How A Back Injury Ruined Breakfast

Sorry, we will be closed for the day for an unexpected health problem (resting sore lower back) we will open back up tomorrow 

—Mad Dog

I realize that you are probably wondering who exactly this Mad Dog is because they sound an awful lot like a pirate, and you can’t imagine a situation where a pirate ship would hold off looting a merchant vessel because of a sore lower back, they did battle high seas and scurvy after all. Plus, it is about 300 years too late for maritime pillaging.

You would, of course, be right, I didn’t read this note off of a yellow stained piece of parchment that I pulled out of an old green bottle, and Mad Dog is not the Great Lakes most infamous pirate. Mad Dos is a local breakfast spot, and that note was posted on the door yesterday morning while I was searching ravenously for bacon and eggs.

I was hungry and devastated. An injury had ruined breakfast.

Injuries are nothing to joke about, STATCAN took a closer look at injuries across all ages, and the results are enlightening. Over 15% of the population experienced an injury that restricted them from daily functioning, that is a 2 percent increase from the study a decade before, and I would guess, and this is my own opinion only, that that rate has increased since the results in 2011 to match our levels of sedentariness. We move so little that when we do move, it’s dangerous. Even jobs that require physical activity are repetitive and not necessarily beneficial to overall health.

Running a kitchen is demanding work, the constant bending, lifting and twisting that goes on can undoubtedly take a toll on your spine health, and it’s easy to see how you might need an extra day off. One day off may not seem like a huge deal, one day, but if it happens once a month that’s almost 500 hours of lost work in a year. And it very easily could happen as the statistics above indicate. The Mad Dog cafe is an owner-operator business, if Johnson – the man behind the brand – can’t make it into work the ship doesn’t move, and they lose the opportunity to generate income for the day in a highly competitive Toronto market. What if one of the people who tried to come in that day was a new customer? Referred by a friend and excited to try out a new brunch spot. When they see the sign, they are disappointed and with no previous exposure to the brand have no interest in returning. If it had been open; however, they may have loved it, told their friends and came back once a week creating another source of recurring income for the business.

Even if you aren’t personally the business, you don’t want to take a sick day or lose a day of pay because of an injury. The only people who should be missing work for injuries are professional athletes. When you are injured, it’s pretty tricky to be effective. Your mind is distracted by the pain, every adjustment in your chair hurts, and every time you stand up to stretch it feels infinitely worse, making you wish that you had stayed home.

It could be even worse. Perhaps you had a big weekend planned at the cottage, waterskiing with friends, a couple of beer on the dock, and a family style dinner to cap off the night. Instead, you are stuck at home, popping Tylenol and trying to find a position that doesn’t make you scream into your pillow.

We often create separate buckets in our minds for fitness and work. One is the weekly pick up basketball game, the other how we pay rent and eat. Unfortunately, they are forever linked. Our overall quality of life will always be predicated on how well we can move, which will, in turn, impact how we feel. Our bodies are not designed to remain stagnate, much less injured, and the consequence of not moving is significant both physically and mentally.

If you are reading this article chances are that you have had some injury that has nagged you at home and work and if I were to attempt to define a method for avoiding every injury, this would be a never-ending article. So instead I’ve included a few basic guidelines.

I’m not advocating you start an eight-day a week Olympic training regime but decreasing the likelihood of injury and improving the overall quality of your life is fucking important. Don’t worry about crushing yourself in the gym every single session or setting a new land speed record on your morning run day after day after day. The goal of training should be to leave the session feeling better than when you started, if not immediately for sure within a couple of days.

Aim to include each of the four categories below into your training week to stay injury free, and performing at your peak.

Resistance Training (Pick Things / Your Body Up and Down)
Recovery (Yoga / Stretching)
Conditioning (Alternating between Fast and Slow)
Rest

Some weeks may feature more of one than the other, and that’s fine. Don’t feel the need to follow everything to the letter, what matters most is that you are moving more often than not, in a variety of ways that build your resilience to injury.

A Letter To Mom|Happy Mother’s Day

Mom,

I have struggled to start this letter, after all, how can I possibly convey my love and appreciation into a few paragraphs? I’m not nearly skilled enough as a writer to do justice to all you have done for me in such a short space. I would need encyclopedic-length books to tell it all.

