Category Archives: Focus

Progress update – Handstands

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything but this is just a quick post of my handstand progress and what I’m aiming for.  From a few months ago I couldn’t hold half a second hand stand to now my best in the video about 25 seconds.  Handstands are absolutely incredible for upper body strength.

My goal first is to hold a perfect handstand for a solid minute.  From there I will work on doing handstand push ups without a wall to assist.

 

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Little Dragon quotes

Feel like doing something different this post and posting a few of my favourite quotes from one of, if not, my biggest inspiration and role model – Bruce Lee.  (Little Dragon was the meaning of his Chinese screen name, Li Xiaolong)  To some, Bruce was just a pioneer of martial arts movies.  But he was so much more than that.  A philosopher, teacher, martial artist, actor, dancer, evolutionary, and much more.  Those who know him only from his appearances on screen only see the tip of the iceberg.  He has written a great deal of books, created is own style of martial arts (which by definition isn’t a ‘style’), taught martial arts and so on.  While I could write a great deal about him, in fact I probably will dedicate a post to his life, I just wanted to expose a few of his gems of insight: (in no particular order) [Also I’d like to point out that much of Bruce Lee’s life philosophies quite well tie together a great deal of what I have written about]

‘A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at’

‘I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine’

‘If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else.  It will spread into your work and into your life.  There are no limits.  There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them’

‘I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times’

‘Real living is living for others’

‘”What is” is more important than “what should be.”  Too many people are looking at “what is” from a position of thinking “what should be”‘

‘The “moment” has not yesterday or tomorrow.  It is not the result of thought and, therefore, has not time’

‘To understand one another, there must be a state of choiceless awareness where there is no sense of comparison or condemnation, no waiting for a further development of discussion in order to agree or disagree. Above all, don’t start from a conclusion’

‘Choose the positive.  You have choice, you are master of your attitude, choose the positive, the constructive.  Optimism is a faith that leads to success’

‘Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it’

‘Flow in the living moment.  We are always in a process of becoming and nothing is fixed. Have no rigid system in you, and you’ll be flexible to change with the ever changing. Open yourself and flow, my friend. Flow in the total openness of the living moment. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo’

‘Absorb what is useful, discard what is not.  Add what is uniquely your own’

‘When we hold to the core, the opposite sides are the same if they are seen from the center of the moving circle. I do not experience; I am experience. I am not the subject of experience; I am that experience. I am awareness. Nothing else can be I or can exist’

bruce-lee-kick

Self-imposed limitations – I Can’t

Two words that I loathe more than any:  I can’t.  It should not even be grammatically correct to use those two words.  These are the words that will probably prevent 90% of people to do things they want.  To try new things.  To actually experience their lives rather than ride shotgun in an armour plated safety car.  So I wanted to express my feelings towards these words and why I feel you should remove them completely.

I’ll start with my alternatives: I will/will not, I have/have not, I do/do not.  These are either or, in or out, win or lose.  They do not imply being stuck in some sort of limbo between trying and giving up.  Which is exactly what I can’t is.  You can’t give up something you haven’t tried, but you can’t be trying at something you haven’t even started.  It is something that exist entirely in your head.  People will use it as an excuse for things they actually don’t want to do or have no real interest in doing, but they feign interest this way.  Like ‘Oh I wish I could wake up early but I just can’t’ ‘I want to be better at but I just can’t’ ‘I can’t play the guitar’ ‘I can’t  can’t can’t’etc etc.  And the problem begins before anything takes place, this mindset will then stop people from even attempting something.  So what is the solution?

A revolution is the only solution.  A shift from insecurities and doubts into confidence and excitement.  A movement from thoughts of failure to possibilities of success.  But most important, the idea that trying, attempting something is the only possible way to know whether you can or not.  But not just trying, actually putting your heart and soul into it.  Don’t even worry about whether or not you will fail.  If you fail you have two choices: quit, or think about what you did incorrectly and then adjust.  The author of The Practicing Mind puts it perfectly with his method called DOC, which stands for ‘Do, Observe, Correct’.  This is an incredibly useful tool.  While used extensively for dedicated practice, it can prove to be quite useful when beginning something.  It requires removing all judgement and ego completely.  The idea being is you ‘do’ what it is you try to do, say shooting a basketball.  You then ‘observe’ what happened.  Did you overthrow or underthrow?  Now, before any tiny bit of judgement like ‘damn I suck’ or ‘I’ll never get that hoop’, you immediately ‘Correct’.  Now correcting a mistake in something may require more knowledge in the field, however the idea stands:  do what is necessary to correct what went wrong and try again.  Wash, rinse and repeat.

