We are all on drugs — but do we ever wonder why?

The AMA just redefined obesity as a disease and now new research asserts that almost three-fourths of all Americans are on some sort of prescription drug. I could understand if the bulk of the prescriptions were for, say, kidney stones — but they’re not. It seems that the freest country in the world is also the most depressed.

Researchers find that nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half receive at least two prescriptions.

Mayo Clinic researchers report that antibiotics, antidepressants and painkiller opioids are the most common prescriptions given to Americans. Twenty percent of U.S. patients were also found to be on five or more prescription medications.

The study is uncovering valuable information to the researchers about U.S. prescription practices.

“Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” Dr. St. Sauver stated in a Mayo Clinic press release. “However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants — that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on.

How many millions of Americans suffer a legitimate chemical imbalance that requires anti-depressants and how many are merely taking anti-depressants because they’re desperately trying to mask underlying problems? It’s a good question. As I’ve attested in the past, it was often speculated that I had ADD as a child (turned out I just needed an attitude adjustment), and as an adult I had good friends try and get me to seek anti-anxiety pills (turned out I just needed a job more in tune with my long-term goals). I’m very familiar with the push to get someone to turn to prescription drugs. I empathize with those who take them for a number of reasons, but I think they should think long and hard about the root causes of their grief before going that route.

Let it be known: I am not disputing that there are cases where drugs prescribed by a medical professional for cognitive disorders are necessary. I am not saying that someone who takes prescription drugs is a bad person. What I am saying is that the sheer enormity of the numbers suggest that America as a whole has much deeper cultural issues that need to be addressed. Perhaps we spend so much time blaming Democrats and Republicans, rich people and poor people, gay people and straight people, white people and black people, etc. for the sad state of affairs we’re in because it’s a lot easier than looking in the mirror and addressing our own shortcomings.

The United States has more gadgets and gizmos than at any point in human history. We live like kings, even if we don’t realize it. And yet, almost 70 percent of us need at least one prescription drug? It gets mighty hard to worry about things like radical Islamic terrorism abroad when hundreds of millions of Americans here at home are hurting themselves in ways extremists could only dream of.

And with that, I will end with a quote from Rivers Cuomo: ‘We Are All on Drugs’

‘Soldier of Steel’ campaign: Gym Jones shows what real men are made of

Mark Twight Gym Jones

Years ago I met a friend who was heavily influenced by the Gym Jones training philosophy. I had always thought I was a pretty fit guy — and then I met Mike. Those workouts broke me. They were truly a humbling experience, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They taught me a lot about myself, as well as just how much more was possible if I was willing to venture deeper into the realm of pain and anguish than I ever had before. Some of our greatest moments of mental, physical and spiritual growth are born out of pain and suffering, and in a bizarre way the person who realizes this truth comes to love and appreciate such feelings in proper doses. And that is why I highly suggest watching the “Solider of Steel” video for the new ‘Man of Steel’ movie by Zack Snyder.

When I was in the military, there was a joke that was made during our morning PT or in the middle of road marches: “Pain is weakness leaving the body!” Gym Jones offers plenty of pain, but there is so much more. It’s the kind of philosophy that turns boys into men.

Mark Twight, Gym Jones trainer, explains:

For me in the mountains, fitness was often the difference between life and death. In a military environment, it can be the same thing — you never  never want to come up short due to a lack of conditioning. When we talk about training one of the most important characteristics I believe, is functional training. And by functional I mean “transferable.” The training that you do in the gym should be transferable to the actual task, which means that if I have to sprint forward to grab a buddy who might be injured and drag him back to a point of cover, then sitting on the a bench wearing a little seat belt doing  quad extensions is not transferable. When you’re training for your military tasks you should be training to develop functional fitness, not the appearance of fitness.

Point number one in our training philosophy in the gym is that the mind is primary. And one of the outcomes of training the mind in the gym is the development of values. Values that are very similar to military values. One of the things for me that is important in the gym is that you always do what you say you’re going to do. You show up every single day. What we practice in here becomes  a habit, and if my habit is always to do less that’s how I’m going to behave in the field. So get in the habit of doing more than you’re asked to do.

Respect starts with self respect. If you respect yourself, you prove to others that you are worthy of their respect. One of the things I like to do is to set up a tag-team type of workout, where one guy has to accomplish a particular task all the while his teammate is suffering. And the faster he does it the less his teammate suffers. These types of workouts really cause a person to digger deeper than they would to save themselves because we will always work harder in the service of someone else.

In the gym context we always know when people are telling the truth and when they are not telling the truth. If you do what you say you’re doing when in comes to diet, then the result is going to be obvious. If you do what you say that you’re doing in terms training, then the result will be obvious. When we make that honor, that honesty, part of our daily life, then it becomes automatic.

