Aim low 2 get high

What you’re getting into:

10 minutes of actionable advice for improved health, strength, posture, intelligence, stamina, focus, finances etc. – in short a blueprint for effortless life enhancement.

Squat, Beans, Omega3, Bacteria, Cold Feet, Variation, Processes vs. Goals, Meditation/Mindfulness, Use Your Left, Read “Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman” and install Evernote.

Using the left (weak) arm

 

Don’t set your ambitions too high

Around 15 years ago, just as I began my hedge fund career, my little brother (today, not yet 30 years old, a national strongman finalist, an 800lbs deadlifter, and soon [well…] a Quantum physics PhD) experienced a sort of panic attack when browsing his math book in the beginning of the semester.

The realization that he didn’t know it all and couldn’t learn it all right away made him feel he could never learn it.

At the same time I had no goals or ambition whatsoever, apart from putting in less work than before. And we all know where that got me, one step at a time.

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Hence, if you aim for the moon, the risk is it’ll stay just a dream. You won’t even hit the tree tops. Best guess is you’ll simply stay in bed, overwhelmed by your own ambitions.

Instead aim low, ridiculously low. But with a twist, with a process in mind, and a growth mindset.

Apparently you can reach the moon without more than a shy glance at it now and then, instead focusing your energy on enhancing those stone tools of yours – aiming ‘ridiculously’ low.

Feel free to have moonshot visions in the back of your mind. But aim for nothing more than getting out of bed, perhaps take a quick look out the window and check for trees, maybe even walk up to it… and perhaps grab the lowest branch and just feel it…

You know where that story ends.

moonshot aim low

Don’t be Tim Ferriss

On the one hand Tim is just like us. On the other he is an unattainable demi-god. Don’t model your goals on guys like Peter Thiel, Tim Ferriss, Steve Jobs and Jack Welch. Sure, everybody can emulate them, but very few actually will.

That kind of ambition is more likely than anything else to set you up for failure, discouragement and unhappiness.

If you try to learn parkour, French, big wave surfing, MMA etc. at master level in a week, you’ll most likely end up physically hurt or broken down psychologically. But just trying those things, aiming to get a little better every day, and you’ll exercise brain and body, and maybe finding a rewarding new hobby for life.

 

Aim low too, like I do

About a year ago, I wrote my first few blog posts on a precursor website called Always Be Bruce Wayne. On August 11, 2014, I presented one of my mottos “Aim Low”, which focused mainly on health and fitness, but also mentioned many other areas of life, such as  finance, work, gym, studying and reading.

This post is part two: Aim Low 2, Beginner’s Guide, a.k.a. “Just One More”

There will be a more thorough part three in the future, that delves deeper into various areas and expands the number and complexity of easy self improvement advice: Aim Low, Master Class

In fact, that 1-2-3 structure in itself demonstrates the principle of aiming low:

I had a very vague vision from the beginning about writing thoroughly on the topic but chose to ignore it. Instead, I said to myself: “Write just one short article advocating the three easiest and most rewarding mobility exercises”. I aimed low, then wrote just one more (the current one; Aim Low 2), and after that realized I should do just one more (again), some time in the future.

Trying not to get too wordy here, Let’s jump right into the advice:

 

The principle of aiming low

Whatever you do, make it easy to start. If you don’t start you won’t get anywhere. Start with the simplest step possible, then take another one. In a while, the momentum becomes self-sustaining, and getting going doesn’t take any effort at all. Then you have a habit of doing as well as of improving.

