Sick thoughts

I’m sick. It’s not COVID.

This usually happens twice a year when the temperature changes. Cold symptoms. Cough. Congestion. Sore throat. It’s not fun but I tend to survive.

One thing that the pandemic has taught me is how often I used to go out into the world while sick. I’d go to work, hang out with friends, or go to the gym.

My Ph.D. in Bro Science tells me that coughing in the same room as others is a great way to spread whatever it is. I feel a refreshed sense of courtesy.

On Friday, when things felt super mild, I called my friends before going over to their place for dinner. I explained exactly how I felt and they told me to come on over.

But for the rest of the weekend, I canceled all plans. I’m coughing up a storm. My head feels like it’s full of mucus. The only plus is that my voice is twice as deep from the sore throat.

This is starting to sound like, “Look at how virtuous and ethical I am for canceling events while I’m ill.” But I seriously used to push through stuff like this in the past. It’s crazy to me now.

Once when I was quite sick, I showed up for my shift at the restaurant I used to work. The GM took one look at me and asked, “Are you sick, dude?” I said yeah and he promptly told me to go the fuck home.

Who would’ve known it would take a global pandemic for me to see that being around others while sick isn’t a great idea?

Not me.

Quitting coffee (for a second time)

A cup of coffee on a table surrounded by a pile of coffee beans

Last year, I tried quitting coffee cold turkey. It sucked.

It led to two of the most miserable days of my life. I had to cancel my calls the second day because my head hurt so bad. It felt like the life had been sucked out of me.

I figured, I only drink a small cup each morning. Nothing crazy. Apparently, that’s all it takes to spark a caffeine addiction.

To be fair, I’d rather have a caffeine addiction than need something like booze or cocaine to get me going in the morning. But it pisses me off that I “need” any substance to function.

People laugh about it like it’s a good thing.

“Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee.”
“I need my coffee.”
“I’m not a human without my coffee.”

We’re basically okay with being a slave to a chemical. What if we were to say, “Don’t talk to me at night until I’ve had my evening beer.”

I’m not shaming any addicts or people with prescriptions. It’s just strange to me that we have a culture where the norm is to physically require a powerful chemical—which caffeine is.

If this sounds harsh, keep in mind: I’m talking to myself here.

So today I started the weaning process. I used 50% less ground coffee and less water. This morning’s cup was weaker and smaller. I’ll continue chipping away at this until I run out of filters. Then I’ll switch to black tea.

The end goal: Only drink water and a few supplements in the morning. Coffee will only be a treat on vacation.

I’ll keep you all updated. If this blog suddenly stops, I probably went into caffeine withdrawal.

Hungover without the alcohol

A woman holding a glass of wine

Two nights ago, my sleep tracker told me I got two and a half hours of sleep. I woke up in pain.

I trudged through my first two sessions yesterday. Then for my third, he asked if we could reschedule. I was elated.

I said sure and I regretfully texted my personal trainer to reschedule our afternoon workout. Then I did something I never do.

I took a nap.

Three hours later, I woke up feeling human again. The day ended with a few fun and energy-filled calls.

But I wanted to briefly mention some Bro Science…

My hypothesis: Much if not most of the pain we feel during a hangover is sleep deprivation.

Firstly, when we drink, our sleep quality goes out the window. It doesn’t relax our minds; it sedates us. But alcohol aside…

I go months without drinking. Those periods don’t just lead to me feeling amazing. I have to eat well, exercise, and sleep 7-9 hours each night. There have been sober mornings of awful sleep and it genuinely feels like I’m hungover.

That’s what yesterday felt like.

So aside from the nausea, the headache, and the dehydration…how much of the physical pain of hangovers is simply because our brains didn’t get any sleep?

A weekend of nothing

“Take a picture of us taking a picture of us.”

Readers of this blog know last week was an impactful one for me.

An intense level of burnout led me to change my entire workflow moving forward. That began this weekend.

Minus any trips, vacations, or special events…this Saturday and Sunday mark the first weekend in a year I didn’t work at all. No sessions, no planning, no creating.

I hiked with my buddy. We played chess. My friends took me rock climbing. Two besties are in town from Rwanda and Philadelphia (two equally foreign and exotic lands). We all got brunch in DC Sunday morning.

It was lovely, to say the least. There was no optimization, no brainstorming, no building. Just stories, laughter, and quality time with close peeps.

I love worky-type stuff. But space away from anything (and anyone) is essential. I forget that sometimes.

To “regular” people who enjoy their weekends, this may sound odd. But these past two days have quite literally felt like a vacation to me. I have to learn how to do nothing once or twice a week. Like anything, I’m assuming it’ll come with practice.

Days one and two are checked off. I’ve already begun the process of maneuvering my time slots with my weekend clients.

It turns out most people are accommodating when we simply ask for what we want.

I could get used to this.

I ran away

The sun shining through the woods

Last week, I joked about running away from everything and spending time off the grid. This weekend, I did just that…sort of.

I’m pretty sure I had a mental breakdown from Tuesday to Sunday.

I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’m still sorting things out so I’ll try to make sense of much of it today. In this blog, I’ll go through:

  1. What happened
  2. What I learned
  3. What changes I’ll make moving forward

Let’s dive in.

1) What the hell happened to me?

I woke up exhausted on Tuesday. But not a typical exhausted.

I’ve gotten bad sleep before. This was different. This wasn’t sluggishness or fog. I was awake. It was strange.

I felt no excitement or joy…None.

Whoa. I ran an experiment. I wrote out all of my favorite things and imagined myself doing them at the highest level. Spending time with friends and family laughing hysterically. Growing a business I love. Living in my new NYC apartment. Playing in chess tournaments…I felt nothing.

I wasn’t looking forward to any of it. In fact, I resented and was angered by anything I had to do last week. Client sessions, admin work, plans with a friend. I didn’t want to do any of it.