A lot of times we assign homework to people outside of the gym because I need to know how they’re going to behave on their own. Does that person have the integrity to do what they said they were going to do? In the training environment, if we practice on a daily basis confronting the things that we’re afraid of and confront our fear — if we get in that habit — then we’ll be to express that in an automatic way once we get outside into the real world.

Wow. Mr. Twight’s passage is a thing of beauty. If all Americans were exposed to this philosophy, let’s just say that the political landscape would change dramatically within a single generation.

Gym Jones is not for everyone. It should be, but it’s not. The reason is because it doesn’t accept excuses, and the modern world is filled with people who live to make excuses for their failures, be it with their diet, love life, personal finances, physical fitness or any number of things.

Regardless, check out the other videos if you get a chance. If you’re interested in taking the first step in transforming you mind, body and spirit they’re a great place to start.

Editor’s note: The image of that guy falling off the rowing machine into a lump on the ground in Episode 3 just gave me a flashback. Sometimes hitting the floor is the best way to motivate someone to reach for the stars.

Here I am doing a workout inspired by Gym Jones, 2009. Pain never felt so good.
Here I am doing a workout inspired by Gym Jones, 2009. Pain never felt so good.

CT Fletcher inspires: Your body can never be stronger than your mind

CT Fletcher Trainer

CT Fletcher is popular on YouTube among people who lift weights, but his motivational videos are sage advice outside the realm of power lifting. He’s amazing, and if I lived in his neck of the woods I’d buy a membership to his gym immediately.

His video ‘Advice for Powerlifters and Heavy Weightlifting’ is an instant classic.

Now, when I would step into the auditorium or venue or wherever the contest would be held, this is what I would be thinking to myself: The bad man is here. The motherfuckin show-stopper is here. All you motherf***ers look like sheep to me and I’m the motherf***ing butcher. And I’m here to chop your motherf***ing ass up. I’m the man! Bow down motherf***er because the king is f***ing here. Only one can stand on the top pedestal and that’s my motherf***ing ass. The other two are available for you because this top motherf***er is mine. I own this s**t. CT is in the building! …

“I’m trying to get you guys to realize that I’m not just this guy who gets on YouTube and rants and cusses all the time (although I do a lot of cussing). I’m trying to get a point across to you. I’ve been doing this shit a long time. The last power lifting contest I went to, I noticed one thing. Guys were power lifters … in my day, the psyche up was such an integral part of the lift, but these days guys are in a power lifting contest but I didn’t know if I was at choir practice or in line at the DMV or what!  Nobody knew how to use the psyche-up. They just strolled up to the bar like they were f***ing in line Denny’s. … Your body can never be stronger — your body can never be stronger than the mind. I want you to learn how to get your mind involved in your lift.

When you saw my bicep video and you saw me telling my bicep ‘I command you to grow’ that’s what I was thinking in my mind. I just said it out loud so you could hear it. That’s my mind telling me ‘I command my biceps to do what I want them to do.’

Now, for you power lifters, every attempt is a one shot deal. There’s no tomorrow. You have to give that motherf***ker everything you got right then and there. You can not count on what’s going to happen tomorrow. The only thing you could actually know and depend on is that you can give it everything you have every time you step to the bar. 100 percent effort. I’m not going to say it’s going to work for you, motherf***ker. It’s what I did. You’re going to have to adapt it to you. So don’t say “he said do this.” I’m telling you what I did. You do you motherf***** and I’ll be me,” (CT Fletcher).

Years ago I had a friend who wanted to break 200 lbs. on his bench press. He could rep 190 lbs. at least five times. Whenever I would put 200 lbs. on the bar, he would fail. Over and over and over again he failed despite all the evidence in the world — on paper — that he should be able to break that barrier.

One day I did an experiment. I told him that I would put 195 lbs. on the bar, but I secretly put on 200 lbs. He lifted it without any problem because the real weakness was in his head.

Just as many weightlifters shackle themselves with mind-forged manacles, so does the average citizen in his everyday life.

We are more often than not the architects of the biggest obstacles in our lives. We are the engineers of our own overall success or failure. While there will always be events that are beyond our control (e.g., sudden sickness, a loss of a job) those things pale in comparison to the poison pills that we elect to take or discard on a daily basis.

When CT Fletcher talks about the psyche-up, he’s right. When there is zero — zero — expectation of failure on a lift, more often than not you will surprise yourself with just how strong your body can be. And, while I would hope most people don’t turn into a young Hulk Hogan in their workplace cubicle, ripping their shirts off with a lion-like roar, there is something to be said about getting psyched up for work, for relationships and for life in general.

