Morning Routine: A Way of Being More Alive?

February 7, 2019

12.25 minute read

Portsmouth

What are the possibilities for our human potential, and for the enterprises we lead? Those of you who “get” me know I am endlessly striving and experimenting on the most effective ways to unlock potential, in myself and in others. I’ve tried to stop; can’t stop. As part of that, many Entrepreneur Owner-Manager friends / clients have heard and repeatedly asked for more color and detail on my morning routine.  So this is currently what my morning routine looks like, although I am always experimenting and changing it up. I am not giving advice or recommendations to you—you asked me what I do. Others’ experiences will surely be different, and I’d love to hear about yours.

But before I go there, help me understand something. Why do we say we are going to “play” the piano, or “play” tennis, and yet we say we are going to our collaborative office to “work,” or go to the gym to “work”-out? Work and play seem to me to be the very same thing. Isn’t it all living? I love the thinking about life in this video from the incomparable Alan Watts: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvObapojnho).

I have long been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise guy (yep, what your Grandmother told you). Since I am one of those people for whom it is not possible to use alcohol in moderation, I try not to use it at all which means I have active days and evenings and go to bed early and exhausted.*  Given the persistently full force of my animal spirits, you might wonder if I have a really big amygdala? No matter where I am in the world, my day almost always starts out soon after 5:00 am local time—i.e., I try to stay in bed ‘til 5. I really like good coffee (and I do like Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof concept https://blog.bulletproof.com/how-to-make-your-coffee-bulletproof-and-your-morning-too), perhaps adding some coconut or MCT oil. I have been experimenting with black tea for the past year after wondering if something in the coffee other than caffeine was making me a little agitated (or possibly it’s how I personally metabolize the coffee)? I have noticed a difference, and others have too, though I don’t know the precise cause / effect. I like good coffee better than most tea, so I am still experimenting with it. Could be this TMI is making you face palm, but hey, you asked for detail.

Metabolic. 40-60 minutes metabolic workout. The physical and psychological benefits of stress / recovery have been widely researched and published; evidently it is just wired into us. I get an enormous amount of fulfillment—incredible fun really—from a good programmable bike. The one I use most often allows me to program uphills and downhills, enabling me to get in both higher and lower intensity timed intervals. I have experimented with all kinds of bikes at fitness clubs, hotels, spas, and at home, including owning a Peloton. For me, the best bike is “off line” with no physical or cognitive distraction. I do enjoy the variety of rides offered on the Peloton, but I do not relate to competing with anyone online (or offline). People who meet me often assume (incorrectly) that I am a super competitive extrovert. Actually, I am neither. What I am is obsessed with intrinsic mastery.  I despised being heckled by self-important elementary school teachers; I despise it by ride leaders now. I guess I just don’t relate to extrinsic motivation at all. Here’s an interesting brief piece on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation including some terrific insights from Laird Hamilton on his view of  “where competing with others begins, the art ends”: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brick-brick/201509/laird-hamilton-and-the-art-surfing 

Playing outside in any season in Mother Nature including biking is definitely preferable to being inside, but for those of us who live in the cold, gray godforsaken corners of the continent, an inside programmable bike is accessible every day, no matter where you are, and no matter what the weather is. For years, I have coupled my bike with an Air Desk (https://airdesks.com/products/laptop/laptop-desk/) which looks like a clear Lexan music stand on which I can read a physical book or an iPad, make notes on in my notebooks or physical books, or occasionally use a laptop.

From years of self-experimentation, I find that I get enormous creative acceleration during the actual workout (not just after) and I love to do scholarship, preparation, or just creative note taking while I am working out. (There are one or two points in the uphill workout that I have to put everything down and concentrate). For over 10 years, I used a heart rate monitor and kept a log. No longer.  I got bored with the humdrum “life logging” of the quantified self—I guess I want my focus on the play, not the work. Although someone sent me an Oura ring recently and I’m about to test that out.  My cardio training is followed by some simple free weights or some simple stretching, depending upon the day. I love high kurtosis—wide variability in all things—and especially in my fitness practice

Breathwork. These days, my metabolic / weights is almost always followed by “breathwork”. What? Breathwork? (Maybe we ought to term it breathplay based upon my comments in the second paragraph). Breath, just like your heartbeat, is part of your autonomic nervous system, right? You don’t usually actually control it. It just happens.  You know you are breathing the same way you know your heart beats, the same way you know you have thoughts. However, if you direct your consciousness towards it, you can experience it, or maybe even adjust it.

