The Project of Projection | Emily Hightower

Issue# 41

We all live in a hall of mirrors, projecting our own realities onto what we see. What gets reflected back to us is just what we already believe. It takes a certain special state to learn anything new or to see beyond our own reflections to even begin to understand anything or anyone past our own illusion.

Projection is an unconscious act. We often project our own feelings, emotions, narratives, and ideas onto others. We transpose ourselves onto each other in an effort to make sense of ourselves and to justify our own experience. An easy example of projection is when we look at our dog laying on the couch in the middle of the day, not interacting with anyone, and someone says “She’s SO bored right now”.

Really? Is she bored? How do you know? What if she’s in complete bliss, just relaxing in the ray of sun on the couch, dreaming of steak falling from the sky into her mouth? To see boredom in her is to admit boredom in the Self at the idea of doing nothing on the couch.

What’s actually happening?

In projecting boredom on the dog, we are unintentionally stealing the moment. We can’t wonder at her experience or learn anything new beyond what we already believe; that doing nothing on the couch is SO boring. This isn’t a big deal, until it is. 

Projection is an unconscious and common affair, but sometimes our projections can develop into painful relationship projects that call us to awaken from the dream of ourselves.

What stories do you tell about the people around you? Think of your primary relationship patterns. What have you decided someone’s actions mean? He’s not doing X, she always or never thinks X, he doesn’t care, she thinks she’s being helpful, he’s lazy, she doesn’t listen….

While your experience of the other person is valid, are your ideas about what’s really going on with them true? How do you know? Is there any part of what you’re judging that applies to yourself? If we don’t take the time to check our projections, we end up creating projects out of our relationships; things we need to fix or work on that might not even be real. The real project is looking at our own reflection around our assumptions, where they come from, and what we really desire in the situation.

What we lose

When we’re lost in a projection, we lose objectivity and curiosity, which create that special state that allows us to learn and grow. This means, if we do engage in material with another that is muddled with projections, it’s hard for us to see past our own illusions to create real understanding. When we can check ourselves and our projections, we can begin to create space for another person to have their own experience, and in so doing create new understanding.

This might look like sharing what we notice without judging the other person, and taking ownership of the story we are telling ourselves as we notice them. Then identifying what desire our story points to in ourselves, and if available, making a request of the other person to work with our desires. 

Let’s look at an example

Let’s look at an example. Your partner clams up every night when you ask how their day went. Maybe in their reality, they talk all day at work and enjoy silence as a forom of intimacy. Silence makes you feel like something’s wrong and you feel defensive. You project that they aren’t interested in sharing themselves with you, and they don’t emote well. (really you’re not sharing yourself with them, and not emoting well) This dynamic has become an uncomfortable project where silence, snappiness, and judgment enter an otherwise kind and quiet scene. The next opportunity, you could drop the illusions and communicate your reality without projecting anything onto them. 

“I notice when I ask how your day went, you don’t say much. I realize silence makes me uncomfortable, and tthe story I’m telling myself is that you aren’t interested in me or in sharing your emotions. Is that true for you? What are you experiencing when I ask how your day went?” They might answer that they talk all day at work, and really enjoy comfortable silence with you, or your fear might be true, and they don’t enjoy sharing much with you. Well, now we’re in some territory beyond assumptions and projections. You’re now exploring connecting and maybe understanding instead of blaming and story-making. Without the distortion of projection, you’re able to look at the blueprints of your relationship to decide what to build, what to renovate, or even demolish. It’s scary to let someone have their experience. It’s much easier to project your own reality onto it. 

Beyond projection

When this works, it’s like having the mirror momentarily shatter. We get a glimpse into another’s reality. This is a form of intimacy that is rare and not defined by the false security of our own narratives. It means we are willing to loosen our attachment to our own stories about people long enough to ask questions, be objective, and own our own stuff in the process. 

Setting our dog free to have her own experience without my version of it is the same as setting the person you love free from having to fulfill your version of them. Catching projections can open up a new moment, and revise the project of relationships to be one of mutual respect and curiosity, instead of pushing someone to live out our versions of them. 

What would life be like if the hall of mirrors could shatter into one watery mirror between you and you, and you could poke your head through that surface to glimpse another person’s experience with an open mind, a new moment, and a chance to really ‘see’ past the dream of yourself? I sense that the mirror can only be transcended through the still waters of neutrality, curiosity, and true courage.

I’d like to find out.

Attachment Awareness: Living the Life you Wish | Brian Mackenzie

Notes from the Field Article feature image of article titled Attachment Awareness: The Life you Wish

Issue #40

The most potent tool we have is awareness. Awareness is where our minds thrive most. The ability to be aware of when something works for me and when it does not is a tough road at first, and its crucial emotion is frustration, followed by anger. I have been stuck many times in frustration, unwilling to see how whatever I have been doing is not working out for me. When I started understanding some of the basics of stress physiology and its relationship with exercise physiology, I began to see more clearly what my body was saying and how my mind was in a different world, convinced I needed to do things a particular way. 

I will give a broad example, but I encourage you to understand how minute this gets to the most minor things.

