Chronoception: The Role of "Flow" in Time Dilation

Steven Kotler is the author of "The Rise of Superman" an amazing book chronicling the essential role of the "flow" state for advances in human performance. He and I spoke at length last week about his work and the role of the "flow" state in time dilation. Take a listen to a few of the world's top athletes describe the impact of flow on time perception or "chronoception".

https://youtu.be/sgDfYzG6Uyg

Why You Should Design for Strengths

Tip #2 part 3: But does focusing on strengths pay off? (Yes!)

Most people are familiar the idea of "playing to your strengths" as a guideline for a more successful life. However, we are so inculcated from birth to fix our weaknesses, that it becomes instinctual - particularly under pressure - to resort to this mode. Despite rationally acknowledging the notion of focusing on natural talents, most people fail to make the kinds of changes in their lives to truly live in, and through, their native strengths. There are some obvious reasons for this though. Challenge 1) in order to design and live a life designed for your strengths, you not only have to know what they are. But, challenge 2) you also have to know what your weaknesses are and quit or delegate doing those things. Finally challenge 3), the incentives and benefits for living a life immersed in your strengths are not clear enough for most people to make the changes required. 

Let's explore each of these challenges in order: 

Challenge 1: Know (and accept) the specific nature of your strengths. (2 posts ago)

Challenge 2: Knowing (and accepting) your weaknesses  - then quitting or delegating them. (last post) 

Challenge 3: But does investing in strengths really pay off? Are the incentives and benefits for living a life immersed in your strengths worth the risks and sacrifices? If you have ever quit something too early and regretted it later, then you can be certain that you'll naturally be driven to not let that happen again. Sadly, most of these kinds of regrets are legacies of childhood and teenage years where discipline and follow-through were not fully developed. For most people these same examples of regret are rare as adults. It is a sad fact that what most people regret in life is the things they didn't do...

Is it worth it to quit or delegate away weakness focused activities? Yes. Consider this, recent studies have proven that willpower is both a) a deplete-able resource and b) fairly consistently distributed across people of all walks. This whole notion of super-achievers having unlimited discipline and willpower is a pure myth. Instead, most highly successful people share two traits: 1) they have systems, routines, and rewards in place that remove as much of the discipline and willpower required for them to achieve their goals as possible and 2) they spend a higher percentage of their day pursuing their strengths - activities that recharge their willpower reserves.  

People always assume that as an Olympic athlete, I was a disciplined machine. But the reality is that it requires relatively little willpower to train hard while on the Olympic team. First, you have a program with set times and set activities that are NOT optional. Second, you have coaches yelling and exhorting you to work harder should you show up late or fail to put in your best effort. Third you are surrounded by high caliber, inspiring and competitive people. Fourth, and most important, you are doing something you are uniquely talented at (following a strength). Sure, lots of days that become long miserable slogs, but there are also those days it is pure joy to be able to skate 30mph hour and push 3G’s, flying around the corners like a jet fighter.  

I have been on a slow progressive journey to design a life for my strengths that has met with many unforeseen twists and turns. My first job after retiring from sport was a-now-laughable-position as a PMO (program manager) for a massive technology conversion - Y2K at Goldman Sachs. Laughable because that position could scarcely been more mis-aligned with my native talents. I hated that entire year, was completely exhausted every day and just showing up for work was a major effort. I'd say I was using perhaps 10% of my strengths and mostly spent time trying to fix my weaknesses. I then moved on to designing new business models and trading systems for Enron. I was very good at the initial design work, but had to work very hard at all the details required for implementation / launch - a mix of perhaps 50/50 strengths vs. weakness focus.

After Enron I quit consulting to join my favorite client U.S. Cellular where over time I took the reins of a massive innovation effort. My strengths / weakness ratio tipped up to 75% during that project and I worked crazy hours - not because I had to, but because I wanted to. For years I was jazzed to come to work every day. Then the innovation project was over, and I left to work for an innovation consulting firm. Sadly what the firm really needed (and wanted from me) was more of a program management role and I stepped back to 40% strengths / 60% weaknesses. Two years after that I asked the CEO to design a new role for me leading a new practice of innovation leadership development and moved back to a 70%/30% split of my strengths and weaknesses. Shortly thereafter I did my first paid keynote speech, and loved it, and it was very well received. Three people in the audience hired me, and then three more, and I suddenly realized I have found what I love most. 

Now I've left consulting and I'm doing full time speaking and workshops and spend 90% of my day living in my strengths and experiencing flow regularly. I have probably worked as many or more hours over the last months than ever: I didn't even take weekends off and worked late most nights, but it required no willpower because it was what I wanted to be doing. Over the last eight months I've never been happier, more fulfilled, or healthier AND I will likely earn more financially this year than I have. Because I'm using virtually no willpower to do my work, my risk aversion has gone way down, my resilience way up, and I've been willing to take the kinds of risks I previously would not have considered - including reciting an 88 line poem for the mayor of Chicago, writing a book, performing in a music / dance / poetry rant collaboration, perhaps even co-writing the lyrics for an album with the amazing and talented musician Anthony Snape. AND, more importantly, I’ve significantly slowed down my perception of time passing…

2015, for me, lasted about 15 years or longer in terms of my perception. The summer was far far longer than any I remember as a child, and 2016 is off to a similar pace – high speed in the present with travel, new people and new relationships, but expansive in memory as I continue to push myself to live in my strengths, take bigger and bigger risks, and create those event horizon moments of “really living.”

One of my favorite questions is, “what are you best at?” Do you know the answer? Do your friends, co-workers, and children know? If not, then how can you (or they) design a life to perform at your best, experience the joy of flow every day, and slow down time?

It is time: time to race your strengths and design around your weaknesses. To “really living.”  - JKC

PS: I just published a coffee table book of the Art of Really Living Manifesto: See it here at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1530709253 and buy it here on Createspace  https://www.createspace.com/6148570 and get a 25% off discount - code: SFM6BEU7

 

 

Why You Should Design Around Weakness (Rather than Fix Them)

Tip #2: Design your life to "Race Your Strengths" – Part 2 of 3 

IDEA IN BRIEF:

Most people are familiar the idea of "playing to your strengths" as a guideline for a more successful life. However, we are so inculcated from birth to fix our weaknesses, that it becomes instinctual - particularly under pressure - to resort to this mode. Despite rationally acknowledging the notion of focusing on natural talents, most people fail to make the kinds of changes in their lives to truly live in, and through, their native strengths. There are some obvious reasons for this: Challenge 1) in order to design and live a life designed for your strengths, you not only have to know what they are. But, Challenge 2) you also have to know what your weaknesses are and quit or delegate doing those things. Finally Challenge 3), the incentives and benefits for living a life immersed in your strengths are not clear enough for most people to make the changes required. 

 Let's explore each of these challenges in order: 

Challenge 1: Know (and accept) the specific nature of your strengths (last post)

Challenge 2: Know (and accept) your weaknesses  - then quit or delegate themI believe that most driven, successful people are facing down a collective adult neurosis. This neurosis is the erroneous continuation of important programming received as children that becomes limiting to adults: the unwillingness to quit. To paraphrase Scott Adams (author of Dilbert) persistence is awesome, until it is stupidAdmitting and accepting weaknesses, and then actually quitting those activities is anathema to our beliefs, our pride, and our culture. We are wired to tough it out, to never quit, never give in. There exists a special kind of vertigo to stand at the precipice of failure and let go and accept. But, in order to spread your wings and fly you first have to become airborne.

I believe that this unwillingness to admit weaknesses and refusal to quit trying to overcome insurmountable obstacles leads many men and women to lead "lives of quiet desperation," as Thoreau so elegantly described. 

I've written at length about "how to know when to quit" and the two year rule, but even if one rationally grasps the concept, we are hardwired to never give up, so, what to do? 

What to do: ascertain areas in your life that are sucking your willpower or appear to have plateaued. Then quit one at a time… (a small one at first.) Often we pursue things because, "we should." Obviously the "biggest quitter" would be a career (or a relationship). But smaller things might be time-consuming hobbies, activities, projects, committees etc. I think the story of Warren Buffett is a great example of a "should" that he quit. Warren, through his amazing investing skills had become one of the richest men in the world, but until recently, he had not done much in the way of "giving back" in terms of philanthropy and charitable work. In an interview on (CNN) Warren finally admitted his weakness and then in a brilliant move, gave his money to Bill and Melinda Gates to give away.  

“What can be more logical, in whatever you want done, than finding someone better equipped than you are to do it? Who wouldn't select Tiger Woods to take his place in a high-stakes golf game? That's how I feel about this decision about my money.” – Warren Buffet on giving his money to the Gates Foundation

When I first heard this story I started thinking if there were any "should's" I could quit. Suddenly it dawned on me. At the time I was the head coach for a local speed skating club, not because I was good at it or liked it (I was not and did not) but because "I should." The sport had given me so much and so many had volunteered their time for me,that I "should" want to be a coach and give back… Except I wasn't great at it and didn't like it. So I broke it down… I DID like skating with the kids, teaching them technique and relays… what I didn't like was writing a program each week, doing drills and most of all, all the yelling required to get 35 kids to line up and do the program. Quickly I discussed this with the club president and we agreed I would step down as the head coach and instead become an assistant technical coach and focus on what I liked and did best: skating with the kids and providing technical advice. The relief I felt was palpable - I didn't even realize how much guilt I was carrying for not "loving" being a coach… because "I should."