I’ve seen suggestions of imprinting habits by repeating them 21 days in a row. That’s probably close enough, but I would still focus on day 1, and then day 2…

 

Indulgence cum discipline

In short, this is the Aim Low, Just One More “formula”:

  • Do it now – whatever it is, do not put it off, not even for a minute. Now. Since you are aiming really low anyway you can start at a second’s notice
  • Just start – going running? Put your shoes on. Aim for a walk around the block. Perhaps another block. Perhaps just a few jogging steps. perhaps run just one block.
  • Just one (arbitrary [small] unit of your choice, in the case of the Aim Low blog post series a unit is a blog post, but it could just as well have been a single paragraph, or just a sentence or a headline) – aim for performing just one unit; one push up, one block, one kilometer/mile, one sentence, one page, one article.
  • Just one more – right when you finish your “just one” unit, make the thought “Ahhh, done. No more” your cue for “Just one more” or maybe just the half or quarter, since you took the trouble to start. It’s the sunk cost fallacy turned into a strength. Further, the “one more” process nulls the anchor effect (since you don’t have an absolute benchmark, just a process of adding one more arbitrary unit).
  • Celebrate every ‘one’. Computer games are built around levels, smaller and bigger levels. Sometimes there are more difficult “bosses” to beat after decimating his easier minions. The bosses are both proof of your skill and help honing it before going to the next level. Life in general and projects in particular are no fun if they are too long and there are no intermediate “bosses”. Celebrate completing a “one”; vanquishing an intermediate game “boss”.
  • Enjoy the process, focus on it, make sure it’s a good process that you like and can be proud of. Good or bad luck can lead to any outcome, independent of the quality of the process, but a good process will always be a good process. And a tautology is always true (straight out of Retard’s Playbook). If the endgame is all that matters, if you shoot exclusively for the moon, then failure is both likely and will be complete. If the process, the investing, the growing.
  • End up where you are heading. The real trick though is to steer in the right long term direction, or you might end up where you are heading. However, only glance at the ultimate goal to not get overwhelmed. Every one should be a reward that makes you want to go for (just) one more.

On moonshots: Don’t (aim to) become so good they can’t ignore you. For one, it’s near impossible for most. Second, you don’t need them anyway if you become that good. A pragmatic strategy must build on leveraging others without having to be nr 1. Be different and good enough, rather than the best. Most important of all, live for you, not for them – in all aspects of life.

 

 

