How do I stay motivated?

(Part 64 of 64 in ~ My Journey in Parkour)

My level of motivation varies tremendously, and it took me far too long to learn that it was cyclical. I used to think I had these huge swaths of motivated productivity with an occasional, unexplained crash. I used to think I just needed to figure out how to avoid those anomalous crashes, and I spent too much precious time fighting with myself in the down-turns. I now see that I was wrong; My motivation is inherently cyclical.

When I am highly motivated, it’s alluring to believe that I should spend my time working only on focused and directed things. I used to fall into the trap of trying to focus all of my time and energy on moving forward. I felt that if I wasn’t on-task, then I was wasting time, and that feeling fed into my sense of guilt.

Because I now expect the inevitable down-turns, I feel justified spending time on things which support my motivation in the long run. I work intermittently in two directions: I spend some of my time working on-task towards achieving my goals, and some time goofing-off cultivating my motivation and inspiration. In effect, I’m prolonging the motivational peaks by spreading them out wider. At the highest points, I may not be as motivated as I once was, but I maintain a productive level of motivation for a much longer time.

(To be fair, I have a pretty organized way of goofing-off. I read from a wide range of online sources and books, from health, wellness and exercise blogs to physiology text books. I constantly fiddle with new exercises to try, places to go, health tweaks, and habits. I make plans to travel near and far, where I can meet new people, and visit old friends. I even have no-thinking-required things — music playlists, and monotonous chores — which I can draw on when I need to be off-task.)

But eventually, I head into a down-turn. They vary from mild bouts of, “meh,” where I simply feel unmotivated to do any of the things I’ve set out for myself, to dark moods of depression. Regardless of the depth, when I’m heading into a motivational down-turn, my best tactic is to stop doing — to stop trying — and to simply be. It’s as if I’m at the crest of the first hill on a roller-coaster; I see what’s coming, and prepare for the inevitable ride.

At the bottom of that huge, thrill-less, depressing hill it is agonizing to lay in a puddle of “meh” and believe that this is exactly what I need to be doing right now. But that is the truth. After countless cycles of ebb and flow, I’ve learned to think: “Right now, laying in this puddle is exactly what I need.”

…and that is the key to my success.

I remind myself to roll with this down-turn, guilt-free. I try to avoid “should’ing” on myself. (I should stop this. I should do that.) I remind myself this down-turn is only one phase of a healthy cycle.

I rest.

I mope.

Maybe I watch a movie and have some popcorn. Maybe I nap. Maybe I nap in the hammock if it’s warm outside. Maybe I bask before the fire, or lay in the sun. I do whatever it is I feel like doing, which may well be absolutely nothing at all. I throw down the reigns which my executive-level mind normally holds with an iron grip. I set my thoughts and body free. They weren’t listening anyway.

And then I could write a long diatribe where I try to explain how it feels as if there’s this big, gloomy, moping, dog that sits around keeping me stuck in the down-turn. And eventually that dog gets bored and I can convince it to go away. And, honestly, it’s a stupid metaphor. Except for the fact that here I am, stuck writing some lousy metaphor, making me hate writing this, which — it turns out — is exactly the sort of perfect metaphor for feeling lousy when I’m stuck in a down-turn…

I’m going for a walk.

Just the tiniest little stroll.

But…

Walking invariably loosens up my mind. Sometimes it takes days of doing nothing interspersed with some walking before I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon, I find I have at least a few things on my mind that need to be unloaded. When I hear that quiet calling, I write whatever-it-is into my journal. Writing things down — moods, worries, plans, ideas — unjumbles my mind. So I record my thoughts as inspiration for future projects, and as reminders to expect future down-turns.

Eventually, I simply find the thought of working on something might actually be fun. At which point I realize I’m headed back towards the next up-turn.

When things go badly, relax; It will not last.
When things go well, relax; It will not last.

Parkour Travel: Why Travel?

(Part 3 of 3 in ~ Parkour Travel)

What shall I find?

It’s funny, I thought, if you could hear me, I could hang on, somehow. Silly me. Silly old Doctor. When you wake up, you’ll have a mum and dad, and you won’t even remember me. Well, you’ll remember me a little. I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s OK: we’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?

~ Doctor Who

When I travel, I am writing my story.

I am not travelling in search of something.
I am not travelling to escape.
I am not travelling as a search for fulfillment.
I am not lacking some key experience that I can only find by travelling.

What shall I find? …nothing in particular. And then I’m free to find everything.

