Excuses—Free Yourself from Your Own Chains

Self Imposed Chains May Be Looming Over You, and Linking You To Your Own Demise.

Looking back on what I learned as a 25 year old, one thing stands out above everything else. My 25th year was a year in which I actually learned a lot, but my most important lesson is arguably still being absorbed and put into practice. The most important thing I discovered is to confront excuses and the power that they can hold over ones life. I spent 2014 in a huge commitment to a project, 65h weeks were on the low side of average, in a mentally and physically demanding position. In 2014 I was a Sous-Chef in a brand new restaurant. It was easy to let my health, personal desires, love, and sense of a normal life to fall by the wayside. Or at least such a commitment appeared to allow my ego to justify that as an excuse. I think all in all a second valuable lesson was what life can be like in a state of immense commitment. I didn’t practice or study music, write/blog, or develop any of my own business ideas into business plans. Misuse of my “free time” is to blame. Where does the excuse come in? I told myself that the commitment itself justified putting my true desires aside, and that I couldn’t compromise my commitment to someone else’s dreams to pursue my own. That is an excuse to stay complacent, in place, and put others interests over my own. That being said, I did accomplish one of my true desires outside of my major commitment: completing 4 Spartan Races in 11 months. I was able to attain this goal despite maintaining high performance in a role as a key management member of a busy restaurant. Surely if I can do that then I can adjust, restructure and address the excuses I made that held me back from pursuing true personal freedom.

I make excuses, and you do too if you’re being honest. Not all excuses are malevolent, and not all of a grandly deceptive nature, but overall the process of making excuses is subtly eroding away at lives of fulfillment. The human body, spirit, and mind are capable of amazing and incredible feats. The same human body, spirit, and mind will often allow a falsely justified attitude or idea (an excuse) to control itself, robbing the potential of the amazing and incredible. Excuses are created to escape responsibility for giving direction and purpose, to one’s own life. As awe-inspiring as the capabilities of the human being may be, conversely the un-inspiring excuses created by the same human being can be just as astonishing. The mind, or rather the ego takes pride in it’s creations. Subconsciously there is pride in standing by the excuse that has been formulated. Justifying excuses often takes even more effort then to change the behavior or to be accountable. Everybody has met someone standing behind an excuse with bullish stubbornness. “I can’t because… insert self-defeating statement.” When questioned or shown the fallacy of their justifications, they only entrench more, “No, I can’t because…x,y,z.” The x,y,z are reasons that they believe in their inabilities over their abilities, or fear over faith. It’s like solving a math problem, but never double checking it or verifying the validity of the answer, then finding out you got the wrong answer but trying to argue for the miscalculations merit, or that you did get the right answer. It is astounding the level of effort that someone can thrust into their false rationale of why something can’t be done, rather then redirecting that effort into solutions, or changing thoughts and behaviors.

Why Didn’t the Bird Cross the Road? He’s got an excuse just ask him.

What few people will say or realize is that change, and a life with direction require effort, but SO DOES MAKING EXCUSES. Wasting cognitive resources explaining, and defending excuses repeatedly through flawed logic is no way to become successful. I think the root is gratification. Especially in today’s society, people value instant gratification. The work required to affect positive change in life is seen as less gratifying because the reward is at the end, not the beginning. People think that by making an excuse they have avoided the problem, situation or event, thus receiving subconscious gratification immediately. The reverse is in fact true. The gratification that was felt from making and justifying an excuse to not act, grow, or change will ultimately sour into a state of un-fulfillment and fear of change. Putting in the work to change, to plan, to learn, then to become fulfilled through creating a real purposeful life is much more desirable in the long run than its counterpart. Taking the easy way out, avoiding real decisions and work, feeling a small sense of reward from avoidance, only to later have life deteriorate and collapse when the foundation of excuses crumbles, and simply cannot be vindicated any longer.

How do you overcome the propensity for the easy way out? Initially you must recognize and address this in yourself. The capabilities of our species are limitless, and constantly being defied. Latch on to the reasons why you can, versus why you can’t. Other people are pursuing, and achieving their dreams without excuses, or at least crushing the excuses into oblivion along the way. Join them. Don’t let another day, hour, or minute go by without realizing that you have the same potential to achieve as any other, you just choose not to. Choosing to live a real life, or subsisting in a state of non-action, and avoidance. Seems like an easy choice, or should when it’s spelled out in black and white. Evaluate your life as it is currently, why you’re not where you want to be, and take 100% responsibility for where you are and directing yourself towards a future that is desirable.

What has helped me face my excuses? One day in December 2013, I can pinpoint my battle against excuses taking a turn in my favor that fortuitous day. I completed a grueling 15.5 mile Spartan Beast, on 2.5 hours of sleep, and still finished in top 100 in my age group. If I can even complete the race under such circumstances how am I allowing myself to not reach that potential regularly? That day was my first step in taking on excuses head on. One day, and one event is not enough. I still created elaborate excuses throughout 2014 that held me back. Adopting a vigilance against self-defeating thoughts must be maintained daily. That is what I really learned. I am not 100% free of excuses yet, but I continue to challenge any notion that what lies in front of me is beyond my capabilities, and I know there are individuals alive today that overcame this and achieved great things regardless of circumstance.