The Sacrifices We Make

Often, what we believe we value is trumped by our behavior. For example, I’ll convince myself that I love to go out with my friends on weekends and that this lifestyle isn’t as important as my health. In reality, every weekend and time I go out with my friends, I am making sacrifices that require my body and me to work harder to get back to what is homeostasis. The short basic version of the physiology is increased cortisol and lactate (inverse relationship to fat burning & dependence on sugar + glucose), decreased (long term) HRV, and nervous system efficiency. While a healthy, fit individual can get away with these things from time to time, no healthy and fit individuals are doing this routinely because they feel the changes and the increase in rest that is now required to get back to doing what it is that makes them feel like they operate at 100%. 

Balancing Performance with Entertainment

You might be asking. So am I not supposed to see my friends? I don’t know! I know that when I set rigid boundaries on my health with things that make me function well, like moving, mobility, exercise, playing (surfing, hiking, etc.), the food I eat, and the time at which I get tired, the more I want to spend time with the people I care about, and who value the same things. 

Another way to look at this is through the lens of HRV, which has so much data and research on it. HRV is a way of understanding the health of your cardiac and nervous systems. Another avenue could be constant glucose monitors or glucose monitoring. 

Imagine an HRV score improving slowly over a year because you decided to care for yourself more. Then, after a few months, you go out and have a good time. Your scores drop the next few days, and your body plays catch up. All is good as you return to baseline. Then another night pops up, and another late dinner you decide is important (maybe it is). The next thing you know, your new HRV scores are much lower than before, and it is a real chore to get back into a routine of taking care of yourself as we slowly but surely start giving up on what worked best for you. While this example may seem extreme, it is not. I’ve lived this, and I see this in almost everyone I work with.  

Ignoring Information and Long-Term Awareness

There is a world we become attached to (not good) that is showing us what does not work for us, and most of us ignore that information, whether it be intrinsic or data-driven, because we are unwilling to give up these attachments. We feel a death sentence comes on, and in many cases, it can be. Much of our lives focus on chasing short-term feelings versus understanding what we want. Being aware enough to understand much of our lifestyle choices and how they make us feel long-term is often the difference between living the life you truly wish to and one of frustration. 

It’s All in the Data

The simplicity of this exercise comes down to taking the time to understand the data. While getting low HRV scores or high glucose readings are manageable, see if this makes sense. Readiness scores are calculated on many HRV algorithms to give us a little nudge on which direction to go. Let’s use 1-10 and say your HRV is a 50 avg. Each day you’re consistent, you see this score between 7-10, and you slowly creep up above a 50 HRV. Then you do X (whatever it is), and your readiness score drops to 1-6, and HRV drops to 40. You follow this pattern and continue to do X while getting routine low scores. 

Stop doing X because it’s not working out. Say’s the truth!

Physiological trends chart showing how the readiness score is affected by Heart Rate Variables

This isn’t Black and White

This does not always imply a black-or-white meaning, either; it may require creativity to appease these ‘attachments.’

The Will to Survive Free Will | Emily Hightower

Issue# 39

 

Everything in nature is imbued with a natural will. Trees grow, birds migrate, lions hunt, zebras run. Nature doesn’t need will power programs or tools to ‘Survive the Holidays’ and set New Year’s Resolutions that ‘finally stick!’.

What is it about human will that requires so much effort? I think it lies in our relative comfort that disconnects us from nature’s realities. Somehow the very consciousness that allows us to create art, architecture, video games, and microwaves is the same part of us that has to summon will power to curate behaviors in our own best interest against these very forces of comfort we’ve created. If we don’t, we succumb to natural laws of obesity, addiction, and disease in a way no other species on earth demonstrates; unless we cage them in our zoos, or hook them on our garbage denying them access to their nature.

This makes me think of one of my favorite shows, Alone, where contestants are dropped in the wilderness to film themselves in a survival challenge where the last one standing wins a giant pot of money. I lounge fireside with a mouthful of steak watching people hunt, gather, build shelter, and starve for money. It’s a favorite of mine, so don’t get me wrong. I deeply respect these people who love the wilderness and have trained their survival skills. It’s just ironic that the entire time they have a satellite phone in their pocket for an instant bailout if they decide it’s not worth it. It is a ‘reality show’ that we watch to find some piece of missing reality that even the contestants aren’t really facing.

What usually gets them to tap out in the end is that they are struggling, alone. For hundreds of thousands of years we were pulled by an innate will to survive with similar skills, but we did it together, or we didn’t make it. You’re here because your own ancestors won that challenge. Now we recreate survival situations for entertainment, and the suffering gains money to spend on comforts in order to survive modern stress with more perceived ease. Often the monetary goals for contestants are tied to helping out a family, or building a survival school; something beautiful that can come from the suffering. Their will power is connected to bettering their lives and those they love. That can get people moving. But for most, no monetary reward is big enough to keep them from the companionship of others long enough to win.

What would it take for you to survive alone in the wilderness for 100 days, assuming you had the basic skills? Would your will power shift depending on what’s at stake? Despite the shit I talk from my living room, I would likely last a month tops before I convinced myself I was deeply needed back home (and oh how wrong I would be.) That is, unless you changed the rules to say stay for 100 days or someone I love back home would get badly hurt. Then I could summon some crazy will. I would figure it out or die trying.

In survival situations or when the stakes are high, will comes naturally to do hard things. When it comes to needing New Year’s Resolutions and tools to “Survive the Holidays”, we clearly struggle to find the will to act on behalf of our health in modern life. Like wild animals hooked on garbage at a landfill. Do we need sat phones in our pockets to bail us out of the family gathering? When the holiday spread is filled with too many temptations and a cousin pours another drink we planned to limit? “This is Emily. I can’t resist the alcohol and sugar. I’m tapping out.”

