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Just Breathe – Why Taking a Breath is Still Underrated

It’s funny to think that a biological process that is necessary for survival is underrated, especially one that occurs automatically with no mental energy required. We inhale and exhale 12 – 16 times a minute, for as long as we live and rarely give it a second thought. 

And that is the problem. 

Breathing is rarely discussed in fitness or sport and our idea’s surrounding it are often ill-informed. If you had the opportunity to experience or practice breathing growing up thank your parents for their progressive approach, it was likely born out of yoga or meditative practice, both of which have only recently entered the mainstream. I have always been cautiously skeptical of most aspects of spirituality or alternative thinking, the byproduct of living in a traditional home in a small Northern community with a mother in healthcare. I wanted science and hard facts told by someone in at least a Halloween costume lab coat – that’s a Bill Burr joke – and that sector was not distributing any information. It meant I was breathless for a long time.

At the beginning of the article, I mentioned breathing as an action our nervous system performs subconsciously, which is true. But, we also now know that we possess the ability to manipulate our nervous system through breathing, more specifically the vagus nerve which plays a major role in our nervous system regulation. We can influence our present state by altering the frequency and type of breaths we take. This, in turn, impacts our cortisol (stress hormone) release. We can decrease Cortisol by (1) reducing the number of breaths per minute and inhaling deeply into our diaphragm. Or increase it by taking more rapid, shallow breathes. These changes in hormone release have a direct influence on our emotions, attitude, decision making, and productivity.

So, how do you breathe?

For most of us, rapid and shallow breathing is our default. Years of bad posture, minimal movement, and high-stress levels have turned us into a walking state of panic, think movie chase scene where the main character stops in an alleyway, almost hyperventilating. This type of breathing contribute to excessive stress hormone release, fatigues us faster and increases the likelihood of illness. It also wreaks havoc on our mood and emotions, making us miserable to be around.

For the record this has never happened when I have attempted to impersonate a peacock.

My friends have a funny term that they will use when I get upset, it’s the peacock. The reason is probably obvious, I do my very best impersonation of the bird, puffing out my chest, pulling back my shoulders, flaring my arms slightly and becoming as big as possible to respond to whatever has upset or frightened me. This is actually a very primal threat response so I imagine they also do it, or, maybe I’m just lower on the evolutionary scale than the average human. Then, the moment passes and we all have a laugh at my expense. The overwhelming majority of the time it turns out to be a situation that was nowhere near qualified that response. I am always envious of individuals that remain level-headed throughout all situations never letting their emotion get the better of them and refusing to rise to the bait.

Monitoring emotional responses to life and work problems is unbelievably beneficial, arguably vital. Negotiation, problem-solving, and people management are all skills that work best when you remain level-headed and clear thinking. In a previous article, I mentioned a few employers I had worked for in the past and how their response to problems trickled down and impacted the rest of the company – unfortunately not for the better. Calm is contagious and breathwork is a crucial part of maintaining that calm. The number of studies examining breath and the effects on the nervous system have risen dramatically over the past few years. ‘Breathwork therapy’ is being used to help with depression, anxiety, emotional and pain management amongst other things.

In addition to helping with emotional management, breathing can have a major upside for performance in both the business and athletic arenas. Several top entrepreneurs credit meditation and breathwork as one of their keys to success, Tim Ferriss, Scott Amyx, Laird Hamilton are all strong advocates of intentional deep breathing. Onnit founder, Aubrey Marcus, believes so strongly that he dedicated an entire chapter in his latest book to educating and implementing breathing as a method for dealing with overwhelming situations. It’s easy to do, immediately implementable and has tangible benefits.


A How To Guide

  • A quick and easy drill to help understand the difference in styles of breath involves your two hands and the floor.
  • Lie on your back, place one hand on your sternum, and the other on your belly button.
  • Inhale normally and notice what hand rises, it will likely be the one on your chest.
  • Now inhale through your nose and focus on the pulling the breath down into your belly.
  • The bottom hand should start to rise as well. Continue breathing slowly (5-7 seconds/ breath) until the top hand is still and only the bottom rises.

