08 January 2017

24 Things I Learned in 2016

2016 in Review
In no particular order, because we all find importance in our own eyes, I have decided to share some of my reflections and lessons gleaned/relearned from this past year. Hopefully, something here will resonate with you and help you to move forward through 2017 toward greater health, wisdom, and productivity.

1.      There’s more to life than stuff. I think this should go with out saying, but it doesn’t. Despite the simplicity and clear recognition of its truth, I find myself and witness others ascribing to the mass accrual of things – be it clothes, new gadgets, tools, gear, what have you – it is a constant habit. Stuff does not make you better! Certain things facilitate, other things afford convenience, and some things are even necessary. However, all too often we can get lost in the mindset of more, chasing the newest and greatest without any other reason than a superficial desire. The disturbing part is this is EXACTLY how we are programmed to respond. Everything we are exposed to “markets” us in some way, conditioning our minds to desire things we don’t need. In the words of Tyler Durdin “The stuff you own, ends up owning you.” Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, I wonder how freeing focusing on being thankful for what we do have could become. There is a simple documentary on NETFLIX called Minimalism – could be a game changer.

 2.      Surprisingly, you do not need to record every minute of your life in video/photos. Social media is an addiction. It’s scientifically proven. There is a dopamine release every time you check your IG feed, your twitter string, or Facebook page. When you try to steer clear and give the digital world a break your dopamine levels drop and you start “jonesing for a fix.” Like any addiction the more you feed it, the greater the level of stimulus you need to continue to get the same level of release. This equates to more time spent plugged locked in to the social media digital crack house. How did we ever survive before hand-held mini super computers that allow us to check up on everyone else in the world and the limiting fa├žade they are willing to present? Does your social media make you a better person? Are you encouraging others to be better? I wonder how long it would take to de-condition ourselves from the addicting pull to check our status and feeds daily, hourly, on the minute… I invite you to try 30-days free of it all. I wonder if every time we desired to login to Facebook if we instead read a physical book, if every time we reached for the phone to assess the stream of Instagram photos we instead jotted out a thank you note, if when we desperately needed to read the twitter feed we instead picked up the phone and called a friend and connected with a real person – what kind of people would we be?

3.      Sleep is paramount. I suck at this, but I promise I am (this very day) taking proactive steps to do the following:
a.  Installing black out curtains in my family’s bedrooms. A dark room is a sleep-inducing cave!
b.  Instilling bedtime rituals. Pajamas – check, brush teeth – check, bedtime story with kids – check, prayers – always, air turned down and lights out!
c.  Rigid adherence to a bedtime AND wake-time. When you remove the option of sleeping later (especially when you make your wake-up 0430) getting to bed on time is non-negotiable.    

4.      Wake-up and get outside. I read about this discipline, while stumbling across a site dedicated to warrior mindsets and conditioning. The premise revolves around going outside and immersing yourself in the environment immediately upon waking up. I have been doing this for a year now. No matter the elemental obstacles that present themselves – pouring rain, snow, and frigid temperatures or stifling humidity – you go. I spend about 20-30 minutes walking while reflecting, praying, thinking, preparing, and taking in the stillness of morning. There is great peace in this practice. I went from one of those people that scrambled out of bed at the last second to get to work, to having massive purpose and intention sown into my day’s beginning.

5.      Train early in the day. I recognize this is not ideal for everyone’s schedule, but I think everyone can benefit from doing SOMETHING active for at least ten minutes every morning. Training in the morning induces the largest release of HGH in the evening when you go to sleep. It helps balance your cortisol levels so they are high in the morning and taper off through out the day. Physically arming yourself with training as first priority sets you up to tackle every other endeavor in your day with energy and fervor. Consider a short routine of jumping rope, swinging a kettlebell, stretching, or doing some calisthenics to kick start your day.  

6.      Fitness does not trump health. Doing anything to the degree in which an elite status or being the best is the end goal requires total commitment and sacrifice. The strongest man in the world is not the healthiest man in the world. This is highlighted in understanding that when you pursue any one thing to the highest degree, balance in other areas is negated. Unless, you are a paid professional there is no reason to sacrifice your health in the pursuit of elite level fitness.

7.      Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Doing anything without purpose is in vain. Some will argue that there are things in life that should be done “just because,” but I would implore that even those things upon closer inspection have purpose to those that are doing them. Which leads me to further elaborate – seek understanding. Too often, because information is so readily available and comes at such a rapid influx, we do not take the time to truly understand the why. And if we never take the time to understand why, then we can fail to develop the discernment to include or exclude or in other words correctly prioritize or set focus. Which leads me to my next point.

8.      Identify the number one priority and attack it. We are not meant to multi-task. We do have the capacity to divide our attention, but just like anything else reduced, as we do this we get a diluted less-capable response. When we isolate a single focus and target all of our efforts on accomplishing, solving, or achieving that one thing it is amazing how diligent and productive we can become. So identify your number one priority, determine how you will attack it, eliminate all other distractions, and go.

9.      Expose yourself to harsh conditions. We no longer know or understand how to suffer. Essentially, we are soft. We are comfortable. We are entitled. Suffering is a discipline. It takes practice. Long-suffering is patience. And patience and time are the two greatest warriors. When and if we can learn to be patient (the discipline of being steadfast in the face of adversity) we can overcome hardship. What I have learned is that pushing one’s self outside of our comfort zone aids greatly in building resilience. So take cold showers in the morning. Push yourself to the depths of the pain cave when you’re training. Practice intermittent fasting. Do the things that make your stomach knot-up in butterflies. Become stronger for it all. 