Every day you have a choice whether to be pumped for what’s to come or not. Every day you have a choice to say “I’m going to give it everything I have” or not. When CT Fletcher talks about “stepping up to the bar” he is also talking about your day-to-day existence. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. You do not know what will happen on your way home from work. Life is a precious thing and every second of every day counts, so there is no excuse why you shouldn’t live accordingly.

CT Fletcher’s philosophy worked for him. A similar philosophy has worked for me. And if you give it a shot, I believe it will work for you, too. There’s a first place pedestal with your name on. Now go grab it.

Rock climbing as a metaphor for life: Conservatism vs. Liberalism

Douglas Ernst rock climb

Today I ran across an old picture of me ascending a rock climbing wall while at the Cumberland County fair in Maine. For some odd reason it dawned on me that rock climbing is a great metaphor for life. Before this picture was taken I had been working a booth for The Heritage Foundation, talking to the good people of Maine about the organization and its principles. A National Guardsman dared me to take the climb and, not one to back down from a challenge, I accepted.

Given that, I will now explain rock climbing as a metaphor for life, as well as how one’s worldview changes how they approach the wall.

In life, we all have an end point we’re shooting for. We all want to get to the top of some mountain. Some people want to prosper monetarily; others seek spiritual wealth. Some people seek knowledge; others wish to experience their fill of earthly pleasures. We all value different things, and as such our lives will all take vastly different twists and turns before we call it a day.

In between our starting point and the final destination there is an infinite number of paths laid out before us. We have a general idea of how we want to go about attacking the mountain, but there’s a big difference between gauging obstacles from afar and then experiencing them up close and personal.

Just like with rock climbing, sometimes the path that you thought would get you to the top in theory doesn’t work out in practice. You have to recalibrate your route. You might have to backtrack or go far out of your way to traverse a difficult section. In a worst-case scenario you might even fall off the wall, but thanks to a harness you don’t kill yourself and, if you so choose, you can start all over again — armed with the knowledge only failure can teach.

The conservative knows that every person who attempts the rock-climbing wall of life will have different strengths and weaknesses. Some people want to shoot for the top, and some don’t. Some people have amazing upper body strength, and others have an iron grip. Some people are light and some people are heavy. Some people are tall and some people are short. Given all these variables, the conservative generally doesn’t worry too much about what the guy next to him is doing and begins climbing away. He focuses on his technique. He monitors his strength. He takes time to stop and pause and re-evaluate his strategy when necessary. He isn’t afraid of falling. The conservative does all this, and in the long run he is generally rewarded for it.

The liberal, by contrast, does not fare too well. He complains about the size of the footholds. He looks at their placement on the wall and wonders who put them there and if there was some sort of nefarious plot connected to the decision process. He complains that he doesn’t have chalk, but the guy next to him does. He wants better shoes. It’s unfair that he has to climb in rainy weather, when the guy before him had nice weather. The winds are shifting one way or the other. He wants a different belay man. The list is endless. And at the end of the day the liberal sits at the bottom of wall, having wasted valuable time that would have been better spent just climbing the damn wall.

Sometimes, the liberal will look up and see his conservative counterpart smiling at the top of the mountain and will yell nasty things in his direction. The conservative will be accused of being a heartless bastard for basking in the sun’s rays and enjoying the view while the liberal down below must sit in the shadows — again, even if it was the liberal who chose to spend the limited time and resources afforded to him unwisely.

If you have a rock climbing wall around your neck of the woods, I suggest giving it a try. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, both mentally and physically.

See you at the top,


Rest in peace, Joe Weider: From a kid who learned 1,000 life lessons from your work

Joe Weider

Joe Weider passed away on Saturday, March 23 at 93. For those who don’t know him, The New York Times provided a good write up:

Joe Weider, a scrawny youngster who sculptured himself with bodybuilding during the Great Depression and created an empire of muscle magazines, fitness equipment, dietary supplements and Olympic-style contests featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, died on Saturday in Los Angeles. …

Mr. Weider may not have been the 97-pound weakling of the comic books who got tired of having sand kicked in his face. But as a teenager in Montreal, he hated being roughed up by neighborhood hooligans, discovered bodybuilding in a magazine and bought into it for life. He developed a V-shaped torso with bulging biceps and abs like Michelangelo’s David, and he was still muscular and jut-jawed in his 70s and 80s.

In the intervening decades, Mr. Weider, […] who moved to the United States as a young man, founded many of the world’s most popular bodybuilding magazines, including Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Men’s Fitness and, for women, Shape. They had 25 million readers and were crammed with photos of greased bodybuilders and Hollywood stars like Sylvester Stallone […] and Mr. Schwarzenegger.

