Have Your Beer, Your Social Life, and Your Abs Too


Avoid any diet that discourages the use of hot fudge.  ~Don Kardong

That picture above represents a typical dinner order I’ll place at a restaurant when we go out. Yes, that’s two meals. One guy, two meals – that’s an equation that makes sense.

Listen, it didn’t always used to be that way. In fact, I used to be the polar opposite of a guy downing huge portion sizes and making restaurants pay for offering all-you-can-eat anything.

Most people probably don’t know (because I’ve never written or told many people) but I used to have a pretty bad eating disorder. I have no problem admitting it because now people would argue that I have the opposite of an eating disorder. I can pack away the groceries. [Full confession: Once, for a Moe’s burrito eating contest, I packed away three burritos in two minutes. Sorry, couldn’t find the video.]

Back in the day, I would put myself through extreme calorie restriction in order to obtain a certain appearance that I thought would make me a better runner. What really happened is that I developed an extremely terrible association with food.

I explicitly remember being at the beach with my folks. I had gone for an 8 mile run that morning. It was around 3pm in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten a single thing all day.

I know – I missed the anabolic window after my run. Refueling wasn’t exactly something I was concerned with.

I remember my first meal was onion rings. I remember that because I felt guilty chowing down on a greasy pile of fried onions. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but somehow, it was hard to break the habit.

Here I was on vacation after having burned 800 calories earlier that morning and I felt guilty chowing down on some fried onions. If anything, I should have been dipping them in ranch before sliding them down my gullet.

It took me awhile to break that association.

Listen, I don’t tell you any of this so you’ll put in a secret nomination for me to make a guest appearance on Dr. Phil or plan an intervention group full of my closest friends. As I said, I’ve been able to grow out of those problems. Rather, it’s an example of the negative association most people have with food.

Move to the present day.

I’m a sucker for good beer. It’s a really good thing that I live in the mecca of beer because my large affinity for a good brew isn’t all that uncommon. In fact, it’s practically the norm around these parts. Alongside a good beer, I also love pasta, bread, and carrot cake. Oh, and I, like most people, enjoy having a social life that allows me to go out and consume these things freely, especially on the weekends.

On top of all that, I’d prefer not to have a beer gut hanging over my belt and a body that resembles a memorable character off Austin Powers.

Look, I’ve done the whole strict dieting thing in an effort to get pretty darn lean for a photo shoot. For twelve weeks, I religiously used an app to log everything I ate and drank. I cycled carbohydrates throughout the week and lived for days when Charlotte and I would take our carbohydrate binges to Genghis Grill and I would load up on rice, pasta, and as much meat as I could get my greasy hands on.

I’ve done it once. I probably won’t ever do it again.

Was the transformation cool? Absolutely. Especially during the latter phases, when you play with water consumption, the ability to literally change how you look overnight is extremely exciting. But, I don’t care to repeat the effort.

The thing is, I like freedom and sanity.

The real issue isn’t the dieting and counting. It’s the negative association that all of that dieting and counting creates.

Throughout the media, food is constantly demonized as something that immediately raises your cholesterol, adds fat to your waistline, and erases those last three miles you ran on the treadmill.

As a result, far too many people view food as a punishment. They force themselves to eat certain foods because they’re “healthy” and avoid others like the plague because they’re viewed as “bad”.

Let me  reiterate – there’s no such thing as bad and good food.

Those are terms that we created. In fact, you would be better off if you eliminated the words “bad” and “good” from your nutrition vocabulary. Cake isn’t “bad” for you. That’s a very important point that nearly everyone misses when they talk about nutrition.

Instead, think of how “helpful” a certain food is in obtaining a goal you want to reach.

To reframe your entire mindset of food is extremely challenging but necessary for an optimal life. Regardless of whether your goal is to gain weight, lose weight, get cut, or run faster, food is a means to helping you achieve whatever goal it is you have in mind.

