Dealing with Negative Self Talk

I definitely wasn't feeling like this guy... 

I definitely wasn't feeling like this guy... 

A few days ago I had a really hard day in my movement training.

I started my movement practice as usual, but everything was so fucking hard. I kept coming up to the line where a movement gets challenging (where you normally would push through and get a few more repetitions in) and finding that I had to stop. It felt like my body was giving up on me.

But I suspected that wasn’t really what was going on. I pay special attention to my self talk these days. And it was particularly loud on that day. And incredibly negative. Hmmmm….

The ‘voice’

The loudest ‘voice’ told me that I couldn’t do it. It told me to just stop. “Why bother?” it said. Strange… it wasn’t saying “you’re feeling a bit off today, you should take it easy”, it was saying “You can’t do this. You’re shit! Why are you even trying?”.

This sort of negativity in my self talk is pretty strange for me. It has happened before, but not for a long time. So I knew something was going on. Even though the voice was insisting that it was physical to the point that it felt physical, I knew it probably wasn’t. I hadn’t become weaker or less resilient overnight.

Self talk

The good thing about self talk is that it’s just talk. It’s not you. You don’t have to do what it says. But you should listen to it - that way you can learn something about yourself.

So what did I learn from that negative shit of a voice that day? How did I deal with it? First, I considered other information at hand. For example, I knew what the voice was saying was wrong. I can do these movements - I had done them before! Hell, it was a de-load session, so I wasn’t even working at full capacity!

So if I knew what the voice was saying was wrong, then how can I listen to it?

Somewhere within I found compassion for the voice. It was being negative, but I didn’t have to be. After extending some compassion I heard what it was trying to tell me.

“Take it easy today, things are a little off”.

Best friends again! 

Best friends again! 

Just a few minutes earlier this same voice had been swearing at me. The change in tone was incredible. It was just trying desperately to get my attention for fear that I’d think this was another thing to ‘push through’ as we so often do.

So I took it a little easier that day and my body and mind are best friends again.


Don’t assume malice!

Even when you have a very negative voice, it’s helpful to not assume malice. If you assume the voice is trying to hurt you, your resistance to it may deafen you to its message. What if you’re just scared of the movement? What if it’s lashing out to try to protect you? If that’s true, what could it be telling you that it’s not saying? How can you respond in a positive way to your negative voices?

Work with your body

When you have such an adversarial voice inside, it’s easy to just push against it. It’s swearing at you, so you get angry and swear at it! It’s not saying what you want to hear, you ignore it. You have to get the next set done or get through the next 10 kilometres on your bike. “No pain, no gain” you tell your self.

Pushing through hardship is part of how moving helps us. But it doesn’t mean we should totally ignore anything negative. Going back to my negative shit of a voice from earlier: that was unusual for me. I wasn’t experiencing unusual amounts of pain or hardship, but the voice was unusually negative. So I listened to it.

Ignoring voices like these creates an adversarial relationship with your body. Your body isn’t your enemy. Especially not in movement! You need to stress it out so it can respond, but it’s not your enemy. It’s more like tough love between friends.

Hearing and listening to what your body (and any ‘voices’ it may have) and responding with kindness is the way to go. Start to encourage and cultivate a relationship with your body that is kind and collaborative. Listen to it. You’ll find that it will listen to you when you ask it to do things.

Photos by Joshua Sazon and Fatih Altasov on Unsplash

Posted on October 17, 2017 and filed under Movement, philosophy.

Ego Incompetence

A few days ago I was telling a friend of mine about how I had been feeling incompetent in my new job. Everything is new, I’m not sure what I’ve got myself into and I’m questioning whether I can even do this job. Her response was interesting:

Being new is the worst. I feel incompetent even now and I have been at my job for a year! I wonder if you ever get good at these things.

This got me thinking. Why exactly do you feel incompetent in new jobs? Is it because you actually are incompetent? Have they made a mistake in hiring you? This line of thinking feels awfully familiar. It’s a protective way of thinking while in a vulnerable position. Your ego has reared its head again!

You’re so distracted by whether you appear to be competent to your new boss, that you forget to be competent at the job.