Who is going to bail us out when our will power for daily health fails? There’s no monetary reward if you follow your diet plan for the New Year. And if there were, statistics say that your eventual reward will be to yo-yo back to the weight you had before your plan was executed. Health come from steady behaviors over time, and these require something more than white knuckling it through workouts and past dessert tables.

So where does innate will come from? Often it springs forth after a health scare of some kind. We ignored the costs of unhealthy behavior until the bill came due, or we just drew a bad card. Now we’ll move mountains to get our health back. This is that slap in the face of reality that reminds us that nature does not in fact care about our goals, body image, and identities. If we don’t have the will to do things that give us health, nature plays out a consequence over time.

So, why can’t we just do what we know feels good in the long run without being rudely awakened to nature’s indifference? How can we find our will in a disconnected, comfortable society?

Disconnection is a comfort wild creatures know nothing about. For our coddled modern selves, reconnection requires time and attention that is hard to come by when you’re comfortably numb and distracted. And that’s just it. Maybe the next frontier of human evolution is facing the slow decays of comfort and disconnection to reclaim balance through the strange gift we have called Free Will.

Let’s regroup.

Innate Will: requires no tending. Driven by intrinsic forces like love or survival that drive behavior.
Will Power: requires curating. Implies we are fighting against something. Often found through discipline for external rewards. Often short-lived.
Free Will: the ability to choose.

Can Innate Will be stoked? If so, can we use our Free Will to stir it without the struggle and yo-yo effects of will power plays? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be moved by innate will to behave in ways that expand health, connection, and sustainable balance for ourselves and the planet without having to be scared awake to do it?

This is where Free Will meets another seemingly singular human gift: Voluntary Breath. When we become aware of our breath, we start to alter it. From there we can travel on a continuum of awareness to control and actually coax different states of consciousness in the process. We can slow or speed up our brain waves, connect to our physical body, participate with intention in our environment inside and out. When we combine our free will with the gift of voluntary breath, we now have something called a Practice. A breath practice reconnects us to presence and reality. From there we can be moved from innate forces that I trust are well guided when compared to following some external plan of determined will to get somewhere else. Why trust that? When we are present, we are connected to the same forces that tell geese to migrate south in the winter and crocus to burst through snow in spring. We just know. We are moved. If we force our will to power us out of where we are, we are driven instead of guided. That drive has caused each of us a lot of suffering.

In all of this, there’s a realization that the will to survive is innate, but can we survive the passive will to always be comfortable? Can we survive the knowledge that we have free will and are in choice? Can we meet that choice with practices to reconnect, drop the forceful idea that we need determination to get somewhere else, and instead breathe the reality of our temporary lives to be moved into right actions?

I have plenty of vices and addictions to study these concepts through. The wild species around us are acting on instinct, without judging themselves for their behaviors. For us, we have choices to make. Take it, or leave it. We’re only human, after all.

What’s In Your Bank Account? | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #38

 

Let us pretend for this exercise that we only get two accounts, and metaphorically, we are using money and a bank, but this is about the currency inside you and me, and there is real currency in us. It is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). 

You’ve got a checking account and a savings account. For each account, we can deposit money into and spend money from each. Our savings account comes at a higher cost or interest the lower the money gets. Where the checking account can get pretty low but fills up rather quickly when we earn money; it fills first. With a little finesse, we can move money around from each account.

There are infinite ways to earn or, shall I say, transfer money to our accounts because, after all, money is simply a tradeoff of one thing for something else. You can creatively work to build a robust savings account and an EFFICIENT checking account that pays all bills on time in any way you deem worthy. However, let it be known how you spend your time earning this money can cost as much or more if it does not provide you and your family something of internal value. This means regret, anger, rage, frustration, cutting corners, lying, cheating, stealing, manipulation, etc., all come at a cost that eats away at these accounts, but because we are still earning money, we are blind to the metastatic growth. How you decide to earn and transfer money builds the foundation for how well you can use money and move and spend money efficiently.

How we use our money is entirely up to us, but there are daily costs to everything. Living without the daily costs of spending money and being alive is impossible because life requires constantly moving this money inside and between us. There are mental money costs, and there are physical money costs. Spending mental and physical money is connected and can get very disconnected when we ignore how we manage these two. When we spend more physical money than mental money, we generate high returns on both mental and physical money. On the flip side, if we do not spend physical money enough, our ability to spend mental money begins to deteriorate, and so it becomes incredibly difficult to spend money at all on anything, rendering our accounts useless over time. 

Another caveat with spending physical money is if we only spend it one way, making huge purchases all the time or spending more physical money than we could earn, we can also render our accounts useless. Not to mention, if we did not spend the time building our accounts in the first place, we could fall into this trap very easily. It’s like not building a way to earn before you buy all the toys. 

The last thing to consider about earning and spending money is this: you can not hoard your money. If you become too cheap, you begin to devalue yourself because you don’t think you are worth spending money on. All of this is tricky because we are such complex little soldiers playing games with our money and how we earn and spend it, or as I’ve last pointed out, devalue it entirely. Imagine earning money yet never feeling worthy of spending it on anything you wanted, restricting it daily to purchase large items that require you to return to this cycle. You even avoid taking care of your health to the point that only when it’s an emergency will you spend money on yourself and complain about spending that money. 

