Saturday, March 8, 2014

Love is a Choice

In the middle of a long conversation with a very good friend the other day, I had the chance to discuss love; what it is, what it means, falling in love and falling out of love.  I think my take on love is a bit different from the things most people believe, and so, for your consideration, I will briefly attempt to do what has often been deemed impossible, and define love.

Let's start with what love isn't.  That feeling you get that says "wow, I need to meet that girl, she's cute, she's hot!"  Not love.  Its just lust, and there is nothing wrong with it, but love has nothing to do with our sex organs, for all that we like to call it "making love."  Perhaps you'll tell me I'm being to harsh - its not just the good looks, its that he's sensitive, sweet, smart, and on and on and on.  That's also not love - really just curiosity.  Or maybe you're the emotional type, sure that your destined in the stats to have a deep, meaningful life-long connection with your soul-mate.  Again, not love - romance at best, infatuation and escapism at worst.  These things are not love - nor are obedience, sweet words, tender glances and soft kisses.  All wonderful -but not love.

Now some of you will say - Murphy, you're missing it.  Love is the desire to put someone else's well-being and happiness above your own, its the feeling that you want to do everything and anything to give the loved one the best possible life.  For those who say that, you, too, are wrong.  In fact, love is not a desire, feeling or emotion at all.

Love is not the desire to put another's interest above your own.  Love is...actually doing that!  Love is the choice, the constant decision, to do whatever your are capable of, and more, to insure the happiness and success of another person.  It is the active prevention of harm to that person, even the harm they would do to themselves, even the harm they don't see as harm.  Love is an active thing, a doing, a constant effort for the good of another.  Not an emotion, not a feeling.  Rather, a choice, and following through on that choice with action.

I hate it when people say they "fall in love," as if it was an open manhole cover in the street.  You choose to love.  And please don't ever tell me that you have "fallen out of love."  Own your decision - if you don't love anymore, its because you chose not to.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Heavy Lifting

I once read a post on a fitness forum, a thing I seem to be doing a lot of lately.  I don't recall the exact wording, but it contained a quote from some body builder or other, something like:

Everybody wants the body of a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift the damned heavy weights.

Now, this quote was given, as it was a fitness forum, to support the proposition that in order to build muscle and cut fat, one must lift weights, and lift heavy - low weight and high reps just won't cut it.  This is a proposition that, incidentally, I agree with, but that is beyond the scope of this post.  Rather, that quote contains wisdom for all of life's endeavors, as well as a spot on assessment as to why so many people never achieve their goals.  Everyone wants (insert accomplishment or goal here), but nobody wants to do the hard work it takes to get there.

We live in a culture literally overflowing with laziness and entitlement.  Never in human history has so much been given to so many in exchange for so little effort.  Kids need good grades to boost their "self-esteem," and instead of pushing them harder to earn higher marks, we lower the curve, make the tests easier, and then pat them on the back as congratulations for their new-found intellectual excellence.  Men want to find a supermodel-beautiful woman who rocks a miniskirt, is a tiger in the sack, and cranks out gourmet meals; but they never want to do the things necessary to make themselves attractive to such a woman, like taking care of the body, finding and keeping business and generating an income, and putting something inside the brain besides video game cheat codes (as Ice-T once said, "Wash your ass, do some sit-ups, read a book").  Women, of course, want a strong, sensitive man who will earn money, spend lots of time with the family, take care of all the problems, always listen to her, and say all the right things: it never occurs to them that a man like that will be looking for more than an occasional roll in the hay and an earful of bile each time Pwincess is displeased, about anything.  Without regard to gender, race, age or anything else, people almost universally want money (or enough to live comfortably), power (enough to get others to do the things one wants them to do), and fame (or recognition of what a great damned human being one is).

More than that, and here comes an even worse aspect of the problem, society fills peoples heads with the idea that all of these goodies are a right, rather than things to be earned through blood, sweat, tears, strength, determination, and prudent decision-making.  How many times I have heard someone say to a friend "you deserve better," or worse, "I deserve better."  But do you really deserve better?  Here is the news flash: Your mere existence as a human being on Planet Earth entitles you to precisely - nothing.  You are not entitled to love, respect, caring, consideration, a certain standard of living, or in fact, even to life itself.