What "should's" can you quit/delegate? Here's a few I've quit and a few more to consider: I've quit: mowing the lawn, shoveling, driving to the airport (Thanks to Uber), driving to the city (Uber/train), my consulting job, and 2 significant long term relationships that had become toxic. Think about it - what can you quit that will allow you to spend more time living in your strengths. The PTA? A school or work or charitable committee? yard work, housecleaning? Snow shoveling, owning (and maintaining) a car? Owning and maintaining a second home – or even a first home? Magazine subscriptions, cable TV, social media accounts… what time-sucking “should’s” can YOU quit?

I'm not suggesting abdicating responsibility or shirking your duties or not having discipline, but what I am suggesting is that you make a purposeful investment of your social energy and willpower as they are depletable resources. If participating in the homeowners association or PTA or coaching little league is leaving you with less energy for your spouse or career or your kids, that may be a poor investment of time. 

  COMING NEXT: Challenge 3 - Does investing in strengths really pay off? 

Strengths are Specific: What are You Best At?

 

Tip #2: Design your life to "Race Your Strengths" - part 1

IDEA IN BRIEF:

Most people are familiar the idea of "playing to your strengths" as a guideline for a more successful life. However, we are so inculcated from birth to fix our weaknesses, that it becomes instinctual - particularly under pressure - to resort to this mode. Despite rationally acknowledging the notion of focusing on natural talents, most people fail to make the kinds of changes in their lives to truly live in, and through, their native strengths. There are some obvious reasons for this: Challenge 1) in order to design and live a life designed for your strengths, you not only have to know what they are. But, Challenge 2) you also have to know what your weaknesses are and quit or delegate doing those things. Finally Challenge 3), the incentives and benefits for living a life immersed in your strengths are not clear enough for most people to make the changes required. 

"IF YOU ARE OVER 25 AND STILL TRYING TO FIX YOUR WEAKNESSES, THAT SHIP HAS SAILED!" 

Let's explore each of these challenges in order: 

Challenge 1: Know (and accept) the specific nature of your strengthsI believe that most people wander through life stumbling into the first thing in which they have some interest or initial talent, and fail to discover the true artist, physicist, poet, mathematician, athlete or musician within. What a great loss to humanity! Our strengths, as it turns out, tend to be very specific. Let me share two strengths as an example: consider the talents of a) an athlete and b) a business person. In my case, I was described as "fast" in the first case, and the second as "a good communicator." 

Sure, I was "fast" as a child and I was pretty competitive in most sports at a young age. However, most sporting activities for young kids are of a very short duration, and as I got older, I began to notice that I was only "fast" in short events and I was pretty useless at any sport requiring hand-eye coordination. For example, in eighth grade I managed to play an entire season of basketball without scoring a point, and in high school I eventually quit the cross country running team after 2 years of suffering and mediocre performances. I was mystified at the time, but now it is clear - I'm not fast at everything - I'm only fast in short events. I am a sprinter.*

*One sad side note here is that many true endurance athletes may end up quitting sports before they have a chance to shine. Because they are naturally slower in the short-spurt gym events like basketball, baseball, soccer and track, these slow twitch athletes may conclude they are "bad at sports" before they've had a chance to run the mile, a 5K or participate in a triathlon. If your young child is "bad at sports" consider the possibility that they may be unstoppable endurance machines when it comes to longer events.

By high school I had the realization that I was sprinter and switched from cross country to track and field to run the 100m, 200m and long jump. However, even there I eventually determined that I was only regionally competitive, but, when it came to sports requiring intense bursts of power against resistance, I could compete at a national, even world class level. By my twenties I finally honed in on the specific nature my strengths starting from the initial generic label of "fast."

Here's the breakdown:

"Fast" -> as a sprinter -> against resistance - > in events requiring short bursts of immense power - > followed by short rests - > while balancing - > and traveling at high speeds - > in a pack of people trying to kill me 

That's a pretty specific strength. If I had stayed with the broad brush of "fast," I would most likely never have achieved any success in sports. In fact there are only a two sports that require the above unique combination: short track speed skating, and cycling - the two sports in which I have competed at the world championships. I'm pretty terrible at most other sports.

 

Now, using the same process, lets analyze the "good communicator" strength. This is another very generic description leading to a series of questions: A good communicator to whom? About what? Best with large groups? Medium sized groups? Small groups? Best with one-way "keynotes" or facilitating two way dialog? Best at taking complex information and making it simple? Or best at taking simple things and expressing the innate complexity? Best at storytelling? Or better at sharing data and analysis? Best with highly motivated groups of individuals? Or best at motivating people that need inspiration? Best one on one? More of a coach? More of a challenger? More of a listener? If you have been painted with the broad brush of "communicator" and you don't know the answers to these questions, then you cannot leverage your superpower to achieve breakthrough performance. 

Sadly I was in my forties before I truly figured out my career superstrength - I am a:

"Good communicator" -> to large audiences -> taking complex topics and simplifying them through metaphors - > and expressing them via storytelling -> to high achievers - >  seeking innovative ways to improve their lives.  

I only discovered this less than two years ago, when, on January 28, 2014, I gave my first paid keynote. Now, this is my full time job. I live in my strengths more than 90% of my day now.  

What to do: ascertain the highly specific nature of your strengths and design them into your life. How? Take tests and assessments. Ask others. Look at your weaknesses and identify their inverse - sometimes the best way to identify a hidden or latent strength is to look at the antonym of a weakness. As an athlete my weakness is low aerobic capability, low endurance, high production of lactic acid. This is a result of type 2b fast twitch muscles that fatigue quickly. The inverse is also my superpower - to generate massive power for short intervals, process the lactic acid produced and recover quickly. In business there are a number of great assessments - cognitive, personality, and conative. Take them, study them, find the patterns of "flow" in your life and thread them together. Here's a partial list of assessments with links: 

  • Kolbe (conative - measures drive) http://www.kolbe.com/
  • Myers Briggs (personality) http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/
  • Strengthsfinder (personality/cognative)  http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx
  • ZTPI (temporal perspective - personality) http://www.thetimeparadox.com/zimbardo-time-perspective-inventory/
  • DISC (personality) http://discpersonalitytesting.com/free-disc-test/
  • LSI (personality - leadership) http://www.human-synergistics.com.au/Solutions/DevelopingIndividuals/LifeStylesInventoryIndividual.aspx
  • Enneagram (personality) https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/guide-to-all-riso-hudson-tests/
  • Authentic happiness (personality - happiness - multiple free tests) https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter
  • Insights Discovery (personality - work preferences) https://evaluator.insights.com/

 

COMING NEXT:  Challenge 2: Knowing (and accepting) your weaknesses  - then quitting or delegating them

 

 

The Time Investment Matrix: Choose Wisely

Stepping Out of the Matrix

Tip #1: Choose the red pill - accept that time is NOT linear, and invest it wisely

"Remember… all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more…"

With these lines from the movie, "The Matrix", Morpheus offers Neo the opportunity to fundamentally invert his world view by seeing his existence through a completely different lens. In so doing, Neo loses the comfort of the false but predictable conventions he grew up with, while gaining the ability to warp the fabric of the universe to do his bidding.

So too, modern neuroscience has lifted the veil on a nearly universally held fallacy; that time, as we experience it, is linear (blue pill).  Instead we now know that the way our brains process time is dependent on the activities and the emotional and environmental cues around us. If you can accept that our actions and environment governs our experience with time and that the way we actually experience time is not at all linear, then please take the red pill. The red pill (Tip #1) offers this truth: "The value of an increment of time is not related to its duration."

The value of an increment of time is not related to its duration.

Let's break this down. In a linear / chronological temporal construct, the value of an increment of time is directly proportional to its duration - hence "quality time," "time management," and all kinds of methodologies to "track your time" in a futile effort to maximize it.

But… but if you can accept that the value of your time is not related to its duration, then you can fundamentally change your relationship with time, and learn how to maximize it by investing in it more wisely. Accepting this means we need a new way to measure time other than our watches: we have the time value of money, but where is the construct for the investment value of time? I'd like to propose a new currency for time: the memory value of time.

The simple matrix above plots linear time on the Y axis (from high to low) and the investment (memory) value of time on the x axis (from low to high).  The greatest returns and best investments are in creating or experiencing those magical "event horizon" moments that make indelible imprints on our memory, often in a short span of linear time. And yet, we've known this all along… "make it count", "create memories", or Abraham Lincoln's  quote, "it's not the years left in your life that count, it's the life in your years." We've known intuitively all along that certain minutes and moments mattered more than others, but for some reason we keep trying to force fit them into the one dimensional matrix of linear time.