What shall I experience?

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

~ Mark Twain

I travel because I want to meet new people. I want to learn about their culture, their ideas, their hopes, dreams and passions, their way of thinking, their language, their ancestors, and their philosophy.

I travel because I want to see things. The world — all of it, near and far — is an amazing place. I want to see new vistas, new architecture, new mountains, new valleys, new weather, new plants, new animals, and new art.

I travel because, in the end, I am just a story. There’s no finish line, no definition of “having arrived”, “having suceeded”, or “having it all”. Hearses do not have luggage racks. I am not taking anything with me. I can spend my days sitting at home, collecting and counting and organizing my things, toiling to create a pocket of order in the chaos of the universe. Only, I remain absolutely certain that everything I collect, create, organize, build, and buy will not matter to me in the end.

In the end, I am just a story. And I’d very much like to enjoy the writing of it.

§2 – Philosophy

(Part 2 of 3 in ~ Changes and Results)

I wandered a haphazard path until I learned some philosophical lessons and made some critical, first changes. I tried many different things, keeping what seemed to help and abandoning what did not. It is only through hindsight that I can share the things which are the foundations of my progress.

The first step in my journey was realizing I was unhappy. This realization — detecting it, understanding it, believing it, surrendering to it, and finally owning it — was the first piece of bedrock on which I started building. I was clearly in a slow, downward spiral, and this realization led me to thrash around trying to change things.

( I didn’t find this until years later, but Leo Babauta has a wonderful post about, The Spiral. )

My initial progress was glacial as I began working on the twin skills of self-awareness and self-analysis. Although I began my journey blissfully unaware and ignorant, my problems became increasingly obvious. Owning up to each problem required all my fortitude and courage. Step by step I found the motivation to begin changing my life. It was the discomfort of the status-quo which motivated me to change; Without that discomfort — without the self-awareness which created that discomfort — I would simply have continued my downward spiral.

Along the way, it was also important to realize I was fragile (physically, mentally and emotionally), and that I would need to build up a tremendous, new resilience. Becoming mentally and physically resilient creates a comfort zone. It means that bumps in the road may slow, stop, or even set back my progress. But they will never turn my upward spiral into a downward spiral. In truth, I was well into building up my resilience before I understood what I was doing. But as my understanding caught up, it became possible to work intentionally on resilience.

( One article which helped solidify my understanding was about, Anchoring One’s Resilience in Your Authentic Self. )

Although I remain a work in progress, my success is entirely built on the simple philosophy of continuous self improvement. Unfortunately, it is not at all simple to implement. I tried a litany of changes — small and large, easy and hard, crazy and clever, pointless and miraculous — as I incessantly kept learning, experimenting, and building upon each tiny success and advance. The things which worked for me form the remaining parts of this series.

( It wasn’t until far into my journey that I learned of the Observer, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop. )

Which would boil down to these essentials:

– I owned up to being unhappy.
– I built up my skills of self-awareness and self-assessment.
– I built up my mental and physical resilience.
– I began making continuous self-improvement changes.

§1 – Introduction

(Part 1 of 3 in ~ Changes and Results)

I’ve lost a lot of weight and gotten a lot stronger in the last few years. But how, exactly, did I get to where I am now?

In 2011, I didn’t like where I was, and I don’t mean, “I was embarrassed about being fat.” I mean I was physically uncomfortable being sweaty, physically unable to get comfortable sitting, grumpy all the time, tired all the time, and more. I really wanted to change and I knew I needed to change before the Doctor started one of those, “Let’s talk about these numbers,” conversations.

Around that same time I’d discovered a few blogs…

I’d read a lot over at Nerd Fitness. I read all of Steve Kamb’s inspirational and motivational stuff.

The big take-away from NF was the loud-and-clear message about what does NOT work: Simply getting a gym membership does not work, declaring a New Year’s resolution does not work, and generally trying to “turn over a new leaf” does not work. Fortunately, rather than come away hopeless, I took it as a big comforting confirmation that I am not alone in sucking at changes.

Whatever it is that I’d been doing, that is EXACTLY what was NOT working.

I also read everything from Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits. For example, When Willpower is Trumped By Bad Habits is a great example of Leo-zen. Eventually, I finally teased a few more threads out of the Gordian knot that was my problem:

I am weak in willpower.

I need to stop beating myself up about failures and shortcomings.