Consider that you love to workout and take care of yourself physically. You’ve got 1.5 kids, a spouse, a mortgage/rent, and a job that requires you to travel to and from and for. You love information and listen to 2-3 different podcasts per week, watch TV, and read a book a month. This is where and how our attention works, albeit it’s more granular than this! You take your kids to games, school, and friends; you go to work, have meetings, deal with employees or coworkers, close deals, workout, take care of a dog/cat/animal, try and spend time with the spouse and your friends, and love to absorb infinite amounts of knowledge about things that have nothing to do with anything other than knowing what the hottest scientist is sharing. 

Your two bank accounts represent how you spend energy currency, ATP. Mental energy comes at huge costs from your savings account if you do not build a strong physical practice that is consistent and moving money in and out of your checking account. 

How you earn money is how you eat. You will develop poor mental and physical energy if you do not eat enough to fuel a strong, consistent physical spending habit. You will develop poor mental and physical energy if you eat more than you require to sustain your energy requirements. You will gain excess weight and begin to store energy as fat if you eat more than you require. Eating more than you can use and eating low-quality food is the equivalent of a job you hate, and it is fundamentally not addressing the root problem of why you would want to do this to yourself; self-esteem. You and only you are responsible for your body. 

How you use your money is called stress. Stress is a must to live, and when you demonize it (stress), you have decided not to understand the most valuable thing you have— your time. You have chosen to spend your time fast and carelessly, and while this may sound exhilarating or even demoralizing, it is anything but that. This is your opportunity to see where you can plug holes or put some barriers up to protect your time because it is all you have. 

ATP comes at high costs when we overthink all day, every day, and do not check it. Creating the time to spend your money (ATP) physically helps create huge efficiencies in using energy by learning to spend in creative, fulfilling ways. However, if you want to go on repeat and remain despondent about it all, I have two questions. 

What is the point? And do you understand? 

The Inner Mechanic | Emily Hightower

Issue #37

When you drive across the country you stop for gas, wiper fluid, and maybe check the tires. You do not stop to change the oil or do major repairs that you think can wait. Our behavior in the face of modern stress is like driving to get somewhere else all of the time. We will stop to eat (get fuel), wash (wiper fluid), and park once in a while along the way but we don’t take the time to do deep repair to our systems. We’d rather keep going and believe there will come a time later when we can truly take care of ourselves.

 

This plays out in the way we sleep. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is a lighter sleep stage where we dream and play out scenarios that help us manage our social and emotional lives. There are usually protagonists, antagonists, and themes that arise from our subconscious minds that help us simulate real fears, desires, obstacles and opportunities. This kind of dreaming helps us process our emotional lives to keep things running day to day, but does not touch the deep repairs that happen in slow wave sleep.

 

In slow wave sleep (SWS) we enter much slower brain wave dominance where the activity of the mind slows in favor of allowing the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic system to turn on it’s magic. Here the systems feel safe and slow enough to focus on things like cleaning the blood, pulling damaged proteins out of the brain, allocating minerals, vitamins, and nutrients to tissues in need, rebalancing our intesintal flora, and flushing the nervous system with signals of calm connection. We awaken from nights when we get good deep slow wave sleep with a sense of rested readiness. Our data proves it if we wear biometric devices that show improvements in heart rate variability, resting heart rate, resting respiration rate and readiness to take on stress.

 

Many people I work with who are getting 7-8 hours of sleep are still not entering deep slow wave states of sleep in adequate amounts. This is because our brains prioritize REM sleep for social and emotional stability over doing deep repairs to the system. Just like driving across the country knowing you need an oil change that gets pushed aside in favor of cranking tunes and speeding through the landscape to get somewhere else at the expense of the health of the vehicle. You know you’re putting wear and tear on the car, but you’ll deal with it when you get ‘there’.

 

When we neglect deep repair to our own bodies, we end up in a state of ‘sleep debt’. The brain will prioritize and pay back any REM debt before it looks at the replenishing the slow wave sleep savings account. This is why people with chronic stress tend to get less deep, slow wave sleep even if they get in a good 8 hour stretch of sleep. 

 

To repay that REM debt you can practice Neuro Nidra™ . This form of dynamic sleep-like consciousness allows the body to drop into deep repair states while you are semi-conscious. Swami Satyananda in his book Yoga Nidra says that one Nidra practice can repay between 2 and 4 hours of sleep debt. This means that if you get in a good Nidra practice during the day, that night you will have less REM debt to pay off and you will more likely drop into deep slow wave states of repair. With practice your Nidra session can actually drop you into slow wave states to do that repair work while you simply kick back and allow.

 

This is like having a magical garage you could park your car in for 30 minutes where the car could rest and do it’s own self-repair. Imagine if when you got in your car to leave that garage that the car had changed it’s own oil, power steering fluid was topped off, brakes were checked, tires rotated and aligned, and worn-out belts were exchanged. All without a mechanic. Your body IS the vehicle and comes with an inner mechanic! But this inner mechanic can’t get to work when you are speeding down the highway of life ignoring the warning lights. It only brings out the tools when you stop and set up the conditions for deep healing to take place.

 

Search “Neuro Nidra” on our site for all of our webinars and guided audio practices

 

Pillows of Problems | Emily Hightower

Issue #36

Research shows that our brains are negatively biased, and we will look for problems no matter what our current circumstances are. In Michael Easter’s book, The Comfort Crisis, studies by David Levari are cited on “prevalence-induced concept change,” where Levari found that instead of becoming more fulfilled as our lives improve, we lower our threshold for what we experience as problems. This becomes a problem in and of itself worth looking at. Your experience of your stress is both valid and worth questioning if you want to find contentment and balance.