Let's look at each of these areas of temporal investment:

Quadrant 1: high investment, low return. We want to minimize this quadrant, but the reality is that all of us have time sucking activities we must do - even billionaires have to deal with taxes, commutes and management. To the extent you can design your life to live fully in your strengths, this quadrant can be minimized, but this may be impossible for some people. For the full-time toll booth collector, this is their job, and yes you could argue, get a new one, but if that means going back to school to get a degree over long years of missed family time, perhaps we should just consider this quadrant "investment time" - it exists to fuel the two right hand quadrants. A tollbooth collector working 50 hours a week still has 118 hours left to invest heavily in high return activities leveraging their strengths or designing event horizon moments.

Quadrant 2: low investment, low return. This is the "filler time" and some of it should be minimized, but I also believe this quadrant offers amazing opportunities to expand time. These are small mundane activities and routines that we can constantly challenge - the same commute, the same restaurants, the same conversations, the same friends, the same place on vacation - all of these offer the opportunity to morph into a meaningful memory. Perhaps not an event horizon moment except on rare occasions but certainly the opportunity replace repetition and routine for meaning and memory. Recently I had a conversation with Lila, the 15 year old daughter of a great friend. After being exposed to the red pill, she exclaimed, "So wait! We are all just living the routine, waiting to die!!" She then proposed to her brother "let's walk to school tomorrow - see things differently." So, rather than being driven  4 miles to school as they have done every day for years, they planned to  to experience it differently. I find this to be a beautifully simple way to modify quadrant 2  to create value.

Quadrant 3: high investment, high return. For people lucky enough to have a career aligned with their strengths, this is a quadrant in which you will naturally spend most of your linear time. I believe that strong relationships are also a form of "strengths" - natural or developed "talents" for other people, leading to experiences of flow and a greater possibility of "event horizon moments" when together. For me, over the last 15 years, I have slowly morphed my career from spending 95% of my time on weaknesses (being a PMO consultant at Goldman Sachs for Y2K) to a 50/50 split with my strengths (marketing) to spending 75% of my time on my strengths (innovation consultant) to 95% strengths (self employed, being paid to travel, speak, and write). When I'm not working, I'm with my daughter or great friends, or traveling - or all 3. I think the only quadrant 1 activity I have left is doing email, expenses, and sleeping.

Fallacy #1: "we must be constantly be creating meaningful moments 24/7." This is probably the most consistent mis-interpration of the Art of Really Living. No-one can or should be constantly be creating event horizon moments.

Quadrant 4: low investment, high return (event horizon moments) These moments are the “Apple Inc.” of time investment - massive returns from small investments of linear time. I've written about these at length - My Feb 17, 2015 post has a summary of the 5 key elements:

http://www.johnkcoyle.com/taorlblog/2015/02/17/everyone-dies-not-everyone-really-lives 

Here's the thing about event horizon moments that is often misunderstood - the goal is not to have these twice a day every day. Almost always, truly intense time-expanding [or clock-stopping] moments rest on the shoulders of investment time, and are found or created in unique circumstances derived from time invested in "really living." For me, my goal is that for each chronological year, I will design or experience 10 moments that are so intense they are worth an entire year of linear time to me. In 2015 I had 17 of these. But the stress associated with these kinds of moments is often considerable… and not all of them are good, so depending on your resiliency, 10 − 15 feels like a reasonable goal.  By investing almost all my linear time into quadrants 3 & 4 I feel I have already lived, perceptually, about 4 lifetimes already. The possibility of living the equivalent of 400 to 500 more years and creating indelible memories along the way is a pretty amazing outcome.

In conclusion: you have a choice. Continue to believe the fallacy of linear time and try to track and manage it, all the while watching it accelerate, or choose to accept this new construct and instead invest your time for the value of the memories it brings.  What do you choose, and what are you going to do about it?

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

How I lived 15 years in 2015

15 in '15: How I lived 15 years in 2015 

At the heart of the Art of Really Living is the goal of expanding "experiential time." Our mission is teach people how to slow, stop and reverse the perceived acceleration of time and live summers longer than those we experienced when we were kids. But… does it really work?

It does. I can easily say that 2015 was the longest year of my life, that the summer felt far longer than those I remember from childhood, and when I add it all up, January of 2015 feels like it was approximately 15 years ago given the breadth and depth of experiences I had and the number of "event horizon" moments of really living. 2015 was filled with a host of  new friends, new relationships, new experiences, epiphanies and moments of euphoric joy. 

2015 was also filled with fear, anxiety, doubt, the end of some significant relationships and moments of desperate sadness, failure and fear. Never in my life have I had such and incredible breadth and depth of experiences and never have I had my resiliency as a human being tested to my limits. Not even training for the Olympics pushed me as hard as the events of this year. One new tool I used to help manage the emotional pendulum was the daily practice of mindfulness starting July 8th after I left my job. 

Over the coming days I'll be sharing  How to Live 16 in '16: Top 5 tips for expanding time through Really Living but for now I'll share a list of my top "event horizon" moments of really living in 2015 and a couple of the stories behind them. What meaningful memories of "Really Living" did you create or experience in 2015? 

A Poor July: 

I did my first paid speech January 28th of 2014 thanks to my client and friend Nicole Lorey at Transamerica. After my first speech, 3 of the attendees hired me, and then 3 more etc. By the end of the year, 20 keynotes later, and with a second well-received TEDx talk under my belt, I realized I could potentially go out on my own. So I gave 6 months notice to ramp up the new business and ramp down on the consulting, and on July 8th, 2015 I became an entrepreneur. For the first time since entering the working world I no longer had a paycheck. But, I had 3 paying keynotes planned for July... until all three canceled.

The feeling was one of vertigo - like the floor had dropped out below me and doubts began to flood my brain. "I can't really do this..." "I'm not good enough." "No one is really going to hire me." "It is never going to work." But we kept at it, adding a "pay half up front" clause to our contracts and we have slowly built a following and a strong pipeline. 

Universal Studios in the Rain:

I've written before that my daughter and I don't do a lot of talking - we do a lot of doing. I know she hears me talk about the Art of Really Living to others, but it is not something we generally talk about together. That said, she is a creative advisor occasionally on the production of the manifesto video.

In August I was fortunate to have a client fly Katelina and I to Orlando for a speech and provide us passes to the theme parks. We flew out of Midway on Southwest arriving to the airport 90 minutes early (early for me!) and were dismayed to be stuck in a 2+ hour line because the computers were down. Our flight departed without us so instead of arriving late morning we arrived late afternoon. Universal Studios was open until 9pm so as we pulled into the parking lot at 5pm we figured we would still have a decent amount of time to explore and experience the rides. 

Just as we were walking up, the heavens opened up and a major thunderstorm exploded over the park. By the time we were buying our tickets there was 2 inches of standing water in the lanes and thousands of people in parkas lining the sides of the street under the awnings filing neatly and quickly out of the park. 

I asked Kat if she wanted a parka. She said, "Parkas are for wusses!" and then ran pell mell into the maelstrom, both of us immediately soaked to the bone.

We had the streets to ourselves and sprinted splashing and laughing through the empty lanes to find the Harry Potter ride at the back of the park. As we passed the tallest coaster, lightning struck it and the noise was incredible. I started to slow but Kat didn't break stride, and as the next lightning strike lit her in a chiaroscuro outline, she shouted over her shoulder, "Papa! THIS... is really living!" (Mic drop, my job is done here...)

 

TBT: People I Owe - Mike Walden

People I owe: Mike Walden

What do a tennis school in Siberia, a soccer club in Brazil, a music camp in upstate New York, and a baseball club in Curacao all have in common with a bicycling club from Detroit?

They are all “chicken-wire Harvards,” a term coined by Daniel Coyle in his great book “The Talent Code”. That is, each of these remote destinations has a number of things in common: they tend to be underfunded, they have programs with a relentless focus on the fundamentals of a sport or activity, and at their helm they have or have had iconic coaches who “say a lot in a little,” and “repeat a little a lot.”

They also produce champions. Lots of them. So many that, when plotted on map in red, they become a “talent bloom” – a rose against the white of the page. In fact, one small, yet famous tennis club in Siberia, called Spartak, which has only one indoor court, achieved eight year-end top 20 women’s rankings for professional tennis players for 3 years running (as of 2007.) During the same period, the entire United States only had 7. As it happens there is also a little cycling club in Detroit with even more striking results.

Statistically speaking, it is impossible to conceive that there was more talent concentrated in the environs of Spartak in 2007, or around the Dorais velodrome in Detroit in 1980 than the entire United States. In fact the preponderance of talent from these locales belies their demographics – the argument can, and should be made that these coaches and environments created talent. But how?