Ma, Xiao et al. “The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults” Frontiers in psychology vol. 8 874. 6 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

You’re Only As Good As Your Last Fight |The Myth of Self-Worth

There is a saying in combat sports that you are only as good as your last fight. It is continually uttered by analysts, coaches, fighters, and fans. It refers to the fickle nature of the masses. Win? You are a God, incapable of failing. Lose? A worthless bum who should retire. As the athlete, it is your responsibility to protect your mind from the horde of internet trolls. It really is part of the job at all levels and across all creative endeavors that offer up a product for judgment. Although you may not be publicly criticized we all have an internal critic that is as bad, if not worse than anyone else we might meet. 

I grabbed dinner with a friend a couple of weeks ago to discuss an idea. He’s well connected in a community and I was looking for insight into the culture. I started to ask questions regarding past companies and attitudes and he mentioned that being fired from a previous company over a year ago was something that still deeply bothers him and forces him to question his worth. The quote he used was “back playing on the B team”, the idea being that his current position and company was a demotion from where he had been previously. The conversation made me think about the ideas of self-worth and the lens through which we choose to view ourselves.

I completely understand his feelings, for a very long time, 10 years, my identity as an individual was tied to my performance inside the cage. I was a fighter, not someone who fights and if I was a fighter it meant I was only as good as my last fight. Truthfully, it ran much deeper than that, the number of times you can fight in a year is limited – smashing the hard parts of your body off of another trained professional is damaging and requires rest. Because I wasn’t fighting every week practice became the ‘fight’ that I would judge myself by.

Yes, how I would rate my worth was based on the result of practice, a word that means to regularly perform a skill for improvement! As if I should already understand how to perform these skills despite never being exposed to them. A good day of practice would mean the radio blasting on the way home, a quick stop for flowers, and a night spent relaxing with friends or a drink with my partner. A bad day at practice meant I was worthless, that I didn’t deserve the gifts I had earned and that everyone around me was going to have to deal with a level of self-pity and sulking that could rival any 6-year old. Never mind that my family loves me, my partner is amazing, I get to work on other dope projects all the time and live in the greatest city in the world. None of that would matter, I’m a fighter and I had a terrible day fighting you better believe everyone else is about to have a terrible day. 

When I lost a real fight the aftermath was even worse! I fought in Pittsburgh a couple years ago, the day before my birthday. Unfortunately, my opponent was better than me that night – much better – and it didn’t go my way, which made for a really long drive home. When I walked into the house the next day sitting in the fridge for my birthday was a cherry cheesecake – which I love – from my favourite spot. Instead of turning around and saying thank you for thinking of me, I muttered something about ‘not even wanting it’ and slammed the door shut. My entire life worth in that moment was predicated on the result of a highly volatile 50/50 gamble. Not that I had just passed my 26th year on this planet and accomplished much more than I ever hoped, that I had a life full of great relationships and was getting paid to compete professionally in a sport I love. Nope, I had to go and drag myself and everyone around me down because putting it all on red hadn’t paid off last night so let’s be a miserable SOB for the next 2 weeks. 

I wish I could say that I learned my lesson then and there but that would be a lie. Like my friend who a year later still feels the sting of being let go, I carried that loss with me for a very long time.  I will never pretend that ‘success’ doesn’t matter. That it shouldn’t hurt but how we define success is what is important. It took an illness that forced me away from the sport I love for nearly 2 years for me to realize that who I am is not defined by a single what.  

I’ll say it again. 

Our Who Should Never Be Defined By A Single What. 

Fighting was my narrow subset through which I defined success. My friend’s chosen ‘success marker’ was his career. He completely overlooked all the other areas of his life that are full and instead focused on one small section of who he is. Every one of us is guilty of this, often daily. If cars are your thing you feel like a loser because your Honda Fit isn’t a Porsche Cayenne, or your Porsche Cayenne isn’t a Buggati. If it’s tennis then you don’t care that you won the club championships because you’re not Roger Federer. Entrepreneurship? Zuckerberg, Bezos or it’s a bust. Investing? Buffet. Cooking? Massimo Bottura. 

The list goes on forever and ever. The problem with defining our success by one individual subset is that unless you become the 1 percent of the 1 percent you will forever feel inadequate and completely unsatisfied with what you have. I would celebrate a win, 6 – 8 weeks of suffocating hard work for all of 5 minutes before the feeling would fade and I would already be looking for what was next. That is a sad thought, that I lacked the ability to enjoy hard-earned rewards, rewards gained by sacrificing my body. 

