at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Tag: personal development Page 1 of 2

The Challenge of a Normal-Better Life

A person’s life typically feels normal to them, right?

Sure, it may be more or less average, but you have to have something to compare your life with (and the time and a reason to stop and compare it) to notice how much it is or is not so ordinary.

Even then, as your everyday lived experience, it is your normal.

The problem – and the potential – with life nowadays is that we see many examples of the extraordinary, and we have ideas (notions, fancies?) of ourselves and our lives as we wish they (and we) were.

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Footsteps in the Sand

The Really Hard Thing To Do

Know this feeling?

You are in a routine. A rut. You do what you have come to usually do, what became normal and necessary – and you are bored out of your mind. Life is so dull; it’s always the same…

Modern times and media seem to have made that ordinary situation all the worse.

While you live a boring life, the people you see on Instagram or Youtube – not to forget TV – seem to have such interesting and exciting lives.

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Natural Born Heroes book cover

High Time for “Natural Born Heroes”

Talk of heroes seems stale when it takes (only?) an eponymous action camera for one to “Be a Hero” – and yet, from the author of “Born to Run” comes a new tale of heroic outcasts that is also a wake-up call for the everyday person to become a hero…

What Hero?

Chris McDougall’s latest book, “Natural Born Heroes,” out April 14, 2015 strikes at an issue that is at the heart of some current confusion:

For one, talking of “heroes” seems a thing of the (mythical) past at best, a failed understanding of human imperfection at worst.

It’s become a label affixed to people doing what they prepared to do (like firefighters; just think of all the “heroes of 9/11″…).
It’s attached to people doing something that’s simply human: caring and being strong for others.
And, worst of all, it’s the tagline for Youtube “heroics” that are just action sports, if that.

Even worse, our idols seem far from any heroic ideals.
Success, in fact, seems something for sociopaths.

After all, those people upheld as great examples of success are the ones who are rich and famous (or at least rich) as – following another pattern of ‘extremization‘ – we make money the only measure. And if not money, then fame. Popularity, at least.
Their character, the sources and consequences of their money, i.e. their supposed success, don’t matter anymore, then.

The good person who did some kind of heroic deed, meanwhile, is looked at somewhat askance.

“Why would you risk your life for others? What’s the profit in that?” is the immediate thought.

At the same time, though, we still want to see and respect values. We treasure the person who is strong not for himself but for others. We long for adventure and meaning.

Here, however, we also find a problem.

Reading a title like “Natural Born Heroes” will probably make you think only of people who were genetically gifted with special skills and characters.

Enough recent books have mentioned (e.g. Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes–and What We Can Learn from Them), if not been all about (e.g. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance), the genetic component to athletic prowess, for example.

“Me, I’m no hero,” you will more likely think.

And that’s exactly where “Natural Born Heroes” draws you in and carries you through the story of the WWII resistance fighters on Crete and McDougall’s discovery of their skills in our times.

It reads just like a story of just such people who must somehow have been gifted, only waiting for the right conditions of adversity in which to excel – but there’s an almost immediate twist:

If the people who are the heroes of that story are supposed somehow to have been born as extraordinary specimens of our species, then a hero awaits in every stereotypical basement-dwelling nerd. And every playboy and outcast and ordinary laborer.

And that is just the point.

As McDougall argues throughout the examples he gives in Natural Born Heroes, jumping between the shenanigans of our World War II resistance’s heroes on Crete and modern representatives of the skills he is talking about, the “what” of hero training is what leads to natural born / everyday heroes. And, we all could be them.

“[H]eroes [aren’t] a different breed–they just had different breeding.” (Chapter 4)

“The art of the hero wasn’t left up to chance [for much of human history]; it was a multidisciplinary endeavor devoted to optimal nutrition, physical self-mastery, and mental conditioning. The hero’s skills were studied, practiced, and perfected, then passed along… The art of the hero wasn’t about being brave; it was about being so competent that bravery wasn’t an issue. You weren’t supposed to go down for a good cause; the goal was to figure out a way not to go down at all.” (Chapter 3)

Now, I believe this is quite a re-reading of history, but as a goal, it certainly isn’t the worst.

We live in a time in which we have all the conditions for such a re-reading and such practice towards greatness, after all – and we are using them to discuss the minutiae of TV series while getting fat rather than form the fandom of life.

