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Andrew, Week 1: Damn the Torpedoes; Full Speed Ahead

Self-motivation examples


Last week I got a chance to talk to Andrew (“Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days“) about his determination to use Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet approach to weight loss to try to lose 20 pounds in 31 days. Ferriss’ approach has been very promising among people I know who have tried it, and the beginning of a new fitness process is often a honeymoon period, when the unaccustomed extra energy from more exercise, loss of water weight, etc. can much of the time provide a lot of encouragement.

Unfortunately, it appears Andrew isn’t going to be given a honeymoon period. He reports:

Well, the 1st week is over.  The results are far from impressive but maybe this week is the “basing” process for things to come in weeks 2-4.

I have lost .5 inches from my total inches (TI) measurements and I included the neck, shoulders, waist at navel, waist at largest area south of navel (butt), and the biceps, forearms, thighs and calves of both sides of the body.  The .5 inch drop in neck could be a mis-measurement so we’ll see next week.

The weight loss has not been anything special yet.  I began at 200.8 and I am now at 200.6.  Listen, this pales in comparison to what is written in his book!

My adherence to the food staples has been perfect, including the binge day regimen.  Sometimes I am hungry at the next meal and sometimes I do not care to eat.  I like the food I am eating so there is zero challenge to avoid other foods.

I can only assume my portion size is too large, but that, according to Ferriss’s book, should not be the case.

What changes am I going to make for week 2?

Here are the things to change:

  • Add cold showers each morning, icing at night while watching tv with my wife and boy and using ice baths on the weekend
  • As we are talking about calories, I may taper them back just slightly so I am at least hungry at the next meal
  • Exercise 3-4 times each week as I simply did it a couple of times this past week
  • Introduce cardio 3-4 times each week to enhance my metabolism

Final thoughts: I do feel great and I do not know if this is because of the vitamin regimen, the lack of “whites” to which Ferriss refers in his book, or a combination of both.

I’d like to imagine that there’s either a solution to this mystery or that Andrew will find his results drastically improve themselves over the coming week. For example, it could be that he’s getting a lot more salt in his diet and that therefore he’s retaining water and seeming heavier than he is–but who’s to know? Stay tuned, and next week we’ll find out whether this is a fluke or a trend.

Photo by MATEUS_27:24&25

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Andrew’s Challenge: 20 Pounds in 31 Days

Self-motivation examples

A runner (not Andrew, obviously) in a lava field

Andrew, a reader of this site, is setting out on a daring project: he wants to lose 20 pounds of body fat, healthily, in 31 days.

If someone had described this plan to me a couple of months ago, I would have said it couldn’t be done. However, there’s a crazy but possibly brilliant guy named Tim Ferriss who’s written a book called The Four Hour Body, and in it he outlines his findings over the course of years and years of energetic research and extreme self-experimentation. Ferriss presents evidence that, assuming it’s accurate (and I have no reason to think it isn’t) would mean that Andrew’s project is entirely doable. I won’t go into Ferriss’s ideas in detail right now because I’m testing some of them out myself and want to speak from personal experience (and in addition I have concerns about some of Ferriss’ basic philosophies), but Andrew is going all-out. He’s going to do everything in his power to lose 20 pounds of bodyfat in 31 days, and he wants everyone to know about it. Accordingly, I asked him if I could post about it here. Andrew said “Let’s do it.”

I’ll be checking in with Andrew each week and posting his responses here. If he succeeds with even a large fraction of his goal, I’d call that a roaring success.

Andrew, what’s your motivation for such a radical change? And what do you think your biggest obstacles will be?