I began by slowly making progress on some “health” projects, improving my sleep and more. (I’ll go into all of that in detail in subsequent parts.) As soon as I began taking Parkour classes, it became clear that I needed to ease into actual running. I also concluded that “regular” footwear was going to act as a crutch and slow down my progress in Parkour. (Long story. Just go with it for this discussion.) So I also switched to minimalist shoes for Parkour, for running and daily wear.

The result of running and Parkour? I was stiff, achy and sore literally all the time. It became glaringly obvious that I needed to start doing “recovery work” — stretching, massage, miofascial release, and basic range-of-motion movement if I was to have any hope of keeping up my hard work.

…and on and on.

I built upon each small success, one small step at a time.

Which brings me to today, and this series of posts. Here I’m going to document my journey by spelling out all the things I did. Hopefully, this roadmap will inspire others.

Next up, some Philosophy!

Crossing the Williamsburg Bridge

(Part 1 of 12 in Williamsburg Bridge QM challenge)

Having carefully examined every inch of the pedestrian pathway on the Williamsburg Bridge, I can authoritatively state that it is in fact, VERY long. When I stood up after 2,000 meters of quadrapedie-movement, I could hardly believe it was over! Two kilometers turned out to be possible!

The entire bit of madness started after I mentioned to several people I might be heading into NYC/Brooklyn on a particular weekend in October. Unfortunately, my plans changed and I forgot to tell Jesse.

As the weekend approached, he sent me a message, “I’ve been thinking of some good physical challenges for when you’re here…” I was just thinking, “Oops, I forgot to tell him I’m not coming into the city that weekend.” When he followed with an upbeat, “Let’s QM across the Williamsburg Bridge on Saturday!”

Now in my defense, I was feeling a little guilty that he had spent time thinking about a visit that I had to abort, and my train of thought went off the rails like this:

The problem with my schedule is that I need to be home by about 3pm on Saturday…
…actually, that gives me until about 1pm to do some QM in the city on Saturday…
…so if I went in Friday, and if we started early enough…
…sure, a little QM in the morning would be fun…
…and October’s weather has been so beautiful…

“Ok, sure! I’m in. Let’s do it!”

…and then I looked up the Williamsburg Bridge on Wikipedia, learned it was 2,200 meters long, and thought, “I have made a terrible mistake.”

Life Return On Exercise Invested

(Part 62 of 64 in ~ My Journey in Parkour)

Life Return On Exercise Invested – LROEI

Exercise has been show to correlate1 with longevity; The people who exercise more are also the people who live longer2.

I had never thought about exercise in quite this way: If I’m going to exercise, and if the exact details of the exercise aren’t so important, WHICH exercise would I prefer to do?

Would I rather spend time indoors or outdoors?
…in a gym, or at a playground?
…alone, or with my friends?
…in a familiar place, or some place new?

There are many types of exercise. The way I’m pursuing exercise through Parkour ALSO happens to generate a greater LROEI.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation 

  2. http://www.drbriffa.com/2009/03/06/taking-up-exercise-in-middle-age-appears-to-give-a-handsome-return-on-investment/ 

Yes you can

(Part 59 of 64 in ~ My Journey in Parkour)

Hello there! Welcome!

This post is where I’ve dumped a bunch of things intended to convince YOU that you really can do Parkour.

Why do I think you can do Parkour? Because, basically, everything the general public has heard about Parkour is wrong. You could totally do Parkour because…

I’m too old, over-weight, out of shape…

I did it, so can you.

I simply mean that when I started, I was very over-weight (BMI well over 30, definitely “obese”), very out of shape, and I was just over 40 years old. That combination is probably “worse off” than most people who end up reading this.

However, if you are older, in worse shape, or fatter than that, I do still think you can do it . . .

Do you think you can improve yourself?

Parkour is about improving yourself through challenge. So whatever is challenging for you, that’s going to be your practice. Maybe for you, it’s a warmup and then start working on some shoulder strength, but you spend a majority of the time watching class so you’re not over-exherting yourself. Maybe it’s a long talk about nutrition and diet (generally what you eat, not a specific diet fad) combined with your initial Parkour efforts.

What about that crazy stuff on TouYube?

It is NOT about big jumps! Why does everyone see the EXTREME movements, and then assume ALL Parkour has to be like that?

You can drive a car without getting into auto racing. You can do a cart wheel without being an Olympic gymnast. You can go for a jog without running a marathon. You can practice Parkour without jumping between roof-tops across an alley!