10.   Read real books, both to learn and for leisure. When I was a kid I could not put a book down. I would stay up late into the morning with a flashlight, reading chapter after chapter, consuming stories of adventure. There is something to be said for using a tangible real hard copy book. Reading fosters new perspective, transports us to other worlds, cultivates imagination, provokes thought, encourages, teaches, expounds, and develops our own abilities and sense of wonder.

11.   Play. “We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.” As a young buck in my early twenties, I believed the above phrase ten years ago when I quoted it to my seniors. Their comments of “wait until you get to be my age” are horse malarkey. I still believe this and will carry it with me until the end. Climbing trees, swimming in the ocean, getting dirty, sprinting in a foot race, hiding, wrestling, shooting guns, playing games, being competitive, being silly, being outside, riding a bike, hiking a trail, jumping on a trampoline, doing an obstacle course, zip-lining, rafting, swinging – this stuff never gets old! Let go of your inhibitions and feel free to be alive.

12.   Trust your gut. If you feel like you should do something or say something, then follow through even if you’re afraid. Enough said.

13.   Spend time connecting with friends. Guys this is so important! Life is too short to not do life together with the people we love and care about. Have people over for dinner, train together, play together, help each other when needed, grieve with each other, laugh with each other, and physically spend time together. No one cares if you have a “number before k” in terms of Internet connections. Do you have people in your life that count on you and that you can depend on? Keep fostering healthy relationship!

14.   Hardship and adversity are our greatest opportunities to learn. Everyone wants – to just be awesome, to be great at everything, and to have everything they could possibly want at their disposal. However, if you think about it, if all of that was suddenly given to you, you would have nothing. Nothing would have been learned. There would be no character. There would be nothing interesting about you, no experience, no stories, nothing for you to relate to others with, or any ability to empathize. You would be essentially hollow. Instead we are presented with trying circumstances that afford us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Through hardship we have the chance to develop healthy character. Overcoming obstacle our scars and battle wounds give us color. Facing trials we capture experience and in turn can teach from what we know and relate to others undergoing the same struggles. Ultimately, we can empathize with others creating connection and building relationship. Adversity is a gift.

15.   Alcohol is overrated. You don’t need it trust me. 

16.   What you eat is paramount. You cannot waste your potential on poor food choices. You are far too important to be taken out of the game because you are eating without care. Recognize that we are all adults and responsible for ourselves. We know when we are eating garbage. Don’t eat garbage! Unfortunately, again marketing is such that confusion, half-truths, deception and other tactics are employed to keep you down. Start here: stop eating anything that comes in a package, period. If it comes in a package don’t eat it. And only drink water. I wonder what 2018 would start off like if you followed this one piece of advice all year. 

17.   Hard work is underrated. Pain and fire – is the process of learning and experiencing the journey. Too many people set out to learn the secrets of giants and want the success of others without going through the refinement of hard work and patience. Learn to respect the journey, put your head down and apply yourself in all efforts.

18.   Do more. Buy less. The goal is to not be consumers, but rather to be a contributor! The more that we explore our passions, sow into our relationships, invest into our kids, and push past our self-imposed limitations the more we have to offer to others. You cannot purchase character.

19.   Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know, be afraid of not finding out.

20.   Be positive and encouraging. Positive people change attitudes, environments, and even culture for the better. Positivity as much as its antithesis, is infectious. We can all use an encouraging word now and then, so work to be that person in someone else’s life. You could be the difference that keeps them going.

21.   Do the things that make your stomach fill with butterflies. These will most likely be the most beneficial and are the most necessary for you to continue to grow. Why, because they are the hardest things, the things we shy away from, the things we don’t want to face. And as we learned earlier adversity is a gift, so Merry Christmas!

22.   Don’t stop doing other physical activities just because you workout. We are caught up in a time where fitness has become fashionable. It has become a lifestyle to belong to a gym and revolve your life around your exercise regimen. This is kind of lame. I respect and appreciate the fact that more and more people are gravitating toward a healthier life of strength, endurance, and movement practice. However, let’s not forget the purpose training is a means to an end, not the end. Use your new fitness and ability to continue to pursue life and healthy relationship. Don’t get wrapped around the axle and tied down to gym numbers and meaningless performance. 

23.   Be a good dad or mom, husband or wife. First and foremost, if you are a parent, congratulations you have been given the greatest blessing on earth and the most important responsibility at that. Our role in the family is absolutely integral to every other aspect of life. We have the opportunity to teach and invest into the future. Our little bundles of joy and strength need positive role models, encouragement, direction, understanding, affirmation, affection, protection, provision, and the freedom to become who they were meant to be. It is up to us, the individuals specifically chosen to fulfill this role, to pour ourselves into these amazing relationships and give them our best. Never take this lightly.

24.   Be true to yourself. You are the only you. I know that’s trite and perhaps non-appealing to you, but consider your own value. Never let anyone undermine your potential or your value as a human being created with purpose. You will potentially be your own biggest fan and biggest critic. So give yourself some credit and cut yourself some slack. Trust in yourself.

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