Andrew replied:

Complex: I want to feel my physical best so that I can fully participate in the outdoor and athletic life like I used to 10 years ago (I am 34 right now).  Carrying the extra weight around is probably killing my heart, knees, back and other organs, not to mentioned my mental and psychological states each day.  I suppose some of this is pure vanity as well as most people want to look good.  I could give a rip about looking like this person or that person, but humans have a healthy look to them and an unhealthy look to them and let’s be honest, I must fall into the latter category.  Although I must say I “carry the extra pounds pretty well”, I am not a picture of health right now and that really disturbs me.  I am also married and have a 3 year old boy so I honestly believe married couples owe it to each other to look good for as long as they can and my wife is hot so I need to bring more to the proverbial table!  When she and I met, I was in the midst of running up and down volcanoes, playing in monster ocean waves, eating well and living a very active lifestyle in her country of El Salvador.  As for my son, it’s critical to me that he pay testimony to a healthy life and not just lip service that we pay him at the dinner table each night.  Clearly, my goal is to personally push him in the athletic realm of the world as well as the intellectual dimension and me doing this while 20 lbs is hypocritical as I have no reason to be out of shape (just excuses).  I do have some personal fitness goals that revolved around distance running (I used to be a runner), cycling (I think I rode out of my mother), swimming (I am a newcomer to the sport) and to being a body weight exercise animal.  Lean and mean is the goal.

Simple: I want to feel amazing each day.

Obstacles: I suppose I am the obstacle.  If any laziness or regimen violations occur it will be because of me, plain and simple.  Barring injury, sickness or some other kind of life emergency, nothing should get in my way, period.

I have purchased the supplies needed i.e. vitamins and food and I have taken the body measurements outlined in his book, except for that I added my neck as well.

In the spirit of Ferriss’s Princeton student challenge i.e. reaching someone you think is unreachable and seeking advice etc., I am going after the man himself, Tim Ferriss and I will provide him my daily regimen and ask him if it’s spot on or if he has added anything since the revision of the most recent book.  I will tell him I am being watch by at least 1500 eyes each week, along with my own social sphere, so the test is on!

Photo by dneberto

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A Very Clear Example of the Power of Awareness

Self-motivation examples

I’m currently reading Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Body, and while it’s too early for me to render any opinion on the book as a whole, he relates a true story that beautifully illustrates the power of simple awareness. It goes something like this:

Phil Libin, who weighed 258 pounds, wanted to get down to 230 pounds in six months–a weight loss goal of about a pound a week. However, he wasn’t enthusiastic about making any lifestyle changes, so he decided to try an experiment to see whether he could accomplish his goal by making just one change: becoming very aware of his weight.

Phil created a spreadsheet with a little graph showing his starting weight at one end and his goal weight at the other end, with a line between the two. Above and below the line he put boundary lines: the plan wasn’t for his weight to follow the line to the goal weight exactly, but to stay between the top and bottom boundary lines so that he would be assured he was proceeding in the right direction at about the right speed. The result looked something like this:

From there, all Phil did was track his weight from day to day and enter it into the spreadsheet. If his weight fell below the bottom line at any point (which did happen), he would eat more. If his weight went above the top line (which didn’t happen), he would eat less.

Weirdly, and importantly, Phil made no other attempt to change his behavior–quite the opposite. He didn’t exercise or try to change his eating habits or consciously do anything about his weight except monitor it. And as you can probably guess by now, he landed exactly where he intended to be at the end of the six months, weighing in at 230 pounds.

I don’t actually recommend Phil’s method on its own. You have to be a real data enthusiast to care so much about a graph that you will be sure to keep it up to date and be so interested in what it has to show you. Further, since there are some really easy things you can do to move toward a goal above and beyond just being aware of where you’re going, it seems wasteful to disregard these other options. At the same time, Phil’s experience, at least anecdotally, makes a strong case for awareness being not only an important prerequisite for other useful changes, but a force for change on its own. Also, it makes a good case for focus: if all you need to think about to achieve your goal is “stay between the lines,” then it’s pretty easy to stay mentally on task.

Ferriss offers a free Excel spreadsheet patterned after Phil’s that you can tailor to your own goals at www.fourhourbody.com/phil .

Other articles on this site that might interest you on the subject of awareness include

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Examples of How Not to Get Into an Argument

Self-motivation examples

In a recent article, I talked about how not to get into an argument. This article picks up on that topic with examples of arguments being headed off by use of non-violent communication.

