#12 – Look back, look in, and look forward

What can be learned from a long vacation and what can you do to prepare yourself mentally for 2015?


Hey, everybody! It’s Matt Hsu from Upright Health and welcome back to the Upright Health Podcast. Welcome to Episode 12 and to the very first episode of 2015! I was missing in action for about a month here on the podcast and I apologize for that. I did not give you any warning. I know some of you are probably worried, staying up late at night wondering what happened to me. I’m fine. I was on vacation. I was in Europe; I was in Belgium; I was in the Netherlands; I was in Germany and also in Spain. And I had a lot of time to learn a lot of things about myself, about the world, about some of you guys out there, some of my fans out there.

In Spain, I got to meet one of my biggest fans. His name is Javier. So I do want to say thank you very much for your hospitality, Javier. Probably the most gracious and giving host I have ever had the good fortune in my life to meet and stay with. If you ever end up on vacation in Palma, Majorca and you want to get a workout in at a great little gym down by the beach, definitely look up the CrossFit Entreno Cruzado out there. It’s run by Javier. It’s a fantastic little facility and the philosophy there that Javier infuses into his environment is really fantastic. And it was really an amazing experience go out there and be able to share some of the things that I know and get to know some of the people out there, and to practice some of my terrible and rapidly decaying Spanish skills from high school. In any case, thank you very much, Javier and everybody else. You can definitely check CrossFit Entreno Cruzado should you ever happen to be out in Palma, Majorca and say hi to Javier and make sure he’s doing his stretches.

So there are a couple of things that I learned on vacation, and I wanted to share those with you. Since this is the beginning of 2015, it’s a really good time for us to take stock, learn some lessons and make sure we can apply them to the year ahead. So, I’m only going to share three things and then I’m going to start asking you some questions. When I start asking you some questions, you might wanna have some kind of pen or pencil and a piece of paper handy; some kind of writing implement to help you remember what you’re about to think about. If you’re driving, this is probably not going to be a great idea, but maybe later you can remember to take down some notes.

So, here is what I learned. (I had to re-learn this lesson and I feel like I have to re-learn this lesson all the time.) Number one is vacation is extremely important. And this sounds so stupid and obvious I think to many Europeans. I mean, a lot of the Europeans I spoke with on this trip, it’s a foregone conclusion that you take vacation during the year and that you take a pretty good amount of vacation. That means a four-week vacation. You just sort of disappear. Or for two weeks or three weeks, you just stop working and nobody bothers you. I feel like in the United States, we lose sight of that very quickly. And in the United States, we don’t really ever take vacations; we just kind of keep our nose to the grindstone. And while that may seem like a question of strong work ethic, I think in the end is actually quite unhealthy.

Every time I do take a solid vacation, I realize just how restorative it is for my brain and for my body and for everything. And it helps me come back thinking about things a little more clearly; thinking about things with less stress around it. And that helps everything. I mean, if we wanna think just about our muscles, our muscles can relax better when we actually have a good solid period of decompression and relaxation. So if it’s at all possible for you, take a freakin’ break. So that’s lesson number one that I learned and I intend to hold to that this year. I do intend to take some solid vacations if I can. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but some kind of vacation break to recharge.

The number two thing I learned that I realized actually coming back from the vacation is I am addicted to distraction and multitasking. This is something that I think all of us are getting addicted to. Mostly it’s because of our smartphones, I think. Just having our iPhones and our Androids glued to our hips or just surgically implanted in our palms, these things constantly tempt us to look and look and look and see what we can learn and research or whatever, check our email or see if somebody liked our things on Facebook. And I have very clearly noticed that when I start doing that – when I start multitasking — my mood falls into the ground. My sense of calm and equanimity of just being able to deal with the world definitely gets thrown off balance and I get irritable or annoyed and anxious. So one of the things I’m planning on doing this year (you could call this a “resolution”) is to focus and not allow myself — or at least attempt to not allow myself — to get caught up in a whirlwind of multitasking. So I am attempting to put in some different habits in place to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

And finally, the number three thing that I learned on vacation is that there is no better food in the world — in the world – than Doner Kebab in Germany! If you’ve never had Doner Kebab, if you’re somebody who’s from the US and has never been to Germany, it’s kind of like Greek gyro pita wraps or Shawarma wraps. Kind of like that except it is just infinitely more delicious. Anybody who’s been to Germany and had a Doner Kebab, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve been to Berlin and just had, oh man, some of the best Kebabs in the world, you know what I’m talking about! I’m going to say that in my life, I intend to have the opportunity — I hope to have the opportunity — to go back to Germany and have Kebabs at least two or three more times in my life. It’s that good. If you’re in Germany, consider yourself very lucky. If you live in Western Europe and you’re only a stone’s throw away from getting the best Kebab in the world, I really envy you. And if you would like to invite me to your house, I would definitely come.

So those are three things I learned. Now the questions that I’m going to throw to you, get your pen and paper and get ready because this is going to help you focus more in the upcoming year. So, what is it (if you’re somebody who’s in pain or somebody who’s unnecessarily in pain but is just trying to be better), what drives you to get better? What is that’s motivating you? What is the thing that is always in the back of your head, that keeps you moving forward? Write it down. If it’s multiple things, write them down. Is it something that you missed? This is particularly important for people who are kind of rehabbing themselves, trying to change themselves back to being able to do something. What is that thing that you miss? What is the activity that you want to be able to do?