The first weights I ever used were made by Weider, on a bench with his name printed on it. The set included a booklet of exercises, each explained in great detail. My father explained to me who, exactly, Mr. Weider was and what he meant to the fitness world. And if his knowledge on physical fitness was good enough for my father (a former Army Ranger) it was good enough for me.

I first started lifting weights as a skinny high school kid in the early 90’s. I was 5’8, 110 pounds soaking wet. Regardless, looking at the pictures provided by Mr. Weider, I went downstairs into my family’s basement on a regular basis. It was cluttered with junk, and dark and damp with cobwebs in strange places like a lot of basements, but I loved it.

It was on a set of Weider weights that I began to put on muscle. I found out that strength was addictive. It changed the way I thought about myself. With strength comes confidence. Confident young men carry themselves differently, and when you walk and talk tall, those around you in turn treat you differently. There’s a domino effect that happens to the mind, body and spirit when an individual flips physical fitness routines from being a necessary arduous task into being part of who he is.

Last week I was talking with a good friend of mine after a workout, and he promised to give me one in the near future that would make me “see Jesus.” The point is, an individual who knows that hidden reserves of strength are always there, if he is willing to dig deep into the fiber of his being, behaves a lot differently than the average Joe. Such individuals apply lessons taught by the weights to other aspects of their life — and more often than not the results are positive.

My path to a thousand life lessons began with Joe Weider. For that I am forever grateful.

Today is definitely a day to mourn for anyone who loves to hit the weights.

Here an excerpt from Arnold’s Schwarzenegger’s statement on the loss of Joe Weider:

Today, I lost a dear friend and mentor, and the world lost one its strongest advocates of living a healthy lifestyle. Joe Weider was a titan in the fitness industry and one of the kindest men I have ever met.

I knew about Joe Weider long before I met him — he was the godfather of fitness who told all of us to “Be Somebody with a Body.” He taught us that through hard work and training we could all be champions. When I was a young boy in Austria, his muscle magazines provided me with the inspiration and the blueprint to push myself beyond my limits and imagine a much bigger future. I know that countless others around the world found motivation in the pages of his publications just as I did, but as I read his articles in Austria, I felt that he was speaking directly to me and I committed to move to America to make my vision of becoming the best bodybuilder, to live the American dream, and to become an actor a reality. …

Well said, Arnold.

I’ve always found it fascinating how men and women we’ve never met and may never have a chance to say “thank you” to can positively shape our lives or completely change its trajectory. I never properly showed my appreciation for how Joe Weider influenced my life (How hard would it have been to write a simple letter?), but I guess it’s never too late. Wherever you are Joe, thank you and may you rest in peace.

Related: ‘Pumping Iron’ inspires, decades after its release

Related: Schwarzenegger’s ‘Six Rules for Success’: Sage advice for all Americans

Related: Lifting Weights: The Making of a Conservative

‘Pumping Iron’ inspires, decades after its release

Pumping Iron Arnold Schwarzenegger

‘Pumping Iron’ came out in 1977, at a time when body building was still genuinely considered freakish. The world had not yet been sufficiently introduced to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and by extension the kind of action star that he would help popularize during the 80s and 90s.

But perhaps more importantly, ‘Pumping Iron’ continues to inspire countless Americans to head out to the gym or to start an exercise routine, no matter what their goals are. Not everyone can be (or wants to be) Mr. Olympia or Mr. Universe, but everyone can take steps to improve their health and wellness. If you’re looking for a movie with “good” guys and “bad” guys, a family man (Mike Katz) and a lovable underdog (Lou Ferrigno), give it a watch when you get a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

Want humor? It has that, too. When a cocky young man asked Arnold for advice, he had this response:

Eight years ago when some fellow came to me in the gym and said, “I want to win Mr. Munich, you know. And I am a perfect poser and I have a fantastic body and I just want to learn and new posing routine, a new style. Something way out, which nobody expects.”

So I said, “Well, let me see the posing routine you have right now.” Well when the guy took his clothes off and posed for me he looked like nothing, number one. And his posing was bad. So I mean, I think he was just crazy, you know? So I thought, well okay, if he thinks he’s the best poser I’m going to pull a little trick on him. And so that’s what I did.

