Graduation, Certification, License, and Travel

It has been quite a year so far. In January, I entered the Professional Massage Therapist program at Cortiva Institute of Muscle Therapy in King of Prussia, PA. And it changed my life. It took me about 15 years to make this step, and it came at the perfect time. I was laid off from my job in August last year – one of the best things that could ever happen to me.

Sometimes, you have to be forced out of your comfort zone, that place that you believe is safe but which actually limits you. The comfort zone is the place you should be most worried. You don’t grow, change, make progress, or truly live while you are in the comfort zone.

What is the comfort zone? It is that mental space where you believe everything is certain, or at least familiar. Or to put it another way, it has an apparent lack of uncertainty. Not exactly the same thing. Just because you don’t see the uncertainty right now, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

The comfort zone is where you develop a lazy mind. This happens because we relinquish control, and therefore, responsibility to someone else (think “boss” here). We are simply distancing ourselves from the unpredictability of life. And that is the great deception. We can’t. Not really. Life has a funny way of coming to find you no matter how well you hide.

I am learning to become confrontational. Life’s realities, unpredictable situations, difficult circumstances, and learning what to do to solve them requires confrontation. Face the problem, deal with it, and move on. Simple. Not easy, but simple.

After being laid off, I had to face reality. I was tired of working for someone else and having no say in the direction my life was going. I sought counsel from people I trusted, and that led to going to school for massage therapy. Then I completed the program. Graduated, got certified, earned my license. Now I have a skill set that I can use to determine my future. As Seth Godin would describe it, I have found my art. Simple. Not easy, but simple.

That brings me to the travel. In just a few weeks, I’ll be moving to CA, where my girlfriend will be in school for a year. It is a temporary stay before we move into the next chapter of our lives, so we will travel light and gain experience in our respective fields. It won’t be about putting down roots just yet…that may not happen for several years. Uncertainty. But we are looking forward to embracing the journey and confronting the challenges ahead. It is going to be quite a ride.

Master Your Mind, Master Your Emotions

Master Your Mind, Master Your Emotions

Featured image

Last week, I watched someone go through a total emotional meltdown. To be more accurate, they had a temper tantrum. When I tried to calm this person down, they lashed out at me with all sorts of nonsensical baseless accusations, just as they had been lashing out at others.

As I reflected later on this situation, it occurred to me that this person lacked mastery over their own mind in many small things. They are frequently late, cannot focus for more than a few minutes, take offense at the slightest provocation, assume that everyone is disrespecting them even as they disrespect others, and yet expect everything to come to them served on a silver platter. Naturally, when such a person runs into difficulty, they are unable to deal with the responsibilities of the real world, handle the consequences of their actions (or inaction), and spiral downward into further loss of control of their mind and emotions.

This person was left with powerless fury, completely unable to form a coherent thought. This doesn’t happen in a moment. It is the result of a perpetual refusal to discipline the mind to be consistent in the small things – punctuality, respecting others, respecting self, being kind, being responsible.

Start with a small action, master it, and watch your mastery over your mind and emotions slowly increase. Then when a serious problem presents itself, you will approach it with clarity and calm. Finding a solution in this state is far more likely.

A Beautiful Mind

If you look around, you may notice some changes on the site. And there are more to come. It will be a long process, since I have much to learn and not much time to accomplish that learning while I am in school and working in the massage clinic.

The first thing you’ll notice is the name change for the blog and the URL change. Mens Fortis means Strong Mind. Several personal and health challenges have taught me the value of keeping my head when everything around me seems to be falling apart. My parents taught me to think critically and logically throughout my life. This has been an invaluable skill during the last few years.

A strong mind is not developed in short time periods. It is developed over the years, and is a continual process. That is the beautiful thing about the mind, though – you can train it, mold it, expand it, change it, renew it, challenge it. The work needs to be done daily, but the rewards just keep coming. The mind is a beautiful thing.

As I study anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and pathology at Cortiva Institute for Massage Therapy, I am beginning to understand the depths to which the body is influenced by the mind. And vice versa. We think quite a lot about nutrition and exercise, but perhaps not so much about how to make our minds stronger. The body is one system controlled by the mind. Many sub-systems give feedback to the mind through what is essentially our own little internet. Everything that happens in the body is noticed by the mind. Much of this process is subconscious, yet it still has an effect on the mind. Isn’t it logical that the reverse is true?