 

In my work with trauma I often say we cannot compare pain; your experience is valid and real to you. If you don’t start there, you end up in a mental game of denial masked as righteousness or humility. We tend to use comparison as a way to either justify our pain, or cheat ourselves of the validity of our own experience. This comes out as something like; “Of course that guy is doing better than I am, look what he can afford. If I had his circumstances I wouldn’t have any problems.” or,  “I should be happy and healthy, look at all that I have compared to most”. These comparison games keep us up at night in what are likely and hopefully safe, comfortable beds; restless on perceived pillows of problems. 

 

This is not to say your problems are not real. In fact, this is one big reality check on how we face problems and testing ourselves to get out of comparison and comfort as dominant strategies for solving them. 

 

In our work at SH//FT we approach stress from a principle rooted in our biology: stress is natural and it is supposed to be met through your body, not your mind. In a society where comfort has convenienced us into physical disconnection and stagnation we find ways to create the stress we need to feel alive even when things are relatively ‘good’. We look for problems to solve and they are mostly in our heads. Then we point and compare in isolated egocentric lives to understand our discomfort. Then we feel ‘stressed’ about our problems and look for quick ways to feel good; a natural impulse also driven by biology. We live in a world where feel-good-quick is easy but not free. The cost of feeling good without physical effort or connection is usually more overstimulation or addiction. Think; smartphones, tv, alcohol, weed, quick convenient food, etc. – relatively no physical effort required to get the drug and no physical effort required to use it.

 

When you’re facing your stress and problems, rather than compare your relative pain to others in the form of wealth or comfort, look at the pain of disconnection and stagnation in your own life. No matter how much money, luxury, comfort or time you think you have or want, if you are not connected to your body and creating ways to move stress through it (movement, physical strain, breath, recovery) you are likely sleeping on a pillow filled with feathers noticing only the fluff of problems floating around in your head. Real or imagined, those problems deserve your physical attention to SH//FT from pain to opportunity.

 

We designed our monthly membership with physical practices that will revitalize you and reconnect you with tools to move stress through your body and widen your tolerance and perspective so you can meet the stress of modern comfort and disconnect with skill. We hope you’ll join the powerful path of self discovery that goes way beyond what people think of as ‘fitness’. We are in this to master modern stress and turn a tide of comfortable suffering into an opportunity for evolution. 

 

 

 

Tradeoffs | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #35

 

In the last 15 years podcasting has gained serious momentum. This is roughly the time frame I’ve been associated with the medium. In the last 15 years I have probably done close to 200 podcast interviews. I even started one called the Inception Lab (you’ll find a couple popular folks early on in their careers there). This choice to be interviewed this much comes with circumstances that many don’t see, namely being interviewed by people who think they care about something, but ultimately are just trying to push content to provide others with information. All of this in a world where the vast majority of us fail to absorb and understand the information being communicated; we do however feel empowered with knowledge by listening to this new or novel information. It is quite literally an impossibility to listen to something new that most of the time requires some sort of behavior change each week. And here is why…

 

Think about learning to walk. This is our bodies making a behavioral change. We go from crawling and dependency on many things to working our tail off to become bipedal and more independent. It requires the one thing many of us are giving up everytime we chase something new and novel or we pick up our phones; attention. When a child is working to stand and walk for the first time it is all or nothing. It is determination, creativity and art all sewn together. It requires all of their attention, and every bit of their nervous system and physiology to lay the tracks for our ability to rarely ever have to think about walking again. 

 

Imagine for a moment each week being given the task of learning to walk. This is the current paradigm in which we live and we got here because we demanded it. We are obsessed with knowledge and information. Open Netflix, and compare that to going to Blockbuster 20 years ago, and compare that to going to the movies. Wrap your head around the fact that if you own a smartphone and engage in the internet you are in front of close to 32 movies of information per day if statistics have held since 2012!!! This means in 2012 the average American consumed 12 hours of information per day. 

 

This inability to absorb information comes with an interesting tradeoff. This tradeoff looks like this: our nervous system takes in the information in front of us quickly, once we get a feeling of we’ve learned something (there are neurotransmitters and hormones that play roles here that I’m going to leave out) or that it feels like enough, we then jump to something new and repeat this process a few times or many more times until we feel exhausted. This process repeats itself many times throughout the day. 

 

The tradeoff here is we can jump from one thing to the next very quickly, and we feel rewarded or gratified for this. Our nervous systems can function at high rates and we essentially feel like we have accomplished many things in a day. On the other side of the tradeoff is this, we now have a nervous system that struggles to slow down or calm down. We have not fully accomplished or finished any one thing or we’ve done it in a manner that has us struggling to respond to the stress we’ve been in front of. After some time our sleep beings to deteriorate, our ability to absorb and understand information diminishes to the point that our memory starts to falter because essentially we have hit our storage limit a long time ago. It’s the equivalent of bambi walking on ice our entire lives while trying to keep up with every new thing because we don’t have the time to learn how to walk. 

