Party Failure

Courtesy of RyanMorgan.ca

“STOP CELEBRATING FAILURE!”

The headline above a recent article from BusinessInsider.com grabbed my attention immediately. Having fallen short a lot, as we all do, I wondered what premise the author may be starting from.

Is it better to forget it?

I’ve seen some say so, but that invites more mistakes and misguided decisions. Blowing off unsavory outcomes could lead us to repeat the same action in search of a different result. As my pastor and mentor Steve Clifford once told me, “Sometimes wisdom is not putting your hand back in the fire.”

Really, though, who throws a party when things go wrong?

The key is to avoid mourning for an extended period or being possessed by shame and disappointment. Even the author admits what is occurring is “a wider appreciation that failure is an inherent part of innovation and taking risks,” an undercurrent of acceptance the prime demands of this web-enabled generation — better and faster — require more defeats than victories.

What is actually happening, then, is the abolition of perfectionism.

The idea is to allow people to come up short and do so openly, to brush aside the embarrassment and take another shot…and another….and another…and another, if necessary.

Further, encouraging people to make an effort engenders a spirit of cohesiveness, in which it is much less “easy for us to point fingers, to find blame, to gleefully critique the things that went wrong,” as Seth Godin writes in his new book Poke the Box. When everyone is allowed to swing for the fences, everyone is going to strike out more — but everyone will support each other more, too.

We walk a fine line in creating a culture which accepts failure “just right.”

Facilitating experimentation — giving people the freedom to explore uncommon concepts and create based on them — inevitably leads to dead ends and discouragement from time to time. Become too lax and the whole venture goes down the tube without any wins.

Making the most of undesired results, squeezing every lesson about the wrong (and right) out for future application, expands the possibility for a major breakthrough — one that will, with persistence and consistency, certainly arrive.

Then we throw the party.

After all, there is a time to celebrate failure: when we’ve succeeded.

Strain to Gain

Courtesy of SportTalk.com.au

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

The macho T-shirts could not be more incorrect.

What is intended as a powerful metaphor for working through obstacles has become a mantra inviting injury.

Pain is an indicator of danger — life threatening danger.

The truth is, the most effective tool for development is strain.

It is the adaptation to an uncomfortable stimulus which stretches us beyond current boundaries, not jumping to the next plateau before we are remotely prepared.

Pushing to the edge leaves us expanded, similar to the joint aches associated with a growth spurt.

In this manner, we move improve inch by inch instead of breaking in two.

Weakness leaves the body by degrees over time.

Strain tests and builds capacity. Pain exceeds it.

Variety Shows

Courtesy of MyScienceProject.org

Switching things up is a key to peak performance in any arena — sports or entertainment, business or life.

The benefits of changing an established routine are manifold. When it comes to fitness, doing so is a necessity. The body is always searching for the most efficient way to perform a given activity.

In order to reach the sort of elite level we all seek (if only deep down), we have to unlock ourselves from the chains of a memorized — and therefore easier — program.

I have a hard time doing this.

I enjoy running. I get some miles in six days most weeks, testing my cardiorespiratory system and relieving stress, to a lesser extent. As much as I hate to admit it, such repetition can eventually do more harm than good.

I’ll get bored.

I’ll get injured.

Thankfully, I know better.

Yesterday, my brother, sister-in-law and I did our monthly measurements. This includes weight and waist-to-hip ratios, as usual, but I added another wrinkle for myself:

I decided to perform an experiment over the next four weeks and abandon distance running.

Early in the evening, I ran 1.56 miles in 9:38. Using math to project this across the traditional 2.4km test, I covered the appropriate distance in 9:12, averaging 6:08 per mile.

Why did I do this, you ask?

This set a baseline for me in terms of Maximal Aerobic Speed and VO2 max, a pair of intertwined indicators of a person’s ability to take in and distribute oxygen during exercise. Generally speaking, higher ratings equate to the ability go farther and faster.

I’m curious about improving fitness with less traditional endurance workouts, a concept I’ve read about but have yet to really attempt myself. I plan to use regiments based on building agility and speed while putting the heart to work. The idea is to create an all-around program built on the intervals I already use, substituting other exercises for out-and-out running to get the desired effect.

