Occlumency

Yes, I’m a nerd, and you other nerds likely caught the reference already. My oldest son, Uriah, and I have been listening to the Harry Potter books together, and the other weekend we were listening to The Order of the Phoenix on our way to a Rocky Mountain Nationals wrestling tournament in Pueblo. Little did I realize as we listened to Professor Snape teaching Harry about occlumency, that the weekend’s wrestling would provide both of us an incredible lesson in occlumency as well as one of my most cherished moments with Uriah to date. What is occlumency you might ask? It is the practice of controlling your mind and emotions. “Oclu” is a root word meaning “to shut down” and “mens” is a root word meaning “mind.” In Harry Potter, occlumency lessons serve to teach Harry to protect his mind from Lord Voldermort, the book’s villain (a skill Harry never masters). In order to master the skill, one must learn to control his or her emotions, stopping anger, fear, sadness, or any other emotion from taking over the mind. The occlumens must literally “shut down” his or her mind from all outside intrusions by shutting down emotions. The occlumens is a master over his or her mind and emotions, rather than being a slave to them.

Providing a little background for the weekend, this is Uriah’s second year wrestling, and this was his first national level tournament (18 states were represented at this tournament). Prior to this weekend, he’s only competed in maybe 5 or 6 tournaments since he started wrestling. During weigh-ins, Uriah was given the option to double bracket, meaning he could compete in both his age group (7 and under) and the age group above him (8 and under) to get in some extra matches. His friend double bracketed, so naturally, Uriah chose to as well. Additionally, I made the mistake of allowing him to eat prior to weigh-ins. He’s only 7, so I didn’t think much about his weight for the tournament, and he weighed in 0.2 lbs above the lower weight class. In other words, the weight of his breakfast put him up a weight class. The other kids in his weight obviously took the weight seriously, because when it came time to wrestle, there was a notable size difference between Uriah and every one of his opponents. At 7 years old, this size and strength discrepancy, coupled with what quickly became obvious as a large experience discrepancy, made a big difference. With this in mind, allow me to lay out how the tournament unfolded for both of us.

Uriah’s first match set the tone for the rest of the day. When the whistle blew and the two tied up, his opponent’s age, strength, and experience quickly overwhelmed him, and his wide eyes showed it as his opponent made short work of him. Uriah came off the mat upset, as expected, and the subsequent three matches were replays of the first. After each match, he and I talked about something he can improve for the next match, and he did his best to try whatever we talked about. After an initial few minutes of anger, frustration, and tears, he would pull it together and stay positive for his next match – only to have the same outcome repeated again. In his 5th and final match, it looked like he might actually have a chance as he held his own through the first period. Then, in the second period, his opponent had three or four solid mat returns (picking Uriah up off his feet and swiftly bringing him back down to the mat on his belly) that clearly knocked the wind out of him each time. This was the start of our real lesson in occlumency.

I had previously wondered how I would handle myself the first time I became truly angry with Uriah in wrestling. Previously, as every dad who has coached his son can attest, I have experienced frustration, disappointment, joy, and pride. But I had not yet experienced anger. Losing a match, falling short, or making a mistake never really upsets me. Throwing a tantrum, quitting, and losing self control on the other hand, are all unacceptable to me, especially from my children. After being forcefully returned to the mat for the third or fourth time, I could see Uriah start losing control. At first, he just started thrashing about like a bundle of anger not knowing how to release itself. Then he started screaming, crying, and kicking as he rolled over to his back, pressing his hands up into his opponent’s face and throat while screaming “I can’t breathe!” My wife says she could see my anger on the side of the mat from the stands as I jumped to my feet and yelled at Uriah to control himself. Feeling myself starting to lose control, I looked away, clenched my teeth, and took a deep breath as I reminded myself “he’s only 7.” When he came off the mat, I couldn’t trust the words that would come out of my mouth at that moment, and I was worried that I would ruin the sport of wrestling for him in an instant. So I told him to go talk to his grandfather as I walked a short distance away, focused on deep breathing, and said a prayer for my own self control and wisdom as to how to talk to Uriah. It was not the loss making me so angry, it was the display of his emotions overcoming him causing him to throw a tantrum and pin himself in the process that was getting to me. And, I was acutely aware of the irony as I was a single breath from losing my own self control. If I wanted him to learn to control emotions, this moment was crucial in controlling my own. Later, one of my close friends (another wrestling dad) took Uriah aside before letting Uriah come talk to me, as my friend could still see my anger near bursting. I’m so thankful for this, because by the time Uriah found me a few minutes later, I had cooled to the point I could say a couple words in the right tone. I kneeled down to one knee bringing myself to eye level with him. Putting both hands on his shoulders, I told him “Son, I love you no matter what. And I will always be proud of you. We will talk more about that match later.” I gave him a hug, then stood up and walked away to keep cooling down. We did not talk about it again until the next day.

