The Interior Decorator Problem

October 29, 2009          Comments (0)


9 months ago, I wrote a post about which passion you should pursue; if you’re lucky and have more than one.

But what if you don’t know what your passion is? Actually, forget that. What if you don’t know what you really want out of your life?

How will you ever get it? You won’t because you have no idea what you’re even pursuing.

I call this the “Interior Decorator Problem”. If you know your style and your likes and dislikes why pay someone to decorate your own home? People pay interior decorators when they have no idea what they want or like. (Or, they just don’t want to be bothered with decorating their house.)

I think many of us have the “Interior Decorator Problem” and are running around like organic chickens with our heads cut off.

Let me explain: When I’m working with my clients I try to find out their core motivation. I want to know why they really want to get in shape.

How about an aspiring entrepreneur? Whenever I get requests for advice (which I love) I’m curious to know why they really want to start the business in the first place.

If it’s not to solve a problem they have or because they feel they must start this business my advice usually is to not bother starting it at all. Because if it’s based on money, not only will they get bored, but there’s an even deeper reason why they want the money, that could be obtained without starting a business, which I’ve said before is only something you should do if you’re nuts.

However, once you know what you want, it’s so much easier to work backwards, and actually make it happen.

Many people believe that feeling guilty after eating something that’s unhealthy is ridiculous. If you want it – just eat it, they say. But can you really control guilt?

I think guilt comes from knowing that your actions (say, eating crap) aren’t in alignment with what you really want (say, weight loss, a flat stomach, more energy, looking good in jeans, etc.). In fact, when there is a disconnect between our actions and desires unhappiness will ensue.

I believe we all know exactly what we want when it comes to our health and fitness goals. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want to be healthy and fit nor someone who doesn’t have a dream vision of themselves.

It’s just that fear, excuses, rationalizations and justifications by our short term self convince our long term self we don’t want it when it comes to our health and fitness.

(That’s why self-aware people are the most successful. They don’t delude themselves into believing they’re taking action when they’re really not. Or, that they need don’t help when they clearly do.)

But health and fitness is one thing. Figuring out what to do with your life (one of the 3 questions we all have to try to answer) is another.

So working backwards again, maybe if you feel guilty or sick to your stomach, you know for sure that’s not what you want do with your life.

And knowing what you don’t want is certainly a key to finding out what you do want.

It takes a lot of focus to achieve anything worth achieving. But it’s so easy to lose focus if you’re not 100% certain that’s what you want.

Chances are if you’re not putting forth the effort, you don’t want what you thought you wanted. (I believe what we all want out of life, if you don’t have it already, is a lot closer than most people realize.)

But like all human beings we waver. We teeter. We jog in place.

All while reaching for more.

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My Story of Greek God at Binghamton University (Part 3/3)

October 15, 2009          Comments (2)


After I hung up my SAE underwear junior year, I immediately began looking forward to the day I could start helping the next guy in my fraternity prepare. I guess it’s the teacher in me.

I waited and waited. Finally, I got my wish! It’s been 5 years since anyone has competed for SAE at Binghamton so I was very excited when Petar emailed me in May asking for help with a huge goal of losing (what turned out to be) 35 pounds and competing in Greek God.

Although I’ve never met him in person (and I still haven’t) I was eager to help because not only do I love helping people realize their body’s full potential but I also know how overwhelming getting prepared for Greek God actually is.

The thought of having to stand on stage in front of 3000+ people in your underwear is enough to make anyone sick and with the added tasks of creating sets and skits and, uh, school work – it’s enough to make anyone go crazy.

So for 5 months, I treated him like a regular client. At first, he was worried that we weren’t working together in person. I assured him it’s never stopped me from helping anyone. (It actually helps!)

I felt like I was reliving my days of prep for Greek God especially as we got closer to October. In fact, I actually enjoyed the training more so than I did the actual event.

For a hot minute in high school, I wanted to be a bodybuilder but when I learned that professional bodybuilders are drug addicts that dream dissipated as quickly as their muscles deflate when they’re off steroids. I always loved the lifestyle though.

When we’d talk on the phone for our weekly chats, it was as if nothing changed. The rumors of who was taking steroids were in full force as was the realization that some competitors were and have taken diuretics. Petar was worried that he was at a major disadvantage.

