Accelerate global learning with XPRIZE

Heard about this project a few weeks ago. The XPRIZE organization is a non-profit organization that creates public competitions to tackle big world problems. They are usually backed by very big checks to the winners of each competition.

This specific competition is their global learning competition. In short and completely stolen of their site:

The Global Learning XPRIZE is a competition to build Open Source software to teach a child to read, write, and perform arithmetic, by themselves, without a teacher. Teams will compete to win a $15 million reward to build this revolutionary technology.

I totally love these initiatives – they really fire the entrepreneurial spirit inside of me. Taken on big world problems and really making a difference. Whether you are a entrepreneur and wants to join the competition, wants to back one of the competitions or simply share the message, you should go visit their site.

http://www.xprize.org/

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Identity diversification

When you have figured out what your goal is, you should spend all your energy on reaching that goal, right? Yes and No. You should always strive to move towards it, but activities that may not seem to move you closer in the short run, may keep you from stumbling and rolling backwards in the long run. Let me explain.

If your goal is to travel around the world, you of course need some money, but what you do not need is to buy a house or get a full time job, apart from the latter being a means to get your money. You probably do not need to look for a steady relationship, unless you plan on bringing him/her along or loves to dilute all your experiences with a constant longing for your significant other and counting down the days until you are reunited.

If your goal on the other hand is to start a company or try to reach a certain position within your current one, then traveling the world for half a year may certainly not bring you any closer to that goal. A significant other may keep you sane at times, but may also limit your drive or ”hunting instinct.”

But let’s stay with the last example where you strive to build a company – that is what I can most easily relate to at the moment.

You could argue that in order to be successful you need to spend all your waking hours working on your idea. This is the goal you want to achieve – so more time and energy invested must equal more achieved – well not always. If you are building a pyramid and laying bricks, then yes – the more bricks you lay each day, the closer you will get to completion. But most endeavors are not that straight forward. Must are somewhat one step forward – then two back, two steps in the other direction – then one back etc. etc. This is where identity diversification comes into play.

If you derive all your happiness and feeling of achievement from one source, you could potentially dig yourself into a very deep hole, at times where your company are struggling. If you have given up all your leisure activities in order to spend 16 hours a day on your start-up, then you are signing up for some very dark days when things go bad – coupled with having getting rid of all your non-startup friends, then you can really sit in a depressing circle with similar friends all discussing how bad and hard you feel.

What you should do on the other hand is not only be Mr. Startup, but also be Mr. Fitness, Ms. Dancer, or whatever you may have of interests. These may seem like distractions when everything go according to plan, but once things start to get hard and against the plan they can keep you somewhat sane.

Let’s say you have had a very bad day because all the sales you tried this day failed, you feel somewhat down but still go out the door to join the weekly swim-session and your mates there. You are not that much in the mood for talking, because of this burning feeling inside of failure. Then comes the timing of your 50 meter crawl. You just propel all your anger out in each stroke and low and behold you end up beating your lifetime best, which you have tried to do all year. Now this is a good day! What before looked to be a bad day ends up being a good one. Your business-ego may have taken a beating, but as your swimming is completely un-related it does not in anyway dilute the awesome feeling of reaching a personal best.

The above could have been anything from you being a good spouse, sprinter, weightlifter or whatever. Then entire point is to not derive all your sense of worth from one source.

I nearly wrote of my gymnastics, because the cost would take a few weeks of cash away in a time where we were running on empty in my start-up and had no direct source for future income. But as I thought about it, it just made me so sad to think of all the good times and people I would miss by saying no to gymnastics. I luckily came to the conclusion that a happy and sane version of myself would out-work and out-smart a slightly depressed version of me, by way more than what I would save by saying no. The people I am around during gymnastics is by no means going to help my company – but that is somehow part of the point. It makes me relax and think of other things which makes me way more productive when I return.

Your main priority, whether you are a CEO, a father or an athlete is keeping yourself sane and feeling great – once you do that, you can perform at your best.

You evolve – so do your goals

Goals – you have got to have goals – right!? Especially in this century of self-improvement. You can’t be drifting along figuring out what to do as you go along.

I do not think goals are the big solution to all your problems or that they are the universal solution to all your problems – but a few years ago I went from no real goals to set some rather clear goals and this will be about how they have sort of evolved.

