Inner Child Dysfunctions

Do I have a language for these things? These mindless, useless things that I indulge in but are no good for me in the moment – or at least I know that there’s a better solution to my funk but I do them anyway; either out of habit, or because I’m bored, or frustrated, or down.

Whatever it is, I need a language for it, so next time I do something silly again, I can say, “there – another one of those.”

List of silly things I do:
1) open up a phone game in the morning when travelling, and when I’m too tired to do anything else. I think taking some time to meditate or reflect upon the day will be so much more useful.
2) wasting time looking through albums for something to listen to, instead of having a go-to list of songs-to-learn, or at the very least mood-relevant playlists.
3) starting a game of starcraft 2 without a gameplan, a skill I’d like to practice, or a goal whatsoever, and being emotionally invested. Not very good when you lose, and not even particularly good when you win.
4) nibble some snack/make coffee/buy unhealthy food in an indulgent manner whenever I’m tired and need energizing. I’d rather go to fruits or juice or something good for my body but you know, my inner kid wants all that.
5) brooding in moody thoughts instead of doing something productive about it. I think exercising, musicking, or taking a stroll would much better alternatives, even if the ruminating commentary still goes on in the background.

All these things aren’t particularly bad in themselves, but knowing the opportunity cost of these petty indulgences sorta makes it pretty painful to reflect upon. I think I shall call them inner-child dysfunctions, mostly because they tend to happen when some vital part of me is not being taken care of. Either not enough food, rest, socializing, or play.

I think instead of willing myself to enforce better habits when dysfunctions occur, a more effective way is to build a life around taking care of these needs, and then it’d be much easier to make a better choice.

I suppose inner child dysfunctions are signs of poor management in the past rather than indicators of necessary !immediate action in the present – it’s way tempting to go “okay I’m gonna force myself to do exercise/eat better food/meditate instead of whatever” but the energy required to force yourself in the right here and now has to come from somewhere. Even worse, a sudden forceful will applied to an already malfunctioning aspect of the self might associate negative feelings to the activity in question, which damages future endeavours. Is rolling it right in the present so important that you risk your future development over it?

I don’t think so.

Of course it’ll be good not to let everything go south, the inner child also needs to be quite firmly disciplined. So perhaps a well-balanced way out of this predicament is to let yourself fail within limits, and institute placeholder habits instead of giving up entirely (indulge in some snacks, but also throw in a couple of fruits!). Ultimately to think long term and give myself space to fight another day will be on my agenda. Plus of course, to make sure that I am moving towards a better future instead of repeating old mistakes, otherwise I’m just buying time for more dysfunction.

All in all, I suppose these inner-child dysfunctions are quite a common place occurence to everyone. How do you deal with it? I’ll be curious to know.

Meanwhile, I shall attempt to regulate indulgences every now (an important step in avoiding plateauing of growth, or flat-lining of expectations), but an overall plan to take care of those deeper needs in a healthy manner is the right way to go.

Exercise Routine! Part 3: Tasty Ideas

And without further ado, let me present to you the final part of this short series!

The 10 minutes

Have you ever felt like a session of exercise is just going to be too hard to get through? Well, I have. And in fact, today is one of these days. My body is worn from all the traveling about, and my mind’s been duly exercised throughout the day. I just want to head home and sleep.

But there is one trick to get you looking forward to the exercise even when you don’t. I present to you: the 10 minutes.

All you have to do is set a timer on your phone, clock, or watch, and let it tick down to 10 minutes. When the time is up, you can go do anything you want. But before that happens, you must promise to get off your couch and move your body! Do whatever you want, do what you feels fun. Just make sure that you move, and very importantly as highlighted in part 2, accompany this move session with a deliberate practice to feel your body. It might take a bit more brain juice than you are used to, but it is only for 10 minutes.

Plus, you’ll reap the benefits immediately. Sometimes the workload for the day divorces our minds from our bodies, and this short period of time helps you reconnect to your primal, sensual, physical parts. You might actually begin to feel more relaxed than when you first started.

