Articles

Up And Down the Layers of Abstraction with Mental Toughness

As we move up and down the layers of abstraction regarding “mental toughness,” we encounter varying frameworks and strategies.

The tools needed to perform well on a specific workout are not necessarily the same tools necessary to perform well on a week of workouts or a month of workouts.
In many other sports, a truly transcendent ability during game play can supersede all other aspects of athletic development. If you are that good at basketball, football, or soccer, the marginal gains of proper sleep, nutrition, training and planning may not offer enough of a percentage improvement in your performance to make a true difference in your competitive abilities.

However, in sports like CrossFit – where the ability of an athlete is very closely tied to how much training they’ve done and how well they’ve adapted to the training – the aggregation of percentage point improvements in recovery and physiological adaptation are worth quite a bit more in terms of performance during competition than in field sports that are much more heavily determined by skill during gameplay.

So, what variables do matter for the long-term development of CrossFit athletes?

One of the major ones is the accumulation of quality training sessions over time.

You can’t control your genetics (which are going to be one of the main factors dictating how well you can recover from and adapt to these training sessions), but you can control your attitude and your discipline such that you are maximizing the amount of quality training sessions you have in a specific time period.

What time period is that? Well, that depends on specific goals. For many athletes, we are looking at a time horizon of several years to achieve their competition goals – and in this case, we are often looking to accumulate the maximum tolerable dose of training (meaning as much training as we can do without causing negative consequences).

For many people looking to “live long and prosper” (as James FitzGerald would put it) rather than “compete and win,” that time horizon may be decades – and here we are looking to accumulate the minimum effective dose of training (meaning as little as we can do while still creating progression towards goals or maintenance against entropy).

In this context, “mental toughness” does not refer to the ability to push harder.

It does not refer to the ability to be rigid and routine-based and get up at 4am every day and push yourself through an ass-kicking workout.

It refers to the ability to maximize your number of quality training sessions over the amount of time over which you are attempting to reach your goals.

(With the caveat that competitors are going to always be looking for ways to add more training into their routines and every day folks are going to be looking to find the leasts amount of training that progresses them at a reasonable rate towards their goals or maintains their fitness.)

So, from a more zoomed out perspective, mental toughness for both competitive athletes and every day people in the gym requires them to have enough discipline to do the things that matter – creating time in their schedule to train consistently, developing habits and consistency surrounding sleep and nutrition, developing an awareness of how they are feeling so they can give appropriate feedback on their training load, etc – while also building in enough flexibility in their schedule and their plans that they don’t become overly obsessed with achieving specific results in training sessions, hitting exact numbers of macros on every single day, or making sure they complete every session prescribed to them even if they have the flu.

The Perils of Infinite Scrolling

This was originally sent to my newsletter list. Most of my writing never makes it to the blog – so subscribe at the bottom if you want more of this type of thing.

As someone who has been a chronic disparager of social media and its impact on our lives – it’s tough for me to admit that I’ve been thinking a lot more recently about how to utilize Instagram and Facebook appropriately for my fitness businesses.

For South Loop Strength & Conditioning – as a brick and mortar gym – our website and the customer experience of our members are far more important than our social media presence. And – in the past when we’ve experimented with attempting to drive more leads and business through our social presence and through advertising – we’ve found the long-term retention of those members to be severely lacking.

For Legion, however – as an online coaching company – Instagram seems to be a legitimately viable driver of consistent business. This is a difficult pill for me to swallow, since I find the way that most people in the CrossFit community relate to social media to be toxic and counter-productive.

This seems to be a pretty solid case of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” though.

The challenge is that the posts that generate the most engagement are often not the posts that are what I consider to be the most “valuable.” Our most engaged with post to date is of our strong young man Mark Stenberg squatting a personal record of 550.

