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Small Changes

Eliminate one bad habit that screws up your health every day. Begin doing one positive new thing for your health every day. Over time, as a new, healthier framework transforms itself into an established habit pattern, your life gets better. You get better. The thing in the beginning is: don't overanalyze the details. Just jump in. If you eat take out every night on seamless (Thai food, Indian food, sushi, pizza, etc), replace that with eating in (food made at home tends to be healthier) or, at the very least, find health food restaurants in your neighborhood that deliver and order from these places. If you don't exercise every day, devise a simple daily plan with a trainer that gets you into the gym every day to sweat a little bit! Make a schedule with a trainer, show up to the sessions, and work your butt off. If you are trying to make a difference in your life, you must not fall for your own weak rationalizations / excuses. Everything works!! But only for those who will actually do it!! Making yourself feel better through consumption of alcohol, drugs, food, sex, entertainment, (fill in the blank) can only go so far. These are all forms of escapism; these are forms of running away from engaging in the physical activities that will build your character and willpower. In order to truly feel good, you gotta fight for it. If you want to be awesome, you gotta have grit. Awesomeness is something you earn, not something that you get lucky and fall into. Do you want to be awesome? Don't be overwhelmed by all of the information out there. Move the needle on the compass a couple degrees off the current course that you are on. Make incremental changes. Over time, the transformation will come.

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Start Now!

It is not going to be any easier tomorrow. When the moment actually arrives, there will always be an excuse.  There will be just enough wiggle room for you to squirm out of the way.  Until one day, time has passed you by and you look back at the time that you have squandered and realize that living a “comfortable” life is not all that it has cracked up to be.  You have only this life here on this planet.  This is it.  This is your chance to be a human being.  You have this body that you are in.   This is your hardware.  What are you doing with it?  Are you taking care of it?  Look at yourself in the mirror and answer that question.  Look into your eyes for that spark in your spirit, the light that animates your soul. What have you allowed yourself to become?  Is this really you?  You were not made to be a coward.  You were not made to run away.  You were made to clamp your teeth upon the neck of the dark forces of the world.  Walk over to the heavy things and lift them over your head, again and again.  And then run as fast as you can.  Just to know that you are alive.  To know that pain and discomfort are nothing to you.  You will feel things.  You will suffer.  And you will grow from it and become better.  Either that, or you will give up, lie down on the ground, and die. Either you stand up and fight for it or you don’t.  Which is it?  People always try to distract themselves from the reality at hand. Is that what you want for yourself? No! Start now. Right here, at this very moment.  Make the decision.  You are going to pull yourself together.  You are going to stop poisoning yourself with processed food and drugs and alcohol.  And you are going to stop poisoning your mind with fearful thoughts and negative programming.  You are going to work out as hard as you can until you get winded and you can’t catch your breath and the sweat drips down your face.  This is what it feels like to know that you are alive.  Sometimes you need to challenge yourself.  And the biggest challenge is often just getting started in the first place.

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Do It!

There are so many distractions.  There is so precious little time to achieve all that you want.  It is human nature to procrastinate, to spend too much time thinking about it instead of actually doing it.  People walk around, talking to other people in the gym, going to visit the water fountain after every set, texting on their smartphones.  They don’t really take advantage of the actual time that they have to get the important work done.  We are living in the information age and, for many people, it is the age of distraction.  People walk the streets with a smartphone in their pocket and a pair of headphones in their ears.  It is difficult to shut out the constant stimulus of the digital world.  There is so much to be entertained by and so many friends to be in touch with at the touch of a finger, so much vying for our attention.  We are living in an age of instant satisfaction.  But health and fitness takes mindfulness, focus, and dedication.  Sometimes you must turn off your phone and ignore what is going on in the outside world in order to concentrate on the important task at hand.  When it comes to developing the body, there is a weak mechanism that exists in the mind: an excuse maker, a distraction seeker, a procrastinator.  We must develop a stronger sense of willpower, following through on the plans that we have made for ourselves.  Too many people get caught up in the small details of why they are unable to achieve results in the gym.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is because they won’t push themselves hard enough.  When they get a little bit tired, they give up.  When it begins to hurt, they take a long break.  But if they would just consistently work hard at it day after day, week after week, month after month, their bodies would change.  It is a strange trick of the human mind that the things that we would fantasize about or wish to one day do are often the things that we would resist doing in the present moment.  What is procrastination?  What makes us rationalize the excuses that we make for ourselves?  It is in the drama and conflict of life that we get to find out whom we really are and what it is that we are made out of.  If you were to be given everything that you wanted without having to really work for it, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much.  Hard work makes us honest.  And that’s the thing about health and fitness: it requires an honest effort on the part of the participant.  We can’t just invest money in it and expect it to happen for us automatically.  A personal trainer can be hired or a nutritionist can be hired and a dozen books on the subject can be read, but at the end of the day, most of it depends on you.  It’s you and the weights.  It’s you and the food you eat.  It’s about willpower and sacrifice.  What are you willing to put yourself through in order to achieve your desired goal?  It’s not supposed to be easy.  It’s supposed to be a challenge.  Are you really looking for the answer or are you just looking for a distraction?  Be honest.  The answer is already within you.