This simple methodology can really be applied in any aspect of your life.  But it is extremely important to remove any judgement.  Forget about winning or losing, doing the right thing or hitting the target.  These things are not what are important.  The greatest athletes on earth have missed far more than they’ve hit.  You simply attempt it, see what went wrong and adjust accordingly.  If everybody applied this to any new endeavour, I don’t think ‘I can’t’ would be known anymore.  The issue of course is people don’t want to try something they already think they can’t do.  Most people want safe.  They are afraid of ridicule, of failing, of looking silly.  Unfortunately without removing these a person may never come close to achieving their full potential, which is the sad thing about life.  Summed up in another Socrates quote from the book that really stuck a chord after the passing of his friend:

‘Death isn’t sad.  The sad thing is: most people don’t live at all’

So dive head-first into life

Mastery: Training Phases Part 1 – Beginner

I think it’s probably time for a Focus article.  I’ve decided to split this into a series relating to Mastery.  Mastery being the overall goal for ‘Focus’.  Now training is generally aimed toward sports, however the ideas I will be presenting in this article will apply to any chosen activity, whether it be a hobby, sport or anything.  This post will look at what I’ll describe as the first phase of mastery, beginner.  Which for our purposes means little to no experience in the chosen activity.

We have all been ‘beginners’ in something.  Sometimes we are beginners every single day.  I’d like you to think back to something you were a beginner at.  It could be a sport, it could be an art, it could be cooking.  Do you remember the first times doing it?  It was awkward, you had to really concentrate hard on every move, and quite often people quit after being frustrated and feeling like they’ll never ‘get it’.  However, this phase is unavoidable and is important for laying the foundations for the chosen activity.  But, by consciously realising this from the start, you can begin your training on a much better mindset.

When you keep in mind that you’re suppose to be bad at first, you can let go of insecurities and develop some patience.  With this, you can implement a strategy for mastering the basics.  To do this, it’s important to analyse your activity some more and find out what are the key fundamentals.  I’ll use futsal as an example.  The 4 basics of Futsal are passing, defending, dribbling and shooting.  So if I were to reset all my Futsal experience now, I could begin with just these four basics and train them.  By practicing just these, outside of the game, I will build the foundation to lead onto the next phase of mastery.  For me personally though, I developed everything I know through actually playing.  This has been fine because it’s always been fun and I had no idea what ‘practice’ really meant when I started.  However I can still use my knowledge now to reinforce the basics.

Now, the actual point of working on the basics is strengthen the neural pathways in your body.  I’ve touched on this idea briefly, but I’ll explain in more detail here.  I’ll use the wikipedia definition first: ‘A neural pathwayneural tract, or neural face, connects one part of the nervous system with another and usually consists of bundles of elongated, myelin-insulated neurons, known collectively as white matter. Neural pathways serve to connect relatively distant areas of the brain or nervous system, compared to the local communication of grey matter. ‘  Basically put, they are the reason you can move parts of your body.

The importance of them is that by using certain pathways over and over, your body will strengthen them.  A simple analogy is walking through a forest to a destination.  Over the years you travel to the same destination, slowly you’ll wear in a track through the forest, making it easier and easier to walk there.  However, if one day you venture off the track because you saw something interesting, you’ll be leaving your well worn in track and have the difficulty of walking through the dense forest again.  But if you continue regularly you will then develop a new track.

I wanted to explain this a little more to describe how you can use it to your advantage when first training.  But also how it can work against you.  So you start your activity and you suck.  That’s okay, find out what the basics are and practice them.  Before you start practicing them though, it’s important that you are practicing them correctly.  The way those pathways can work against you is that once they have become strong, they are difficult to rewire.  Using the above analogy, the forest will take quite some time to grow back over a worn in path.  So if you are incorrectly doing something, it can lead to bad habits.  This is what I unintentionally did to myself when I juggled my soccer ball in my younger years.  I was kicking it incorrectly from the start and when retraining recently I had to consciously rewire myself to kick correctly.

