Monthly Archive: August 2014

What Nature Taught Me About Productivity

NatureYesterday, I found myself working at my computer for most of the day. I was getting lots of work done, but still felt restless and unsatisfied.

Yearning for a bit of a break, I decided to get outside and go for a walk. Within 15 minutes I ended up near one of Toronto’s ravines, and when I found an access point to get down the steep slope, I descended.

Suddenly, I was transported from my urban and industrial neighbourhood into a tranquil chunk of nature, complete with lush foliage and rocky river.

As I hiked along one of the forest paths, I got a sudden surge of energy. It started to lightly rain, and the smells of the trees and plants intensified. The air seemed full of electricity. My pace picked up, and I was aware of my own breathing. It was hard to believe that this stretch of nature lay right in the middle of such a huge city.

What an incredible contrast to being glued to a computer screen in my office. I felt a sense of freedom, of being liberated from technology and our modern world.

My shoes came off so I could feel the soft earth beneath my bare feet, and soon after I removed my shirt at well.

I used to think that taking time to wander without purpose was unproductive.

I associated it with being lazy. What about all the work that needs to get done?

Boy, was I wrong. But fortunately, we can all learn from our own mistakes.

Here are some things that nature taught me about productivity:

1. Time Spent in Nature Improves Cognitive Function

It’s not just enough to recharge our batteries by taking breaks. Recent studies suggest that exposure to nature is essential for us to operate at our full mental capacities. Even looking at pictures of natural scenes can improve brain function, but I suggest that there’s no substitute for the real thing. Nature clears out the cobwebs.

2. Mental Downtimes Give Us a Higher Level View of Our Work

Most people spend more than half their day just receiving and managing information. We’re under a deluge of data, obsessively checking our smartphones, looking at emails, and bouncing from one app to the next. Taking a break to get outside and exposing yourself to the environment and natural elements is not only liberating, it helps reduce our distractions. The sense of busyness almost evaporates. Tension dissipates and things become clearer. We find what’s really important.

3. Nature Encourages Movement and Activity

We’ve become a nation of professional sitters. And while going to a gym can help you achieve specific fitness goals, there’s nothing like getting outside and just moving naturally. Hiking, climbing over fallen logs, jumping from rock to rock, clambering up steep slopes on all fours — there are countless opportunities to move. It’s well established that regular exercise improves productivity, and I suggest that moving naturally outdoors has far greater benefits than any treadmill or pec deck could ever offer.

4. Nature Recharges Us

Honking horns, sirens, crowded sirens, beeping cellphones all cause us to react and exert attention which can easily become depleted. In contrast, natural areas don’t have as many distractions and the environment is more pleasing to look at. The preference towards things in nature (biophilia) has been well studied. It’s deeply rooted in our ancient biology and our need to survive. If you want to have greater attention to be productive, you’ll want to take a walk in the woods, or at least a park.

5.  Sometimes You Have to Get Tough

Conditions aren’t always ideal. Winter makes things difficult, and when it’s pouring rain you don’t immediately think of going out. But nature’s benefits are still there, so sometimes you have to just suck it up. Any apprehension you have will evaporate once you get out there.

6. Disconnect.

A camera can be helpful, but beyond that there shouldn’t be any need to stay connected. You don’t need to chat on the phone or check Facebook. You don’t even need your wearable fitness tracker. Who cares about how many steps you’re taking or how many calories you’re burning? Let your mind and body run free and live in the moment.

7. Look for Natural Places in the City

You don’t need to have access to a national park to take in nature. There are plenty of outdoor spaces right in the city. From parkettes to playgrounds, think outside the box.

8. Play

Don’t think you have to act like an adult. Play like a little kid. And breathe deeply.

Here’s a quick video of me yesterday. It was raining, and the wooden structure I found (designed for daredevil mountain bikers to scream down) was really slippery, so I had to be mindful and take my time. I’m absolutely convinced that doing this kind of stuff helps keep you young.

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How to Set Goals that Stick

How to Set GoalsDo you have health goals? Are you trying to lose weight or get back into shape?

Many do set some kind of fitness-related goal (especially around New Year’s), but they often get forgotten about. That got me thinking about how to set goals that stick. If you’re able to make them hang around long enough, you might actually reach them. Imagine that!

You may have heard about setting SMART goals: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely. But I think there’s a step missing before you can actually set a SMART goal. Ask yourself:

– What’s your REAL REASON for setting the goal in the first place?

So, if your goal is to lose weight, or get back into shape — ask yourself “why?”. Finding your “why” will find you your motivation.

Finding the “why” also helps you focus on habits, not on potential outcomes (which may not even be realistic). You see, we’re not programmed to think in the long term; we’re programmed to think about the “right now” and the immediate future. That’s why we panic over losing our wallet or keys, but don’t take much action to conquer global warming or acid rain.