Or, perhaps, just a few short words would be best? Thank You. Thank you for everything you did and will continue to do.

Thank you for bringing us up in a home full of love. For early morning hockey games and summertime camping trips, for family dinners and popcorn fuelled movie nights. For emergency room hospital visits and pancakes for breakfast after a night out. Thank you for all the little moments, the ones that probably seemed inconsequential at the time but are burned into my memory now. For the warm hug after time apart and the tearful goodbye even when you know that we’ll see each other in a few days.

You always make time to listen and do your best to support regardless of how you may personally feel. In a world full of outrage and malice your kindness and love is a rare gift that we have been lucky enough to receive. So, for fear of saying too much, while not saying nearly enough.

Thank you, Mom.

I Love You.

Self – Awareness | Our Painful Reality

There is a story that stands out in my mind, it was told to me several years ago by a client during a workout. The story was told offhand, a sad story about a tragic situation, something that we all hear countless times a week but usually let fade away after hearing. It was the story of ultra-successful gentlemen – at least in our traditional Western framework – who had worked hard and become the CEO of a large company, unfortunately, like all things in life, success in one area often comes at a cost to others. He had missed kids sporting events, family dinners, vacations, and moments with his wife and now he was dying.

Cancer, diagnosed in the late stages was attacking his body, and the prognosis was rough. 12 months maybe less. This gentleman decided that if that were his fate he would enjoy the time he had left, he wouldn’t miss a game, a family dinner, a vacation. He would spend the time he had left with his family, put work second and them first, and he did. He changed his entire life, diet, exercise, mental well-being and a seemingly miraculous thing happened, remission. The doctors couldn’t understand how or why but the cancer was gone, and he had a second lease on life.

He gradually went back to work, took more calls, scheduled more meetings, missed more family meals and eventually in a year he returned to the exact same man he was before…and so did the cancer. This time it was too late, and my client was speaking with him on his death bed when he heard the sentence that would later stick in my brain for years, “What I regret most is that I forgot the lessons I learned.”

Here was a man, given a second chance at life who clawed his way out of death’s clutches only to slide back in. The lessons were forgotten despite the genuine example of what could happen.

I’m not pretending to be an expert on cancer remission and say that it was his lifestyle alone that caused the return. Perhaps, he could have maintained a balance, continued to spend time with his family while still mitigating the stress of his career and cancer would have returned anyway. But in his mind, the return of his terminal illness was his own inability to remember the lessons he learned, and I believe that that is more valuable than any diagnosis. What we think shapes how we act, what we feel, and what happens to us.

How could this happen? How could a person have a lesson so painfully taught to them forgotten after a short 12 months?

A lack of self-awareness.

Any of us could have been the man in the story if you think different you are mistaken. We are so often unaware of who we actually are, what are actions actually mean and how they affect both us and others. We are in perpetual motion and never take the time to reflect and take honest stock. Even when our reality is revealed to us, we often dismiss it as inaccurate or assume that the laws of nature apply to other people but not us.

And it’s understandable.

Being self-aware is cripplingly hard, it requires you to rip off your own skin raw and acknowledge your faults for everyone to see. It’s not someone’s else’s opinion that you can choose to ignore or shrug off as jealousy or unknowing. It’s your own acknowledgment of what actually is, and that is why it is so important.

Imagine yourself and your life as a boat in the ocean, without a map and compass you will forever sail aimlessly. Sometimes, by chance, you may discover the land, and it will prove bountiful and provide you with happiness, but eventually, you will sail into a storm and likely capsize. Even if you manage to stay afloat, it is only a matter of time before you encounter another storm on your captain less journey.

Having a clear picture of who you are, and how you act allows you to begin making changes and decisions for the better. It helps to create a True North that you can use to reference your choices.

Is this helping me become the person I want to be and lead the life I want to live?

You will fail, you will stumble and make mistakes and embarrass yourself and get off track. But, you can only return to the proper course and re-orient yourself towards your goal if you admit that the error occurred, that you were not – at that moment – the person you are trying to be, and that is painful. That requires strength. Admitting your faults is not for the meek and why so few are willing to do it, but if you can find the courage, the result is liberation and progress at a rate that those unwilling can never match.