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Control

The truth is that it is you.  You are the only one getting in your own way.  All you have to do is set yourself up to let the natural energy of the universe flow through you.  And what does that require?  Healthy diet, exercise, meditation, and sleep.  And then just show up.

Annoying things will happen.  Sometimes you will look up to the heavens and ask God, “Why me?” but all of these things are tests.  It seems like a cosmic law, in fact, that as soon as you have decided that you are going to set out to do something, the universe will send you an obstacle to test out whether or not you really intend on following through.  Know that this is going to happen and be ready.  Be thankful for it.  It is the universe’s way of acknowledging your desire.  When we overcome temptation and we push back at the darkness that tries to crowd us in from around the edges, we become more disciplined and we build up a greater and greater sense of resolve.

Sure, it might be easier to quit.  To give yourself an escape hatch.  A permission slip.  And it might give you momentary satisfaction.  But in the long term, you will suffer for it.  The inner you will suffer.  Suck it up.  Accumulate victories.  Make yourself do the foundational things in your life that will benefit you.

You will be happier for having done them. Let go of all of your complaints and grievances.  Anger and resentment only weakens you.  It blocks you and distracts you from actually doing the work that you should be doing.  There is no excuse.  There is you.  And there is the thing.  And you must do the thing.  All of the stories you have made up in your head are just an illusion, a giant distraction.  Heavy stuff is still going to be heavy.  Make a list of all the things that you want to get done.  And then get them done.

Tell the people around you what you are doing.  Say it out loud.  Write it down on a piece of paper.  There is power in words.  Once you’ve written it and once you’ve said it out loud, treat every distraction and obstacle that gets in your way as an awful threat; an enemy combatant on the battlefield.

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Food Rules

‘Food Rules’ is a nice book because it cuts straight to the point.  I think that the idea of sitting down to read a book about nutrition or starting up a new diet makes most people’s eyes glaze over with boredom.  Personally, I love reading about nutrition, health, and fitness because I’m obsessed with it but, even for me, the nitty gritty of nutrition often comes across as being overly complicated or dry and boring.

‘Food Rules’ is different.  It presents 64 different rules or ideas to remember when thinking about food and then it follows up with a concise explanation of why the rule is important.  There is ease and simplicity to the way that the book is laid out, so it is perfect to carry around with you and read on the go.  I continue to get a lot out of it just by browsing over it over and over again.  I have probably read the book 3 times cover-to-cover by now, and each time I am reminded of something, and another important puzzle piece is solidified within the overall map of mind.  And that's just it: getting too involved in the details gives many people the ‘paralysis by analysis’ syndrome.  There are so many times that I have read contradictory pieces of information regarding nutrition and I think, for many people, they just throw their hands up in the air and give up on trying to understand because there is too much information out there and each author or guru discounts the ideas and the concepts of the next.

There are so many fad diets and easy ways to quickly shrink your waistline out on the market, but I think what I was really looking for was something basic and sustainable.  ‘Food Rules’ does that really well.  It gives the reader basic, simple ways of thinking about the way that hey are eating.  Basically, Pollan advises not to consume processed foods (or “edible food like substances” as he calls them), and to watch how much you eat and when you eat it.  All of these aspects of the book are talked about in other books as well but there is something very nice in his paired down and easy approach.  There is very little fluff.

I could really read the entire book in about 30 minutes and walk away with some tangible ideas that I could take with me.  Some of my favorites are, “Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods” “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.”)  I think eating has become this unthinking thing that most people just kind of fall into and in order for us to transform these automatic patterns that we have developed, it’s nice to be able to rely on phrases or sentences that can pop into the mind automatically.

The less complicated the “rules” are, the more apt one is to actually remember them when they are about to eat.  At this point, I have internalized a lot of the points made in ‘Food Rules’ and I have begun to do the right things more of the time on an unconscious level.  I no longer need to remind myself in the same way that I did in the beginning because it has become a pattern, a thing that I have learned to do.  And I remind myself by browsing through it whenever I have an extra moment.