Ryan Holiday put it perfectly:

Just one thing keeps ego around—since it certainly doesn’t serve any productive purpose. It is comfort. Pursuing great work—whether in sports, art, or business— is often terrifying. Ego soothes that fear. It’s a salve to our insecurity. Replacing the rational and aware parts of our psyche with bluster and self-absorption, ego tells us what we want to hear, when we want to hear it.

But it is a short- term fix with a long- term consequence. Which is why we must fight it.

Look, I’ll admit it. It’s easier said than done to fight this feeling. I only ask that when you notice your own mind calling you names like ‘incompetent’ when you’re trying new things, try telling it that you appreciate its opinion, but you’re trying this new thing anyway thank you very much. You have to let it tell you its opinion (or it’ll never shut up) but you don’t have to act on it.

Posted on October 12, 2017 and filed under philosophy.

Three Breathing Techniques

Learning to breath

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I want to tell you about how I learned to breath. It may seem a little strange read about an adult learning to breath. It's so automatic, we all do it. But, like many before me, I’ve discovered that with a little attention the breath is an incredibly powerful force in our bodies. I had a really good illustration of this while camping last week.

I had a lovely weekend away with about 20 friends. We camped on a friends parents property near Gundagai. A few of the guys had spent a lot of time upgrading an old shack into a great makeshift bar. As a result we had running water, lights, ice cold beers, lots of tunes, heaps of food, and a fucking good time.

We like to do things properly and we’re all at least slightly into spiritual hippy stuff, so there was an opening ceremony for the weekend. As part of the ceremony, Laura ran us through a guided chanting mediation. As we all lay on the ground to get started, I wondered what it would be like to do a meditation in a big group like this. Meditation is something I have practiced on my own for years so it felt a little strange. That said, in the past six months I’ve been doing a lot of things I used to do alone with the company of others and generally found I learn a lot from the experience. So I looked forward to what I’d learn from this one.

The meditation

As with many meditations, we started by taking deep breaths. After a few warm up breaths, Laura asked us to start to allow a hum to escape on each out breath.

“Your aim is to make your lips vibrate as much as possible - make it really loud!”

To make sure I was as loud as possible, I started doing my best deep breaths. I’ve been practicing breathing for a few years using a variety of methods I’ll share soon. I breathed deeply into my chest. I pushed my stomach out to get it out of the way of my lungs and suck as much air in as possible. The out breath was as slow and careful as possible. To do this I slowly squeezed my diaphragm and stomach muscles until every last drop of air was out of my lungs.

“Now open your mouth and make the noise even louder”

So I kept going, focusing on slow and controlled breathing. Each breath got longer as I got used to it. I started to notice that each of my hums (out breaths) were taking place in the same time it took everyone else to do two hums (i.e. breathing in, out, breathing in, then out).

After a few minutes of this, we finished the humming meditation. Almost straight away, two campers approached me to ask if it was me who was humming so loudly and so long! They were impressed by my abilities. It was a strange experience.

Breathing background

I am an asthmatic. I have had not-so-great lung capacity my whole life. So my apparent ‘breathing skills’ at the camping trip surprised me. However, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I have been practicing my breathing for a few years now, working on breath hold times, careful slow breaths out, and most recently the ability to use longer breaths out to help calm my anxiety. But it wasn’t until this experience while camping that I realised I had managed to improve my lung capacity so much. It turns out that all this time I had been making a profound change to my physiology without even realising.

The Wim Hof Method

The breath hold time work started when I stumbled on the Wim Hof Method. I used the fundamentals course to learn to hold my breath for over three minutes and withstand cold more easily. All it took was a simple breathing exercise and a few weeks practice. If you do try this method, make sure you listen to the warnings! It’s possible to faint while doing this, so you need to be in a safe place (i.e. not in water, not driving etc.)

Box Breathing

The Box Breathing App is also quite useful. It leads you through a simple breathing exercise where you breath in, hold, breath out, and hold. Each of those four actions is done for the same amount of time. With practice, this helps you to learn to control your breathing even after holding your breath.