Listen, I’m all for eating healthy. The problem is when people can create moods with their nutritional decisions. A great day can turn terrible when you punish yourself for taking that bite of cake. That’s not a positive relationship.


To give you some insight, here’s what I eat on an almost daily basis:

Breakfast: 5 egg omelette with bacon, some spinach, tomato, and cheese

Lunch: A source of protein (chicken) with some extra veggies and carbs

Snack: Protein shake

Dinner: A source of protein with some extra veggies and carbs, a few glasses of wine, and some kind of chocolate

This dietary program is pretty standard whether it’s a weekday or weekend. On Fridays, the afternoon protein shake is moved around a bit and a beer (or a few) is substituted in its place. Similarly, Saturday nights are usually our time to head to a restaurant that may or may not include dessert and a few glasses of wine plus several beers. On Saturdays, I also tend to head to a coffee shop early in the morning to get some work done before everyone wakes up. That trip typically includes a scone of some sort or a cheese danish.

I guess you could call Saturdays my cheat day in the fact that I indulge in more treats than usual.

Do I go overboard and eat an entire cake? Not usually although one year during Thanksgiving, I attempted to eat an entire pumpkin pie on a dare. (I would have succeeded if I hadn’t left the crust for last. For future reference, eat the crust first. It’s dry as hell.)

The point is I allow myself to make good decisions in a relaxed atmosphere. The result? I’m much happier for it.

I’ve said this before, but I don’t believe in dieting. It has an extremely negative connotation to many. When the majority of Americans say they’re going on a diet, I’d put $20 that they’ll be off of it in a matter of weeks.

Want better success? Spend time planning your cheat days. It’ll give you something to look forward to. Forget eliminating all of your favorite treats from your diet. That’s a recipe for failure. Instead, allow yourself to indulge. Form a positive relationship with food and recognize that it has the power to either help or hinder you on your road to whatever fitness goal you have set.

If I could have it all back now, I would down more than my fair share of onion rings on that day although by eating two meals at a time on Saturday nights, I think I’ve made up the deficit.

Alright, lay it on me. Shout out what works for you nutritionally or your own nutrition struggles. Also, let me know your favorite cheat meal so I can add it to my binge days.

Hyperfocus: How to Actually Get Stuff Done



Sorry for posting this a few days late. I usually try to get a new blog post up on Tuesdays, but I was a bit busy getting down and dirty with Engineering the Alpha which I must say is the best thing to happen for guys since the ousting of double-popped collars and the release of any movie with the Rock, ever.

It’s truly worth a read. I’m warning you though, before you read, prepare to forget everything you knew about fitness. There’s a lot of false information in the world. Roman and Born did a terrific job setting everything straight, but you have to change your mindset before you reject all the new stuff they throw at you.

You’ve been warned.

I also had an article go up on Men’s Fitness recently concerning Crossfit which is always a fun topic of conversation. Believe it or not, Crossfit isn’t all bad. I worked with Micah Macbeth over at Crossfit 215 to highlight some exercises that should be in your program whether you’re banging out Cindy in the parking lot or just trying to build some strength (it’s not my fault they named their WODs after females).

[Complete side note: I’m headed to the Fitness Summit in Kansas City next week, which reminds me of the funniest line I’ve ever heard in a conference presentation: “I had five guys in the parking lot dressed up in skirts banging out Cindy in the snow.” <— insert snorting laughter from the audience here]

Back to the topic at hand: hyperfocus.

Between Facebook, Twitter, the reemergence of MySpace, and those few individuals on Tumblr, it’s amazing that anyone can get anything done. We’re constantly bombarded with tweets, texts, notifications, and pop-ups that make sure we don’t miss a single piece of action.

Recently, I’ve made some changes to my own work protocol that have resulted in a marked increase in productivity (measured by how much more free time I have with the same workload). I’m able to finish tasks faster while still maintaining quality work. The end result: more time for a glass of wine and a good book at night.

Here are my tips. Please read them through but understand that I am by no means the Obi Wan of productivity.