Detroit, 1978. The Wolverine Sports Club was one of many of its ilk – typical in many ways. Underfunded, provided for primarily by largesse from Mike Walden’s bike shop in Hazel Park, the club also supported its activity through fund raiser “bike-a-thons” (also a Walden invention.) The Wolverine Sports Club (WSC) ran a regular series of practices – Tuesdays at the run-down Dorais Velodrome in Detroit, Wednesdays were the iconic “Wednesday night ride” from the Royal Oak Library complete with fans in lawn chairs who blocked traffic for the huge peleton, and Thursdays featuring practice races in Waterford on a 2.2 mile race car track. Weekends were for racing, because “racing is the best training,” or so we were told.

To an 8, 10, 12, even 18 year old kid, it all became so normal. I remember my first visit to the Dorais velodrome. Names were inscribed in the cement along the homestretch – Fred Cappy, Mike Walden, Clair Young, Jim Smith. These etchings were meaningless to me and hidden each year under more and more graffiti. Today the track has fallen into disrepair.

 

One of my first nights at the Dorais velodrome was in the fall, with a low turnout and leaves skittering across the cracked banked surface. Walden was mostly occupied shouting at two female racers who were preparing for a big competition somewhere. I was clueless and didn’t care. That is until, after a series of timed flying 200m events by the two women, Walden suddenly focused his shouting at me. “What about you? Let’s go: 200m as fast as you can go! Pedal circles and finish at the line!”

The two muscular women quickly shared some strategy – line up high on the track on the first corner and then dive for the blue line (marking the 200m mark) and then stay as low as possible on the “pole lane” or black line to the finish.

Moments later, exhausted but exhilarated by the speed, Walden barked out a time (“13.8!”) and turned to other riders. The two women, Sue Novara and Sheila Young, slowed to pass along compliments, “wow – you’re a fast little thing.” Little did I know that both were rivals and world champions in this exact event – the match sprint on the velodrome.  I was surrounded by greatness. I was lucky. It only takes a quick spin through Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” to realize that one of the core elements of the Wolverine Sport Club and my own success was simply the environment: we all got an early start on the requisite 10 years/10,000 hours of deliberate practice that greatness requires.

Another great book, that might have have featured Walden as its poster child is by Geoff Colvin’s “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.” The thesis? “Greatness doesn’t come from DNA but from practice and perseverance honed over decades – and not just plain old hard work, like your grandmother might have advocated, but a very specific kind of work.”

“The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes, that enables you to achieve greatness.” Deliberate practice, as practiced by Mozart, Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Sheila Young and Frankie Andreu, is an unrelenting focus on the potentially mind-numbing basics of a sport or activity. In fact, at the tennis camp in Spartak, Siberia referenced earlier, kids spent an inordinate amount of time swinging rackets at the air before they were even allowed to hit balls, and then they were not allowed to enter a tournament until they had 3 years of practice under their belts.

Daniel Coyle then describes the unique characteristics of the coaches who create the right environment for focus on deliberate practice. In one chapter he details the key elements of a master coach, by documenting the actions of a certain famous athletic coach. This coach’s “teaching utterances or comments were short, punctuated, and numerous. “There were no lectures, no extended harangues…. “He rarely spoke longer than twenty seconds. “What made this coach great, “wasn’t praise, wasn’t denunciation, and certainly wasn’t pep talks. “His skill resided in the Gatling-gun rattle of targeted information he fired at his players.”

This, not that. Here, not there. “His words and gestures served as short, sharp impulses that showed his players the correct way to do something. “He was seeing and fixing errors. “He was honing circuits.”

For those that knew him, this sounds exactly like Mike Walden. But this case study was of basketball’s John Wooden. The circuits Daniel refers to are the biological occurrences of “myelination” – the wrapping of neural circuits that become “talent” through repetition, coaching, and deliberate practice.

The hubris of youth suggests the following: “everything good that I have – I’ve earned.” And then the corollary “Everything I don’t have? Not my fault – I wasn’t born with that talent (or I’ve been thwarted by outside forces.”)

With time, maturity and a series of books by acclaimed authors I’ve been forced to realize that virtually all my athletic accomplishments and perhaps even all of my achievements in general – even in academics – boil down a couple simple facts: 1) I had the right parents (a subject for another day), and 2) I was born, raised, and trained at the right place at the right time: Detroit, 1980, WSC… with Walden.

Take away Dorais, Walden, Waterford, and the repeated refrains of “pedal circles,” “win it at the line,” and “race your strengths, train your weaknesses,” and humbly, it is clear that my entire life’s journey would be on a different trajectory. Gone would have been a bid for the Olympics, gone the silver medal, gone the singular element that encouraged some strong undergraduate (and graduate) schools to accept a student with SAT’s and GMAT’s that were at best “average” for these institutions.

My relationship with Mike Walden was not one I would have described as friendly: I came to practice, and he yelled at me. During practice, he yelled at me. Sometimes, after practice, he yelled at me. This was the same for most of the team, though I sometimes I felt singled out. Dorais velodrome was the worst – in the oval you were always within shouting distance. The bumpy track in the inner city was fraught with danger – bumps, graffiti, random kids throwing rocks, and the worst of all, crosswinds. Week after week, year after year, Walden demanded that riders should have only a 4 – 8 inch distance between the tires of other riders in high speed pacelines against crosswinds, over uncertain pavement, and variable speeds – all on racing bikes without brakes or gears. “Follow the wheel” meant be right on the wheel in front of you. If you let a few more inches stretch out as the peleton accordioned down the homestretch, then Walden’s penetrating voice was right there, “close the gap Coyle! Get on the wheel!”

Between each activity, Walden was not shy on letting anyone and everyone know how bad they had failed. “Alcala – you’re a disaster – can’t ride a straight line.” “Andreu – you pick it up every single time you hit the front.” “Paellela – you’re herky-jerky – ride smoothly, quit riding up on everyone.” I was afraid – everyone was afraid – to get it wrong, and you modified each and every pedal stroke to pedal circles, keep an even distance, accelerate smoothly, and drop down after pull at the front. I didn’t know it then, but this extraordinary focus on pedaling fundamentals every Tuesday for nearly 10 years allowed a 30+ year racing career featuring 3000+ races, with almost no crashes (<10), and not one injury serious enough to prevent racing the next day. It also gave my limited strengths a path for success: to move swiftly and safely through the peleton in preparation for the sprint in a manner that may be my primary defining strength as a cyclist. Mike always said, “race your strengths,” here’s a video of that put into action. 

Walden was not one to shower complements. In 1980 at 11 years old, racing as a Wolverine, I won the national championships at the Balboa Park Velodrome in San Diego, California. In the process I also met Eric Heiden who I would “pro-fro” with (live with for a week as a prospective freshman/frosh at Stanford 6 years later.) My relationship with Walden had only slightly warmed over the years, nonetheless I was fully expecting some warm words after my victory against some difficult odds against the likes of Jamie Carney. Immediately after the awards ceremony, still wearing my stars-and-stripes jersey, Walden sought me out and came up extending his hand. I was beaming and expecting (finally) some recognition. Instead I heard, “Don’t get cocky – it’s just a race. “There are a lot more important ones in your future.” He turned on his heel and stomped away. 30 years later and I can still feel the flush of heat to my cheeks as I describe that moment.

podium-1980.jpg

By the time I was in my late teens, I was winning races left and right. At 15, like Frankie Andreu, I was solicited by the almighty 7-11 team, and raced for them over the next couple of years. I continued attending Walden practices and continued to fear his penetrating bark. I had decided that he must clearly hate me until an odd morning one summer many years later after he had passed away.

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 3.45.11 PM.png

I had been invited to a club ride that was leaving from Walden’s house in Berkley one Saturday morning (we still met there even though Mike had passed away). I rolled into the driveway a little early and no one was there, so Harriet Walden, Mike’s widow invited me into the comfortable, but humble home. I was struck by how normal it seemed. For nearly a decade Mike had been an enigma to me, someone ‘other than human’ who only pushed and prodded, who only repeated the same damn things again and again, “pedal circles! “Finish at the line! “Race your strengths!” It was odd to think of him having the normal accoutrements of modern life. Harriet was very accommodating and seemed to know all about me. As I waited for the other riders to arrive, she said something to me that shocked me then, and still cuts me to the core now, “You know, Mike was very fond of you…” She paused, waiting for her words to sink in. “He spoke very highly of you.” I was stunned.

I didn’t know. But I know now. I should have known then. How could I not know? What kind of courage does it take to push someone to become all they can be and never even ask for any acknowledgment in return?  

A few years ago Richard Noiret made a movie, “Chasing the Wind” about Walden and the Wolverine Sports Club. I believe this is the tip of the iceberg. How did a club in a random suburb of Detroit produce 5 Olympians, 10 World Champions, 300 National medalists, and more than 25% of the nation’s national champion cyclists for two decades?

