Category Archives: Thoughts

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

When I first learned about paradigm shifts, I was given the following example. Imagine you are on public transit, a bus or a subway. It’s half-full, and directly in front of you is a father with his two young children. The kids are running around, yelling and throwing things, causing a huge disturbance. The father, though, just sits there and lets them get away with it. Man, what a lousy parent.

Finally you have enough and confront the man. He looks surprised, as if just waking from a dream. “Sorry,” he says absently, corralling his kids. “We just came from the hospital. My wife is having open heart surgery and may not live beyond the hour. None of us knows what’s going to happen next.”

Oops.

Just like that, your perspective shifts. You’re not looking at a bad parent; on the contrary, it’s a loving husband coming to gripes with potentially losing his mate. Neither are the kids little hellions; they’re simply young, dealing with grief and uncertainty in the only way they can. A moment ago, you were annoyed at the chaotic children running rampant around you, but now you see it in a completely different light.

This is a paradigm shift. It’s also a great example of why you shouldn’t judge other people until you know all the details. It’s easy to look like an idiot afterwards … like I did earlier this week. Continue reading

My Grocery Checkout Experience

I was buying groceries Friday night, as per usual. I like this time, as usually no one is there and I’m in and out. Today was much busier, and they had very few staff. In fact, there were only two checkout registers open, and one of them was the express lane. I had a small cart, maybe 15 items, just over the 12 limit. I waited patiently in the regular line, behind three very full carts, when the lady at the express counter waived me over. Cool, thanks lady.

Literally the second I begin unpacking my cart, a very large man appears behind me … with three items. He didn’t look impressed.

The cashier told me to come here! Honest!

As it turned out, the guy simply had a permanent scowl. He was actually really nice and wished me a good weekend. For a moment, I thought I’d have a repeat of an experience several years ago, where I nearly got into a fight for this exact same reason. Continue reading

Apologies and Overreactions

I had an almost surreal moment the other day. I was at work, teaching karate. It was a slow night, as many summers are. Worse, it’s been really hot, so even fewer students have been showing up. Perfectly understandable, mind you. I didn’t want to running and sparring in that heat either. Anyway, near the end of class I made eye-contact with a mother in the viewing area, and she waved me over.

We had more than enough instructors present, so I walked closer. She immediately looked embarrassed. “I wanted to apologize for my behaviour the other day,” she said. I just stared at her blankly. “I was having a bad day, plus it’s been so hot, and then a big plan fell through. I was feeling terrible, and you just happened to be the first person in my crosshairs. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve to be chewed out.”

Thankfully she didn’t drop these eyes on me.

I nodded once. “Yeah, no problem,” I said. It certainly helped that I had no idea what she was talking about.

Continue reading

Wearing in My Birks

I don’t love shoes. Some people do. Women in particular do, having six different shoes for every occasion, or so the stereotype goes. I don’t understand the appeal. I own maybe four different pairs of footwear. I say maybe, because I haven’t worn my fancy dress-shoes graduating university years ago, and I have gotten rid of them. I don’t really care either way, in all honesty.

They were nice shoes, but, I mean, they were only shoes. I had no feelings, strong or otherwise.

Some of this is probably because I’m a guy, but a bigger part is my upbringing. I’ve done martial arts most of my life, and we train barefoot. I love being barefoot, and I spend as much time as possible walking around sans socks and shoes. This is why I developed a love for sandals, and in particular, my Birkenstocks.

I wore my Birkenstocks everyday I could for years and years, and then last week they finally gave out. No worries, I got a replacement pair right away … and then I rediscovered the experience of wearing in a pair of Birks. Continue reading

I’m a Tense, Laid-Back Person

If you ever meet me in person, you’d probably notice a few things right away. I’m pretty tall, pretty quiet and pretty positive. I stand by what our mothers’ all told us, “Say something nice or don’t say anything at all.” You’d also notice that nothing seems to bother me. Bad day, good day, I always seem to act the same. Calm, cool, collected; completely laid-back, apparently no concerns. All of this is true… about my personality at least.

Physically, it’s a completely different story. I am permanently tense. Some rocks aren’t as tight as my shoulders. It’s like I’m permanently contracting all my muscles at all times, an eternal isometric. I’ve been like this my entire life. I remember a grade-school teacher telling me to relax before I gave a speech. I said I was relaxed. She said my shoulders were up by my ears.

If I were a snake that day.

Really, though, that’s just me being me. I was always like that … and I’ve recently rediscovered that I’m still like that. Continue reading

The (Second) Worst Part About Teaching

If you ask me my favourite part of teaching, I’d answer immediately: it’s the students. Seeing someone grow and evolve is incredibly rewarding. Whether it’s learning something new, overcoming a challenge or finally breaking through a plateau, all of these are amazing experiences, and I get to share all these accomplishments with them, at least in part.

