Give Yourself a Break – with Caveats

Whatever you are working on to improve, there will be days when it is the very last thing you want to do. It doesn’t matter if you are training for a marathon or a spelling bee.  So what to do?

You can give yourself permission to duff. I do this with some of my workouts. On some days, I burn straight through these drills and the sweat feels great. Other days, not so much. So I slow down. What they hey – I’m not training for the Olympics. And doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

Or you can take a break for a day. Or a few days. Sometimes, a couple of days off helps you return with a vigor and enthusiasm that you had forgotten. Be careful, though. The key to improvement is mindful, incremental plodding toward a goal. There is a fine line – you will have to decide where it lays – between a rejuvenating break and giving up.

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Happy Easter

I’m not a religious person nor am I spiritual. But if you are a Christian or if you at least enjoy a gorgeously cooked ham, then I wish you a happy and carefree Easter.

Cheers!

eggs

(And why do we eat pig on Easter? Did early Christians snub their noses at their Jewish brethren and flaunt their new freedoms?)

Do Something Different to Improve

How can you improve by doing the same thing over and over?

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Copyright Dennis Mitton

GluteousHere’s a weird one but it gets to the point.

My butt is killing me. Right at the top where my gluteus medius attaches to the top of my pelvis. It a smaller muscle right at the top of your rear that helps you balance and controls sideways movement of the legs.

The muscle hurts because I don’t use it much and now I am. I like running which, obviously, is typically a forward-moving exercise. So I don’t use this muscle much compared to it’s larger and more famous partner the gluteus maximus. The maximus helps to pull my thigh upwards when I run.  I’m doing a new workout now with more lateral motion that puts this comparatively weaker muscle in play. So it’s sore.

Doing something different is the key to any improvement. It’s obvious when you think about it – how could we ever improve doing x by only doing x? This is why marathoners do sprints. They need more than the long drudge of mere miles to earn their best times. This is why we do word problems in math. This is why we experiment with whole wheat flour instead of using the bleached white stuff. Different results required different inputs.

How do you want to improve? What are you doing now to maintain your skills? What do you need to do in order to improve those skills? Whatever it is, it will be awkward at first. What you are good at felt awkward once. But keep at it and the new habit begins to feel comfortable. It starts to feel right. And then you’re on the track to improvement and accomplishment.

So have at it. Do something different. Put yourself in a weird place. Do something out of character. You’ll be better for it.

Living Long and Happy. Learn to Work Hard and Be Uncomfortable

 

Exercise – it all adds up

Adding up the ‘little virtues’ for health

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Copyright Dennis Mitton

Mower
Getting in a workout

It’s April now, and it’s likely that your New Year’s resolution to become the Most Fantastically Healthy and Best-Looking person on the planet has been dashed by a thousand pieces of chocolate, by croissants dripping with butter, and by voluminous glasses of ‘healthy’ red wine. If you are especially resolute, you made it through January on track with your workout routine. If you are one-in-ten-thousand, you actually signed up for a French class rather than just looking through the catalog. Oh well. It’s called being a human being and it’s not such a bad thing. We change in tiny increments that all add up to who we are today. It’s the very same way that we become who we want to be tomorrow.

exercise
An hour down – only two to go!

There is a pervasive idea – a lazy excuse? – that if you don’t get outside and run for at least half an hour then you are wasting your time. Or that you need to visit the squat rack five days a week to crush your thighs into submission. Whatever you do, the myth is that you must do lots and lots of it to see results. Exercise science, though, tells a different story. We now understand that adding up ‘little virtues’ through the day totals up to a real and healthy exercise experience.

What does this mean? It means that there is real value in parking your car in the next lot over and walking an extra two minutes to your office. It means that there is real value in taking the stairs. It means that you should turn off your instant messenger at work and actually walk over to talk to someone. Who knows? You might find the added benefit of having a nice relationship with another human being? And maybe having a healthy laugh? It means that there is value in work. Mow the lawn. Take the dog for a walk. Good gawd – go have sex rather than watch other people do it. There’s a crazy idea! Find ways to let your body do work rather than machines.

wood_stack
Grandpa’s idea of going to the gym

Aside from the earlier onset of disease, our Great Grandads and their moms were typically in much better physical condition than we are yet they didn’t exercise. How? Their lives were filled with physical activities that added up through the day. Do you want a good night’s sleep? Go bail hay for a day. Imagine your great grandmother dragging her carpets outside to hang them on the line to beat the dirt and dust out of them. And then dragging them back. Most folks today would need a glass of wine and an hour watching home remodeling on television after this kind of workout.

Let’s be clear that carrying your groceries to the car won’t build biceps that will get you on the cover of Muscle and Fitness. For that, you will have to live at the gym and inject steroids. But as a general boost to your health, adding up daily chores and using your body as a tool can reap real rewards.

 

From the blog:

Exercise to Overcome the Onslaught of Luxury
10 Tips for Starting an Exercise Program
Reasons to Run a 5K – Even if You Can’t Run

Kinds of Conversations

Do you read Seth Godin’s wonderful blog? You should. Recently he posted about how humankind developed in groups long before symbolic language evolved. He extrapolates from this that we are hard-wired to respond to much more than vocal communication. It’s fascinating to think that everything we do and everything we are involved with has a communication component that may or may not include (from Godin):

words
trust
status
culture
pheromones
peer pressure
urgency
energy

I add:

faith
family

We can extrapolate further from this list. Clothing and hairstyles are forms of communication. So is receptiveness. Have you ever been in a group and the very air feels electric? Like anything is possible? Or the opposite? Where there are walls between every person? We never, ever know what will be remembered about us. We will rarely know what our actions or eyes or perfume will say to the people around us. Our words are possibly the least important part of our communication.