I’m a coach myself now, both for an incredible team at work, and as the head coach for the Franklin Park speedskating club. It’s odd: I’m relatively terrible at coaching speedskating despite a life dedicated to practicing the sport – it feels like total mayhem. Yet, every Tuesday night, more than one of the kids will say to me, “thanks Coach John!” as they leave the ice, despite all my yelling and it gives he a huge thrill. During all my formative years, it never, ever occurred to me to thank my coach – Affholter, Young, Walden – and it never occurred to me that they weren’t paid for all that time, effort and shouting.

Theron Walden (Mike) died February 12, 1996. I never even new his real name. I was probably busy with something I thought was important. I missed the funeral. It came to me later that I had never really known the man, and worse, that never, in my life had I ever said, the simple words I write now, 15 ½ years later. Thank you, Mike.

I owe you more than you could possibly imagine, but it is only now that I realize it. Thank you Mike – for your (tough) love, and your legacy that I’m attempting, clumsily, to pass on.

—————————————-

 

PS: In order to pass on Mike’s legacy I feel I must pass on the below verbatim. It concerns a sophisticated understanding of strengths vs. weaknesses that is best described in the incredible book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham. As usual, an incredible amount of science belies the couple sharp barks that only become clear with time and repetition. This is another great legacy of Mike’s: repetition is the key to coaching. Think carefully about the conundrum posed by the below and what it suggests for your life’s path regarding your strengths, passions, and weaknesses:

Race your strengths, train your weaknesses.
Racing is the best training.
Race your strengths, train your weaknesses.

Racing is the best training.

References:

  • “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell

 http://www.amazon.com/Outliers-Story-Success-Malcolm-Gladwell/dp/0316017930/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318566226&sr=8-1

  • “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle

 http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Code-Greatness-Born-Grown/dp/055380684X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318566246&sr=1-1

  • “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin

 http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Overrated-World-Class-Performers-EverybodyElse/dp/1591842948/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318566269&sr=1-1

  • “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham

 http://www.amazon.com/Discover-Your-Strengths-Marcus-Buckingham/dp/0743201140/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321302063&sr=8-1

National Championship results, 10 years:  1972 – 1981, Road & Track (Virtually all the MI racers were club members or trained with Mike)

1972 –  Road – Milwaukee, WI, Aug. 5-6

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Debbie Bradley, IA, 28mi in 1:19:10

2.        Jeanne Omelenchuk, MI

3.        Eileen Brennan, MI

 

 1973 Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 1-4

SENIOR MEN 10 MILE  –

1.        Roger Young, MI

SENIOR MEN’S MATCH SPRINT : final for 1st and 2nd: Roger Young. Ml beat Jack Disney, CA, 2,0

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT: final for 1st and 2nd: Sheila Young, Ml, beat Sue Novara, Ml, 2,0

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 21

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 10

 

1974 Road – Pontiac, MI, July 27-28

JUNIOR MEN

1.  David Mayer-Oakes, TX

2. Pat Nielsen, MI

3. Tom Schuler, MI

 

1974 Track – Northbrook, IL, July 31-Aug. 3

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT – Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara, MI, beat Sheila Young, MI, 2.0

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.      Connie Paraskevin, MI, 21

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.         Kevin Johnson, MI, 14

2.          Troy Stetina, IN, 8

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jacque Bradley, IA, 21

2.         Debbie Zbikowski, MI, 9

 

1975 Road – Louisville, KY, Aug. 14-15

SENIOR MEN

1.        Wayne Stetina, IN, 114mi in 4:35:53.22

2.        Dave Boll, CA

3.        Tom Schuler, MI

 

1976 – Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 3-4

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT- Final for 1st and 2nd: Sheila Young, MI, beat Sue Novara, MI, 2,1

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jane Brennan, MI, 17

INTERMEDIATE BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jeff Bradley, LA, 17

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 15

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 19

2.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 12

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Kirstie Walz, NJ, 19

2.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 15

3.        Anne Obermeyer, MI, 8

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 5

 

1977 – Road, Seattle, WA, July 26-Aug. 6

SENIOR WOMEN – 1.        Connie Carpenter, WI, 38.24mi in 1:38:31

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Greg LeMond, NV, 71.5mi in 3:10:40

 

2.        Jeff Bradley IA

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Beth Heiden, WI, 31.5mi in 1:24:28

MIDGET BOYS

1.        Grant Foster, CA, 11.25mi in 31:27

2.        Greg Foster, CA

3.        Jimmy Georgler, CA

4.        Glen Driver, CA

5.        Frankie Andreu, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Sue Schaugg, MI, 9mi in 27:50

2.        Lisa Parkes , MI

3.        Ann Marie Obermayer , MI

 

1977 – Track– Marymoor Velodrome, Redmond, WA, Aug. 2-6

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 15

2.        Dana Scruggs, IN, 10

3.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 8

4.        Rena Walls, MI, 7

5.        Jane Brennan, MI, 7

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 14

2.        Lisa Parks, MI, 12

 

1978 Road Milwaukee, WI, July 26-30

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Jeff Bradley, IA. 7Omi in 2:50:48

2.        Greg LeMond, NV

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Sherry Nelsen, MO, 24mi in 1:03:51

2.        Tracy McConachie, IL

3.        Nancy Merlo, MI

4.        Karen Schaugg, MI

5.        Louise Olson, MI

VETERAN WOMEN

1.        Jeanne Omelenchuck, MI 15mi in 40:26

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Elise Lobdell, IN

2.        Tyra Goodman, MI

3.        Beth Burger, PA

4.        Karn Radford, CA

5.        Celeste Andreu, MI

 

1978 – Track – Kenosha, WI, Aug. 1-5

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT – final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Jackie Disney, CA, 2,0

SENIOR WOMEN POINTS RACE

1.        Mary Jane Reoch, PA

2.        Cary Peterson, WA

3.        Sue Novara-Reber, MI

JUNIOR MEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Eric Baltes, WI, 13 pts

2.        James Gesquiere, MI, 12

3.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 8

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 17

2.        Sherry Nelsen, MO, 15

 

3.        Tracy McConachie, IL, 7

4.        Nancy Merlo, MI, 6

5.        Rena Walls, MI, 3

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Beth Burger, PA, 19

2.        Elise Lobdell, IN, 11

3.        Tyra Goodman, MI, 7

4.        Karn Radford, CA, 7

5.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 7

 

1979– Road – Milwaukee, WI, Aug. 1-5

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Connie Carpenter, CA. 39.6mi in 1:44:16

2.        Beth Heiden, WI

JUNIOR MEN

1.        Greg LeMond, NV, 70.4mi in 2:55:08

VETERAN WOMEN

1.        Jean Omelenchuk, MI, 15mi in 43:30

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Sarah Docter, WI, 15mi in 38:02

2.        Sue Schaugg, MI

3.        Abby Eldridge, CO

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI

5.        Laura Merlo, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 9mi in 27:09

2.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA

3.        Melanie Parkes, MI

1979 – Track – Northbrook, IL, Aug. 7-12

SENIOR MEN POINTS RACE

1.        Gus Pipenhagen, IL, 18 pts

2.        Roger Young, MI, 18

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT  Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Jackie Disney, CA, 2,0

JUNIOR WOMEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Rebecca Twigg, WA, 16

2.        Connie Paraskevin, MI, 13

JUNIOR MEN OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Mark Whitehead, CA, 15 pts

2.        Jeff Bradley, IA, 13

3.        Peter Kron, IL, 7

4.        James Gesquiere, MI, 6

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Brenda Hetlet, WI, 17

2.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 10

3.        Laura Merlo, MI, 10

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 7

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Clayton, IA, 17

2.        Jennifer Gesquiere, MI, 15

3.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 13

4.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA, 4

5.        Melanie Parkes, MI, 3

1980 – Road – Bisbee, Az, Aug. 13-17

SENIOR WOMEN

1.        Beth Heiden, WI, 35mi in 1:43:56

JUNIOR WOMEN

1.        Sarah Docter, WI, 28mi in 1:25:58

2.        Rebecca Twigg, WA

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Dedra Chamberlin, CA, l7mi in 57:52

2.        Lisa Lobdell, IN

3.        Mary Farnsworth, CA

4.        Lisa Parkes, MI

5.        Susan Schaugg, MI

MIDGET BOYS

1.        John Chang, MI, 7mi in 24:29.54

2.        Steve MacGregor, WI

3.        Hector Jacome, CA

4.        John Coyle, MI

5.        Jamie Carney, NJ

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 7mi in 39:59

2.        Lisa Andreu, MI

 

1980 – Track – San Diego, CA, Aug. 20-23

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT -Final for 1st and 2nd: Sue Novara-Reber, MI, beat Pam Deem, PA, 2,0

INTERMEDIATE BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Tim Volker, IA, 19

2.        Brad Hetlet, WI, 11

3.        Bobby Livingston, GA, 10

4.        Joe Chang, WI, 4

5.        Frankie Andreu, MI, 4

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Susan Schaugg, MI, 14

2.        Dedra Chamberlin, CA, 9

3.        Amy Saling, NJ, 7

4.        Mary Krippendorf, WI, 7

5.        Lisa Parkes, MI, 6

MIDGET BOYS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        John Coyle, MI, 19

