What is your lifestyle tip to readers this week?
A medley this time... You have to think hard about what will make you truly happy these days and, indeed, in all days. Because our culture and institutions lie to you. Get married young. Have lots of kids. Live near others doing the same. Go to church, or at least get curious about religion (a natural virtue) and look into it. Read the best authors about the most important questions and consider them with others willing to do the same. Take concrete actions to get outside the tired tropes of our time. Find people who treat you well and stick with and learn from them. Persevere. Perseverance is life's basic opportunity multiplier. And other platitudes that aren't really platitudes.
Walk in nature. You can’t and won’t regret it unless you forget something super important, miss a crucial event, or an accident befalls you. Even then... some of the most nature loving people suffer the worst calamities on the trail, and their appreciation is often undimmed. Sometimes it’s increased. We were made to rove at least a little each day. Pick this low-hanging fruit, guilt-free.
Read good history and get out of your head. I recently started Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples. An amazing, readable work by my personal hero. If you think you have things bad at the moment, try having lived at the time of the Viking invasion. Those guys certainly didn’t worry about gender pronouns.
Here is a piece of lifting advice that a friend gave me which almost no one knows, but which is centrally important: you actually have to flex the muscle you’re trying to target while you’re lifting it. Bicep curls: don’t just move the weight up and down; actually squeeze the bicep at the top of the motion. If you’re doing shrugs (holding the weight while moving your shoulders up and down), don’t make it a matter of chance whether your neck or your shoulders is doing the lifting. Make it your central goal to relax your neck and tighten your shoulders as if you were flexing them for the camera.
What I like about this advice is it’s good to start with, because it applies everywhere at a structural level. Form is the central thing—in weightlifting as in life. In all great pursuits, the essence of the thing is not in some extrinsic consequence that arises from it, but just the doing of the thing itself, and that well. In other words, it’s not just how much you lift or how many times, but in what way. Pay minute attention to every part of your body as you’re setting up your initial posture for the exercise, but then focus in most deeply on the muscle you’re there to work: the why of what you’re doing. Drown out everything else.
This applies whether you’re doing push-ups at home under lockdown, or bench pressing at the gym. Ask yourself what you’re trying to work on, and then flex there as you do the movement. So too when you sit down to write, or to cook a meal, or to call a friend: why are you doing this? Zero in on that. Everything else is noise.