Breathing Meditation

As I mentioned, I use breathing to help with anxiety and to calm down before bed. It’s a simple exercise, why not give it a go right now:

  1. Breath in slowly over 8 seconds.
    1. Breath into your stomach, but remember your lungs are in your chest. You are simply moving your stomach out of the way to suck air deep into your lungs (don’t just push your stomach out...).
  2. Hold your breath in for 8 seconds.
  3. Breath out in a slow and controlled manner over 8 seconds
    1. This will be difficult, especially on the first few. It’s likely your body will try to expel the air as quickly as possible. I find that the first few seconds are most difficult to control - sometimes most of the air comes out in the first 2 seconds making the other 6 quite difficult.
  4. Suck your stomach muscles in sharply over 2 seconds to make sure every last drop of air is out of your lungs.
    1. This means a total of 10 seconds breathing out.
  5. Repeat.

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Breathing seems so simple. You do it all day everyday without thinking about it. It’s such an important function that it’s controlled by parts of our brain that don’t have to think to do it. To exist is to breathe.

For something you don’t have to think about, breathing plays an extremely important role in how you experience the world. The fact that you don’t think about it means you tend not to notice the effects of the way you breathe on your physiology. Case in point, the profound change from teeny-tiny-lung Tom to apparently impressively-large-lunged Tom.

You don’t have to pay attention to your breath all the time (in fact, I think trying to do that would probably be bad for you…) but paying a little attention with some of these exercises each day can create profound change for you.

Posted on October 4, 2017 and filed under mental health, philosophy.

How to Relieve Anxiety Symptoms with Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This post is going to be a little different from my previous ones.

I'm sharing this because over the weekend while talking with some friends I realised that most of them had experienced some sort of debilitating anxiety at some point. All of us (including me) had stories to share about anxiety.

One of the things I found that has helped me is a simple tool that helps me to relax. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that systematically relaxes your body and is a very effective stress management technique. I started out following the steps I’m about to share with you. With practice I was able to learn to relax my whole body at once which is an enormously helpful skill. That said, I still find that I get more relaxation from the following steps.

  1. Close your eyes and start out with a few relaxing breaths. Try to breath using abdominal breath (you should be able to feel it in your tummy), and as you exhale feel the tension begin to ebb away.
  2. Hands. Clench your fists. Move your awareness to your hands. Clench both of your fists for up to 5 seconds. Release for 15-20 seconds, imagining the tension ebbing out of your hands.
  3. Biceps Tighten your biceps. Move your attention to your arms. Draw your forearms towards your shoulders, curling the biceps. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. As you release, imagine the tension flowing out of your biceps.
  4. Forehead and scalp. Move your attention to your forehead. As you inhale lift your eyebrows and wrinkle your forehead. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. As you release, feel the relaxation of the muscles of the forehead.
  5. Facial muscles. Move your attention to your facial muscles. Furrow your eyebrows and purse your lips. Try to pull all of your facial muscles towards your nose. Hold for up to 5 seconds, then release for 15-20 seconds. As you release, feel the relaxation of the facial muscles.
  6. Jaw. Bring your attention to your jaw. Clench your jaw tightly, feeling the tension in the surrounding muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and ten release for 15-20 seconds. Relax the muscles and allow the tension to disappear. You may feel your mouth begin to open a little. We hold a lot of tension in our jaw - this one is useful by itself.
  7. Neck and shoulders.Bring your awareness to this region. Shrug your shoulders towards your ears. Feel the tension in the surrounding muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the muscles ebb away.
  8. Upper back/shoulders. Bring your awareness between the shoulder blades. Push your shoulder blades back as if you were trying to get them to touch. Feel the tension in the surrounding muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension between the shoulder blades ebb away.
  9. Upper chest. Bring your awareness to your upper chest. Tighten the chest muscles and hold. Feel the tension in the upper chest muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the chest muscles flow away.
  10. Stomach. Bring your awareness to your navel area. Try to draw your navel into your backbone. Feel your stomach muscles tighten. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the abdominal muscles dissipate.
  11. Bottom. Bring your awareness to your bottom. Squeeze your buttocks together, consciously tightening the muscles in this region. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in these muscles disappear.
  12. Thighs. Bring your awareness to your thigh muscles. Try not to contract your stomach muscles as you consciously tighten your upper thigh muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the thigh muscles dissipate.
  13. Calves. Bring your focus to your calf muscles. Consciously tighten your calf muscles by pointing your toes. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the calf muscles flow away.
  14. Feet. Bring your focus of attention to your feet. Tighten your feet by curling your toes towards the ground. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the feet flow away.
  15. Mentally scan your body for any residual tension. If you find a muscle group with residual tension then tense and relax this area again.
  16. Feel a wave of relaxation, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. When you are ready, bring your awareness back to your breath and slowly open your eyes.