I just have to think back to my high school days (which were before the internet and even before most computer games).
And, there was a martial arts student who was strong but couldn’t run far, many soccer players who couldn’t even manage a single pull-up, and the highly intelligent kid who remembered everything he wanted but was so in his head he thought he would always be able to think himself out of any dicey situation… and apparently, with kids ever more indoors and playing only on tablets and computers, even balancing or playing tag has now become an issue.

Weakness Is a Human Strength

It does not end with physical skills, though.

Noticeably, McDougall is big on virtue. Yes, he says that heroes were created through the above “what,” but also that it is ultimately the “why” which brings forth the hero.

“Virtue isn’t respectable these days, and we’ve certainly seen enough hypocrisy among so-called moral leaders to question what they tell us to do,” he quotes one of his interlocutors. “But at some deeper level, we still instinctively idolize the kind of heroic behavior we claim is foreign to us, and keep acting on the heroic urges we claim we don’t have.” (Chapter 5)

The hipster, or the equally-as-ironic critique of the hipster, would even go so far as to claim that all such virtue and heroics is either self-serving or unreal, I fear. Just look at the example of what goes for personal development nowadays: It is, all too often, all about gaming the system and bending the rules for one’s own gain and appearance of greatness.

When one of personal development/lifestyle design’s biggest guru’s biggest claims to fame are the most turns in the shortest time in tango dancing, and having tricked his way into a lower weight class and then technically k.o.-ed, i.e. thrown out of the ring, his opponents in a martial arts tournament, it is more than refreshing to hear such an earnest call for virtue.

In fact, “Natural Born Heroes” doesn’t even stop at virtue.

McDougall refers to a lesson from Plutarch, which taught that “Heroes care. True heroism… isn’t about strength, or boldness, or even courage. It’s about compassion. … Empathy… [is] a source of strength, not softness; the more you recognized yourself in others and connected with their distress, the more endurance, wisdom, cunning, and determination you could tap into.” (Chapter 5)

Later, too, where I have found personal development pros claim that you have to cut your ties to people, be they friends or family, if they are not 100% supportive (useful?) to you, McDougall calls for compassion which “really springs from our raw animal need to figure out what is going on around us and the smartest way to respond. It’s your social spider web, a protective netting of highly-sensitive strands that connects you to your kinfolk and alerts you the instant one of them runs into the kind of trouble that can find its way back to you.” (Chapter 15)

What shall I say? Take that, egotistic preppers who think the apocalypse will be won by every man to himself…

In all that, where so many a physical feat seems to be all just about a record to break, McDougall (re-)discovers something that often seems to have been forgotten: that there is a deeper meaning in the pursuit of physical (as well as mental) fitness. Xenía, compassion, also expresses itself with/as the usefulness of a person to his/her group.

This idea is neatly summarized in Parkour’s, Georges Hébert-inspired/inherited, motto “Être fort pour être utile” – Being strong to be useful (as it has long been translated in articles around David Belle; it is “Be fit to be useful” in McDougall’s rendering); and it is the same spirit that I have seen in ninjutsu/To-Shin-Do, which Stephen Hayes has long been presenting as a practice for a protector.

Complete and Useful ‘Strength’

Sports and fitness are currently mainly seen as practices to get oneself lean (or built), but there is a usefulness and fascination (and fun!) with a very serious background when one looks at the modern era through the historical example:

“We’ve been living a lethal fantasy, Hébert realized. We’ve lulled ourselves into believing that in an emergency, someone else will always come along to rescue us. We’ve stopped relying on our own wonderfully adaptable bodies; we’ve forgotten that we can think, climb, leap, run, throw, swim, and fight with more versatility than any other creature on the planet.” (Chapter 26 – and Hébert was writing before WWI !)

We are now also ever more specialized, not just in work, but even in such fun, but, as McDougall quotes Hébert again,

“An individual who is satisfied with performing in exercises or sports of entertainment … but ignores the art of swimming, self-defense, or fears vertigo, is not strong in an useful manner. … A weightlifter or a wrestler who cannot run nor climb, or a runner or a boxer who doesn’t know how to swim, or cannot climb, is not strong in a complete manner.”

Never mind so many a current intellectual or ordinary person incapable of running for a few miles or pulling him-/herself up a wall or roof… (which I’ve argued to be a better sign of fitness than things like running a marathon, long before).

Here, there is so much fun and usefulness, be they for health and fitness or in preparation for whatever trouble you may happen to find yourself in, it is hard to believe that we need a wake-up call for that.