When you’re @mark_stenberg85 squatting 550lbs doesn’t look too tough. Re racking the bar is a different story – Mark just completed a testing week as he joins The Legion in search of becoming a better athlete ?️‍♂️?‍♂️?‍♂️?‍♂️ – In 2012 Mark was one victory away from representing USA wrestling ?‍♂️ at the Olympics. In the last year he’s turned his attention to @crossfit and competed in his first @crossfitgames open this year which saw him finish top 10 in the world on 18.2a, cleaning 386lbs – Now he’s set his sights to improving the rest of the skills needed to get to the top level of CrossFit – Interested in learning more about individualized programs? Click on the link in our bio and send us a message to learn more! #CrossFit #legionsc #legionathlete #squat

A post shared by Legion Strength & Conditioning (@legion.sc) on

Sure, this post is cool – but i don’t think it really teaches anyone anything. And, it honestly just probably makes a lot of people feel bad and stress about their squat numbers relative to Mark.

We do have plenty of other posts about movement, motor control and program design, though that I think are legitimately helpful. Problem is – those posts struggle to flip the algorithm switches that drive engagement.

So, figure I’d share one of those here since I think it will actually help a bunch of folks reading this who struggle with catching ring muscle-ups.

POOR SHOULDER EXTENSION LIMITING THE CATCH IN THE MUSCLE-UP

Now this is a post that I actually think makes the world a better place.

There’s a bunch of people wasting their time doing silly ring muscle-up drills and doing progressions to improve their upper body pulling strength to get better at ring muscle-ups – but they don’t have the control over shoulder extension (the ability to bring the arm behind the body) that they’d need to actually perform the movement effectively.

This pisses me off – since there’s a lot of people working really, really hard, but they’re wasting their time focusing on the wrong thing.

Check out this quick assessment of shoulder extension to see what might be limiting your ability to get through that transition point on top of the rings.

When athletes struggle with the catch position in the ring muscle-up, it can often be related to limitations in shoulder extension (which actually refers to the ability to reach your arm behind you – not overhead) – In this video, @lperson5 shows us what it looks like to struggle with shoulder extension – There can be all kinds of reasons for this limitation. In Lauren's case, she has a painful shoulder and pain can create motor control issues. Best option here is to find a qualified therapist for treatment – For other folks who struggle on the catch in ring muscle-ups – check out this test to see if you have adequate range in shoulder extension. If not, you may get much better results from focusing on improving the mobilty or stability of the shoulder joint in extension than you will from attempting to increase your upper body pushing and pulling strength – #CrossFit #legionsc #legionathlete #muscleups #shoulders

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JORGE LUIS BORGES RECOGNIZED THE PERILS OF INFINITE SCROLLING IN 1976
Speaking of social media…

In Borges’s 1976 short story “The Book of Sand,” a series of unfortunate individuals are tormented by a demonic, infinite book – in which – no matter how you open it or flip through it – you never see the same page twice.

This is deeply and darkly relevant in 2018, when we all have our own infinite books riding along in our back pockets.

Here’s an audio version of the story from The New Yorker’s monthly fiction podcast.

Independent of the privacy and data-mining concerns that Facebook has run afoul of recently, I think the bigger issue is the way that these social networks prey on our attention and upregulate the most negative status anxiety pathways in our primate brains.

But, I also think it’s important to recognize the human beings that make these social networks are often good-intentioned humans responding to incentives and trying to figure things out in a messy world.

This recent interview with Mark Zuckerberg from Freakonomics shows the level of thought and concern that companies like Facebook have for how their product is impacting the world – and hopefully we can see some changes in the coming years (if not months) with how these social networks interface with our data and with our more base human instincts.

DERIVATIVE HARD ROCK SONG OF THE WEEK
Bruce Dickinson – Tattooed Millionaire

Sometimes it’s a good idea to dig into the questionable material from some of your favorite artists. Most bands that have been around for decades have all kinds of material outside of their classic or canonical work – and some of it can be surprisingly great. But that’s not always the case…

Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album was released while he was still in Iron Maiden. The reality is that most of this material is not very good – and many of the songs are obviously derivative of other hard rock styles. “Ok, let’s write a song that sounds like Aerosmith.” “Ok, let’s write a song that sounds like John Mellencamp.”