This was a shock to my system. I’m always excited. I love projects. I love talking to people and spending time with those I love.

But the only thing I truly wanted to do was run away to a cabin in the woods and not talk to a soul. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t fly.

I had a week of calls. Much to do, like any week. My next vacation is Brooklyn at the end of the month. My first thought was, Just make it until then. Not a chance.

The problem-solver that I am, I worked hard to find the source of all this.

I went through every interaction, every experience, everything I did and said in the past two weeks. Is this a trauma thing? Am I nervous about something? Did I do something I feel guilty about?

No. No. And no.

Then what the fuck is wrong??

Mindfulness told me that nothing was wrong. There was nothing to fix. But that’s much easier to say when I’m not in the thick of it.

I used my Ph.D. in Bro Science to dissect things. It felt as though my brain wasn’t producing dopamine. It was hard to laugh. I had zero motivation to do anything. I dreaded waking up and attacking the day.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m always laughing, I’m always motivated, and I love waking up and getting moving.

I cried a few times.

Here’s why:

  • I felt awful
  • I had no idea why I felt so awful
  • I both wanted to be consoled by my friends and not talk to anyone
  • I felt guilty for showing up to calls as (barely) half a person
  • With my limited knowledge of mental health, I thought about how many people experience way worse than what I did

Not fun.

This continued each day. I went to bed hoping I’d wake up refreshed and back to normal. Then I’d get up disappointed and reluctantly head into my office.

On Thursday, I had a session with my coach. When I laid out everything I was going through, we dove in. Without recounting the entire session, here were my major takeaways:

  1. I need more support.
  2. I work every day and didn’t even realize it.
  3. I’ve built an accidental brand of someone who’s unstoppable and has it all figured out (lol).
  4. In the 10 days of February, I had given myself to (held space, helped, served) 53 people for 36 hours.
  5. I’m working on too many things.

Holy shit. I was totally burnt out.

With this blog, with becoming a leader in my coaching community, with building more and more relationships in life and business…

People have been asking for my time and attention more than ever before. My output—the amount of value I’ve been trying to give—has been blowing up like a balloon. That balloon popped last week.

As I’ve reminded myself countless times in the past: It doesn’t matter how good we are at time management—there are only 24 hours in a day. We can’t trick Father Time.

I was giving 100 things 1% of me. As opposed to giving one thing 100% of me.

That session gave me a ton of clarity on what was going on. But it didn’t make me feel any better.

The next day on Friday, I was in a session with someone and I realized I hadn’t been listening to them for about 60 seconds. My eyes started watering.

I felt terrible. It was unprofessional of me to try to power through this. I finally understood the merit of taking a mental health day.

So I took a mental health weekend.

I reached out to the seven people I had sessions/plans with, told them I needed to escape for a few days, and then asked to borrow my friends’ dog, Hank.

I got an Airbnb an hour away. Seven of seven people responded with nothing but well-wishes and heart emojis. ❤️

I packed some clothes and a book, picked Hank up, and we headed off the grid.

So…

2) What the hell did I learn?

When we got to the place, I dropped my bag and phone off. Hank and I left immediately to explore the local hiking trails.

When we got to the first one, I let Hank off the leash and he galloped around the trees with glee. Hiking with a well-trained dog should be an American pastime.

He found a stick and handed it to me. I thanked him for the gift and we walked aimlessly.

A few things hit me in those first few minutes in the woods:

  1. I don’t do this enough.
  2. Intention is a beautiful thing, but so is doing something without a goal or purpose.
  3. Life is 40 times more enjoyable outside without a phone.

The sun was going down so we went back to the Airbnb. I fed him and ordered dinner for myself.

The evening was spent reading, playing with Hank, and thinking.

When we woke up, I gave him breakfast and we went straight back out to the trails. It was snowing. He looked even more graceful sprinting through piles of white.

Back at the place, I made a cup of coffee and started reading a novel. A few minutes in, I realized I was enjoying it more than I had in the past. 90 pages in and it felt like I was soaking it in for the first time.

What was different?

Then the insight struck me. This was the first time in months I had picked up a book simply because I wanted to read it. It wasn’t for my routine. It wasn’t my 30 minutes of morning reading. I was just reading a good book on a snowy morning with some coffee and a dog lying at my feet.

“I need more mornings where I don’t care what time it is,” I said out loud.

“Quiet, I’m trying to sleep,” muttered Hank.

I stopped reading when I wanted to stop, not because it was time to stop. I could get used to this whole “not scheduling every hour” thing.

We played more tug-of-war, cleaned the place up, and checked out. Before returning home, we hit a nature park and wandered around for an hour or two. Every ten minutes that passed was like a percentage increase in my life battery.

I discovered that this stuff…time in nature, electronic-free walks, mornings without a clock…these were no longer self-care luxuries. At the level I’m at now, they’re necessities.

With that said…

3) What the hell am I going to do with all this?

I brought Hank back home and chilled with my two friends for an hour. I told them about my mental state. They listened with care.

When they asked how the Airbnb was, I said, “Necessary, not enough, and expensive.”

While it was helpful, it didn’t remove the physical sensation in my eyes and throat. But it did show me what I needed to change.

First, I need to stop working on Sundays.

I’ve been willing to do sessions on weekends because several of my clients have 9 to 5s and I don’t do evening calls. But that means when I’m not taking a trip, my week looks like this:

Mon—write book, organize week
Tue—sessions, chess lesson
Wed—sessions, group calls
Thu—sessions, newsletter
Fri—sessions, creative work
Sat—sessions, maybe fun
Sun—sessions, chill before week starts

No days off. Literally. That’s stupid.

My brain has no time to shut off or unplug. I’m always on.

Last night, I turned my phone on airplane mode and watched six episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender (I have no idea who played in the Super Bowl).