2.        Jamie Carney, NJ, 11

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Celeste Andrau, MI, 17

2.        Jennie Gesquiere, MI, 15

 

1981 Bear Mountain, NY, Aug. 3-9

INTERMEDIATE BOYS

1.        Gordon Holterman, VA, 33mi in 1:33:47

2.        David Farmer, PA

3.        Frankie Andreu, MI

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS

1.        Elizabeth Keyser, CA, 23.4mi in 1:15:15

2.        Bozena Zalewski, NJ

3.        Celeste Andreu, MI

MIDGET GIRLS

1.        Lisa Andreu, MI, 11.7mi in 38:17

2.        Joella Harrison, AZ

3.        Gina Novara, M

 

1981 Track – Trexlertown, PA, Aug. 11-16

SENIOR WOMEN MATCH SPRINT –  Final for lat and 2nd: Sheila Young-Ochowicz, WI, beat Connie Paraskevin, MI, 2,0

Final for 3rd and 4th: Sue Navara-Reber, MI, beat Betsy Davis, NJ, 2,0

INTERMEDIATE GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Rene Duprel, WA, 19

2.        Celeste Andreu, MI, 15

MIDGET GIRLS OMNIUM OVERALL STANDINGS

1.        Jenny Gesquiere, MI, 21

2.        Gina Novara, MI, 15

3.        Alicia Andreu, MI, 9

 

This list only represents cycling nationals – note the rising tide of MI athletes on the national stage.

 What is missing is the world and Olympic results for cycling and the same results for speedskating. Champions like Gold, Silver and Bronze Olympic medalist Sheila Young, World Champion Roger Young, World Champion and Olympic medalists Connie Paraskevan, World Champion Sue Novara, 9 Times Tour de France Rider and Olympic 4th place finisher Frankie Andreu – and on and on the list is a Who’s Who of American cyclists and speedskaters.

The Best Birthday Gift: The Gift of Others' Really Living Moments

I recently celebrated my birthday, and a dear friend who has been along for the Art of Really Living journey managed to give me an "event horizon" moment to remember as a gift. On Wednesday a.m. I received a FedEx package early delivery the day after my birthday and inside it contained these treasures - a typed note from my friend, and 11 hand written cards and notes from 11 girls at a camp. What's unique about these girls is that they all suffer from forms of chronic illness and things that most of us take for granted are a constant source of challenge for them.

IMG_2232.JPG

 

I opened the box and read the note from my friend Andrea:

---------

John, while at camp, I was inspired to share your Manifesto with my campers.

On Wednesday night, I let them go to sleep as usual: lights out at 11 pm. I waited until all of them were asleep and then I quietly woke each of them up. I told them to put on shoes and sweats and to grab a flashlight and a blanket.

I walked them to a field, told them to lie down, and look up - the meteor shower had started. After about a half hour of quiet observation, I asked them if it was okay if I played something for them. I explained that it was something that had a profound effect on me and that I felt this environment was a perfect place in which to share it with them. And so, we listened.

I know many of them had never seen a shooting star before in their life. I also know that none of them had ever heard anything like what they had just heard. I know this because they told me so. One of my girls was moved to the point of tears.

While walking back, I asked if they’d be willing to share what they took away from the Manifesto. I explained that it was your birthday coming up and that I feel that there is no better gift to give someone than to show them how their life matters. They all enthusiastically agreed.

Some of them wrote narratives and others simply made word clouds of the things they felt represented #reallyliving while at camp. What you DON’T see contained in here is, regrettably, probably the most amazing part. We had multiple conversations about what it means to really live. For the remainder of camp they were excited to tell me how they took a risk they wouldn’t have taken before hearing your work. They were excited to tell me about things they wanted to go home and do because of your work.

On behalf of all of us, thank you. Thank you for affording us that moment to #reallylive and bond and share in that experience. Know that you made a difference in the life of 11 people who are young enough to really make great change for years to come.

I couldn’t think of a better time to tell you how important you are and how important the work you do is than on your birthday.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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I have been working on the "manifesto" on and off for nearly a year now - first recording the vocals, then layering in music and sound effects, and now, with my partner-in-crime Michael Ziener we are layering in hundreds of images and short videos. Attached here is the audio only version of what the girls heard:

It moved me to tears that something that has been so inspired and inspiring to me could be meaningful to the girls of this camp - as young as 12 years old. So I decided to write them a note through their counselor to let them know how much it mattered.

-----------

To the campers of camp Oasis:

Yesterday I received one of the greatest birthday gifts of my life: the considered thoughts and ruminations of fellow dwellers on this errant planet thinking deeply about what is important, and sharing those thoughts with me. I can imagine it: a dozen of you up on a hill on your backs black in the grass watching the brilliant streaks and smoke trails of meteors, simultaneously disappearing into the immensity of the universe and yet recognizing the proximity of your humanity and the bonds you have with each other.

Thank you for including me, for a moment, in your thoughts. Against the ramparts of the stars, the tides of the wind, and on a mattress of blades you included me in your world and we drew each other into possibility. I don't know you, yet I KNOW you. You suffer, you face daunting challenges, you aren't like everyone else. You too are shooting stars.

I answered a survey yesterday that had the following question, "I go out of my way to spare my friends and people I care about from suffering." I didn't know how to answer it. But now I do. My answer? "Strongly disagree." I wouldn't take this suffering from you, I wouldn't steal this incredible crucible of living and learning from you. You hate it at times I'm sure, but it will design you, refine you, galvanize you, define you. Years from now others will fail to have empathy, will crumble under pressure, will struggle with crisis and you will stolidly stand firm, knowing, "I've been through worse."

Burn bright my meteorites.

-JKC

A "Really Living" Moment in Time - guest post by Pauline Steinhoffer

(Guest Post by Pauline Steinhoffer)

Last week I had a very special Really Living moment with my son, Dante, age six, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Due to the drought, the south shore is so shallow that you can walk out 150 yards (at least) in ankle or knee-deep water. I took Dante out quite far and then told him we were going under water. He was confused because he'd been swimming all week in the pool and we'd been out on the lake paddle-boarding and kayaking, and he wasn't sure why it was necessary to walk so far out in order to dunk ourselves in the depths of the lake.

I know from experience that summer is simply not complete without submerging oneself in an alpine lake. It's so different from any other kind of water experience. The water is crisp and cool and invigorating and puts you fully in the moment. Nature's baptism. The sun was setting when I went under first. I came up for air feeling completely transformed. Dante noticed immediately and he quickly went under water. He emerged with the most triumphant "YES!!" I've ever heard from him.

I have no idea how much time we spent out there splashing, unable to stop laughing, and sharing a pretty incredible experience together, but I will never forget it.

Where Did Summer Go? Why So Fast?

(News story idea - we have pitched to the Today show and local TV)

The summer of 2015 will have 94 days, 2232 hours 133,920 minutes and 8,035,200 seconds. This is the exact same number of seconds as a summer when you were 8 years old. Yet, when you were a kid, summers lasted "forever." Now, however, with 35 days left, summer is fading quickly and will disappear in a wisp of nostalgia. "Where did the time go?" you ask.  

Why does time feel this way? If it is not true that summers have fewer hours and minutes and seconds, then it must be a collective error in our perceptions. Can something be done to slow, stop, and reverse this perceived acceleration of time?  Can we go back to experiencing summers as long as those when we were kids? 

Horologist and "counterclockwise" specialist John K. Coyle, has some answers. "98% of adults feel this slipping away and acceleration of time, but it is just not true - it is cognitive bias - cognitive error. Therefore if a cognitive error is causing time to accelerate clockwise, what if we could manipulate our brains in a counterclockwise way and 'unwind cognitive time'?"  

John has discovered how to do exactly this. He has uncovered 3 rules that govern experiential time and that allow you to slow, expand, even 'create' time. According to John,  "I experience time in a way that is fundamentally different than most other adults, and is even more expansive than when I was a child." 

http://days.to/summer/2015

John will be sharing some of these ideas in his role as the lead-off keynote speaker at Chicago Ideas Week - Edison Talks (October 16th). There he will be discussing his upcoming book "Counterclockwise: Unwinding Cognitive Time". John is available for interviews and discussion at your convenience. You will never see time in quite in the same way. 

FYI -- John spent much of his life turning counterclockwise chasing time as a world class track cyclist and Olympic medal winning speed skater.  

There are 86,400 ticks of the clock. Every single day...

Are you "Killing Time?" or "Making Time?"

“The most dangerous aspect of the comfort zone is that it seems to affect our hearing. The more comfortable we are, the more oblivious we become to the sound of the ticking clock. Because there will always seem to be so much time ahead of us, we unwittingly squander the present moment. We use it for entertaining ourselves rather than for preparing ourselves...