Good to remember.

 

The Story of Me. Ms. Haft and the Nasty Word

I haven’t a clue how she kept her job..

Copyright Dennis Mitton
f2
I’m stretching it but you get the idea…

I was a junior and in love with writing and with science and, along with every other testosterone-sick guy in school, with Ms. Haft. She was freshly graduated from college and she wore her hair long and her skirts short. It’s still odd to me, but rather than standing or sitting, she would teach while kneeling on her desk. The younger teachers eschewed rows and columns and circled our desks around the perimeter of the room. One day – it’s one of the few clear memories I have of high-school – Ms. Haft walked into the room, climbed onto her desk, knelt down, and in the most droning, flat, and unemotional voice said “fuck”. Pencils, papers, jaws – everything dropped. Every set of eyes shot up from whatever they were looking at and turned to Ms. Haft. The air left the room. After a very long and very pregnant pause, she said it again. Fuck. And then again. Fuck you. Fuck me. Well, fuck it all.

All of a sudden, school got interesting.

She explained that today’s lesson had two parts. Part One was that we would circle the room and everyone would say Fuck out loud in turn. Just utter the word. Just form the sounds pushing air from your lungs and out your mouth. Touch your upper teeth to your lower lip and say it. Fuck. Good god. What harm can come from expelling air and forming a sound?

fWe went ’round our circle one-by-one. A couple students, pale and panting at the idea of letting such an abomination squeeze through their lips, shook their head No. I think one person gathered up and left. Some, given permission to swear for probably the first time, said the word over and over until told to stop. In the end, I think everyone in the room except for two or three, completed the odd lesson.

Lesson Two was much less interesting: words are meaningless. Do you imagine that ‘Fuck’ has any real meaning? Do you imagine that lovers would say such a word to each other? If we never bat an eye when the word is spoken would people continue to use it? Words only have meaning when we agree to their meaning.

But isn’t that exactly what culture is? An agreement that words and gestures and swimming pools and a dozen wives mean something?

The very purpose of words is to convey meaning and no word is meaningless. Words move us to great joy or to great pain. Words can elevate a nation. Words can change your life in an instant. “I’m leaving.” “I Have a Dream!” “Math is hard.”  How many girls have never forgotten when their dad told them that he loves them even though they are chubby? How many adults have never imagined what wonderful things they can do only because someone three or four decades ago told them that “you’re not good at that.” My own father remembered me at four-years-old reaching for his hand once to walk across the street. He said that he slapped my hand away and said “Big boys don’t hold hands”. It was meaningful enough for him to remember it fifty years later.

I disagree with Ms. Haft about the meaning of words but she alluded to something that I do agree with: dark things lose their power when exposed to light. I can’t help but think of this when I read the cuthat another group or government office has been ordered to cut off communication with the press or to shut down parts of their website. There might be a good reason for these actions but, without open and free communication, we can’t know.

I don’t know what happened to Ms. Haft. I don’t remember if she was there for my senior year. The last thing I remember of her was when she caught on that my buddy and I were the sole members of our high-school Maoist club. We dropped pamphlets and commie art in teacher’s mail each morning and beamed for days after Ms. Haft told us that the school board had called a special meeting to discuss ‘communist infestation’ at the school.


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Don’t forget The Genius Next Door

Some kinds of smarts are more valuable than others

carWayne Dyer, whom I disagreed with on almost everything important, talked about talking to even the boring and boorish people around you. He found that when he took a real interest in people that they would unfold to him as fascinating and interesting people. This has always been interesting to me. I’ve written about it a couple of times here and here.

I thought about this idea today when I was talking with someone about getting their car worked on. I knew a guy once, he’s passed away now, who rebuilt my car’s engine in a weekend as a neighborly gesture. He was just a guy down the street – I don’t even know what he did for a living – but most nights you could see his garage lit up where he would putter until bedtime. One Friday my car started to act up. “Act up” is the totality of my mechanical expertise. So I walked down the road and found this guy in his garage and told him about the weird gurgle emanating from my car’s engine. “Let’s go have a look,” he said.

We wandered down to my place and I started the car. He laughed and shook his head. “Turn it off,” he yelled. “It’s your cam bearing.” Or something of the sort – I never really knew. “Ugh.” I was smart enough to know that this was bad. “So I have to take it to the garage? Sounds bad.” “Nah,” he said. “You need to drive it down to my place. We’ll take the engine out tonight and then tear it down and replace the bearing tomorrow and put it back together on Sunday.” I’m sure that I had a look like I was talking to a crazy person. “Really,” he said. “Nothing to it.” And that’s exactly what we did. He was completely nonplussed about it as if it was what anyone would do. I was amazed through most of the weekend. What I saw as confusing and complex was simple to him. He just worked methodically step by step to pull the engine and make the repair and then did the same thing in reverse to put it all back together. It really did look easy when he did it. The car was up and running by the time Sunday football came on. He refused to take any money and said that I could help him with something one day but I truly doubted that I had any skill he would be interested in.

So as I keep saying. Talk to the people around you. Ask them about their story. More times than not you’ll find that you are surrounded with interesting people.


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Cheers