Even that felt like a rarity. How often do we watch something on TV while on our phones? How many God damn screens do we need at one time?

So, here are my to-dos:

  1. Get back to everyone I’ve been blowing off.
  2. Reschedule my sessions/calls.
  3. Tell my clients I can’t work Sundays anymore.
  4. Spend more time without my phone and not looking at the clock.

I’ve already halted two projects I was working on. Taking those off my shoulders gave me an immediate wave of relief.

Moving forward, I’m going to be doing less. Less but better. Less but with more time, love, and attention. I’ll do more by doing less. Yes. Less.

Conclusion

I’m immensely grateful to have people in my life I can be vulnerable with.

Even this blog. I’m lucky to have an outlet where I can share stuff like this.

I also think about my mom.

I work for myself and have no one to worry about other than me. What if I was a single parent with a full-time job? I couldn’t just cancel everything and escape. Again, I’m lucky to be able to do what I do.

Please, if you’ve been through anything similar, share it with me. I’d love to learn more about the scope and scale of mental health.

Thanks for making it this far. I’m back and feeling pumped to do much, much less! 😘

Getting away

Hank the dog

Today, I’m borrowing my friends’ dog and staying in an Airbnb in the woods.

I canceled all my calls and obligations. Here’s what I sent seven people.

“Hey…! I’m so sorry. I know this is last minute but I’m experiencing some crazy burnout and need to get away. I’m rescheduling everything this weekend and running away to a cabin in the woods. Hope this lands well!”

I can already see I got back four responses from people with nothing but support and well-wishes.

This has never happened to me before. I don’t know the source of this anxiety and overwhelm. It came out of nowhere.

This is new territory for me so I’m learning how to manage it. I dare say there are several learning and growth opportunities here.

I’ll let you all know what those are when I return from playing with this dog off the grid. No phone. No wifi.

Just me, Hank, and a book.

Off the grid

I’m a workaholic. I learned that this winter.

When I stopped doing outreach for my business in December, I got depressed for two weeks. It turned out a huge piece of my identity was wrapped up in my ability to create clients and income.

These past few months have been me learning how to slow down. Some weeks are easier than others. These are good problems to have.

But today, I’m feeling burnt out and I have no idea why.

Every now and then, I have the insatiable urge to spend three weeks in a cabin in the woods. Off the grid. No phone. No one can reach me. Just me, my notebook, my laptop (without wifi), and a few books.

I’m resenting any and all obligations. It’s kind of scary.

So what do I do when this happens? What can I do?

1) Understand that this too shall pass.

2) Check my health trifecta:

  • Am I getting good, consistent sleep?
  • What have I been eating?
  • Have I been exercising regularly?

3) Declutter.

Remove things from my schedule and physical space.

Sometimes I tell people straight up, “Hey! I’m terribly sorry, I know this sounds strange. But I’m going through some burnout right now and I’m making the executive decision to clear my schedule. Would you be willing to reschedule for two weeks from now? Thank you!”

Plus, getting rid of half my stuff in any room cheers me up immediately.

4) Tell someone about it.

Powerful emotions should never be kept to one’s self. I’m lucky to have friends with whom I can share my demons. It’s a sin to not take advantage of that resource.

I plan to do all these things this week.

If the blog goes silent, I’m probably writing posts off the grid in the mountains of Montana.

I got drunk this weekend—and I don’t hate myself

Saturday night, my two good friends hosted a dinner party in DC. Me plus four of their other friends.

We drank wine (and scotch), ate delicious food, and played a plethora of board games. Laughter was had and new connections were made.

After the second glass of wine, I asked them if I could crash on their couch.

The next morning, I woke up with their cat laying on top of me. The sun was piercing through the balcony window. My head was pounding.

But I was happy.

I hadn’t had any alcohol in over a month. Readers of this blog know I take month-long pauses from drinking. Sobriety fascinates me. It wouldn’t shock me if, at some point in my life, I give up drinking entirely.

But lately, I’ve been eyeing my relationship with alcohol under a microscope. I don’t want to rely on it to have fun or be social. But I want to feel free to drink with friends if I so choose.

That’s what happened this weekend. It felt like I just had some drinks and played games with my buddies. Nothing embarrassing happened. I didn’t do or say anything misaligned.

When the three of us (four, counting their baby) woke up, we chatted, reviewed the night, and enjoyed coffee together.

I learned the two necessities for me to enjoy a night of drinking: responsibility and not having any work to do the next day.

If drinking to me means being able to do this once every month or two, that sounds lovely.

I got COVID

Dillan Taylor's COVID test

Again.

Tested positive this morning.

This is exactly when I got it last year—late January. It’s a winter tradition I suppose.

But this time I’m fully vaccinated. Now it feels more like an annoying inconvenience than a debilitating disease.

No canceled calls. The show must go on.

You win this round, COVID. But I shall return.

I’ve meditated every day for four years—And I still suck at it

A man sitting cross-legged while meditating

Meditation is an odd thing.

When I started getting my life together in summer 2017, I downloaded HeadSpace. Andy’s soothing voice introduced me to the simple concepts of mindfulness.

Following the breath. Focusing on each physical sensation. Noticing thoughts and images that appear and vanish.

Within a month of consistently doing three, five, or ten-minute meditations, I felt a shift in my emotional state. It wasn’t that I was less emotional per se, but the default response to my emotions became slowed down and lightened.

Someone does something shitty ➡️ I’m pissed off!

Turned into…

Someone does something shitty ➡️ Sensations of heat and tingling in my neck and face ➡️ Thoughts of me telling this person off ➡️ Noticing that all of that is just in my head ➡️ Deciding not to react in a shitty way.

The second process slowly became a habit.

By adding a simple and short mediation practice to my mornings, the rest of my days were drastically improved. I was kinder, more patient, and more appreciative.