A baby is born and the first thing it does is breathe. And when breath leaves the body, life is over. It’s the most basic thing. No breath, no life. Breathe in-breathe out. Yet it is one of our body’s systems that we can most easily direct our consciousness to influence for spirited performance. In fact, the English word spirit is derived from the Latin spiritus “breath.” Scientific research suggests most of us living in the developed world use 10-20% of our breath capacity daily.

Many yoga or other eastern arts practitioners know this, know a lot about breathwork and the thousands of years of legacy behind it.  I didn’t, and first got turned on by the work of Wim Hof a few years ago (https://www.wimhofmethod.com/). I really learned a lot by following Wim online and by taking some of his suggestions on super-ventilation—getting oxygen in yes, but more importantly getting carbon dioxide out. Separately, I love his suggestions on the application of cold therapy during work outs. No question, he’s "out there," but I experimented and continue experimenting with the cold Atlantic Ocean, cold pool, and cold showers post-workout.

Following my curiosity about Wim Hof, I connected with Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece who were interested in the same learning and attended one of their very early XPT weekends (www.xptlife.com). The high points of that weekend for me were the breathwork, using heavy weights under water during breath hold, and the hot-cold work we did by cycling into a hot sauna followed by a 3-minute immersion in a bath of ice and water, and then repeat. I love proficiency with heavy weights under water and add those to my routine if I am at a location or facility where I can do that. Plus, I get enormous endorphin fuel from rapidly “changing my state” using the cold.

During the XPT weekend, I had the chance to meet and spend some time with Brian MacKenzie (https://www.brianmackenzie.com/bio) who masterfully led that weekend's breathwork. Where Wim Hof goes for moving large volumes of air using mouth breathing, a lot of science and thousands of years of yoga practitioners would urge nasal-only breathing.

Brian MacKenzie persuaded me that nasal-only breathing has many benefits such as nitric oxide moving through your nose sending signals to your brain—and I have adopted that technique. Here’s a short little piece on nasal breathing by Brian https://powerspeedendurance.com/the-training-benefits-of-nasal-breathing/.

I very intentionally add to my understanding about the science and efficacy of breathwork. A little less than a year after the XPT weekend, I attended a daylong practical session created and curated by my friend Sarah Tacy Tangredi (www.sarahtangredi.com) that was led by Brian MacKenzie. That took me to a higher level of understanding of the science and hands-on application and from that I have developed my own workout sets of breathwork that are particularly useful to me.

I break my breathwork into sets—one set takes me about four minutes and I do between 3 and 6 sets per morning, so you can see it doesn’t take very long. But the effect is enormous and seems to persist post-workout. Literally everyone I have seen try serious breathwork has keenly benefited by it, and I am guessing it will emerge to become more mainstream in the next few years. This has led me to a discussion with Brian MacKenzie and some other friends who have been working on creating an iPhone app which is tentatively called State. (In full disclosure, I am in early discussions to be an early stage investor in State). I am going to continue my breathwork journey by attending some Stan Grof-style holotropic breathing sessions (http://www.holotropic.com/). As I began to develop my practice with breath work, I quickly (accidentally) discovered that it put me in a “pre-meditative state.

Meditation. So, we have all heard a lot of talk about meditation recently and especially mindfulness meditation. I think the increased spotlight on meditation is basically good; I hope its current faddish state in pop culture and the media results in understanding rather than detracting from its long-term benefits.

I learned the structured practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) (https://www.tm.org/transcendental-meditation) about 30 years ago in order to provide polarity to my persistently high energy level, and have practiced it steadily—but not every day. It’s recommended you spend 20 minutes twice a day practicing. I start and stop regular practice depending upon my stress level and time commitments. I went back to get additional TM instruction a couple of times (what TM'ers  call “checkings”).  At this point, I almost always get a morning meditation in but can fit it in during the evenings only infrequently. Amazingly the moment I experimented with breathwork I instantly realized a powerful unintended consequence:  KABOOM it supercharged my meditation. Just made it incredibly more constructive to engage the meditative state.

