Witness Your Thoughts

In my last blog post I started with a relatively bold statement, that I was going to introduce some concepts and practices that will help gain clarity on your Purpose – what you are meant to do with your life.  Whoa!!  Writing that again feels almost like an overstep, but over the past few years I have personally gained more clarity, using the tools that I am unpacking for you now.  Last time I started by saying the first key is to gain control of your mind, and we started by Focusing on One Thing – specifically the breath.  If you missed that one, give it a read first and then come back for Step 2.

When we begin to practice breath awareness, training our concentration powers by focusing on something simple like our breathing pattern, it can be frustrating.  It’s hard for our brains to focus on one thing when there is so much going on in our lives that we feel like we need to figure out right now!  So while you are trying to sit quietly and focus like a Buddhist monk, your “monkey mind” is throwing thoughts into the mix that might be tangential to what you are doing, like “this is boring,” or “I wonder how long I’ve been doing this.”  Or they might be completely unrelated, like “what am I going to have for lunch?” or “how am I going to talk to my boss about that project that is falling behind?”

The first step to improve your ability to focus is to notice the thought arising, and then just let it go.  Recognize that your thoughts are not you, they are just brain activity brought on by an external stimulus or trigger, or maybe an internal emotional trigger.  In either case, you don’t have to hold on to them – at least not right now.  Just notice that you are thinking, and let the thought float past you like a cloud, and then it’s gone and you’re back to your breath awareness practice.  Over time, you will get better and better at the speed at which you notice that you are not focused anymore and thinking, and then getting back into your practice.  The part of you that notices the thinking is called your Witness.  You could think of it also as your consciousness.  You can be conscious of your own thoughts, and learn to control the quantity, and then even the quality of your thoughts.

Controlling and improving the quality of your thoughts will be the next topic we’ll dive into.  For now, if you’re with us on this journey toward self-realization, keep practicing your Box Breathing for improved concentration, and practice noticing when thoughts come up.  Don’t judge the thought or judge yourself for having it, but just notice it and let it glide away.  Then back to the breath.  Train once per day in the morning for 5 minutes when the house is nice and quiet, or as a spot drill during the day if you can find some quiet time with no distractions.

Please reach out with any questions, or any insights that you’ve gained so far!


Focus on One Thing

I’d like to start a series of blogs focused on gaining clarity on who you are, and what your direction or purpose in life is.  If you know the answer to these questions, then your day-to-day life can be focused on achieving your personal mission, your true “One Thing.”  These are big questions, but the first piece of good news here is that they can be answered, and it is as simple as asking the questions… and then listening.

The person that we’re asking is ourselves, and then we need to be open to listening to ourselves, which for most of us will require a little bit of prep work.  We need to gain control over our minds, training ourselves to slow down and eliminate the “monkey mind” chatter that is pulling us in multiple directions, much of it driven by subconscious negative thought patterns that we might not even know exist.  Then we can sink into a contemplative state and ask questions of our inner selves that might not be readily apparent to your rational mind.  But if we don’t do the work and instead try to skip ahead, maybe sit down in a Zen pose and ask our untrained mind “Who am I?”, we might get more surface level, rational answers, like “I am 34 years old,” or “I am a plumber, or a mother, or a Christian.”  All of those things may accurately describe roles that you have in your life, and they may be a big part of your overall Purpose, but maybe we can get more insight by going deeper.

We’ll follow a process that I learned in my Unbeatable Mind training called Witnessing.  Here it is in step-wise fashion, and then we’ll dig into #1:

  1. Learn to Focus your mind on One Thing.  Your breath is a great tool, or it could be a mantra that you repeat.
  2. Notice when your focus shifts to other thoughts.
  3. Improve the time it takes to notice the shifting to other thoughts
  4. Recognize the Witness as the aspect of you that notices the thinking
  5. Reset your center of awareness at the Witness, gaining control over your thinking

So, Focus on One Thing.  Simple but not easy, because we are all so scatterbrained due to so many distractions in our lives (cellphones and screens everywhere, news reports throwing all kinds of negativity at us, mental conditioning from our parents and other early influences).  But with practice, it will get easier.  For starters, just sit comfortably in a chair or lay down where you won’t be interrupted (just don’t fall asleep!).  Take nice deep breaths. Begin to “box breathe” – breathe in for a 5-count, hold for 5, breathe out for 5, and hold for 5.  The counting will help you concentrate on your breathing, and that’s the key here – try to keep your focus on your breath.  If you find your mind wandering and start thinking about something, just let that thought go and come back to your concentration practice on the breath.
Aim to do this for 5 minutes at first – you can even set an alarm on your phone to time your practice.  The goal is to increase the amount of time that you can Focus on One Thing.  Up to 20 minutes and you’re getting pretty good at this!