Avoiding Outrage | Why You Need People To Disagree

We are living in a complicated time, perhaps not physically but indeed emotionally and societally. Definitions are ever-changing, opinions are always on display in all manner of public forums, and it would seem that outrage is on the rise. The gigantic information highway sitting snugly in our pocket, or beside us on the couch has eliminated the late dinner disagreements on which actor starred in a 1970’s movie, which pitcher threw the first no-hitter, and how many publishers rejected Stephen King’s first novel – 30 it was the random fact of the day yesterday. 

If you want to avoid heated arguments never discuss religion, politics, or whether the toilet paper roll should go over or under

– Weird Al 

This is not an article about politics, or religion, or gender, or toilet paper. I’m not interested in having those discussions publicly because I don’t believe I have spent enough time personally reflecting on them and any opinion I would have would be, in the words of Mark Twain, “gotten second-hand and without examination.” 

I am however interested in discussing arguments, the act of disagreeing without becoming enraged at the other party and being willing to examine and reflect the opposite viewpoint as it relates to your own. Having access to millions of pieces of information in the form of the internet has made us eternal ‘fact-checkers,’ hammering out a few letters on a touch screen and moments later we have the information in hand. It is a wonderful and terrible thing. We have all this information, but we’ve also outsourced all of our thinking to external parties. When a topic or disagreement pops up that we are unsure of we hop on the information highway, find someone who has similar viewpoints to what we believe are our own and we now know exactly how we think. 

The person or group that we choose to get our information from is likely famous or prominent in that space, after all, to stand out from the masses online you have to be. The popularity also comes with a divide in opinion, people both love and hate your work in equal parts and because it’s such a vast place there are a lot of people. You, the information seeker, now have a decision to make, who to ally yourself with, in this war of opinions and once you make your choice, it’s for life. You are expected to live and die by that opinion, fight vehemently for it at all times and become outraged at anyone who disagrees because how could they! At least that’s the narrative being shoved your way. 

And it’s complete bullshit. 

We should be celebrating the opportunity to have a discussion with someone who disagrees, it’s a chance to have the validity of our argument examined and probed for weakness and perhaps if it’s too porous taken down altogether, and that’s fine! 

When I first started martial arts at the ripe old age of 18, I had just received the first real beating of my life and was painfully aware of how ill-prepared I was to defend myself. The first gym I joined was a traditional Korean-style dojang – training hall – that looked like it had been plucked from the 1970s and transplanted into 2000s Sault Ste Marie. We started the first class by bowing in, stretching then practicing Katas – movement forms – for the better part of an hour. We did the same thing on the second day, and third, and fourth, and fifth. You get the idea. After a month I was no better prepared at defending myself than on that first day, but I also had no idea because I hadn’t been tested either. Personally, that was a huge problem, what if I ended up getting in another street fight? Getting beat up twice in short succession would be really tough on an 18-year-old ego.

So I left. I found somewhere with a more experiential learning style. Where I improved my proficiency by competing in a safe-ish version of combat.

I think about combat as a language, different styles of fighting are different ways of speaking, and when you compete in them, you have a discussion, or argument depending on the form of competition or training. When I step on the mat to roll in jiu-jitsu I want my partner to disagree with me, I want them to oppose with every fibre in their body and to try as hard a possible to prove me wrong. I want them to have bad intentions and try to embarrass me. I’m going to do the same.

We do this through a series of physical moves, each attempting to predict what the other will do. If their argument is stronger than mine, they will achieve a set of advantages, leaving me with fewer and fewer options until, eventually,  they win. 

Then we’ll go again. I get a chance to argue my case to see if maybe it was a lucky exchange or I was unfocused. I can change parts of the argument slightly to see if it creates a better reaction, better solidifies my point or if the same outcome prevails. This process will continue several times a practice, hundreds of times a month and thousands a year. In some instances, my arguments will be dominant, and I can double down on them, in other situations they may fail over and over again, and I will be forced to abandon them or retreat and completely rework the ideas or even adopt the arguments of my partner because they have been shown to be superior time and time again. 

We will hurtle ourselves into the exchange with ferocity but remain as emotionless as possible and afterward embrace and thank each other.  Those two ideas are fundamental to progress. I must remain calm despite the hostility. Emotional reactions make it difficult to think and react quickly and efficiently, and the result is floundering and a poor representation of my thoughts. Afterward, I must be grateful because they have chosen to expose themselves in the same manner, to be equally vulnerable and challenging. Without my partner, I would never know if my ideas were legitimate, if they would hold up in a real-life situation. 