But from moving to throwing to finding food around us, we clearly do.

We aren’t – sorry, can’t resist bringing in my own concern here – not at home in this world, with the situations we may encounter and as the beings we are.

Beings who, to get back to what McDougall describes yet again, should “[aim] for the hero’s holy trinity: paideia, arete, and xenía: skill, strength, and desire [compassion]. Mind, body, and soul.

The Downside

Natural Born Heroes book coverIf there is one serious downside to the book, it is that it felt a bit short on the modern expression of such skills, the practical ideas to follow up on. McDougall visits people who represent those skills, here and there, but what they do and what there is to learn, to me always just felt shown in appetizer-sized bits.

The videos McDougall has been presenting on Outside Online illustrate these practices rather better (and maybe gave the impression that they would be the main focus when Natural Born Heroes‘ red thread is actually the WWII story).

McDougall’s book presentations (in person) seem much more focused on these practical skills rather than the WWII kidnapping, too (and so I wonder if a follow-up practical handbook, or a guide to relevant training courses, at least, is already in the works).

The story of the Cretan resistance was captivating nonetheless.

It was hard to put the book down – and at the same time, what I kept wanting to do more than anything was to put the book down, watch the videos and read the articles about the skills Christopher McDougall suggests we could and should be learning in order to turn us ourselves into heroes.

And, above all that, to go out and really learn and practice these skills.

In fact, I’m sure to be at the next parkour meeting in the city nearby. The tallest tree in my backyard will get a climbing rope put on it (again). And I’ve been exploring the edibility of wild herbs and the healthiness of real food, anyways.

This may all not be particularly heroic yet, but even if it’s just playing at following examples, it’s both a fun diversion and a great practice of useful skills for the now and any possible futures.


Relaxing with Curiosity Cola

Mountain Running Decisions, Willpower and Ego

I think there are limits [in ultra-distance running]… but I don’t think anyone actually ever reaches theirs.
Anton Krupicka in Kilian’s Quest S04E05.

For training and gear testing – and of course, for the fun of it – I found myself running around the lakeside road to ‘my mountain’ (the Traunstein) again.
Traunstein - Blue MorningIt was a nice-enough day with a lull in the worse weather that had been moving in.
With an insulating layer and a Windstopper top, what I wore felt rather too warm.

One week before, the temperatures had been even higher, the sun was shining, hardly any snow was visible any more, lots of people were out and about on that beautiful day.
A mother with a twin stroller, running on the lakeside road? Check.
Two old men already coming down the mountain that morning? Check.
Young hikers out for a day of fun? You betcha.

on the Traunstein

Spring was definitely arriving, between the sunshine and the flowers.

Flowery View, Traunstein, Traunsee

That was then. The week later, it still seemed a nice-enough day, but more of a dusting of snow on the upper reaches of the Traunstein was proof of the worse weather that had started moving in.

Getting higher up the mountain, whose top kept itself shrouded in clouds, the expected wind kicked up, too.

Only that it pretty soon was enough wind that the two layers that had just seemed too warm started feeling too cold; out came the windproof/waterproof jacket and pants that have become my constant companions on such tours.
And still, looking around, listening to the wind, noticing some snow start to fall, it was not enough for me.

A man whom I’d seen at the foot of the mountain came past me as I’d decided to turn back, and of course I didn’t like turning back when someone else went on – but it’s just this sort of social comparison and ego-kick that gets us in trouble. Turn back I did.

Not Doing, at least Not Comparing

Not doing anything isn’t the best thing for growth, of course.
Doing will lead to comparison, however, and that may make for some dangerous challenges.

Even on the nice day a week before, I had noticed that.
Compare yourself to those who are really fast, and you may feel like you belong in a wheelchair.
Walk past hikers, and you feel pretty okay with yourself.

And now, with social media, comparison has all the worse a context, especially upwards to the truly extraordinary people.

The only solution, same as it’s always been: If you are not among the best and greatest who have to compete, retreat from the competition.
Be(come) good enough and better, living for yourself.

(As I said before, at least sometimes, “winning is for losers.”)

Know when to pull back to keep yourself safe and go on another day; be happy not in comparison to others but with what you are able to do.

Having gone once across to, over and around the mountain, and back, and then still having been able to head right on to the train back to my wife – that had made me happy.


Having felt the need to turn back even as I could have gone on (and saw someone else do so) this time, that left me feeling daunted by the mountain, especially as a bit more sunshine would break through the clouds as I was on my way back.