I told him, I said I have a new posing routine from America. I’m in correspondence with all the best athletes in America, and so on. And I told him that the new thing is he has to scream while he is posing. And he looked at me and said, “Wow, that’s a new idea.” I said, “That will really come off impressive when you go out on stage and scream. People can’t miss you! They will look at you!” …

So I taught him how to scream, you know? […] I taught him how to do it. The higher your arms go up, the higher you make a screaming noise. And the lower your arms come down while you are posing, you know the lower the noise. You know, like, “Aaaaah! Oooooh!” This kind of a thing. Well, I practiced with him for about two hours. I spent a lot of time mastering his new posing routine, and he mastered it very well. He was screaming really loud in the end. The high and low. And he went to the Mr. Munich contest. I told him when he walks out he has to scream loud, too. “Aarrrg!” And so he did, and obviously people were not ready for that at all. So he went out there and screamed loud and went through three or four poses with the loud screaming and they carried him off the stage and then they threw him off the stage. And then threw him out. The guy is totally nuts.

‘Pumping Iron’ even has a few lines that will make you ask yourself, “Did Arnold really say that? Was he lying? Was he telling the truth?” I know the answers to many of those questions … but I won’t ruin it for you. You’ll have to do your homework for scenes like “the pump.”

The greatest feeling you can get in a gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in a gym is “the pump.” Let’s say you train your biceps. Blood is rushing into your muscles. And that’s what we call the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute. It’s really tight. It just blows up and and it feels different. It feels fantastic.

It’s as satisfying to me as cumming is, you know? As having sex with a woman and cumming. So can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like getting the feeling of cumming in the gym, I’m getting the feeling of cumming at home, I’m getting the feeling of cumming back stage when I pump up, when I pose out in front of 5,000 people. I get the same feeling. So I am cumming day and night! I mean, it’s terrific, right? So I am in heaven.

Pumping Iron Arnold
God only knows what sort of crazy stories Arnold has that will never see the light of day.

With that said, the best parts of the film are the scenes where the athletes talk about training, because their advice is applicable to many disciplines:

The body is not used to maybe the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th rep with a certain weight so that makes the body grow then. Going through this pain barrier. Experiencing pain in your muscles, and aching — and go on and go on and go on — and these last two or three or four repetitions, that’s what actually makes the muscle then grow. And that divides one from a champion from one not being a champion. If you can go through [pain], then you may go on to be a champion. If you can’t go through [pain], then forget it. And that’s what most people lack — is having the guts to go in and says, “I go through, and I don’t care what happens.” It aches, and if I fall down I have no fear of fainting in a gym. Because I know it could happen. I threw up many times while I was working out, but it doesn’t matter because it’s all worth it.”

Boom. That’s life summed up right there, and oddly enough it’s spoken by the guy who said “I am cumming day and night!”

Today we live in a society that avoids pain at all costs. We live in a society that fears pain. It fears a whole lot of things … but it really fears pain. Emotional pain. Physical pain. Economic pain.

The truth is, often times the most spiritual, emotional and physical growth we attain comes from enduring hardship. You make muscle by destroying muscle. You improve your endurance by pushing your limits. The mind almost always gives in before the body. Success often comes from the knowledge we gain through failure. If you aren’t pushing yourself to failure, you aren’t pushing yourself. If you show me a successful person, I will show you a person who has failed many, many times.

I firmly believe the U.S. obesity rate is an outward manifestation of the cultural rot going on inside the minds of millions of Americans. When self-esteem reigns supreme and everyone is afraid of offending the guy next to them, you wind up with a “comfort zone culture.” And when you stay in your comfort zone, you get fat and lazy. Insulated from insults or criticism, always seeking to feel good instead of possibly experiencing pain, the mind and the body and the soul atrophy. What’s left is a life wasted. And it’s sad, because it never has to be that way.

I respect anyone who takes a leap of faith on a new career or a new job, because they’re jumping into the super unknown. There might be a pile of pillows at the bottom, or their might be a load of bricks. I respect anyone who writes, because they offer themselves up to the slings and arrows of complete strangers. Those intellectual battle scars bring with them experience that will serve the writer well in the broader war.

Likewise, I respect anyone who finds an exercise routine that works for them and then sticks to it. The body really is a like a piece of clay. The “you” that you want to see in the mirror is there right now. He stares you in the eye every day. He just responds to hard work. When you put in the time you’ll coax him out. And when you do, you’ll think differently and you’ll act differently and those around you will respond in kind. And you will never again want to go back to your comfort zone.

Don’t trust me? Watch ‘Pumping Iron,’ and hopefully some of the all-time greats of body building will change your mind.

Related: Schwarzenegger’s ‘Six Rules for Success’ are sage advice for all Americans

The New Year’s resolution: Self-improvement’s kiss of death

Years ago I had the pleasure of managing a gym, and the start of the new year brought in a wave of people into the facility, which predictably receded well before Spring. It seems as though New Year’s resolutions are the kiss of death for most individuals’ efforts at self-improvement.