 

It all comes with tradeoffs, and when I decided to say yes to all those podcasts I decided to play a part in this game for the sake of getting the information I cared about into the world. I started paying attention to my attention and if I was getting bored or not. Turns out I was getting really bored because it was the same questions from essentially the same person each week. Here’s the interesting thing about people putting out new information every week. This too comes with a tradeoff. That tradeoff is keeping up with the Joneses’ type of behavior. It has the person putting out the information working to have the knowledge of an expert in everything but essentially lacks the wisdom or understanding of how impossible it is to keep up with this cycle. 

 

I listen to podcasts every once in a while now. One particular podcastor I’m fascinated with is Dan Carlin who is the man behind Hardcore History. Hardcore history puts out some of the most detailed historical information you could want. Guess how many episodes per year Dan publishes? I let you look into that and absorb what I have shared so far. 

 

Dan reminds me of S.C. Gwynne, arguably the greatest writer of our time, and ironically a history buff. Gwynne has written a number of books, two of which I highly recommend; Empire of the Summer Moon and Hymns of the Republic. Gwynne writes non-fiction history like it is fiction, he is an artist and shows a history nobody I’ve witnessed has ever taught. If you’ve not read him and think you understand the civil war, Lincoln or American History and Indigenous cultures in the 1700’s and 1800’s your mind will blow. Hell, I was able to piece together a historian Gynne uses in Empire as the man who wrote Shut your Mouth and Save Your Life of which at the same time Gwynne sites this man he was seeing and writing about how the natives of North and South America primarily were breathing through their noses. A phenomenon civilized culture was not doing. 

 

Take the time to absorb what it is you care about! There is no way I could have done the research I have on the topics I care about – like my example above – if I was functioning in the state I had been when trying to do it all. 

 

While I have been a participant in the information crisis, I have learned a few lessons along the way. Hence why I write here, and why I’ve yet to come back to podcasting. Not only have I turned down offers to do my own podcast, I turn down just about every offer I get to interview me. I have shared plenty, and honestly since slowing down like this EVERYTHING has become clearer. I care more about what I do, I care more about how I am sharing, I care more about people close to me, and I am acutely aware of when someone is in the information trap and how to politely keep them at a distance. 

 

Just to tie this one up with what we do at SH//FT, it has become more and more apparent how many of the people I come in contact with lack the ability to have a real practice in place. We provide daily programming, and many people I’ve spoken to simply follow that programming verbatim without taking the time to understand they may not be ready to follow it verbatim that day and how many fail to add the suggestive walking, breathe and move, or the cooling down elements. It’s wild to me, but apparently we’ve not communicated this stuff enough, and so that will be our goal in the coming months is to start to tie this stuff together in a way that helps people take the time to want to understand while we can jump into an intense training session quickly without cooling down, not prepping the body or taking the time to bring it back to a homeostatic level does come with the same type of tradeoff I explained above. It gets harder and harder to walk with grace and not having to think about it all the time.

Limited Performance or Performance Unlimited | Brian MacKenzie

Issue # 34

 

Working for performance and working on our limitations are different, and unfortunately, we all fall into the trap of performance first. This took me a long time to understand, and I still work at it each day on not allowing my mind to play games with the reality of working on my limitations. The hardest part about this is when we are performing and chasing performance, we can be exposing and working on some of our limitations. However, the paradox is not only does that not work out long term, it ends up creating more significant gaps in some of these limits.  

 

While I am very capable of going faster or harder in many of the activities I do if I’ve exposed myself to understanding I haven’t developed the skill level, or the physiological capabilities of maintaining work beyond those limits or resting from those activities I am now chasing a ghost. That ghost, while it may validate something in my mind, ends up producing ghosts in many other areas of my life and I end up in competition not with the world, but my inner unsatisfied child. 

 

Using running as an example as it is a pretty easy way to get this across. Suppose I wanted to start running. I decide to go for a run one day and wind up pretty sore. Sore enough to not run for another 2 or 3 days. In that I learned I went and did too much to start. Or did I? I head back out again and do the exact same run as before. I’m sore the next day, but not as much. So I keep this process up until this run is no longer hard nor does it create anymore soreness. So I ramp it up again. I get sore again for 2 or 3 days and don’t run, and again repeat this process, again, and again. Until I’m running enough to fullfill my desires for what are my perceived limits. 

 

Most of us go about things in very similar ways to this runner. What do you think this runner could have done differently? There are so many different ways to go about it everyone has two-cents to add. Walk some, run some. Do some skill work. Go slower. Go shorter but faster. And nobody would be incorrect, but what any and all of us are giving advice on are hypothetical limiters and how to work in order get an adaptation to that limiter. So what happens once we’ve made serious progress with that limitation? Most of us test it against performance, right? Lets see how fast or strong we are and then lets chip away again. The problem is exposing another limitation once we’ve seemed to make some progress, because now we like what we feel in the performance. We are ritualistic head hunters who simply do not like to be confronted with change, and yet (another paradox here) change is the one constant in our lives. 

 

The elite athlete has it very differently, and in my opinion a much more difficult road here since everything about what they do in sport is based on results, not limitations. Imagine being the best in the world at something and winning being at the front of everything you do. What sort of life do you think you’d want in order to maintain this? It would look like groundhog day, and everyone important in your life would be out of your life for a season or camp so you could focus. You’d be surrounded by staff and people who were constantly giving you input and updates on your schedule, nutrition possibly, hydration possibly, supplements, training, practice, and you’d most likely be traveling more than anyone wants to travel. And when your career is over you’d get to unpack the winning thing, and how the real world doesn’t actually work that way. 