It was only a wee bit of sunshine, though, and at least I got on my way back, not stuck in cold and wind up a mountain, which could just as well have been the case.

Out Further, Comfortably Inside

Becoming at home means both drawing back, making oneself comfortable, and pushing at boundaries, growing.

And here lies an interesting insight from recent science:
“Ego” – that is, willpower – apparently becomes “depleted” as we use it.

So, the more you force yourself to do something, to act in a certain way, and the more you simply have to make decisions, the weaker your power over yourself will become.

Choices such as what to have for breakfast are enough to drain ‘ego’ a bit; by afternoon, you just reach for the worst kind of quick sugar fix.

It doesn’t matter if the choices are inconsequential or important, they all require an effort that the brain will start to have trouble with.

Interestingly, there is an insight from the seemingly physiological side of things that sounds related:

When we feel that we just can’t go on, e.g. running, it may not actually be the muscles that are fatigued to the point of not working anymore, apparently.
Rather, it is our brains triggering a survival mechanism, looking to conserve some energy in case we should still need it later.

In both cases, choices (to make, or just the choice to go on) are necessary, and our mental household of energy is the decisive factor for how this will fall.

To a large extent, our conscious minds may be contributing (and we can learn to override some of these processes), but the real decision falls outside of its purview.
Rationality looks like it plays a role, but its main role may well be to rationalize the decision that came about at a deeper level.

Hypo-egoic” behaviors that don’t need such willpower because they have become ingrained in us, though, can go on – and we see that in running, where it’s necessary to forget the ego and just become motion if we want to go on at a certain point.

This is also, and more usually, the point of habits.

Make something a habit, and it will happen on cue and without a conscious, rational, energy-draining decision about it being necessary.

Just try to make sure you create good habits for yourself, be they going out for regular runs, turning back when things get too dicey, or regularly cooking good food, not flopping down in front of the TV with a beer when you really, really, would love to make more in and of your life…

Relaxing with Curiosity Cola

… but don’t forget to take your relaxation seriously, too ;)


The Fandom of Life

TV series may well be the new epics, geek passions seem the new “shared ways of life” (read: cultures) that unite people into online communities akin to modern tribes.

Sona Cosplay

Sona Cosplay (League of Legends) by TheSweetAmy, DeviantArt

From sports clubs to cosplay, from nerdy themes to kinky fanfic, and perhaps extending into religions, some of the roots of these “tribes” may be old, but much of them is new.

They are based on our ‘natural’ heritage as social animals, our urge to socialize and form communities, and our typically human propensity to be both parochial, suspicious of strangers, and welcoming, at least as long as an other does not seem to pose a threat, to life or to psychological well-being.
As fandoms, though, such groups are combinations of people into cyber-tribes of shared (pop-cultural) interests, removed from much of the real-world, practical relations to survival that an actually co-habiting community would have faced.

The passion and creativity being invested in the discussion and continuation of the stories that bind them is all the greater, utterly fascinating – and perhaps a little bit problematic.

The unity achieved by way of shared interests, among people who may otherwise not even want to see each other eye-to-eye, is a fantastic difference to how things typically are in what is often labeled “in real life.”

The way that looks and status often do not matter online, and sometimes not even in physical meetings of fans, can bode well for the potential for human understanding.

But of course, the same abstraction of persons into online personas, the same relative anonymity, also comes with easy misunderstandings and quick emotional flare-ups. Flame wars and trolling are another side of that coin.

This discussion is common, but it overlooks another relationship that deserves more attention: The overlooked question, to me, is what it tells us about our (not) being at home in this world when so much energy is devoted to the virtual lives of others, to the desire to immerse oneself in these imaginary worlds, but not to one’s own life and the actual world.

It is understandable that we would be interested in some escape from what we ordinarily do and can be and have any day, into a world designed to appeal to our desires.


To what extent, one might wonder, is “businessman” just another form of cosplay, playing one’s role in the fandom of money?
Image: Businessman silhouette by Parka, DeviantArt

Whether it be romance or a(nother kind of) thrill, hidden lives or even superpowers, stories make it possible to let the imagination run wild and to try out different kinds of identities. As one fantastic study put it, it gives us an opportunity for “Becoming a vampire without being bitten.

