Promethean Fire

I get asked, “Tom, how do you stay motivated?” at least once a month. Somehow, I give the impression that I am a nuclear reactor of full of motivation, sunshine and unicorns. I give the impression that it is easy.

It’s not, really.

So, how do I stay motivated? In a word: Darkness.

Like Bruce Banner says in the first Avengers movie about becoming The Hulk, “That’s my secret, I’m always angry.” Despite my positive outlook (or stubbornness to eschew being pessimistic or negative) and despite my trying to find out what I can do versus what I can’t do, I’m “always” in Darkness.

Let me make an attempt to “wax poetically” for you, maybe it’ll make better sense that way.

Over the years, I’ve heard this little voice from the darkness say, “Give up.” It happens at least weekly, sometimes daily. Give up on the vision I am creating, give up on everything I am working for, stop believing, stop struggling, stop fighting, stop dreaming, just give up on your hopes and dreams.

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In Greek mythology we are told the tale of Zeus snuffing out all the fires in the world, and Prometheus bringing it back (yes it’s a gross oversimplification of the myth, get over it). I have recognized that through the years there has also been this light, a Promethean-like fire, within me. Defiant of the assault that is hell-bent to snuff out the light of my world. By its presence alone, the fire says, “keep going. Keep moving forward.” The quest to snuff out this light has been a harrowing trial over the last little bit, for sure. All I know is, if this fire goes out, then my world will grow cold and a plague of death will spread throughout it.

So, guarding and clinging to this light, I don’t turn to run away from the darkness, despite everything in me screaming to run away. No, I run towards it. I might be fearful and the darkness is certainly the holder of things unknown, but I move towards it.

I do the only thing I know how to do right now.

I struggle and fight. Like the fire, I burn and I defy.

I get to the gym, I train, I challenge myself. Hitting the gym, lifting weights, doing my boxing/conditioning, and now training BJJ helps me put the darkness in perspective. It has helped keep the light going. The training is used as a transcendent tool. Yes, my body gets stronger, but my mind, my will, my spirit are strengthened even more. I read, challenging myself on a different mental level than how my mind is challenged on the physical level. I read, I learn, I reflect, I plan and execute.

From this place of self-inflicted hardship, discipline, sweat and toil, and learning, the light brightens and things don’t seem as bad, they feel more manageable.

To me, it is of the utmost importance to protect this “light”. It is mission critical.

Mission Critical. I can not fail. I must not. That is how I stay motivated. Guard your light. Stay vigilant. Make it mission critical.

Pursue Mastery.

Going Maverick – or – Like Han, you’re Solo.

Before I begin this, I wanted to give A BIG THANK YOU, to those who have already purchased one of the t-shirts and hoodies that I have available over at TeeSpring. I appreciate it! Send me a picture of you in your shirt as you chase your goals and I’ll put you on blast (in a good way) here at the blog, on Facebook and IG.

For those who haven’t purchased one, I put a pic of the shirts at the bottom of the article with a link. These shirts are available until November 10 and your order will ship approximately two weeks after that.

Without further ado, let’s get to the meat of the topic at hand…

 

 

You and the iron. You and the road. You and the heavy bag. You and the machines. That’s it. That’s all.

Goose does not have your back as you go in for the prize. No Iceman to cover your six as you engage. You’ve got no Wingman.

Chewbacca isn’t your copilot this time, Han, you’re solo. You are just a scruffy looking nerf-herder all on your own.

Sound right? I’ve been there.

Until last year, the great majority of my pursuit of physical mastery had been a solitary journey. And there are massive benefits to having a partner. A partner can make all the difference in helping you push harder, especially when you are hitting those final couple reps or when you are on that last mile. Even a little friendly and healthy competition with your partner goes a long way towards furthering your progress, reaching your goals and making consistent gains. But we are here to talk about the solo journey, because sometimes you won’t have the luxury of a training partner.

In trying to keep with the theme of pursuing mastery, I am working on limiting my post length to 1000 words or less; keeping things short, to the point and as helpful as possible. In keeping with that goal, we shall briefly cover three points for successfully navigating a solo journey.

These points are: Have a “Why”. Have a Plan. Have Support.

Point the first: Have a Why.

I believe that the biggest thing to keep you on the path is your own personal why. It’s that big, luminous, always in front of you reason that keeps you getting back up and hitting the road, or lifting the iron. As I said in my post, “You Are the Constant”:

“[Your reasons] must compel you to keep moving forward, good enough to drag you from the couch if they have to. They need to be reasons with weight and punch behind them. They need to be reasons that make you seriously disappointed in yourself if you begin to stray from the path. For all intents and purposes, they need to be strong enough to carry you when a sledgehammer full of suck gets slammed into your chest. Trust me.”