I felt his pain because it’s very easy to get caught up in the buzz that surrounds Greek God. But it’s also important to remember that it’s only one night and he was smart enough to know this.

I told him not to worry about the other competitors. That he could only control what he does in terms of how hard he trains and how well he eats. That’s it. I assured him that not only is it obvious who takes steroids but it doesn’t look good either. He agreed whole heartedly.

But again, the frustrations and fear don’t go away.

In the end, Petar was an amazing and gracious student. I mean, look at his before and after photos! (And in case you’re wondering that’s self-tanner in the after picture.) He went from 220 pounds and husky to 185 pounds and absolutely shredded.

He also has an experience he will never ever forget and neither will I. I got way more out of helping him than he did.

I just hope it’s not another 5 years before someone represents SAE.

I have nothing left to say about Greek God.


Petar IS Greek God!

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What Makes Us Happy? What Are the Keys to Living a Good Life? (I’ll tell you!)

October 7, 2009          Comments (3)


Some might argue, the ultimate question, we’re all trying to figure out is what will make us happy? After all, everything we do is in the pursuit of happiness, right?

You could even argue that someone who acts altruistically is making them self happy too. But even so, what if there was a formula for living a good life. Would you follow it?

Well, George Vaillant has been trying to figure out this very answer as the longtime director of one of the most extensive projects in history. Known as the Grant Study researchers tracked the lives of 268 men who entered Harvard College in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age for 72 years!

And for the first time he’s granted access to what he thinks are the “keys to Fort Knox”. Most undertakings like the Grant Study falter because the funders expect results too quickly. W.T. Grant was no exception. After holding on for about a decade he gave in too.

Lucky for us, as a young man, George Vaillant fell in love with the longitudinal method of research, which tracks relatively small samples over long periods of time – so when he came across the Grant Study he wanted in. “To be able to study lives in such depth, over so many decades,” he said, “it was like looking through the Mount Palomar telescope,” then the most powerful in the world.

The findings of the project have made their way into a 17 page fascinating article in the June issue of The Atlantic which has been getting a lot of much deserved attention. The article offers profound insight into the human condition which I’ve become fascinated by.

I’ll share what I found to be the most interesting nuggets:

Vaillant’s central question is not how much or how little trouble these men met, but rather precisely how – and to what effect – they responded to that trouble. His main interpretive lens has been the psychoanalytic metaphor of “adaptations” or “defense mechanisms”.

We have unconscious thoughts and behaviors that can either shape or distort our reality – depending on whether we approve or disapprove of it.

By age 50, almost a third of the men in the study had at one time or another met Vaillant’s criteria for mental illness. Underneath the tweed jackets of these Harvard elites beat troubled hearts.

What is mental illness anyway? Vaillant believes much of what is described as mental illness is the use of unwise deployment of defense mechanisms. If we use defenses well, we are deemed mentally healthy, conscientious, funny, creative and altruistic. Yet, if we use them inappropriately we’re deemed misfits by society and mentally ill.

Essentially, everything we do in life is trying to adapt to what happens and that’s what determines our ability to live a good life.

Defenses are a basic biological process.  They can either save or ruin us. When we cut ourselves, for example, our blood clots – which is an involuntary response that maintains our homeostasis. Similarly, when we encounter a challenge large or small such as a parent’s death or a broken shoelace – our defenses float us through the emotional swamp.

4 Categories of defenses, starting with the most unhealthy:

“Psychotic adaptations” – like paranoia, hallucination or megalomania can make reality tolerable for the person – but seem crazy to everyone else.

“Immature adaptations” – which include acting out, passive aggression, hypochondria, projection and fantasy. These aren’t as isolating as psychotic adaptations but they impede intimacy.

“Neurotic defenses” – are common in “normal” people.  These include intellectualization (mutating the primal stuff of life into objects of formal thought), dissociation (intense, often brief, removal from one’s feelings), and repression – which can involve naiveté, and memory lapse.

The healthiest are “mature adaptations” – which include altruism, humor, anticipation, suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict, to be addressed at a later time) and sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust in courtship).

Many of the “psychotic” adaptations are common in toddlers and the “immature” adaptations are essential in later childhood, and they often fade with maturity (hopefully).