If you want heads to turn when you walk down the street, put down the cheeseburger and hit the gym - we tell one another that all varieties of the human form are beautiful, but deep down, we all know that is a lie.  If you want someone to respect you for your mind, do something other than watch TV and burn up the Playstation - perhaps read a book?  If you want the high-life, put in the hours, use money wisely, and make it happen.  Do the heavy lifting - nobody else can do it for you.  Even if you just want life itself, you must guard your health like the treasure it truly is - work at it.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that this culture of entitlement we've created is really just a trick we play on ourselves.  While we tell each other that we are fine just the way we are, that people should accept us for us, and that we should be able to have it all; on some level, we all know that this is not real life.  But instead of doing the heavy lifting, we are clever about maintaining the slothful status quo.  We just lower our expectations of ourselves!  I actually know grown men content to earn minimum wage and spend the rest of their days sitting on their asses playing video games or watching sports.  I know women who languish in the grip of second-rate men, because they are second-rate themselves, and too inert to require more of themselves, and more for themselves.  And our young people have seen and taken these life-killing habits as their own, right down to their cores.

I am entitled to nothing.  If I want respect, I must make myself worthy of respect.  If I want love, I must become the type of person who inspires love.  Its fine to demand more from others, but first, let's demand more of ourselves.  Let's all do the heavy lifting.


Friday, January 24, 2014

HIIT and the Big Three

Those who know me, or have read anything I've written, know that I believe in giving one's best efforts to everything one does.  This commitment should extend to the effort to become, or remain, physically fit.  This is where ideals smack heads with reality for many people.  Becoming fit, or maintaining optimal fitness, requires intense physical activity, for much more than just a few minutes, every day of the week.  I've built a life that allows me one to two hours per day in the gym, most days.  Not everyone has done so.  So the question is, with severely limited workout time, how to make the most of that time?  Some suggestions follow.

High Intensity Interval Training - or HIIT, is one way to get a very, very good workout in a small amount of time.  It consists, at the most basic level, of several cycles, each one a period of intense cardio followed by a period of somewhat less intensive cardio.  When I need a quick, intense workout, I'll do five cycles - 200 paces at a sprint, followed by 100 paces of jogging.  The whole process is 20 minutes, door-to-door, and the workout is enough to push my (middle-aged, still in progress) body to its limits.  For those more advanced in fitness, step it up to whatever exhausts you.  For beginners or the overweight, jog 100 paces followed by walking 100 paces, to start.  Studies have shown HIIT to be better for fat loss and cardiovascular conditioning than straight running, treadmills, or any other commonly used form of cardio.  As little as 20 minutes per day can deliver measurable results.

When it comes to fat loss, eating properly in the right amounts is by far the most important factor.  After that, resistance training (weight lifting) is king.  There are a few lifts, I call The Big Three, which provide, again,measurable results in less time expended.

Bench Press - the bench press has to be one of the best all-around lifts for results you can see, and fast.  It is mechanically simple to perform, and works all of the large muscles of your upper body to one extent or another.  Strength develops first, the chest forms up, and if you are lifting enough, with short enough rest periods between sets, you will get your heart rate up.  For someone, like me, who smoked cigarettes for twenty-five years before getting serious about health and quitting (and therefore, like it or not, suffers from some level of COPD), the bench press opens up the chest and rib cage, giving the lungs room to expand and helping alleviate breathing difficulties.  I do five sets of ten, with enough weight that I can't push an eleventh, with as little rest as I can manage between sets.  Benefits: significant.  Time Elapsed: 10-15 minutes.