Hard scientific research tells us there are many benefits to meditation. I began it as described above, to increase stress tolerance, but the single most helpful result of meditation to me is the daily re-realization that I am not my brain. That from my consciousness (Phi), I can watch my brain and use it as a tool rather than being used by it. Most meditators will quickly identify and understand my point here, to others it may not resonate as much. Regardless, what an incredible tool for modern life; it’s a natural empathogen. My go-to authority on meditation is Sam Harris (https://samharris.org/) who understands TM, but usually advocates a more simple form of mindfulness meditation for nascent meditators.

Hot / Cold Practice. I have been experimenting (really just playing around) with hot and cold therapy on my own, including occasionally taking cryotherapy chamber sessions at -200f at Rejuven-Ice just north of Boston (https://www.masscryo.com/),  and have now installed an inexpensive stand-alone sauna at home. After a quick bit of research, I spoke directly to the manufacturer and became confident it was worth a try. As happens in our currently confused market channels, they told me I could order it directly from them, or pay less and have it delivered for free directly from Costco! It’s a four person cedar barrel shaped sauna made by Almost Heaven (https://almostheaven.com/), it comes in a kit and was assembled in 2 man days (plus the electrical line which requires 220V). I am thoroughly entertained, it cracks me up really, and surprised by how much

Kareen and I like it, and how much I use it—daily after meditation if home—frequently followed by some kind of cold plunge (pool or Atlantic), or just a cold shower.

All-in, I invest roughly two hours a day in my morning routine, sometimes more on the weekends in a pool. Naturally, some days headed for an early flight, I don’t have the time in the morning, so I might only do breathwork and TM. Or I might vary it up and do my cardio in the afternoon. I usually work out every day knowing my wide-ranging travel schedule suggests I will get a day off once in a while.

Many high-performing Entrepreneur Owner-Managers (and even some smarty pants intellectual dark web academic types) have found that deliberate stress / recovery physical play helps us change our metabolic and psychological state—and make room for, as my friend Barb Dugan puts it, experiencing our freedom. (http://www.recoveryservices-exeternh.life/blog/). I say it increases our capacity for lightheartedness and play. It’s worth doing for its own sake. Socioeconomic, gender, and racial differences dissipate. I just can’t tell you how much fun I have with it, and how much I look forward to it every day. And here’s a secret positive unintended consequence: it also increases the productivity of our work.

Technology—especially connected technology—has allowed us to do passive work anywhere / anytime and with astonishingly clever devices that rob us of our attention, particularly our attention to the natural world around us. (Quick: what’s the phase of the moon on the day you’re reading this?). And it turns out the conventions of our mass popular culture today are overwhelmingly passive. Sit on the coach, watch Game of Thrones re-runs, and pass the Cheetos. Why are we as a mass pop culture feeling so much craving for self-medicating—for crowding out our mind (whatever your medication of choice is)? I wonder if it’s related to living in a world we were not biologically evolved for.

An active morning routine activates. It illuminates another level of life, a way of being more alive. I don’t know, but maybe it’s a step towards the life we are biologically evolved for.

Of Note: Interestingly, in my professional experience over the last thirty years, I find that many or even most high performing EOMs are not skilled at moderation. These are passionate people. It is often their immoderate burning single-mindedness plus Grit that allows them to create sustaining positive legacy and create a fortune from the Enterprise Value they have worked their lives to build. There is a highly researched, well-known decision cost of moderation, since literally every decision is viewed and weighed as if it could be a possible exception or boundary decision in the choice architecture. That is fatiguing and depletes self-regulation (Baumeister, Duckworth, Mischel, et alia). Many EOMs eschew that cost of choice and instead make one binary decision, or yes / no as to a behavioral choice. There may be great clarity and release from going from the dependence of “I am going to try to eat less refined sugar” to the liberty of “I am not a person who ingests refined sugar. Period.” Perhaps it is related to having no cognitive tax on choice architecture, no depletion of self-regulation? Or possibly it’s just another form of Lockean Exclamation or oppositional defiance—which high performing EOMs disproportionately represent. It’s topic for a separate post.

What I Am Reading / Listening To

Contributed by Amanda Telford

There is a reason self-help books have such a big market. Many Entrepreneur Owner-Managers continually strive to learn and grow, and in fact most of us can benefit by continuing to learn about ourselves and our work. That said, it’s hard to know where to start!

