-mindset-of-service-with-justin-wright

@trainedwright  https://trainedwright.com/

@makingkairos

@kairosnate

Shownotes available at makingkairos.com

Mark Devine

Unbeatable Mind

Unbeatable Mind Academy

Leader’s Eat Last

Pumping Iron (available on Netflix)

https://g.co/kgs/3v58Mh

Living Life’s Waves

My guest this week is Liz O’Neil. Liz has an incredible life story or resilience and fortitude. Liz grew up with dysfunction and abuse. To compensate, Liz sought achievement and performance, establishing a picturesque family and career of her own. When turmoil returned through Liz’s parents, Liz sought treatment to address the trauma she had long lived with. She emerged with a new understanding of herself. Despite the turbulent waves of her life continues to seek and find fulfillment. Show available on iTunes and Stitcher. You can also listen here:

http://makingkairos.libsyn.com/living-lifes-waves

Also Discussed

Walden Pond

Here’s why you should wander Walden Pond

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walden_Pond

Seals at Wellfleet

“Just Mercy” Bryan Stevenson