“A man who sees the world at 50 the same as at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life”

– Muhammad Ai

We should aim for the same level of openness in all of our exchanges, having someone disagree is not a personal assault on character but an opportunity to refine your argument. Notice where it fails, where it holds firm, go back and spend real time thinking about the idea, exploring both sides in your mind. Needle for areas you can exploit and improve your understanding of why those areas still have merit and never be afraid to have your opinion changed. Changing our mind is a natural human right, it’s a display of strength, not weakness.

Honesty – You May Be Lying To Yourself (I Do) And Not Know It

Honesty, defined as “a person or action who/that is “fair and straightforward and free of deceit or morally just”. It is an attribute revered by nearly all countries, cultures, and religions. It is constantly discussed throughout life, from all figures: parents, teachers, coaches. All urging you to be honest. To tell the truth no matter what.

As a child it’s easy. Did you eat that? Yes. Did you brush your teeth? No. Are you listening to me? Maybe… Adrian! Yes.  

But, as we get older, we start to doubt or avoid the truth. We begin to manipulate it in different ways, searching for the line, perhaps crossing it just a little to skew the deck in our favour. Lying about brushing our teeth may afford us an extra 5 minutes of play time before bed and that’s valuable currency at age 6 when you have not yet made the connection between poor oral hygiene and cavities. 

The older we get the more liberal we are with the truth. We may outright lie to avoid punishment or fail to tell the whole story to ensure we are painted in the proper light. Or, it might be well intentioned, perhaps we omit the truth to spare the feelings of someone we care about. These instances of dishonesty are undoubtedly wrong even the well-intentioned situation. We can identify the immorality in these instances, even if we don’t feel remorse for the action.

In many ways outward dishonesty is easier to identify but it is not the only kind we must be ready for. There is a second category of honesty which is much more painful, yet easier to hide and therefore easier to avoid facing. I’m referring to honesty of self and it is far more important than the omissions you may make outward. Not because lying to ourselves is worse than lying to others but if we are truthful with ourselves the decision to be honest with others is already made. 

I have been mulling over this topic for a while, both as it relates to my personal life and how others can use it. And I hope to explain or at least unpack it in a way that makes it more accessible. The lies that we tell ourselves are the most dangerous of all because we often do not realize how far away we’ve gotten from truth

The Truth of a Lizard 

There is a theory of brain evolution that was developed in the ’60s by neuroscientist Paul Maclean called The Triune Brain. The basic idea is that our brain has a hierarchal progression beginning with the most basic level – Survival and progressing to Higher Level Thinking. – The demand for abstract art and philosophical debates is pretty low if we aren’t first breathing and aware of threats to our survival, and it’s these first two levels of the brain that have allowed us to develop and achieve a position in the dominance hierarchy that gives us the opportunity to use our Neocortex – higher thinking. Unfortunately, what our Neocortex tells us we want and what our survival instincts want are often seperate things.

Let me explain. 

Seth Godin and Stephen Pressfield – both better writers and more experienced thinkers than myself- have discussed this topic at length. What Mr. Godin calls the lizard brain, Pressfield has termed the Resistance. They are essentially describing the same thing, it’s the natural self-preservation instinct that prevents us from executing on our goals and task. We are eternally terrified of being judged or looking stupid, of failing or disappointing others. We think ourselves into a petrified state and the only movement we can make is backward into safety. Then, once safe we berate ourselves for our cowardice, force ourselves back to cusp of action only to repeat the cycle. It’s a terrible feeling and we have all done it, in fact, I just stopped typing to send a text message I had been avoiding to avoid being a complete hypocrite and lying to you with this article. The problem with the lizard brain is that it never goes away, you don’t stop feeling the doubt or fear. The higher the stakes or further the progress you’ve made the stronger the resistance.

Why is this important for honesty? 

Because the lies we tell ourselves are designed to protect this lizard brain, we are fighting our natural instinct! Preservation of ego is king and it is easier to weave a web of falsehoods than shoulder the burden of reality. If you’re good at it, which many of us are, we can convince others that the lie is the truth and once they accept it we no longer believe it to be a lie. We have to actively work at Honesty.