The problem with most plans is that the mind is in the wrong place from the start. The individual says “I’m going to go to the gym more often,” or “I’m going to eat healthier foods.” The heart is in the right place, but the mind is not. There’s a reason why they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions…

Instead of doing something, you should be something. Instead of saying, “I’m going to do more running this year” you should say, “I am a runner.” In one case you’re asserting the desire to engage in an activity and in the other the activity is integral to who you are. Psychologically, these two positions seem to be only off by degrees, but when you plot out the vectors they produce, on a long enough timeline the differences are profound.

It always puzzles me to see people go on drastic diets or exercise programs. They swing life’s pendulum wildly in one direction and convince themselves that it isn’t going to come barreling back the other way. They enter into an exercise program that leaves them unable to walk for days on end, get discouraged and then give up because they didn’t scale the workouts to their ability level. They go cold-turkey on drinking or smoking or eating — or whatever the vice may be — and then fall right back into bad habits because they never properly committed to the right lifestyle to begin with.

When you take possession of a lifestyle, questions disappear. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should have that extra piece of cake — you just don’t. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you’ll exercise the next day — you know that you will. It’s what you do because it’s who you are.

Over a year ago I severely injured my shoulder. I couldn’t lift my left arm up to wash my hair and had nights where I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Needless to say, when I finally was able to start exercising again my weakest exercise — the pullup — was even worse. I made a rule: Any time I exited or entered my room I would do a set of pullups. Over time I got stronger … and stronger … and stronger, until one day I realized my pain was gone, my mobility had returned, and what was once a weakness was now one of my strengths. It took almost a year for that reality to unfold, but it all began with a mental directive that while the timeline was negotiable, the end result was not.

Mother Nature uses time and pressure to mold the physical world around us, but I firmly believe we too can use the very same methods to achieve success, wealth, health and happiness in our own lives. Once you honestly determine the person you are, your mind will seek out ways to bend reality to your will and you’ll attract the kind of company into your life needed to assist you in your endeavors. Make that switch from doing to being and check in with me three, four or five years down the road. My bet is that you will have done away with the practice of making big New Year’s resolutions in favor of constantly recalibrating the little things, which reaffirm and enhance the better person you’ve become.

Military obesity isn’t the issue: Civilian fat bodies are

The Washington Post is running stories on the military's bulging bellies. I looked through my old Army photos and found one of my fellow infantrymen after a 10 mile run. Nope. No fat people there. I wonder why.
The Washington Post just ran a story on the military’s bulging bellies. I looked through my old Army photos from 1997 and found one of me with my fellow infantrymen after a 10 mile run. Nope. No fat people there. My Magic Eight Ball says the MOS might have had something to do with it.

Over the past few years there has been increasing coverage of the growing waistlines of our nation’s military. It’s generally a dumb story. The people charged with fixing the problem know exactly what’s going on:  Nobody does physical fitness like the infantry. Period. If you want less overweight soldiers, tell the POGS to look at their grunt-buddies for an example of how to stay in shape.

Let’s take a look at who, exactly, can’t seem to get their asses in gear, shall we?

Obesity Military

Surprise, surprise. Look who leads the pack or, more aptly, leads the rear of the formation on Company runs:  women, the Air Force, and fat old men who have their rank and don’t give a rip because they’ve hit twenty years of service and can retire at any time.

When I was part of Charlie Co., 1/18 Infantry in the 90’s we had a guy who treated his body like crap and he couldn’t stay in shape. The solution? They made me get up with him on the weekends and take him on four, five, and six-mile runs. We also ran after work. We did push-ups. We did sit-ups. Our Platoon Sergeant gave me free rein to drag him out of bed and onto the road for long runs until he got it in his thick head to get where he was supposed to be, meaning: in shape. When you make something a priority, things start to fall into place. Shocker. The military should make it a priority to emulate the kind of standards infantrymen hold themselves to.

With that said, the bigger story is the nation’s eating problem:

Obesity is now the leading cause of ineligibility for people who want to join the Army, according to military officials, who see expanding waistlines in the warrior corps as a national security concern. …

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said he was floored by what he found in 2009 when he was assigned to overhaul the Army’s training system. Seventy-five percent of civilians who wanted to join the force were ineligible, he said. Obesity was the leading cause.

“Of the 25 percent that could join, what we found was 65 percent could not pass the [physical training] test on the first day,” he said in a recent speech. “Young people joining our service could not run, jump, tumble or roll — the kind of things you would expect soldiers to do if you’re in combat.”

I believe that our nation’s outward appearance is a reflection of our own cultural decay.

Sloth. Gluttony. Pride. Envy. A nation of video game obsessed, chip-eating narcissists live vicariously through the heroes in their first person shooter, only taking breaks to go to the bathroom and catch a few minutes of whatever brain dead reality show is popular on MTV. Huge swaths of the population sit around on their butts all day, and when they wake from their Netflix induced stupor long enough to catch a news report of someone who went out there and actually built something they become angry. (See: Occupy Wall Street.)