Beginner’s Guide For Aiming Low

  • Hygiene: Wash less. Trust your bacteria. Don’t kill them with solvents, leaving room for new strains. I haven’t used anything but water on my face for 9 months. Apart from the obvious health benefits it saves time too.
  • Sleep: Sleep with your feet sticking out from the bed (cold feet signal time to sleep), lower temperature in the bed room. Meditate for just one minute (or add one more), instead of checking your phone, computer or TV 30 minutes before bedtime. Sleep as dark as possible (aluminum curtains/blinds), neutral spine (harder bed, head aligned with body, i.e. not turned to the side relative the body)
  • Workouts: Variation. Vary the number of sets and rep ranges between workouts and weeks. No extra effort or time required, just vary those two parameters if nothing else.
  • Cardio: Small increments, low threshold. Start by putting your shoes on. That’s enough, but my guess is you’ll want to at least walk around the block once laced up anyway. Always tell yourself, this is the last unit (that fools your brain to release the body’s reserve powers). Then do one more. However, I personally don’t do cardio.
  • Mobility: Hips & Shoulders. Squat, Couch stretch and Morpheus if nothing else. Do it between sets in the gym, when watching TV or waiting for the bus. Zero time consumption. Almost zero effort. Adds years of quality life. And don’t sit in chairs all the time. Stand at work. Sit on the floor at home. For the master class, this one needs some serious elaboration (in the meantime you can check out this old post I wrote a year ago).
  • Brain training: I throw tennis balls for my dog using my left arm during our walks, thoroughly thinking through how to copy the movement of my right arm. No extra effort, no time consumed. Try balancing on one leg with your eyes closed.
  • Variation: use a different store for grocery shopping, take a different path to work
  • Skills: start things, do them wholeheartedly for a while, then quit if boring. Go to Khan Academy. Watch some videos when idle. Start doing some math or programming. Download DuoLingo and try French or Portuguese. Do the exercises whenever you usually would check Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. Make “social media” your cue for “but first, just one minute of skill improvement”
  • Writing: just start, just get to the computer and write one sentence, one headline, then another, then one more, then start filling out the blanks in between. First just write simple words, then whole sentences, then refine them into paragraphs, then make sure they are in a readable order.
  • Meditation: the easiest meditation in the world is lying on your back, with your eyes closed, focusing on your breathing, identifying and feeling every part of the breathing apparatus. In through the nose, out through the mouth. If a thought shows up. Acknowledge it is there and then focus on the breathing again. Nose. Mouth. Nose. Mouth. Move up the meditation ladder, by going through every part of the body starting with just one toe. Can you feel it, can you imagine where it is? Make micro movements, moving a finger just a millimeter or two and notice if your left feels different from your right. Try that instead of being online the last 30 minutes before going to sleep.
  • Mindfulness: Just look/listen/smell/touch anything really thoroughly. What is the texture, what components does that smell have, how does that bird or insect move through the air, what instruments are there in that song
  • Inspiration, knowledge: read a book/article (Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman) or listen to a podcast (TED Radio Hour) by somebody obviously smart or accomplished. Think, really think about the message and its implications. Does it affect you? Should it? How can you apply the same concepts? 
  • Motivation: Don’t be a little bitch. Real people don’t need motivation
  • Happiness: Focus on processes rather than goals. Celebrate periodically. Life should be like a challenging computer game. It can be a little tough sometimes, you fall and pick yourself up, but every now and then you win over an intermediary boss or get to the next level. Celebrate those wins instead of only thinking about some ultimate endgame. Ask yourself “What’s wrong with right now?” and forget about some moonshot dreams. 
  • Productivity: Use a commonplace like Evernote. Write down ideas and ToDos in a structured manner right when they occur. That frees up capacity to move on without risk of losing the idea
  • Studying: Don’t rush it. Understanding takes time. One step at a time. First one, then one more. Construct each level of understanding carefully or you won’t have anything stable to build on later
  • Teaching: Same as studying. No rush. Make it easy by taking very small steps but requiring full understanding
  • Food: Drink omega3 oil and eat beans and leafy greens every day. Everything will improve (incl. less inflammation, speedier recovery from exercise, illness and injury). Also, try fasting every now and then. Personally, I fast for 16 hours every day, and typically work out during the 16th hour. It saves time, prevents inflammation and cancer, and makes use of the body’s positive response to convexity. For the master class, the food advice section will need to be at least as long as the master class mobility advice.
  • Alcohol:

alcohol

  • Sex, pick-ups, relationships: I have no shortcuts, no hacks, no tricks for these, but you could try boosting your testosterone by “power posing” a few minutes when walking the dog, or waiting in line, for the lift or other idle moments
  • Finance: Patience. That’s all. No greed, no fear, no know-it-all advice, just Study, Wait, Pounce
  • Health: Don’t sit. Don’t stand completely still. Apply Convexity in all aspects of life, i.e. explore moderate extremes; the “corners” of life
  • Convexity: Eat/Fast, Contrast Showers, Ice Bath/Sauna, Focus/Relax. Even Drunk/Hangover/Dehydrated/Recovery. The body and brain respond really well to moderate extremes, or “convexity”.

bonus 1: If you aim low, you expect little, and have both a higher likelihood of achieving your goals and attaining happiness

bonus 2: if you aim low, with a focus on growth rather than an endgame, you are more likely to start, and to continue, and maybe actually progress to the very top, while enjoying every step of the way and avoiding feeling empty when finally ‘there’.

Just one more aim low

Just one more…

Summary

Just do one.

Then one more.

To really sum it up: Squat, Beans, Omega3, Bacteria, Cold Feet, Variation, Processes vs. Goals, Meditation/Mindfulness, Use Your Left, Read “Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman” and install Evernote.

P.S. I just found out that Self Improvement Guru James Clear wrote something similar today in Habit Creep

Motivation made simple – how to stay in shape all year round

Who needs inspiration?

