Inspiration, motivation, and discipline

I’m kind of an inspiration junkie when it comes to working out. I work out in the morning and I work out after work, then tired and sore I’ll come home to take a hot bath with my YouTube subscriptions playing and fitness videos videos. On running, swimming, lifting, kettle bells, etc. After 20 minutes or so I’m jazzed to work out again because I’ve seen an exercise that looks good or I’ve learned something new.

People would mistakenly call that motivation. This is wrong and it arouses contempt in the linguist heart.

Motivation has a beginning, middle, and end whereas inspiration is a single point. In music you can hear a chord and be inspired to write a song. Wanting the song to get done because someone is going to like it or it’s going to add an important chapter to your body of work is motivation.

Inspiration can be quite fickle, motivation a little less so. You can be inspired to work out by seeing someone else work out but when you don’t look or feel like them when you actually get in the gym that inspiration is gone.

That’s when you need motivation. Something that pulls you from here to there. You have to want something on the other side. Just like having an idea for song and wanting a song to be done are two different things so it is with exercise and everything else.

As I said a few posts ago you have to have a primary motivation. Even if it’s something silly like I want my female coworkers to coo over me when I get changed like they did over Luke Oliver. Yeah it’s vain but every time I see myself in a mirror I feel a positive jolt that it’s coming together and I look forward to the next work out and the next healthy meal. Metaphorically, the dishes are getting done one scrub at a time and it feels good.

Then there’s discipline. Which I suck at. When I work out I do whatever I feel like which is why I’m always tweaked somewhere. I push myself in one area one day then hit it the next two days in a row until my body gives me the nope signal. I’m getting better at it now that I know enough exercises to space things and keep things interesting and I’ve organized something like a split. (core, lower, upper, core, lower, upper, then rest on Sunday.)

But even though I have none I know what discipline is. Discipline is listening to your past self. Motivation is sort of like setting up your future self and discipline is fallowing through for, and trusting, your past self even when the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t move you anymore.

So… inspiration is for the present self, motivation is for the future self, and discipline is for the past self. That’s why I and so many people lack it is because we’re not that person anymore, we feel like we’ve changed and have new insight so we don’t owe our past selves anything. Which is fine, I genuinely feel that obligation to the past self is overrated but when you want to get through something tough remembering why you started and not breaking a promise to yourself is a solid last resort.

To get through those times when motivation has failed I treat things like an experiment. I record as much emotional data as I can. When I run 10k I just catalog all the sensations of my body and mind every 10 minutes. I don’t run on discipline, I run on curiosity. Even just being amazed, literally amazed, at how crappy you can feel is something to explore and let that exploration keep you going.

Be an observer of your body and mind and seek to find out all you can, push yourself into new territory just to see how you react there.

I started my exercise career with planks. Because I like tests. Every time you hit a point where you think you have to quit and you don’t is fascinating. Planks were a great way to meditatively explore my body’s capabilities privately and with dignity. I had no urge to fail around in public when I started.

That was the inspiration, I learned what a plank was by accident from a men’s fashion magazine and thought I can do that every morning. A year later I was motivated to start running because building up muscles doesn’t matter if you don’t burn off the surrounding fat. And then the dam broke wide open and I’ve never felt like I don’t want to work out.

I suspect I love it because it’s not about end results. Writing songs feels like starting from scratch every time. Idea, work, song, performance, recording, and then it feels like you have to rebuild the wheel for the next song and the idea might never come. Same thing with playing shows – two after the best show ever I’d feel like it meant nothing and there was nothing coming up next. I never got the sense that I was building something solid, it was always a castle made of sand.

Working out though I can see everyday the effects of the day before. Every work out, every meal, every time I look in the mirror, I see the foundation of the future.

And by writing about it like this I’m learning how to apply inspiration, motivation, and discipline to other areas of my life.

Posted in Depression & Suicide

You can’t entertain away depression

I don’t watch comedy. Not as a rule but just as a trend. I don’t enjoy mere entertainment, I need a sense of significance to enjoy something.

I suspect it’s just one of the differences between the depressed brain and the neurotypical. Let’s say the neurotypical is emotionally at a 6 and comedy raises them to an 8, so it’s pleasurable. I’m at a 2 so it raises me to a 4. Not an effective change.