And slowly as you move your body, you might feel that you want to do more with this new momentum generated by the first 10 minutes. Go ahead then – it may even become the most productive workout session of the week yet!

Lifting Randomness

For those of you bored stiff of lifting plain ol’ dumbbells like me, there’s good news – there are many ways to keep your upper body pumping while challenging your arms to adapt to new shapes and weights.

The solution is to set down your dumbbells, and embrace all the random physical things around you. Yes, literally embrace them! Put your arms around the dinner chair and lift it up. Grab hold on the ends of the legs, and behold – more leverage! Grapple on the edge of the sofa and lift it slightly. Carry the side table and do pumping squats with it. The possibilities are quite endless.

When we lift dumbbells or barbells, we isolate specific muscle movements and train them repetitively. That is very effective for body sculpting, but not particularly so for a functional workout! If you want your arms to be relevantly functional, you need to keep forging new connections with how your body reacts with the randomly-shaped, not always ideal-for-carrying objects in the world. It is in fact, as much a brain workout as it is a physical one. You don’t want your mind to slouch in a corner while you train your biceps, so find a way to work those muscles while keeping your brain awake.

One way that works for me is to aim for a specific degree of muscle ache on any part of my body that I’m looking to train, and use non-standard weights like parts of my drumset, the piano chair, or even weighted discs unmounted from adjustable dumb bells, to attain that goal of muscle ache through whatever movements feel natural at the time.

If the weight is too light, sometimes that could mean that I ought to change object, or it could also mean that I could change my grip on the object (like holding the legs of the chair) to increase the load. Sometimes, it could mean that I could offset the lightness by doing more reps, although technically this would train endurance rather than strength; yet both are important and a mind-engaging workout like this should demand active balancing during the spontaneity of the workout. The reason why this works is because ache often correlates to growth; so as long as you are sensitive to not tipping over to the other end of injurious pain you should be doing good!

Movement Complexities

The modern gym-goer is conditioned to think in nicely structured, cleanly defined pigeonholes of compartmentalized movement. “Do tricep extentions for tricep strength! Do squats for leg power! Do high reps low weights for endurance!” And that is really quite the fundamental base of knowledge for every cause-and-effect believing exercise buff. In fact, those with more experience and expertise have a whole host of “moves” that are geared towards specific muscle groups, right down to the modification of each exercise for the particular purpose of the week.

And all that knowledge is really quite splendid. It saves time, allows you to move these building blocks of ideas around to arrange custom-made routines.

But there is one thing that it often misses, and that’s the avid cross-fertilization of specific movements across muscle groups. The average gym-goer tends to build up reps and/or weights over time, and that’s often the effect of settling into a too-comfortable pothole of linear growth and unchallenging, mindless repetition. To help offset this tendency towards mindlessness, I’d suggest an active reconstitution of the moves that you usually do, and combine it with some other movements.

For instance, the pumping squats listed above. That’s essentially a combination of carrying something heavy above your head, squating, and pumping it as you stand up. The reason why it’s such a favourite is because it is easy to do, yet challenging to do properly – you need to pay attention to the co-ordination of the pump up and squat so that you match the bottom and tips of your leg and arm movements together. No longer is this a plain ol’ exertion exercise, it also demands that you pay close attention to the speed of your limb movement relative to each other, with that added load to boot!

Another example of complex movements can include carrying an easily grippable weight, and performing unscripted movements based on the pressure it exerts on your muscles. You could experiment with punching motions, swinging around in arcs of varying arm-length, or slow down and speed up the movements to increase and decrease the difficulty where necessary. Sometimes slowing down the arm movement in an extended swing exposes certain muscle instabilities that need to be strengthened – as can seen by muscle trembles despite what you might think is a very light weight and a simple movement. Repeat the movement slowly and try to get that area strengthened up; this is when play can turn into practice!