Have you tired of the endless stream of motivational sound bites that permeate the social media landscape?

I’m talking about garbage like this:

 

It’s not who you are, it’s where you’re coming from

It’s not where you’re coming from, it’s where you’re going

It’s not who yo are, it’s what you do

It’s not what you do, it’s what you want

Thoughts are nothing, action is everything

Gymspirational quotes are even worse. Always extreme, always focusing on pain and suffering, often presented together with photoshopped pictures of professional models at their peak. Utterly unrelatable. Hopelessly counterproductive. Often just plain wrong.

Are you nevertheless struggling with sticking to your workout schedule?

Are you looking for something more tangible that actually produces results?

This is it: Keep it simple and aim for the smallest possible increment just to get started; the rest comes automatically – and you don’t want to burden your lazy self with that beforehand. Then just add ‘one more’ (of everything), while saying to yourself “that’s why I’m here” and “the other guy is more tired”. More below.

Jedi mind tricks to stay motivated

I don’t consider myself ‘motivated’ or ‘disciplined’. I don’t strategically plan out productive habits. I never thought I even needed motivation or inspiration. I just am. However, thinking hard enough about it, I’ve realized I do use a couple of jedi mind tricks.

This is me today, preparing to go under the snow; just sitting back without flexing or minding the camera in any way. My face wouldn’t look like that if I did.

This is my winter shape. No filter, no photoshop, just a still from a cell phone video. I never intended this as a form picture, I was just goofing around with my dog. However, apparently, I am in shape. All year round.

This is how I do it.

Washboard abs in snow

 

The hacker’s guide to minimalist weight training

As a twelve year old, I thought physical fitness was obsolete, something for cave men. The future would belong to brains, not brawn. I was too busy charging high interest rates for small, short-term danish loans, and programming simple but addictive computer games (imagine angry birds but 1984 and a little less money involved).

Then I saw the movie Rocky IV (1984) with Sylvester Stallone – and started tormenting my tiny arms with lead weights from an old mechanical clock.

As a 14-year old I commenced my ninja training, later complemented with kickboxing and taekwondo. I kept pumping iron on the side, and when I started working, I abandoned martial arts. It was too difficult to attend all scheduled classes, so I thought I’d just stay in shape in the gym, until I could resume my taekwondo education.

I’ve been a regular at the gym for over 30 years, trying everything: high reps, low reps, long sessions, short sessions, light weights, heavy weights, basic compound movements, strange esoteric muscle concentration exercises and so on. I’ve been very thin (54kg/119 lbs) and quite heavy (100kg / 220 lbs) for my height (183 cm / 6″0). I think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to weight training (for happy amateurs with limits regarding time and motivation)

The world’s simplest exercise schedule for a strong and fit body

This is my current weight lifting program:

Day 1: Bench press + Dead lift

Day 2: Rest

Day 3: Bench press + Squat

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: Squat + Dead lift

Day 6: Rest

Repeat

How to periodize

Okay, there is a little more to it… But the above is the important part, the one that makes me progressively stronger. And just because it looks so simple and limited, I always walk lightly to the gym.

Notice how I train each movement X, X, rest, X, X, rest, X, X, rest…

To improve the effects of the program, I train heavier on each first ‘X’ and lighter on the second ‘X’: heavy X, light X, rest, heavy X, light X, rest… I also periodize the weeks: heavier week, lighter week, heavier week, lighter week… Depending on how your body feels, you can go heavy, heavy, light or heavy, light, light as well.

Sets and reps? approximately 3-4 reps per set, but it’s okay to experiment with other number of reps occasionally. Aim for around 6 work sets (not counting warm-up sets); sometimes as few as 4, sometimes as many as 8. It depends on how many you can do with good form and still stick to the program the next session.

Weights? A rough guide is to aim for around 85% of your 1RM (1-rep maximum, i.e., the maximum weight you can just barely clear for one repetition). Spend most of the time around 77.5% – 82.5%, gradually increase toward 85%. After two months you could try some 1-rep sets on 90% of your old 1RM.

