Flirting with Distraction

When I returned home from Power Monkey Camp last month, I thought I would hit the ground running with all the new ideas and skills I learned during my time in Tennessee.

I was given a full toolkit to use in my training – mobility exercises, handstand drills, lifting techniques, etc. But while I enthusiastically shared all this information with the coaches and fellow athletes at my gym, I haven’t put any of them into action.

Life has gotten in the way. From projects at work to moving into a new house to a weekend jaunt in New York City, everything has distracted me from my training.

I am not unique in this situation. So many of us have jobs, relationships, kids and other responsibilities that take us away from the gym more often than we would like.

Sometimes it physically keeps us away, while other times it is all mental. We show up but cannot focus on the day’s workout and just go through the motions as we are too busy in our heads thinking about bills that need to get paid, cars that needs to get fixed, deadlines that have to be met and Halloween costumes that have to be made.

Scientists typically identify two broad types of distractions: sensory and emotional. The sensory distractions are the ones more easily tuned out, like the loud coworker yammering away on the phone or the never-ending Ariana Grande song on at your gym during the WOD.

Emotional distractions are much more difficult to ignore as they are stimuli that elicit a strong reaction, like anger or anxiety, and dominate your thoughts.

I have definitely been feeling much more stressed out these past few weeks due to all the balls up in the air that I am trying to juggle.

For me, these distractions have caused me to lose my focus and make too many excuses.

I want to clean up my diet and eat better to perform, but I’ve put off trips to the grocery store and preparing meals in advance because I am choosing comfort and convenience.

I feel stressed so I say that I should treat myself to that delicious chocolate chip cookie at lunch to feel better.

I want to start a more consistent lifting program, but I keep putting it off because I know I have this work event or that weekend trip that won’t let me get a full week in.

I decide to hold off for now and suddenly one week becomes two becomes a month later. I tell myself that it’s okay, I need the time to do nothing and “relax”.

Jack Canfield, a motivational speaker and author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, says, “Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them.

They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them.”

My takeaway is that ather than react to all these distractions, I need to act now:

  • I’m going to combat the tendency to make poor food choices by getting ahead of them and loading up my crock pot with awesome recipes and realize how much more relaxed and better I feel when I prepare my lunches for the week ahead on Sundays like I used to.
  • I’m going to get back into a regular lifting routine by looking at where I’ve had past success rather than wasting time reading through Reddit feeds and fitness articles trying to pick some unknown. I’ve had gains with Smolov in the past – decision made! (And if I miss a day, I miss a day. At least I will be on the path again to my goal.)
  • I’m going to fight all the stress by doing everything I can in my power to stay healthy despite it – drink lots of water, get to sleep on time, practice yoga regularly. These distractions can dominate our heads and our hearts and their emotional affects often manifest themselves in undesirable physical symptoms (i.e. headaches, skin breakouts, colds, etc.).

I haven’t totally forgotten about my goals this past month, but I let so many other things distract me from them.

I need to move with the tide rather than let it just drown me. Life is not smooth sailing. There are trade winds that can take us in a million directions.

The key is always having a compass and a map in case you get momentarily lost.

Who’ s Behind the Mask?

My Mom hates this story but back when I was in 7th grade she and my sister got it into their heads that I should play lacrosse. Growing up in New England, lacrosse was the “it” sport of the preppy set.

Up until that point, most of my successful athletic endeavors were individual sports, like swimming and golf.

Further, any team sports that I participated in never required any protective gear beyond a batting helmet or plastic glasses, like Horace Grant but not.

Totally pressured by the guilt of my Mother and my older sister, we all went to Bob’s Sporting Goods to pick out all my gear.

There in the store they had me try on all the equipment – helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, etc. Thankfully they spared me from having to try on the cup.

They were totally excited about this new cool, athletic turn my life was about to take. I, on the other hand, was overwhelmed by the weight of all the equipment.

They thought it would be transformative, while I thought it was a horrifying.

Who would want to play a sport where people hurl a small, hard rubber ball at you so fast that it requires layers of protection?

But I tried to live up to the mask – the new image that it could bring me as I battled the awkwardness of junior high – so I feigned enthusiasm and let my Mom put all the gear on her credit card.