In the United States, we live in a society where anyone can be fat. Quite unlike any other time in history, the poorer you are in the United States the more likely it is that you will be fat. It’s a testament to our greatness, but one that doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. Where once artists and painters drew naked heavy women because weight was an indicator of wealth, today obesity is an indicator that you might very well be living on a tight budget.

Today, the rich have personal trainers to help hound off the weight, but the poor have internet access. All the nutritional information we could ever want is right there at our fingertips, and yet rich and poor alike don’t utilize it. There are YouTube videos, blogs, government funded websites and enough dietary knowledge to make anyone a subject matter expert in a relatively short amount of time, and yet we still pack on the pounds. Why? It’s because we aren’t serious. About anything. We spend our days working and our nights watching Jersey Shore. Or Buck Wild. Or Honey Boo Boo. Or Dancing with the Stars. Or American Idol.

And so, the nation’s newspapers should not worry about the body fat standards of the military so much as it should worry about the psyche of our civilian population. More nutrition labels aren’t the answer. More bans on sodium and fat are not the answer. Limits on carbohydrates aren’t the answer. Instead, I would argue that finding a way to change the culture in a way that tempers its obsession with instant gratification and celebrity would yield better results.

And if we fail? If there’s a zombie apocalypse we all know who will be the first ones to go — and it won’t be me.

Schwarzenegger’s ‘Six Rules for Success’: Sage advice for all Americans

Schwarzenegger’s most important rule of all for attaining success: “Work your butt off.” Sage advice from the Austrian Oak.

Like all of us, Arnold Schwarzenegger has his moral failings. We know what they are since he’s a public figure, but if we’re honest with ourselves we know that we too are “warped timber.” Given that, the question becomes:  How did a scrawny kid grow up to become the Austrian Oak, and can the principles that helped bring him success be applied to the rest of us? There’s a video that’s been on YouTube for quite some time that highlights Schwarzenegger’s “Six Rules for Success.” I believe they can be inspiring to anyone, in any field.

As I’ve noted before, it’s been my experience that those who are serious about lifting weights tend to have a conservative streak in them — or at least seem to be more open to the worldview than my other friends and acquaintances. The weights are about tough love, and Arnold does a great job imparting their wisdom here:

Now of course, people ask me all the time, they say to me: “What is the secret to success?” The first rule is: Trust yourself. But what is most important is that you have to dig deep down — dig deep down — and ask yourself, “Who do you want to be?” Not what, but who? I’m talking about not what your parents and teachers want you to be, but you. I’m talking about figuring out for yourselves, what makes you happy no matter how crazy it may sound to the people.

Rule #1 is: Trust yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Rule #2 is: Break the rules.

We have so many rules in life about everything. I say break the rules — not the law — but break the rules. It is impossible to be a maverick or a true original if you’re too well behaved and don’t want to break the rules. You have to think outside the box. That is what I believe. After all, what is the point of being on this earth if all you want to do is be liked by everyone and avoid trouble? The only way I ever got anyplace was by breaking some of the rules.

Which of course brings me to Rule Number 3: Don’t be afraid to fail.

Anything I’ve ever attempted, I was always willing to fail. You can’t always win, but don’t be afraid of making decisions. You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself. You keep pushing because you believe in yourself and in your vision. And you know that it is the right thing to do and success will come. So don’t be afraid to fail, which brings me to Rule #4, which is: Don’t listen to the naysayers.

I mean, how many times have you heard that you can’t do this and you can’t do that and it has never been done before? I love it when someone says no one has ever done this before, because when I do it that means that I’m the first person who has done it! So pay no attention to the people who say it can’t be done.

I never listen to “you can’t.” I always listen to myself and say, “Yes, you can.” And that brings me to Rule #5, which is the most important rule of all: Work your butt off. Leave no stone unturned.

Mohammad Ali, one of my great heroes, had a great line in the 70’s when he was asked: “How many situps do you do?” He said, “I don’t count my situps; I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting because that’s when it really counts. That’s what makes you a champion.” And that’s the way it is with everything: No pain, no gain.

While you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone out there at the same time is working hard. Someone is getting smarter and someone is winning. Just remember that. Now if you want to win, there is absolutely no way around hard, hard work. None of my rules for success will work unless you do. I’ve always figured that there were 24 hours in a day.  You sleep 6 hours. There are 18 hours left. Now, I know there are some of you out there now who say, “Well wait a minute. I sleep 8 hours or 9 hours.”  Well, just sleep faster, I would recommend.