This is written so that you can follow along. If you like this, let me know. I'm planning on creating a recording for you to follow along to - sign up below to get it sent to your inbox.

Posted on September 27, 2017 and filed under mental health.

How to get on top of Things Using a Routine Calendar

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If you’re struggling to keep on top of the things you want to do, whether it be work out, see your friends, do you side hustle , or absolutely anything; create a calendar for your daily routine. Fill in an event for every minute of your average day. It sounds absolutely insane because it sort of is. It’s extreme, but it helps.

You’re made up by the routines you keep every day. If you don’t brush your teeth one day, it probably doesn’t too much. But if you don’t brush your teeth every day for a year, it’s going to matter a whole lot. Every little habit whether you’re aware of it or not makes up who you are now and in the future. It’s a bit scary! But it’s also a powerful force for change. If you can harness even the smallest of habits to your advantage, you can create fundamental changes in your life.

A really simple way to see what your habits are is to keep a routine calendar. It’s a calendar that sounds pretty extreme - you create an event for every minute of your average day. You end up with an extremely full calendar and a very clear picture of where you spend your time. It can be used in a number of different ways: as a planning tool to help you figure out how to fit things into your life, as a warning system so you know when something is about to break, and as a way to make sure you’re getting the most important things you want to get done.

How?

I do this digitally. However, you could do it on paper if you wanted - you’d just need to re-write the calendar when it goes out of date.

To do it digitally, create a new calendar in your calendar app of choice. I use Fantastical (Mac, iPhone, iPad). The routine calendar needs to be seperate so that you can easily turn it on and off when you’re using your calendar app day to day. At the moment I’m using three calendars to help with this since I have a few priorities that I like to have in other colours. It’s also useful to be able to see those calendars while not seeing the rest of my routine.

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The next step is to fill out every hour of the day for a period that makes sense for you. For me, a week tends to be a good time period since there are a lot of things that happen every week.

I admit it, this is pretty over the top. Every person I speak to about this thinks I’m slightly mad. Maybe they’re right. But there’s a chance they’re missing the point - this calendar isn’t meant to limit me to doing only these things, or make me so regimented that I don’t have any room for anything. It’s meant to help me create space and be realistic about the things I'm committed to.

A few notes about my calendar to help explain the method behind my madness:

  • The red is my training schedule - I’m committed to this each day and the timing in the calendar is the ideal time for a workout for me with the way I eat, but I don’t necessarily do the workouts at this time every day. Having this in the calendar helps me in two ways:
    • I know that I need to have about an hour available for the workout each day at whatever time I can make it fit.
    • I know if I can do it at the optimal time, things are going well.
  • The orange is my creative schedule. Yes, I know, how can you calendar creativity? The issue for me is that without making space for this I tend to simply fill up my time with work or things like Facebook. My problem is that I have spent so many years getting into the habit of filling my spare time with non-creative things, it’s hard to break. This is my way of trying to break that habit.
  • The brown is the real guts of my 'routine'. It's the basic stuff I've got to do to keep functioning at a high level - that's why I include sleep, time with my partner, time with friends, and rest time in there.

Planning vs. just living

The ‘routine’ calendar is a good low level planning tool. It helps with implementation of your goals because you can get a realistic map of your commitments and plan how to get everything done. It helps you see in one place what your commitments are and what might suffer if you want to start doing something new without giving anything else up.

