Know When to Grit it Out — and When to Quit

I did my first handstand in 2013 and quickly became obsessed. But like many pursuits, whether it’s chasing a hobby, pursuing career goals, or building a relationship, I eventually found myself at a crossroads: Should I persevere or pivot? My journey into the world of handstands began earnestly. Every day, I dedicated a chunk of …

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How to Shorten Your Learning Curve in Any Craft

  “Oof.” I let out an involuntary noise as my opponent, a nameless guy at least fifty pounds heavier than me, slams my legs down, baseball slides his hips to the opposite side, and pins me to the mat. The last of the air in my chest releases as he does so. Since starting jiu-jitsu …

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The Surprising Truth About Reaching Your Goals (it’s Not About Big Gains)

Recently, at my jiu-jitsu academy, the instructor began the class like this:

“I know you all want to be great. You want to make progress, fast. But always aiming for big gains is a mistake. They’re not going to happen very often. Instead, aim to get one percent better — every single day.”

And he’s right. When working toward any goal, we rarely make big leaps overnight. Instead, we should expect our progress to add up little by little over time.

Of course, this is easy to tell others and hard to practice ourselves. Each time I step onto the jiu-jitsu mat, I’m secretly hoping for a breakthrough. Instead, I have to remind myself that pushing myself just a little harder every day will eventually result in significant long-term progress.

Whether your goal is to become a better artist, musician, writer, or jiu-jitsu athlete, your focus should be less on the big gains and more on small, daily, incremental progress. Here are three things to pay attention to when trying to get better at any craft:

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The Five Stages of Learning and How to Apply Them to Any Skill

  “A certain naïveté is prerequisite to all learning. A certain optimism is prerequisite to all action.” — George Leonard Beginning a new learning journey can be exciting. Beginnings are full of hope and possibilities. Starting something new can give us a glimpse of what could be if we stick with something long enough to see it through. …

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How Your Mindset Can Impact Your Fitness Journey

How Your Mindset Can Impact Your Fitness Journey

Think about the last time you tried something new on your health and fitness journey and struggled with it.

Did the struggle make you feel hopeless? Did you consider giving up (“I’ll never be good at this, so I might as well not even try”)?

Or did encountering the struggle give you a boost of motivation (“I won’t let this thing beat me. I’ll keep trying until I get it”)?

If you responded the first way, you most likely have what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success calls a fixed mindset. In this way of thinking, effort is seen as a bad thing. If you have to put effort into something, that means you’re imperfect. Having to work hard is a defect. If you don’t succeed, or you’re not the very best, everything feels pointless — your efforts wasted. ⁣

The alternative, a growth mindset, means that you’re focused on overall growth, not just one specific outcome. ⁣

You run to get better at running, not just to win a single race. You train to become stronger and more well-rounded, not just to get one PR. You challenge yourself to try new things and grow as an athlete over time.

With a growth mindset, your effort is never wasted because you’re never focused solely on results. Effort is worthwhile regardless of the outcome. Putting in effort is meaningful because in trying, you allow yourself to take a chance and go all-in, even if you don’t end up where you expected you would.

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The Minimalist’s Bodyweight Strength Workout

The Minimalist's Bodyweight Strength Workout

There’s a common misconception among people looking to get stronger and fitter that you need to lift heavy weights to build strength.

I’ve been a personal trainer for over ten years, and I can tell you that this just isn’t true. Although weights can be one way to get stronger, you don’t need to be constantly adding plates to the barbell to build strength and power.

If you want a high-level example of this, just look at gymnasts. Gymnasts have some of the highest strength-to-weight ratios of any athletes, and they rely mostly on their own bodyweight to build their Herculean levels of strength.

In my own training, I rarely use weights. When I do, I never lift heavy. For years, my workouts have consisted of variations of pull-ups, push-ups, single-leg squats, sprints, and plyometrics — and I’m pretty strong, especially as someone who never identified as an athlete growing up. My clients’ workouts are similar. The main reason I’ll add weights to their workouts is for variety, not because they need weights to build strength and fitness.

Bodyweight exercises have several notable benefits:

  • They’re functional, better mimicking real-life movements than machine exercises
  • They help prevent injuries and are easier on your body over a lifetime of workouts
  • They’re portable — you can do bodyweight exercises whether you’re in a hotel room, nearby park, or your tiny apartment

For those of us who like to keep life simple, bodyweight workouts also act as the perfect minimalist workout. 

There’s so much you can do using your own bodyweight, and if you have access to a pull-up bar and a couple of resistance bands, you have enough to challenge yourself for a lifetime of workouts.

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5 Life Lessons I Learned From Getting Punched in the Face

I started boxing four years ago, right before my 31st birthday. It was a long time coming.

I’ve wanted to box ever since I was a kid. There’s something that fascinates me about the sport: I love the training, the journey, the sweat, and the inevitable tears. I love the griminess of boxing gyms. Maybe more than anything, I love that it brings together misfits of all ages.

And let’s be honest, it feels really good to hit something hard.

When I first stepped into my local boxing gym, my coach told me something I’d never forget: that this sport would change me. “It will wear you down,” he assured me, “and it’s up to you to build yourself back up. No one can do that for you.”