We stayed in Pueblo that night at my in-laws house. My friend who had pulled Uriah aside after the match to give me time to cool down gave me a great idea. He recommended I take Uriah for some coffee at some point, just me and him, and visit about the tournament. The next morning, I woke Uriah before the others, and we got in the truck and went for some coffee and a bagel together. When we sat down with our coffee and bagel, I started the conversation by asking Uriah if he had fun yesterday, and what he thought of it overall. He said he did have fun and that he wanted to do it again. His answer took me by surprise, because I was worried the experience had ruined wrestling for him. It definitely did not look like he had fun during the tournament. I asked him what was fun about it, and he said he had fun wrestling, being there with his friends, learning lessons from his losses, and spending time with me. That last part put a lump in my throat as I thought about how close I was to blowing it in my anger after his last match. We then talked about how painful it can be to wrestle, and how that pain provides us opportunities to grow. We read the story of Jacob wrestling the angel of the Lord in the Bible, and we talked about how Jacob did not quit even after the angel broke Jacob’s hip. We imagined together just how painful that had to be, and we talked about the pain he felt yesterday as I asked him to try and remember what exactly he was feeling when he lost control. I was dumbfounded by the insight of a 7 year old as he explained that he became mad, then scared because he didn’t know what to do, then embarrassed for acting the way he did. He still seemed embarrassed while reliving it now, as if he thought I had never done something similar before. So I told him about a time when I was 11 years old and threw a similar outburst during a cross country practice when someone beat me who I didn’t think should. My mom was my coach at the time, and she promptly corrected me on the spot. Sharing this story with him became a bonding moment for us as I believe it was one of the first times he saw me as human too, and not as the superman figure boys tend to see in their dads. By the end of our coffee and bagel discussion, I was misty eyed by the incredible morning with my son. When it was time for me to leave Pueblo and head back to Meeker (Uriah, his mom, the girls, and his baby brother were staying in Pueblo a few more days with the grandparents), Uriah held on to me for a long time before letting me get in the truck to leave. When I finally got in the truck, he asked me to get back out for one more hug before leaving, which I gladly did with another lump in my throat.

This weekend, the lessons, and precious moments with Uriah could have been ruined by allowing my emotions to overcome me. And they almost did. I believe this is why God has so much to say in the Bible about anger, self control, and controlling our tongues. “But don’t let the passion of your emotions lead you to sin! Don’t let anger control you…” – Ephesians 4:26. God knows I have messed up in this way many times, and being human, I likely will many more times. However, self-control is a skill I am daily aiming to master, and I am thankful for the many and regularly provided opportunities to grow in this area through athletics, competition, and exercise – as an athlete, a coach, and a father. I’m becoming an occlumens, and teaching my children to be as well. In the short couple weeks since this happened, I have already seen tremendous growth in Uriah on his path in becoming an occlumens.

Dr. Grant

Stephanie’s Athlos Story: Learning The Real Meaning of Health & Fitness.

I was asked to write my Athlos Life story. My story is not any different from many of you. I did not have one moment that changed my life. I had many moments and many decisions, habits I had established, that were not working for me. I was NOT happy with the person I was and even more disappointed in the person I was becoming. Growing up I was always taught fitness was something you did to burn calories, to stay skinny, to be accepted and hopefully loved by others. Food and fitness were the enemy that fed my mind. In college, I competed in swimsuit competitions and “worked out” several hours a day to try and find some kind of acceptance for myself. The more I worked out and competed the more I hated myself. I looked DAMN good BUT I was broken, completely broken. I developed an eating disorder that took me years to overcome. I can honestly say I defeated that battle with a lot of support from my husband and friends along the way, but for many years after that, I feared food and fitness.