To summarise, when starting out find out the basics of the activity.  Next, learn the correct way of doing these.  Youtube videos are certainly great for this, however if you know somebody who can show you, learning from someone else in person will always be superior.   Then, it’s time to practice.  Forget about the actual activity itself, and just practice these basics.  After some time, what first felt goofy and awkward, will start to feel natural, just like walking does.  At that point, it’ll be time to move into the next phase, which will be revealed in the next post.

Inner Meaning

Well my last post ended up proving to be more profound than I first thought.  So I thought it would be a good idea to continue on with one of the important themes from that.  Being the idea of having an internal purpose.  Two reasons why I want to expand on that.  First, I have just finished reading the book that The Way of the Peaceful Warrior movie was based on.  And it was probably the most incredible book I’ve read to date.  Second, I guess I’d like to provide a little more insight into what having an inner purpose  really means, where it may come from and, through things I’ve learned through that book, how to apply it across your entire life, so that every day you are not only motivated, but happy.  Because happiness is really the secret to life.  And the key to complete happiness is inside you, and it always has been.

The majority of people are trying to find this key in everything but themselves.  They look in their job, they look in their partners, they look in their achievements, their wealth, their kids, even their workouts themselves.  Their external surroundings.  You hear it all the time, and you probably say the same thing yourself.  After watching the movie and the reading the book, I’ve come to realize that happiness is a choice you make, despite anything going on around you.  Now I can tell you’re probably thinking ‘but bad things happen, I got fired, I can’t find a great partner, I’m in debt’ etc etc.  But when you think of things like a promotion, new job, a great wife, you think happiness don’t you?  And that is the fundamental problem – we as humans, label things good or bad, right or wrong.  I’ve realised I probably cannot do justice to the experience learned from this book in one blog post, but I will try to highlight some key points and apply to the intrinsic purpose.

One of the overall points the hero of the book had to learn was that a warrior takes action.  The master says ‘the warriors acts, the fool only reacts’.  It is through action that the warrior finds happiness.  And that term also means the action of choosing to be happy.  Now, to apply this to your intrinsic purpose, I’ll try making a comparison to the reactive fool and the active warrior.  The fool will react to social cues such as ‘you’re overweight’ ‘Ryan Gosling is soooo sexy why can’t you have a body like his’ and so on.  So, they react by going on a diet, working out, getting fit and all the rest.  They really give it their all, idealizing this outside influence a la carrot and the donkey.  But it generally doesn’t last.  They are trying to live up to external ideals, that may not even be synchronized with what they really want.  And so it is very easy for them to give up, saying things like ‘I’m okay with my weight’ ‘I can’t possibly look like Ryan Gosling’.  And the cycle can often repeat.

Now, in comparison, the warrior will act for no other reason than the action itself.  The choice of action reflects the warriors inner purpose.  For example, Dan in Peaceful Warrior is a gymnast.  In the beginning, he explains to Socrates (Soc) how hard he trains to try making the Olympics and that is his dream.  Soc, in the movie adaptation, in very few words breaks him down.  Dan says, in a very assertive and domineering voice – ‘I train 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year’.

Soc: ‘Why so much?’

Dan: ‘Are you serious?  I’m a heartbeat from making the qualifiers’

‘Qualifiers for what?’

Dan (Smugly): ‘Well, you ever watch the Olympics?’

‘Nope’.  And that was it

Well, you’re probably thinking who cares if he doesn’t watch the Olympics because millions of people do.  But the actual lesson is profound.

Dan was using these outside influences to motivate and give purpose to his training.  He was ‘chasing gold’.  But it is all an illusion, those things cannot really bring you happiness, and it’s the act itself that brings you real happiness.  What happens when you receive your gold medal?  That single moment in time is quickly passed by and can then make you feel empty inside.  Try applying this to yourself now.  Think back to any achievement you received an award or trophy for, even grab that trophy and feel it in your hands.  How do you feel?  Does it make you feel happy inside?  Do you feel like your now doing what it was you won the trophy for?  My guess is it doesn’t really bring any feeling to you.  In the end, it’s a piece of metal.