Dead Lifts - dead lifts, are, basically, picking a heavy object up off the ground, putting it back down, and repeating several times.  Squat down with your back straight, pick up the barbell, stand up, then put it back down.  This simple exercise tests all of the body's large muscles, and is easy to learn.  While I think the dead lift is focused on the big muscles in your legs and ass, I also feel it in my arms and shoulders, and the tightening of the abs and back muscles required to keep the back straight stimulates the muscles there as well.  Again, five sets of 10, each heavy enough to push you to failure, with minimal rest.  Around 10-15 minutes to work a lot of muscle.

Squats - to me, similar to dead lifts, but even better.  If I only had time in a day to do one lift, I'd do squats. When I do them, I "feel the burn" in my calves, thighs, glutes, arms, chest and shoulders.  the same tightening of the abs and back is required, so you work the gut at the same time.  While you do need to be in a gym for this, as it requires some particular equipment to perform; for most people, a specialized rack or a machine; it is well worth the hike to the place.  Grip the bar and place atop shoulders, squat down as far as you can with a straight back, and stand up.  Sets and weight as described above for the other lifts, and you have almost a total body workout.  10-15 minutes investment.

Lack of time should not be an excuse for failure to care for your body.  Considering the benefits of being fit, we don't have time not to.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Give

"...they gave, even beyond their ability."  - 2 Corinthians 8:30

"Give blood...but don't expect to ever see reward."  - Pete Townshend

Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine; a woman, with whom I have been acquainted for something like thirty years.  This particular conversation, as with so many of my conversations with this particular friend, focused on what she considers a strange conflict in my personality, and in fact, in my life.

On the one hand, I spend a very large amount of my time tending to the needs of others.  I have a busy law practice, dedicated to solving other people's problems, and providing the sole means of support for a wife, two children, and three step-children.  I am also the only cook in the family, the driver, the homework coach, the liaison to schools and doctors, the disciplinarian;  basically, I am responsible for everything except cleaning the house and doing the dishes.  It is a very busy, stressful schedule, and my efforts go, as often as not, unappreciated.

On the other hand, my friend finds unbelievable, and even distasteful, my seeming lack of emotional content about all of this.  The lack of gratitude doesn't particularly bother me, nor do I have any very strong emotions about the things I do.

My friend, as I said, finds this part of me hard to deal with.  She is particularly bothered by my seeming lack of emotion, or "shallow affect," as some may describe it.  Friend or not, she uses words like "narcissist" to describe me, and has suggested I need psychiatric care.  This all stems from the fact that I am not particularly emotional, don't tumble ass-over-teakettle for "wub sweet wub," and don't care much about discussing feelings; mine, yours, or anyone else's.  I told my friend that the feeling I am concerned about is the feeling of being useful, to society, my family and myself.  She told me that "a pencil sharpener is useful," and that "lack of emotion is a cancer."  My initial response was that those statements rank among the most ignorant, benighted phrases ever uttered.

Out of deference for a thirty year friendship with someone I respect, I kept my peace, initially.  I ruminated (yes, I do that) over these comments for a few weeks, in an attempt not to give short shrift to the opinion of a valued friend, and generally to prevent thinking that I am right about everything (narcissist and all).  After much thought, I reached a conclusion.

I was right.  Her opinion on the matter is ignorant and benighted (no offense, please, love) and reflects an elevation of feelings over practical results that I find horrific, and all too common in today's society.

I believe that, to the extent our lives can be said to have a purpose, that purpose consists in being as helpful and useful as one can be. Those with ability are morally required to make the most of it.  Those with great ability must use it do to great things, for themselves and for others.  A person's value lies precisely in how much they give to others, and how much they make of their natural talents.  Success is measured in time, money, care, support and aid given, and in pushing oneself to one's limits.  If what you have is needed somewhere, give it.  Utility is my purpose, and yours, too, whether you know it or don't know it.  I may not be a nice fellow, but I am certainly useful.

Would I, then, be a better person if I had all sorts of good feelings about myself, based on the gratitude of others, those on whose behalf I act?  Would I be morally better if I was motivated by a deep love of all humanity, rather than merely to make the most of my skills and live up to my own ideals?  Would I be more psychologically healthy if I gave more thought to how my actions make people feel, and less to what I actually contribute, in a practical , measurable sense, to their lives?

