Stories on living healthy

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Exuberant Animal Weekend

It was a day just like any other. I lazily flipped through my Facebook newsfeed, sipping my tea and enjoying the warmth of an early June morning. Then I saw something that got my heart beating a bit faster; a post on the Exuberant Animal page inviting folks to attend a weekend training in October.

Exuberant Animal is the company founded by Frank Forencich, a health and human performance expert with a unique perspective on the human predicament who offers practical solutions for some of the most pressing problems of our age. The main thrust of his approach is addressing the mismatch between how we, as humans, have evolved to live, and how out of balance that is with modern living. I have been a huge fan of Frank after reading a few books of his, the most impactful of which is called Beautiful Practice. The vast majority of my personal “healthy/happy life” philosophy is based on what I gained from this book. I’ve also watched just about every talk Frank’s ever done on YouTube.

When I saw the invitation on Facebook, I immediately called Frank. You read that right, I called him. Frank much prefers phone calls to emails, because they are much closer to natural human communication. So after a few taps on my smartphone, I was speaking to someone who I would basically consider my guru. After introducing myself, Frank shared his intention for offering this workshop, which was to share his teachings as widely as possible and create partnerships around the world to help get his message in front of people who need it (…so basically everyone). He created this workshop to bring together some long time friends and partners, with some new folks (like me) with reach in different areas. After our conversation, Frank invited me to attend!

Last Friday, I hopped into a car with three other movement and health geeks, Pete, an avid movement and health buff, Tanner, a movement coach, and Ray, a Feldenkrais Practitioner and editor for Paleo Magazine. We drove out to Leavenworth, WA where Frank lives. Once there we were joined by some other amazing humans and practitioners. Sebastian and Dawni Rae, Corey, Sky and Meg are close friends of Frank’s and have used his concepts with their movement clients for years. My carpool buddies Pete, Tanner and Ray, along with Jill and Andrew, another Feldenkrais Practitioner and movement trainer were fans of Frank’s, but are much newer to the tribe.

The weekend was paced in a very deliberate way, perfectly inside Frank’s philosophy. We would start and end each day with a 10 minute meditation. Each period of the day contained about an hour of a slide presentation by Frank, then we would go outside and move, practicing some of Frank’s simple yet ingenious playful movements for an hour, and ending with a meal. Then we’d repeat.

Frank’s slide presentations are made up of his most recent teachings around human health  and happiness. What I love most about Frank’s teachings, is that he bases everything in some form of scientific fact or study result, but balances it with practical experience and his integral wisdom of human health. The result is a set of teachings with a lot of context, making it much easier and simpler to understand and implement in life. It was also really amazing to sit in these presentations with other powerful practitioners who could all chip in on the topics with their wealth of knowledge and experience.

The movement portions were a selection of Frank’s movement’s which are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Each movement somehow incorporates balance, strength, social awareness, commitment to others, laughter and play. For example, one of my favorites was an exercise where we partner up, and while balancing on one foot, with each of our hands on the other’s shoulders, we attempt to push our partner off balance, without losing our own balance. While the intention is not to push the person to the ground, but simply to make them hop on their foot to regain balance. A key piece to Frank’s approach in working with partners is to push their limits but never further then they are able to go. I got so much inspiration and access to new realms I can explore with clients!

The food deserves it’s own paragraph, but since you weren’t there to enjoy it, I won’t torture you. Suffice it to say that the food was amazing and what I loved most, was that we participants joined in on the food prep and clean up. I’ve been to plenty of workshops and trainings where the food is either fully provided and you just grab it and eat, or there is nothing provided and you either pack your own, or grab food at nearby restaurants. It was a really engaging experience to bond with my fellow participants in creating as well as consuming the food. It made for a much tighter knit group and really deepened the emotional connection I felt with the others.

A real highlight of the weekend was our day trip to an awesome trail near Frank’s house. As a group we hiked and climbed up the mountain for a few hours. It was a blast, and we saw some amazing views (see pics).

We completed the weekend together by discussing how we can share Exuberant Animal with the world and participate in it’s future. Frank is considering moving everything to the Cle Elum area to be closer to Seattle and a major airport. He’s interested in offering new trainings and building an amazing facility there to hold them in. We also talked about having another workshop in April, so if you are reading this and wishing you had the opportunity to attend, you’re in luck! Let me know if you’re interested and I can plug you in with Frank. Also, Frank offer’s the opportunity to host an Exuberant Animal workshop at your work place, organization or home. What an amazing way to transform your community! Let me know if you’re interested or contact Frank directly and tell him Jared sent ya!

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Too Much Stuff, But I Still Want More!

I love this bit by George Carlin. It so eloquently describes our obsession with our stuff. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, do yourself a favor and watch it now.