So, I need your help in the comment section. Light it up with your favorite time saving tips.

1. For the love of God, turn off your notifications.

The worst thing that can possibly happen while you’re cranking out work is for a Facebook notification to appear in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

What did Tommy possibly say on your wall? Who cares? I guarantee you it will still be there when you get done with your current work spree (more on that below). Plus, I promise that Facebook won’t let you forget about it. They like you to be engaged over there.

While you’re working, turn off all of the notifications on your computer and on your phone (better yet, put your phone on silent and face down).

2. Set a timer.

You’ll work better when you time yourself – I’ll guarantee it. There’s something about a clock counting down in the corner of your screen that indicates when it’s time for a break that keeps you motivated to churn out work. It’s like knowing exactly how much longer you have to go on a trip.

It just works.

Lately, I’ve been setting a timer for 30 minutes and churning out work before taking a five minute break. If you’re seated all day, use this break to move around. I know that I can always crank out work for 30 minutes uninterrupted without taking a break of any kind because I know that a trip outside to enjoy the sunshine (or a quick check of Facebook is less than a half an hour away). I work well with 30 minute increments, but feel free to explore longer options if necessary. Occasionally, I’ll crank it up to an hour or an hour and a half and just bust through e-mails.

At the recommendation of JC Deen, I’ve been using SelfControl to both time my work bouts, but also block all of the temptations from social media. You can set specific URL’s that you want to block, and you won’t be able to visit them at all – not even if you delete the application. Voodoo magic at it’s finest.

3. Ask someone else to hold you accountable.

I’m a huge fan of getting some work done early in the morning. I feel more productive plus I’m able to relax a bit more at night. One slight problem – I have a habit of hitting the snooze button. It really doesn’t matter how many hours of sleep I get, sometimes it can be hard to get me going in the morning.

So, I attempted to enlist a few friends of mine into holding me accountable. Unfortunately, a 4AM wake-up time to give me a quick ring wasn’t that enticing. But, there’s one person that was extremely motivated to get me up – my fiancee. Putting it nicely, I gave her permission to give me the boot out of bed when my alarm went off the first time rather than letting me snooze it 5-6 times.

[Note: If you’re using an Android phone, download this little nifty alarm clock that doesn’t shut off until you take a certain amount of steps. Think you can just shake it to shut it up? Think again. It restarts itself all the way back at zero.]

4. Disconnect your e-mail.

If you’re like me and get your rocks off having all of your technology pieces synced across multiple devices, you probably have your e-mail on your phone, tablet, watch, fridge, and computer. It’s really tough to get anything done – including having fun – when you’re constantly watching your inbox overflow.

It seems simple, but it’s so hard to do – turn off your e-mail. Yes, you will survive. Scout’s honor.

Those are my four tips. What have you been doing recently to boost productivity? Let’s hear the tips in the comments.

What’s Wrong With the Personal Training Industry (and What to Do to Fix It)

personal training

“To hell with this.”

That was my reaction one day while at the gym at the end of a string of eight or so clients. At this point, I think there was little blood left in my body as the majority had been replaced with coffee. To say that I was a bit tired and cranky is an understatement.

This had nothing to do with the clients that I was working with or the gym where I worked. My clients and coworkers both kicked some serious ass. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder than I did during some of those hour-long sessions.

Still, personal training eventually drove me nearly crazy and finally led me to step to the side to pursue a different avenue. Now, admittedly, some of this was due to me personally wanting a career switch. I want to freelance full-time and needed to get some things in line to make that happen. The other factors, however, are still happening across the country and causing trainers to fail and drop out in droves.

The attrition rate for personal training is absolutely astounding. If you take a look at the trainers in your local gym one month, there’s a good chance that you won’t see the exact same faces the next month. In my opinion, attrition is somewhat needed as it continues to force out individuals who aren’t good at their job. In another sense, it can be alarming.