Probably 4-5 years ago I started altering my way of life in a direction I had been absolutely sure I was not going in. I had told both myself and others that I was absolutely comfortable working a good paying job without to many obligations in order to earn money I could spend in my spare time. In other words work 8 hours a day 5 times a week to enable myself to do pretty much what I wanted in my spare time.

I worked as a computer programmer at a very large company, had done so for quite a few years and made enough money, to not really worry about normal living. My day job allowed me to do the things I wanted in my spare time – and I felt great about it. Or I did not love my job, I just saw it as a means to and end. I had no aspirations to end up becoming a leader or anything that would give me more responsibility. And further more I regularly said that I had absolutely no plan on doing anything that would take away my spare time, leave me with a lot of responsibility or long days at work. I held this belief until somewhere in my mid-twenties.

Trying to look back, I am not really sure what lead me in the opposite direction. It might be a quite hard break-up with a girl that led me down a trail of self-improvement or maybe its a natural part of what, if I remember correctly is named as the ”odyssey age”. Nevertheless I started a journey that led me just about a totally 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

I started thinking about goals for the future – not as goals for my training – but for what I wanted to do with my life. I got quite inspired by stoicism, read numerous self help books and finally had what I scribbled down on a piece of paper as my goals for the next 5 years. I had originally 3 goals written on that piece of paper I always carried around with me. Within a year or two is was down to 2 goals.

I removed ”Location Independent” from my goal card. It was probably somewhat spawned from reading The 4-Hour Workweek, and resonated well with me in the beginning. I always loved traveling and still do. But what came to my realization was that I may have a fun time living in Burma, but if all my best friends and family are in back in Denmark, then I will not be happy. I have a huge network of friends from almost all periods of my life and they just meant to much for me to have location independence as a definite goal. Money and freedom to travel – YES. Location independence – not really needed.

The last two goals are totally materialistic. One is an amount I have set as a goal for yearly income and the other is a ”specific object” that I really want to try and own. But come very lately these goals were somewhat moved to the side or at least pushed down.

For the last almost 3 years I have worked on a startup together with my dad. We have developed some software that can give a totally unique overview of the combined effects of any number of drugs. The last 2 years have been full time and so far we are bootstrapped and working hard.

As you can probably imagine this is like the total opposite of what I wanted earlier in life. It is just about exactly what I said I would never want – and now I love it. The prospects are rather promising and would totally enable the fulfillment of the two goals I had left on my goal card. So no need to change them.

But then recently I had to or at least chose to do an consulting assignment to secure a little more capital for our company. No apparent diverging away from my goal on that part – but what surprised me a little, was the hourly wage they were willing to pay for my time. If I totally focused on my two goals – I could obtain them by working as a consultant – and probably with more certainty than working on my startup.

This could be a sign that I needed to reconsider my involvement in the startup – because is it really the best way to reach my goals – OR – are have my goals really evolved so much that they need to be changed once again.

Luckily for me, it is quite easy to answer. I am so certain that I want to spend all my energy and money on trying to succeed with my startup. It needs to be on the top of my goal-card. The other two goals still apply, but they are of less importance than successfully building a company from the ground up – and a company that will have a huge impact on a lot of peoples lives once successful. I therefore had a quite obvious reason to change my goals.

But everyone changes, and the goals you had yesterday may not be the most important goals for you today. Changing your goals is not giving up – you need to be very true to yourself about what your top priorities are and then move towards them. As Neil Gaiman said in his amazing commencement speech(which if you have not seen – you should!) Keep moving towards your mountain – measure your decisions up against whether they move you closer to that mountain.

Best bodyweight exercises for abs

L-sit gymnastic rings
Doing L-sit on the beach at Ngapali. Myanmar(Burma)

Oh the famous abs… So many hopeful aspirees, so many teachers and so few victorious in their quest.

What I’ll share of course is the easy, no work all magic pill that transforms your sexy curvy stomach into a flat, tight 6-pack. You’ll only have to work once a year for 3 seconds, so that your awesome well trained attention, do not miss any cat-videos or talent shows.