Benchmark

Finally, you might be quite concerned that if you took all these suggestions to its full extent, you’ll end up with a different exercise routine every session, and it becomes terribly difficult to maintain any semblance of continuity or trackable growth between them. While I’ll argue that the sanctity and focus of each session should be sufficient to bring you back into the mode whereby you can recall past sessions and build on it, I’ll be the first to admit that the wear and tear of each day usually works on our memories as well, and in a state of low energy, past recall becomes a chore to do with sufficient fidelity, if any.

Hence I’ll recommend one more practice to add on to this completely non-exhaustive list of practices: benchmarking.

Pick any exercise or groups of exercises that you think are indicative of how you feel your goals would look like. For instance, you might want to be able to do one-handed pushups, lift heavier weights, or perform a complicated movement. With that as a benchmark, it should guide your smaller exercise decisions. You can still implement all the creative ideas in this post while working specifically towards your goal.

In fact, this serves to sharpen your exercise routines. You may perform creative, non-standard movements that are fun, enlivening, and mildly different every session, but ultimately they are all focused towards strengthening a particular muscle group and all the relevant supporting muscle groups. This prevents stymmied growth caused by scattered focus.

More importantly, it gives you a sense of continuity – even if you’re lifting other objects in a slightly varied manner each time, so long as it activates the necessary muscle group, you know that you’re building towards the same goal, and you look forward to strengthening that core group of muscles each time their relevant training cycles come along.

To find out if you’re improving, you may want to perform a benchmark test once a a week or after each training session depending on how much time it reasonably takes for your muscles to recover after each exercise period. Perform the exercise if possible, and note for any changes, such as more reps or increased staibility. If the movement cannot be fully completed, don’t push it. Either it takes a longer time to do (like a one-handed pushup) or you need more recovery time. If it is the former, then you may want to break down the benchmark into smaller goals that are doable and visable (like assisted one-handed pushups).

A benchmark need not be linearly marked. It is not necessary that you increase in reps or weight each time you do a benchmark test; you may improve in terms of control, or flexibility, and those can be important too. So it’s vital that you expand your goals if it is too constricted, but of course not to the point of crediting growth when there is really none.

With all these tips, I hope your exercise sessions improve in variety and effectiveness!

For a brief introduction to tthis 3 part series, check out this post: Exercise Routine! Part 1
For a list of good reasons to get your body pumpin’, check out this post: Exercise Routine! Part 2

Do the Other Thing

Star

Before I continue with part three of Exercise Routines!, which should ideally include some tasty ideas for planning your exercise, I’ll take a break and, like this post’s namesake, do the Other Thing!

The past few weeks have been quite a hectic rush for me, with deadlines piling skyhigh in my daily and weekly planner. To get everything done, I have employed a simple planning list that orders and captures all the activities that I intend to do for the day. The good thing about this list is that it makes sure I don’t miss out a single thing, or get my activity-order messed up. The bad thing though, is that it gets a bit dry and tiring after awhile. Can I really cram to-do’s into each and every free slot in my day?

Heh.

Of course not. In fact, my list lacks the usual time schedule; meaning that the corresponding column that includes what time is required for what activity – that chunky thing is completely out of the picture. While I have a general projection of how much time is needed, and that affects the order and scheduling of tasks, the freely-floating tasklist lets me organize my time organically. If an activity captivates me, great! I can just focus on it for awhile longer (until the hard schedule kicks in, like appointments, or non-negotiable time limits). If it took a shorter time than anticipated, then I can just move on to other things. Without a suffocating schedule to nail my task list to, I can avoid the usual dictatorship of blanketing everything as a must-do when the activity is more of a good-to-do or even just a fun-to-do.

Speaking of which, there comes a point of time in every organized person’s life where the drudgery of listed tasks, whether scheduled or not, bogs you down and you feel like just escaping it all. Well, what do you do? Even the fun things – being in the list – are not quite as fun anymore.

This is when the Other Thing comes in handy. The Other Thing is that which exists outside of the norms of planning and routine, and it refreshes you exactly because it is novel, unexpected, and spontaneous. It could be as simple as taking the Other route to work, or as scary as talking to the Other person you don’t usually talk to. It could be a bit more time consuming, like trying that new method of working that you heard about from your colleagues the other day. It might take more energy too, like running up a flight of stairs when you’d usually just walk. Whatever it is, it should be something you want to do, but aren’t doing because of routine and habit!