I think not.

In fact, I'd be a worse person.  People ruled by emotion try to help, but the trying isn't what matters in the end.  As long a people feel good that someone tried, the emotional among us feel they have done something.  But they haven't.  If I can make your life better, I've done something, whether you feel happy about it, and whether you appreciate it.  If I've done something to make things better, about your appreciation and my "feel goods" I don't give a damn.  Which is more important, the transitory emotions or the concrete results?  Results, every time.

Moreover, the highly emotional are often motivated by the desire to have recognition for their efforts, the gratitude of those they help, and the internal glow of being a "good person."  In other words, they are helping others for what it does for themselves.  This makes such a person a selfish bastard on the same level as me. Why is your desire to feel oh, so noble, better than my desire to feel useful?  Perhaps the reader can guess my answer.

So, those who so choose, may continue wasting time talking about the feelings which drive your life, and which you believe I lack.  I'll remain a pencil sharpener.  You can continue being depressed about how unappreciated you are.  I'll continue doing what I can do.  I wish you happiness and fulfillment, however you measure it.  As for my feelings, I'll keep them in my own way, and to myself.  I'll live happily with the so-called "cancer" that is their absence.

Give.  Give blood, sweat, tears, and more than you think you can, more than you are able.  Expect no gratitude, recognition or reward.  Using your abilities to the fullest is both the means and the end.  Giving is its own reward.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

If It Feels Comfortable, You're Doing It Wrong

It applies to life, and everything in it.  For some reason, these days it seems that everybody wants things to be easy, comfortable, soft, and fun.  But no true satisfaction has ever come from that.  The only true happiness comes from continually challenging yourself to improve, conquer, rise above, and get better at everything you do.

First of all, it should be self evident that in order to really feel joy, you have to be "in the game," that is, an active participant in your life.  For example, think about that pleasure you feel when the Bears (or your team of choice) win a game.  Certainly, it pales in comparison to the joy felt by those men who went out there and gave there best for four, brutal, bone-crushing quarters, and came away victorious.

So, to really get the most from life, you need to be in the game, whatever game that is.  The second link in the chain should be equally obvious - losing sucks.  Sure, it is gratifying to give your best, and to push yourself - we all know this.  Still, find me one person, just one, who will say they prefer losing to winning.  Such a person does not exist, and if he did, I wouldn't want to know him.

Are we on the same page?  Life requires you to be an active participant, not sit around and player-hate from the sidelines.  But what to do when you've reached the absolute top in your particular game.  Most would suggest retire, and rest on your laurels.  This is wrong.  You must find a new game to dominate.  You must continually be trying to succeed, to get better, to improve, in some way.  In every way relevant to your life.

A moment's thought shows this all to be true, in every aspect of your life.  Did you finally get that promotion?  Now its time to be the best you can be in the new job, and start angling for the next promotion.  Has your relationship fallen into a comfortable, but somewhat boring routine?  Time to up your game, or you're looking at divorce court. Did you just complete a marathon?  The Ironman beckons.  There is always a next step to take, always a better time to run, always more you can do for the ones you love, always something new to learn and try to master.

Never be comfortable.  Always push yourself.

When you're failing, keep pushing until you succeed.  When you're succeeding, keep pushing more until you fail. Repeat until you die.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Maria Kang and "Fat Shaming"

Recently, I had the opportunity to read about a young woman, very into fitness, who had her Facebook account banned as "hate speech," after being accused by many readers as having engaged in "fat-shaming."  Her website can be found at www.mariakang.com

Now, I don't want anyone kind enough to be reading this stuff I write to get their proverbial panties in a bunch.  I used to be very overweight, and at 40, decided to start taking better care of my health.  While I still have a way to go before running a marathon, I think reading my previous post will tell you how I feel fit vs. fat.  Fit is better for me, in every way, though I suppose, your mileage may vary.