Now, if you asked me my least favourite part about teaching, I’d answer just as immediately: it’s the students. I’m not even talking about the bad students necessarily, the ones that seemingly misbehave intentionally. Okay, yes, those are pretty bad, but even worse are the ones that never try. They show up but they clearly don’t care and they put in no effort. We’re both wasting our time, and it’s very hard to stay in the right teaching-mood, to give my best effort, when there are several such students in a class.

You can’t just yell at an eight-year-old, either, no matter how much you might want to.

So yes, the students are the worst part of my job, but a close second would be the parents. Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Do What I Want to Do

I’m currently experiencing some cognitive dissonance. You know, where you thoughts, beliefs and actions are not in harmony. Usually this is done after-the-fact, like the old fable of the fox and the grapes. The fox wanted some grapes, but they were hanging from too high a branch. The fox could not reach them, so he shakes his head. “Meh, they’re probably not ripe yet anyway,” and so he slinks off.

Incidentally, that’s where we get the phrase ‘sour grapes’ from.

My current problem has nothing to do with grapes, sadly. No, it has to do with my life goals. Being somewhat of an optimist, I have a lot of life goals, some big, some small, some life-altering if fully achieved. I want these things, and not in a wishy-washy, only-sorta-want them type of want. This is more of ‘give me a magic lamp and I’d wish these into existence almost instantly’ type of want.

If you ask me what I want to accomplish in this life, I could give you a pretty neat list, and I 100% mean it. Really and truly. It’s strange, then, that I’m not doing anything to inch closer to any of these goals.

I’m not alone in having this problem, by the way. “I need to lose weight,” a person might say, meanwhile not making any changes in diet or lifestyle. We can change that to, “I really need to lose weight,” or even, “If I don’t lose weight I’m on the fast-track for heart disease, diabetes and death,” and only some people make changes.

It’s strange, is it not? We want something, and we know to get it. There’s rarely any mystery with losing weight, or even anything else. We know what to do, or at least where to go for advice on what to do. Losing weight is the easiest, because we all know the magic ingredients: eat less, exercise more. We know this. There’s no doubt. You could take a test on it and get 100% every single time… and still we don’t do it.

My goals have nothing to do with losing weight, but the structure is the same. I want to get in the best shape possible, I want to get the splits, I want to be a writer, I want to be a chess master and a poi spinner and a karate expert and the list just goes on and on… and in every case, a roadblock, either real or imagined, but definitely halting progress.

I feel like a Balrog in the mines of Moria.

Chess may be the best example. I love chess. I can talk about it or write about it or play it all day. It’s perfect, just a perfect game. I used to get upset about certain things, usually opening choices by my opponent, but as I’ve improved those concerns have faded. I’m inching closer to my goal of mastership, and when I analyze the games of GMs and other top players, I can find the right move 80% of the time and the other 15% I’m close. The last 5%? Well, that’s why I’m not a master yet.

I have a roadmap to get there. GM Smirnov has a course Self-Taught GM, which is a complete training plan. Do that and I’m master level, more or less. Cool… so why aren’t I doing it? Why aren’t I studying? Why am I washing the dishes, cleaning the house, making grocery lists, writing trivial things and just plain doing everything else but this?

“Hey, Smithy, do you want to be a chess master?” Yeah! “Then let’s go study.” Meh, I’d rather not. “But don’t you want to be a master?” Definitely, just not this exact moment. Or later, apparently, as I keep finding ways to not study. True, studying isn’t very fun … but actually, that’s not true. Sometimes it’s great fun. Sometimes it’s dull. All the time it’s work, and that seems to be holding me back. Consciously or unconsciously, I don’t want to do the work necessary.

For the record, that nearly always separates the top performers from the rest, the ability to do the work necessary. Not that you want to do that, but that you do it. Do the work, you get the results. Do more work than average, get better than average. That’s it, that’s the secret. Applying it, though, isn’t that easy.

My poi spinning is very similar. I like doing it. I really want to get better at it. I have a training course, plus multiple DVDs, all showing various progressions and practice habits. I have a wonderful park just down the street with ample room to practice. I have literally no excuse … but I somehow keep putting it off. For some reason, practicing more (or even at all some weeks) is an incredible struggle.

And nothing with the flow arts should be a struggle.

In both of these cases, chess and poi, I want to get better but I’m not willing to do the work, or more accurately, I’m currently avoiding all the work. I know what I need to do, but I don’t do it. There’s also the opposite happening with my fitness training: I’m putting in my time but getting very little benefit. Rather than change something, though, I just keep doing the exact same thing.