Having worked in the industry for several years in a variety of clubs and situations, I can tell you for sure that it’s becoming more and more difficult for personal trainers to live and earn a full-time income. I’m not saying that there aren’t personal trainers out there making a killing and living an amazingly lavish lifestyle thanks to the fitness boom and the obesity trend. Of course there are. But, for every one individual that’s a huge success, there are thirty others that have come and failed.

Here’s why:

Low barrier to entry

It’s no secret that any Joe Schmo off the streets could become a personal trainer tomorrow. The credibility of the certification and his ultimate success as a personal trainer would be extremely questionable, but he’d tell friends that he was indeed a personal trainer.

Compared to other industries, the personal training field is extremely unregulated in terms of certifications. That’s not always a bad thing. In fact, I think having a variety of certifying bodies is beneficial as it allow individuals to pursue whatever interests them. However, it also allows anyone to create a certification and confuses the mass public.

I know very little about medical school. In fact, my best friend is currently putting the finishing touches on medical school. But despite following his progress from day one, I would have a hard time detailing the process of medical school and becoming a doctor. Still, when he’s operating on me twenty years down the road, I can be at ease knowing that he took the exact same test that other practicing doctors have taken – and passed (hopefully). Same thing goes for dentists and nearly every other medical professional.

Personal trainers? The tests take a variety of forms – some written, some fill in the blank, some practical.

This has two main effects:

  1. Allows the educated and experienced individuals to rise to the top. After only a few hours in a gym, it becomes extremely obvious whether they took an hour long course and got a paper certification or whether they spent years learning and refining their craft.
  2. Generates a public distrust of personal trainers in general. I would argue that the mass public have the idea that personal trainers are only good for writing a hard workout and making you sweat. Very few would say that personal trainers know anything about hormones, biomechanics, or lifestyle optimization in any fashion. This is partly due to how the media portrays trainers as steroid-filled freaks that wander around the gym and speak in bro-terms. It’s also a case of the many ruining it for the few. When a trainer injures their client through stupid programming or a variety of other mistakes, that trainer furthers the public mistrust of fitness professionals and makes the job harder for everyone out there trying to do their best to provide great, quality service.

Let me reiterate: I’m in no way saying that personal trainers are not educated or forego staying on top of industry standards. Quite the contrary. There’s a revolution of trainers out there kicking ass, attending conferences, and spreading the good word (check the community at the PTDC for evidence).

Sadly though, for every trainer that attends a conference or gets an extra certification, there are ten more printing off their online credentials that would rather play a video game than read a book about anything related to fitness.

(Small point: If you’ve been working with your particular trainer for over a year, ask them about the last continuing education session or learning opportunity they went to. If they can’t name any way they’ve furthered their learning, please pick someone else. Good trainers that have a passion for their job make it a point to stay ahead of the curve.)

Public Misunderstanding of the Industry

I literally overheard someone talking about getting a personal training certification the other day utter this exact statement:

Yeah, I’m thinking about getting a personal training certification. I mean, I know a good bit about working out and stuff. I train all of my friends anyway. It would be a nice way to earn some cash on the side.

I also watch a ton of HGTV (House Hunters, mainly) but I don’t go ripping out my cabinets or applying to become a realtor on the weekends.

Good personal training is far deeper than simply putting someone through a tough workout and leaving them gasping for air on the gym floor. Anyone can do that.

A sucessful personal trainer also knows how to help someone change their life. That takes time – a lot more than just a few days on the weekends.

Bad Business Models

If you can’t sell, you can’t train.

It really is that simple. The current business model for most commercial gyms is one that supports numbers rather than results. In case you didn’t know (which none of my clients did), most personal trainers are paid completely off commission. That means they are only making money when someone buys something (usually sessions) or when they are working with clients. All those individuals clad in black that you see down at the coffee bar are making a whopping $0.00 that hour.

In all honesty, the current business model is understandable. Commercial fitness owners can’t ease the mind of shareholders after a dip in revenue with the rationalization that clients still lost a ton of weight. Someone has to be paying attention to the bottom line.