Each of us must pause frequently to remind ourselves that the clock is ticking. The same clock that began to tick from the moment we drew our first breath will also someday cease.”

—Jim Rohn, "The Five Major Keys to the Life Puzzle"


You Believe the “The Earth is Flat” and Don’t Even Know It…

The earth is flat…. Right? You say "no," stat, because you know better than that. Because you've been taught that Columbus sailed the ocean blue and Magellan went around it too: mastering the complex blue fractal of earth's winds, clouds and tides about 500 years ago proved this view to be true. 

You also know and can see the obvious evidence available to your senses: the fact that the other visible celestial bodies - like the moon and Venus - transit from full circles to crescent shapes regularly, clear markings of the lighting on their surfaces prescribing a sphere. Or there's the simple and obvious observation that, when you climb up high, you can't see the "end of the world" and instead objects (like ships) disappear over the horizon, indicating, yet again, a curvature to the earth and hence the (now) obvious "truth" that the earth is NOT flat.

Yet…yet, until recently a majority of the world believed that the earth was flat. Until Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle began describing the earth as a sphere, no one challenged this conventional belief, and as late as the 17th century the notion had not yet penetrated mainland China. These sophisticated cultures built the pyramids and the Hagia Sophia, and invented Algebra, Trigonometry and the keystone. Yet these geniuses ignored obvious evidence, surrounding them day in and day out, and instead followed the simple, logical, yet completely farcical explanation that the earth was flat. 

Right now, around the globe, all of modern culture is subscribing to the same kind of fallacy and one perhaps even more obvious. This error is pervasive at all levels, ages, regions and demographics, and its limitations on society are far more significant than those of the flat earth belief system. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, nearly every human being on the planet believes in the equivalent of "the earth is flat". This belief is limiting exploration, creativity and the possibility of future eventualities in the exact same way - but even more dramatically. Let's compare and contrast:

The earth is not flat
The earth is not flat
The earth is not flat

There is no such thing as linear time
There is no such thing as linear time
There is no such thing as linear time

The way we experience time is anything but linear and chronological. Hourly, daily, monthly, annually we experience seemingly odd yet natural fluctuations of experiential time. But we confabulate reasons to justify our experiences according to a view of chronological time that is the logical equivalent of the "earth is flat."  "Wow, our kids grow up so fast." "The summers keep getting shorter." “Where did the years go?” "That (3 hour meeting) lasted forever." "That (3 hour) dinner with a close friend was over in a second." “This day lasted forever.” “This day was over in a flash.” “The days are long, but the years are short.” “Was that really a decade ago? Seems like yesterday.” “That was last week but it seems like forever ago.”

Here's some quick facts. Our brains, which regulate our perception of time, don't have a central clock. More accurately there are a whole bunch of clocks that regulate our cognitive perception of time. Absent corrective action our brains will start to constrict the flow of time through our brains, and like water through a garden hose, will cause the perception of time to accelerate - just like putting your thumb over the end of the hose. 

But here is the good news. This is all cognitive bias - all cognitive error. Its just not true. It's not "real" any more than the perception that the earth was flat was real. If our brains have a cognitive bias around the process of experiencing time, then we can design a way to circumnavigate this bias and slow, stop and even reverse the acceleration of time. I am proud and happy to say that my life's mission, my passion, and every ounce of my intellectual and physical energy for the last 15 years has been devoted to doing exactly this, to going "counterclockwise" fighting time and that I've discovered ways to slow, stop and reverse the acceleration of time and “really live” almost forever. 

I'm working on the book now - "©ounter©lockWise: Unwinding Cognitive Time" (thank you Tom Stat for the title and logo) but for now I will be posting regularly on what I've discovered over the past 15 years of research, exploring and experimenting with the “physics” of cognitive time. Please go to the Welcome page and subscribe to receive email updates to the blog or weekly summaries. Watch for my upcoming webinars, and join me in person for our upcoming Summit on Resiliency (September 17). 

ents.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=bzfz4usab&oeidk=a07eatrgdm58dd9ace1

Have you experienced time in a way that was not linear, not chronological?  Please share it below.

When Quitting is Good: Guest Post by Brent Hortze

I used to be a manager in a large box home improvement store. I thought life was going great, I had finally found a job where I was making a lot of money and my department was ranking in top 5-10 each month nationally. I was on what seemed like the fast track to being promoted. This perceived happiness was short lived. I found my overall happiness in life going down and at a pretty fast pace. The money was a false sense of joy and didn’t offset the fact that I was working anywhere from 60-80 hours a week depending on the time of year, having no holidays off, only every other weekend, and no time for friends, family, or a life outside of work.

I found myself getting frustrated at work, realizing that the money wasn’t worth the time I was putting in at my job and my quality of life was pretty low, I began to look at other options. As my search for a new career continued, I received a call from the Boy Scouts of America. Something clicked in my head when I was preparing for my interview. I had always enjoyed working with people, helping people, and wanted to find a job that cared about me and my life outside of work. Going in I knew this would be a perfect fit for where I wanted to be, I nailed the two interviews and accepted a new job my new work schedule is flexible, they care about how I am doing with my career and are very flexible and understanding when it comes to family.

I have been with the Boy Scouts of America for the past 3 years and haven’t looked back or regretted my decision to quit and move on once. In the process there were times when I was questioning my decision to possibly leave, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

If and when that should happen to you: fight through it, change isn’t always easy and allowing yourself to have the courage to take the road less traveled almost always has an extremely rewarding outcome. The main take away for me was, following your strengths and passions sometimes means quitting for the right reasons. Everyone deserves to be truly happy and have a high quality of life, find your strengths and GO FOR IT!

 Brent and fiance Kimberly

Brent and fiance Kimberly

How to Live Forever: John K Coyle Introduces The Art of Really Living – Videoblog

(Rough Transcript)

Hello, I’m John K. Coyle and welcome to the Art of Really Living. As you can see behind me, its possible I may have a small obsession with time (or the fancy word “horology”. Let me ask you this, compared with a summer now, how long did summers last as an 8 year old? Well I have asked that question to over 300 people and 64% of them said “forever.” So, wait, are their less seconds in a summer now than their used to be? On this site and in my ongoing research we will be exploring some big questions like this. Here’s another – “what are you best at?” are you living a life focused on your natural strengths? Do you know what they are or how to find them? Or are you living, as Thoreau says, a life " of quiet desperation?"

Or this: Are you resilient? Do you grow from life’s natural stresses or are you becoming more fragile with each new challenge chipping away at your resolve? What can you do to become “antifragile” and get stronger to handle life’s challenges?

Finally, if the most important commodity in our lives is time, are you time starved or time saturated? I’m not talking about “time management” or getting things done, I'm asking the truly deep question of “are you killing time… or are you making time.” Are you killing time… or are you making time…?

This website, the blog, my speeches, and upcoming books will be exploring the intersection of these three challenges: strengths, resiliency, and time and how to design a life to maximize them.

I’ll end with a favorite quote from Abraham Lincoln.

"In the end, it's not the years in your life that counts. It's the life in your years"

The Key to Memorable “Really Living” Vacations? Fear and Suffering - Part 2: Vultures in Baja

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Want to go on unforgettable, time-stopping vacations that create an indelible stamp on your memory? One guaranteed way: design in, or stumble onto some form of fear and suffering. Almost always the best and most primary memories have incidents of suffering involved that in the moment were a crisis or a struggle, but with the patina of time and under the golden gloss of memory have subsequently become the highlights of those stories you tell. The human brain is wired to identify with the hero’s journey or monomyth and each hero’s journey contains elements of stress and crisis as the center of the plot. Odds are good, your best vacation stories include some sort of challenge or crisis. Part 2: Vultures in Baja.

As a part of any vacation I always do a search online as well as ask people who have been to the destination about “secret” destinations at the locale, specifically either swimming holes, hidden beaches or dramatic overlooks that are not full of people. Back when we lived in Arizona, Baja beckoned as its vast emptiness was only a 3 hour drive from Phoenix (call to adventure) and in my research I had stumbled upon a secret swimming hole and camping spot oddly positioned dozens of miles out into the desert. It was a bartender in San Felipe, Mexico that originally told us about it in secretive tones (assistance).

A month later we drove across the Arizona - Mexico border at Yuma (departure) and immediately our senses were overwhelmed with new sights, sounds and smells. In the border town of Los Algodones the most noticeable details were the innumerable scraps of garbage flapping in the breeze and the cute barefoot children shouting for our attention as they hawked gum and tissues anytime we stopped for a streetlight.  Open air taco stands emanated blue smoke and the aromas of cilantro, onion and grilled carne asada. We exited the town to a new pattern of emanations: patches of arid desert and the dry smell of sage and dust, contrasting with blooms of humidity near stream fed cotton fields redolent of damp earth and clay. For the next 20 miles we traversed the dying entrails of the Colorado river feeding the farms serving the maquiladoras lining the border. Eventually we passed out of the farmland into the moonscape of the Baja peninsula, traversing switchbacks up into stunted outcrops of twisted rock, aprons filled with smooth white sand.

baja1

After climbing the cordon of foothills guarding the peninsula we descended to a 100 mile stretch of dead straight tarmac across the salt flats - remnants of the tidal swings of the Sea of Cortez. Visibility was probably 50 miles in the desert air. With no other vehicles in sight, we set the convertible's cruise control at 105mph and, watching the sun start to sink to our right over the rising ramparts of San Pedro mountains, we flew south on eagle's wings.