– Focus on POSITIVE HABITS, not FUTURE OUTCOMES

You see, outcomes root all your happiness in some potential future state. A state that may not even be realistic. But you have to be happy in the present too. What good are future results when you’re living in the present?

All I’m saying is that potential future happiness shouldn’t mean misery today.

For example, a man wants to lose 30 pounds so he goes on a restrictive diet. He’s convinced he’ll be happier once he loses the weight, but he hates the diet and the foods he’s forced to eat. Or consider a young woman who wants to get fit and takes up running. She wants to be like her lean friends who take part in a running club. But she find running very hard, and doesn’t like having to get up before 6am every morning to join them.

Those people’s goal will likely fail.

So before you set a goal, even a SMART goal, ask yourself the following:

– Does this goal improve my day-to-day life? Does it make me happier?
If not, is there anything I can do to modify it?

– Am I focused on habits (not just outcomes) that improve my daily existence?

One of the things I do every morning is ask myself what habits I can do that would make my day amazing.

It doesn’t have to be a bit thing; it could be working on my shoulder mobility, spending 30 minutes in nature, or preparing my meals for the next day.

What do your goals look like? How do you make your stick?

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August 14, 2014 No Comments

Walking Your Way to Longevity

Walk Your Way to LongevityToday, my workout involved nothing more than a leisurely walk. I didn’t do anything intense and my heart rate was not elevated. And that was likely the best thing I could have done for my health today…I feel less stress (in fact I feel pretty relaxed), my body feels recovered from harder workouts this week, and I’m more mentally focused.

Ancestral hunter-gatherers likely walked an average of 9 to 15km every day (Marlowe 2010), often carrying food, supplies and their children. They engaged in food preparation, tool-making, hunting and fishing — all low intensity work. And elders in traditional populations even today do a lot of low-intensity movement. They’re not chronically addicted to high- intensity exercise (although they occasionally work hard)…and many live long and healthy lives.

So when I say “walking your way to longevity”, I really mean it. Regular low-intensity movement helps prevent inflammation and damage from oxidization — things that can eventually lead to chronic diseases. It not only promotes healthy metabolic functions and body composition levels, it also provides the base for more strenuous activity when required. And it certainly reduces stress.

Here are some things you can do to improve your state of being:

  • Take a long walk outdoors.
  • Spend some time in nature, even if it’s a city park.
  • Gor for a hike
  • Cycle
  • Work on the garden
  • Play with your kids or your dog

What can you do right now (or at least today)?

Remember — it’s not always about hitting the weights. Sometimes you have to get outside and hit the grass!

 

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August 6, 2014 No Comments

Greg Carver: My Personal Values for Health

personal valuesEvery now and then, I think it’s important to re-evaluate one’s personal values and overall identity. I find it a helpful exercise that gets me in touch with what’s important to me, and where I should focus going forward. It also helps me simplify things, as a person who tends to try and take on too much at once.
Going through the exercise, I think about what inspires me, what I like to do and what I feel strongly about. I also think about things I’m set against, as these ‘anti-values’ help reveal other things about which I’m passionate. As you will see, my values are aligned with my thoughts on physical culture, fitness for people over 40, and for staying healthy and pain-free throughout life.

I’ve been influenced by other coaches and mentors, of course. Leaders such as Erwan LeCorre (founder of MovNat) and Coach Steve Maxwell of Maxwell Strength and Conditioning. Both are friends and have helped me shape my views and determine what I stand for. And my RawBrahs friends helped motivate me and encouraged me to open up without worrying about judgement from others.

Here’s how I’d define my current core values:

Core Values:

  1. Eating minimally processed, traditional foods
  2. Focusing on habits that improve day-to-day reality (mood, energy level, reduced stress, etc)
  3. Encouraging people to move every day. Going for walks.
  4. Being able to play and experiment with natural movements at any age, regardless of physical capabilities or limitations
  5. Promoting healthy aging by being a positive role model
  6. Becoming and staying strong, mobile and lean
  7. Being physically able in a wide varieties of tasks
  8. Disconnecting. Spending more time outside, especially in nature.
  9. Making small changes; slowly building good habits and putting them gradually into practice
  10. Flexibility and self-experimentation

Anti-Values / What I dislike:

  1. Diets
  2. Prioritizing potential future outcomes (i.e. weight loss) over daily positive habits
  3. Turning every single workout into a competition or personal challenge
  4. Societal pressures that discourage people from doing playful physical activities because they’re “strictly for kids” or are unsafe for older people
  5. Those who sell the promise of fitness, health or weight loss, but who rely on gimmicks and products rather than lifestyle changes
  6. Over-emphasis on cardio and endurance, especially for older people
  7. Specialization. Fitness trends and crazes.
  8. Always seeking comfort
  9. “All or nothing” approaches
  10. Rigidity, tribalism, extremism

I think that once you’re clear on what you’re “about”, life gets easier to manage. How do you define your own values and personal identity?

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August 2, 2014 No Comments