Kidding aside – this post won’t give you overnight 6-pack or maybe even ever get you near, that’s all on your court. What I’ll describe for you is my philosophy of ab-training. Boiled down to a couple of hard and somewhat advanced exercises that has been my favorites for the past several years.

DSC_0842_2As you of course should not take advice on how to quit smoking by a chain-smoker, I’ve included a couple of pictures of myself, just to let you come to your own conclusions as to whether I walk the walk or not. Further more you can probably find one or two very recent pictures on my Instagram account.

Having had a 6 pack for the last probably 6 years I think I have developed some sense of what it takes to achieve it – and no unfortunately my 6 year old photos does not include me with long hair or a newspaper to validate the claim, but I can provide ‘em – your choice to trust me or not.

6-packs are as you probably know primarily made in the kitchen, but diet is a complex topic for another day. (Please let me know if you want to know anything specific.) But yes I said “primarily” – not “solely”. They are a function of size and body fat percentage, so you can basically manipulate anyone of them to a degree. Low bodyfat is the main factor, but the size of your abs will determine how low you need to go before they are visible.

So what NOT to do. Don’t train your abs everyday – yes there are stories of people who did this and can show results to match – but it’s just not the best approach. Train hard, then REST- Allow your muscles to rebuild and become stronger, otherwise you are only breaking down and not rebuilding.

Don’t do crazy 50-100 rep sets of sit ups or crunches. Train your abs as you would with your chest or arm – and if you are doing 50-100 rep sets for those… – just don’t. Use weight to keep your reps low or choose a more demanding ab exercise. I don’t believe I have ever done reps past 10 repetitions. But yeah 5-15 would be the target rep-range.

First exercise I will highlight is static. It’s the exercise that I do on the first picture of this post, commonly known as the L-sit. Doing it on rings of course is a lot more demanding and adds much more strain on arms and shoulders as stabilizers, so wait with those. If my target of the exercise was abs alone, I myself would not even use rings, as they would make my arm and shoulders tired way before my abs. L-sit on rings for me is more a transition when doing ring-routines – for core ab work I would do L-sits on the floor, parallettes or between chairs.

So that is where you will start. As a beginner I would start between chairs or similar platforms. Press the surface as hard as you can with your hands, which should force your shoulders down and then contract your abs as hard as possible. If you cannot keep you legs straight, then start with them bent and work from there. You should feel the strain primarily in your abs, it is possible to feel a burn in anything from your hips to legs, but then you are not doing it right, experiment until you feel the burn primarily in the abs. Let’s say you can hold the position for a maximum of 20 seconds, then do 5 sets of 10-15 second holds and try adding 5 seconds every couple of weeks. Your goal is to hold a perfect L-sit for 60 seconds!

The second exercise I will highlight is rather advanced – but delivers bang for the buck like nothing else once you have mastered it. It’s the famous dragon flag or body lever. It is quite hard to find videos of people doing them correctly, but this guy pretty much nails them:

What you should notice is that he keeps his body straight or slightly over arched at all times. Even just a slight kip in the hip will dramatically decrease the difficulty and thereby the effect. Think of leading with your hips and not with your toes and keep a straight or slightly over arched body. But be careful, this exercise is extremely demanding and can cause quite a bit of pain in your lower back if you are not strong enough. I would recommend doing slow negatives until you are strong enough to begin pulling yourself back up. If you have a good solid 20-30 second L-sit you should be able to start working on these as well. Again if you get very advanced, then add ankle-weights instead of hammering out 15-20 reps.

These two exercises are stables of my ab-training. Ab-rollouts, hanging leg raises in stall bars, v-ups etc. find their way as well, but I honestly believe that my ab strength and size are primarily down to those two exercises.

So to summarize. Train your abs 2-3 times a week, train them hard and heavy, just like chest or arms, use progression and finally and most importantly fix your diet!

Doing what you love, productivity, procrastination and social media

When you follow your dreams and work with what you love and feel really will do an impact, then you’re never hit by procrastination – right? I can’t recall how many times I have been met with that assumption. Hey it must be so awesome to work with what you love, then it probably never feels like work. You won’t ever do something that you don’t like doing or do boring tasks. Ehm – where to start…

I actually on a number of occasions, felt rather ashamed of the fact that; here I was working with what I love, going after a dream and still I found myself getting distracted by all sorts of unimportant rubbish – thereby failing to put in sufficient work on what really matters.