I continued to use fitness as a way to defeat the battlefield in my mind. I did well BUT I did not do great. I rode this fitness roller coaster. I would be “motivated” and intense THEN I would take several months off where I would fall back into old patterns and old ways of thinking. Fitness was something I did because I thought I had to. I did it alone on days I was motivated and I did not do any when I did not FEEL like it. I am sure some of you can relate to this. Motivation and feelings are the last thing you want to believe when it comes to mind, body and character. My back hurt ALWAYS, I felt drained, stressed and defeated.

Then the Grants moved to town. Acquaintances quickly turned into a friendship. Dr. Grant coached our oldest daughter where she competed in some weight lifting competitions. We quickly noticed a difference in her strength ability. We frequently had conversations with the Grants over dinner about fitness and health. Dr. Grant with his medical knowledge, complemented by his wife and her self-taught knowledge and degree in massage therapy, both truly live health, mind and fitness in every daily decision. They became role models that both my husband and I looked up to.

I decided to see Dr. Grant in his office for my back. He bluntly informed me that I had a “weak core” and that I “jumped like an elephant”. Yes, he said that, no BS with Dr. Grant and that is exactly what I needed. The exercises I had been doing were keeping me “skinny” but they were not building strong muscles, solid joints and a healthy, mobile body. He provided me with several names of books and articles to read in order to educate myself. His wife Rebekah, with her kind, gentle and accepting personality, started me on her “mom” program. She invited me to work out with her on days that my schedule allowed. She was patient and altered everything for me, while still pushing me to my max effort. After I completed her program designed for mothers, I joined another one of their programs, the Spartan program. This program was a step up from the “mom” program but was a step below the Athlos program. I could also still complete the exercises at home where I felt most comfortable at the time. I would only work out at home or with Rebekah because I doubted myself and my capabilities. I let fear and failure hold me back.

My husband and oldest son had started joining Dr. Grant in his garage for intense Athlos workouts every day about the time I started the mom program. They would come home and tell me about the workouts. I told them they were crazy and that there would be no way I could EVER complete workouts like that.

My core was feeling stronger and I had noticeable strength from the past two programs. I started to join Rebekah in the gym more frequently during the summer months. I realized I could do those workouts and after them I felt a sense of accomplishment that is experienced after a crossfit workout. In the fall, I had to return to work and my schedule no longer fit with Rebekah’s schedule. My husband and Dr. Grant encouraged me to join them at the 5:15 a.m. class.

I was beginning to see a change in my husband, he was living fitness alongside Dr. Grant and Dr. Borchard. He was a motor, he was/is strong and he was crushing the workouts. I decided to join, to push fears of failure away and take an uncomfortable risk.  I have now been joining them for over a year now. I have had so many personal bests in the gym.

My journey is not over and my journey did not happen overnight. I did not have ONE big moment but many, many choices day in and day out. I have learned that fitness, a strong mind and health is a daily process. Some days are better than others, but everyday matters and every day counts.

, specifically Althos Life fitness, has taught me the true meaning of fitness and health. Fitness is not a calorie depletion, it is an act we do each day to show ourselves we can and will do better. We have to be uncomfortable for growth to happen. Pain is part of the process and we have to embrace that pain. I am beyond thankful for the opportunities Athlos Life has given me to embrace pain (in a positive way!).

Dr. Grant and Rebekah are not just coaches that sit on the sidelines and cheer you on, they sweat right beside you. Each workout they create, they complete. Each suggestion they give, they live. Athlos life is in the name itself— it is a “feat”, a “contest” that we do for ourselves, against ourselves to create a balanced mind, body and character. Athlos Life is a community of individuals striving to do better for themselves, while supporting others on their journey along the way. We are all broken people who need to “feat” that brokenness through daily practice.

Athlos Life provides each of us the opportunity to practice getting a stronger—mind, body and character. They do this through positive/honest coaching, monthly book suggestions, encouragement and thoughtful workouts.

I look forward to the ongoing process! Thank you Athlos Life.