Point the second: Have A Plan

The second thing is planning. It is in your best interest to go into every workout with a plan of attack. What I mean by that is this: write down your current workout, review your prior sessions and plan the next workout. This means keeping a notebook – or at the very least an app on your smart phone – to record, review and plan. Write it down. I used a notebook for the longest time and if you pay attention to the gym goers, you will see someone with a notebook tracking their work. Now I use the notes app on my phone, it’s a very convenient way for me record, review and plan my work accordingly. This process of recording, reviewing and planning will assist you in making consistent gains while marking progress towards your goals. On the flip side, if you just waltz into the gym and do whatever feels good, you’ll soon find yourself frustrated that you aren’t seeing any real results. Bicep curls can only get you so far.

 

the holy book of gains

My notebook from 2014… ahhh, the early days of me learning to lift!

Point the Third: Have Support.

The last thing I would suggest that you should have is some sort of support. But I thought this is about going solo? Yes it is, however nobody is an island. No one. Just because you are doing the work by yourself, doesn’t mean you can’t have some support.

Spouses and significant others can be a source of support, even children can be a source of support as they see you looking to get healthier. All of these people don’t have to be cheerleaders. Just having them know what you’re trying to accomplish and for them to understand that you are dedicated to improving yourself can be enough.

In this age of duck-faces and seemingly vain pic posts, social media can be a good source of support, too. You might be seen as one of “those people”, but who cares? The haters won’t say jack shit and those that support you will show it. Sometimes that is all you need. Once they see consistent changes and improvement, they will send you private messages asking you how you did it, what they can do to change or improve and you’ll get asked to create workout routines for them. Trust me, it happens, and it makes a difference in how you see your own progress.

If you need more support than that, get involved with an online community like the Nerd Fitness Community. The “rebels” there are some amazing, talented, intelligent and good-looking people who are focused on achieving their goals and helping others along the way. It is also done in a fun and creative way. That is where I got my start!

 

And that’s it. Has this simplified approached helped? What has worked for you?

Pursue Mastery.

Get your shirt here!  Available until 11/10/2016.

 

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Workout 11/09/14: Squats & Deadlifts. PR’s & Gains!

Sunday morning and I hear the bells of the holy church of iron beckoning my return unto the altar of strength. I heed the call and it is rewarded. Observe, ye fellow servants of Iron, the most holy book of gains!

the holy book of gains

O.K., enough of the silliness.

Seriously though, that is a snap-shot of my notebook, recording the last five training days, including today.

The plan was actually to hit the gym yesterday, but there were some needs within Team Kenobi that needed to be addressed. Thank God for Sundays!

I did hit a PR in the Squat today, I had planned on doing a couple sets at the same PR level as last Sunday, but, I felt damn good and decided to up the LBs another five pounds. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Squats: 45lbs(Bar) x10 x1, 115lbs x5 x2, 125lbs x5 x2(PR!!), 95lbs x10 x1

Deadlifts: 45lbs(Bar) x10 x1, 135lbs x5 x1, 175lbs x5 x1, 185lbs x5 x3, 135lbs x12 x1

Done…seriously. Stick a fork in me!

Keep moving forward, no matter what your level of fitness. It is worth it. You are worth it.

Be strong for you. Be Strong 4 Family.

Workout 10/03/14: Gym time! …and a few words of motivation

I was starting to twitch a bit since I wasn’t able to fit in my gym time until today, but I got it done!

Today’s session in the gym was as follows…

Deadlifts:  45lbs(bar) x10 x1, 135lbs x5 x1, 175lbs x5 x4  – as I am typing this, I realized that I did TWENTY reps at 175lbs… looks like it’s time to dial the reps down again and lift a little heavier! We must proceed with caution, lest Ego come into the fore…

Bench Press:  45lbs x10 x1, 115lbs x5 x1, 135lbs x5 x1, 145lbs x5 x3  – I didn’t have someone available for a spot, so I didn’t attempt 155lbs this time.