Now this is the part of the story my Mom doesn’t like – about two hours later after running some more errands and an orthodontist appointment I had a total meltdown in the car.

The topic of my upcoming foray into lacrosse came up and I admitted I didn’t want to play. I didn’t want to try out. I didn’t want to wear any of the gear. I went on and on.

It was like I was Chunk confessing to the Fratellis in The Goonies. I was overcome with emotion. Finally, my Mom, despite her anger about how I just had her just buy all this expensive equipment, said I didn’t have to play if I really didn’t want to. (Thankfully she had kept the receipt.)

My Mom, my sister, and even me to a degree had though that by putting on that lacrosse mask, I was going to suddenly be this popular, hot shot, jock athlete and tougher than ever before.

But I learned then that you can’t hide the truth behind a mask.

We all play dress up in life to help give us that extra boost of confidence and attitude we need to win. In a job interview, it’s a power suit. In the gym, it’s some kickass t-shirt or headband. Or on a date, it’s a new leather jacket or cute clutch.

In the best scenario these items are an extension of our personality and help us shine in even the toughest of situations. But often these “masks” are in strict contrast to our true selves. They are a false portrayal of who we really are.

Last year, I grew out a beard for the Freeze Fest Team Challenge in the hopes that it would bring me some extra fierceness in the ring.

I thought this exterior sign of virility and strength as represented by a full face of whiskers was going to make me a stronger competitor. It would bestow upon me the powers of Samson, Moses and Chuck Norris combined.

But a mask is worthless if you don’t truly believe in it and can’t pass the test without it.

Putting on the lacrosse helmet couldn’t hide the fact that I was scared to try a new sport and put myself at risk.

Similarly, growing out a beard or wearing all new fancy expensive gear to a competition is not going to disguise one’s lack of strength and ability.

In myths, comic books and movies, the hero is often stripped of their mask or weapon or super power at the climax.

It is in that moment, they reveal their true character as they come back swinging and fighting with every last ounce of energy they can muster.

In comparison, the villain when relieved of their mask becomes a withering coward who quickly waves the white flag.

It’s great to suit up, but our outward appearance needs to match our inner truth. The mask, the cape, the bracelets or boots should be a reflection of what we believe we are truly capable of.

Otherwise, we will quickly fall to our demise when we realize that a cape alone can’t help us fly.

Competing Through Life All Alone

While driving two-plus hours up to my sister’s in-laws’ home on Thanksgiving morning, listening to a special edition of The Splendid Table on NPR, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of loneliness.

I was fortunate enough to be headed on my way to celebrate the holiday with family, but the empty passenger seats gnawed at me.

As I listened to call after call of people asking for help with their butterball and yams, the long stretch of I-94 was quiet.

There was no traffic or turns or roadside attractions to distract me. People were seeking guidance on how to salvage the burnt pumpkin pie they lovingly made for their spouse.

Others shared recipes of side dishes that were special to them and their partner. The talk was constant and yet I was lost in my thoughts.

I reflected on all that has happened this past year and how I have so much personal growth and success to be thankful for.

Changing my mindset from one of passivity to activity has been hugely rewarding. I took risks that I had before run away from and now I find myself more confident in the gym, enjoying a new position at work and my first home. Yet, who is at my table to celebrate?

I have a wonderful supporting group of friends and family here in Minnesota and spread around the country.

I got to reunite face-to-face with many of them that I hadn’t seen in years in 2014. The warmth of their love and goodwill towards me was palpable, but it is also lingering. It gets reignited at times and often it is far more powerful than I could ever describe and thus that true friendship is long-lasting.

But they go back to the day-to-day of work and kids and mortgages, etc. and the love goes from a roar to a whisper.

Even those that are local are seen with less frequency, especially as we all get older, and the workout or the happy hour together gets trumped by other responsibilities. I am as much to blame as I have become more protective of my free time.

I also know that I have built an amazing network through this blog. People who are strangers on the surface show up as my cheerleaders without being asked.

They share their own stories, their advice, their ups and downs and we connect. But they too, even as linked as we are through social media, are not with me at home.

I find myself in an unenviable position of being alone in the ring. And I make this statement not to draw sympathy or pity but to share my realization that my once heralded independence seems now poised to become my undoing.