In Dan’s case he naturally loved gymnastics so the act of doing is all that is really necessary.  Once he realized this, his training evolved.  He devoted, and I now follow this principle, each training session to the act of training for training alone.  It wasn’t focused on winning a prize or making the qualifiers.  Because these external forces are beyond your control and will come and go.  However training, in whatever it is you choose it to be, exists every single time you do it.  It cannot be taken away from you any more then it can be given to you.  It is you.  This can apply to any single thing you do in your life, and in this case, to properly apply it to your workouts, you need to shift your focus from any external motivation and look inside you for the reason.

For myself, I love Futsal.  And as a player, I have finally evolved the way I play in an incredible way, because I now play for the sake of playing itself.  It doesn’t matter to me if we win or lose, doesn’t matter if the ref makes bad calls or I get injured.  Where not so long ago I would get angry or try to start fights very frequently.  But none of that makes a difference now.  As long as I’m playing (playing is most certainly a form of training) I’m at peace, and I will choose to be happy no matter what happens.  So I want you try this in your own life.  Think of something you like to do, be it sport, a hobby, work, whatever it is.  Break it down.  Do you do it because you want to win, because you want money, because you want fame?  If so, try to step back and think why you actually enjoy doing it.  Doing this you will surely learn whether you are doing something because you genuinely enjoy it or if you are really only doing it for some reward or recognition.  If the former, try to forget any result and enjoy each time you are doing it for doing it alone.  I guarantee you will not only find happiness in doing it, you may also find that you end up achieving more than when you were focused on just that.

Awareness

Something that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately is the concept of awareness.  In particular spatial awareness.  This ties in a great deal with ideas of present-moment living which is another strong theme shared by the book on Practice and the movie I mentioned.  (Note – this is because they both are strongly influenced by Buddhism).  I’ll just briefly explain present-moment living for the purpose of this post as having complete control of your thoughts by keeping them on what is happening right now.  An extremely simple yet incredible example of this was used by Socrates in The Peaceful Warrior, when he pushed the main character off a small bridge into the water.

Understandably Dan was pretty angry at first, but as he started yelling at Socrates, Socrates would ask each time things like ‘what were you thinking of while falling?’  ‘Were you thinking about school?’  ‘Were you thinking about groceries?’  Until Dan responds, ‘I was thinking about the present.’  And that is the lesson to learn and what Socrates wants Dan to realise, is just like when he was falling, his thoughts should be on nothing else but the present, no matter what task is at hand.  Don’t look forward to the result, focus on every single movement at the present time and make every single movement count.  By doing this, you free your mind and can truly master what you are doing.

Now I wanted to summarise that a little bit to, hopefully, illustrate what I mean by awareness and how it can help you in many ways.  Stop and think for a second, without looking around, what is going on around you?  Can you give yourself a quick summary in your head of things like people around you, objects, sounds etc etc.  If you have to think really hard and maybe even cheat by having to look around better, then your awareness is fundamentally lacking.  What I guess I’m trying to say is at any given point I’d like you to be able to be completely aware of your surroundings.  You might think ‘what on earth is the point of this?  I apologize if it doesn’t seem clear yet but bare with me.

I’ll now use a better example, because having an awareness that somebody has just jammed the printer or your boss is on the phone is not particularly ground breaking.  Think about when you’re driving your car.  I believe accidents could be cut drastically if more people drove both in the present and with better awareness.  When you drive, what are you thinking about along the way?  Most people are only thinking about what’s in front of them, or in the direction they are going, their destination.

What I propose is to step back a little bit.  Be completely aware of everything around your car at any given time.  If you’re driving through a green light at an intersection, what’s happening on the road you’re crossing.  Are there any moving cars, or have they all stopped for their red light?  When looking right to give way when turning left, is there anything to your left?  Anyone behind you?  You may not care for things like this, or may feel weird thinking about it.  But just try it, even a little, next time you drive.  Try to feel what is going on around you.  Doing this takes both being in the present and being aware at the same time.  A great deal of accidents could easily be avoided this way.  This is regardless of who was or would be ‘in the wrong’.  An accident is an accident.  The event itself does not know right or wrong.  We are the ones who label it so.  But if an accident is avoided altogether, what do we call it?

