Rocky IV changed my life

Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, productivity

One of the best things about the Playstation 2 was that you could play DVDs on it. Around the time I got one, I managed to procure a small TV somehow. Then, one night, I made the move – up to my room they went. That heady combination led to many late nights gaming, and watching movies.

When I started working a Saturday job, I bought pre-owned games and DVDs by the dozen. The summer holidays of Year 9 were like a crazy, self-funded term at a film school. My curriculum was as varied as you’d imagine a teenage boy’s to be: Bond, Rambo, Conan the Barbarian, Predator, Under Siege. Then, at Christmas, I got the complete Rocky box set. I can’t remember if I managed to watch them all in one sitting or not, but it was pretty damn close.

Yes, they’re cliched and hammy. But they’re glorious. The training montages are the crystallised core of the films, representing all that makes them an iconic part of the zeitgeist. Rocky IV sees a bearded Stallone in the best shape of his life, sprinting up mountains, lifting rocks and helping Russian peasants. Why’s he putting himself through this agony? To avenge the death of his best friend at the hands of Ivan Drago. His trainer screams “No pain!” while synth music blasts in the background. To this day, the scene below gets me pumped up:

 

At the time, I was simultaneously extremely skinny and ridiculously out of shape. I’d never been in shape! I didn’t play any sports, or even think about why anyone would want to. My diet consisted of anything and everything – bags of donuts from the tuck shop were a staple. I just wasn’t connected to my body in any way. I had absolutely no drive or discipline: physically, or in any other area of my life. I was simply floating along, letting things happen to me.

For some reason, seeing Rocky control his body in that way, deliberately putting himself through hell to become stronger, faster and better in pursuit of a worthy goal, changed the way I looked at the world forever.

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s winning.”

Ringside at the final fight.

I started doing pushups, situps and pullups in my bedroom. I progressed onto making contraptions out of cinder blocks, sticks and rocks. I’d load up Sainsbury’s ‘Bags for Life’, and haul them around in a crazy circus act of a workout. Eventually I started running too, with absolutely no finesse, strategy or understanding. I literally just ran around the block in plimsolls. At first, I could barely get to the nearest lamppost and back before I was out of puff. But, it filled me with a kind of joy different to anything I’d ever experienced. At 17, I joined a small, local gym and started lifting weights properly. From there, I’ve not looked back.

[Untitled] (4).jpg

I’ve become more and more addicted to exercise over the intervening years. It’s slowly formed a central pillar in my life. It grounds me. I know that wherever I go, whatever I do in my life, physical exertion will be a part of it somehow.

Exercise showed me how the actions I took had direct impact on outcomes. If I chose to do pushups and pullups, I could literally see a physical development in my chest and back muscles in a matter of weeks. I’d never thought of things in that way before. The realisation was incredibly empowering.

It didn’t take long to start applying that understanding into other areas of my life: the more I read, the more knowledgeable I became. The greater my effort into thinking clearly and having challenging conversations, the better my ability to communicate.

Rocky IV was the way I discovered self-discipline. And that’s at the root of everything I do today.

So… what’s the point? Why did I tell you that story?

Well, I’m not saying Rocky IV is going to be as transformative for you as it was for me. But you don’t know what film, song or book could be. It might be anything, and it may arrive in your life at just the right moment to make a difference. So deliberately expose yourself to new things. Go in with an open mind to every book you read, every TV programme you watch, every conversation you have – and maybe even every blog post you read.

In being curious, thoughtful and ready to act on your convictions, your mind will become a fertile ground for new ideas.

And, if that moment of realisation hits, you’ll be ready.

 

Violent and original

Art, Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, Philosophy, productivity, writing

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Gustave Flaubert.

What this means for you and I:

  • Have a routine (go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day)
  • Forge habits that, when aggregated, make your life better over time
  • Look after yourself – good nutrition, adequate rest, strenuous physical exercise, access to a broad range of mentally stimulating inputs (films, books, podcasts, conversations etc)
  • Don’t make stupid financial decisions that will put strain on the rest of your life

In sum: get out of your own way. Don’t let chaos impede your ability to do the work you’re capable of. You owe it to yourself.