The last time you, as an actual person and not a character in a story, were somewhat free to change who you (thought or played) you were was as a child, just playing.
As a teenager, you might have played around with different identities and tried to come into yourself, too.
But then, as an adult, you are expected to play certain prescribed roles, fall into certain schemas, and have no more time, money, or even just energy to be or become anyone but who you’ve come to be.

You are not supposed to be anything more than a part of the economic machine, anyways. Work, make money, spend it again.

You can’t typically change yourself too much too quickly, be that because your own capabilities are limited and because new skills take time to develop or because the social ties, conditions, and circumstances you are in restrict your possibilities.

Real change takes real time.

But you can imagine being completely different. You read or play a character, and you gain some experiences, or at least memories/stories, of their personality and adventures. Even if it isn’t different, at least it feels so.

It feels good, and with that, much attention and cognitive capacity gets invested in knowing and discussing all the details of the respective fandom’s central theme. It may go to the point where the most minute details are gleaned from freeze-frames of a show, references are checked and allusions interpreted, characters put into further situations and raised up as ideals and objects of desire.

Nothing against a little infatuation with a story of interest or even a hero or heroine to emotionally attach to in a world with too few friends and too little excitement – but wouldn’t there be a lot that could be studied about actual life and the real world, and a lot to be gained from doing so?

Couldn’t we invest a bit more time and energy, not into wanting to be some fictional other in another world, but into making ourselves and our world better?

Life isn’t (just) a story, and therefore it does not appeal so easily. It’s dangerous and messy, and the hero doesn’t always win. It takes time to change, to grow, to create your better self, yes.

But it’s also real and it’s as fascinating as we make it out to be.


Me, I’m a fan of the trail to run, build endurance and explore the world, make myself at home in… this world.
(Here, the Dragon’s Back on the Hong Kong Trail)

There is a lot to discover. And besides, if you were a character in so many a novel or movie or TV serial, you probably wouldn’t be the hero but just the passerby or the random victim.
I sometimes wonder if I could ever be interesting enough to fit into Preston and Child’s Pendergast series (yep, I’m a fan of that), and the conclusion is that only one thing is sure: If I were a character in there, I’d probably be one of those who had long since encountered a gruesome and untimely death…

You only have that one life you are living now, as far as you can humanly know, it will be over soon enough – and there is a lot to discover and do in it.

There are stories to delve into, but there is also the story you yourself “write” by what you do every single day.

Every step taken – or avoided; every little piece of learning that makes you know more, every decision taken, makes you go on. If it’s not in a good direction making you a fan of your life, maybe it’s time to take a different approach, to re-write a bit.

It won’t happen overnight, there will be no magical pills or brain-expanding drugs or radioactive spiders – but training and learning and adventures to go out to and get better at, there sure are.

Supermarket Aisles

The Consumer’s (Im)Personal (Un)Development

The customer is king, the customer gets what he/she wants” is the capitalist way; “I want what I want” is the contemporary battle cry – but growth takes discomfort, not instant gratification.

Supermarket Aisles

Choice galore – but only the choice between the things that are offered…
img by Mtaylor848, wikipedia

We are supposed to be living in a kind of best of times.

As long as you want it, and are able to buy it, you’ll get it. If people want it enough, they’ll be willing to pay for it, and it will be offered. Whatever the it, it will be. Now for sale.

Giving us customers what we want has become the name of the game. And we are all supposed to be better off for it, for we get what we want. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Except, of course, that many of those wants are manufactured, playing on the most basic of human instincts and urges and their instant gratification so as to sell stuff and make money. Perfect for the money making, hedonic adaptation kicks in almost as fast as the gratification, and whatever was finally had turns out far less fulfilling than it had been expected that it would be – but the next new thing is being dangled right in front of our noses already, anyways.

What, however, if you want not what you want, but better?

What if you have experience with what is better but it’s not what is wanted?

This is just the problem of so much of education and learning, and even of personal development: that it’s not about giving people what they want, nor of making them realize what they didn’t know they’d want in the consumerist sense of becoming able to sell it like hotcakes (or rather, like iPhones).

Rather, it’s about following that nagging feeling of not living up to one’s potential and acknowledging – if not creating – the desire to be a better, more knowledgeable, fit, skillful,… person.

It’s only with enough self-awareness and perhaps in the quiet (which is ever more rare and all too often, actively avoided) that such nags and desires even come to consciousness, though. In the busy-ness of a ‘normal’ day, with all the clutter and all the clamor for more, it’s hard to notice that there may be more. Or rather, better.