In most scenarios, results and sales go hand in hand. If you’re getting great results, you’re probably going to stick with a trainer.

But, there are certain scenarios where terrible trainers happen to master the art of sales. They’ll talk your pants off of you in a matter of minutes.

In a successful business model, these sales-oriented trainers would then make commission off the sale and pass along the clients to the trainers that just want a shot at helping someone squat better. The sales-oriented folk (that really don’t want to train all that much) get to go out and woo the next gym member that stumbles in for a free assessment.

That’s not the case at most commercial gyms.

Trainers are often expected to sell and service, meaning they have to generate revenue and train their clients. For some, they learn to master the art of selling after a series of failures. For others, they end up hating half of the job.

Here’s the underlying problem, commercial fitness gyms are looking at the bottom line number. For those trainers that happen to have the gift of sales, they are handsomely compensated and continue to succeed as they are driving more revenue to the company. They rarely have to adapt to become a better trainer in the commercial sector because there will always be more fish in the pond so to speak.

So, you have an atmosphere that promotes individuals good at selling and doesn’t necessarily benefit those extra good at training.

So, sales is a huge part of the job. So why don’t many certifications speak to the sales aspect of personal training? Most certifications are neglecting the most important part of success (at least for being successful out the gate).

The Current Workload of a Successful Trainer

When time is money, you want to be as busy as possible. That’s fine if you also have a cot at the back of the gym and a hook-up for free coffee in the cafe. It’s no secret that personal trainers are a highly caffeinated group. Any good-hearted trainer will tell you that working with clients is the best part of your day. They’re also lying if they say that they’ve never had a time when they prayed desperately for someone to cancel so they could have an hour off.

The business of personal training is, in fact, the business of exertainment or the art of listening to people talk and carrying on a conversation while simultaneously having them perform a variety of exercises.

In order for a personal training session to be successful, the client must be entertained otherwise they will get bored regardless of how many jean sizes they have dropped. Picture it like being the host of a party and focusing all of your energy on entertaining one or more individuals. After seven hours of your party, you would probably rather sit by yourself in silence with a bottle of wine than have another conversation with someone about the last movie they saw and how great their kid was doing in basketball this year.

Now, extrapolate that example to five days a week. That can get really exhausting.

The successful trainer is typically working with clients between 25-35 hours a week. That’s 25-35 mini-parties they are hosting. Extremely ambitious trainers are working more than that.

Compound those busy weeks over the course of a few years and you get burnout. It’s a difficult lifestyle to maintain as you try to manage your own health and fitness while also cramming in food between sessions and somehow finding the motivation to work out after eight hours in the gym.

What has to change?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to fixing the personal training industry. (That’s why I’m asking for your feedback in the comment section.) I do know that personal training is a highly rewarding and much needed profession given the rate of obesity in the country. The trick is making it sustainable and rewarding for those that want to stay in it for the long haul.

The following ideas are listed to solve the problems above. They’re listed in no particular order of importance.

1. Create an industry standard for certifications. Get rid of anyone that doesn’t have (or isn’t willing to maintain) the standard. The standard should include a college degree of some sort. I realize that their are a lot of very successful and educated personal trainers out there without a college degree, but times are changing. A college degree is virtually required in every other profession so why not personal training? Plus, this gives individuals something to fall back on if personal training doesn’t work out.

2. Include sales training in certifications. The basics of business including how to market, sell, and build excitement for your product (ultimately, you) should be required learning for all personal trainers prior to working with a single client. Also, teach trainers how to manage their money being that most get paid solely off commission rather than a dependable salary.

3. Find some way to pay trainers based on the results they get. I realize that trainers aren’t directly in charge of someone losing weight since they can’t directly control what the client eats outside of the gym. But, investors are paid based on the return they secure and they can’t predict the stock market.