The truth of this has become my reality in a chronically painful way. If you’ve been following my blog, you already know that I have ankylosing spondylitis. Since I don’t seem to react well to the medications that are currently available for AS, or the pain relief available, I am left to manage my symptoms through nutrition and exercise. This means that I have pain 24/7/365. If I had to put it on a 1-10 scale, I’d say the pain is around a 6 most of the time. What I have noticed is that when I ‘give in’ mentally, the pain seems to be worse. In other words, when I focus on the pain and allow it to be the priority, it has a more debilitating effect on my life. However, if I see the pain as just a sensation, minimize it, and put it in the background, I can get on with my day in a much more powerful way. I can literally reduce the effect of the pain through the strength of my mind.

As I change the focus of this blog, I hope to show you how you can develop your own strong mind and apply it however you need. I’ll attempt to do this through analytical, logical, and practical exercises. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Two Weeks Out

I would write up a very methodical post about my lead up to the powerlifting meet just a couple weeks from now, but…there has been absolutely nothing methodical about the last two weeks, and I don’t expect that to change for the next two weeks.

I am lifting when I feel good. And that is about every three days right now. And I am not lifting much. I am still getting up into the 75% 1RM range for multiple reps, but it doesn’t feel particularly good. I am chalking it up to the mock meet I did at Iron Sport where I hit a squat and deadlift PR. Natural doldrums after a big effort, right? Perhaps. Time will tell. I think the important thing right now is to stay mobile, keep the CNS primed through occasional relatively heavy lifts, and keep things low stress. I have been getting a lot of different kinds of massage work done at school (I’m studying to be a massage therapist), and that has been stirring up a lot of issues in my tissues. It’s good stuff, but is definitely throwing me off with the training. I’m hoping all of that will settle down soon.

I will be trying to get some decent training in this week. It will still be around 75% 1RM, but low volume. I am also feeling decidedly indecisive about whether to curb the calories to drop out of super heavyweight (308+) in order to compete in the 308 class. It’s not like I’m going to win any big cash prizes in either weight class, so it is more about me making progress in moving down the weight classes. We shall see.

Mostly, I am just planning to go and have fun, set some PRs, and enjoy the strong people doing what they do.

New Beginnings

Spring time and Easter have been associated with new beginnings ever since the first change of seasons happened. It’s logical, right? Things start growing around this time of year.

This makes me think about what is growing in my own life. Or more specifically, it makes me think about the things that I WISH were growing. When you would like to see something happening, and it isn’t, it is a great time to examine why. My examination has revealed that I waste far too much time and effort on social media. My return on that investment is certainly negative. I find myself checking in many times a day on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

What am I looking for? Honestly, I’m not really sure. There is little that I get on these sites that I can’t find out in a more direct manner, such as emailing these “friends” directly to see how they are. And I have to ask myself whether I should be following all these feeds if I don’t feel comfortable sending them an email or text directly. In many cases, that answer is no…so why do I follow them on social media?

Why do I share what I share? Again, honesty…I’m not really sure. I know that the vast majority of what I have shared in the past is really only meaningful to myself or those few people who shared the experience with me. Am I sharing for likes? Rare comments? Do I need validation from people I’ve never met (or haven’t talked to in decades?) to ensure that I live a meaningful life?

I was discussing the connection aspect, and lack thereof, of social media with my girlfriend a while ago, and had the thought that maybe we shouldn’t be so connected. Have you felt overwhelmed when you couldn’t respond to internet friends in a timely manner because your REAL life was needing your attention? Do dozens of birthday wishes stress you out because you just can’t take the time to respond to all of them individually? Especially because the vast majority of those birthday wishes come from people whose last contact with you was a Facebook birthday greeting?

I think our circles, friend lists, Twitter feeds, and followers have us feeling a false obligation to keep everyone updated on things they neither care about or really understand. Do the things we share actually represent the lives we live? Nope. We share the lives that we want others to see. And sometimes what we share touches on the lives we wished we lived.