In short, I’m going to get back to basics.

Squats.

Mountain climbers.

Lunges.

T-sprints.

On April 10th, I’ll retest and see what variety shows.

The Can Do Man

Courtesy of KVOA.com

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
John Wooden

I love to cook, but have a hard time boiling eggs.

Over the years, I’ve tested every method I could find to make them.

The internet has been a bust.

Food Network was no help, either.

If the Queen of England came over tomorrow and wanted one for dinner, we’d be ordering in.

For someone who enjoys being in the kitchen as much as I do, this is a bit distressing. How can I consider myself a decent cook if one of the most basic tasks eludes me?

I am frustrated by this fact until I remember what I am able to do.

Chocolate chip pancakes with blueberries.

Scallop and shrimp salad.

Pork tenderloin medallions with asparagus.

All of these dishes are palatable, to say the least. Why be concerned about something else?

The best use of my time — for myself or anyone else — is the things I do well.

Something about the American ethos glorifies the idea of turning weakness into strength. The legendary figures of this culture are perceived as heroes for rising above all that would hold them back.

Guided by this assumption, we come to believe triumph is rooted in overcoming faults.

Most of the time, it’s quite the opposite.

Success, in any walk of life, is about leveraging what we do really well to create the desired result. All of us have done so — and will continue to — time and time again.

Greatness is the repeated expression and magnification of skill. Attempting to improve lesser talents takes time away from the pursuit of excellence in those that matter.

And, if we’re not careful, what we cannot do keeps us from doing what we can.

The Theory of Change

Courtesy of CBC.ca

I wanted to know how to spend $100 million.

Provoked by the teaser on the cover, I opened a recent issue of Inc. magazine to see how such a large sum of money might help education.

Inspired by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s recent donation to the Newark school system, the author tackled the inherent challenges to reforming education guided by an entrepreneurial mindset.

What it comes down to is the “theory of change.”

This is “a set of beliefs about the best strategy to produce a desired outcome.” Organizations of all kinds — industrial, political, religious — operate under basic assumptions about how results are achieved. In fact, it’s most accurate to say they are defined by these ideas; membership grows based on how many people identify themselves with this or that method for making a difference.

If these central concepts are absent, it is nearly impossible to get anything going.

An agreed-upon approach is the foundation for decision-making, it creates the boundaries for what will be done to reach a stated goal. Used properly, it streamlines the process for advancing from stage to stage.

This is true of people, too. How we go about moving from one station in life to the next — if we ever do — is a function of the perspective we have on tactics.

And, being human, we often cling tightly to what we’re comfortable with, continuing to work furiously despite our efforts having questionable impact.

What must be done to change how we think about changing?

Do we allocate more resources (money, information, time)?

How about taking different action? Is simply doing that enough?

Can it be identified without the 20-20 prism of hindsight?

What, if anything, can be deemed necessary without argument?

It takes commitment.

Early returns do not a revolution make. Challenges are bound to arise when steering a new course. Just overcoming the momentum built traveling the old way is a task unto itself — one which must be completed before going full speed in another direction.

Determination, then, is a component.

It also takes patience.

Change, for the most part, is a gradual process spread over days, months and years. Though we find ourselves frustrated and overwhelmed when it takes a while for everything to coalesce, steadiness of spirit and the willingness to persevere are necessary to witness anything bear fruit.

Regardless of how we anticipate change occurring, we can be certain of one thing:

Deeply-held belief and inspired effort will be harnessed over time to create the hoped-for conclusion.

So Easy a Caveman Can Diet

Courtesy of FoxNews.com

“What does Paleo mean?”

When I discuss the changes I’ve made to the way I eat or when I post pictures of my culinary efforts on Facebook, this is typically the first question.

The premise is pretty straightforward, our DNA has only undergone minor changes in the last 10,000 years — or, put another way, our genes have been essentially the same for anywhere from 200,000 to 4 million years — and our bodies are best suited to operate on foods present before few millenia.

I try to be brief, but often wander into an explanation of evolution and human physiology.