And – of course – “Hey, let’s write a song that sounds like Def Leppard.”

The title track off of Tattooed Millionaire is a pretty blatant copy of “Photograph” in both riffing and structure – and this is a good thing.

I know, I know. I probably haven’t done much to sell this song – but please check it out.

How I Consume an Unreasonable Amount of Information and Actually Remember It (A Tactical Guide)

This post is the tactical companion to a forthcoming post on how and why I consume so much information. There are several higher order principles that I think are very important for making lifelong learning a consistent part of my life. There are also lots of misconceptions that I see about how to learn, how to choose what to read and listen to, and how to retain it. And, there are a lot of people thinking they’re learning by multi-tasking, but they’re really just doing a bad job at everything they’re doing. But, this is not the place for these kinds of discussions. This is the place for the nitty gritty details.

Even though I know people will just randomly copy some of the ideas in here and apply them without thinking about how they will work for their own specific schedule, habits, and preferred methods of learning – please don’t do that. Use this as a tangible example to build your own systems and methods for your own learning.

There’s three things that I’m trying to accomplish when thinking about how to filter information:
1. Keep track of all of the interesting stuff that I want to someday read, watch, or listen to.
2. Prioritize the things that will help me the most at a given time – or will provide me with the type of entertainment or challenge that I’m looking for (without getting lost in the overwhelming totality of everything I’ve catalogued).
3. Read, watch, or listen to the content that I’ve chosen in a way that maximizes efficiency and minimizes distraction without compromising comprehension, retention, or entertainment.

My systems are also quite complicated and they involve a lot more pieces of software than may seem appropriate or necessary.

This set of behaviors was not built top down as a crazy network of apps and protocols. Rather, it is emergent from constantly trying to reduce friction and increase efficiency, and it is built on habits that I have already developed and refined.

I also like being able to “separate” certain types of content and tasks. There’s an interesting balance to be found between having one inbox for everything, and fighting for separation between different areas of focus and priority. You don’t want to have random assortment of scraps of paper, e-mails, to-do lists, and stacks of mail all over the place, nor do you want to have to filter through everything on your list every time you need to find something.

So, with that disclaimer, here’s how I consume an unreasonable amount of information content and actually remember it.

DEVICES

One of the best investments that I’ve made is an iPad mini and Bluetooth headphones. This allows me to listen to my weird sped up content without triggering everyone around me.

I also love using the iPad instead of my phone for reading and listening since it’s much harder for me to get distracted on the iPad. I have my work e-mail and text messages disabled on the iPad and notifications are turned off for everything. I also don’t have social media apps or – if I do – they stay logged off unless I’m using them for a specific purpose.

I think a lot of people imagine that they’re using their smartphone to read the news, check articles, and watch interesting videos – but they’re really just flipping back and forth between whatever they think they’re doing and their social media, e-mail, and text messages.

AUDIO

Here’s how this works.

I use Overcast at ~1.85x speed with “Smart Speed” enabled

I strongly prefer Overcast to other podcast players since it allows a sliding scale speed option as well as a little button called “smart speed” that shortens silences.

To a lot of normal people, listening at 1.85x speed is an insane thing to do and it sounds horrible and awful. For me, however, I can follow most speakers at this speed without losing comprehension.

At this point, listening to podcasts at normal speed makes me antsy and impatient – and it reminds me of being really bored and upset in high school, which probably says something about my personality, my character, and my fundamental disposition.

I listen to podcasts while commuting, doing chores or doing easy exercise – but never attempt to “multi-task” while doing anything cognitively demanding.

I think the fact that multi-tasking is really switch-tasking is well-known by now, but people don’t behave as if it is. This article seems to convey the gist of it pretty well. Quit trying to multi-task. It just makes you bad at everything.

I only subscribe to a subset of podcasts that are consistently interesting, entertaining, or educational.