My first Spartan Race…the Texas Beast 2013: Part 1

Time has certainly flew by since I last posted about my pre race preparation, fears, and excitement leading up to the 2013 Texas Spartan Beast. I never got around to publishing a follow-up, or any posts whatsoever until last week, due to my new job and the demands required of me (another post on this to come).

All that aside I want to share what it was like that fateful day—December 15th, 2013.

I had my Up band in a plastic bag in my camelbak tracking my steps...might not be 100% accurate, but closer than nothing.

I had my Up band in a plastic bag in my camelbak tracking my steps…might not be 100% accurate, but closer than nothing.

What was it like?
My first Spartan Race really blew me away. These races are large-scale undertakings, and nearly a festival atmosphere. Music, food, merchandise, and ongoing fitness challenges throughout the main event area, along with a great view of the finish line and last few challenges. You see the apprehension and nerves on competitors about to embark onto the course, and you see the look of exhilaration, satisfaction, and exhaustion on those who have already finished. Arrive and pick up your race package…with the warning YOU MAY DIE in loud bold print. The contents includes bib/number, tracking and timing bracelet, headband, and other pertinent race day documents/items. I’ll never forget lining up at the start line and seeing those surrounding me with the mix or excitement and trepidation. A master of ceremonies ignites the crowd with a Spartan speech enticing “Sons and Daughters of Sparta” (racers) with glory. A loud response of “AROO!” is given in reply. A remote control aircraft with GoPro camera captures the action for promotional and social media purposes. The MC then pops the tops on a couple of smoke grenades and throws them directly in what will be the first few steps of a 15.5 mile journey. The signal is then given that the race has begun and the first obstacle is the obstructed vision from the grenades. Once out of the starting gates the strong runners and those who chose to be at the front quickly separate themselves from the pack of average racers. I was advised (and thankfully so) to maintain my own pace, and not get caught up in the foot race aspect of this event. It will be a long day and my energy reserves will be needed for the last miles. I am keeping a decent pace, fueled by adrenaline and the substantial nutrition packed fuel I’ve ingested. Others pass me, I pass others as we enter the first real obstacle. Balancing on small tree trunk sized logs and jumping between them. My shoes are already pretty muddy, and the poor fellow in front of me looks to have the same problem. He makes an awkward attempt to leap from one log to the next and slips out sideways…impacting his ribs on the log as he plummets. Wow, I think to myself…too early in the game to hurt myself like that. Once I’m up on there and noticing traction problems myself I’m quick to jump down and voluntarily take the 30 burpee penalty and not potentially end my race 3/4 of a mile in. Running after those first burpees was tough, but I soon regained my steady pace. The next few miles were some of the toughest in the race when it came to running…about 5 miles of hill climbs and descents over treacherous terrain. To me the hardest obstacle of the day, and what really killed me was at the end of the hill section. The Bucket Brigade: fill a 5 gallon bucket to the top with around 75 lbs of gravel, then ascend a steep muddy hill, and descend another route. I messed up on this, and due to the non honest nature of another racer ended up having to repeat it (30 burpee penalty not an option). At the top of the hill it was common practice to put the buckets down and catch ones breath before the downhill portion. I witnessed some people with less than allowable levels of gravel grabbing dirt and sticks and anything they could find to add to their buckets to reach the permissible level. At the time I thought little of this, due to being quite tired, and aiming to recover. My bucket was then grabbed by one such racer, and I was left with a less than full bucket. I didn’t notice until the bottom when I had to repeat due to a level of gravel that wasn’t acceptable. I was totally pissed off because I knew mine was full when I started. (Pro Tip: Sit on your bucket to avoid this) Repeating this obstacle probably took me 25- 35 minutes and drained plenty of my energy. All I could do was to push onwards. However, the hill section also held one of the coolest obstacles of the day…the memory challenge. Based on the racers bib number they must look up a code on a large board, and then memorize it for later recital. I saw other racers bust out the pen and paper to help them, but I chose a different approach. I would recite the code sequentially the steps I took and my breathing. I ran nearly the next 8 miles expecting to have to recite it, and eventually gave up, annoyed by constantly repeating this code in my head. I figured it would be a few miles after the board, maximum…but it was around 10 miles later. Many miles and obstacles later I came across and open area where people were doing burpees for what looked like no reason. No monkey bars, no gravel buckets, nothing that gave an indication as I approached. “What’s the password?” No way. Really!? I just tried to stop reciting it about 3 miles ago and now I’m prompted to remember. Somehow I remember it and pay no penalty. Great! I did well on most obstacles…failing only 2 entering the home stretch—the first obstacle of the log jumps, and then I failed the rope traverse (next time I’m letting my arms recover after the Hercules Hoist). Another bucket brigade of a less dramatic incline was included in the last few miles and that was a tough one! I ran through a creek bed with water in it and was wondering how much longer this was going on for when suddenly I popped out and could see the finish line…but some of the toughest obstacles remained between me and my medal. The traverse wall, and climbing a rope from a submerged in water starting point. I failed both, the traverse wall—30 burpees!(I just had bad technique as I’d later learn). I also had bad technique on the rope climb and was forced to dyno for a higher knot but failed to grip the rope, so I plummeted into the muddy waters below. Disoriented and exhausted I emerged to do another 30 burpees doubling my previous total in the last 500 feet to the finish. I was dragging and suffering at this point. Then something happened. I heard a faint voice of encouragement from the crowd: “Do it for Canada!” I suddenly spun around to see my friend and race mate standing in the crowd watching me. A few things all flowed through my head “how long has he been waiting for me?” “he certainly must have had an easier time then me.” “How long have I been out here on the course?” but overall the encouragement powered me through the last half of the burpees and then it was on to the finish. Pretty simple obstacles of the slippery wall and the fire jump stood between me and the end of a hard day. As I was climbing the slippery wall a volunteer offered his hand to help me overcome the obstacle…I refused, determined to use my gumption to get to the finish or pay the penalty. I drew up the last of my reserves and beat the wall, jumped the fire and sprinted the rest of the distance to the finish line.