Obsessive fixation on the outcome, more specifically one outcome will bring with it feelings of isolation and worthlessness. We need more. More connection. More variety. More buckets to draw from. More places to find worth and feel success, because unfortunately becoming the very best in the world is still not enough for contentment.

It took me a very long and painful time to realize this but even once I understood I had an unhealthy mindset it was not easy to alter. Intellectual understanding is not enough. You need to believe deeply, emotionally. Quitting smoking is a great example, the smoker understands that the act is bad for them. They see the infographics, feel shortness of breath and hear the advice of their doctor. They intellectually understand but are not emotionally committed to tossing the cigarettes away – of course, the nicotine plays a factor – and as a result, the average smoker attempts to quit over 6 times before being successful. 

So how can we shift our worth paradigm?

Re-definition and Gratitude. 

Redefining success and the factors that you use to quantify it is an absolute must. We need to realize all the amazing things we have to be grateful for them. It seems basic and perhaps a touch analytical but I broke my life down into categories. I know nothing about you but imagine your life is divided up daily into something similar to the following: Career, Relationships, Passion 1, Passion 2. This seems to be the typical spread or at least a variation of. There are hundreds of potential additional categories and often they will crossover which is why you must do the exercise for yourself creating 4-5 main columns. 

Once I had broken down the separate categories I started to write down one person or item that I was grateful for in 2-3 of the categories each day, rotating through them during the week. I would suggest being very diligent in the first few months, write it down with a paper and pen and do it everyday. In the evening I would revisit my categories and how well I did in each. More often than not I had dropped the ball in one of them but it was more easily dealt with when I had 2-3 other success’s to remind me that I am not a loser. It was also motivating to know if I had succeeded in of the categories it meant I could perform better in the ‘failed’ areas tomorrow. Competence and confidence work in an amazing loop. I also began creating space to be upset about poor performances in any category but put a time limit on emotionally obsessing over it. It has allowed me to acknowledge that I care about the outcome but in a more healthy and productive way. If I’m upset I will allow myself the time it takes me to drive to my next appointment but when I get out of the car I have to be ready to accept the outcome and move forward. The quicker we can reach acceptance the faster we can progress. 

Worried that diversifying your life will negatively impact your performance? That you won’t be as focused on your task?

Probably not. I have spent a lot of time with high performers, some of whom are arguable the very best at their discipline and they draw worth from several places. They know a bad day in their sport or job does not define them and that having different activities and people to spend time with away from their main pursuit makes them better. My fighting has gotten 10x better since I’ve stopped giving a shit if I win or lose! No longer being defined by an outcome has removed the tension and allowed me to grow my skill set without the constant interference of ego. This has allowed me to appreciate all the areas of my life more and be present when it is time to execute. Gone are the days of attempting to be serious and staring at the wall, instead I get to enjoy every area and realize that nothing matters as much as I thought it did.  

How to be a Good Teammate| Lessons From Working and Living Together

The Champ Life squad had the pleasure of sitting down on the other side of the mic for an interview this week with the fine folks of the Move Daily podcast. It was a lot of fun to be interviewed together and you can check it out here. Sylvie and I have both been on podcasts before but separately and I was curious to see how often our answers mirrored each other versus differed.

One of the questions we were asked and is actually one we are asked often is how we balance being in a relationship and working together, especially with our ever-changing schedules and odd hours. 

I realize that this isn’t a unique situation but it’s also not common in the modern workplace landscape. The time most couples share together bookend their days with the bulk of their time spent at work with other people. Because this is our Western idea of ‘normal’ working together seems more challenging than the prototypical work/ life relationship.

It may be, I don’t know. Perhaps I’m saying that because we haven’t vehemently disagreed over anything recently but there have definitely been challenges and learning experiences that have led us to our present operating system. What’s interesting is that I don’t believe the strategies we have created for success are for co-working partners only. The relationships you develop with people who you see for 8 plus hours a day are going to be more complex and require more thought then the members of your Thursday night beach volleyball team. The work-spouse memes and cups are popular for a reason. 

The one added challenge we face in working together is that we both spend large chunks of time working from home – I’m typing sitting 3 feet away from Sylv making these work rules even more important. 