If you’re interested in setting a new personal best, rest (only lift very few sets and reps at just 50% of 1RM) for a week after about three months. Then warm up and just go for it.

Oh, did I mention you probably should add some lighter, complementary exercises (CE) to the basic compound exercises above?

I do two CEs per session. I do 4 sets of 8 reps, making sure I could have done 1-2 more reps per set. You should not get exhausted by the CEs, neither physically, nor mentally.

These are my six CEs: chin-ups, pendlay bar rows, overhead press, dips, biceps curls, hamstring curls. I do chins and hamstrings on Day 1, Rows and biceps on Day 3 and press and dips on Day 5.

The entire program thus looks like this (but you really should think about it like the simple 2-exercise program above):

Day 1: heavy Bench press 6*3 + light Dead lift 8*4 + Chins (non-failure 4*8) + Hamstrings (non-failure 4*8)

Day 2: Rest

Day 3:  light Bench press 8*4 + heavy Squat 6*3 + Rows (non-failure 4*8) + Biceps (non-failure 4*8)

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: light Squat 8*4 + heavy Dead lift 6*3 + Press (non-failure 4*8) + Dips (non-failure 4*8)

Day 6: Rest

Repeat (and alternate more straining weeks with lighter weeks) 

 

Increase % of old 1RM from 77.5% at the lightest to 90% at the heaviest after 2 months. Rest for a week at the end of month 3, if you want to try a new personal best.

 

But how do I get to the gym at all?!

The first trick is to have as simple a workout schedule as possible. Check

The second trick is to aim low. No even lower.

Fool yourself by saying “I’ll just go to the gym and walk on the tread mill, then get back home.” If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon be increasing the speed and getting your sweat on. You just as well might, since you’ve bothered to go to the gym. It’s the sunk cost fallacy turned into a motivational tool.

After that you’ll say to yourself “I just can’t lift heavy weights today, but I could do some light exercises with just the bar… or perhaps 45 lbs…, maybe just try 90 lbs…, maybe I can do just one work set on 80% of 1RM… or two…, just one more“.

I often want to quit right in the middle of a set and go home. At that point I say to myself “just one more rep, that’s why you’re here“, then “just one more set, a short one”, and “I could do just one easy set in the last exercise on the program”…, “perhaps just one more set” and so on.

It’s not really discipline or motivation; it’s almost the opposite. I keep telling myself to cheat, to go home, to just do one of something I was supposed to do 8 of. But I always end up doing it all, since my body of course can take it. It’s just “me” that is weak.

As a final jedi mind trick, I told my thai boxing girlfriend to always imagine that “the other guy is even more exhausted, more off balance, more afraid”.

Whatever negative feeling you are experiencing when exerting yourself, turn it into a source of strength by remembering that the other guy is also just human and more fazed than you are – in particular considering you have this powerful mantra.

 

PS: You can see the whole snow movie prepping here – not entirely clear why you would want to, but I would get the satisfaction of more views:

Come on! Explain those abs you sad old (43) desk jockey!

I will, if you promise to subscribe to updates and off-site material by providing your e-mail address. Or even better, share this post with a friend who might be interested.

Okay, busted, I’ve done around 50 crunches (or similar) two times a week for most of my exercise history. It’s unclear whether that explains it, or if it’s core strength from the heavy compound exercises. Do as you wish with that. Just remember that we all have sixpacks under the fat.

For the cost of one e-mail address I’ll tell you my specific abs exercises as well:

1. V crunches (often 20+15+10 with 10 seconds rest between sets)

2. Plank (1-2 minutes, directly after my crunches; no rest)

3. Hanging straight leg raises (e.g., 3 sets of 10-20)

4. Ordinary ab crunches or side crunches

Pick one or two exercises two-three times a week, and do a total of 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps each session. Aim for 100 reps/week. It’s a lot but not excessive. That’s how I did it.

abs sixpack exercises