Working out is quite different. I suspect the benefits of working out are not relative like that. It’s gets a person to an 8 no matter what. The people I know who don’t enjoy cardio are not depressed, they’re probably walking around at the emotional equivalent of a healthy fighting weight, so cardio doesn’t make them feel that much better. Whereas cardio taking me to an 8 is usually coming from a 2 because I’m the emotional equivalent of an anorexic. The effect is massive, it’s cosmic shift in outlook every time.

It’s the same with a lot of things, I just have an incredibly thick skin when it comes to what moves me. The number of times I’ve grimaced as people have told me they just love eating is depressing in it’s own right. Because I just don’t. I can enjoy very special meals, I can be curious about new things, and I have some comfort foods, but I almost never feel like I’m enjoying eating.

Someone remarked when I started eating healthy that it must have been hard because I used to eat ridiculous, outlandishly unhealthy meals. And it really wasn’t. I was trying to enjoy extremely indulgent foods because I wanted to feel the way I saw other people feeling and it didn’t work. In fact I started enjoying eating somewhat when it got gamified by looking for efficient combinations of a dozen elements. It became significant feeling because I was either on track or off, building or decaying. It’s no longer mere entertainment.

Also I suspect people who say they love eating don’t have much else. They’ve probably never had a band they would die for, or a movie they watched every night for a month, their relationships are probably a matter of settling for there.

Or that’s just me being shitty. I fall into the trap of thinking every thinks like me deep down and their external layers are all affectation. When you think about thinking, you can still only think like yourself. A colour blind person could learn to describe the difference between two shades by listening to someone else but that doesn’t mean they can see it any better.

But also on the topic of eating because I’m really into nutrition right now, I suspect a lot of people feel like they love eating because their used to over eating and having their blood sugar yanked around, because they’re stressed out all day, because they skip breakfast, people are just confusing relief with love. If I have a bunch of sugar one day my body tells me I’m starving all the next day because it’s caloric expectations have sky rocketed.

Anyway, you start eating right and I’ll keep writing about depression.

There was a day when a friend was just going off about the sunset and trying to badger me into liking it and I just wanted to hit him with a bat and yell yes it’s beautiful and I feel nothing why can’t you understand that?

Living with depression feels like the ending of Memento, when what’s-his-name says you were so happy I was sure you’d remember. As if the emotional resonance of something should change his brain like a fairy godmother. It’s the ending that he, and all the characters, and the viewers, wanted and expected because it would wrap up the narrative but the brain doesn’t work that way.

Life is much more like Bojack Horseman, one day’s happy ending is the next day’s slightly empty new search for meaning. And Bojack’s despair is brought on by him wanting endings – happy or sad he just doesn’t want to do the work of being in the middle and moving the story along himself.

Life, and depression, and wisdom, and hope, and love, and fear, doesn’t have a story style beginning, middle, end. It’s always beginning, always ending, you’re forever in the middle, forever in decisive moment that can change the next act. When something ends it’s the beginning of your life without that thing. It’s day one again, congratulations.

Posted in Depression & Suicide

Further thoughts on humility

A long time ago a friend showed me that he kept his high school ID in his wallet.

“Whenever I get too full of myself I look at it.” he said.

I felt then and still do – that as neat as that idea was – I could never do it. I need to build myself up whenever I can, a slight drag on my self esteem can make me aware of all the other little drags on my sense of value and then I have to swim against the current to not go into a depressive spiral, even with my enhanced levels of skill and self awareness in this area it costs me a few hours or up to a day.

I’ve found the way to be humble is to be good at things. Not try to convince people you’re the best or better than they are but acknowledging the things you’re good at, accepting praise, finding things that are best done by you and feeling safe doing them. That’s internal humility.

Humility in the face of others is a little different. Whoever I’m engaged with I estimate their estimation of me and accept it. I don’t need to impose my estimations on them because it doesn’t work anyway. If I get a chance to show them something I’m good at then fantastic but I don’t need to steer the conversation that way. I never try to make people laugh, or think I’m smart. I either say what I’m thinking or I say nothing.