It’s even more difficult, nicely as the calls to get better and more productive fit into the overall ideology of these our times and cultures, to realize when we may not need to get so much more of a grip on all our doing and being so much as to an understanding of the need to want less. When we just keep on trying to put more into every second, to not have any wasted moment, we may inch closer to the perfection of our productivity, but we may also be losing our humanity.

Running in Winter Cold and Snow

#sufferbetter, marketing campaign though it may be, captures it well…

We do, I think, need to get to doing more of what is better, and to a greater appreciation of the value of the better over the comfortable and convenient. Moving enough, for example. Eating well (and learning to choose real foods and cook with them). Learning about the world. Drawing pleasure from such purposeful activities that feel good when we get into the flow of their doing and are good for us in the longer term, rather than chasing after external validations and quick pleasures that are immediately satisfying in all their saccharine-ness, but destructive in the long term.

We also need to realize, however, that the understanding that can come with these purposeful practices will only come to fruition when we don’t just learn and work all the time, but when we become still, take the time to just observe, and let questions we wrestle with gestate and grow to new forms, show new solutions, wind along in different ways.

You will need to find yourself some topics that interest you, the motivation to move and explore, the time to socialize with other people or come to feel one with the world, all alone. No one can sell you the motivation, hand you the time, offer purpose for purchase. You’ll have to get up – and sometimes, get down and relax into just being, not becoming – and do it yourself. Uncomfortable as it may be.

Untrained Ultra – 12 Weeks, More Than 50k…

When you experiment with yourself, you can get fantastic and fascinating results – because you quit trying to find the best way first and get going instead… and because your sample is just 1.

I’m on record complaining about Tim Ferriss and his brand of personal development going astray, exactly as it applies to ultramarathons – and all the more so because I claimed that he probably could finish a 50k within the 12 weeks of training he ‘advertised’ (but never came through with even mentioning anymore).

Still on through the Seetaler AlpenInadvertently, I created a similar situation for myself in the run-up to the Via Natura 100 mile trail:

Where a real ultra-runner preparing for such a race would rake in 100-200 mile weeks, I hardly did that in the 12 weeks leading up to the race.

The last run before the race was 3 days before, doing lactate testing to finally get the medical certificate necessary for participation. (I had thought I’d just go to my usual doctor on Monday and get it signed, only to find out that he was on vacation until the day before the race. Fortunately, I asked at the ‘Sportordination‘ in Vienna, and promptly I got lucky with someone having to cancel their next day’s appointment and me getting it.)

Six 3-minute episodes rising to 18km/h speed. On a treadmill. Not what’s recommended mere days before a race.

The last time I had been out training before that (there was also a little work-related hike), I went up the Feuerkogel at the Traunsee lake (one of my usual ‘quick’ mountain training runs) the day after a sauna/steam bath visit, feeling weak and steamy. And then, after getting up there in 1 hour 30, I moved back down, checked when the next train back would go when I was down quite a bit, found that it would be in some 15 minutes, and ran all-out to catch that train.

12.6 km, 1156 m of ascent and then descent, in 02:16 hours, (at an average heart rate of 177 and reaching a maximum of 225(?)). Not all that unusual for me, but a mountain trail sprint race more than anything training-like.

Before that? Aside from one of the usual relaxed circles, that was the Linz marathon, just about a month before the 100 mile race. There, I ran in Salomon S-Lab (trail) shoes because I found that I neither had any decent road-running shoes anymore, nor the money and inclination to get new ones just for that race. And I started out only too fast, as usual when I do such things, only to get close to some cramping later on, have to walk a bit – and finish in my (apparently) usual 3:45.

April Training Statistics

April training statistics: 4 ‘moves’

All in all, after February (which was a good training month), I did only 14 “moves” I recorded as training, spanning 19:30 hours, covering a distance of 195 km, ascending merely 3000 m. That’s what a good runner may do in 2 weeks, not in more than 2 months… and I may have counted some twice because they were recorded once with my usual Ambit2 and once with the Ambit2R I was then testing.

FitBit data for last 12 months, in contrast

FitBit data for last 12 months, in contrast

Then again, my average daily number of steps during that time, as recorded by the FitBit One I carry, was between 12000 and 13000 (where 10000 steps is said to constitute a “highly active” lifestyle). So, I wasn’t just sitting around, either.

Is there anything to learn from that, though?