You may ask me, can an organized person with a tight schedule ever get to indulge in the Other Thing? And my answer is: unpack your schedule! Because otherwise, it is usually an uncompromisingly dull No. Either you stick to the plan, or you diverge and feel bad about it. The solution is to have a more flexible plan like what was outlined above. Having no hard timings on the schedule (except those that are truly necessary) will give you a fluid, organic experience that enables you to fill up the little pockets of free time with energizing, refreshing, and enriching Other Things.

Exercise Routine! Part 2: The Reasons Why I Move My Body

why

For a greater part of my exercise life (and even now, if I’m honest), the primary motivation was to look good. Not that’s it’s bad in itself; looking good is not only a socially valuable trait, but it also improves your self-esteem. The problem is when that’s your main motivation. Of course, I would not be so quick as to admit that. My mind would be thinking “alright, I’m just doing this for health reasons” but my heart will go “ahhh my shrinking biceps!” and compel a dozen sets of poorly executed bicep curls. So at any given time, if I were really honest, I would be able to notice a bit of contradiction between my personal narrative, and what was really going on in my heart. I would be telling myself that I wanted to be fit, an intrinsic goal, while really I was pursuing an extrinsic, superficial one. I wanted to look good so that I can be well-liked and feel good about myself.

Well, first and foremost, as you would guess, I came to the conclusion that this sort of inner contradiction is extremely problematic. It is absolutely critical that you feel good about yourself before you rely on exercise to help you look better, otherwise it’s just like filling up a bucket with a hole in it; the external can only get you so far.

And so I resolved to get something done about the superficiality of my motivations – what really helped though, was simple awareness. Just knowing that I might have the tendency to let what people think about me get the better of me helps to purify my intentions.

Another thing that might help is to consider the cost of unhealthy motivations. Whenever my exercise is driven by a fear that I’m going to get out of shape and people won’t like me anymore, I tend to get mildly abusive of my body; I push it too hard, and ignore warning signs. I won’t be able to tell where the healthy threshold of pain is, mostly because the pain of self-rejection becomes greater than the physical pain of abusive exercise.

And that’s a terrible place to be in. Well, to be honest, we can use this fear-and-pain drive to get us off our butts quite effectively, however, to persist in it for too long is tantamount to self-destruction!

The main principle though, as I realized over time, is to simply be loving to yourself, and the proper actions will follow. Remember that there is absolutely no real change until that change comes from a strong, grounded, and stable source within – self-love. If this resembles your journey, you’ll realize too that exercising out of intrinsic desire will feel incredibly different from exercising out of that extrinsic anxiety-push that we are all too familiar with.

Without further ado though, let me get to some examples of healthy motivations that still drive me today. Not all of them are intrinsic reasons, as you’ll see, but they all arise from self-care and genuine love.

The Instrumental reason

Firstly, function! The modern office worker’s job doesn’t call for much exercise, and as a student, I don’t exactly have to do much of any heavy lifting either. So all the more is it necessary to keep up deliberately practice, especially if you want to maintain a viable level of functional movement. If I let myself loose and get all lazy, when I do need my muscles for some heavy lifting, well, it’s just not going to come out at a moment’s notice.

Furthermore, the standard fundamentals like aerobic fitness are always useful. Even as a student, I find myself walking and standing quite a bit – unfit joints and poorly coordinated limb muscles are just not going to cut it. If you enjoy playing a sport, that’s even better. You’ll need your body in good shape to have even more fun on the field. For me, while I haven’t indulged in sports for a bit, I still play music, and certain standard of muscular dexterity is required.

Whatever the case, function is a good reason for you to get your body moving! Exercises that build up your physical capacities for functional purposes will not overstretch your body, and it should not be too taxing on your joints and muscles. In fact, too much stress will lead to injury, and that’s just contrary to building a fit and functional body.