Back to self esteem though, I’m still terrible at dealing with drag. The worst I’ve felt in a long time has been doing these SAT practice tests. I’m doing better at everything else in my life including excelling at things that I couldn’t do 3 months ago and yet I fall into the trap of telling myself I’m worthless because math.

There’s a danger in doing the humble work of getting better at things you suck at. You spend a lot of time sucking at stuff, it not only hurts the self image I’m also afraid of it hurting my external image, my reputation, my relationship. Since people see me as smart and since I aim not to show off, all I’m doing is highlighting things I can’t do.

And I know I know, no one is thinking about you a millionth as much as you think they’re thinking about you and it’s all in my head but since that’s where I live I have to deal with the conditions there.

I’m scared to be seen not being great at things. I want to feel good and part of that is other people thinking good of me. I guess it’s odd that because I think I’m smart I’m not worried about people seeing me as smart yet because I don’t think I’m dumb I’m worried about people seeing me as dumb.

But no one’s a genius all the time to everybody. Even nuclear scientists back into fire hydrants.

Part of it is I’m not actually good at anything concrete. I skipped out on every challenge in life, I either coasted or quit. And instead I focused on much more vague, subjective, emotional things like writing and philosophy. I kind of started at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and am now working my way down.

I’ve never had a good balance of pushing myself, it’s always too hard or not at all. Often it winds up being both because I push myself extremely hard til I snap then the rest of the year is under a big cloud of fuck it.

I remember another recent time I felt below my emotional safety line. It was when I’d hurt my knees running. I assumed anyone could start running and ran everyday for a week and wound up with braces on both knees for two weeks. And I laid awake one night thinking this is it, I’m too old and broken and shitty to even use my body, I can’t even fall back on normal people shit to fill my worthless time.

I didn’t fight through the pain bravely and overcome. In fact, braving the pain is what caused me to fuck them up way more than I should have. I just did what I had to do to fix my knees and then went running again, lightly, to see if they’d recovered.

But maybe that’s the next form of humility, not telling yourself grandiose stories and just doing what you need to do. Don’t try and game your emotions just listen honestly to your body, to your capabilities, to your surroundings. Don’t worry about inflating or deflating your ego, worry about what needs to get done.

Posted in Depression & Suicide

Behaviors changing thoughts

Steve Pinker refers to the left hemisphere of the brain as the “baloney generator”. Because it makes up explanations for states of the body whether they make sense or not. Stimulating the correct part of the brain can make someone laugh hysterically and infectiously in a sterile operating room. When the stimulation is gone the patient still believes the moment was authentically just so funny. If you medically cause someone to cry and then ask them how they feel you can generate feelings of worthlessness.

An act as simple as holding a pencil in your mouth so it pushes your cheeks back has been scientifically shown to make people feel happier because it simulates smiling.

I incorporated this into my daily routine for a while but I really hated having drooly pens.

All of this is why (or at least one of the reasons) I think working out has a mood boosting effect. You get into these powerful postures and do the powerful movements your brain starts perceiving you as powerful.

I remember when I was an adolescent my friends and I all used to walk with our heads down. We didn’t want anyone to see us, we had low self esteem, blah blah blah. One day I was standing with someone (who was evidently kind of a dick but it was just because he was low-status as well) and we saw a friend coming towards us who had his head so far down he couldn’t possibly see anything, not even us. And this guy (again – a dick) mocked him privately to me. I, because I didn’t want to also be subject of mockery because my self-esteem was already low enough, started walking with my head up from then on.

I notice in retrospect that that was when I stopped feeling like a kid and started feeling like a young man.

Much the same way that putting on a suit will make you feel charming and proactive, (again I know because I incorporated this too, I once dressed up to at least a tie everyday for a year and the personality changes last to this day) when work out and start seeing yourself standing up straight, looking proud and muscly, you begin to change internally to match that.

And crazily enough you can get short term effects just by having role models. A study on video games showed that people who played games with a powerful protagonist in the morning were more confident later in the day. Want to know where a huge part of this new drill-sargent-super-work-out-positive-ethical-get-good-at-everything-til-it-kills-you-Alastair came from? Catching up on the Jocko Podcast has me at about 70 hours of exposure to a hyper-patriot who’s essentially Batman. I live in a state of constant reinforcement of straight-edge-warrior-poet ideals.