“Actions express priorities” | January in review

Creativity, economics, Fitness, Motivation, productivity, writing

Well, we got through it: January’s done. How was it for you?

Mine was good. At the start of this year, I set myself the goal of doing more. That’s what I figure it all boils down to. January’s been pretty successful on those terms.

Here’s some of what I’ve been doing:

Scan 01.02.2018 _3.jpg

I drew, I wrote, I lifted heavy weights, I slogged through some tricky assignments, read some good books, listened to interesting podcasts and great music, and tried to stay present throughout. I’m meditating more consistently than ever at the moment. Getting here has genuinely been a transformative process. These days, I rarely find myself lost in thought, a state which has been the norm for the majority of my life. It’s refreshing to feel focussed, determined, and happy instead of anxious, depressed and worried. I’ll link to some resources in the notes below if you’re interested in learning more about meditation.

Here’s today’s thought: remember that regardless of how your January went, it’s over. You can’t change it. The future, however, is yours. So take a moment to consider what went well well last month, what you might have handled better and what your goals are for February. After you’re done thinking, consider the quote below:

“Action expresses priorities.”

-Mahatma Gandhi 

What are your priorities? Are your actions in line with them?

Here’s a way to approach February:

  1. Decide what you want your month to look like.
  2. Think about the specific things you need to do to make it that way.
  3. Set your days up so that you have scheduled time for those things.
  4. Get to work!

Links/notes:

Here’s a short video summarising some of the benefits of meditation, and one of the best introductory guided meditations I know of (if you’re ready to give it a go):

Jon Kabat-Zimm is the founder of much of modern mindfulness practices. Pretty amazing bloke.

This meditation is only 8 minutes long, and Sam Harris is an excellent guide:

By the way, if you’re interested in my drawings/artwork, the best place to see more is my Instagram. Expect 28 new drawings this February:

Always be closing

Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, productivity

Juggling commitments is hard. I’ve got coursework due, projects to work on, gym sessions to hit and goals to achieve. So do we all.

Sometimes we get worn down. It’s impossible to go full throttle all the time. But let’s remember one thing: always be closing. Don’t lose sight of what you’re working towards.

If you need to, take a breather, reload – and get back to work.

Pride before a fall

Fitness, Motivation, Philosophy

My neck aches.

I lift weights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and in between I do mobility work, runs, yoga, HIIT or otherwise. That’s what works for me.

At the end of my most recent yoga practice, I got the idea to try doing a headstand. My balance isn’t great, and I’ve never been able to do them. More importantly, I’ve never put any consistent practice into trying to do one either. But, I thought ‘I’m feeling pretty good, pretty flexible. Let’s do it.’

You may have deduced where this is going. Cockiness got the better of me. I came crashing down, landing hard on my neck at a funny angle. As I lay there on my mat collecting my thoughts, I felt ashamed and humiliated. Not because anyone had seen me fall, but because I knew I’d forgotten a critical lesson.

Seth Godin, in his excellent blog, wrote recently about trying to ‘win a yoga race’:

 

It makes no sense, of course.  

The question this prompts is: Are there places you feel like you’re falling behind where there’s actually no race?

Seth Godin

 

Do you remember that feeling of elation after receiving a good exam result, a promotion, or hitting a new bench press PR? That feeling is ephemeral. Living your life in expectation of these fleeting moments is a misguided waste. You’ll spend 99% of your time in the process, the grind, the journey.

This dull ache in my neck is a reminder:

A steady, incremental climb towards a worthy goal is infinitely more meaningful than short term gratification.


Notes:

I’d definitely recommend subscribing to Seth’s blog. He’s incredibly insightful. Most importantly, his advice and wisdom is actionable.