THEM: Why do you always try to run everything? [This sounds like anger or irritation, and we might guess that the person needs to feel a greater sense of control, or else some recognition.]
YOU: Are you angry because you don’t feel you’re getting a say in what we do tonight?
THEM: Of course I’m angry–duh! I just don’t want to go to that same stupid restaurant. It’s so loud there, I can never hear anything you guys are saying. [Success! This could have turned into an argument about whether or not you do or should always try to run everything; instead it’s turned into a discussion of the relative merits and problems of different restaurants.]

THEM: I can’t believe you made me another stupid sweater!
YOU: You sound angry that I made you a sweater.
THEM: I’m not angry: I’m embarrassed! [Good try with the “angry” thing: even though it was a wrong guess, you now have the information you need.]
YOU: So you don’t feel comfortable wearing the sweaters I make you out.
THEM: I’m sorry, but they’re just not my style. They make me look like an eight-year-old.
YOU: I can understand why you don’t want to look like an eight-year-old.
[At this point, since you have feelings too, and since the other person’s needs have been addressed at least a little, you might be successful in getting the other person to understand how you feel by telling them exactly what your emotions are and what you need–and being careful not to disguise accusations as emotions or demands as needs.]
YOU: I feel really sad now. I put a lot of work into that sweater. I wanted you to know how much you were on my mind.
THEM: Well, crap, I’m sorry. But I really don’t want to look stupid! [Here the other person is showing a little bit of worry that you might not have heard after all. You can reassure the other person that you have.]
YOU: I would have chosen another pattern if I had known then what I know now.
THEM: It’s really sweet of you to put all that time into it, though. [Feeling comfortable that you’ve heard and understood and accept what has been said, the other person now has an easier time looking out for your needs.] If you still want to make me one next year, maybe we could just talk about the style first.

Obviously there’s a lot more that could happen in either of those examples, but I hope they serve to illustrate how these things can work. I must say that I’ve been using this approach for more than a decade now, and I feel it is one of the absolute most useful things I have ever learned in my life. I have used it to work out child custody arrangements, to get back on track with coworkers who are freaking out, to help my son feel understood and supported, to get better service and a bit of real human interaction in stores and restaurants, and in any number of other situations. Here’s hoping that sharing these ideas with you, or at least pointing you to Dr. Rosenberg’s much more thorough treatment of the subject, will offer you some of the advantages I’ve reaped from it myself.

Photo by Search Engine People Blog

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The Tipping Point of a Habit

Self-motivation examples

A couple of posts ago I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, which digs into the ways phenomena go from puttering along to succeeding wildly, whether we’re talking about a book becoming a bestseller, a disease becoming an epidemic, or a big drop in violent crime. While Gladwell is specifically talking about social phenomena–how ideas and behaviors spread among people–it’s interesting to think about the possibility that tipping points may well apply to our own psychology, specifically in terms of a behavior transforming into a much more robust and consistent habit.

A quick disclaimer: the theory I’m putting out here is based on analogy, not research. It’s just an idea. If you believe Gladwell’s well-considered argument that making small changes like getting graffiti off subway cars and cracking down on people who demand money for squeegeeing car windows in traffic actually led to an enormous decrease in violent crime in New York City over a period of time, that doesn’t prove that making small changes in our own experience or thinking can tip a behavior into a habit.

Tipping points=easier habit formation?
And yet … much of the other material I’ve gathered for this site over the last few years does seem to support that idea. And if we really can think of habits as having tipping points, then that transforms our focus in terms of developing new habits. Instead of having to find huge resources to get ourselves to repeat a behavior over and over with great effort for months (see “How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?“), we might mainly need to find the tweaks we would need to make repeating that behavior a lot easier.

Don’t get me wrong: creating a good habit (or breaking a bad one) is going to require time, effort, and attention no matter how you slice it. It’s just a matter of how easy and enjoyable that time, effort, and attention is. If habits have tipping points, then there may be a much easier way to create them than we’ve been used to thinking.