That’s why I get so excited (and why it’s so great that New Year’s just passed) to talk about diet, exercise, ethics, ambitions, and motivation with anyone I can right now, the more I stoke the fire the longer it burns.

With that said though, don’t become a ‘motivation’ junkie – which is actually an inspiration junkie and I’ll explain the difference in an upcoming post. Don’t feed yourself stimuli that just causes you to imagine feeling good, actually do what it takes.

Start with your mental diet. Garbage in, Garbage out. Chuck out all the ‘entertainment’ that doesn’t make you want to do something important. Second get your mannerisms on lock, drool on a pencil if you have to or put on a tie. Then start working out until you feel like people should want to get to know you.

Head up, Soldier.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

First things first, stop

When your life is off track the urge and the advice is to get it back on track, just fix it, quit fucking up and get better. Some people say it nicely, some people say it harshly and probably no one says it more harshly than yourself.

Even my current hero role model Jocko Willink phrases it that way. You know when you’re off the path and you gotta get back on.

My advice is different. Because I know how the pressure to get on track builds and builds and you put it off and off and everyday feels like it’s harder and further away and it gets hopeless. I’ve been there. I’ve felt like I was so far off the path for so long that not even a time machine could fix me.

Because if you’re a day off the path you can power through, get back, get two days of mountaineering done (what is this metaphorical land?), and be back where you should be.

When you’re 3 or 4 days behind, getting back and power through is so intimating you start putting it off. Next week, next month, starting in the new year, you’re get real serious but til then you just keep getting more lost.

So rather than think I’ve gotta get on track I just thought I’ve got to stop. Just pause everything you can.

If you were literally lost in the woods the best advice is not to keep moving. You have to stop, rest, and reorient.

Rather than continue the cycle of guilt and hope I said I was going to treat myself with kid gloves and just do the bare minimum to not get worse until I figured out where the path really was.

You see this a lot when people are spiraling. They have something they think is going to help and while they put that off til the current drama (which is never over) is over, they keep descending. Because descent is their comfort zone.

So just stop. Hit the brakes before you try making hard right turns.

People in debt really fuck this up. They keep saying and really believing that they’re going to do this or that any day now but in the mean time they keep spending gobs of money they don’t have. Because they have a plan to change the habit they don’t take any pre-plan action to change the habit.

I think the hardest part is admitting that you really are at the bottom, you really are lost. We tell ourselves getting better will be tough but we can do it whenever we decide to. The best thing I ever did for myself was admit that wasn’t true. I had to admit that I really was lost, I wasn’t coming back to the path.

So I stopped. I stopped thinking about where I was supposed to be, supposed to go, what I was suppose to have, I let go of everything.

Then I looked around at where I really was and reoriented. Because when you’re lost and you stop you’re not lost anymore. You’re by that tree and those rocks. You are here. You don’t know how here relates to anywhere else so it’s not much but it’s fucking something. As long as you’ve got food and shelter keep reminding yourself that you’re safe and it’s okay to just stay safe for a while.

The path you thought you were on won’t miss you because you weren’t actually on it.

Step two after you’ve stopped, maybe napped, is to start venturing out from this new starting point. Look on the world with new eyes, it’s day one again. Congratulations.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Your first year of working out – 5 tips

Train your diet

I started losing belly fat and gaining muscle by giving up grains Monday to Thursday and going for two 5k runs a week. Before I gave up grains I was running 3 or 4 times a week with no results. Just like booze and drugs and cynicism grains, are great so save’em for the weekend. If there’s something you hate you have to train yourself to like it. Last year I hated avocados, but the they’re great for the body so I started hiding small amounts in food, them putting large amounts in a meal. Last year for breakfast I was just eating avocado slices wrapped in bacon and now I can just eat plain avocado and enjoy it.

Train your diet, you are not at the whim of cravings and preferences.


Don’t listen to body builders

Advice on working out is out there, millions of answers and the click of button, and it’s mostly from professionals. Which is great in it’s way but remember that you’re not a professional. Don’t worry about leaving gains on the table, don’t worry about sets per week, or supplements, or any major stuff this year. Those guys are competing for their livelihood, their advice is layers and layers above your current needs. If you were learning grade six math you wouldn’t think I really should go to a university physics lecture. Do check them out, do fallow them, do heed advice, but don’t think their knowledge is the be all end all, don’t fall into the trap of thinking if you’re not performing at their level your not performing at all.