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30 miles from San Felipe was the crossroads I had read about in advance - a paved road heading inland and climbing across the cordillera of the Sierra San Pedro before descending to the Pacific ocean.

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We turned right and headed inland for twenty miles before the key decision point from my research: "as the road bends north there will be a number of sand roads heading towards El Diablo - the tallest peak - choose one and just keep heading west."

baja6

We were in a low slung BMW, and we were worried about bogging down, but my source had assured me, "this is a salt flat - most of the way will be like a highway until the final wadis and streams near El Diablo". We headed west on a parallel set of sand tracks. El Diablo, a 10,000 foot peak rising straight out of the sea level salt flats, grew with each passing mile. Soon we entered a 10 mile section of salt flats. To the left and right it stretched for dozens of miles but straight ahead, the "devil peak" grew ever larger and darker as the sun began to sink behind it.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 11.31.57 AM

On the salt flat I let the straight six of the BMW roar and decided to see how fast we could go, hitting 110, 115, 120, 125mph before letting out the clutch and coasting towards the encroaching greenery as we entered the shadow of El Diablo.

My directions, scoured online from several sources, suggested we would skirt a horse farm before hitting the boulder strewn foothills at the base of El Diablo. There were dozens of forks in the road and we ended up circling for a while (trials) and getting nervous as the sun continued to set but after trial and error I found another fairly light set of tracks heading west and we followed them. True to the guidance, we passed a crumbling horse ranch and stable, and then finally started gaining a bit of elevation as we neared the foot of the peak (approach).

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 11.35.02 AM

Soon the sand lanes converged, and we entered a copse of trees in a circular space with no exit without 4 wheel drive. We had arrived. We were speechless with excitement. Above us reared a mountain that went from scorched desert to snow capped tips nearly straight up. Out of its maw was a "river" which, at this time of year, was a small trickle of a stream. As we were to discover later, in a desert with no sources of water, this trickle was a main artery for life of all sizes and kinds.

We layered ourselves with sleeping bags and pads, food and wine, and hiked 1/4 mile into the ravine where the mountain formed a cleft protecting its water source. Soon we could see it, hear it and smell it - sudden humidity in the dry desert air. Then, there it was: pools of crystal clear water flowing down from on high and heading out to dissipate in the salt and sand. We climbed onto a giant -  and I do mean giant - boulder perhaps 15 feet high, 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. It was smooth granite with a flat top and provided a space to sleep and light a fire. There was only one fairly difficult route onto its surface so we felt safe from predators.

baja7

We did not bring a tent - this was part of the magic of desert camping - no rain and no dew. The air was cooling quickly but our boulder radiated the heat of the day to warm us even as the sun disappeared behind El Diablo. We sat and watched the desert and salt flats light up yellow then orange from the shade of our perch. We were safe and warm, dozens of miles from the next human being, but not, as it turns out, from other living things.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 11.39.08 AM

After dark we lit a fire and made dinner. Then we stretched out on our sleeping bags on the smooth granite as our fire died. There was no moon yet. The Milky Way emerged so brightly that we noticed we were casting shadows from the stars. We watched satellite after satellite traverse the skies and then a meteor shower so bright we could see the smoke trails behind the burning meteorites in the deep black sky. We then fell asleep.

An hour or two later we met our first wet sticky thing. It was a frog. A tree frog. On my face. My fiancé screamed, "what is it….?? (trials) Oh Its a cute frog… oh, there are lots of them…" Over the next 15 minutes several hundred sticky wet green and yellow-eyed tree frogs hopped across our campsite, traversing our boulder lair in the sky to ponds or trees unknown. One of them, sadly, landed in a mostly empty wine glass and we discovered his drunken cadaver the next morning. We were later reminded of him by his red police chalk outline at home as we loaded the dishwasher.

An hour passed and then a new intrusion waking us up (trials): cattle. A whole herd. With bells on. They came to drink at the clear font at the base of our boulder and then continued their starlight trek south. They stayed, noisily, for an hour.

More sleep and then another interruption: another set of strange sounds but this time familiar: the sound of horsemen straight out of the movies. Lots of them. Now we were scared. Bandits? (trials) In the dark, 3 dozen horses suddenly appeared surrounding us at about 3 am. But there were no saddles and no riders. Just a band of wild horses there to drink. Another hour, and they clopped their way over the rocks and past us, straight up the mountain to places unknown.

We slept uneasily for a bit until my fiancé screamed again (trials). She was sitting up, eyes wide, and pointing.  With the flashlight I found the 8 inch long "stick bug" that had alighted on her arm in the dark. I was transfixed.

stabheuschrecke-carausius-morosus-59182290-5d9a-4036-b335-61ac14503bac

She transferred him to me and I was fascinated - I had always wanted to see one of these strange creatures and here he was, just lounging on my arm looking exactly like a twig, but moving with robotic movements across my wrist. I let him go and we laid back down wondering what was next.

No more intruders woke us, and we slept well into the burning rays of the dawn until the desert sun heat started becoming uncomfortable. We rose, stretched, packed and climbed down to the car, loading everything swiftly and then driving the narrow track back past the horse farm and onto the salt flats. I was feeling cocky and let the engine roar again. We approached 100, 110 mph before an intuition caused me to slow… too late - a Wadi (creek) stretched before us and even after locking up the brakes, the BMW bounced down and then back up the cut in the salt flats at 50mph. We were thrown against our seat belts as we bottomed out, and as we emerged onto the salt flat the sound of the engine changed and the temperature gauge immediately began to rise as smoke started from the engine. I knew something was terribly wrong and stopped and jumped out of the car to witness all of the remaining motor oil in the engine block gushing out onto the dry salt. Peering underneath there was a baseball sized hole in the aluminum oil tank punched through like tin foil from a rock in the Wadi.

We grabbed our remaining water (slightly less than 1 gallon), and began walking, knowing full well that San Felipe was about 60 miles away and that the nearest paved road was about 11 miles further, and that it was 11am and already 100+ degrees. (Crisis) We walked. We talked… for a little and then got quiet. About an hour later we noticed the wake of vultures that had started circling us (real name for a group of vultures). I thought it was circumstantial, but after another hour the initial 2 or 3 became more like 15 and stayed directly overhead – it stopped being funny. I cursed them.

Our hope lay in the possibility of hitchhiking for the highway, but there was no rest from the burning sun. The heat was unbearable with absolutely no shade. We finished our water within two hours. Thoughts turned to returning to the car to wait until night or me running ahead to try to find help. We were beyond terrified that we could die out there and I was feeling guilt and terror that I might have killed us both.

Then suddenly… in the distance we saw it. Two dust devils, contrails of sand wisping vertically out on the salt flat and then, the faint sound of motors. Like a mirage, two motorbikes appeared in the distance across the salt flat out of nowhere. They sped directly toward us.

They were naturally curious as to our situation. "If you don’t mind me asking, why are you walking through the desert in over 100 degree temperatures?" They asked. We shared our story empty water jug in hand. They conferred, and then shared some water, then they saddled us on their bikes, turned around and rode the 6 miles back to our car. They conferred again, and then pulled out some tubes of  "liquid steel" goo, mashed two packs of it together, and slid under the car. They patched the hole with the clay-like silver material and then gave us the 2 quarts of oil they were carrying. (treasure) Our relief was palpable.

"Let it cure for an hour. It should get you to San Felipe - you can get it fixed there. Here’s some more water." Our good fortune and gratefulness was lost in their smiles and the willful adventure calling them forward - they sped off in the desert in a trail of dust. An hour later we started the car, peering under the chassis to determine that the patch was holding. It held. We drove, slowly, with only two quarts in an engine that holds six.

We drove slowly and made it to San Felipe without overheating (results) . We bought more oil and inquired about repairs. 7 days for the part they said, another day to do the repair. That wasn't going to work, so we spent a day at the beach and an evening on the town, reveling in our good fortune.

modernsanfelipe

The following day we drove all the way home at 45mph… 7.5 hours to Phoenix on a drive that normally took 5, with a band-aid of liquid steel holding our oil pan together but made it without event (return).

Home at last we began to unpack and re-discovered the outline of the upside down drunken frog in one of our wine glasses. We marveled about that trip for years and wanted to recreate it, (new life) but our next visit found us barred by the Mexican military as the area had started to become a drug trafficking center (result). I suppose it was for the best - any return would only have diminished the magic of that starry starry night, casting shadows from the stars.