How my exercise habit tipped
I won’t go into this too deeply all in today’s post, but the basic idea is that relatively small changes we can make to circumstances might make a big difference in how our habits develop–if they’re the right small changes. I’ll give one example of my own, of when regular exercise became a kind of devotion for me instead of a chore. What made the difference wasn’t better scheduling, improving my attitude, or renewing my commitment: it was taking my workouts out of my own hands.

I started studying Taekwondo about four years ago (see my articles “Finding Exercise You Love: The Taekwondo Example” and “Black belt“). I had been used to getting myself out running regularly, which meant I always had to choose to run, find time to do it, choose how far I would go, and so on. Taekwondo was different: the times were set, and I had to show up for them or miss out. The length of the workout and the specific activities were also set. This one change–selecting a different exercise, which completely changed the context of my exercising–hugely simplified my problem of getting enough exercise, and my desire to get better at Taekwondo kept me coming back to class. Over time, all of this associated exercise powerfully for me with enjoyment, feeling good, and confidence. When I think of exercising now, these are the main things that come to mind, the mood boost and the pride I can take in what I’m doing. And even when I’m going running now or doing something other than Taekwondo, that kind of association draws me forward into exercise instead of repelling me, whereas thinking about the physical strain or being fat or the bad weather might be much more discouraging to someone who’s trying to exercise.

What was your tipping point?
I hope to write more on this topic in future. In the mean time, I’d be glad to hear from you: was there a tipping point for you in a key habit you’ve developed in your life? If so, what was it?

Photo by Captainspears23

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Two Years Without Coffee: How to Resist Temptation

Self-motivation examples

A little over a year ago I posted “Going a Year Without Coffee,” in which I talk about how my physiology seems to encounter a lot more trouble with caffeine than most people even though I really enjoy coffee. So while I had largely steered away from coffee for some time, it wasn’t until two years ago that I stopped drinking it at all (and stopped having chocolate, tea, and other sources of caffeine along with it).

And while I’m sure I’ll have coffee again from time to time in the future, last week marked two years without, and I thought it might be worth sharing the tactics I use to steer clear, because they’re the same kind of tactics a person can use to avoid other kinds of temptation.

Changing What We Desire
The ideal thing would be to simply not want whatever it is we’re trying to avoid. Surprisingly, this turns out to be a practical approach. Many of us are used to thinking of our desires as being out of our control, that if we’re being drawn to some french fries or to someone who’s a bad influence or to an irresponsible drink, we have the choice of fighting or giving in (or often, both). Yet there’s a different, much more powerful choice available to us: using thinking to redirect our desires.

The Wrong Kind of Attention
When I start thinking about having a cup of coffee, I’m generally thinking about one of two things: how enjoyable the coffee itself is or how I would like to feel more energy. In both cases, my conscious mental processes are directed toward things that will make the idea of having coffee more appealing. On reflection, it seems obvious that if I’m thinking about how much I like the taste of coffee or how energetic I might feel if I had some that I’d be much more likely to actually have some.

It’s easy to imagine that everything we know about a choice feeds into how we make that choice, but in reality, the things we consciously focus on play a much bigger role than everything else, which is one reason we might know exactly the same things from one day to the next but choose to work hard or eat smart the first day yet procrastinate or eat junk the second.

Thinking That Makes Good Choices More Appealing
So my usual habit when I start thinking about a cup of coffee is to jot down a few thoughts about what will happen if I do have some. One of the first things I usually think of is the grinding, day-long headache I’ll get sooner or later from the caffeine. While this isn’t my body’s only negative reaction to the stuff, and while it’s always delayed at least a couple of days, it’s a miserable time.

Not surprisingly, the more I think “coffee=terrible, day-long headache,” the less appealing that cup of coffee gets. This effect builds as I remember that while coffee gives me energy, it also makes it easier to feel jumpy or anxious. Having energy isn’t much good if I’m not in a good enough mood to use it well. As I carefully think over what the real results of my actions will be, the temptation looks progressively more shabby and unappealing.