Where’s my partner in this journey? Where’s my Adrian?

This is not some masked treatise to preach the importance of marriage and to decry or demonize anyone who is alone.

I am open and supportive to all paths. I just have felt in the last few weeks, more than ever before, a pining to no longer do this all, this life, in isolation.

I have spent so much time on myself. It’s been a constant chorus of “me, me, me.” And no, that doesn’t mean I should solve the problem by getting a dog. And yes, I realize this dialogue is still about me.

But it’s about me being honest and upfront like I always have been on this site and utilizing this forum to somehow articulate this internal shift that has taken place.

Over the last two years, I have worked so hard to strengthen my arms, legs, back, chest and even my head that I have neglected my heart.

I am training and competing to make myself better, but this process of betterment needs to start turning itself more outward.

“To find love is to find strength.” ― Wayne Chirisa

False Confidence

“Did I do something stupid that no one else did?”

“Yes, and you’ve asked that eight times now.”

“What? I did.”

In a flash, I was suddenly aware of my surroundings and realized I was laying on a gurney in the emergency room talking to my sister. But why?

My sister sighed with relief as she realized that I was no longer repeating myself. She explained that I had been in an accident while sledding.

I had hit my head, went unconscious, and then had been looping for the past four hours, asking the same few questions over and over.

The accident was back on December 30, 2012. Years later, the majority of what I know about it has been told to me by friends that were there as I have little to no memory of that day.

In short, we were cold and tired and ready to call it a day but I pointed to a mound of snow some kids had built and informed the group that one of us had to sled down the hill and go over this makeshift ramp before we left.

Despite multiple warnings from my friends, I decided it should be me. I’m not sure where this bravado came from. Perhaps I was trying to show off? Nevertheless, I took the bright blue snowtube and swooshed down the hill.

I hit the mound and was flung 10 feet past and landed on a snow-covered running path. I bruised my ribs and my head hit the ground, rendering me unconscious.

An expensive ambulance ride, multiple X-rays and hours later I found myself with my sister clueless about what had happened.

The concussion and week spent on bed rest hopped on Vicodin was not worth it. Nor did I garner any enjoyment from the large hospital bill.

There was no glory in this moment of false confidence. Why did I think I was qualified to make this jump? That morning was the first time I had been sledding since I was a kid.

I was ill-prepared. I lacked a proper helmet or sled. The snowtube was borrowed and the gusto was founded upon nothing.

A trip last week with my Dad to Las Vegas made me think about this display of false confidence. While he and I sat at a card table playing poker, methodically learning the flow of the game, I was struck by others who walked up threw a large bet on the table and quickly lost it all with one bad hand.

Now Vegas is a place to take some fun risk and so might not be the right analogy. However, it reminded me that in my life the moments of false confidence have led to nothing but trouble.

The other major instance of this was when I was 22 years old, right out of college and playing in a softball tournament for work.

We played a full game in Central Park in the late afternoon and then headed to a nearby bar on the Upper West Side for a happy hour. I decided to challenge a friendly but older team member to go shot for shot.

I was not a big drinker, especially compared to him – a regular bar fly with at least 50 pounds on me – but for some reason I puffed up my chest and decided I was going to try and prove something that day.

Perhaps the impetus was my performance in the softball game? I had spent the majority of the time on the bench, probably due to my lack of athletic prowess.

Perhaps I wanted to prove that the young new kid could hold his own?

Whatever the reason, you can easily have guessed that it led to me getting drunk and blacking out.

I embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues and endangered my own health. My boss was not impressed and set me straight the next morning at work.

I didn’t touch an ounce of alcohol for the next few months. To this day, I never drink liquor at work events and keep to 2-beer maximum.

One more anecdote, courtesy of Aesop, to help drive the point: “A Donkey and a Rooster were together when a Lion, desperate from hunger, approached.

He was about to spring upon the Donkey, when the Rooster (to the sound of whose voice the Lion, it is said, has a singular aversion) crowed loudly, and the Lion fled away.

The Donkey, observing his trepidation at the mere crowing of a Rooster summoned courage to attack him, and galloped after him for that purpose.