I love discussing the simple mechanisms built in to the body and how we can use them for our greatest benefit. My hands move around constantly, grabbing and stacking and transporting imaginary packets of nutrients in front of my audience. I jump from topic to topic in an effort to create a full, coherent picture of the elegant symphony governing our lives and making this hunk of meat a worthwhile host for our magnificent souls.

In the end, people want to know something basic:

“What did you change?”

“Everything” seems an appropriate, if intimidating, reply.

That said, it’s also inaccurate.

Redefining a lifestyle often seems more colossal than it really is, whether in the way we eat or how we move or what we think. Monumental change is the result of basic choices magnified by the effect of repetition over time.

If someone is giving up cigarettes, they decide against lighting up for an extended period. That’s it. Eventually, the desire goes away. There are some physical and emotional challenges in the process, of course, but they are overcome as long as the individual refrains from reaching for a pack of Marlboros and a lighter.

With that in mind, eating like a caveman is built on three simple principles:

1. Shift sugar
Candy and other substances loaded with refined sugar are put aside, obviously, as well as grains (read: bread, rice, pasta) and high-starch vegetables like potatoes and corn join them. In addition, fruits take on less importance. These foods spike blood sugar and unbalance the complex harmony of our endocrine system.

The idea is to consume carbohydrates which have a diminished effect on insulin — a hormone that wreaks all sorts of havoc when unregulated. By managing glycemic load (the amount of glucose in our blood after a meal) better, biochemical processes for fat storage and inflammation are blocked, decreasing the likelihood of a range of cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke.

2. Lean protein
Our ancestors were, generally, hunters dining on whatever creatures they managed to track down. Though this has predominantly meant fish for a large portion of human history, the prized portions of land-based animals were organ meats — the heart and liver, for example. These tissues have a fairly low fat content and deliver necessary amino acids into our system with little difficulty.

In modern days, we are more accustomed to turkey breast than deer innards (which may be our loss). Regardless, the optimal proteins improve tissue strength and rebuilding, whether in muscle, bone or elsewhere.

3. Finding fat
Though lipids have been demonized over the last few decades, they act as the building blocks for much more than the excess weight we carry around our waists and thighs. The key is to take them in with proper measures of omega-6 and omega-3 varieties. Some of this will come from fish, as is often seen in the news, yet other products — oils (olive, flax, e.g.) and nuts (almonds and walnuts), mainly — help us to achieve the kind of balance we seek.

In the short term, this creates a feeling of satisfaction lasting much longer after mealtime. Further, as days eating like this become weeks, energy is used with greater efficiency, producing a cascade of wide-ranging positive effects — everything from a slimmer waist to better sleep and quicker recovery from exercise.

Better food fuels peak performance.

Why do we put gasoline in our cars instead of coal?

Because it’s what the engines are designed to run on.

Doesn’t it make sense to do the same with our bodies?

Once you understand, it’s easy to be like a caveman.

The Laws of Defeat

Courtesy of BFeedMe.com


Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.
Muhammad Ali

The Old School tells us to learn from failure.

“Identify the wrong turns,” they advise, “and then make them right the next time.” Retrace every step, analyze the mistakes and use them as an advantage in the future.

The New School says we ought to disregard breakdowns altogether.

“Forget it,” they shout, “there’s little use in remembering what’s been done poorly.” Better to wipe away any trace of a shortfall than hang it around our neck.

The truth is, of course, somewhere in between.

On the one hand, there is tremendous value in understanding which choices led to an undesired result. By picking apart the thinking behind each decision — and, in some cases, the information which shaped it — we are able to leverage similarities between yesterday and today to produce better outcomes tomorrow.

That said, the ability to compartmentalize those shortcomings — to keep them in the past — is vital going forward. Too much analysis can lead to an unnatural fear of opportunity. The burden of knowledge may have us avoid the very element which defines any success: risk.

What once was solid — our values and goals — is cast into doubt.

Rising from the ashes is confusing, it plays on our emotions and wreaks havoc on our perceptions.

Ultimately, losing affects our will more than anything else, so we must strike a fine balance.

Facing setbacks can diminish our spirit. Embarrassment or shame may leave us sensitive to the possibility of stepping into the arena again.

Or, having been stung by bitter disappointment, we are all the more prepared to sense and seize the next opening with all the energy we can muster.

That’s how we end up with a knock out.



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