Archive for August, 2019

Muscle memory

August 24, 2019

When you can do an exercise for 6 reps, then increase the weight by 10% and do the exercise again. If now you can only do 5 reps, walk away. You are done with that exercise. That is your 80% weight.

I believe in muscle memory. The body remembers the last weight it lifted. You want your body to remember (in the next workout session) the heavy weight. Always finish on a high, at the top of the pyramid. Then, the next time you’re in the gym, your body will remember the heavy weight.

Never go down the pyramid. I see people work up to their 80% level and then go down to lighter weights to do reps. Don’t do that. Why? Because the next time you’re in the gym, your body will remember the lighter weights.

Example from my own experience: When I do chin-ups, I finish with a set of 3 reps (always just 3 reps). I do those 3 reps extra special – when I ascend, I get my chin much higher above the bar than normal and when I descend, I go extra slow and deliberate. At my next chin-up session my muscles remember that extra high ascent and extra slow descent and my chin-ups automatically take that form.

Would Albert Einstein succeed in today’s distracted world?

August 19, 2019

I feel sad for today’s students. They have so many shiny objects (email, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, web sites with flashy graphics) competing for attention. Concentrating on schoolwork requires students have enormous discipline and willpower.

When I went to school there was no World Wide Web and there were no laptops. There were just books, paper, and pencils. It was relatively easy to do the deep work – long, uninterrupted periods of concentration – needed to do well in school.

If Albert Einstein had lived in the distracted world that we live in today, would he have been able to make his discoveries?

How to make cranberry juice palatable

August 14, 2019

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about the benefits of drinking good quality cranberry juice. Not wanting to be left behind, I bought a few bottles of Knudsen Just Cranberry Juice. Good stuff. But wicked sour. After a few days, I could drink no more. Too sour. Then a light bulb went on in my head – add a few drops of liquid Stevia. Ha! I did that and now the juice is palatable. Now I am merrily drinking a couple glasses of good quality cranberry juice each day.

Count reps or not?

August 13, 2019

Clearly, the goal is to improve over the years. More accurately, the goal is to improve the number of perfect-form reps over the years.

There are pros and cons to counting reps.


Counting reps (along with recording the number of reps performed) gives concrete evidence of whether there is improvement.


There is an enormous temptation to sacrifice form for that extra rep. Instead of focusing on movement and mind-body connection, the focus is on a mostly meaningless number.

Bottom Line

For many workouts the number of reps you can perform will remain the same. There will even be times where the number of reps decreases. But, if the effort is put in, over the long arc of time the number of perfect-form reps will slowly rise. That is all you can ask. That is success.

Cultivate craftsmanship in your work

August 11, 2019

The woodworker has an intimate relationship with the wood he works. Its subtle virtues call out to be cultivated and cared for. In this appreciation for the subtle virtues of his medium, the craftsman has stumbled onto something crucial: a source of meaning outside the individual. The woodworker doesn’t decide arbitrarily which virtues of the wood he works are valuable and which are not; this value is inherent in the wood and the task it’s meant to perform.

Such sacredness is common to craftsmanship. The task of a craftsman is not to generate meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there.

There’s nothing intrinsic about the manual trades when it comes to discerning this meaning. Any pursuit—be it physical or cognitive—that supports high levels of skill can also discern a sense of sacredness.

The Pragmatic Programmer, a well-regarded book in the computer programming field, makes this connection between code and old-style craftsmanship:

One hundred years from now, our engineering may seem as archaic as the techniques used by medieval cathedral builders seem to today’s civil engineers, but our craftsmanship will still be honored.

It’s here that some might respond that their knowledge work job cannot possibly become such a source of meaning because their job’s subject is much too mundane. But this is flawed thinking. The craftsman doesn’t have to have a rarified job. Throughout most of human history, to be a blacksmith or a woodworker wasn’t glamorous. But this doesn’t matter, as the specifics of the work are irrelevant. The meaning uncovered by such efforts is due to the skill and appreciation inherent in craftsmanship—not the outcomes of their work. A wooden wheel is not noble, but its shaping can be. The same applies to knowledge work. You don’t need a rarified job; you need a rarified approach to your work.

Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

To be productive you need long periods of uninterrupted concentration

August 10, 2019

My full-time writing schedule means that I have to be pretty much a hermit. The only way to gain enough efficiency to complete The Art of Computer Programming is to operate in batch mode, concentrating intensively and uninterruptedly on one subject at a time, rather than swapping a number of topics in and out of my head.

  • Donald Knuth, computer scientist

To do real good physics, you do need absolute solid lengths of time … it needs a lot of concentration.

  • Richard Feynman, physicist

Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out-of-office auto-responder on his email so correspondents will know not to expect a response soon. To Grant, it’s important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand.

  • Adam Grant, youngest professor to be awarded tenure at the Wharton School of Business

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all. Likewise, several consecutive days with four-hour time-slabs in them give me a stretch of time in which I can write a decent book chapter, but the same number of hours spread out across a few weeks, with interruptions in between them, are nearly useless.

  • Neal Stephenson, writer

Today I counted the number of times that I checked email

August 2, 2019

I am trying to improve my ability to focus on things for a long period of time. That means resist distractions. That means don’t check email.

To get a sense of how often I check email, today I kept a running count each time I checked my work email, hotmail, and gmail. Here are the results:

Work email: 17 times

Hotmail: 6 times

Gmail: 2 times

Note that these numbers would be much higher but I worked hard to resist the urge to check my email. I think that on a typical day the numbers would be twice as much (maybe more).

This is a sad state of affairs. Checking my email so often is crazy. There’s no need for this. It is a huge distraction. I can’t (nobody can) do deep work with such distractions.

I will continue to build will power to resist the urge to obsessively check email.

Have you counted the number of times that you check email in a day? Is it higher or lower than the numbers above? Let me know, please.