Laurie and I have been dealing with a lot of our stuff for the past couple of weeks in preparation for our move to a 16 foot diameter yurt in Duvall, WA. It’s barely over 200 square feet, which is about 100 less than our Tiny House was.

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We’ve been selling off things, giving others away to friends and family and dumping lots of stuff at Salvation Army. As we’ve been going through these things we’ve reflected on how attached to our stuff we get, whether through sentimentality or the illusion of usefulness. One of the interesting things we’ve been noticing is how much we buy stuff in preparation for a need, and how often that need never actually arises in reality. In our case, most of that was because we were really planning on living in the Tiny House for a long time and had purchased lots of things to make it functional and comfortable. Our lives just had other plans.

The most interesting phenomena I’ve been going through recently is the desire to buy new stuff to replace the old stuff. My ego cleverly disguises these desires as newer, better, smaller, more efficient and effective versions of what I’ve had before, but at the end of the day it’s still more stuff I don’t need. Some of the stuff we do actually need though. We recently bought a ton of outdoor gear like backpacking stuff, and warmer clothing which are necessary for our new lives in the wilderness. On the other hand, I was able to sufficiently justify to myself (and to Laurie) that I needed a new guitar (because I need a cheaper/smaller one that’s more suitable to life in the wild) and a new bike (also more suitable to the climate and conditions of Washington). See? Perfectly justified!

I think at the heart of it all, my ego does this as a sort of safety blanket. We humans have extended our sense of identity to our stuff. Be honest, if someone compliments or ridicules a piece of your stuff, you take it personally. I know for myself this is especially true when it comes to bikes and guitars. These are my favorite things, so I put a lot of thought and personality into my choices. If someone compliments my bike or guitar, I instantly like them. If they dislike either, I instantly assume they have horrible taste. Aren’t we humans funny?

So it makes sense that when we give up some of our stuff, that it feels like a piece of our self is going along with it. This perceived threat triggers the ego to obsess about new, bigger and better stuff (or in our case, new, smaller, more minimal and rugged stuff).

This is why we are happy to be moving into smaller and smaller spaces. It forces us to do a series of reality checks and ask the important questions like, “have I used this in the last 6-12 months?” or “do I really see myself using this in the future?”

So what’s the benefit of releasing all of this stuff? Peace of mind. It’s amazing how much mental clutter our stuff causes. Last weekend Laurie and I cleaned out a bunch of junk we had stored in the hull of our houseboat in Sausalito. We’ve had the place rented out for awhile now, but hadn’t gotten around to clearing all the storage stuff out. We wanted to deal with it because we could actually feel the weight it placed in our minds. This is junk we have had for years and just kept moving from place to place. A bunch of it was left over storage from my parents after they sold the family home, as well as old audio gear I stopped using a very long time ago. After spending the weekend pulling it out, going through it, and organizing into piles (keep, trash, thrift), I felt like I had actually lost weight. It was like all that stuff was an anchor, slowing me down.

So now, we are feeling trim and light, looking forward to our adventure up north. Lots still to do. We’re still selling and cleaning out the last remnants, but are very close to our optimal amount of “stuff”… for now.

We have really been enjoying your comments, keep them coming! Feel free to ask questions, share your own experiences, or just root us on! Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already, and share with your friends! Thank you so much for taking the time to read, we love you thiiiiiiiiiiiis much!

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Life By Design

Ever wish life could be easier, with less headache? Ever wish that the things you work towards would flow easier and meet less resistance. Ever wish that whenever you meet an obstacle, you would have a place to look for your next steps?

Of course you do.

I have good news! There is a way to live your life that can make all of this possible. I call it “Life by Design.”

Life By Design, Defined

The foundational principle to Life By Design, is that there is an intelligent design to everything, and by understanding and operating in accordance with that design, your life will work more efficiently and effectively.

In the case of our bodies and minds, the design comes from a long process of trial and error called evolution. The things that worked stayed in the gene pool, those that didn’t were ejected. We adapted to our environment’s nutritional offerings, learned to avoid and defend from the dangerous predators nearby, and our intelligence and social skills evolved to allow us to problem solve and live in community with others, thereby increasing our likelihood for survival.

Why did all of this happen? Simple. Because it works. It kept us alive and able to procreate.

I’ll give you a personal example, I’ve suffered low energy levels for most of my life. I just figured I was born that way, and was just naturally lazy. It wasn’t until I started getting interested in how my body was designed to operate, and its ideal fuel, that I began to adjust my lifestyle and I noticed some fantastic shifts in energy levels.

I discovered that my body wasn’t designed to be fueled by soda, pizza and ice cream. Huh, who’da thunk it? As I shifted my diet to include more greens, pasture raised meats, nuts and seeds, my energy levels sky rocketed.

This Isn’t Just a Health Concept

Everything has a design, everything. Your car, your hairbrush, your DVR, your smartphone. They all were designed to operate a certain way, under certain conditions, and be maintained a certain way.