Since I’ve been doing this almost every day for four years, one would expect me to be floating in the lotus position on the cusp of enlightenment.

But instead, I’m just a dude.

Half of my meditations consist of me forgetting I’m meditating. I’ll plan my day, get chaotically lost in thought, or worry about one of a thousand things coming up. Clearing my mind feels impossible.

Because it is impossible.

I now use the Waking Up app for my guided meditations. In it, Sam Harris provides a useful model:

“If someone had a gun to your head and told you not to think about anything for 15 seconds, or they would shoot you…you’d be dead in two seconds. If need be, you could probably keep your hand in fire for that long. But we can’t help but think.”

I hear people bash meditation all the time. “I’m not good at it…My mind is too jumbled…It doesn’t work for me…”

Welcome to the club.

Aside from severe mental health issues, every single person has something to gain by trying some kind of meditation practice. Even if it’s just three minutes of noticing what’s going on around them.

It’s not about doing more; it’s about doing less. Less reacting, more noticing.

My mentor often reminds me of a piece of advice he was given years ago:

“Don’t fit meditation into your life, fit your life into your meditation.”

For me, when I don’t have a ton of time in the morning, meditation is the first thing I skip in my routine. I regret it every time.

Conversely, when I don’t feel like doing it (which is most days) but do it anyway, I’m grateful 100% of the time.

Join me as I float to nirvana.

Another Dry January

I’ve done four Sober Octobers in a row now.

Last year, I added a “Dry January.” This year, I’m adding a third month of sobriety—probably June. (“Jeez Louise I’m not drinking June?”)

I look forward to these months. Feeling clean, healthy, and rested.

Three friends and clients have joined me this month.

No alcohol until February. Care to join us?

Email me if you’re down.

Omicron

A couple of my friends either caught colds or COVID these past two weeks.

The second of four waves that Nicholas Christakis predicted is upon us.

Naturally, many of us will be more conservative now and stay inside more.

I have cold symptoms this morning. An achy face and sinus issues.

Hopefully this won’t get worse and affect the holidays with my family.

For now, I’ll sip my coffee and tea and keep chugging along.

I went too far

A little girl wearing a mask and holding a teddy bear also wearing a mask

I like to create rules.

Boundaries and guidelines for living a healthy and principled life.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve added two rules to my chart:

  1. I can only drink alcohol twice a month.
  2. I can’t give unsolicited advice.

I’ve changed my mind on both of these. Let me explain.

Let’s start with the second one: giving advice.

I recently read The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious, and Change the Way You Lead Forever. (Here’s my review of the book if you want my quick summary.)

In short, giving advice isn’t always the best way to help someone. We usually provide solutions to the wrong problem and, while we don’t like to admit it, our solutions aren’t always that good.

I soaked this in. The last chapter is a reassurance that giving advice isn’t evil, it’s just not always the most effective option.

Despite this, I processed the whole thing as: I must never give advice.

So, when I inevitably did, I felt gross. I felt like a bad person who was hurting my friends and colleagues.

It didn’t take long for me to go, Yeah…I don’t think I’m supposed to feel this way.

As for my drinking, that rule came from puking two nights in a row while on vacation. Naturally, I woke up that second morning certain I would never drink again. I’m sure I’m the only person who has ever pretended to decide that.

But this weekend, I went to DC to have dinner at my friends’ apartment. They cooked a delicious meal and offered me a glass of wine.

I thought, You know what, I DO want one glass of wine. Maybe even two.

And that’s what happened. The three of us finished a bottle then drank water and played games for the remainder of the night.

I said out loud, “Ah. This isn’t the problem. Getting fucked up is the problem.”

Believe it or not, I just don’t enjoy getting wasted as much as I did when I was 20 years old. Go figure.

The next night, I got dinner at my other friends’ house and we each had one hard Kombucha (I know, we’re tanks). It turns out that when I only have one or two drinks I tend to not make shitty decisions.

Conclusion

I erased both of those rules from my whiteboard.

The lesson?

It’s a great thing to notice areas of improvement in our lives. We have the power to make changes in our habits and tendencies to create something better.

But it’s even more healthy to reassess those changes and course-correct if they’re not fully meeting our needs. We can ask: Is this really a problem? If so, is this the best way to address the problem?

Then when our needs shift we can adjust again. And so on.

I don’t really drink unless it’s a social event and I’m not rushing to preach my worldviews to people. But I will have a beer here and I’ll share some opinions there…

All I can do is try to be healthy and helpful and apologize when I overstep.

That’s the new rule.

Day of disgust

A man pouring a beer into a glass

I missed yesterday’s blog.

This weekend was a strange one.

I visited a friend and my dad’s side of the family in Virginia. We all did what we usually do: drink and hang out.

November has led to some shitty mornings in the past since I take the entire month of October off from drinking alcohol.

But this weekend, I threw up from drinking on both Friday and Saturday night.

Sunday morning wasn’t a typical hangover. It was one of those mornings where one lies in bed like a vegetable and reconsiders their life decisions.

It was in that moment of disgust I decided to seriously cut down on my drinking.

I certainly don’t feel like an alcoholic, but my issue is that when I do drink, I drink like I’m still 20 years old.

I’m not.

I’m a 27-year-old man who doesn’t drink often and who takes good care of his body. Meaning, when I drink like I’m in college again, my body rejects it like poison (which it technically is). That’s not super sustainable.

So I’m revisiting my rules.

New rule: I can only drink alcohol two nights a month.

What I learned from my fourth Sober October

A jack-o-lantern next to a block calendar in October

In late September, I called my six-year sober friend.

When I told him I was doing Sober October, he responded, “Me too!”

I’ve always commended his ability to be social, go to bars, and dance…all without the liquid courage of alcohol. I’m an extroverted guy but I doubt I’d be the same chipper dude at a bar in Brooklyn at 2am if I were sober.