Having a Little Time Makes All the Difference
The problem with this approach is that it takes time and attention. However, it doesn’t take a lot of time and attention, and if we have enough time and attention to be tempted by something, we probably have enough time and attention to reflect on what will happen if we let ourselves be sucked in by that temptation. It only takes a few minutes, and while it works best if you can write or talk about the things that will make you less attracted to that choice, even just careful thought can bring you there. The worst thing is to be tied up so thoroughly with something else that it’s difficult or unworkable to focus on good choices for a few minutes instead, although planning can help get us through these times (see “How Preparation Enables Stronger Willpower“).

Ultimately, not making a bad choice is easiest if we help ourselves dislike that choice. Focusing on the reasons the choice is bad in the first place help change our perspective so that we stop wanting things we don’t really want for more than momentary pleasure (see “The difference between pleasure and happiness“). To put it another way, the best way to resist temptation is to let ourselves be tempted instead by the things that will truly make us happy.

Photo by Beatriz AG

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Mental Secret Weapons versus a Cinnamon Bun

Self-motivation examples

There are cinnamon buns on the counter in my kitchen, which I bought for my son. There is nothing preventing me from having a cinnamon bun, since it wouldn’t be grossly unhealthy to eat one, and my son isn’t necessarily entitled to every single bun. But I definitely have no nutritional need for a cinnamon bun and in fact am still working hard to lose weight, so while I’d certainly get a little pleasure during the few minutes it would take to eat one, in the long run I’m likely to get more happiness by not eating one. As low-key as the satisfaction of having made a smart choice is, together with freedom from a mild sugar crash and greater ease in getting more fit it has more enjoyment to offer me in the long term than the cinnamon bun.

But, of course, I wanted a cinnamon bun. I went over to the counter and looked at them, thinking something like “These aren’t really good choices for me to eat, but I can’t resist.”

Stop! Halt! Broken idea detected!  “I can’t resist” is making the cinnamon bun issue into an absolute, as though it were an irresistable force like gravity instead of 1) mild hunger plus 2) most of a lifetime of bad snacking habits plus 3) a vague leftover sense of mild deprivation from childhood. Theoretically, staring at those cinnamon buns, I should still have a way out, even though I was strongly inclined to eat one.

Lately I’ve been trying to make a habit of pulling out whatever willpower tricks I have whenever I’m in a situation where I could make a bad choice, even if it’s a very minor bad choice. So I tried a few of the 24 anti-hunger techniques I could think of off the top of my head: “Have some tea (anti-hunger idea #11), or a piece of gum (#10),” I told myself. I don’t want tea or gum, I answered myself. I want a cinnamon bun. I actually reached for the container then.

“You’ll be happier if you don’t eat that!” I told myself in desparation (#2).

You promise? I answered. (I’m not making this up. I actually thought the words “You promise?” to myself. It was a little weird.)

“Yes, I promise,” I said. “So are we good?”

We were good. I stepped away from the cinnamon bun and drank some water (#12). It wasn’t even difficult to step away then. The effort had only had to go into coming up with a tactic that changed my thinking for that particular situation.

Changing my thinking worked because I like happiness, which was what I was able to offer myself. Happiness is good, and within pretty generous limits, more happiness is better. Apparently whatever part of me wanted the cinnamon bun was satisfied if it could trade it in for happiness. While I was surprised that this little mental conversation was sufficient to resolve the cinnamon bun problem for me, in general it makes sense. We always have a variety of dimly-seen forces prodding us to do things that ultimately we won’t be thrilled we did, but we also have available to us a wealth of secret mental weapons we can use to align ourselves with our own best intentions, including visualization, reframing, distraction, support, and others. If we get in the habit of trying a few of them whenever we’re faced with a difficult choice, sometimes we’ll surprise ourselves.