If I were a betting man, I’d put money on that when you can’t get something to work properly, 9 times out of 10 you aren’t following the design, or intended use of the thing with which you are struggling.

This concept becomes very clear the moment you see the flashing lights of a police car in your rearview mirror. Receiving a ticket is most likely the result of not following the design of that community’s traffic laws.

How to Live Life By Design

  1. Discover the design: This isn’t an exact science. When it comes to your health, you can’t exactly call tech support and ask for the user manual for you. My advice is to use a mixture of science (peer reviewed studies), anthropology (study of humans past and present), personal life experiences, experimentation, and common sense to flesh out the design. In the case of an object or process that is man made, do a little research, read a manual, or call tech support to get what you need.
  2. Alter you actions: Time to form new habits! Discipline yourself to take new actions that are aligned with the design.
  3. Maintain your actions: If you slip up, and fall back into old behavior patterns, get coaching or support, reassert your discipline and get back to it.

That’s it. The process is simple, but not necessarily easy, at least for the things that you really care about. This is where an experienced coach can make all the difference.

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Stop Believing, Start Working A Theory

“Belief is a beautiful armor, that makes for the heaviest sword.”

-John Mayer, Waiting on the World to Change

Since humans developed spoken language, we have had beliefs. Beliefs on why the sun and the moon rise and set the way they do, beliefs on where we came from, why we exist, and who is responsible for it.

We still have lots of beliefs in our modern day, many of which are around our health and well-being. If you’ve ever asked an avid runner how to get in shape, you may receive a passionate testimony on the many glorious benefits of long distance running. You’ll probably get similarly one-sided, yet passionate responses if you speak with a body builder, cross fitter, or spin class devotee.

It’s not just exercise either, have you ever had a conversation with a vegan? Or someone who is hard-core paleo? Again, you may recognize the righteous, good and evil, black and white way they speak about their viewpoint.

I’m not knocking any of these groups, at one time or another I belonged to each of them with varying degrees of commitment. This post is not about who is right, it’s about finding what works for you. Since you are a unique snowflake of awesomeness, what works for your friend or coworker, may not work for you.

So what should you believe? Nothing.

Stick with me. I want you to walk away from this post with a new way to discover what works for you. A new paradigm if you will.

First, lets look at why the old paradigm falls flat.

Belief: trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something

Belief requires faith. Faith does not require evidence. In order to believe in something, one must give up their analytical thinking. Sure you may have done your homework before consciously or subconsciously believing something, but once that belief is committed to, it becomes entrenched.

Why do beliefs become entrenched? Because we humans tend to attach our sense of self to our beliefs. In other words, our ego gets all wrapped up in our points of view. We relate to these points of view as an extension of ourselves.

Here’s a quick test to see if your beliefs are wrapped up in your ego. Think for a moment, about your own personal take on fitness and nutrition. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Ok, now imagine that I somehow am able to systematically disprove all of the logic and reasons for why you ascribe to those approaches. Can you imagine your ego taking a hit? Think you might feel foolish or embarrassed? You bet you would.

The real downside of belief, is that at some point the believer stops thinking rationally and starts following blindly. Also, as the belief becomes more firmly entrenched, it becomes harder and harder to shift gears to any other approach. This can have some real negative affects when it comes to your health.

So if you shouldn’t believe things, what should you do?

Try creating what I like to call “Working Theories”.

Rather than exploring a certain school of thought, or approach, and then ascribing to it wholeheartedly and turning off the rational part of our brain, try coming up with a theory, and then work it!

For example, if you have an inkling that you don’t tolerate dairy very well. You now have a starting place, which is your theory.

Now, work your theory by eliminating dairy from your diet for a few weeks and make note of your energy levels, sleep, digestion, etc. This is your experimentation.

Based on your results, you may see actions to take regarding your level and type of dairy intake.

The trick is to never stop working the theory. You are not the same person you were a week, month or year ago. Something that worked for you awhile ago, may not anymore.

I personally noticed this a few years ago when I had trouble tolerating beef in my diet. I had recently ended two years of vegan/vegetarian eating, but was still eating a moderate amount of grains and found that when I ate certain types of beef, I would have digestive discomfort.

So I utilized my working theory to flush out which types of beef and under which conditions I experienced the uncomfortable symptoms. At that point in time, I had a pretty good working theory of when and what types of beef I could handle well.

Over time, as I continued working my theory, I was also removing a lot of inflammatory foods that weren’t doing my gut any favors. Foods like dairy, grains, and sugars.

Before long, I found that beef didn’t affect me negatively anymore, no matter what type or where it came from. I had to adjust my working theory to embrace this new evidence.

One pitfall to watch out for with working theories, is that they can slip into beliefs if we are not mindful. The trick is to revisit your theories regularly and keep experimenting. This is an opportunity where a little cheating can actually be a good thing because it gives you helpful feedback on the current validity of your working theory!