The reason I have given those simple examples was really to give an easy way to practice awareness.  The best use for this gained awareness, for me, is on the Futsal court (for you it could be any sport or hobby or anything).  It allows me to feel the game in a whole new way.  Instead of just looking at the ball, I am aware of everything going on at any time.  The position of their players, the position of our players.  If the ball is coming to me I’m thinking ahead of where to place it next.  While that is generally what most good players do, the ability to do so is significantly increased when your natural awareness is stronger.  While I’m not perfect at this yet it is always something I work on to improve.

So go forth and be aware.

Goal Achieved

Well I wasn’t expecting to write another post so quickly but I felt I needed to while I’m still on a natural high.  And I was given advice that blogging about it while it’s still fresh in my mind is a good idea.  So, the reason for this is through Practice I have achieved my goal of juggling a soccer ball for 1000 consecutive touches.  That’s without touching the ground or using hands.

As I mentioned in my first post, futsal is one of the areas I am focused on right now.  And part of that includes consistent juggling practice to improve my eye foot co-ordination.  This is an excellent opportunity to highlight the importance or practice as a conscious effort.  I’ll start by going back to my High School years.

I use to juggle a hackey sack every lunch break, and also at home for quite a long time.  This also included a lot of soccer ball juggling too.  I spent a great deal of time and effort on what I considered at the time ‘practicing’.  But all I was really doing was trying to get higher consecutive hits.  In short, I was focused on the goal.  And this is the single largest problem with anything we generally seek out to do.  There are three sources I personally learned the importance of changing our mindset from goal to the process.

The first was a book called ‘Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment’ by George Leonard.  In this book the Author describes his experience of mastering the martial art Aikido and explaining the process of mastery in an excellent way.

The second source is the movie Peaceful Warrior, about Dan Millman, a gold winning Olympic gymnast, as a young aspiring gymnast in college.

And finally, the latest book I have read, The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life – Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process, by Thomas M Sterner.

What these 3 sources have mostly in common is the change of mindset.  That mindset that wants things now.  That succumbs to today’s instant gratification discourse.  You know what I’m talking about.  I want to be a better football player, I want more money/better job/girlfriend/insert anything here.  Anything that starts with a want is generally what I’m talking about.

What they explain is that to truly master anything, you need to remove all personal judgement, all fears and beliefs, all wants and needs.  Only then will you be able to start to appreciate the process instead of the goal.  Because at the end of the day, life in itself is just a process, every second of every hour of every day.  There is no tomorrow, yesterday, whenever.  Only now.  And right now is a process.  It’s when you break down what you want to achieve into the process and put your energy into the process instead of the goal that you begin to understand how to practice and master something.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you don’t have goals.  Goals are necessary.  However it’s changing the perspective.  Thomas in his book explains it quite vividly:  Imagine you are swimming across a large body of water to an island.  If you focus too much on the island by keeping your head above water, you will get frustrated and tired.  However instead, if you focus on swimming, but taking a little time to look at the island and adjust as you go, you’ll not only get there much faster but you’ll enjoy the swim much more.

So I guess the take away from this post is when you practice something, always have a goal but focus your energy on practicing.  Look at your island and adjust.  This is exactly how I went from barely getting 100 consecutive soccer ball juggles to breaking over 1000.  I broke it down to the very simple fundamentals of kicking the ball.  Focusing on how each touch moves the ball through space.  I quickly learned I developed a number of bad habits from high school, the main one being flicking my toes instead of kicking with the top of my foot, ie the flat part.  From then, I stop going for high counts and focused on each single kick, forcing myself to lock my ankles and kick.  At first it felt very weird and I was doing much worse than before.  However, I quickly became better, and now it’s second nature.  This would not have been possible without a conscious effort to practice this one fundamental move.  Now the reason it becomes easier is the nerve pathways have strengthened, which I’ll address in another post but is beyond the scope of this post.

Now that I’ve reached my island, where do I swim to now?  The next island of course.  I’m planning to focus on learning tricks, like you see in freestyle soccer.  Will I make it to the freestyle championships?  I seriously doubt that, but it will bring me great pleasure in practicing.