He asked me why I do it. Why do I take months off of drinking if it’s not a problem in my life?

The answer is simple: There’s a part of me that enjoys partying and occasionally doing less-than-healthy things. So long as that doesn’t get in the way of my work, my health, or my relationships, then I’m good. But a few times each year, I take a month off to remind myself that I don’t rely on alcohol to be fun, funny, or social.

This was the best month yet.

It only took about a week for me to forget I was doing any sort of “challenge.” It helps that I’m not close friends with any avid drinkers.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from this past month. None of them may surprise you…

1) It’s SO much easier to get good sleep without alcohol in our systems.

Not drinking tends to mean not staying up late or doing other drugs. But even if we go to bed at a reasonable hour, a tiny amount of alcohol in our blood can greatly diminish sleep quality.

I use the app SleepCycle to track my sleep data and this was my best month in four years.

Here are some specs from a random Thursday in October:

Dillan's sleep data from Sober October
Time in bed vs. time spent asleep.
Dillan's sleep data from Sober October
REM and NREM sleep.
Dillan's sleep data from Sober October
Other relevant data.

That’s good shit.

2) NOT waking up with any sort of hangover is the 8th Wonder of the World.

Tied to #1.

I’ve done many drugs in my life—both legal and not. Let me tell you about my favorite one.

The most effective and sustainable drug on the planet is being clean, well-rested, well-nourished, and energized.

A night of cocaine may have made me better at talking about myself for a few hours in the past. But a stable and healthy body has allowed me to compound my efforts, build a profitable business from scratch, and get in pretty damn good shape.

If I had one drug to choose from, I choose that any day of the week.

There wasn’t one morning this past month where I wasn’t ready to attack the day. Even if I was a bit tired or sick, not being wildly dehydrated and groggy made me feel like I could experience the full scope of my day.

3) Conversation is the most important thing.

I’m lucky to have friends who are way more intelligent and creative than I am.

The cool thing is, I get to talk to them regularly. They inspire me. They make me laugh hysterically. They challenge me to level up.

When I visited one of my best friends in Philadelphia last month, the vast majority of our time was spent sitting or walking and having deep and curious conversations.

Aside from the occasional coffee or tea, it was just our own sober thoughts and questions. That’s connection.

In a friend or a potential partner, I ask myself:

Can I sit down with this person and have a three-hour, totally sober, fun and fruitful conversation?

If the answer is no—i.e. if it feels like other substances or activities are necessary for us to connect—then I’ll never truly feel connected to that person.

In other words, I connect with others through conversation: opening up about ideas and emotions and making each other laugh.

Conclusion

I still haven’t had any alcohol since Sober October ended. I’m not craving it at all and to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it until I sat down to write this blog.

That makes me feel good.

I would never tell anyone how to live their life, but I can say this for sure:

The more we can learn to genuinely enjoy our sober minds and surroundings, the more rewarding and sustainable our lives will be.

(*I hope that made sense and I hope that doesn’t sound insensitive to anyone struggling with addiction.)

See you next October.

I asked my doctor friends about vaccines

Three doctors looking at

This is NOT a post trying to convince someone to get vaccinated. It’s a blog about humility.

How it started

A few months ago, I had a warm debate with a friend about the COVID vaccine. I found her arguments to be shaky and without much reassuring evidence to support them.

But it wasn’t what we were arguing about that struck me. It was the level of certainty she had about her opinions while clearly being nothing close to an expert herself.

Certainty that the counter-evidence was likely bullshit. Certainty that the 1% of medical doctors against vaccines are in the right. Certainty that the virus is being propped up so the government and big pharma may gain control over citizens.

In general, I’m less interested in what a person thinks and care way more about how they think.

The conversation with my friend eventually fizzled out, but I couldn’t help but think: Have you had this debate with any real medical experts?

This was my first dose of humility…because I hadn’t spoken to anyone in that field either. So I decided to change that.

I’m lucky to have friends and folks in my life who are either medical doctors or are surrounded by them. I reached out to each of them and asked for their expert opinions in a neutral way.

I didn’t state my thoughts and then ask for validation. I simply said: “I’m trying to get a clearer picture here. As a medical professional, would you be willing to share your thoughts on the COVID vaccine?”

Every single doctor I reached out to sent me paragraphs in response.

Here are the notable takeaways:

• “I’m extremely confident in my ability to read and dissect medical literature surrounding this topic. I think a lot of people who “do their own research” don’t know the first thing about how to conduct, analyze, or determine the relevancy of medical studies. A Google search is not even remotely the same thing.”

• “One of the reasons mankind is still alive is the existence of vaccines. Polio, Measles, Mumps, Varicella, Meningitis, Influenza, and more…would ravage us if we didn’t have vaccines. I think people have become more skeptical in the world today compared to 20 years ago about nearly everything and essentially with this first new vaccine coming in that time, it’s a perfect target for controversy.”

• “As far as reasons I support it? It’s literally the answer to this problem we are all dealing with. It is safe, it’s well researched, the studies are all massively in favor of it, and it’s the fastest and likely the only way to go back to our normal lives.”

• “After these years of education and practical training, I think vaccines are one those things that have received unnecessary negativity towards.”

• “I know there are people who can’t get it, and that is okay. I also know that people who chose not to get it aren’t necessarily selfish people, they are normally just extremely uninformed or misinformed. Everybody acts in a way that they think is best. But just because you think you’re right, doesn’t mean you are. And in this case, it is causing harm to other people. It’s everyone else’s job to protect those of us who are more vulnerable. It’s part of our societal duties.”

• “I understand people want to be wary about side effects which is absolutely fine, but everything we do in medicine is evidence-based practice. We all take the Hippocratic Oath and essentially we try to do no harm while doing what is right for patients.”