I keep up with these as they arrive. I check everything else on a monthly basis (the first week of the month for me).
Overcast allows you to have podcasts “saved” in your list that you are not actually subscribed to, so I simply scroll through, look at their feeds, and download any episodes that I want to hear. It usually takes me about two weeks to listen to all of the “non-subscribed” podcasts that I download on a monthly basis.

Most of what I listen to is centered on – surprisingly – fitness and business.

I categorize the podcasts I listen to into two categories:

Those that I subscribe to and those that I check on a monthly basis.

By only subscribing to a smaller subset of podcasts, I can avoid recency bias and letting my podcasts app get cluttered (although that still often happens). I can prioritize the new stuff from content creators who I hold in extra high regard, and sort through everything else on my own timeline.

I have a pretty high bar for podcasts that I subscribe to. I only subscribe to things that I feel like I will learn from every episode.

An example here would be something like “Mastering Nutrition” with Chris Masterjohn, since I feel like almost every episode is over my head (in a good way) and I’m always struggling to keep up with the biochemistry.

Or, something like “EconTalk” with Russ Roberts since he consistently has interesting guests and regularly challenges my intuitions with his libertarian leanings. And, he spends a lot of time talking about complex emergent phenomena, creating incentives for specific types of behavior, and understanding the unintended consequences of incentive structures.

Or, “This American Life” since my logical, systematic brain needs all the help it can get with narrative structure and connecting emotionally to an audience. These folks are some of the best of all time in that capacity (and the stories are really, really nice and I regularly learn new things, laugh, or become emotional).

The podcasts that I check monthly often have interesting content, but are either released so frequently that I am not interested in trying to keep up, they have a host who is kind of annoying, or they’re produced in a way that uses so many fast edits and narrative tricks that I become upset and triggered while listening to them.

An obvious example here would be something like Joe Rogan’s podcast. Joe is insanely prolific and his podcasts can either be very interesting or totally lame unstructured ramblings. Sometimes he interviews people who I really want to hear from like Robert Sapolsky. Or Pauly Shore. Other times, he has people on who have a lot of opinions about MMA or want to ramble about conspiracy theories. I don’t care about that stuff.

My Audible subscription delivers my credit on the third week of the month.

I wish Audible had a sliding scale for speed, but most audiobooks are narrated so slowly that 2x speed is about right for most narrators. I select my audiobook based upon current challenges that I’m working through (learning how to manage people at South Loop Strength & Conditioning has had me listening to a lot of books focusing on that problem: “Work Rules!” by Laszlo Bock has been particularly helpful) or based upon strong recommendations from people I trust (“The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt was a real mind-blower on the roots of conservative vs liberal moral thinking, for example).

Scroll down a bit to the section on “Bookmarks” to see how I save and categorize things that I want to read.

I bookmark and categorize interesting video lectures in Pinboard when I come across them.

Once per month (the fourth week of the month for me), I rip about 10 of those videos to audio using 4k Video Downloader, and I upload them to Overcast using the paid “Uploads” feature.

I also use the app Overdrive to rent audiobooks from the public library.

Chicago Public Library has some pretty good stuff available, although that’s more of a “browse and see what’s available” type of situation rather than looking for a specific book since the selection is somewhat limited.

BOOKMARKING

Here’s how this works:

I prefer tagging for bookmarks rather than folders so that I can make connections between different content, so I use Pinboard.

Given that I’ve been focusing on learning about “management,” I want to be able to click my “management” tag and see books, videos, and articles that I’ve saved to read on this topic – rather than navigating a folder tree that inevitably becomes disorganized and messy.

I will use Google Chrome on my mobile devices as a repository for “things to look up.”

Since I listen to so much audio content, I will pull up a browser tab with something that I want to investigate further or the Amazon page for a book I want to read. Since Google Chrome allows you to sync open tabs across devices, I will pull open all of the browser tabs on my laptop (theoretically) once per week and either bookmark or read the things I’ve collected.

Once you have more than 99 tabs open in Chrome, the tab counter turns into a smiley face to let you know that you’re an idiot loser and everyone is laughing at you.