IMG_20171205_141459540.jpg

Slippage

Fitness, Motivation, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Last night I stayed up far too late watching an awful movie I’d seen before. I didn’t want to do that. But I was tired, and lazy, and travelling had taken it out of me. It seemed easier than brushing my teeth and walking up the stairs to get into bed at that point.

I eventually turned in at half past midnight. I had a gym session planned mere hours later… 5 and a half hours is definitely not a healthy amount of sleep, whatever bravado you want to throw at me. Given that, there were so many ways I could have rationalised the decision to shift my plans about, move the workout to later in the day… But later far too often becomes never.

So, I gritted my teeth, got my head down, set my alarm (and several backups)… and got up on time. On the 4th alarm. I stumbled downstairs, made a cup of strong coffee and cycled to the gym, as planned.

I always train legs first thing on a Monday morning. Why? Heavy squats will beat you down, punish you and put everything else into perspective. It’s easy to focus on completing a piece of coursework, crunching numbers, writing emails or whatever else it is you have to do when you’ve already willingly put yourself under a heavy, crushing weight and willed yourself up, over and over again. It’s building that resistance to procrastination, getting the week started with a bang.

Stephen King writes about a concept called ‘slippage’ in his collaboration with Peter Straub, ‘Dark House’. It’s a feeling of a kind of inevitable, sometimes hard to detect degradation into darkness. Everything is in a state of entropy. So, you’re either working to improve or letting things degrade and break up.

Forcing yourself to do the hard, worthwhile things you know you should, even if you’ve not put yourself in the best decision to do them, is the best way to combat this ‘slippage’. That holds true both in your own life and the way your actions impact the world around you.

Don’t let yourself slip.


Notes

I almost slipped writing this article. It’s late now, but I’m getting it done. Too many ideas vanish into the ether and this is an important one.

So I got it done.

The nugget of this idea came while cycling back from the aforementioned leg workout, so quickly jotted it down on one of these pads. After a long day of econometrics lectures and work on my dissertation, I wrote it in one sitting (with the help of a cup of coffee – pictured).

 

Henry Rollins: Fighting Weakness with Strength

Creativity, Fitness, Philosophy

I first came across this strange man on the ‘Big Think’ Youtube series in late 2014 (1). One of my worst habits is letting Youtube autoplay eat up hours of my life (I know I can switch it off but I secretly don’t want to). I don’t watch cat videos. For me it’s interviews, lectures, documentaries, 4 hour podcasts on the Spanish-American war. I love learning about stuff. But there comes a point where you’ve hit critical mass: you’ve absorbed enough. You need to go out and apply that knowledge.

On this occasion, I was listening in the background. I heard that strained, gravelly voice. Henry Rollins was talking about his dead end job scooping ice cream at a Häagen-Dazs store. One day, he answered the call to adventure. He became the lead singer in his favourite punk band, Black Flag. I’d never heard of them or listened to their music, although I love some of their contemporaries. Regardless, his story held me. Something resonated. Then the next video started playing and I forgot all about him.

Then I came across his essay, ‘The Iron’:

[Untitled] (4).jpg

Full text can be found here.


I touched my first weight aged 17, when a close friend (and fairly serious athlete) took me down there at my behest. I couldn’t even bench press the bar. My skinny arms shook with exertion. I know now it was my nervous system struggling to deal with the paltry 20kg weight. My friend lifted it off my chest and laughed, embarrassed for me.

I couldn’t throw a ball at school. I once gave myself a nosebleed attempting to shoot a basketball (imagine that). I touched the ball in a game of football approximately once in my 5 years of secondary school. I ran the length of the pitch. It was glorious. I could hear the roar in my ears, imagining how my life would be different now – then I missed an open goal and it over in an instant.

So that was the sole experience I had of my physicality before I started tangling with ‘The Iron’ on a regular basis. In between then and now (about 6 years), I’ve probably put on about 45lbs – some of that’s puberty of course. But most of it is what I put myself through in the gym. Before I knew it, I could deadlift and squat over double my bodyweight. I could do 100 push ups in a row, 20 pullups.