Well, it apparently is possible to finish a 100 mile mountain ultra marathon, going into it with a decent foundation of fitness but having done relatively little training.
Having had the adequate gear and enough experience certainly helped – but it all, aside from a decent physical foundation, mainly comes down to just what I’d written before, I feel: Do you really want to do it and are you able to overcome the obstacles in the way? Especially the psychological ones? Especially the competitive spirit that tells you that you’re not good enough if you aren’t among the fastest of finishers?

No way to know that in theory, no way to gain the fitness – whether from the usual training plans or some “minimum effective dose” – by perfect planning. You’ll just have to go out, find out for yourself, and get better at it by the doing. Or realize you don’t want that.

Wimbledon Tree and Fence Compromise

Un-Compromising Civilization

“I’m single because I don’t compromise”… A friend recently said that, and I didn’t want to comment because he says he’s “okay with that” – and that is okay.

Wimbledon Tree and Fence Compromise

“Wimbledon Tree and Fence Compromise” by MsAnthea, flickr

Compromising, especially among couples, but also in wider social relations, down ( or is that up?) to the point of politics and religions, is what makes civilization, though. Not commenting because it would be telling others how they are to live, in matters where it should be their own choice, is compromising. Not telling others how to live but suggesting how they may live better (and, first of all, trying it out oneself) is compromising.

Learning to love and care about the world, not just one individual person, is a compromise between our biological urges towards parochial feelings and restricted caring and our ‘unnatural’ human capacity for abstraction and a widening of our feelings – and basically the same compromise, between biological urges towards promiscuity and the best material for offspring and, perhaps social/cultural, perhaps equally biological, pressures towards pair-bonding and exclusive fidelity and care, applies to our romantic love for “the one.”

Every day I wake up extra-early to get in some writing before more interruptions start, every other day my wife will call me and expect me to be at her side at once, ready to listen, talk, give her a massage. Of course, it’s not necessarily the nicest thing to be interrupted, but it’s the compromise that makes for a relationship, and it’s the behavior that shows the priorities that are expected and enacted.

Civility is built here, too. Annoyance over interruption is one possible reaction, but it won’t lead anywhere well. (Even if so many a personal development guide seems to suggest getting rid of any and all people who are “negative” and “who hold you back”, no matter if friends or family.) Not getting angry but realizing priorities and switching from thinking “What the hell do I have to do now?” to actually asking “What may I do for you?” changes the whole interaction.

Compromise, in the sense of a lowering of standards or expectations, is equally as necessary as compromise in the sense of mutual concessions. When we cannot accept anything but what we imagine, we are living in a dream world of our imagining, not in life as it is. More than likely, in being too caught up in our own imagining, it won’t just make us unhappy in the solipsism it entails, but it will also keep us from ever noticing what else there would be, unseen because we are too focused on the things we expected. That’s no way to approach things.

The opposite, however, also applies. We’ve become so good at being civil and compromising, at compromising our ideals and our very humanity, we want to allow everyone to just be him-/herself even if they never get themselves up and going anymore, and we want to never have to be told or tell how to live, even if the only thing it’s really compromising is their/our own (and often, other’s) health and the integrity of the very Earth system we all depend on. Humanity, even.

We agree to disagree, agree to quit talking about anything because we might not like the answers it may lead to, purport to promote individual freedom when we are just letting individualism run rampant – and it’s not even individualism so much as egotism and narcissism run amuck, characters that never developed from the childish self-centeredness to the truly grown-up strength necessary to face the very likely possibility that we can’t have everything the way we alone want.

Not to forget that it’s all too often dreams of consumption, be that of material riches or luxurious experiences, of a freedom without bounds, that we are being led to follow thanks not just to individualist-consumer cultures, but also marketing and advertisements and the usurpation of any and all happiness and meaning by goods. But, even as we get caught up in some of the promises of consumer culture, sometimes, of course, we are also quite well aware of the ways it just tries to bend us into certain schemas and follow all the same rules.

It’s interesting to note, too, because there’s all the talk about individualism, for good and bad, but actually, we are all very much pushed towards quite a strong uniformity. Be yourself!, but only as long as it’s not too different and doesn’t lead you to actually find out and do just what you need and want and not what you are being told to do. Get to be too different – let alone, be different because of your looks – and you’ll suffer, though.