No One Cares –

Take a big deep inhale. Hold it…Hold it. Now let it out as if the entire weight of the world is on your shoulders and it’s all too much. Really channel your old teenage angst into the sigh and make it loud so the person who lives in the condo next door can hear you. 

Good. Now, never do that again. 

Chances are high that your job involves one of two things. Solving difficult problems that are frustrating or solving simple problems that become difficult for no apparent reason that is equally frustrating. That means everyone is in the same boat and the last thing our co-workers want to hear about is our challenging problem when they have their own. We’re adults and as such we can express our frustration in better ways then the overdramatic sigh, unnecessary nasal breathing, or the words murmured just loud enough that everyone close by feels obligated to ask what is wrong. The opposite end of the spectrum and for those with more aggressive temperaments is anger. A tirade of f-bombs or thrown items. Nothing is less flattering than a full grown adult losing emotional control, plus after the rage train runs out of steam the sighs come out. 

I worked for a landscaping company in my early teens, we installed underground sprinkler systems. The difficulty with putting something underground is that you have no idea what the conditions are, it could be perfect semi-firm earth and other times it could resemble something between a construction site and volcanic floor. The company had three tiers, the owner, senior technicians, go-fers (me). My prestigious title meant I re-created the scene’s from Louis Sachar’s book Holes day-after-day. It also meant I had very little responsibility and had no say in solving problems when they arose, which was often. 

Everyone had a different response to the problem, the owner would fly off the handle, tear everything out of the earth, kick equipment over and unleash some of the most epic temper-tantrums known to man. The two senior technicians would mumble, sigh, nasal breath and generally act like toddlers about the situation. I would silently laugh at the first one and avoid the second, uncomfortable and terrified to make a mistake in case either reaction was eventually directed my way. I still remember those reactions and, although I’m not perfect, I try my absolute best to avoid reacting emotionally to problems at work because my co-worker (Sylvie) does not give a fuck, she’s handling her own stuff. It’s especially when one of us has finished for the day and decided the couch is no longer an office chair but a recovery station, then we really don’t want to hear about it.

Instead, it’s a three-step approach I’ve termed the Take Technique: Take a few breaths, take a walk, take lunch. If the problem is minor a few breaths will be enough to refocus, if it’s still bothering me, fresh air and a walk and in the odd situation that hasn’t help I’ll step away from it completely, do something else -usually eat or train – and circle back.

Don’t Be A Kook – 

There is a term in surfing that I learned recently from my friend Martin Reader, Kook. (Sidenote – Instagram has an unbelievable account called Kookslams that features people displaying horrible ocean edict and common sense.) 

A kook is the surfing term for a poser, but worse because instead of just ruining their own day a kook will interfere with everyone else. To the uninitiated – me until a few months ago – surfing looks like a collection of people bobbing in the water and randomly popping up on a wave or two, the ocean is huge so there’s space for everyone and one spot is as good as the next, or so I thought. In actuality, it is a continually regulated hierarchy, where your ability and experience grants you access to prime ocean real estate and right of first refusal to the incoming waves. 

Catching one out of turn, or compromising another surfers ride is a hard no and fist fights are acceptable resolutions to these problems. The ocean is a dangerous place, it will mess you up if your not careful and having someone potentially jeopardize your life is not a joke. On top of that surfing difficult waves requires attention and flow, something that you can’t achieve if another person is slashing around erratically, add on the fact that you may only catch 3 or 4 good waves in an hour and you can see why people are pretty particular. 

As a person with a pretty liberal outlook on fighting, I’m not against a little beach justice but I realize we can’t have co-workers slugging it out between the cubicles nor should we need too. If you look over and can tell your co-worker is surfing a perfect wave, hammering away on a project and in a state of flow leave them alone! Don’t be a Kook! They’re likely accomplishing massive amounts of work in a short period and do not need your interruption to throw them off. Sick of interrupting each other we started setting up mini-meetings to discuss joint projects throughout the day and then blocking off chunks of work time where we agree not to contact the other person and record any questions for a later date. At the end of the ‘work block’ we’ll take 10-15 minutes and in that time discuss any concerns or issues we need to address before hammering out another block, it has become a super efficient way to accomplish our list of tasks and no one gets sidetracked. 

PS. I’d suggest implementing this strategy with a pair of quality headphones as a secondary reminder, to both you and your co-workers, that you are not interested in talking right now. 