There’s nothing wrong with the extremes (in the “ultimate level of performance” sense) in any of those activities, but those extremes are NOT representative of the average activity of “driving”, “cart wheeling”, “running” or “Parkour”.

And anyway, here’s a link to my all-time favorite video of some Parkour. I think it’s spectacular, but not in the “huge jumps”, “extreme movement” sense: Julie Angel’s, Movement of Three (2’33”) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alxyVjbqQks

But I’m a woman…

The answer is still: Yes. Yes you can.

I do understand that there are issues (not just in Parkour) that only women face. But those issues are either societal norms, or other bullshit caused by men. That has nothing to do with Parkour per se. (It’s about men. Actually it’s about boys. Real men don’t pull misogynistic crap.)

HOWEVER, do not take my word about anything regarding the woman’s point of view. Instead, go read this:

http://www.risingtraceuse.com/2015/03/5-thoughts-that-keep-women-from-trying.html

And the question almost no one asks…

How do I figure out where and with whom to train?

This is ACTUALLY the hard part. It’s always the same: finding the right coach is mission critical. And you have to perfom this most-important step BEFORE you know much about the thing you want to learn.

So here’s how you do it: You find the nearest place/people/group that purports to teach the thing. You go there. You put your “vibe radar” on and you don’t go back if anything weirds you out. If anything is high pressure (“Jump this! NOW!”, “Sign up for a year! NOW!”) then you back away slowly, and never return. They should be welcoming, intelligent and you should feel supported by most (if not literally) everyone in the class.

§7 – Lemons

(Part 19 of 19 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

“Lemons” simply reminds us that sometimes we need to make lemonade from whatever lemons we find before us.

I am acutely aware of this aspect of Parkour; This searching what is right in front of me for something to do. Initially I felt like a one trick pony. Every time I’d be faced with some little area, I’d stare at it thinking, “I can only do, literally, a step vault. What am I going to do here?!” Yet somehow, I manage to force myself to stand in the face of my ineptitude and to search for inspiration.

Eventually I came up with a sort of “wedge” for the problem. I would seize on, literally, the first thing I could think of. Often that would be something even I felt was ludicrous. But this first ludicrous movement, got me moving. (That’s the wedge.) From there, I invariably saw something else.

Usually the second thing was also ludicrous, but sometimes it was better (whatever “better” might mean to me at the time). So I’d change to doing the second thing. I’d throw my shame and ego to the wind and start doing repitions of whatever that first ludicrous thing was, then the second thing if it was better, and so on. Sometimes, I could only see a single thing which I feared, and so I’d start with ludicrously simple progressions to the thing I feared.

In my mind, I called this “busting rocks”. Pick the biggest, ludicrous rock and smash it. Pick the next biggest rock, and so on. As I smashed, I’d remind myself of something I’d written years ago: “Parkour is the grueling work of self destruction.”

One day, I participated in the most surreal jam session. On a sign. It was just a slightly sloped, big flat sign with a map on it and four skinny legs into the ground. One person did something near it, “interesting,” I thought. Then a second person did a little sliding thing across it. And I thought, “I wish I could do something on there.” And the wedge happened automatically and I thought, “I can try this ludicrous move.” And I tried it, and someone said, “Craig, what are you doing?”. And I failed. And someone else said, “OH! That’s totally a thing!” And in the blink of an eye a dozen world-class traceurs — people whose abilities all boggle my mind — LINED UP to play on this little sign. And for what seemed like eternity, we all took turns trying crazy stuff on a sign, at night, in a busy public square. And passers-by stopped and some even applauded or cheered. And we all ate ice cream and drank milk-shakes as we waited our turn and pondered our next go. And I for one wanted it to never end.

It was the greatest lemon pie I have ever tasted.

The little box on my desk

(Part 56 of 64 in ~ My Journey in Parkour)

A long long time ago I began collecting inspirational quotes and aphorisms. I kept them on the first version of my web site, where they were displayed randomly. But as time went on, I realized I wanted them where I would see them. Eventually I copied the fledgeling collection onto 3×5 cards and put them in a small box. As I find new ones, I add cards.

I keep the box on my desk with one card showing — just wedged in so it stands up readable. I change the card randomly, whenever the urge strikes.

Countless times I’ve pulled another card and found it eerily appropriate to the challenges of the day.

Countless times I’ve returned to my desk and felt inspired upon rediscovering an old card’s whispered counsel.

Countless times, just as I was about to throw in the towel, I was saved by an echo from the little box on my desk.