 

I find it incredibly interesting how we as fans seem to really only care about the same things in the sports we love, or the player we love. Yet, at the same time each of us understands this really isn’t a way to live and if you’ve seen any of the recent sports documentaries, you’d see a lot of the psychological outcomes from all of this.  Please see: Bigger Faster Stronger, Trophy Kids, The Weight of Gold

 

While you may not believe performance or winning doesn’t have space in your mind you’d not own a smart phone and live on an island. Everything in our culture is about getting ahead and performing which requires some real deep work to unpack. Maybe not, maybe you can give or take and have a healthy relationship with it. You, afterall are the only one who really knows that truth. For me, and working with professional athletes I know I always want to see them do well, and if winning is a part of that great. If it is not my hope is the work I’ve been able to show them far transcends winning, and sport. Yet the paradox of this is that winning or simply getting faster or stronger can always be a part of that as well. The practice is in how it’s training our minds!

Those Eggs Aren’t Real | Emily Hightower

Issue # 33

When we had backyard chickens we collected the eggs when the hens were out clucking around the yard. Sometimes a hen would stay in the coop and brood. If you don’t know what that means, it’s when a hen will not leave an empty nest. There are no eggs. The hen sits on nothing. She stops eating. She stops socializing. And she posts up with a biological urge to protect potentials that do not exist.

We humans also brood; sit on something that isn’t really there, imagining our massive responsibility that’s holding us back from life. We are stuck and argue for why. The ‘eggs’ need us, we are sure. But they do not exist.

In our nervous systems this is akin to a parasympathetic freeze response. We call it “depression”. 

The sympathetic arousal wing of our autonomic nervous systems can become so overwhelmed that we crash and dysregulate beyond healing into stuck depression. In this case the body is not using the parasympathetic branch to heal, instead it is sludgy and stuck.. When our physiology is here we mull, brood, stagnate, and argue for limitations to hold us hostage to our nest.

Trying to solve problems from this state in our physiology is akin to trying to convince a hen that there are no eggs underneath her. She isn’t hearing that. 

To help a brooding hen, we would gently move her from the nest and shut the coop door. Nervous and uncertain she would pace and roam aimlessly around the door. Drop some fresh compost in front of her, let her find her senses, and she would reluctantly loosen her grip and start eating. After a few days of doing this, she would return to a healthy pattern and join her fellow hens each morning by leaving the coop to free herself from her nest of false problems.

If you’ve ever felt the kind of depression that makes you brood in place without a way out, you’ll probably notice that it doesn’t help when people tell you that your worries (eggs) aren’t real and that you should get out and lift yourself. Instead, don’t think. Just get yourself out of your ‘nest’ (bed, recliner, kitchen you are looping around) and go outside without a goal. Be uncertain. Let your senses take over gently. Walk. Your body will start to inform your mind that you don’t need to sit on those perceived problems. They are in the past and only exist if you brood on them. 

I know, those ‘eggs’ seem real. But often they are figments of physiology. Meet the body first, and the mind will often follow. When the door to the coop opens again, you’ll be fed, full of sunlight, and prepared to face the reality of the emptiness of old problems.

 

NOTE: Depression is a complex experience that may require larger interventions. Please see our disclaimer in our footer and if you feel depression that is not resolving seek support from a skilled Dr or Therapist along with your physical practices to recover.

 

The Pain of Tech | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #32

I co-wrote a book several years ago on technology and the fitness world because I have had a long fascination with using technology to guide athletes and myself to make more optimal decisions about training. The most critical word in that last sentence is fascination. Before explaining how I use technology, I’d like to lay the framework for leading ourselves far away from the well by not picking up on our obsessive tendencies.  

 

Each of us obsesses about certain things we do from time to time. This becomes a pattern we adopt; before long, we claim it as an identity. Example: I use a heart rate monitor every time I train and won’t train without it. Another Example: I must look a certain way when I do X or go out into public, or it affects me negatively. Another Example: I must be in bed at a particular time, or it must be perfectly dark, cool, and quiet to sleep or fall asleep. It may not look like a disorder, and maybe it is. This is something you are the judge of. The point is, often, we aren’t paying attention to what is draining us because we believe it to be who we are or “just what we do.”

 

When it comes to technology, we are an interesting lot. So many of us, like me, crave the newest things that can do X or help us get more of our time back as if time outside of a practical sense existed. In our obsessive worlds we have glued ourselves to information we not only do not understand, but we are willing to let a significant portion of our lives be dictated by this lack of ability to understand how this information is genuinely relevant to us. For instance, many clients like me have used the latest peripheral HRV devices (wrist/fingers) to navigate how our training day should work. With these technologies, an HRV or Readiness Score gives us a number correlated with how much we are ready to get after it or not; simplified. Some of you might use a non-technology-based tool like the Exhale Assessment (CO2 Tolerance Test), and that’s your guidance tool. These are both two good examples of metrics for understanding adaptation. Typically, what we’d do with this information is correlate it (triangulate) with something like how well we slept or how much we did the other day.

 

While there is nothing wrong with anyone using these tools for what appears to be guidance, unless we are taking the time to understand how the totality of our lives impacts these things, we are probably just spinning the obsession wheel as I have. Many of us are simply spinning this wheel on a training program without ever taking the time to understand our emotional system’s impact on an entire 24-hour period.