What I want to talk about is the almost volcanic level of anger that spews forth from people when they feel they are, for any reason, being "shamed."  In my humble opinion, this is absolute nonsense.  Shaming is a tried and true technique, used by parents, teachers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and importantly, society as a whole, since time immemorial, to encourage those acting irresponsibly to straighten up and fly right.

In a world where we, as a culture, are celebrating mediocrity, permitting terrible behavior, and teaching that everyone has a right to "self-esteem" whether they have done anything to be proud of or not, we need to be willing to send out large doses of shame to all of those lacking responsibility and discipline in their lives.

Unearned self-esteem is a plague upon us, and leads to sickness, poverty, ignorance, sloth, criminality, and a host of other ills.  Earned self-esteem, on the other hand, is in short supply, and a sense of shame can encourage those who lack genuine self-esteem to go out and earn some.

Long live shaming, and long live Maria Kang, and others dedicated to helping us become the best we can be!




Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Building a Healthy Body

"Mens sana in corpore sano." - Juvenal

The above quote, "a sound mind in a sound body," expresses one of the core values one should have, if one hopes to lead a successful life.  Today I want to say something about the "sound body" portion of the equation.  There are really three keys to getting results while trying to build a sound body, which, if you read my previous post, you can see is something I am focusing on right now.  Results so far have been good, and I'm getting to the point where my opinion on the topic may have some value.  Anyway - three keys:

1) Train - every day - as hard as you can

I keep detailed records of my training activity each day, and I have been able to go through those notes, and offer some suggestions based on my experience. Lift weights every day - every day - until you can't lift any more.  I have dozens of different exercises to choose from each day, although the foundation of them are complex exercises that work the bigger muscles of the body, like deadlifts, farmer's carries and squats.  Change it up every day - some days I go for a smaller number of reps and sets lifting as much weight as I can, and some days slightly lower weight in as many sets and reps as I can do.  I never do the identical set of exercises on any given day, as giving your body a new and unexpected challenge each day seems to be the way to build useful strength and physical capability.  While weight lifting is by far the most important part of building a strong, fit, useful body (and I am now lifting for no less than two hours each day) it is also useful to work cardio, stretching, and various sports and activities into the workout schedule.  When your head hits the pillow at night, you should have nothing left.

2) "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." - Michael Pollan

This statement, I think, sums up a common sense eating plan.  As I noted in a prior post, for about a year I followed a pure vegetarian diet.  I no longer do this, as I'm not sure that it can support my nutritional needs while I am engaged in a very heavy amount of physical activity.  However, vegetables are still the vast majority of what I eat, especially the green leafies, and the legumes for protein.  I'll also eat eggs, and high quality meats from time to time, for the protein and the sheer enjoyment.  Most important is this - no fast food, nothing processed, nothing you didn't make yourself, as Mr. Pollan, from the quote above, said - "nothing your great-grandparents wouldn't recognize as food.  This is particularly important if you are training as hard as you should - because you will eat a lot more - a lot more - when lifting hard and heavy, you need to make sure that what you put in your mouth is only the highest quality fuel.

3) Get your ZZZZZZZs

There can be no doubt that getting adequate sleep allows your body to rebuild, develop, and grow, and that sleeping well is absolutely necessary to good health.  For years, I took pride in the fact that I only needed four or five hours of sleep per night, thinking that it allowed me to accomplish much more with my time.  The result, though, was that I was not as effective while awake, and lost a lot of time to illness and other manifestations of poor health.  Now, my body needs a solid eight hours, and I make damned sure I get it.  In doing so, I find that I have more than adequate energy for my work, my training, my family, and all the other things I love to spend my time on.

Train hard, eat well, rest up.  A simple plan that yields significant benefits.  Other than losing weight, increasing muscle mass, having more energy, normalizing my blood pressure, reducing my resting heart rate from 95 a year and an half ago to below 70 now (I am 43 years old), completely curing my acid reflux, I should also note - I haven't so much as suffered one day from even a cold or flu in months now.

Its never too late to start on the road to good health and strength.

Thank you for reading,

Tim