I use the app SimplePin to save and categorize bookmarks on mobile.

This has an integration that allows you to send things from other apps to Pinboard on mobile. So yes, I’m the freak who will send things from Instapaper to Pinboard, and I recognize this is ridiculous.

I save most articles to Instapaper rather than reading them in the browser.

I don’t like the distractions, advertisements, and clickbait on most websites, and I also like to separate “reading” time from “content sorting” time.

Instapaper conveniently has bookmarklets that allow you to save things while using a mobile browser as well.

VIDEO

Here’s how this works:

If a video is of a lecture that doesn’t require slides, I prefer to rip the audio and listen in Overcast.

See above in the podcasts section. I don’t sit still well.

If a video is on YouTube, I will often use the built-in YouTube speed controls to speed it up.

If the video is longer or not hosted on YouTube, I have an app called MySpeed that allows me to increase the speed of most embedded videos (although this no longer works in Google Chrome).

I have a Chrome browser extension called Options from Smart People on Ice that allows you to disable and hide a lot of the clutter on the YouTube page (like related videos, comments, etc.).

While this related content can occasionally be helpful, it usually just results in distraction.

I am always aware that the incentives of services that are supported by ads are not necessarily in alignment with my goals – they want to keep me on their site so they can learn about my customer behavior and display appropriately targeted advertisements to me.

I don’t have a problem being advertised to, but I do want to prioritize my own learning over being distracted by psychological hacks.

I will add videos that I want to watch as entertainment (rather than learning) to a YouTube playlist and watch them on Apple TV during the rare times that I “watch a show” so to speak.

An example would be the pre-Monty Python “At Last the 1948 Show” which was both satisfyingly silly, and a really interesting fossil record in the development of transcendent comedic talent.

I rarely watch video on my iPad, but, if I do, I will often use an app called Speedeo to increase playback speed since the video speed controls that work in a desktop browser don’t work in mobile.

I will sometimes watch lectures while doing easy aerobic work on an Assault Bike.

I save movies that I want to watch to my Netflix DVD queue or to Pinboard.

I wish I had more bandwidth for and interest in films, but my behavior indicates that this is simply not much of a priority for me.

ARTICLES

Here’s how this works:

I prefer to save articles to Instapaper rather than reading them as they come up.

I (theoretically) keep my Instapaper pretty clean, so I don’t do much sorting of the articles I have saved. If I did, I would prefer tagging over folders and would potentially seek out a different service. I prefer keeping my bookmarks (Pinboard) separate from my “articles to-read” (Instapaper).

I save PDFs to a folder called “To Read” in my Dropbox.

These are typically scientific papers and “lead magnets” from various websites. PDFs are tricky, since most ways of reading them are clunky and don’t allow you to save your spot. The Adobe Acrobat app works quite well for this. I will import the PDF that I want to read into the Acrobat app from my Dropbox folder and save it locally on my iPad.

I use Netvibes for my RSS feed.

RSS seems to be disappearing, but I have always loved it. I’m still saddened by the demise of Google Reader.

I have a separate inbox for e-mail newsletters and blogs that I like, since mixing that in with work and personal e-mail creates clutter.

I prefer to read these newsletters on my iPad like I would any other articles.

I use Google Inbox, and I have some newsletters automatically go into a “Low Priority” folder that I check once per week, while I allow the ones from people who I want to read regularly (Ramit Sethi, Seth Godin, Bryan Harris, etc.) to show up “unfoldered” so to speak.

BOOKS

Here’s how this works:

I have hundreds and hundreds of books bookmarked in Pinboard.

They are all categorized under the “books” tag and include other tags like “management,” “biography,” “economics,” etc. that allow me to filter them by topic when choosing my next book to read.

Just as with audiobooks, I choose my next read based upon whatever problems I am currently prioritizing as well as salient recommendations from people who I trust.

I think of books as being either “mentally challenging” or “easy reads.”