Find some way to compensate trainers based on how successful they are. Some how also reward them for their retention rate. This will help to weed out the bad trainers and reward the good ones.

4. Fix the public image of personal trainers. All of the steps mentioned above can help change the public persona of personal training. Personal trainers need to be seen as necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle rather than a quick fix for weight loss or a lazy man’s solution to working out.

5. Internet regulation. I can hop onto this blog and spout off my opinions on anything fitness-related if I so choose. So can everyone else around the world. This leads to a massive amount of shitty information on the web partly due to content farms that hire out unqualified individuals to generate keyword rich content that hit the top of search engines and individuals that recognize they can create a post about six-packs and score well in Google (although this is changing).

6. Forced continuing education. Although this is mandatory for individuals to maintain their certifications, it needs to be even further more regulated and encouraged. Simply put, if you’ve been training for 10 years without going to a conference, you don’t know what you’re doing.

I don’t understand why fitness professionals fail to attend more conferences. They’re great for learning and building relationships with other people that share your same passion.

7. Develop a way for trainers to earn more money while not requiring more client facing hours. In the land of those who “make it”, they can simply charge $150-$200/hr and have a successful income within a few days. For those starting at the bottom, it’s a work-till-you’re-successful mentality that leaves many qualified and blossoming professionals out to dry.

The Personal Training Development Center is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to build more small groups or start an online coaching program. Trainers need more of those kind of resources.

8. Make it difficult to be a personal trainer. Part of the benefit of medical school being seven or more years long is that it weeds out people that actually want to be there compared to those that want to earn a doctor-like salary. Create the same thing for personal trainers and force out those that just want to make a good living by hanging around the gym all day.

9. Force trainers into an internship type of program to start. Have them follow around a successful trainer for a month including their client hours and programming time. You’ll take care of three things at once:

  • People will realize very quickly what personal training is all about and will drop out if they don’t like it.
  • Companies will save on hiring costs. It costs a ton of money to hire someone on as a trainer assuming the gym has some type of on-boarding training. When these trainers quit a month in, these gyms lose out on a ton of revenue.
  • The young trainers will get introduced to the gym. Part of building your business is getting over the “new-face-in-the-crowd” syndrome.

10. I want to hear from you. What do you think needs to happen? I don’t care if you’re a trainer or just a gym enthusiast. Give me your opinion.

High-Five’s, So-So’s, and Hand Grenades

positive, positive attitude

positive, positive attitude

“Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.” – Zig Ziglar

You may not know this about me if you haven’t directly met me in-person or somehow absorbed it through my writing – I’m a very positive person.

You know – the never-has-a-bad-day, always-smiling, almost-annoying type that high-fives people when they walk into the room. Yeah, that guy. I absolutely hate negativity for one simple reason: it doesn’t improve the situation one bit. That’s why I resonate so well with the quote above from Zig. In short, your attitude is the single most important factor for your success.

In fact, when I left my previous job (where I spent six wonderful years) at the University of Florida, I had everyone write one word that reminded them of me on a mug that I would proudly use for coffee every morning. It would also serve as a reminder of the fine individuals that I had the opportunity of working with. Well, as fate and lackluster Starbucks products would have it, all of those words washed off, but I can distinctly remember the words (and you’ll have to trust me) that individuals had careful scribbled all over the mug: high-five, positive, upbeat, happy.

I was so proud that I carried around that sort of stigma – that air of encouragement and positive thinking.

The way I see it, there are three different types of people in this world:

  • The high-fives: These are the people that fire you up when you pass them in the hallway. They act like they drank a pot of coffee (probably did) in the morning before heading to work, and it even seems (or they fake like) they actually like their job! Absurdity at it’s finest.
  • So-So’s: They seem to have no emotion whatsoever. You walk past them in the hallway and ask how they are doing to which they mutter the proverbial “Fine. You?” It’s almost as if they have a forced response to a general question rather than answering honestly and considering their true feelings.
  • The Hand Grenades: They want everyone to know exactly how bad their life is at the current moment including all of the struggles, trials, and tribulations. When you come across one of these guys or gals, you know it because you’re instantly sorry that you asked.