Squats:  45lbs x10 x1, 75lbs x5 x1, 95lbs x5 x1, 105lbs x5 x3

Pull Ups/Negatives:  3/2, 2/3, 1/4, 1/4, 0/5, 0/5

Dead Hang: x30sec x2

And now for a few more words…

You know, when one goes to the gym, you’ve got to focus. There is a lot, and I mean a lot that can distract you. There is also many opportunities for discouragement and ego to try to get the better of you. You’ll see someone warming up on a set that you are struggling on. Or, you’ll see someone struggling on a set that you warm up on. You’ll see a guy or a gal in waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better shape, better definition, tighter muscles, less body fat, stronger, faster, even better looking. Or, you’ll see someone who you are in better shape than. It can go both ways.

I say use these opportunities as motivation, integrity and humility.

For the ones farther down the road than you, nod your head and appreciate the hard work they’ve put in to lift that damn weight, or look that damn good. For the ones behind you on their own path, nod your head and appreciate that they have the guts to come in and train, that they are putting one foot in front of the other to improve themselves. Compliments are welcome in the gym, I’ve been given a few, and I’ve given a few.

Today, there was a guy in the rack next to me throwing weight around that I wish I could and I plan on getting there one step at a time. If I recall correctly, I witnessed him deadlifting 295lbs x5 x1!  When was done with his set, I told him, “That’s pretty badass, man!” He was humble about it and thanked me. We exchanged a few words during the short break, I told him I’m at 175lbs and taking baby steps he said very positively, “You’ll get there.” He then told me he was lifting 135lbs in August.

135lbs. That’s my second warm up set.

Of course, everyone started small. It can be done.

Just remember that, guys and gals. Everyone starts small.

Nobody, NOBODY walks into the gym, first time out and executes a perfect form 295lb deadlift.

Nobody.

Start small. Start somewhere.

And keep moving forward. Keep making progress, even if it is small, don’t worry about the small gains. They add up to big gains down the road.

Be strong for you.

Be Strong 4 Family.

S4F – Stay in the Fight. Keep. Moving. Forward.

“I’ve got one idea that I’m especially psyched out of my mind about… ya’ know, it’s just one of those ideas where you’re like… YES!” ~Miles Finch, “Elf”

Have you ever had that reaction? Have you ever been reading something and in just a few words, your thoughts, ideas and viewpoint on something were boiled down to a few good sentences and you were just like… YES!

I had that reaction as I was reading this article over at Bodybuilding.com. It’s a “Q&A” session with Mark Divine, Retired Navy SEAL and the owner of SEALFIT. Go read that article, it’s worth it. That article isn’t what “got the ball rolling” here on Strong 4 Family, however it did help sum up and clarify my reasons, goals and drive for being fit and also for passing my experiences on to you, dear reader, hopefully helping you along the way.

The answer to the first question in that article got that reaction from me and I was hooked the rest of the way through. The first question reads: Summarize the SEAL approach to fitness and what it means. Below is the answer:

The SEAL approach to fitness is to be functionally fit and mentally tough so that you can stay in the fight for a long period of time and get the mission accomplished. It’s not nearly as specific as a lot of sport athletics are—bodybuilding, for example. So we really are classic hybrid athletes who use an integrated approach to training. The six domains that SEALs focus on are:

  • Strength, because strength makes us harder to kill, essentially, and more useful to our team.
  • Stamina, because we end up having to do a lot of work and we can’t be shut down by fatigue.
  • Endurance, because we have to swim and hike long distances to get to a target.
  • Work capacity, because we need to do a lot of work in a short period of time.
  • Durability, because we don’t peak for an event and then take a break; we need to stay in it for up to 20 years.
  • Mental toughness, and we can’t just hope to have it. We have specific tools and methods to develop mental toughness and emotional resiliency.

Mental toughness may be the most important quality of all, because as SEALs we are often pushed past our physical breaking point, where only the power of the mind can carry us across the finish line.

YES!

Now, I’m NOT a Navy SEAL or any other kind of special operator. I’ve never served in the Military, Reserves or Coast Guard. I was in High School ROTC (Go Air Force!) and also in the Boy Scouts, but I don’t think those count, not by a long shot. So…why does this resonate so much with me? Why do I have the “Strong 4 Family” approach to my level of fitness and now this blog? Let’s break each of those bullet points down and translate them “S4F” style. Granted, as time goes on I’m sure I’ll be thinking, “Oh! I should’ve added that!”, but you’ll get the basic gist of it. Here we go!

  • Strength, because strength makes us harder to kill, essentially, and more useful to our team.

Ever heard the saying, “You can’t keep a good man down.”? It’s applicable anyone mind you. Like I wrote on the home page of this blog:

Strong – mentally, physically, emotionally – for my family. For my wife, for my children, for those close to me who need my strength. I’m doing this for me and for them!