Photo by TowerGirl

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Black belt

Self-motivation examples

I’ve always been interested in the martial arts, ever since I lingered over ads offering the secrets of judo in the backs of comic books I read as a kid. There’s a kind of promise in martial arts that it’s possible to do things with our bodies that are very nearly magical. This is the same reason I’ve been drawn to the psychology of self-motivation, because just as I’ve been learning and practicing the basic skills of Taekwondo (stances, blocks, kicks, sparring techniques, etc.), over the past several years, in that same period I’ve also been learning and practicing the basic skills of self-motivation (feedback loops, idea repair, visualization, reframing techniques, etc.). And it turns out that training in self-motivation can achieve things that are also very nearly magical.

Friday night, in Burlington, Vermont, I tested successfully for my first dan black belt in Taekwondo Chung Do Kwan at the Blue Wave Taekwondo Association‘s Winter Camp. This was a big win for both my Taekwondo training and my self-motivation training.

In some ways it seems as though my self-motivation training was completely unnecessary: as I describe in this post, I love training in Taekwondo even though it’s effortful, sometimes inconvenient, and occasionally painful. Since I love to do it, why would self-motivation be necessary?

But that’s a trick question: the key to self-motivation is to love what you do, whether that thing is getting your personal records in order, writing about the psychology of self-motivation, crafting a novel, or doing the dishes. This sounds both simple and useless: sure, we get things done when we love to do them, but if we don’t love to do them, we’re out of luck, right?

But of course my sense of things is that we’re not out of luck at all. It took a conscious shift in attitude every time I dragged my tired butt up the steps to the third floor Taekwondo gym after a long day at work over the past few years, changing my thinking from “I’m too tired to work out” to “I work out whether I feel tired or not.” And it’s been improved by mindfulness, like when I had begun my testing Friday night and consciously brought myself to realize that while there was definitely pressure to do well (especially from myself), I was having the time of my life. I had told people before testing that I wasn’t nervous yet, but that I thought I would be at testing. As it turns out, I wasn’t nervous. I screwed some things up (though fortunately not badly enough to threaten my succeeding), but when something did go wrong, I just did my best to collect myself and move forward. I may have been a little hyper, and my attention was certainly scattered at times, but I wasn’t nervous: I was profoundly content.

The secret about learning to love doing something–like testing for black belt or starting a workout when you’re really tired–is that even things that seem unappealing to us at first, if they’re really furthering goals we care about, tend to become more interesting and enjoyable once we resign ourselves to doing them and get started. Loving to do something sometimes comes naturally, sure, but a lot of the time it takes work, which comes in the form of using the skills and practices I talk about on this site: idea repair, feedback loops, visualization, identifying mental schemas, and so on.

The phrase “black belt” is often used to mean mastery, but in Taekwondo at least, becoming a black belt is just the beginning. As my instructor, Master White (who is profiled here and who also tested on Friday–incredibly, for his seventh dan black belt) says, “black belt” means that you’ve gotten down the basics and are ready for the real fun to begin. And although I think the real fun began long ago, I am definitely ready.

Photo by Mr. Lloyd Blake, via Mrs. Carrie Blake

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Finding Exercise You Love: The Taekwondo Example

Self-motivation examples

With fellow Blue Wave students after earning our black stripes (last rank before black belt), October 2009

After flirting with consistent exercise for two decades, in 2005 I took advantage of being in Florida to finally start running regularly. That experience, which I talked about in a

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for Jacksonville, Florida NPR affiliate WJCT, completely changed my understanding of exercise. It turned out that the very beginning of exercise, getting into the groove, was much harder than continuing–and that far from being unrelenting torture, regular exercise could actually be enjoyable.

I ought to have recognized this already: after all, soccer had been fun in grade school, ultimate frisbee entertained me during college, and I’d enjoyed fencing classes in my twenties. But neither running nor any of these other activities prepared me for what would happen when I took on a new kind of exercise in late 2006. For me, getting involved in Taekwondo was to running as April in Paris is to June in Cincinnati.