The most basic form of human stupidity is forgetting what we are trying to accomplish.

Procrastination. Oh yes – even though you work with what you love, the long term goal is totally in line with what you are working on, you can still be hit by procrastination. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You just need to take steps in the right direction to try and minimize it. I don’t think you can totally avoid it, since it is so deeply rooted in human nature. But if you become aware of signs as to when you’re really procrastinating instead of getting stuff done, then you can take action to move yourself in the right direction.

There are probably very few endeavors or long term goals which you can accomplish without a lot of time spent on things you really would have preferred to be without. Especially when you are starting from scratch. There will be times when the task ahead of you will have you checking e-mail compulsively, getting coffee 4 times in an hour, updating your twitter, facebook and instagram feed all just to look for some distraction that can pull you away from the task at hand. But this is where you can separate yourself from the crowd.

Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it.

I recently had a rather bad streak of not really getting anything important accomplished. Just running around trying to look busy. The only thing I could really get my mind to concentrate on was reading. Having realized this, which is kind of the first step, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book that before has helped me regain my productivity: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series)

This is a little short book, filled with tips and productivity hacks by 99U. If you have followed them on their website or youtube you will recognize a lot of the people and advice given in the book. It is basically just a lot of short chapters on productivity by some of the most knowing people on the topic. I dare you to read this book without going away with something really useful. Given the short chapters it is a very good go-to book if you just need a short reminder to keep your shit together or you can sit down and read the entire book in a day, without having to be an avid speed-reader.

I have made a lot of notes and will implement them the coming weeks to get me back on track productivity wise. Short term it sure has helped. My guess is that I have got more accomplished in the last two days, that the entire last week…

But I would like to end by sharing a few notes from the book on social media. It is a chapter focusing on all the distractions fighting for our attention. All the social media platforms that makes us feel good short term, but do not bring us any closer to our long term goals. The overall advice is that we set certain times for accessing social media and ask ourselves key questions once we feel drawn towards them outside these slots:

  • Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?
  • Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living right now?
  • Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?
  • Am I avoiding something I need to do instead of adressing why I don’t want to do it?
  • Am I feeling bored? Is there something else I could do to feel more purposeful and engaged in my day?
  • Am I feeling lonely? Have I created opportunities for meaningful connection in my day?
  • Am I afraid of missing out? Is the gratification of giving in to that fear worth missing out on what’s in front of me?
  • Am I overwhelming myself, trying to catch up? Can I let go of yesterdays conversation and join today’s instead?
  • Can I use this time to simply be instead of looking for something to do to fill it?
  • Do I just want to have mindless fun for a while?

All are valid question, and all can be answered with a valid yes – but the mere awareness might keep you grinding at what you’re trying to avoid, instead of giving in to a quick fix.

As said earlier, this book is filled with good little productivity hacks, focusing on anything from energy to your surroundings. It is a very good book both for reading in entirety as well as browsing a few chapters every once in a while.

Downsides of bodyweight routines: back muscles

I originally planned to write a single post on some of the downsides of bodyweight routines, but as I started collecting notes and writing I realised that it was probably better to write individual posts, each focusing on areas where bodyweight routines seems to be inferior or at least needs some attention to compete with good ol’ weight training.

Having done individually exclusive bodyweight, bodybuilding and to some extend strength routines – I feel I have gained some quite useful knowledge on the strength and weaknesses of each. In this post I will focus on areas where bodyweight routines can fall short on back training. They are little tweaks but can really make a big difference.

On paper bodyweight routines can look like they give pretty good bang for the buck as far as back training goes. There is usually quite a lot of pull-up variations and for the advanced bodyweight athlete there may additionally be levers and strict muscle-ups. But in my experience there are two areas where they seem to fall short.

First is horizontal rowing to get some good volume for your upper back. I know you can do feet supported rows in rings, on bars etc. but my experience is that your arms seems to get tired before your back muscles gets a real good beating. If you’re more advanced you can even try your luck with front lever-rows. They are incredibly hard, but again they seem to activate more supportive muscles that gets tired before your back really gives up. You’ll end up breaking good form before you really hit the back muscles.