You cannot keep someone who is mentally, physically and emotionally strong down, period. They do not stay down, they keep getting back up and moving forward. Just ask Rocky, it’s about how much you can get hit and keep moving forward. When you can get hit (mentally, physically, emotionally) and keep moving forward you are harder to kill and you are more useful to your team, to your core, your brotherhood or your family. I want to be strong and lift my kids high above my head, I will not be a father or grandfather who cannot do that. I want to be the kind of father that can play hard with his kids and keep up with them as they grow. When they are teens, I want to be able to throw any of my kids over my shoulder like they were a teddy bear and jump into a lake. Hell, in truth, I want to be like 52 year old Jon Stewart who took on the final qualifier on American Ninja Warrior on Monday night like a damn boss! To get there, I’m also going to need…

  • Stamina, because we end up having to do a lot of work and we can’t be shut down by fatigue.
  • Endurance, because we have to swim and hike long distances to get to a target.

These two go hand in hand for me. It’s part of the whole “keep moving forward” thing. Sometimes you just gotta take the hits and push forward. Sometimes you don’t get a break, you don’t get respite. Life just… Keeps. Coming. At. You.  You have to stand, you have to endure. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally.

As I will discuss later in my “back story”, I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of an ass-kicking sickness. I had to endure and fight through the bouts of extreme vertigo. When the room was spinning uncontrollably and I was violently dry heaving, because there was nothing left inside, and I was fighting to breath… I had to endure. And when it happened again, and again, and again I had to take it. Even though I was scared, even though I knew that there was nothing I could do to stop the episode, I had to take it and I chose to fight and make changes in my life to help keep it at bay. And it changed me, for the better.

I love this quote from Calvin Coolidge, it encourages me to keep moving forward:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world if full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ (Keep Moving Forward!) has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.”

  • Work capacity, because we need to do a lot of work in a short period of time.
  • Durability, because we don’t peak for an event and then take a break; we need to stay in it for up to 20 years.

I think these all build off one another, and that’s why I like them so much! Your Strength, your ability to Endure and Stamina help increase your work capacity and also, your work capacity can help you increase your Stamina, Endurance and Strength. A lot of this goes back to what I want to be as a Father and Husband in life. I will not settle for a weak, passive life. Yes, like many parents out there, I want to have more income to provide for my children and spouse. However, I don’t want to be absent, either. So I choose quality over quantity. It’s hard sometimes. As a husband, a father of four and a holder of a full-time job, the work capacity seems HUGE. But that is the price I pay for what I want. I’ve got my whole life to “stay in it”, and I want to be durable the whole damn time! I want to last.

Finally…

  • Mental toughness, and we can’t just hope to have it. We have specific tools and methods to develop mental toughness and emotional resiliency.

By doing things like The Dirty Dash, or Ruck-Walks, Weight Lifting or even Combatives training. By trying to push my body to be stronger, faster, to last longer, to endure it helps reinforce my “Keep Moving Forward” attitude. It helps in continually developing and honing that mental toughness for the rest of the areas in my life. There are times when you are focused and you hit a personal record and it totally takes you by surprise and you own and dominate that personal record. It was hard, but you did it. Later in that day a situation arises at work, maybe a few years ago you would’ve sweated it, but not now. Why? You’re harder now. It’s not as challenging or hard as that PR that you’ve worked so hard to make, is it? See how that can help? Like Mr. Divine said in his Q&A, mental toughness is the most important quality because “we are often pushed past our physical breaking point, where only the power of the mind can carry us across the finish line.”. Sometimes the battle in your mind is the hardest. The choice you make then, in that very second can help you increase your mental toughness when you choose to keep moving forward.

That quote by Calvin Coolidge I shared earlier is the first of three that I have taped at my desk at work. These three quotes I go back to time and time again as a reminder and as an encouragement. They tell me to keep going, keep moving forward. Like Mr. Divine said: to stay in the fight”. I’ll quote the other two out of order, the third quote is this:

“It is not the critic who counts: nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”  ~Theodore Roosevelt

The middle one is this:

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists… it is real… it is possible… it is yours.” ~Ayn Rand, ‘Atlas Shrugged’

Find your reasons to get and stay fit and do not let them go out “spark by irreplaceable spark”.

Be strong for you.

Be Strong 4 Family.

I ask you: What is your drive? What is your “fire”?