Don’t be either of the last two.

Your job is to help elevate everyone else around you, not bring them down. Inject enthusiasm into everyone around you, and you’ll constantly be mystified with what can get accomplished.

Here are five tactics that I use on a daily basis if need be:

  1. Smile. Just forming a smile on your face will instantly uplift your mood.
  2. Read or watch something funny. Lately, my go-to resource has been 27bslash6.com by David Thorne – a hilarious Australian humorist. A quick read through one of his e-mail threads will leave you in a better mode instantly. If you absolutely need some “kick in the ass” quotes, I’ve got you covered.
  3. Get outside. Go hang out in the sun or play some kind of game. Better yet, just people watch and let your mind wander away from whatever is pissing you off. Make up funny conversations that you would imagine other people having. Laugh to yourself and remember not to take life so seriously.
  4. Play with a dog. Have you ever seen a dog that wasn’t excited as hell to be alive? Didn’t think so.
  5. Reflect. This can be a tricky tactic as it might throw you into a new-found rage as you continue to brood about frustrating situations. If you can let your mind wander to that one time you did that stupid thing and danced on the table at that one bar while all your friends laughed and sang “Pour Some Sugar on Me” at the top of their lungs, you’ll be good to go afterwards.

Those are just five tools that I use to stay positive even in the face of negative situations. The key thing to remember is you’re either lifting others up or bringing them down.

Think for a moment about the last day at your particular office. Imagine passing around a coffee mug (I wouldn’t recommend Starbucks). What would people write? Would they have to force their hand to write something positive or would they have a hard time boiling down your encouraging personality into one word?

Every action, every response you make forms an opinion in the mind of others. Don’t be a hand grenade.

How do you work to stay positive even in negative situations? Do you prefer high-fives or fist bumps for triumphs? Or do you just resort to high-flying chest bumps?

Act Like a Kid and Get More Done

Nick D'Aloisio who developed the smartphone news app Summly, poses for a photograph in central London

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
― Albert Einstein

You may not have seen the story in the news, but a 17-yr old kid (pictured above) just sold his company to Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer for a reported $30 million dollars.

I’m not sure about you, but I’m relatively certain that my focus was more centered around girls, cool cars, and video games than developing a news aggregator app when I was in high school. I played with my Nintendo 64 far more than I ever looked at the computer – dial-up was far too slow back then anyway. I certainly didn’t have the intellectual capacity to negotiate or market a multi-million dollar deal with one of the biggest companies in technology (and secure jobs for my entire team nonetheless).

Kids are extremely amazing. They are able to think, do, and accomplish some unbelievable and surprising tasks. As the show “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and the new AT&T commercials (It’s not complicated) pumping through the airwaves have proved, kids are also quite entertaining to watch. For one, they have no filter over what comes out of their mouth. Two, they have some absolutely incredible ideas. Three, they are persistent as hell.

Compare that to the average adult:

  • Cares what other people think and has developed a filter over what you can and cannot say
  • Think mainly in one dimension and rarely let their creativity go wild
  • Usually pursues something until it becomes too difficult then backs down

It’s all part of an evolutionary process that we have learned as we’ve grown up. Work hard in school, avoid pissing too many people off, make friends with the right crowd, and eventually submit the job application that scores your life-long career. Create enough to build some successful projects but avoid ruffling any feathers that could get you booted from your desk and land you the corner office in the basement with a pay decrease.

It’s successful to a point, but what if we started thinking like kids? What if we just went for it and tried something different?

Here are three reasons you should revert back to your childhood days to get more done:

1. Unparalleled Creativity

Let’s face it: kids are far more creative than their adult counterparts regardless of whether we are talking about daydreams, big ideas, or creative uses for a paperclip.