So to review the 3 steps:

  1. Posit a theory based on anecdotal evidence, or recommendations from friends, experts, etc.
  2. Test your theory by repeated and varied experimentation
  3. Revisit your theory from time to time to re-test its validity

Now get out there and work those theories to help you transform your body and life!

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“Whiplash” and Participation Trophies: Finding Your Own Path to Success

Originally posted on Medium. Click here to follow me on Medium.

As I sit and eat my breakfast this morning, I am joined by my 2 year old nephew, Archie as he plays with his toy drum set.

This particular toy plays a back track of music while a very enthusiastic voice cheers the player on to hit the different drums and cymbals.

As Archie “plays” the drums, the enthusiastic voice keeps saying things like, “Brilliant!” and “Genius!”, regardless of how Archie performs.

This struck me as a little overly encouraging. As the toy continued to congratulate Archie, even when his attention diverted to another toy and wasn’t even playing it any longer, I started thinking about a movie I watched recently, called Whiplash. JK Simmons won the Oscar for Best-Supporting Actor for his role in the film last night.

If you haven’t seen it (and I recommend you do), the movie is about a young college freshmen, attending a top music conservatory to study jazz percussion and his relationship with a severe, highly demanding music teacher. The plot of the film is made up of a series of escalating scenes where the teacher pushes the student much further than the audience is comfortable with in an attempt to produce a musical master.

As I think about Whiplash, I can’t help but reflect on the dichotomy between Archie’s toy drum set and the film. One tells you how brilliant you are even when you’re not playing, the other constantly tells you that no matter how hard you try, it will never be good enough.

I’m not interested in debating which approach is better. I’m only interested in dissecting both, and discovering how we can apply something useful to our own lives.

Let’s look at what the toy drum set is trying to communicate. I believe the intention behind those excited exclamations is to boost a child’s sense of self worth. Self worth is important, especially for a child, or people of any age attempting something new. Confidence is vital when we are pushing past our comfort zone. We need to know that we can handle whatever comes.

I believe the downside of this practice is that it makes a potentially dangerous connection between performance and self worth. When we are congratulated by another, or pat our own back for an accomplishment that isn’t really an accomplishment (e.g. Participation Trophies), we tend to assume that because we are congratulated, then we are good, or worthy.

Now, if this were to only happen once or twice it wouldn’t have much impact, but I would argue that in today’s world this happens much more than we may think. Over time this leads to entitlement.

Entitlement leads to dissatisfaction when our real world results don’t line up with our own image of ourselves.

Look in your own life for where this may be the case. Where did you set out to accomplish something, thinking it would be simple and straightforward, only to find that you failed completely and were shocked by that outcome?

Now let’s look at the “Whiplash” approach. This approach is the complete opposite of the false kudos proffered by the toy drumset. It says; “That wasn’t good enough, try harder.” In the movie, this method is taken to the extreme, where the teacher belittles the student and blames the student’s lack of performance on who he is, not his lack of practice or preparation.

The benefit of this approach is that it causes the student to stretch themselves further than they have ever known themselves capable of stretching. It actually expands the sense of accomplishment in conjunction with the real world expansion of skill and ability.

The downside of this approach is that it tends to leave the student with low self esteem and low confidence.

Look in your own life for a time when you had a teacher, mentor, or boss who demanded more of you than you thought you had to offer, but surprised yourself by providing. They may have employed a number of different tactics to push you far enough, hopefully nothing like what the boy in Whiplash went through!

So what’s the takeaway here?

In the spirit of the Buddha, find the middle road. I’ve crafted these 3 action steps you can take to achieve your goals.

  1. Value yourself without reason. You don’t need a reason or justification for why you’re awesome, you just are! If you base your sense of worth on reasons or justifications they will rest on shaky ground because those reasons or justifications can always shift. For example, if you base your self worth on the fact that you are a successful lawyer, but then you retire, or experience any kind of career setback, then you lose all of your mojo.
  2. Embrace your failure. Whether you’re learning to play a new instrument, starting a new job, or learning to cook, you can probably expect some failures early on as you learn. Remember that saying you heard back in elementary school, “You learn more from your mistakes than your successes?” Guess what, your teacher, old Mrs. Smith was right. Embrace your failures as learning opportunities and stop making it mean that you are dumb, talentless, unworthy, uncoordinated, or whatever other gobbledygook you come up with.
  3. Stretch yourself. Create a structure that pushes you to stretch beyond what you currently think yourself capable of. Choose a mentor or coach, or maybe you are one of those rare people who has the discipline to push yourself, either way, create a structure that works for you.

Now, take these 3 steps and go for your dreams. While you’re at it you can go find another use for all of those participation trophies you “earned” as a kid!