The Intrinsic reason

But well, as some of you might say, “that’s still all instrumental and non-primary. Am I supposed to move my body just because I want to achieve that?” That’s a question I asked myself too, especially on days when exercise just felt so dry.

The answer came one evening when I decided to abandon that session’s silly routine and do what feels right instead. And I learned on that very evening, that I wanted to move my body because it feels good. Yes, let me repeat that. I wanted to move my body because it feels good.

When was the last time you exercised, and during (not after!) the exercise, you actually thought to yourself – this feels really good! Has it been too long? That could be a problem then! Because if it doesn’t feel good, then why are we even doing it?

Of course there are all the instrumental reasons above, and those are good for revving ourselves up when the usual dopamine reward circuitry ain’t working right, but asides from that, there’s got to be an intrinsic reason every now and then, and this is as intrinsic as it gets: you move your body because it feels good.

So next time you start your exercise routine, play around a bit more and feel your body. Be present. Be thoroughly, magnificently, and completely present. Sometimes, just paying attention to the sensations of your own body is sufficient to put that necessary bit of pleasure into your pain.

Learn what feels good, what doesn’t and move instinctively – regain the pleasure of your own body! Moving because it feels good will structurally define the kind of exercises you do engage in. You will trim down on the standard, brainless exercise repetitions, and begin to include more complex, spontaneous, and fun movements into your routine.

Passion for growth

Finally, I’d say that one other reason which keeps me going every week is definitely that nice feeling you get when you notice how slowly, but surely, you’re getting stronger and stronger, more and more flexible, and gradually fitter too!  Growth creates a snowball effect that makes you want to come back for more. Plus, chasing growth transforms the way you do your exercise; you don’t want to exert so little that there is no growth, nor too much, injuring your body in the process.

The key to getting that sweet spot is in the inverted U-shape. Now, what’s this swanky U-shape thing that Reuben’s talking about? The upside-down U-shape is a symbol of effectiveness as we scale up the pain threshold.

[For those who are interested in the mildly technical explanation:

Imagine pain/effort on the horizontal x-axis, and effectiveness/growth on the vertical y-axis. Now place an inverted U-shape on the graph. Notice how past a certain point at the tip, more effort and pain results in negative negative returns? While not the perfect model, this represent injuries and undue muscle damage caused by over-strain.]

An easy exertion has very little pain, but also sends just as little signals to your body to grow. While it may not be that effective for growth, this level of hurt is good for warm-up. Right now you’re at the side of the inverted U, and it’s pretty easy to ramp up the effort to get up to near the curve at the top.

Once you reach that curve though, things start to get quite painful. When you stretch, do push ups, lift weights, or any other kind of exertion you’ll notice this growing sense of resistance. Your muscles protest, and your mind must push through the pain if you want to continue exerting. This is good pain.

Pushing harder will get you near to the peak of that U shape pain scale, and that is ideally, where you want to get your body to, and spend as much time in as possible during your exercise.

The trick though, is to push as close to the tip of the U as possible, without crossing the peak to the other side. At the other side, further pain is destructive. You may start hurting your joints, nerves and pulling muscles – not exactly productive to your goals. So when you reach the point past the tip, resist the temptation to “work it out” harder; it’s counter-productive. Slowly de-exert your muscles if necessary, and stop. Get ready for the next set instead!

How do you know when the pain becomes bad pain? Well, for this, you’d really need to be physically aware of your body while performing the exercise, which is a simple thing that we too often neglect once the routine sets in. Pain that comes in a manner that feels biting, scraping, grinding, incisive, and tearing -or any other way that feels destructive- is likely to be bad pain.

But that U-peak is quite an elusive zone to keep within; every bit of focus you can channel into bodily awareness while pursuing that ideal will be necessary. Plus, another good reason for exercising is really to help expand your ability to feel your own body too.

Realistically, you’ll find out that quite a bit of time spent on exercise is on warming your body up to the start of the pain-curve and beyond. Once you do reach the tip, it is fairly tiring to sustain. Hence, every exercise session has a limited period of U-peaks. Centering your routines around a selected number of U-peaks is one way to structure your exercises, something I’ll go a bit more into in part III of this short series.