I have learned that I need constant sources of inspiration to motivate me and to remind me of why I am doing what I am doing.  With social pressures from friends and family, it is easy to get sidetracked one or two weeks into a new plan.  And that’s why I like to have inspiration close at hand.  So that I can ask myself, “What am I doing again?” and then read a little bit, get inspired and say, “Oh yeah.  This thing.”  Without the inspiration nearby, the mind can get clouded and revert back to old ineffective patterns.  There really is nothing extraordinarily mind blowing or new in ‘Food Rules’.  No way to let you cheat and be healthy.  It is not about how to have a six pack while gorging on pizza and cookies.  It turns common sense into a rule book, a guide, a way of life.  It’s about how to make nutrition work for you in the long term.  And I’m sure that other books on nutrition lay out similar rules as well, just not in as concise or direct a manner.

As a trainer in New York City, I see a lot of people who have very little free time on their hands to get things done.  Reading this book will take hardly any time at all.  It is memorable, applicable, and it will work.

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My Childhood Dream

I always wanted to be big and strong, ever since I was a little kid.  When I was 7 or 8, I wanted to grow up and look like a superhero.  I couldn’t understand why anybody would choose not to be big and strong. And, in many ways, my thinking hasn’t really changed that much as an adult.

I still believe that people should go all out if they have the opportunity to do so because, after all, what is stopping them?  At the time, as a kid, I wasn’t allowed to workout really.  I was too young and people told me that I would hurt myself or mess up my muscles if I started lifting weights too early.  So I put it off at the time but I knew that it was something that I wanted to get into later on.

Everybody that I looked up to as a man was big and strong.  My father was big, my godfather was big, my uncle was big… and they seemed especially big to me at the time because they were full grown men and I was just a kid.  I used to daydream about what it would be like to put big men in headlocks, not because I had any animosity toward them but just because I thought it would be cool to be big and strong and able to impose my physical will.  I had that fantasy a lot as a kid.

The men whom I really idolized the most in the 80s were pro wrestlers and big lumbering comic book superheroes like the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and the Thing.  I thought that, really, it was one of the best possible options that one could have in life just to be huge, muscular and physically imposing.

I read Greek myths about the powers of the Gods and I really got into the illustrations of them using their powers, muscles rippling, silhouettes lit up by the flame that would flow from their fingertips.  I was skinny and pale as a youth, almost anemic looking.  I thought to myself “There must be at least five or ten kids in America who look worse than me.”  I couldn’t have been the worst.

When I was young, I would run around a lot, full of wild, untamed energy, wrestling with my friends and devising elaborate point-scoring systems to figure out who the true champion was.  But we were all just skinny little kids playing make believe.

At night, I would watch action movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.  My parents weren’t into it; they had minimal interest in macho male aggression and violence.  But I ate it up.  I thought it was great.  I spent hours playing with my action figures, making castles for them to navigate and move around in and backstories for why they would need to beat each other up.  On my way to school, I would spend my time escaping away into the world of comic books and pro wrestling magazines.  Into a world where everyone was strong and there were good guys and bad guys.  I looked up to my heroes.  I wanted to be strong, just like they were.  But, really, it took until I was a teenager to first step into a gym.

At the time, I think I was about 15 or so.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I would hit the recumbent bike for cardio and then hit up bicep curls and bench press and then stare at my little torso in the mirror.  I knew that I wanted a bigger frame and I wanted to look more muscular, but I didn’t know how to go about it, really.  I was a disaffected, self-conscious adolescent at the time; my hair was died blue and I was into skateboarding and eating candy.

I would try to figure out how to smoke cigarettes alone in my room while curling a fifteen pound dumbbell over and over again on the edge of my bed.  I remember calling up my friend in high school over the phone and asking him how long it would take to get a six pack before our swimming test later on that week in gym class.  I had a crush on some of the girls that would be there and I didn’t want them to really see how out of shape I was.  My friend told me that if I did 1000 sit ups a day for 3 days that I would be ripped in time for the big day.  I did about 200 a day for 3 days and it didn’t work.  I was heartbroken.  But, hey, at least I was in a bit better shape than I would have been had I done nothing.

It wasn’t until I had my first girlfriend that I began to get a bit more committed.  It was around this time that I dropped out of high school.  I was turning sixteen at the time and I was really poetically depressed.  I wanted so badly for her to love me and to accept me and to think that I was the sexiest man on earth but, inwardly, I felt that she never would.  So that is when I really started working out.  I made myself believe that the whole world was against me but that I didn’t care because I was a rebel and I would play mental games with myself to see how long I could last, like if I didn’t complete this last set of sit ups or push ups that I would die a horrible, cruel death or that she would no longer love me and she would leave me for another man (which indeed ended up happening, just like it does in every sixteen year old teenage romance).  But anyway, I would grunt and make myself push through to the very end, saying to myself, “Ugh… can’t… let… that… happen.”  I willed myself into believing for a moment that it was true.  And then I would be motivated, in a dark way, to get it done.

That was how it all began for me.  Getting in shape started as an idealization I had as a child and then it came into a clearer focus in as I grew older through a combination of romantic insecurity and introverted pathos.  Who I am today has a come about largely as a result of that.

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