I will usually be reading two or three books at once – ideally at least one that is “mentally challenging” and one that is an “easy read.” I will read the “mentally challenging” books in the morning, and the “easy reads” in the evening.

“Mentally challenging” books are books that require a significant amount of mental energy or focus to take something out of them. Something like my DNS textbook “Clinical Rehabilitation” by Pavel Kolar would certainly be considered something like “mentally challenging.”

Some very tactical business books like “SPIN Selling” would also be in the “mentally challenging” category for me. Even though the book is not written in a way that makes it difficult to read, thinking through the tactical implications of various sales processes is probably not great preparation for sleep.

“Easy reads” are typically something more conversational like biographies or something more story-based like various pop psychology books.

Even something somewhat challenging like Robert Sapolsky’s “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” can still be an “easy reading” book for me since it is written in a very easy to follow conversational tone – even though the content can sometimes be very dense and heavy with biological concepts.

I do occasionally purchase Kindle books, but usually only when there is no paper or audio version available. I will read these in the Kindle app.

I have no specific reason for this other than preferring to get away from reading on a screen when possible.

MUSIC

Here’s how this works:

I love the YouTube music app.

I can almost always find what I’m looking for on there, unlike with other streaming services. This isn’t meant to be an elitist, cool guy statement, but I like a lot of weird stuff that is probably never going to be part of the licensing agreements that get things on major streaming services.

I have a “To Listen” playlist to which I will save anything that I want to check out. I will usually listen to new music while doing “chores” on my computer like e-mails and minor administrative tasks.

While the days of downloading gigs and gigs and gigs of mp3s are mostly gone, I still do have a “To Listen” folder in my Dropbox.

I could write an article similar in length to this one about my former music downloading and organizing habits, but most of that is no longer relevant. Anything that I can’t find on YouTube that I want to check out gets downloaded here, and I listen to it during my “new music” times.

I am certainly not a Record Collector with a capital R, but I do like owning physical copies of music that I really enjoy.

Albums that I like enough to want to own get saved to my wantlist on Discogs. When browsing in a record store, I will often pull up that list to get an idea of which crates to dig in.

NOTE-TAKING

I was never a huge note-taker growing up, and I would scoff at the nerds with their perfectly highlighted notebooks and their precious color-coded tabs sticking out their textbooks. I was like, “are you actually going to look at that stuff?”

And for them, the answer may have been, “Yes. Yes I am.” But for me, the answer would have been, “Definitely not.”

At this point, though, I see the value in note-taking not so much for learning and recall, but for connecting ideas.

I’m not sure what exactly changed my mind, but I was definitely at least partially swayed by Ryan Holiday’s article on his notecard system and the concept of a Zettelkasten.

Here’s how this works:

I have several notebooks in Evernote for different types of content from which I may be taking notes: Article Notes, Book Notes, Lecture Notes, Podcast Notes, etc.

I will type, write (with a stylus), or dictate a brief summary of the key idea in a given note and title it with something that hopefully makes sense and gets across the key point.

I will tag the note with tags for the author/speaker/etc., the name of the book or podcast, and big picture key concepts like “management,” “marketing,” “stress,” “Google,” “effectiveness,” etc.

I don’t study my notes by any means, but I will click through tags when attempting to solve a specific type of problem (say “lead capture”) or when writing an article or newsletter and looking for interesting anecdotes or examples – or simply hoping to come across seemingly disparate concepts that I can unite and draw insight from.

I used to save full articles to my notes, but I found that I almost never look at these. The cognitive effort required to go back through and parse out what I found interesting originally simply doesn’t happen most of the time.

I will, however, save full examples of pages for things like sales page layouts, opt-in forms, article formatting, etc.

So, that’s what I do.

Woe to any who attempt to copy my bizarre and eccentric information behaviors…

But please let me know if you have any similar systems or have any recommendations on apps, tips or tricks that make collecting, sorting, learning and synthesizing better, more efficient, and – last but not least – more FUN.

See you at all the parties!