Humans when confronted with irritants engage in unconscious but often creative behavior although sometimes the creative behavior can be destructive.

7 major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically:


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My Story of Greek God at Binghamton University (Part 2/3)

October 1, 2009          Comments (0)


“Gilbert you’re up!” yelled one of the Alpha Epsilon Phi girls. As I approached the stage my heart was pounding like crazy. All I heard was “Gil IS Greek God! Gil IS Greek God!”

I’ll never forget the deafening noise and the blinding lights as I walked up the stairs on to the stage. I had my pose down memorized inside and out. I was focused.

Just the night before, I was prancing around, in one of the gross third floor bathrooms of Newing’s Broome Hall, trying to figure out the best way to shave my legs. Apparently, all of the contestants shaved their legs. Too bad I had no idea how to. I called up the girl that was running Greek God and asked her how. She was absolutely meticulous in how she ran the event.

After all, the real purpose of the event is to raise money for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation. Not to have college fraternity guys pose in their underwear.

But when I called her it didn’t go over as well as I had hoped. Although she laughed hysterically – she didn’t really appreciate my lack of preparation. I was on my own.

So, I was kneeling down ready to begin my pose down staring at my tanned feet with all eyes on me. As if being thrown into Greek God 3 weeks prior, competing against juniors and seniors as a sophomore, having an awful experience shaving my legs the night before and building all the sets that morning wasn’t enough – the wrong music started playing!

To say my one and only Greek God outing was underwhelming is an understatement or was it?

Flash forward to my junior year of college. My boys and I came back from the summer extremely excited for the year to come. We were now upperclassmen living in the fraternity house feeling pretty confident.

Until, 4 weeks before Greek God when my boys and I were talking about how fun it would be if we had a contestant. Before you know it, we were on the phone with every fraternity president and contestant asking if they had a problem if I competed again. Apparently, competing 2 years in a row is not allowed. Like Bloomberg though, I was in business. Again.

The diet, the exercise, the tanning, the rumors and the procrastination all started once more. Evidently some fraternities take Greek God extremely seriously. Which, I’m sure, puts a lot of pressure on the actual contestant to look good. After all, it’s expensive to participate. It’s also a chance for lesser known fraternities to make a name for themselves. But c’mon – it’s also only one freakin’ night!

As a lifelong fitness freak (not safe for work – watch the last 5 seconds of the clip), I’ve gradually added muscle throughout the years.

However, it wasn’t until my junior and senior year of high school when I became absolutely obsessed because I finally had access to a gym whenever I wanted being that I was able to drive. My mom always wondered why I ate the way I did and I’d always have to explain to her that I didn’t want to take drugs. For her own peace of mind, she had me tested for any and all steroids which I was totally cool with because I no longer had to explain my eating.

I always knew, somehow, I’d end up doing something in health and fitness so I’ve had her or my sister take pictures of me once a year to document my progress. As ridiculous as that sounds (and believe me they let me know) I only did it because I take great pride in being able to say the only things I’ve ever taken were protein shakes and protein bars. And not that I think I’m this (Greek) God because I certainly don’t. However, I always laugh when I see people who gain 35 pounds of muscle very quickly. Sure, that’s natural bro!

So, I took it as a compliment when in the weeks before Greek God both my sophomore and junior year, people would ask me if I was taking steroids. And although it was slightly annoying it made me laugh because I’ve truly been a fitness freak since I was in 4th grade. How would they know that though? While most kids were getting ready for school in the mornings probably eating Fruity Pebbles, I was working out in my room, a make shift gym.

Although my life is way more than protein shakes and protein bars now, it’s still a part of me. In college, steroids were certainly available. It’s pretty obvious who took them. But the good stuff – the stuff that sticks – takes the longest to gain but is actually sustainable and always lasts.

In the end, Greek God my junior year turned out to be awesome. My toga skit was fun as was my formal wear skit. And, as always, the part I trained the most for was the pose down (see picture above).

Unfortunately, no one in my fraternity has competed since my junior year of college. That’s like 5 years!

But a few months ago I got an email from Petar (yes, Petar) that he is doing it for SAE this year and that he’d love some help.

Petar has been an extremely gracious student and a lot of fun to work with.

I’ll say no more. Except:

Petar IS…

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