He had run no long distance when the Lion, turning about, seized him and tore him to pieces.” Moral of the story – false confidence often leads into danger.

As I reflect upon my effort over the last few years to develop my self-confidence, I realize it is built upon my training and hard work.

I didn’t enter Freeze Fest or Granite Games on a whim with no preparation. My confidence entering those arenas was based on the fact that I had spent weeks, even months, lifting, practicing skills and movements, and working on my sleep and nutrition.

I feel confident going into a workout or a competition because I know I have put in the time and effort to justify my enthusiasm and bravado.

Similarly at my job, I speak with confidence to my clients when I have done my research and come well prepared with all the facts and analysis.

I feel my best on a property tour with a prospective tenant or buyer when I have anticipated all their questions and have the answers at the ready.

As much as I’d like to think my charming personality could help me even sell the Brooklyn Bridge, I know that false confidence would be built upon a very shaky foundation and eventually will crack.

False confidence only masks our insecurities. It is good to be brave and take risks. It is even better to walk through life brimming with confidence.

However, that strong mindset and the actions that follow need to be grounded in reality.

Power Monkey Camp – Day 1

So I was riding in a minivan with Elizabeth Akinwale…

As you may know, I am attending Power Monkey Camp this week in Crossville, Tennessee. It is a training experience focused on gymnastics and weightlifting organized by two former Olympic athletes, Dave Durante and Chad Vaughn.

It is held at Flipfest Camp, a summer gymnastics camp set on the shore of Lake Frances, about 95 miles east of Nashville.

Upon arriving at the airport, I joined the crew of campers who would be driving over to the camp together.

They were easy to pick out of the crowd thanks to their athletic wear, tattoos and beards. But all as nice as can be.

They were representative of the campers that are here this week – a mix of Games athletes, box owners, coaches and amateurs.

We had a caravan of mini-vans and made our way through the countryside of Tennessee with the appropriate amount of moonshine and Deliverance jokes.

I had the pleasure of riding with Minneapolis-born and raised Games athlete Elizabeth Akinwale.

Rather than talk about her athletic career, We talked about the everyday and the familiar – Chicago traffic, Minneapolis winters, her son, my nephews.

It was perfectly norl and set the tone for how this week will be – an opportunity to be with amazing athletes and coaches but interacting at a familiar level.

This was emphasized by the fact that it truly is a summer camp with cabins and a canteen and a mess hall where we will all sleep and eat together.

It’s a week where dress clothes and makeup are eschewed for sweats and gym socks. No facades, no fronting, just a fun week of playing and learning in the gym.

The afternoon was free for us to do whatever. I took advantage of the gymnastics setting and practiced my handstands for almost an hour.

I rested for a bit and then realizing dinner was still a ways off, decided to go back to the gym and row a 5,000-meter row at a moderate pace.

It was a casual environment with people watching football or working out, staff unloading equipment and everyone shaking hands and trying to remember names.

maDinner, which like all meals at the camp, was prepared by Paleo Nick. It was delicious and much welcomed. I enjoyed two generous plates of the Thai a Turkey Throwdown he served up and now cannot wait for breakfast.

After dinner, it was finally time for the orientation session. Dave and Chad and the staff introduced themselves and went over the schedule and logistics for the week.

In addition, they welcomed Ron Ortiz, Vic McQuaid, Scott Pancheck, Neal Maddox, Amanda Allen, Wes Piat, Elizabeth Akinwale, Amy White, April Lowe, Shawn Ramirez, Anna Toonacliff and Jules Broadbent – all of whom were there to participate and learn alongside the campers.

With such a dynamic mix, Dave emphasized how important technique was to the mission of the camp. We are here to set a good foundation.

It’s with this focus that he encouraged us to approach each and every moment.

Dave believes that everyone is starting the week at the same level. Forget what you know or think you know and appreciate what we all will learn together.

I was struck by the welcoming words of the owner of Flipfest Camp, three time Olympian John Roethlusberger, who said that he doesn’t measure greatness in such a diverse group by the hardware around our necks but by “how close do you get to how great you can be”.

am looking forward to a week to focus on finding out how great I can be in such a truly supportive, fun environment.

…and I’m definitely not shaving this week.