But again, the criticism often stops there, but forgets that a civilization is built on compromise. A life without any rules and borders is not one that can work for a society, nor does it even make for a good life for a person. There’s a reason why life-hacking is so concerned with the schedules of productive people (aside from how well it fits into the schema of personal responsibility and quick hacks and the social pressure to be productive über alles). It takes limits and challenges to encourage creativity, routines to think differently, good habits to do better.

Time and again, the more we try to live aside from the messiness and paradoxes of reality, in a perfect world of our imagining, the more we need to compromise our chances for good lives and better living, just because we build up ideas that can’t quite work, looking for a perfection that just isn’t there.

We’ll need to learn to compromise better, more aware, especially in dealing with just how imperfect and paradoxical and messy and often, because of all that, frustrating – but also fascinatingly diverse and full of surprises – this our world really is.

"Modern Times," Charlie Chaplin

From Personal Productivity to Living Purpose

Reality is, you are living and not producing, and you are here to live, not produce.  Purpose and the path to better hides in that understanding…

"Modern Times," Charlie Chaplin

Seems that arguing for the importance of learning and growth nowadays inexorably leads to personal development, which leads to personal productivity.

After all, if you want to learn and grow, you need to manage your time right and get things done. Use every second. Live every moment. No, not just live, press as much into (or out of) it as you can.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? How much could you get done if only you didn’t waste so much time with TV, got your gym exercises done to greater effect in a tenth of the time (hello, Tim Ferriss’ “minimum effective dose”), learnt a language every one of those moments waiting in a line, stuck in a traffic jam, that just get wasted otherwise, didn’t have to spend time eating, let alone cooking?

Aren’t we all pressed for time, needing more hours in a day?

But, stop the rush.

Sure, when entire days – months and years, even – go by as if in a trance, running on an autopilot that just barely keeps one alive, but hardly feeling alive and full of energy, it’s a tragedy. Or, it may be reality, but it’s tragic, and especially if you notice it and want more.

Still, adding a rush to get more done into the crush that already grinds us down is a good recipe for disaster. Sounds like a plan to find out just how much the time to a burn-out can be shortened… Time, then, to go “Against the Insufferable Cult of Productivity“…

And that’s not all. Learning and growth should perhaps go hand-in-hand with real change towards the better. Not just getting better at playing the game which is keeping us caught up in a headlong rush towards more, without aim or destination except to more of that more, without ever considering what would be enough.

Learning all well and good, measuring progress and setting up times so as to get into habits and make the time and get the cue for training and learning all advisable – but there has to be a rhyme and reason.

Purpose defines us; but when the purpose isn’t to live better, become better, and realize more of our potential to become our better selves but only to learn and be productive so as to get more adoration, make more money, live more easily, then it’s a purpose that may come natural, but doesn’t make much sense. Well, it makes sense to someone caught up in nothing but games for money and power, but if that’s the pinnacle of purpose for someone who supposedly wants to develop further, it’s a step backwards.

One of the best illustrations of this I've seen and known for a while - but don't know the proper source of. Does anyone know?

One of the best illustrations of this I’ve seen and known for a while – but don’t know the proper source of. Does anyone know?

Higher productivity isn’t going to cut it when it’s just turning the hamster wheel faster. Turn the corner in the rat race’s maze a little faster, and you still won’t be getting anywhere. The out isn’t in staying in the maze and navigating it faster, it’s taking a step up or down to a different game. First of all, to the game of life in which doing less more mindfully makes for much better living than always trying to push more into it all.

Difficult though it may be as there’s so much of interest, so much one could possibly learn – and such an ease with which we get caught up in just one thing delivering an outside motivation like status and/or at least money and, anyways, resist the reality that our life may not be about some great purpose and influence but just, first of all, about its living – the first lesson for getting at home in life and the world as they are is that there are a few things everyone who is living has to do.

You live, you learn, we say. But first, you live, you breathe, drink, eat, move, rest, relax, run, wait, interact with others, take alone time, need to make a living – or perhaps, a life,…

So, it’s better to find the first purpose and path to better living and being in the mindful and better doing of those essential things, even as they may, paradoxically, best get set up to be habits. Eat with pleasure, care and attention, for example, for good, real food will do more for your productiveness (and pleasure), bodily and mental, as well as for your impact on the wider world, than all the time “saved” by not cooking. And understand the reality that living means eating, among other things. Realize that this, too, is learning – and either a learning that leads to alienation from life and the world, or a living-learning that leads to better understanding and greater knowledge. Perhaps even wisdom.

Then, go from there.

Pizza, Pizza


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