Keep Your Room Clean – 

Your Mom was right, clean your room. This is a lesson that I had to re-learn recently and it took some very patient work -and the occasional death stare – from Sylvie to drive the point home. 

Our workspace is also our living space, for a while we thought we might need to join a cowering space in order to accomplish anything but that would have been far to hypocritical with our message of living a healthy lifestyle with that you have. Set on working from home and using our kitchen table as our office and recording studio Sylvie was committed to making some changes to our living space, chiefly keeping it clean. By no means are we dirty, but tidy? That has never been a strength of mine despite it being one of my Mother’s callings. The reason I don’t identify as a tidy person is because I’ve created a belief that I’m not one, we decide who we are and who we are not, and once we are committed to that version of ourselves it is very hard to re-write the internal script. Once we decided we would be the kind of people that keep a clean workspace it became a priority, it took work and we definitely slipped up a few times – I more than Sylv- but it’s been worth it.

Full disclosure I was heavily skeptical of impact it would have. I assumed, wrongly, that it was purely visual and seemed like an unnecessary energy expenditure. I was wrong. Clutter has an influence on our emotional state and can increase anxiety and unease, so aiming to keep our office workspace organized and filled with only the useful items is an advantage. Even if you don’t notice a difference in your ability to accomplish tasks no one likes a slob and the collaborative work session will start off on a much better foot when your co-worker doesn’t have to work to clear a spot for their coffee cup. 

Playfully Savage – Developing a Dominant Mindset for Life

Playfully Savage. 

The two words that I have been focused on for the past few months. When I came back to fighting last year I went into the process with a different and new mindset, one I hoped was more dynamic, resilient and could adjust to suit the specific situation. The amount of personal reflection I underwent in that period allowed me to be more honest in both my personal life and in my athletic career, which makes perfect sense considering crossover exists in every area. No skill is developed in a silo, but neither is a deficit.

One of my strengths and weaknesses is that I think, a lot. Too much, in fact. I fixate on risks, consequences and possible opponent strategies. That combined with a healthy dose of empathy – thank you, Mom, I love you for it – lead to some underwhelming performances and a hesitancy to pull the trigger. During my forced reflection I focused on developing a mindset capable of both assessing those strengths/deficiencies and also creating a strategy for optimizing them.

Enter…Playfully Savage. My present moniker and default internal dialogue.

Let’s unpack each part individually as both came to me in very different ways.

Playfully

In 2008 a gentleman named Chris Ruder created the brand Spikeball, based around a 1980’s Toys R Us version of ‘round net.’ If you have never played -I feel for you- imagine volleyball in 360 degrees. Their website boasts the claim “the greatest game you have ever played” and they might be right.

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PC: Jeremy Dupont

We love to play at our summer training program, we – meaning the players and coaches, at least those good enough – spend hours jockeying for position, spiking the ball, landing cheeky drop shots and being generally obnoxious to everyone. No apologies, everyone playing loves winning or at least hates losing and we’ll sacrifice our pride and body for a child’s game.

It was in one of these epic rallies that it dawned on me, I was playing with three of my athletes, all three of whom play hockey professionally. This meant every person in the game was paid to participate in a sport, to showcase our skills and athletic prowess for paying fans, something so wonderful! Yet here I was having more fun playing this silly game then I had had on the mat in a long time. Trips to the gym were full of expectations, anxiety regarding performance, and general unease. I was placing so much pressure on myself to perform that I couldn’t enjoy the sport for what it is, the truest blend of intelligence and physicality.

Growing up my brother and I would wake up at 6 am in the middle of February, hop in the car-which wouldn’t have warmed up by the time we arrived at the gym- and go learn jiujitsu with a few other frigid souls from the only purple belt in town. No one forced us to go, there were no repercussions for staying in bed, we just loved it and wanted to be there. It didn’t matter if it was pitch black and minus 25, we didn’t care that our hands were freezing and our toes were blue because the heat hadn’t been on all night. We just wanted to train. We wanted to argue for one more point, one more submission. Laugh when one of us caught the other and embrace at the end of the session.