Ultimately though, this is just a cultural tool to help you conceptualize your exercise and pay attention to your body in new ways. Discover your own U-peaks and don’t be too obsessed with “hitting the spot” immediately – everybody learns better with a bit of exploration first!

Check out Part 1 of this 3 part series here: Exercise Routines!: Part 1
Check out Part 2 of this 3 part series here: Exercise Routines!: Part 3

Exercise Routines! Part 1: When Exercise Gets Too Heavy

Barbell

After months of experimenting with various exercise routines, I realize that there are a few mistakes I make when I come to planning and executing my exercise routines, and I’d like to share this with you guys!

There was once this period in my life when I decided that hey, I want to start seeing some reliable, guaranteed results with my training.

What should I do?

The first thing that came to mind was to do a quick google search on some renown exercise routines that I could start right now. I found, among other things, the German Volume Training method. Excited about what I read on it about how this system could absolutely “shock your muscles into growth”, I thought that this would be the perfect thing for me. For three weeks straight, I was doing all the sets as planned, even if my body felt like it was dying, or if I was just way too occupied with other things. (I even filmed myself for posterity’s sake – but no you guys are not getting it hehe)

By the end of those three weeks, my body was aching like crazy, I could lift heavier dumbbells but my motivation dropped, and the rest of my life was affected – I couldn’t quite gather my energies to write, do music, or dive deep into the bits of research that I committed myself to during that period of time. In short, it was probably one of the most effective routines I’ve ever tried, but it wasn’t appropriate for me.

And over time, as I played around with other kinds of standard exercise routines, I learned that this problem wasn’t unique to the German Volume Training method – whatever other program that I was doing, I will reach a point when my needs diverge terribly from what the plan called for me to do.

Clearly it wasn’t easy to find a cookie-cutter mold to fit into! Unless you go find a personal trainer who can tailor a training plan to your specific body and lifestyle needs, you’ll probably be stuck with all the not-quite-suitable training plans that can be found online or in the library. There are only 3 solutions to this problem: you suck it up and fit someone else’s mold; you give up on your fitness (ha) goals, which is probably the easiest thing to do; or you tweak the plans to fit you.

The answer lies, of course, in option number three. As empowering as it sounds, it’s not an easy thing to do at all!  For a start, you’ll need to have at least a bit of working knowledge of the kinds of exercise that work for you, and you’ll also need to know what price you are willing to pay for your goals. These things can be fixed quite easily given some time, smart google-fu, and honest soul-searching. The tricky part is that you don’t want to invest so much effort in it that you might as well have gotten a personal trainer instead.

However, the good thing about taking some time to figure these things out yourself, is that you get the chance to become a territorial expert – not necessarily even nearly as good as a regular professional – but enough to help yourself when you need to, and also to adjust accordingly when life-situations call for it. Who knows, you might even find people in the same situation as you, and then you’d be the (relative) professional!

For me, I had an idea about the kinds of exercises that could serve my fitness needs, but I did not realize the price it cost to obtain them. Think of it as shopping – specific routines and exercises can have their own utility value, but how much money do you have to spend on it? For me, my budget was not quite as much as I thought it was; a large part of my daily energy and time went into other pursuits, such as writing, music, and research interests. I am unwilling to compromise on the quality of these areas of my life, and so exercise doesn’t get center stage most of the time. But then I would still like to maintain a certain level of fitness (and resting metabolism rate… helps to know that you can burn off most of what you eat!), so it was clear that I had to find a style of exercising that catered to all that.

Before I get into how you can organize your exercise “shopping list”, there is still one other aspect that’s important to sort out first: You can’t know how much you’re willing to pay until you know why you are willing to pay it! I’ll continue with the rest of it in a future blog post, so stay tuned, you all (:

Check out Part 2 of this 3 part series here: Exercise Routines!: Part 2
Check out Part 3 of this 3 part series here: Exercise Routines!: Part 3