 

Chronic stress is the leading cause of disease globally, and it has tentacles in cardiovascular/heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental health, neurodegenerative diseases, and more. Our problem with chronic stress is it has a dual or biphasic nature to it. We either ignore it, or we obsess about it by thinking if we eat perfectly and train/work out every day the same, we will avoid the consequences of the pain we are hiding in this behavior. Yet, exercise is the number one way of avoiding the pitfalls of the health crisis by improving your health, and this is how the paradox becomes real.

 

We continue to leverage and put too much weight on the medical industry to prolong our suffering because we fail to look in the mirror. While gathering stats and using technology is fun, it has yet to make us healthier. We live longer while suffering in pain, pretending it’s normal, and that we are fine. How often have you answered the phone or a question when someone asks how you are doing, “I’m great,” or “I’m good” when you are not? This is not only culturally shoved down our throats, but our familial lines continue to pass on the depression. For what it’s worth, there is no depression gene or anxiety gene; these are sensitivities passed on genetically and ultimately show up emotionally. They are suppressed or reactively expressed through addiction and obsessive or suppressive behaviors. All of this–every last bit–impacts our physiology and if we come back to HRV (or the Exhale Assessment) and our nervous system or adaptability.

 

“I just want to train and be healthy man.” Then, lose the watch and start paying attention because we don’t have the time for the data. Here is why. Where professional athletes differ from the rest of us here is that they live on Groundhog Day for everything but their core training for the day. This means food, activities, sleep, and anything but training rarely, if ever, changes. 

 

For this reason, gathering data and directing it at performance as an indicator of success can be a great way to measure how well this program works. It is not, nor should it be, the sole thing for the professional. You and I, however, are the more elite athletes in terms of navigating information due to our lives constantly changing daily with the people we interact with, the job, the kids, the spouse, the family, the sleep, the time off, and the time on. And while professional athletes deal with some of this, performance for you and me is a terrible idea as one of our top indicators of success. Technology cannot help us with the leading indicator for us: contentment. The calm, clear, creative contentment that says whatever I am doing works. The paradox is that many of us believe happiness comes from our obsessive behaviors and struggle to understand the difference between neurosis and true joy. 

 

How I use technology today is vastly different from yesterday because I learned if I were going to be collecting information, I would want to understand enough variables to make the right decision for myself and my clients. Physiology does not lie, and while I use several tools to measure things (metabolic carts, muscle oxygen, SPO2, hemoglobin, HR/HRV, core/skin temperature, CO2TT, Step Assessments, Breath Holds, Altitude/Hypoxia), none of them means anything without the communication I have with the client on what is going on. Did you fly today? How was your sleep? Did you eat late, stay up late, drink, etc., etc.? How is your personal life? Yeah, there’s that one too.

 

I can say confidently that no single person I’ve spoken with or worked with doesn’t realize emotional stress is the biggest culprit in our day-to-day fluctuations in how we feel and our health in general. However, I can also confidently say that 100% do not accurately understand how our attention impacts our emotional stress and, ultimately, our lives and how we should be altering our daily lives. It is not the same way every day. This is why it is essential to understand the technology trap. In most cases, we cannot have the attention required to understand the data we are looking at because of how much we take on. 

 

If my HRV is higher and over-reaching more parasympathetically, do I just go easier, or can I do something to help my body get the rest it is asking for? Just because my readiness score reads 65%, that doesn’t mean we don’t move. Is it Yoga? Is it a walk? Is it Zone 1 or Zone 2 work? Or maybe some Strength & Conditioning Recovery. Is it hypoxic/altitude work? While this may be even more confusing, and you may not have the answer, that is fine. When in doubt, drop the tech and start your regular warm-up; pay attention to how you feel during and after that warm-up. If you’re feeling better, approach the workout with your feelings, not your thoughts. If it’s strength and asking for a rep range, you should know real quick in moving weight if you’re going to hit numbers you would if you weren’t fried. There is excellent research on grip strength and readiness. So if moving weight isn’t something you’re used to for gauging things, hang from a bar, and if your grip feels weak, you can bet your central nervous system is crying. If it’s crying, go for a walk instead of training and see how you show up the next day. Or do a few leisurely rounds with lots of rest between some push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and lunges. Then, see how you feel the next day. Play this game with your training to learn where these things can have big returns, as one is bound to set you up to feel much better the next day. 

 

I’d be remiss (ha) if I did not address the elephant in the room on this one, and I know if you’re still reading, this wasn’t a short one, so if you are still here, I will wrap this up. While you and I can play these games of piecing together how we use tools and tricks to rebound our physiology into a place where we think it is functional, it is not if we are not addressing the torturous underworld we live in. The one where the self-esteem of some 5-year-old kid is living itself out in an adult body, pretending the discomfort of not communicating, protecting, avoiding, and trying to know as much about nothing as possible while just trying to earn a living doesn’t affect us at all. Nothing has affected every one of us more at this stage of civilization. Living longer is the cruel joke we’ve played on ourselves through this compensation pattern. Avoiding the truth that our attention is on far too much to have a strong enough opinion based on real-time information on data we can’t possibly make sense of. This is why we teach awareness as the foundational tool of all tools, including technology. You and me having the awareness of our behaviors and where we can modify them is the ultimate goal. If technology is helping you do this, keep going. If it simply prolongs confusion and exacerbates more neurotic control issues, walk away and free that mind! Your heart and your physiology will thank you.