• “I would understand the resistance to the vaccine if there was legitimate cause for concern, but there isn’t. Every single time I see a new BS conspiracy theory pop up, I take a week or two to look at the research and listen to the various experts that I know personally or follow on various forms of media. Without fail, every concern has been comprehensively debunked.”

• “It baffles and frustrates me that people are so resistant to entertaining the possibility that they may be wrong. It’s led to so much vaccine resistance and done so much harm. It’s the reason we are still in this mess, the reason the delta variant is such a problem, and the reason so many people are dying unnecessarily.”

What to do with all this?

To be clear, if any of these doctors said something like: “I actually warn people against the vaccine because of x, y, and z…” I would’ve included that too.

These just happen to be all the major points made by the five people I reached out to. I’m also aware that five people isn’t a great sample size.

The point of all of this is highlighted in the first takeaway I listed: I don’t have the slightest clue of how to read and dissect medical studies. Likewise, my friends who think they can in a matter of minutes seem foolish to me.

I think in the world of the internet—where we can find anyone articulating any opinion—it behooves us to practice more humility.

When did experts become morons? Corruption is real and people make mistakes, yes. But what allows someone to feel certain they know more than someone who’s been studying that thing for decades?

We’re experiencing a strange death of expertise.

Which makes me eternally grateful to have people in my life I can turn to who know way more than I do.

If I were thinking of getting spinal surgery, and I had a friend—who’s a server in a restaurant, say—tell me they actually did some research and thought I shouldn’t because it could damage my vertebrae…my response would be: “What the fuck do you know about spinal surgery??”

Vaccines and spinal surgeries are obviously different things in scope and scale. But what I’m trying to hammer home is the ridiculous nature of listening to people who certainly don’t know what they’re talking about.

This goes for my friends who are for the vaccines as well.

In summary:

1) I don’t know shit. Neither do most of us…so we should turn to the people who do know shit before cementing our own ideas.

2) Skepticism is healthy, but the point of expertise is to have people we can trust to take care of the wildly complex things which keep our lives going.

3) The next time we feel certain about an opinion, we must ask: How much time have I spent challenging this opinion? Who can I talk to in order to challenge these thoughts?

Sober October begins

A pumpkin and a fall leaf during October

For the fourth year in a row, I will not be drinking a sip of alcohol during the month of October.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. It’s refreshing to take a break from putting poison in my body.
  2. It makes it easier to crush it in my other health arenas: diet, exercise, sleep.
  3. Waking up well-rested and without a hangover is one of my passions.
  4. Even though I don’t drink all the time, it’s nice to prove to myself I truly don’t need or crave it.

I’m always excited to start.

And now, each year I’m adding an extra month of no drinking. This year it was January. Next year, it’ll be three months.

Let us begin.

Why is this so hard?

A red panda sleeping in a tree

Yesterday, I’m quite certain I experienced the effects of sleep deprivation for the first time in my life.

All three nights this weekend, I attended an event that led to me staying up late. Two of those nights I drank alcohol which always fucks with my sleep quality. And according to my tracker, I averaged four and a half hours of time spent asleep Friday through Sunday.

So what was yesterday like?

The Sleep Foundation lists these as the major symptoms of acute sleep deprivation:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Reduced attention span
  • Worsened memory
  • Poor or risky decision-making
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood changes—including feelings of stress, anxiety, or irritability

That sums my day up perfectly.

In the morning, I sat down with my cup of coffee and for the first hour of my day, I had to constantly remind myself of what I was doing. I would start one thing and jump to another, forgetting what I was doing in the first place. The pit of anxiety in my chest was thunderous.

At noon, I hopped on my regular Monday call with my coaching program and I don’t even remember what we did or what I said on it.

When that was over, I began my next three hours of work, made it about ten minutes, threw in the towel, and went and laid in bed.

I can’t remember the last time I started a day of work and then stopped in the middle of it. Unfortunately, this didn’t calm me down because my chest was telling me I should be working harder, not resting.

Ugh.

Why is this blog post called what it’s called?

It’s because it doesn’t matter how much I talk, write, or preach about how vital it is…sleep always seems to be something that’s easy to sacrifice.

Yesterday humbled me. So today, with my rested and refreshed brain, I’m writing down a few rules for myself on my whiteboard:

1) At 10pm, the phone must be on airplane mode.

2) If there are coaching sessions scheduled the next day, no more than two drinks the night before.

3) If an offer or request doesn’t light me up, I have to say No to it.

If we want to prioritize our energy, we have to treat it like a priority. That’s what yesterday taught me.

An extra hour of sleep

Sleeping in is one of my least favorite things to do.

When I wake up—regardless of how tired I am—I prefer to just get out of bed and start my day.

But for some reason, last night I only got about four hours of sleep. At least that’s what my sleep tracker said when I first woke up at 6:30 this morning.

I made the split decision to do something I never do.

I texted my friends to let them know I couldn’t join them on our weekly swim. Then I set a new alarm and went back to sleep.

Thank God I did. I don’t feel amazing right now…but I certainly don’t feel like the zombie I was when I first woke.

The lesson:

Living a productive life is great and all that….but sometimes we just need some extra rest.

30 more visits with Grandpa

A grandpa smiling while sitting on a couch
Not my Grandpa lol.

Vacay

I went on a lovely family vacation this past weekend. Lakehouse, swimming, tubing, laughing.

But the most memorable moment came when I walked down to the boathouse to find my Grandpa standing at the bottom of the walkway. It looked like he was mentally preparing himself to ascend a mountain.

He had just gotten a pacemaker put in days before. I asked him what was up.

He told me he gets out of breath easily and so I held out my hand to help him up the steps. Once we made it up the first section, he thanked me and assured me he could take it from there.

“All good Gramps,” I responded. “We’ll go up together.”

We got to the deck and he took it from there since he had the handrails to balance himself. I walked back down to the dock to grab the beer I wanted and I noticed I was crying.