Your lats can certainly get a good workout with bodyweight exercises, but your upper back will most certainly be underdeveloped. So in order to pull(pun intended) yourself out of this compromised state add some heavy rowing to your routine. This can be bent over rows, cable rows, dumbbell rows or whatever – just go heavy on those and high volume to make up for what most bodyweight routines ends up being; rather front dominant.

The second area where bodyweight routines fall kind of short is your lower back. You can do hypers and in a lot of the static levers you need to keep your entire core tight, but if you want a bulletproof back I would seriously consider doing some deadlifts. Deadlifts should in my opinion be a stable of just about any bodyweight routine. They tick so many of the boxes where bodyweight routines seems to fall short. They hit the upper back, as I mentioned as a weak-point earlier. They hit the lower back and they hit your legs once you start pulling some serious weights. They won’t hit your legs as squats, but if you’re seriously into bodyweight training and want to do advanced stuff – then the last thing you want is really heavy legs. But this is not the same as to say that you should not work them at all. Get a knowledgeable individual to show you the right technique and then start pulling from the ground!

Deadlifts can further more act as a measuring tool for something that can be a bit hard with bodyweight – a measure of progress. You can add good old progression on the deadlift to measure whether you are going in the right direction or not. I know it won’t say anything about your ability to perform bodyweight exercises but it will tell you whether you are getting stronger, are close to a burnout or are stagnating. Just program it with something real simple as Wendlers 5/3/1 for instance.

From my own experience the upper back is certainly the place where I lost most of my muscle mass when I did exclusive bodyweight routines. It is one of the things I keep telling people when they ask me for input on their bodyweight routines. And generally people needs to up their pulling whether we talk bodyweight or old school weights. There is a clear tendency to focus more on the front – which of course you can see more easily in the mirror – than the rear. The average lifter would probably be better off with a 2:1 ratio on exercise selection, in favor of pulling instead of pushing.

There are way more impressive fronts than rears – be the guy/girl who stands out in the crowd.

Just try it

If you have followed my instagram account you will probably know that I have started sprinting at a local track & field club. At age 29 this sure is a little late to win the olympics, but I have always been extremely fascinated by sprinters and wanted to try and actually train like them under supervision of someone with real experience in this field.

The fascination of sprinters is both due to their lean muscular look, but also due to their beautiful aesthetic explosiveness. Just seeing these athletes during warm-up is a study in elegant display of fitness. The way they shoot forward with absolute ease and jump high into the air just to loosen up the muscles is to me very fascinating to watch. It displays human performance at its peak, like few other sports can match.

This is not the first time I started square one at a new sport, in a relative late age. At 23 I started doing gymnastics or more precise the branch of gymnastics known as teamgym. This fascination with flic-flacs and backflips roots back to a film known as Ninja Kids where one of the main characters does flic-flacs on the last stretch of a baseball pitch to celebrate and win the match. Since I saw this movie at probably 10-12 years old I always wanted to be able to do that. But I knew of no one who did gymnastics and therefore no easy way to start. And at that time I was too afraid to start from scratch.

Fast forward to the age of 23. I loosely get to know some gymnasts through riding motorcycles and low and behold – now I had the courage to start. As a total rookie, un-flexible as 9-10 years of strength training and general certainty that I was going to make a big fool of myself for quite some time – I started. One of the best decisions of my life! I have made so many friends, transformed my body from un-flexible/unuseable to quite flexible and very useable. And generally just had so much fun learning something new.

Now the time has come to try out sprinting. The first few sessions has been a lot of fun. So many instructions on how to run correctly, so much soreness the following days and generally just a feeling of happiness from the fact that once again I am a total rookie and has so much to learn.

If you have something you were always fascinated by and wanted to try, then do not use age as an excuse. Never say it is too late. Just try it and see if it is something you like or not. Beginners are generally received with open arms. If not, then perhaps try another club, persist or pad yourself on the back for actually trying and showing up in the first place. Find somewhere with good instructors – gymnastic elements in crossfit is not the same as doing gymnastics – HIIT running on your days of from strength training is not the same as sprinting under supervision of an experienced coach. Find a good coach/club and embrace the steep climb paved with failures.

Just try it!