In your first year you will see results doing almost nothing. You don’t have to go zero to sixty, zero to ten is still an infinite improvement and you’ll notice it. As a good tip, fallow gymnasts, runners, hell fallow models, just for a different body type and well rounded guidance.


Exercises not exercise videos

While I’m on the topic of the internet, don’t fallow along with work out videos. They are moving twice as fast as you need to and are able. Get the movements down correctly, get your form perfect and go as slow as you need to to do it. Watch the video, get the advice like breaking at your hips not knees for squats, then jot down or just remember what you want to do and figure your pace, your sets, your reps for yourself.

Have a primary reason

I was talking to a trainer last month and she said everybody’s goal is to get healthy which doesn’t actually mean any actionable thing. It’s because people don’t know or don’t want to say what their goal is. Maybe they don’t want to sound vain or maybe they just think all the good people are doing it so they should be to. Either way you have to know that and always use it to make your decisions. My primary goal, the reason I started, was the depression busting, mood-boosting effects. So I need to be able to work out everyday. That means when a body builder or a friend taking the advice of a body builder talks about their split, training to failure (training til muscle collapse so they grow back bigger), or about cardio being pointless, I can nod along knowing that’s for them and not for me. No insidious peer pressure here.

If you want to work out to look better naked then acknowledge and own it, don’t worry about anything someone tells you you ‘have’ to do if it doesn’t suit your primary goal. If it fits a secondary goal then factor it in where possible.

Don’t let yourself get pulled a dozen different directions because you don’t know where you stand.

enjoy it

Something I wrote a while ago that I still repeat to myself if you’re going to feel good when the dishes are done then feel good while you’re doing the dishes. Congratulate yourself one dish at time one scrub at a time.

There’s an outcome you want and you are watching it unfold in real time. People watch sports rather than just check scores because the moments of winning, the actions that create the score, are what is truly enjoyable.

In your first year it’s okay to feel silly, to laugh at yourself, to experiment and find out tactics that didn’t work for you, to ask dumb questions, to not yet know etiquette, it’s all fine.

Call it beginner privilege. No blood sweat and tears, just a lot laughs.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Songwriting break through

I remember when I was writing the songs that would become the album Nine Chains To The Moon, I felt like I was doing some good stuff and I’d get some kind of record out it eventually. Then when Pride Of My Hometown got it’s ending I felt I wanted to go into the studio ASAP, I felt like I was burning daylight. That song wasn’t even completely done, the little insights you gather about certain lyrical delivery take a hundred plays but I just thought the story was so strong I couldn’t wait for it to be on a real record. It guided the whole record.

With everything after Minimum Wage Music (and I guess even including that album) I’d been trying to plan a record but kept feeling listless, probably because I didn’t have a lynch pin song.

I was in fact working on songs I didn’t even want to play. Eventually, while drunk, I had a breakdown which lead to a break through and I dropped them. It felt amazing. I didn’t feel the way I felt when I wrote them and I didn’t want to. So I’m not gonna. I got over the urge to have a complete artistic legacy that chronicled a terrible year of my life and decided to only write and play songs I want to play.

That made songwriting explorative and playful again.

Sometime last week I had jotted down some ideas for lyrics, no structure, no melody, just the idea.

Then yesterday I picked up the guitar and strummed some chords. Rather than trying to find new chords or progressions or keys I’ve begun just playing in my usual wheelhouse and changing random chords from major to minor or vice versa.

I found a progression that felt urgent and I thought let’s try that idea I sketched out the other day.

Play. Record. Listen. Rewrite. Repeat.

10 3-minute drafts later it was something that I desperately wanted to show people even though I knew it wasn’t done.

And that’s the feeling I haven’t had in a long time. Everything I’ve played for people in the last year has felt like running up the flag pole and seeing who salutes or its felt like something I had to do, a chapter in the autobiography of albums.

I don’t know what the next record is going to look like but currently at least I feel like I’m going to do it rather than feeling like I should be doing it.

Posted in Songwriting