Martial arts as a family sport
A little background: I studied Uechi Ryu karate for about a year at college and had enjoyed it enough that for years I had it in the back of my head that I’d eventually want to pursue martial arts again. By 2006, my son had gotten old enough that we were looking for a program for him as well. I had assumed we’d study karate, in different classes, but when my son was invited to a friend’s birthday party at Blue Wave Taekwondo in Burlington, Vermont (the town where we lived), it was immediately obvious that this was the place for us to try. For one thing, they taught classes that parents and kids could attend together, a possibility I hadn’t even thought of. For another thing, my son’s friend’s family couldn’t say enough about how friendly, well-organized, and instructive the school was. To top this off, the school was (and still is) run by Master Gordon White, a personable sixth-dan black belt who had fought on the U.S. National Taekwondo team and won medals in international competition.

I’m not suggesting Taekwondo is every person’s ideal exercise. It’s social, very energetic, rigorous, formal, demanding, and a little rough. My older sister loves spinning and rollerblading; my younger sister loves dancing; and my father prefers canoeing, kayaking, and cross-country skiing. So I’m not so much suggesting you run out and start taking Taekwondo (although it’s not a bad idea for a lot of people), but that if you don’t yet love the kind of exercise you’re doing, there’s a good chance you just haven’t found the right kind of exercise yet.

Why Taekwondo works for me
Taekwondo offers some unusual benefits that fit my needs well. I like the people I spend time with at the dojang (Taekwondo gym), which helps. Taekwondo as practiced at Blue Wave is rigorous interval training (probably the best general kind of exercise for weight loss), and it builds muscle as well as providing a lot of aerobic exercise.

Some of the greatest benefits for me, though, are mental instead of physical: the need to always improve my fundamentals (kicks, strikes, blocks, stances, and so on) exercises parts of my brain that I suspect would otherwise be neglected. And while we’re in class I’m usually so engrossed at trying to master whatever we’re working on that the time flies by. As I talk about in my post on getting into a state of flow, some of the basic elements we need to become engrossed and driven in what we’re doing are challenge, specific goals, and constant feedback. All of these elements are available when a good instructor is teaching a complex physical skill, like martial arts, dancing, or fencing. Not everyone will connect with those activities in the ways that are needed to establish flow, but the opportunity is there.

To put the same thing more simply: Taekwondo keeps me so interested, I don’t greatly care how much work I’m doing to practice it.

Why Blue Wave works for me
Not all martial arts–or all Taekwondo schools–are created equal. Different martial arts offer different advantages, such as the directed force of Aikido; the intense focus of karate; the powerful physical grappling of judo; or the flow and speed of kung fu. Different martial arts will attract different kinds of people, although it’s important to understand that different martial arts also provide different kinds of workouts: for instance, not all martial arts are very helpful for weight loss.

Blue Wave teaches forms and fundamentals as well as Olympic Style sparring, which is a very energetic, physically demanding type of contest between fighters wearing padded safety gear. Olympic Style sparring is fairly safe and is practiced in tournaments from the local to the international level, including, of course, at the Olympics. To the best of my knowledge (understanding that my experience is limited), no other martial art offers such a well-defined and safety-conscious sport of sparring.

So Olympic Style Taekwondo sparring for me is as much a sport as a martial art, which gives more direction to my training and provides more ways to enjoy Taekwondo. But many Taekwondo schools don’t teach Olympic Style sparring, or they focus on other elements of Taekwondo, or they practice a type of Taekwondo that is not based on rigorous traditional practices. None of these kinds of schools would work nearly as well for me as Blue Wave would, although Blue Wave is far from unique: there are many excellent Taekwondo programs around the country and the world.

I could go on about what I like about Blue Wave, but if I’ve done what I intended, I’ve shown at least one example of finding a kind of exercise that really fits the person doing it, enough to provide a glimpse of what April in Paris looks like. Here’s hoping you’re already there, or if not, that April comes soon.

Photo by 2nd dan Blue Wave black belt Sandra Pavlo

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