I have two competing ideas battling inside my head. I want to get strong. That’s it. I’m already lean, I’m in great shape, I can run forever, I have agility and speed for days, but I’m not strong. I’ve never been strong. I was the scrawny kid, and arguably I still am. Starting high school, I weighed less than 100lbs. I finished at 140lbs … and over six feet tall. I gained 40lbs and somehow looked skinnier.

I want to get strong, but there’s a problem: I don’t like lifting weights. That’s because lifting weights is hard and makes me feel weak. I’d reach for a 20lbs dumbbell for some curls and struggle to even hold it. Meanwhile a regular guy not six feet away is using twice as much for his warm-up set. Lifting weights are hard work, and I felt so weak while doing it. Better to do anything else.

I embraced bodyweight training, which is interesting because many bodyweight moves are harder than lifts. It’s easier to do lat pulldowns than a pull up, or weighted squats rather than one-leg bodyweight squats aka pistol squats. I didn’t feel weak while doing these, though, and I soon followed various different bodyweight fitness programs.

All of them have worked for a bit … and then they stop working. I then look for a different bodyweight program. I found a good one, one I really liked, one that promised to lead to the promised land … but the last six months have been zero progress. I’m in the exact same spot, but rather than changing anything, I keep plugging away. Okay. I think that’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing but expecting, magically, a different result this time.

I want to get strong. Everyone knows how to get stronger: lift weights. That’s what works. What I’m currently doing isn’t working. The obvious choice would be to drop my current program and start lifting weights. That’s what this logic suggests, and I continue to do the opposite. Why? Because I don’t life lifting weights.

But I did it for an entire week once! I’m clearly an expert on it!

With chess and poi, I know what I need to do. I just don’t do it. With this example, though, it’s even worse, because I know what I need to do and am actively doing the opposite. I make a whole bunch of excuses, like how I’m already pretty strong relative to my weight (all 165lbs of me, so strong), or how I don’t want to get big anyway. Remember that fable from the beginning, with the fox and the grapes? That’s me but with lifting weights.

I need a mindset shift. I need to stop viewing things as what I want to do or like to do but as things I just do. I’m not sure how I do that yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I’m going to brainstorm more, then I’m going to test some, and then we’ll see how things go. For now, though, I continue to wallow in my cognitive dissonance, at least for a little while.

The Feeling and Illusion of Progress

Progress is a great and terrible thing. Great, because it always feels good to get better at something. You put in time and effort and start getting results. Maybe you’re learning a new skill or making gains at the gym, whatever, progress is amazing. It’s unfortunate, then, that it happens in such a haphazard way.

You see, we naturally think of progress as a slope, a straight line travelling ever up and anon. That makes sense, right? You put in X number of hours, you should get X amount of benefit. It’s simple math, and math is never wrong, right?

How we think about progress.

Unfortunately, progress isn’t a straight line. Sometimes you put almost no time in at all and make huge improvements, but then things slow down and no matter how many hours you put in you don’t get anymore. Worse, sometimes it feels like you’re trending backwards, that things are getting worse.

How progress really works… more or less.

This is why progress is both great and terrible. When you are trending up, nothing feels better … and when you are not, nothing feels worse. Continue reading

We Are a Reactive Species

There’s an old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I don’t know what this means. What’s an ounce and what’s a pound? These are archaic imperial-age measurements, and I had to google them to find out what the were. Apparently there are 16 ounces in a pound. 16! What a crazy number. How random is that? No wonder nobody uses the imperial system anymore.

The penguins in Antarctica still use Imperial system, at least.

All kidding aside, the above quote is as relevant today as it was when Thomas Jefferson first said it several centuries ago. Having the choice, it’s always better for something to not break than to break, and if a few minutes a day helps prevent wasting several hours in a week, then we should spend those few minutes every day. We all understand this, we all agree with it. We’d likely even consider it self-evident.

It sure is interesting, then, how most of us rarely if ever follow it. Continue reading

Glorious, Glorious Ice Cream

We’ve had a heatwave ravaging my city for the last week. So far it has broken records and shows no sign of stopping. Today was especially bad, as we had high temperatures, no clouds to cover the scorching hot sun and, to top it off, very high humidity. The temperatures were in the low 30s, but with the humidex it felt like the 40s.

Even people start melting at that temperature.

Unsurprisingly, work was very slow today. I’m a martial arts instructor, and even though we have a fully air-conditioned building, the last thing anyone wanted to do after braving the heat all day was go workout and sweat some more. I don’t blame them, as I didn’t want to be there myself. The heat completely knocked me out, and I was ready to nap by 4pm.

Now, that said, I’ve promised not to complain about the heat, so let’s switch gears and talk about the one positive of a heatwave: having ice cream. Continue reading