Now, I can’t imagine living without exercise – it grounds me every day. I started running a few years ago, and it’s the same story there. Incremental improvements, battling yourself every single time you run, and being humbled every time you pound the pavement. 5 kilometres is always 5 kilometres. Yoga presents a new dimension, another paradigm shift. It’s about looking after the tissue that holds you together – that’s important. Fitness is an infinite, challenging, joyous journey. But the benefits aren’t purely physical. As Rollins says, ‘…when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts’. And so, I came to the realisation:

My confidence in my ability to have an impact on anything was founded in first enacting physical change in myself.

Rollins expressed everything I feel about lifting weights so eloquently in ‘The Iron’. I felt understood. Over the years, I’ve revisited it time after time. For that essay alone, I want as many people as possible to discover him. He has a furious work ethic. He lives an unconventional life. We can all learn something from Henry Rollins.

 


Remember the whistling scythe

Death is a subject Rollins is not afraid to tackle. In fact, it’s one of his primary motivations. His best friend was murdered right next to him in an attempted burglary at Henry’s apartment in LA in the 1990s (2). Henry nearly died too – bullets whistled past him. Maybe that’s one of the things that brought the realisation that this thing that we call life can be gone in a moment. And if that moment isn’t now, it is coming, at some point in the future.

It’s actually not a morbid thought. Instead of wallowing in despair, use this knowledge to inspire action. It’s about making the most of your time on this planet. Rollins demonstrates this self awareness in the sense of urgency demonstrated by his insane work ethic (27 books is not bad going). Getting yourself in that headspace is how books are written, races run and business built.

In the face of his impending death, Oliver Sacks (3) wrote this in his final book (the short and incredibly powerful ‘Gratitude’):

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written… Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”


You are not a sheep

He started a book publishing company for his books. That way nobody could tell him what to write, or when to write it. Rollins was self publishing before it was in vogue, before the framework existed. He literally stapled and printed the cover of his first pamphlet by hand. He doesn’t care about that book now, because he’s constantly onto the next project. He discusses his creative process in detail in this episode of the Joe Rogan Experience (4) if you’d like to hear more.

5169jt9juhl-_sx329_bo1204203200_

Some say he’s a terrible singer. Henry admits that he is. But he doesn’t care, and there are enough people that love that energy that it doesn’t matter. He gets to keep doing it. 

Eventually someone convinced him to try acting – he knows he’s not an actor, but he turns up and does it anyway. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I heard a clip of him talking about how he auditioned for a role in Armageddon and just absolutely blew it in front of Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. That could have been an oft revisited, reviled moment of absolute failure for him. Instead it became a story for one of his shows… He’s always thinking, documenting, creating. The most interesting stories often lay in failure. It’s where most valuable lessons are found.

So forge your own path in the world. Opt for the road less travelled. Heed the advice of Seneca:

 

We should not, like sheep, follow the herd of creatures in front of us, making our way where others go, not where we ought to go.”

 

Look at the world with curious eyes, record your thoughts, and create stuff about what you think. You can decide what that stuff should be. Share it. Be relentless in trying new things. Nobody is going to stop you but yourself.


Don’t lose the night fearing the dawn

Although he can be extraordinarily self indulgent, Henry doesn’t dwell on past failures. Instead, his focus is entirely on what he’s doing right now.

I wish I’d not let family circumstances and my own teenage stupidity affect my A level results. I guess if I’d gotten the grades I (and everyone else) was expecting, I’d have gone straight to a Russell Group university.

But there’s nothing I can do to change that – and I wouldn’t want to even if I could. I wouldn’t be me. It’s by learning from our failures and putting those lessons into action with full focus right now that we find satisfaction.


Notes

The process of writing the article, from conception, to draft, to publication:

img_20171026_232149751.jpg

Edits

IMG_20171115_184213915.jpg


Links

henry

Look at the size of that neck!