It wasn’t a sob. My mouth wasn’t moving. But tears streamed out of both eyes.

This was the first time I got a ‘slap in the face’ reminder of the universal truth: Our time is limited here.

A new lens

After that happened, I saw my Grandpa in a different light. I already love talking to him. He’s hilarious and one of the cleverest men I’ve ever known.

But for the rest of the weekend, I didn’t just enjoy my talks with him…I cherished them.

Every joke and story he told, I found myself uncontrollably beaming. I also looked at my calendar to find the best weekends in the coming months to drive down and visit him and my Grandma.

On top of that, I did some math.

My Grandpa turned 80 this year. Assuming he lives to be 90 years old, I have 10 more years left with him. But that’s incorrect.

On average, I see my Grandparents three times per year. Maintaining that trajectory, I don’t have 10 years left with my Grandfather…I have 30 more visits.

After this weekend, I can check off one of those boxes. 29 to go.

Is this depressing?

No. Not to me.

Talking about this shit is sad, yes. But I much prefer to be open and candid about the inevitable, rather than bury my head in the sand and pretend like death doesn’t exist.

I know people who do the latter and they tend to be the ones who shut down when the worst occurs. Not productive.

Understanding that we’re all approaching death isn’t morbid. It’s empowering.

It forces us to desire more presentness, listening, and compassion.

It invites us to say “Yes” to the things that matter more often: trips with friends, phone calls with family, playtime with kids or pets.

We can obsess over the number of checkboxes we have left with the people we love…or we can focus on the quality of each of those boxes before we check them off.

Having people we love who are alive is a gift. We get to call them, laugh with them, disagree with them, hug them, learn from them…

Even with someone we don’t particularly like—if we found out they had a month to live, we’d forgive their faults and forget our grievances with them. We’d hear what they had to say and make sure they were comfortable and cared for.

What if we did that more often with more people?

Conclusion

It’s up to us to enjoy the box we’re currently checking.

I’m not dreading the number of boxes I have left with my Grandpa. I’m ecstatic for the next box I get with him in a few months.

How I maintain my energy

A pile of double A batteries

On a coaching mastermind call yesterday, we discussed ways we stay energized.

For me, it’s three things.

1) When I’m in a rut, I check my health trifecta.

• Am I getting at least seven hours of sleep each night?
• Am I eating a lot of processed foods and sugar?
• Have I exercised at least three times this week?

2) I take one weekend off each month.

I happily work on weekends since that’s when many of my clients are available. But once a month, I take a long week or weekend off to travel somewhere (usually on the east coast).

It’s a refreshing break after three weeks of hard work and I always return home feeling amped to get back to my routine and do it all over again.

Since I have no kids or other major responsibilities at this time, I figure I should take advantage of it while I can.

3) I spend a lot of time doing things I enjoy.

Chess, martial arts, exercise, quality time with friends, reading…

I find it vital to our souls to spend a good amount of time away from anything having to do with work or money. Like a vacation, it makes us appreciate our time back even more.

We should all have a thing. Preferably something challenging—a skill or a craft—we can practice and get better at.

For me, these three things are perfect substitutes for any drug or stimulant.

5 hours of sleep

Everything is harder when we’re not well-rested.

Everything.

I swam laps with my friend this morning and could only do about half as much as I normally can.

I didn’t feel like writing this blog.

I don’t feel like working today.

But what I do feel like doing…is getting some fucking sleep tonight.

Sleep masks

A woman sleeping with a sleep mask

I’ve been wearing a sleep mask for about three years now.

At first (for a few days), I hated the sensation of having something wrapped around my face. But that was short-lived.

It didn’t take long for me to start seeing the major benefit—increased melatonin.

Our body’s produce melatonin naturally to help promote sleep. It’s the chemical in our brains that goes, “It’s dark now…must be time for sleep!”

So it’s no wonder that a sleep mask—something that blocks practically all light from our eyes—helps us sleep through the night. It keeps everything dark until we take it off or until it falls off our faces as we toss and turn.

I messed up my mask this weekend and have been without it the past two nights. Holy shit. I’ve woken up several times each morning as the sun peeks through my window.

A new one is in the mail. And I recommend anyone who is hesitant to give it a shot for a week or two.

Sleepy pants

My day is always twice as difficult when I don’t prioritize sleep the night before.

It always blows my mind how easy it is to sacrifice good sleep…since the consequences are heavy and immediate.

After a night of poor-quality sleep, we…

• have less energy
• are less motivated
• have less willpower
• aren’t as creative
• aren’t as kind

But who needs all that?

My bet is: If everyone on the planet got consistently good sleep, there would be fewer deaths and accidents in the world.

Worst case scenario…we’d get more done.

Get some sleep.

The Addict Brain

A female addict drinking wine and smoking a cigarette

Last night, I really wanted to stay up and watch YouTube videos on my phone. I wasn’t tired enough to go to bed at my ideal hour: 10pm.

I recently listened to a podcast where a comedian talked about the Addict Brain. He was using it in the context of cocaine and cigarettes, but said it applies to almost everything we do.

To be clear, I have friends and clients who have been to rehab and have been sober for years because of their addictions. By no means have I experienced an archetypal, debilitating addiction to drugs or alcohol.

But the Addict Brain is at play whenever we are faced with something we know is no good for us but our mind tells us: “Don’t worry, it makes sense for you to do this!”

Logically, I’m 100% certain I will regret these things if I do them:

• DoorDashing a large Wawa sub with mac and cheese instead of cooking a decent meal.
• Staying up watching YouTube on my phone until 12:30 at night.
• Skipping my meditation, the gym, or jiujitsu.
• Watching porn.
• Playing video games instead of going to class (when I was in high school and college).