And so, it was in the car ride home after that epic rally that I made a new promise, one that I’m not perfect at but am trying. To be playful, to remember the early mornings spent in a freezing cold gym because I loved the sport, and to bring that attitude into each and every session. To compete as hard as possible but with a smile on my face, because I’m blessed to have the physical ability to do it. 

Savage

Jordan Peterson, who is a University of Toronto professor, has gained popularity and criticism over the last 18 months for his stance on several controversial topics. Personally, I’m a fan. Although I don’t agree with everything he says I appreciate a definitive stance in a world full of fence sitters. He was on a podcast discussing the state of parenting and during the segment said something that gave me pause and has stayed with me ever since. I am going to paraphrase but after spending 25 minutes looking for the exact clip it seemed better to focus on writing this article, you will get the gist.

“We do not make strong men by making them weak, we make them strong by making them savage and teaching them discipline”

I am in no position to speak on parenting, but as this statement pertains to competing, martial arts, and life, in general, it couldn’t be more perfect.

When it comes to my competition performance I’ve been hesitant, afraid to injure or upset my training partner, or in some weird way my opponent. As if holding back was somehow valiant and noble, I was being a ‘good guy’. I’ve even noticed this with our athletes, most – not all but most – are terrified to stand out and be different, to be the one who tries too hard or crosses the line. The result is a false confidence for your training partners and a victory for your opponents. You do no favors by not executing to the very best of your abilities and winning by as wide a margin as possible. Our entire system is based on competition, it’s healthy and what we are designed for, to compete within the rules of the game, whatever that game is. In the second phase of my career, I’m committed to savagery, to complete physical and emotional domination in a gentlemanly manner. 

This lesson is the same for life, the era of participation ribbons and games without score has made us fearful of competitive dominance. We believe everyone should be included fully and I agree everyone should be included initially but your ability to remain in the game is predicated upon your skills and merit. I am not condoning cheating or foul play as a means of advancement but it a game where all the players understand the rules we should aim to crush. Imagine an Olympic games where no one won or lost, it’s an outrageous idea! Viewership would plummet, there would be no excitement, no emotion, and no escape. We wouldn’t watch! We should want the very best players in the game at every level, in every field to help raise the bar. 

post fight drew morais

My last two fights have exemplified that. The day of the fight I was sitting with one of my coaches talking about the training camp, how I felt, the mantra that I had created and why it was important. I was confident, relaxed, and truly ready to execute to my potential. The result? Exactly that, playful savagery. I dominated my opponent in every single area of the fight and had a great time doing it. I challenge you to do the same, in whatever arena your fight occurs, compete to the very last breath and make no apologies for it. In the words of  Marianne Williamson:

“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.”

Why Motivation Is A Lie | Just Go To Practice!

I don’t want to write this article.

How’s that for a start? You’ve clicked on this link hoping to be educated or entertained, or at least intrigued, instead you’re being stood up. If I don’t want to write this article, what’s the point of reading it?

Because I’m going to write it anyway and in doing so exemplify the point I’m hoping to make. So, even though I don’t feel like writing this, I will and hopefully it will be educational and entertaining and intriguing all in one because that’s my job and that’s why I’m asking you to click on the link. Will it be the best article I have ever written? Maybe not, but I can only have one best article. That doesn’t make this one any less worthy of being written or read.

Why am I telling you I don’t want to write this article? Is it so you appreciate how dedicated I am, how after very little sleep, a busy morning coaching and not nearly enough coffee I’m able to rattle off a few words about perseverance and ‘sticking to it?’ As satisfying as it would be to imagine all you readers deeply impressed with my commitment that’s not why. 

We had a guest on our podcast a few weeks ago that has spent the last year making their living as a blogger. I was excited to talk writing, both topic selection, and process, how to work through good and bad ideas, “writer’s block”, putting out a certain number of words, etc. Essentially the questions I  thought would help me in my goal to publish twice weekly. Unfortunately, the conversation was underwhelming, there was no structure to the writer’s process and when they don’t ‘feel’ an idea or like blogging they don’t. Which is completely fine in relation to their content and brand with which I have no personal attachment but the answer bothered me because it re-enforces a dangerous way of thinking for others who are listening. 