You’ve likely heard of the paperclip test (otherwise known as the Alternative Use Test), but just in case you haven’t, here are the very basic instructions:

How many uses can you think of for a paperclip?

I challenge you to do this on your own as it’s a very humbling experience. Take a moment, grab a blank sheet of paper, and begin to write. Don’t worry. I promise this likely won’t take long. The first time I took this test, I came up with somewhere between 15-20 answers. Most people will come up with somewhere between 10-15. Kids, however, can come up with 200 plus. (Other tests here if you’re interested.) The extra “answers” lie in expanding your default idea of a paperclip. Can the paperclip be 200 feet tall and made out of bendable rubber?

The reason you likely had trouble lies in what’s referred to as divergent thinking – the ability to see a ton of solutions to a certain problem. Adults, by and large, lose their ability to think divergently after awhile. When you focus on one item and one solution, you lose your ability to come up with a variety of solutions to the same problem. The result: a group of adults that brainstorm on a task only come up with 3-4 potential solutions when in reality the page should be filled front to back with some wild ideas.

Your solution: Think like a kid.

Adults often get caught up in solving particular tasks so much so that they become narrow-minded and focused solely on the project at hand. This can be great for solving problems right now, but it doesn’t open your mind up to the wide range of possibilities that exist.

Creativity is a skill that we are all born with but it takes practice (more as you get older) to stay fresh in your mind.

2. No Regard for Limits

If you’ve ever spoken with a young kid concerning a problem or idea, you’ll know that they often come up with the most outrageous solutions. Not only are they creative, they think and exist in a fantasy world where nearly everything is possible. Stress virtually doesn’t exist to them in the same way it does to adults. They have no regard for quantity of resources, money, etc. They fail to recognize limitations. Whereas it’s easy for me to sit here and think that it would be damn near impossible to sell a company to Yahoo for $30 million dollars, they think “why not”.

This feasibility aspect holds us back from coming up with fantastic solutions because we’re too worried about how they will work out in the end.

We need to think “why not” more often than “why”.

Your solution: Think like you dream.

In your dreams, you can fly, run faster than you ever thought possible, jump from building to building, and take on a huge group of thugs single-handedly only to walk away unscathed. Your dreams have a loose backing on reality but expand upon that to create the entire experience. Put aside limitations for a second and think like your dream world.

Write down your dreams as soon as you wake up in the morning (detailed explanation by Anthony Mychal). As Anthony explains in detail (and Tim Ferriss further explains in his interview with Fred Waitzkin), everyone has the ability to recall their dreams. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced. If you write down your dreams first thing in the morning, you’ll grow accustomed to remembering them and thus it will make the whole recall process much easier. Your dreams give you a glimpse into your subconscious – what you’re really thinking about and want to do.

3. Insatiable Curiosity

Watch a young kid move around for a few minutes and you’ll notice two things: they will climb/walk/crawl on and over literally anything, and they will put anything in their mouths. It’s their way of learning about objects and finding out about the world around them.

Please don’t put everything in your mouth (that could end poorly), but I challenge you to approach everything with the curiosity of little kid. Wonder how things work and then figure it out. Learn about something you’re unfamiliar with. Go to new places and get completely lost – chances are your smartphone can help you figure out where you are in the end. Travel where you want and then ditch the welcome pamphlet for the advice of the native. Ask a local where they eat, stay, and go.

You’ll probably find out two things:

  1. Some things just aren’t as good as people say they are.
  2. Other experiences will rock your world and you’ll wonder how you ever got on before them.

Your solution: Pick one thing you love to do and learn about it.

My pick is coffee (reading book featured here and interviewing roaster for an article). What’s yours? Whatever it is, research the topic, read a book about it, then go ask experts in the area questions and write them down. If you’re trying to learn about wine, go get tipsy at a winery talking with the owner and workers. I guarantee they will have no problems answering questions if they are passionate about their work.

I want to hear from you. Are you envious of any qualities that kids possess? Think these could help with success? Have you ever written down your dreams?