Maybe this is why so many people sign up for boxing classes but don’t stick around for more than a few months at most. In order to grow, you first have to be open to change. Most people would rather stick to the safety of their comfort zone than step into the unknown.

I, on the other hand, was ready for change. I wanted the entire forced transformation that boxing offered. I had reached a place of stagnation in my life and was desperate for a way out. So I learned the basics, awkwardly at first. If you think learning to box is easy, you’re in for a rude awakening. There’s much more to it than just hitting something (or someone) hard.

For the first few years, I wasn’t very good. I was clumsy and regularly tripped over my own feet. I got punched in the face a lot. I began sparring a few times a week, and although I kept coming back, I wanted to quit after nearly every session. More often than not, I would walk out of the gym with tears streaming down my face. But I kept showing up. I signed up for my first amateur boxing match and (barely) lost. I kept going. Covid put a wrench in my plans, but I kept training nonetheless.

I’ve learned many lessons so far on my boxing journey. All of them apply not just to boxing but all of life. Here are a few that stand out.

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There’s Finally a Shift in the Conversation Around Exercise

Mental Health and Exercise

It’s 9:03 am, Monday, January 3rd. I arrive at the iconic Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, where I’ve worked out nearly every day for the last five years. This is part of my usual routine; get up by six, walk my dog to a coffee shop where I write for an hour and a half, scarf some oatmeal, then work out. These days, my workouts are my treat, my break from the otherwise hectic nature of my day. It didn’t use to be this way. More on that later.

I walk through the various rooms and see that all the regulars are there. We smile at each other through our masks as I walk by. I give a few of them hugs, and we wish each other a good workout.

As usual for this time of year, there are a lot of new faces I’ve never seen before in the gym. I scan the various rooms, wondering who I will see again and who will only make it in a few times before life gets in the way, and they decide that 2022 is not their year to prioritize their fitness after all.

Yet this year, something feels different. Yes, there are still the usual types slogging away on the treadmill, watching the minutes tick away as they hope to burn off the remnants of as many holiday cookies as possible in one go. But aside from the typical weight loss and muscle building goals, many of the newbies I’ve talked to have resolved to exercise not just for physical health or appearance reasons, but because they feel better mentally and emotionally when they exercise.

In the past, this awareness that exercise leads to a better mood and improved headspace is something I’d only hear from people who had long embraced the identity of an athlete. Runners, for example, have long proclaimed that their runs are their primary source of sanity. In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, celebrated Japanese writer Haruki Murakami writes that he runs to acquire a void. That void is peace; it’s flow; it’s a break from the otherwise endless chatter of the monkey mind. And it’s something that most runners and athletes come to crave.

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Try This Athlete-Approved Method for Overcoming Life’s Obstacles

Athlete-approved Method for Overcoming Life's Obstacles

How often have you started working toward a new goal, full of determination and drive, only to give up when you encounter an obstacle or challenging circumstance?

This happened to me over and over when I was first starting my personal fitness journey. I’d commit to working out three times a week and vow to swap out junk food for healthier options. As long as everything went exactly as expected, I’d be fairly successful sticking to my plan.

But, of course, life never goes as planned. Inevitably, something would happen to throw me off course. Sooner or later, I’d give up on my goal altogether, lose my progress, then have to start all over again at a later date.

The more I went through this demoralizing cycle, the more I became convinced that I could never become fit or healthy. But it’s not that I was doing anything wrong or that I wasn’t capable of change in the first place: I just didn’t have any alternative arrangements to fall back on when I encountered challenging circumstances.

Whenever we are striving for a goal, whether fitness or health-related or otherwise, we will inevitably encounter obstacles.

Rather than being surprised by the hurdles life throws at us, we can learn to plan for them.

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Why Goal Setting is Important and How to Do it Well

What separates those who accomplish a lot in life from those who idol away their time? Largely your ability to set and achieve goals.

Goals give our lives direction, something to organize our thoughts and action around. Well-thought-out goals can direct our time and attention, help motivate us toward action, and even help give our lives meaning and purpose.

Goals can significantly increase our performance and productivity, too: in dozens of studies by goal-setting experts Gary Latham and Edwin Locke, setting challenging goals has been shown to increase performance and productivity by up to twenty-five percent.

If you find yourself hesitant to set goals, it may be because you’re worried about failure and thinking ahead to all the things that could possibly go wrong en route to your goal. People who don’t set goals are often “saving themselves” from failure and defeat.

If this is you at times, remind yourself that in order to invest in a goal fully, you first have to believe that your goal is possible. This is why having a growth mindset — or believing that your efforts will make a difference — is so important to achieving high, hard goals.

It may also be helpful to remind yourself that the pursuit of goals is not all about the outcome. Learn to enjoy the process and all the learning and growth that happens along the way.

But while studies by the U.S. News & World Report show as many as 80% of people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by February, this doesn’t have to be you. Goal setting isn’t just about making a checklist once a year. It’s actually a skill that you can get better at with time and practice.

Below is a four-step process to setting goals you’ll stick to this year:

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