A writer and teacher by the name William Zinsser wrote a book titled, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. The book has been termed “…a bible for this generation of writers” by the NY Times. The first chapter features a story about his experience at a conference sitting on a panel with another writer, a gentleman who began writing later in life- a surgeon by trade- and how their styles differ. The surgeon described writing as bliss, something that is done when he feels like it. If the words refuse to flow he packs up, waits for motivation and tries again another day. Zinsser, in contrast, described his writing as a task, difficult and trudging, if the ideas refuse to flow you will find him in the same place for hours working through the block. In the end, Zinsser highlighted that the conference showed him there is no ‘right way’ to write and that it is a personal journey.

I disagreed with the very first lesson when I read it then, and did again last week. I’m not arguing that writing or any other pursuit is not deeply personal, of course, they are. I am arguing, however, that proficiency of craft cannot be driven by motivation, which is the argument both the surgeon from Zinsser’s story and our guest made. Wait for motivation to strike then capitalize on it. What’s dangerous about this statement is adopting this attitude will undoubtedly lead to failure down the stretch. 

Motivation is fleeting, unpredictable and mostly useless in regards to long-term ventures. Motivation prompts you to clean your room, it doesn’t help you maintain a neat house. Motivation is the green smoothie you stop for on the way to work, not the week’s worth of meals you prep on Sunday. Motivation is the day you offer to make the coffee run for the office, not the week’s spent spearheading an unrequested project.

Do you see where I’m headed?

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Getting Squeezed by a Russian Bear – Not a lot of Motivation Left 

A little over a year ago – thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for your genius Facebook memory program – I put out a video discussing a concept I called “the practices that matter”, practice being the opportunity to improve on your skill. That practice could refer to a sports team or instrument, or it could be the opportunity to ply your craft again like writing an article or picking a stock for your company to invest in. I made this video to highlight the belief that all practices matter but some matter more, and the ones that matter more are the ones that you don’t feel like going. No matter how much you love what you are doing, there are days that you don’t feel like it. Days when you’re unmotivated, sore, tired, hungover, or just generally don’t give a shit. It’s easy to head to practice after a loss, or a youtube video, or after a 90-minute massage and a 10-hour sleep, but those days are easy and they don’t matter nearly as much.

Seth Godin, who I rate in my top 3 favourite thinkers and speakers, was on a podcast recently discussing the same idea in a slightly different manner. His thesis is that “authenticity” is a lie and success – competency- is about being a professional.  The example he used was, conveniently, that of a heart surgeon. How if he was about to lie on the table to be cut open he wouldn’t want an authentic surgeon. One that doesn’t perform the surgery because they don’t feel “into it”. No, he wants a professional. A surgeon that cuts him open, operates to the best of their ability, sews him back up and sends him on his way irrelevant of what else is going on in their life.

The cornerstone of both our ideas – for the record I am not comparing myself to Seth Godin…yet – is that motivation is not a factor in accomplishing tasks or more specifically developing proficiency in any craft. That you become an expert in your chosen vocation not because you are excited to go to work or school every day but because you go regardless of your personal feelings, and undertake the work in the same manner day in and day out.

In this way, we should aim to be less like human beings and more like animals. Think of a bird building a nest. It does it every day because it is automatic because it is a bird and birds build nests. It doesn’t wake from a restful night of sleep, stretch its wings look over to its mate and say, “That episode of Love it or List it we watched last night through the window really got me thinking about our nest, I think a few cedar twigs would go a long way in the overall Feng Shui.” Instead, the bird wakes up, stretches it’s wings and builds a nest just like it did the day before.

We should aim for the same level of doing in our lives with whatever it is we are choosing to pursue because that quest towards competency is what really matters. You go to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu 3x/week after work because that’s what you do, you do Jiu-Jitsu and people that do Jiu-Jitsu go to class at least 3x/week after work. If you do this for several months you’ll start to get better and begin to dominate the people that don’t come 3x/week after work, this, in turn, will illustrate your competency, gained through doing, proving that you are in fact a jiu-jitsu player and motivating you to repeat the cycle. It’s what I’m looking for when I write this article. Hopefully, in 6 months I’ll read this and think to myself that it’s trash and I’ll feel good about my progress which will motivate me to be even more committed to my writing. 

Our pursuits in life are about improvement, that is what we are searching for, and we have limited resources with which to accomplish them. We must choose what we care about and be professional about it, showing up to the practices that matter and trusting that the end result will be worth the struggle. 

That’s why I wrote this article.