Determined to finish!

Determined to finish!

5 hours flat was my time.

My results

My results

My friend placed 6th overall in the open category beating me by 2 hours with a time of 3 hours flat. A medal and a banana were pressed in my hand as I crossed, and I couldn’t help, but think of the branding Spartan Race has used—“You’ll know at the finish line.” That is the most apt description of how I felt. I definitely knew. I realized I had much more capabilities than previously known, and I also knew that this wouldn’t be the last time I finished a spartan race. And it hasn’t been…

Health and Fitness Right Now

When it comes to health and fitness, I’m not “an expert”, yet. However, I’ve been studying it and increasingly dedicated to it for the last 6 years. I have learned an immense amount, but there is always more to learn. Plus, science, technology, and information sharing have all increased available knowledge, and progressed health and fitness to new realms. I’m skeptical about training just one way, I believe in a balanced approach, and that’s what I’m working towards.  Gradually improving what I eat, how I train, and what I study/believe. I want to share resources, workouts, diet tips, and progress in this category of the blog, also make myself available to answer any questions. I’m working on becoming a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) this year so if you’ve got questions I’d be happy to help.

This is a passion that’s borderline obsessive. Not as obsessive as some people, but it’s still been something I’ve been very focused on, and progressively more so. I invest money, time, and substantial effort. Results have been steady, but finally breakthroughs are here. (6/19/13), I set 2 personal records for lifting. Dead Lift over 200lbs. (205×6)x2. And, Bench press over 200lbs 225–4x. Both of these have been on my fitness goals since LAST YEAR. So I’m pretty happy that I’ve been able to cross them off. Evernote Snapshot 20130619 234635 That’s one thing I love about having clearly defined goals in places you’ll see them; sometimes it may seem like nothing’s happening but the more you see that and think about it the more likely you are to take action. The thing is that I’ve probably been strong enough for quite some time now, but just never tried. That being said those are relatively light weights in the fitness world, but nonetheless for my 170lb frame, mark a decent strength benchmark, and a place to keep improving from. My body fat percentage is surely dropping and overall body aesthetics are improving.

I always record my workouts, so I can see progress and learn from mistakes, and for personal accountability. Evernote Snapshot 20130619 204932

(I recommend pen and paper, but digital is an option)

This was today’s workout with notes: (weight/reps unless otherwise indicated)

This workout is a variation on a total body day from a self designed program I’ve been developing over the last several years. The more I learn the more I adapt this and add/remove exercises.

Warm up:

Bike 10 minutes: stationary bike on a moderately challenging setting.

Stretch: upper/lower body, compound movements, and total body stretches

Warm up circuit: Complete 3 circuits

(no rest between exercises)

15 lateral raise with resistance band

15 incline situps with 10lb medicine ball (alternate twisting each set)

15 box jumps 1.5 feet

Main Lifts: (maximum 1.5 minute rest between lifts)

Seated Machine Row: 60/20, 90/10, 120/8, 90/10, 45/15

Bench Press: 135/8, 225/4*, 135/8

Dead Lift: 135/8, 205/6*, 205/6, 135/8

Hammer Curl: 40/12, 45/10, 50/8, 45/10, 35/12

Leg Press: 180/15, 225/FAIL (65)

Myotatic Crunch: 12 reps

Chinups: 7 (legs at 90 degrees), 6 (reversed grip), 4 (2 finger).

*Indicates personal best & goal accomplished.

In my next fitness post I’ll be sharing some of the resources that have taught me the most in the past, as well as the one’s I’m learning from now.

Thanks for reading, and keep training. Ask me any questions in regards to this post or health and fitness in general, and I’ll share what I know or find an answer.

Brendan