For me in my mid-twenties, the thing that drove me to get better was… I had a couple of things; I had the desire to play hockey well again. I wanted to be able to wake up without feeling like I wanted to die every morning. Because you know, when you wake up and it’s just constant pain, you are not very happy and that’s a hard thing to stare at when you’re at your mid-twenties. It’s a hard thing to stare at any age. So, I wanted to play hockey. I wanted to wake up feeling good. I wanted to be able to feel like a man. That may be vague to some people, but really, I wanted to feel like I had the ability to do things; that I had some level of strength; that I could have some confidence in my ability to perform athletically, to perform sexually, to perform whatever it is. Just to be able to stand out of a chair without pain. Those were things that drove me. So, think about what’s driving you to get better and keep those things in mind as you start pushing yourself into 2015.

Another question for you to think about is what do you really dream of? So, this is obviously related to “what drives you” but the dream of something that seems unachievable. What is it that you think you could do but you’re kind of embarrassed to tell other people that you think you should be able to do? You don’t have to tell me. Lucky for you, this is a one-way conversation. You don’t have to tell me but you can. You could email it to me if you want to. You can email me at [email protected] if you’d like to share it. And if you want to do that, I will definitely share that list so we can all see what everybody is dreaming of. Whatever that is, write it down. Keep it in mind. You don’t have to show to others but again, if you like, you can show it to me. And now that you have these two questions – these two major questions – down, I want you think about what thoughts are going to help you get there and what thoughts are not going to help you get there.

Years ago, I was taking a meditation course in San Francisco and I heard this anecdote from the teacher and he said he had gone to a retreat out in the hills and he and these group of people had gone out. And basically, the rules of this retreat were past a certain hour, (I think it was basically past like four pm or five pm) you couldn’t eat anymore. And so in this meditation complex, they had this kitchen obviously because you could eat at other times. The kitchen had food and the kitchen would provide food for you in the daytime but past a certain hour (I believe it was something like five pm), you couldn’t eat anymore. And you’d basically just be meditating and then you’d have to go to bed basically a little hungry and then wake up and eat in the morning.

So the rule was you cannot eat, but the temptation was always there. And in the first few days of this retreat, people couldn’t resist the temptation. Food would go missing from the cupboard. It was obvious that people were breaking the rule. And so this came up in discussion one day and everyone was talking about it and said, “How do we break the temptation? How do we fight this mental hurdle? What can we do to stop ourselves from breaking down to this temptation? And the retreat leader said, “Just put a lock on the cabinets. Lock the kitchen.”

And the way I always take this is sometimes yes, you can use willpower. You can mentally tell yourself, “I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to do that.” But sometimes, you just have to say, “You know what, it’s just plain not allowed. I have to short circuit myself. I have to completely lock myself out of doing x, y or z.” And so, from a practical standpoint, just as in this example, if you’re tempted by certain things, sometimes you just need to make sure that the thing that you are tempted to do, you completely remove even the possibility of doing it. To take it a step further, I  think once you’ve done that, I think it’s also a very good skill to try to practice is to stop yourself from thinking certain thoughts and just basically laying out the rules for yourself and just say, “You know what, you’re not allowed to ever think this.”

I had a young guy I coached as an ice hockey goalie a couple years ago, who at the time, was nine years old. And if you know anything about ice hockey goalies, you know that we tend to be a rather… how do shall I put this? A mentally disturbed group. And I think that has to do with the nature of the position. It’s very stressful. All these strange people are attracted to the idea of being hit by high velocity objects. And so in any case, this kid had this habit of saying that he sucked. And he was actually an excellent, excellent, excellent goalie. He was an amazing goalie but he had this mental habit of saying… you know, if he got scored on too many times, he had this mental habit of saying, “Oh, Coach Matt, I suck!”

And initially I started saying, “You don’t suck. You’re actually really good. Look at all the positives. Blah, blah, blah.” And we did that for a couple of months, just trying to help him see the positive side, think positively, blah, blah, blah. You know how it is, right? Just try to focus on the positives. And it just wasn’t working. It just simply wasn’t working. He’d still mentally breakdown. He’d still stay, “Oh, I suck! I suck!” So eventually I said, “You know what, from now on if you say ‘I suck’, you’re skating laps. You’re just not allowed to say that anymore. You’re not allowed to think that anymore.” And so he did it one more time. At practice he was like, “Oh, I suck!” I’d look at him, he looked at me and he skated around the ice two laps. He came back huffin’ and puffin, and I said, “Did you say something?” And he said, “No.” And he smiled as he got ready to play.

And I know you’re probably thinking, “Oh, well, he probably just kept it inside.” But it was actually a pretty remarkable difference in his mental toughness because he knew there was no point in even thinking that anymore, right? A lot of times, we just want to think this thought and moan and complain and whatever it is you wanna think about, “Maybe I should just give up. I’m never going to get there.” Those thoughts may come, but if you start practicing squashing those thoughts and pushing them out and not even giving them the opportunity to be voiced, it’s pretty awesome to see what happens to your overall attitude, into your ability to think positively and to think productively.

So, figure out what thoughts are going to help you achieve your goals. Figure out which thoughts are not going to help you. Block out the crappy ones. Focus on the good ones and move forward bravely in 2015. And please remember that pain sucks; life shouldn’t.


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