Personal Example Time

I competed in a grappling tournament a few weekends ago, grappling anxiety/lizard brain resistance rates somewhere in the 4-5/10 range. It’s a part of fighting but I’m not paid to compete in it nor am I attempting to become one of the top grapplers in the country or world.

But.

I am one of the professional fighters at the gym and 30 odd students are there to compete and watch, so perhaps a 6/10 on the lizard brain scale. Still quite manageable, but then I noticed another pro fighter in my division who I know and is also ranked in the top 10. We could potentially fight each other in the future. My internal lizard brain scale is bumping up to a 7/10 and my mind is creating comparisons between this match and an actual fight. This match and our professional future, because the lizard brain believes only in scarcity we can’t both be successful! 

We compete. I grapple tentatively, playing not to lose which is almost always a losing strategy. He wins by 2 points – 1 Takedown. An exchange that would -likely- be fairly insignificant in a real fight and that’s the way I wanted it. As I exit the mat I am already creating a subplot for why lost. I already had a match and his first round was a bye. I had a poor game plan. It was a hard week of training. The list goes on. I’ll probably make a few jokes about it being a jiu-jitsu tournament so it doesn’t really matter. I’ll do my best to convince everyone else that it’s no big deal, some will believe me.

I’ll discuss it a few more times during the week at the gym, but now with the ‘new perspective’ –read lie – in place and by the time the next Saturday rolls around I might actually believe that the loss meant nothing, that it was because of the match I had prior, and that I was tired from the week of training. My ego will remain intact but I will have made no adjustments, learned no lessons. I’ll have retreated back under my rock away from change and growth but safe. 

You see the problem with lying to ourselves – and others – is that it is far too easy if we let ourselves. It will quickly become a habit and we’ll start shaping our perceptions to accommodate the lowest, most cowardly form of us. Cowardice is the refusal to face truth regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. As bad as this strategy may sound, it would work, if we truly believed our lies.

Eventually the truth comes through.

My father is a painter, and I remember him telling me about painting different houses with different owners and habits. One of the habits he was referring too was smoking. If you smoke inside a home the nicotine, will, over time seep into the paint and walls. It won’t happen with one cigarette or two but after a time the walls will develop a stained yellowish tinge that no one likes to see. When that happens the owner, or new owner, will call someone like my Dad to come in and paint. Unfortunately, at this point the walls are deeply saturated and require special treatment, they need to be washed and treated with a heavy primer before any paint can be rolled on. It’s a time consuming and expensive process. If the painter or homeowner decide to skip it and insist that slapping on an extra coat will do the trick they can get the job done much faster and cheaper. The walls will even look clean again, for a time. Eventually, the nicotine stuck underneath starts to seep back through – unhindered by a primer – and because the world is a cruel place that moment will occur at the exact same time the homeowner is giving a prospective buyer a tour of the house. They will look up at the walls, see the stains and know that someone cut corners to avoid the hard work. 

Lying is that stain. It works for a time and you may convince yourself or a few people that it’s clean but not forever. Stress acts as a stripping agent, when everything is running smoothly it’s simple to avoid honesty. The internal plot lines are clear and you can easily adjust the story as needed but when the stakes are high, when something of worth is on the line: career, relationship, a fight. That’s when it falls apart. When you step in the cage and the door shuts behind you there is only one way out and it’s through the person in front of you. That’s the moment when the lies fall apart, that’s the moment when you are forced to be honest with yourself, perhaps for the first time in a long time and that’s when you will crack. The discomfort and pain that comes with growth will avalanche back in the form of panic and doubt and you will be exposed because deep down we know, we know that we weren’t honest with ourselves.

The idea of being honest with ourselves seems easy, we believe we always do it, or if not, could start anytime we want.

We don’t and it’s not. Honesty is the mental equivalent of heavy manual labour repeated day after day. It’s uncomfortable and you are going to be terrible at it for a very long time, your – emotional – muscles will tear and ache, but in the end, it will all be worth it. You will know who you are and be comfortable with that knowledge. You will have deeper connections with the people in your life, and those that can’t handle the truth will disappear, leaving you only those who care. You will be the best version of you possible, you won’t be perfect but you’ll be real and that knowledge is liberating. It allows you to hurtle yourself completely at any task you choose, not concerned with the outcome because your lizard brain no longer controls you.