If we spent as much time focusing on doing things that really mattered (defined as personal development, helping others, making the world a better place) as we do on sharing the inconsequential moments, we could actually make a difference.

That is what I hope to do in this time of new beginning – focus my life on things that matter. There are specific things that I want to see grow in my life. This blog is one of those things. I want to produce information and thoughts that help others. And I need to focus my time here if that is going to happen.

Here is my challenge to you: If this article has stirred up some thoughts for you on how you want to utilize time or resources, send me a thoughtful email at dan at djkreger dot com. Don’t leave a comment. I may actually disable them! I promise a response and encouragement for the changes you may want to make.

Program Selection, Program Hopping, and Instincts

A couple weeks ago, I realized that I really needed to commit to a powerlifting meet, so I pulled the trigger on a competition out in York, PA for April 18th and 19th.

This meant that I needed to organize my training for the next 6-7 weeks and ramp up to peak performance for single repetition maximum effort (hereafter 1RM). Since I’ve never really done this before, I figured it might be a good idea to check the Googles for some information on how to do this. For my first powerlifting competition last year, I did a 3-4 week cram for my preparation. It wasn’t optimal for several reasons: I was just coming off of several medications that affected me adversely; 3-4 weeks is nowhere near enough time to adequately prepare when you’ve been unable to lift more than once a week for the last several months; I had no idea how my body would respond to any kind of training in the wake of the ankylosing spondylitis flares, medication issues, wacky weight gain, etc.

I wanted to prepare much more carefully this time around. I have been able to train very consistently for about a year now, so a peaking program would be pretty ideal. After poking around on Google for a little while, I settled on a program by Jonnie Candito, a very accomplished collegiate powerlifter. You can find the free training program on his site. I punched in my numbers, got my plan, and put it into practice last week.

For two days.

And I was wrecked. Totally wrecked. I had to recover for the rest of the week, and just got back to training today. The volume was much higher than I am accustomed to, and since I’m only a month and a half away from the meet, the prescribed percentages were already at 80% of my 1RM. This is not Candito’s fault, of course. It just isn’t the right program for me at this time. I think I’d need a much higher volume 12 week program to utilize Candito’s program effectively. So I may use this again another time. Maybe later this year.

My last few months of training have been a mix of Wendler’s 5/3/1 and SSPT Deadlift training. Both these programs are fairly low volume, which seems to work very well for me.

Which brings me to how I should have just followed my instincts rather than program hopping. The 5/3/1 and SSPT training were working really well. They just weren’t lining up very well with my time frame for the meet. But I shouldn’t have let that distract me. I should have just moved back in the SSPT sequence for the squat, bench press, and deadlift and let it take me right into the peak for the meet.

So that’s what I’m doing now. The low volume but high intensity approach seems to work well for me. I make good progress and can recover in a reasonable time. I think they call this old guy training. Maybe not. All I know is that I will be adding a significant amount of weight to my total over last year’s performance. Sometimes, you just really have to listen to your instincts.

Bacon Experiments

coffee bacon

I haven’t posted about any food creations lately, so I thought this would be a great way to kick off the Eatings category.

There are few things more fulfilling than creating something from raw materials. Cooking is one of those areas where I like to get creative. In fact, I rarely use recipes. If I do, it is only for reference and to make sure I get certain critical ratios so I don’t ruin the food. Bacon is one of those foods. You have to get your salt ratios very precise, but everything else is open for personal interpretation.

It takes a week to make a wet cure bacon. And when you love bacon like I do, that wait is an eternity! But the amazing flavors are well worth the wait.

I was out of maple syrup, and had no money, so I looked around to see what I could use and discovered a jar of molasses. Hm, that ought to work…add in some really dark roast coffee…should be tasty! This is how my food creations go. And so far, I have rarely had any memorable disasters. Usually, I just have more ideas to improve or adjust a result after each attempt. It’s my way of keeping things fresh and interesting.

Obviously, this can be applied to much of life. Don’t be afraid to plan less, and just fly by the seat of your pants (what does that actually mean, anyway?). Be creative. Play with your food.