When I have been faced with these decisions, logic is never at play. The Addict Brain throws rationality out the window. I say I’m certain I’ll regret these things because I have mountains of evidence which prove that to be true. I’m never happy or fulfilled after doing any of these things.

So last night, when I had all the energy in the world to stay up later and watch my favorite chess streamers…I turned my phone off and tried to sleep. After 20 or 30 minutes of tossing and turning, I woke up this morning, slid my sleep mask off, and began my morning routine feeling refreshed and grateful.

Thus is the age-old battle between instant gratification and long-term fulfillment.

I’m fulfilled when I’m:

• Eating well.
• Getting great, consistent sleep.
• Active and mindful.
• Present.
• Productive.

The thing is, all this stuff takes time. It’s a slow burn. It compounds, meaning it takes a while to feel the effects but the longer we do it the stronger those effects are.

Example: I’m not just working out this afternoon so I can feel accomplished today. I’m working out this afternoon and then consistently after so I can look good with my shirt off, do fun and athletic things in the future, and be in great shape for my partner and family down the road.

But it all starts today.

It begins with our next meal, with tonight’s bedtime routine, with the next workout. And then the next one. Then the next. And so on…

The Addict Brain wants to keep us from being healthy and fulfilled. But fuck that.

Swimming is hard

A happy man riding a bike during a triathlon
(Not me.)

I completed a sprint triathlon yesterday morning with my best friend.

A quarter-mile swim. A 12-mile bike. Then a 5k run.

I didn’t prepare for it nearly as much as I should have. Prior to the event, I only swam three times and ran two. Not ideal.

The swim was the toughest part by far. My arms were exhausted during the last few laps. Once I got out of the pool, it felt like I won the entire event…despite being like 200 people behind.

We went into the pool one by one, swimming through each lane down and back, then under the rope and into the next lane. We went in based on our swim times. Naturally, I went in with the last group because I assumed I would need to take a few breaks. I made friends in line and we bonded over our lack of ability.

My buddy went in way ahead of me….He had prepared properly. I got into the pool 15 minutes after he got out. Our plan to complete the triathlon together went out the window.

I was feeling insecure coming in because of my lack of training. I feared being surrounded by a bunch of super-athletes judging me for not taking this as seriously as I should’ve. But I learned something powerful yesterday.

There were folks of all kinds of shapes, sizes, ages, and capabilities competing. Here’s the lesson I gathered from seeing all these wonderful people do their thang:

There will always be a shit ton of people who are way better than we are at something. There will always be a shit ton of people who are way worse than we are at that same thing. It doesn’t make sense for us to compare ourselves to either group.

We should learn from and be inspired by those ahead of us and help and teach those behind us. We need only compare ourselves to who we were in the past. Am I better than I was last month? Last week? Yesterday?

When I was in line for the swim, I met an 82-year old who has done a ton of these events. I’ll leave you the advice he left me.

If you’re not having fun, you might as well stay home.

82-year old badass

Triathlon prep

I’m doing a triathlon tomorrow.

I’m woefully unprepared for the swim portion, but I’ll make it happen.

The date seemed to pop up out of nowhere.

It was a lovely example of the importance of being proactive so our future selves can be happier. There were several days where I decided not to go swim laps because I simply didn’t feel like it. It truly felt like I had all the time in the world to prepare.

“Not today. Next week though…I’ll definitely do the work later.”

But later never comes.

The best time to do the work is always right now.

First day back

The past month has been the best month I’ve ever had financially. It’s also been the worst month I’ve had mentally in 2021.

I’ve felt unorganized, my habits have slipped, and I’ve just been uncharacteristically not taking care of myself as well as I tend to.

But this week, I feel like myself again. I’ve had several ‘first day back’s. What the hell does that mean? (And is that grammatically correct? Probably not.)

Well, when we step away from something—a habit or routine—coming back to it, getting back on the horse, is always uncomfortable and full of Resistance.

When I skip the gym for a week, my first day back is always a sluggish, difficult workout. The same is true for my morning routine, reading, running, jiujitsu, chess, and any other activity that’s important to me.

The problem many of us face on our first day back? We forget that there’s something beautiful on the other side of Resistance. Better skills. More confidence. Improved health.

The crazy thing is that we once knew what these things felt like, but now they feel like distant memories.

When I was in high school, I could dribble and juggle a soccer ball with ease. I could shoot on goal for hours and place the ball where I wanted at times. Now, when I shoot a soccer ball almost a decade later, I have no idea where the ball will go. I’ve lost my touch.

There was a thing I once knew but have lost because I’m out of practice. Now, I’m not saying I’m going to start training to be a soccer player again…but if I truly wanted to, I could get it all back.

I’d just have to show up on my first day back, deal with the fact that I have to earn back my skills and flow, and keep practicing.

Quitting coffee (part 2)

Holy fuck.

Turns out I have a caffeine addiction. Three mornings into quitting coffee cold turkey and I feel like I’m genuinely drained and slightly depressed.

I’m stealing some of my roommate’s coffee today because I simply have too much work to do to be feeling this way. I was clearly over-ambitious and seriously underestimated how physically attached my brain was to drinking a cup during my morning routine.

Slow and steady.

Today is bittersweet because I feel like a person again, but it sucks to know that that’s only true because I’ve sipped on a substance.

It is what it is.

Quitting coffee

A few days ago, I noticed that my coffee was about to run out. So I did something I haven’t done since I started drinking coffee…I didn’t buy anymore.

This is the first morning I have willingly not drank the morning brown. And I’m fucking tired.

It’s crazy to think about caffeine addiction. We often don’t realize we have one because we never actually cut it out of our routine and therefore are unaware of the effects of its absence.

My goal is to be just as energetic and motivated in the mornings by simply drinking cold water. Hydration seems like a much more sustainable method for getting the engine moving.

But like all meaningful changes, it won’t happen on the first day. I imagine this being a gradual process.

I’ll let you know how it goes…