That takes me to Rule #6, which is a very important rule. It’s about giving back. Whatever path that you take in your lives, you must always find time to give something back. Something back to your community. Give something back to your state or your country.

Let me tell you something: Reaching out and helping people will give you more satisfaction than anything you have ever done.

Remember these six rules:

1. Trust yourself
2. Break some rules
3. Don’t be afraid to fail
4. Ignore the naysayers
5. Work like hell
6. Give something back

Well said, Arnold. Well said, indeed.

Related: ‘Pumping Iron’ inspires, decades after its release

Basic Training Cured My ADD. Too Bad Drill Sergeants Don’t Come In Pill Form.

I wasn't given a prescription for Basic Training by a doctor (Drill Sergeants don't come in pill form), but it cured my so-called ADD. Who knew.

When I was a kid my mom wondered aloud whether or not I had ADD. She mentioned that some of my teachers thought the same thing. Although I was never placed on Ritalin, it was at that time that I was introduced to the word. Years later I was assigned to report to Fort Benning, GA for Basic Training. In a matter of weeks my “ADD” was cured! All it took was a Drill Sergeant and the life of an infantryman to sweat the ADD out of me. No drugs necessary. It turns out I was just a kid with a lot of energy, who also happened to be a bit of a joker. Nothing a few thousand push-ups, mud and cold couldn’t cure. It’s because of my own experience that I can’t help but be skeptical about many of the 3 million American kids who take drugs to “focus” each year. L. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, is on the same wavelength:

Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects…

Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.

What gets publicized are short-term results and studies on brain differences among children. Indeed, there are a number of incontrovertible facts that seem at first glance to support medication. It is because of this partial foundation in reality that the problem with the current approach to treating children has been so difficult to see.

While I don’t subscribe to the Tom Cruise wing of the anti-drug alliance, it seems like the knee jerk reaction in the United States is to pump someone up with drugs the moment there is a problem. It’s hard work to get to the root of a problem, but it’s rather easy to find a doctor who will scribble some words on a piece of paper so you can feel better before the week is out. But no one really asks if you actually ARE better.

Over the past few years I had a job that was rather stressful. It was rewarding work, but the pay wasn’t great and the demands for excellence were high. I had trouble paying my bills (DC is an expensive city, and I racked up a lot of debt in the form of student loans). I was in a long distance relationship. I started having weird heart palpitations in the middle of the day. I couldn’t sleep. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, even though I’m a healthy male who doesn’t drink or smoke—and I exercise regularly. I talked with a number of people, all of whom cared deeply for me and wanted me to do what was in my best interest. Almost all of them indicated that I might need to resort to some sort of drugs to handle my anxiety. These trusted friends also indicated that if I saw some of the doctors they recommended (again, out of concern for my health), that I would most likely end up getting a prescription of some kind.

I determined that the financial, professional, and romantic pressures coming at me from all sides should be alleviated first. I quit my job, and found one that set me on a better course for my long term goals. I lowered some of my student loan payments just enough to give me the breathing room I needed to live and work in DC. While it wasn’t initially on the docket, I ended up getting married. In a relatively short span of time my sleep returned, my heart palpitations stopped, and my chest no longer felt as though The Incredible Hulk was standing on it. By making tough choices that were connected to the root problem, I was able to avoid drugs—which in my particular case would have only been masking the core issues at hand.

Professor Sroufe is on the ball when he says:

However brain functioning is measured, [studies geared towards the “inborn defect”] tell us nothing about whether the observed anomalies were present at birth or whether they resulted from trauma, chronic stress or other early-childhood experiences. One of the most profound findings in behavioral neuroscience in recent years has been the clear evidence that the developing brain is shaped by experience.

It is certainly true that large numbers of children have problems with attention, self-regulation and behavior. But are these problems because of some aspect present at birth? Or are they caused by experiences in early childhood? These questions can be answered only by studying children and their surroundings from before birth through childhood and adolescence, as my colleagues at the University of Minnesota and I have been doing for decades (emphasis added).

Again, none of this is meant to suggest that there aren’t biochemical conditions that can (and should) be treated with medications. The question at hand is whether or not we’re doing ourselves a disservice by going to quick-fix prescription drugs whenever it seems like some serious introspection might result in a handful of really tough decisions (e.g., Do I need to quit my job?).

We’ve become a nation that’s inflated with unearned self-esteem. When a problem arises, it’s not us who need to change—it’s our biochemistry! While this may be true in some cases, I’m inclined to think that millions of kids are needlessly taking drugs each year.

And if you’ve made it this far, take a break with some Jimmy Eat World. And remember, “I’m not crazy, because I take the right pills every day.”