By: Stephanie Overton

The Power Of 7 Minutes

The Power of 7 Minutes

In medical school, I easily spent 30 to 40 hours per week in class, and an additional 30 to 40 hours studying on my own.  In residency, we commonly worked 60 to “80” hours (in quotes because there was an 80 hour “limit”, and those who have been through it will catch my meaning) per week, many of those hours being on night shifts.  Fueled by caffeine with little sleep in a stressful job and having a family with one to three children (we grew through residency), it would have been easy to rarely, if ever, workout, read anything except required medical literature, and consume anything other than convenient, high carb food on the go.  Most medical students and residents survive this way, and only after residency do many put any effort back into their own health.  However, I struggled more if I did not make time to regularly invest in myself physically, mentally, and spiritually.  With such a tight and demanding schedule, how was I able to do this?  I did, and still do this by understanding the importance and power of time and striving to make every minute count.  It has been, and continues to be a journey I do not travel perfectly, but in its pursuit I have come to understand the potential depth of our work capacity in choosing to maximize our time.  Currently working 40 to 60 hours per week in the hospital, starting a business, coaching a high school team and youth club team, pursuing my wife, and raising 4 children, I have still made time to invest in myself by training for (and completing) a half ironman, daily learning, and intentionally choosing what I put in my body.  I do this by following a principle I refer to as “the power of 7 minutes.” I recently coined it this way because it takes me 7 minutes to pull out of my driveway and into the parking lot of the hospital, and two recent studies (one in 2017 and another in 2020) have shown 7 minutes of daily exercise to have significant benefits in body habitus, resting heart rate, and blood pressure.  Here, I’m going to give you a powerful example of the effects intentionally using 7 minutes has had in my life.  

The 7 minute commute to work has developed a singularly powerful habit for me – learning through audiobooks.  Historically, I strictly listened to music while driving, especially on short drives, such as my commute to work, as I felt these provided barely enough time to even start a book.  Three years ago, I set a goal to complete at least one audiobook per month, and I grew frustrated with not completing my goal after the first two months.  Then I did some math…I listen to books at x1.25 speed, and at that speed with my daily commute to and from work I could add almost an additional 6 hours of listening time per month.  That is 6 hours of additional learning each month, and approximately one full book each month.  I discovered the benefits compounded as I grew more hooked into whichever book I was listening to, and I started listening to it every time I drove, even if just to the grocery store and even if my children were with me.  Now, my oldest son requests we listen to whichever book I have going at the time when he rides with me, and he picks up surprising details leading to great conversations together.  Not only has a 7 minute commute turned into a powerful habit for me, it is turning into an early habit for my son and serving as an excellent source for life-lesson talks together.  What began as a struggle to finish even one book per month, has turned into a flood of enjoyable daily learning, and I will be closing out this year by finishing 38 books in 2022 alone.  

That is the power of 7 minutes, and it can be applied to almost anything.  As I referenced above, studies now show that as little as 7 minutes of daily exercise can have significant benefits in health through weight reduction and improvement in cardiovascular fitness.  What’s more, is the daily 7 minutes can eventually turn whatever is being intentionally pursued into a habit.  And, as I have demonstrated in my own life, no matter how busy you become, 7 minutes to invest in yourself can always be found and is more than worth the effort.  You just have to be willing to either look for the time, or create it.  Start with a commute, setting your alarm 7 minutes earlier, or spending 7 minutes doing push ups, sit ups, squats, and burpees when you get out of bed.  Spend 7 minutes intentionally investing in yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually or by investing in a relationship that is important to you.  Just look for or create the 7 minute opportunity.  If managing and creating time to invest in yourself is a struggle, I strongly recommend the book Redeeming Your Time by Jordan Reynor.  The busier you become, and the more responsibility you carry, the more important it becomes to invest in yourself.  So, where are you going to find your 7 minutes, and what are you going to do with them?  


The Friction Principle

    Friction for Freedom: Using the Friction Principle to Create Success

“I just don’t have time.”  “I don’t have the motivation after work to do that.”  “It saves me time to pick up some drive-through on the way home so I can spend more time with my family.”  “I can’t seem to overcome this craving every single night.”  “It’s the easiest thing to grab when my blood sugar feels low.”  “It’s just how I relieve stress after a long day.”  “My knees and back hurt too much to do that.” “Everytime I try to exercise, I hurt too much to do anything for the next 2 days.”  “You just don’t understand, there’s no way I can get up and workout before work, because there’s no way I can go to bed before midnight.”  “I work 13 hour days, I just don’t have time to workout.”