Atul Gawande Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you? from The New Yorker

Atul Gawande suggests a different approach in his 2011 New Yorker article, Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you? Instead of the popularized idea of coaching that pervades society today, Gawande takes a very specific and focused look at how even those of us considered experts in our field can benefit from having a coach.  As the caption to an illustration in the article states, “No matter how well-trained people are, few can sustain their best performance on their own. That’s where coaching comes in.”

One of the most compelling aspects of Gawande’s article is how he combines storytelling and facts. He weaves in the perspectives of coaching from literature, sports, music – literally creating a piece that has something for everyone so no one is left behind in being able to connect with his concepts. Yet it’s his own story as a surgeon that drew me in from the first page.  With a sentence like, “Or you can just grab whatever part of the appendix is visible and pull really hard,” how can you not want to see how the story ends?  And if Gawande can make his point (and he does) that even surgeons can benefit from outside eyes and ears, as Itzhak Perlman describes coaching, to help make them aware of “where you’re falling short,” it’s hard not to feel “Couldn’t I benefit too”?  Gawande’s writing presents a well-thought out and researched article that gives meat to the argument that coaching is a valuable tool in personal growth.

Entrepreneur Owner-Manager Quote

 

“I highly suggest taking a gap year before hibernation.”

 

-Ken Grass, former President of Astroseal, on his experience after having a capital gain transaction.

Energy Creation

Bullet points from the 2019

Abundance 360® Entrepreneur Owners Group

Year 7 of 25

Los Angeles

In the air headed east from this year’s Abundance 360® throng in Los Angeles, I am reminded of James Carse’s classic work Finite or Infinite Games which colorfully defines two kinds of games in decision theory. One can be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning; an infinite game for the purpose of continuing to play. Members of the Abundance 360® Entrepreneur Owner’s Group arrived from 32 countries to continue our energy creating infinite play for the seventh year out of the twenty-five-year commitment.

Peter Diamandis, the creator of the Abundance 360® community continues as its curator for now. The conference has been acquired by Singularity University, so interesting changes are likely forthcoming. The framing context for the dialogue has been and is the notion that faster, cheaper, connected computing power is resulting in unexpected convergent consequences in eight domains: Networks & Sensors, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality, Robotics, 3D Printing, Energy, and Health Care. Here’s an observation or two describing near term (2019-2024) breakthroughs on each.

Convergence

Networks & Sensors. To achieve free, worldwide connectivity, OneWeb is putting up 9000 satellites, SpaceX Starlink is putting up 12,000 satellites. 100% of the world population will have no cost connectivity. There will be 50 billion connected devices and 1 trillion sensors. Everything will have sensors, and the sensors will be delivering the data they derive to AI-networked databases.

Artificial Intelligence. AI will liberate us from all routine repetitive jobs. AI will create more jobs than it takes, but they will not be routine repetitive jobs. AI results in non-human pattern recognition and is applied to high value industries, like health care, first.

AR/VR. 5G rolling out beginning in 2019 reduces mobile devices latency to effectively zero. 1 billion people using standalone mobile VR devices.

Robotics. Robotic factories drive onshoring of US manufacturing—but with no new jobs. Autonomous vehicles are everywhere, but you will not own one, you will just use an app to request one. The combination of driven and driverless vehicles will create highway chaos. Drone delivery will prevail for high-value, low-weight products.

3D Printing. The speed of 3D printing will increase 50x-100x, and metal will quickly overtake plastic as the substrate. It will make up 50% of all manufacturing.

Energy. First 1 cent per kilowatt hour supply of solar and wind is coming. Global Internal Combustion Engine powered vehicles peak (or possibly have peaked). All (any) growth in worldwide vehicle sales is electric.

Health Care. Increased lifespan by itself logically results in more chronic disease and frailty which means we would have more absolute years of life, but likely poor health at the end. (In this environment, the badass expert speakers at A360 are not referring to our creaky current “sick care” system; they’re really thinking more about life span, health span, QALY’s, and the application of AI to health care data). Individualized gene therapy coupled with placenta derived STEM cell therapy will become widely available for healthy people. 90% of the world population will live to 100 years. We will experience a phase shift in chronic disease, where we extend our healthspan through a compression of morbidity, so that we live longer and then die faster.

The big A360 2019 takeaway? We live, without a doubt, in the most extraordinary time in the history of the world.