But the thing most people get concerned about when I talk to them about this ‘calendar every minute of your day’ thing is the loss of spontaneity. If every minute is accounted for, how can you have time to be human? Look, this may not work for everyone, but I encourage you to give it a go. If you simply put times in your routine for spontaneous activities, you won’t lose it. Sometimes when you're trying to make a change, you need to do something that seems a little extreme! Trust me, give it a go at least, it might surprise you.


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Posted on September 1, 2017 and filed under geekery.

Learn More from Podcasts: My Ego is so much Smaller than yours bro

I had a conversation with Ashley this week about how a person best learns. She recently realised that she learns best from reading written information. If she listens to a podcast or an audiobook, it’s definitely entertaining but she ends up losing the information unless she reads something to go with it. This piqued my interest because I’ve known for a while that I’m an ‘audio’ learner. I find it a lot easier to remember things and learn if I hear it, either through conversations, podcasts, or audiobooks. 

Hearing about Ashley’s experience with audio got me thinking. I also benefit from reading things along with all the stuff I listen to. Sure, I’m more adapted to audio than Ash, but I get a lot out of using multiple ways to consume the information too. My habits are pretty stark though - apart from what I read for my day job where the only option is written material, the most important information I consume comes from audio. I listen to heaps of audiobooks and podcasts. Apart from my aforementioned job and my nightly reading (30 minutes before bed), the only time I read things is when I’m reading my version of ‘trashy’ news: Apple pundits, various tech reviews, and things that I like to follow but I don’t learn a whole lot from. 

I spent some time this week wondering about how do my reading vs. listening habits help me and/or hinder me. If I’m learning important things from podcasts and other audio sources, how could I help myself (and others like Ash) consolidate this information? What if I changed my approach a little? Would I get more out of the information I consume? How could my information consumption habits be tweaked a little to help you? 

I noticed that a lot of the podcasts I listen to don’t have a lot of written content to go with them. That’s because some of the best podcasts are a conversation - they’re inherently hard to capture in written form. The majority of their value is exactly because they’re a conversation rather than a formal written document. But, with people like Ash out there who learn better from reading, I think there’s a need to provide some good written summaries for the best audio content. 

It’s a hard job - conversations are difficult to capture in written form. Nevertheless, I decided to do my best collating and writing some summaries of my favourite audio content for you. Let's start with a great podcast episode I listened to last week: 

Aubrey Marcus Episode 107 - My Ego is so much Smaller than yours bro

Provided episode description:

The high priest of spiritual parody drops out of character to discuss transparency and dismantle identity in one of my longest conversations to date. Dive into some meaty food for thought from the real person behind everyone’s favourite conscious funny guy.

This episode will get you thinking a lot about your ego. It’s about learning to understand what the ego is for (protecting you) and only letting it do that when you need to be protected.

The episode ties into the Brene Brown TED talk about vulnerability. That is, if you’re more open and vulnerable, you’ll get more out of your relationships and other areas of life. Whilst it’s scary to be vulnerable, it’s also where all the nice things in life come from. It’s how we learn! Our egos are there trying to stop us from being vulnerable - this is how an inflated ego can get in the way of learning and progression as a person.

You’ll also notice connections with the work of Ryan Holiday[1] and other Stoic philosophers on ego. Ryan Holiday’s work, especially ‘Ego is the Enemy’ tends towards pushing you to see the ego as, well, the enemy in order to protect yourself from the downsides of ego. Whilst I do think the Stoic idea is useful, in this episode I was struck by the way J.P. and Aubrey described their relationships with their egos. They view ego not so much as an adversarial thing, but more as a friend who might be a little over protective sometimes. In particular, I enjoyed Aubrey’s description of the way keeping a handle on his ego lets him “see, permit, and encourage” his wife for everything that she is.

I encourage you all to listen to this conversation - it’s one I’ve listened to twice already and probably will again soon!


If you don’t know what sort of learning you tend towards, take a moment to think about where you spend most of your ‘learning’ time. Is it YouTube? Maybe it’s podcast’s like me? Or do you read books or websites? Maybe you just talk to people? I’m planning to write more about the way you consume information and how to get more out of less. If you liked this post, sign up below to and I’ll send you my latest posts!


  1. See Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.  ↩


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Posted on August 2, 2017 and filed under philosophy, learn more.