    I hear statements like these every day in my weight loss clinic.  Are they legitimate reasons, or are they excuses? Yes, to both questions.  Are they a simple sum of my patients’ weaknesses and the reasons for their current predicament?  Maybe…but could it be more than just a failure of their willpower?  Could there be more to it? Is there another reason besides the strength or weakness of one’s own will power we can identify and exploit?  After all, do any of my patients actually prefer their current state of health?  If they did, would they have come to see me in the first place?  With more professional and personal experience, careful reflection (and self-reflection), and mentorship by those much wiser than me, I have come to believe that, yes, something equally important to willpower needs to be identified and exploited.  Willpower is limited for all of us, and blaming it alone is like blaming mom for something dad said.  Willpower has a partner, and that partner is “friction.” 

Friction is the effort (or amount of energy) required to perform an action.  Willpower relies heavily on our energy level – which is limited.  Think of it in terms of money (everyone loves money).  Willpower is the money in your bank account, which you spend throughout the day to pay the costs of friction in thinking, acting, and interacting with others.  Each night, sleep refills our bank account to an extent.  There are many other things that refill our account and increase our baseline amount of willpower, but I will save those for another post.  This knowledge allows us to start “budgeting” our willpower, “reducing costs” of desired actions, and making undesired actions “more expensive.”  However, the first (and most important step) is to invest our willpower into analyzing and continually re-analyzing our lives, priorities, and day to day routines that do and do not align with our stated priorities.  Once we know what we truly desire in life and have a solid set of priorities, we can then start using the friction principle to aim our lives towards our goals – ensuring our day to day environment and routines align with our priorities.  

So, how do we use the friction principle? Start with asking, “What am I doing that I don’t want to be doing, and how can I make it harder to do those things?  Conversely, what am I not doing that I want to be doing, and how can I make it easier to do those things?”  I’ll use myself to provide some personal examples.  It is very easy for me to sedate with alcohol after a long or stressful day.  It’s been easy to relieve the stress of being a rural physician with a good glass of whiskey, a beer, or a glass of wine before bed.  However, relaxing this way also makes me less productive at home, less interactive with my children, andworsens my sleep which in turn affects the following day.  Striving to be a high performer, this does not work for me.  It does not align with my goals in life.  Therefore, I decided to stop sedating after work, and I started increasing the friction between myself and alcohol by removing all my favorite alcohols out of sight and placing them in tall cabinets with the cabinets closed.  Now out of sight and requiring a little extra effort to get a stool and search for my favorite whiskey, I rarely sedate this way on weekdays at all.  The effect has extended even beyond my original intent, and weekends now involve less alcohol.  However, let’s imagine this was not enough friction to attain the desired change.  I could then remove all alcohol from the house, making it even more difficult to drink.  Taken to the extreme, physicians can even prescribe a medication that causes alcohol to make you sick, like disulfiram.  The negative effects of alcohol while on the medication creates so much friction that many have used it to overcome alcoholism.   

We can apply the same principle in reverse to start performing a desired action.  Again, I’ll use a personal example.  The last two archery hunting seasons, I practiced just enough with my bow to know it was sighted in.  However, I am far from proficient with it.  I kept telling myself I needed to practice more, but stopping at the archery range just wasn’t worth the extra effort to me in my already busy schedule.  Instead of giving up, I first considered whether archery hunting is worth pursuing for me.  I decided it is, and I needed to do it responsibly, otherwise, I have no business doing it.  Therefore, I had to find a way to make daily practice a habit.  James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits (incredible book if you’re looking for suggestions), describes an excellent method for reducing friction in forming new habits – habit stacking.  Pair a desired action with an already established habit or routine.  This naturally turns the new action into a habit.  Every morning, I have a routine that includes Bible reading, prayer, and journaling on my back porch.  I set a target 50 yards off my back porch, set my bow by the door to the porch, and aimed to practice for five minutes every day after my morning routine.  Now, I shoot 8 to 12 shots before heading to work every day.  If I continue this for even 30 weeks out of the year on weekdays (it gets quite cold here, and my routine moves inside on the coldest days), this new routine will equate to 1,200 to 1,800 practice shots before next season, and it requires very little willpower due to its very little friction.  I’m now on track to proficiency and hunting responsibly.  

By taking time to reflect, analyze, and rearrange my environment, I have effectively applied the friction principle in both directions to further align myself towards my goals.  My routines and daily actions better reflect my stated priorities, and I will continue self-reflecting, applying the friction principle, and growing into who God has designed me to be.  Additionally, I will use the principle to help patients in my clinic, athletes I coach, and friends and family I love.  You, too, can use the friction principle to align your actions and priorities without much additional willpower.

 

By: Dr. Justin Grant