Next time we’ll get back into this process and delve a bit more into step #2 – noticing the thought patterns that come up and having a strategy to deal with negative thoughts.  For now, practice Box Breathing each day if you can.  I like to do this in the morning when the house is nice and quiet and there are no immediate distractions to deal with.  Again, start with 5 minutes and on days when you have a bit more time, go a little bit longer.  Let me know how it goes!


In God’s Hands

I recently discovered a way to reduce the anxiety that I feel when a big event is looming in front of me, which seems like a regular occurrence these days (who keeps on signing me up for these things, anyway?)  It stemmed from an article that my mom sent me around feeling overwhelmed with day-to-day things.
The crux of the article was a rewrite of the classic Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
I’ve written before about Courage – a popular theme in the hard physical training space.  But not so much Serenity.  It’s not a word we throw around too much these days – and maybe that’s a sign of our current crazy times – so if you don’t have a dictionary nearby, let me help you out.  A couple good synonyms for Serenity are Calm, and Peace of Mind.

How do we achieve this Serenity that we are looking to use to accept the unchangeable?  I think it starts with first accepting that there actually are some things that will happen in our lives that are not completely up to us.  In order to calmly accept the unchangeable, first just accept that unchangeable situations exist!
There are certain outcomes that we cannot completely control, try as we might.  Does that mean that not everything that happens in our lives is up to our own will and effort?  Yes.

The outcome is in God’s hands.

Reader, I don’t know if you’re a religious person – I don’t even know if I am.  I feel like religion is a tough sell for people that are intellectually curious, or students of history, of which I consider myself to be both.  But I do consider myself to be a spiritual person.  I believe that our true selves – or our souls – operate independently from our rational thinking minds and our physical bodies.  And it’s been my experience that we can tap into that spiritual consciousness and listen to where our true self is trying to lead us.  Maybe we call that prayer, or maybe it’s meditation or contemplation.
I believe that we are also all connected – that our souls share a true connection with God and all other living beings.  The Native American representation of God is often written as, “The Great Spirit that exists in all things.”
Tying this back to CrossFit for those that are reading this and wondering “where the hell is he going here?”, I believe that training our bodies and our minds to be healthy and functioning at as high a level as possible can help us to connect more spiritually by eliminating any interference like pain or illness or negative self-talk.  To climb the spiritual mountain, we must first pass over the physical and mental peaks.

Personal spiritual outburst complete, let’s get back to the message:  The outcome is in God’s hands.

In training for an event, the only thing I have control over is my effort.  And while my individual effort is a relatively small proportion of all the inputs into the equation, it is in the end absolutely vital.  In the most extreme example, if my preparation for a 50K race includes no running, and eating and drinking whatever the hell I want, then I have virtually guaranteed the outcome to be bad – I might as well not even show up.  On the opposite side of the preparation spectrum, if I follow a well-designed running program, continue to train hard and smart in the gym, do mobility work to control any pain points, and eat a sensible diet designed to fuel for endurance training, I have a high probability of success in the race.  I can highly influence the outcome.  But it’s not a done deal.  All I can focus on is what is within my control, and leave the final outcome to God, or the universe, or the weather, whoever or whatever you think has the deciding vote.

In my journal this morning I wrote down, “COURAGE = TRAIN HARD.  SERENITY = LET THE REST GO.”  (I tend to write in all-caps if it’s something that I want to be able to refer back to later.)
I instantly felt lighter, and front-sight focused.  I felt my ego let go of the outcome – it’s not even mine!  I can own my training, and be severe with my self-criticism if I let myself down there, but I don’t own the final score.

The outcome is in God’s hands.  Does that give us freedom to do whatever the hell we want, because the outcome is not up to us?  No, not in the least.  It means we need to train hard and smart to give ourselves the best chance possible.  But it does give us the Serenity, the Peace of Mind, to know that things might not always go our way, and that’s OK, as long as we did everything that we could.  Maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be this time.  We reconnect to our innermost true selves, listen for the feedback of where we should go next.  Then set our training plan again, and get after it!


Wolfpack Mentality

“Hello. How about that ride in? I guess that’s why they call it Sin City. Ha ha. You guys might not know this, but i consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one man wolf pack. But when my sister brought Doug home I knew he was one of my own! And my wolf pack, it grew by one. So there were, there were two of us in the wolf pack. I was alone in the wolf pack, and then Doug joined in later. And six months ago, when Doug introduced me to you guys, I thought “wait a second, could it be?” And now I know for sure, I just added two more guys to my wolf pack. Four of us wolves, running around the desert together, In Las Vegas…”
— Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover

Today at CrossFit Kent Island, we take on a partner workout!  I love partner workouts because they automatically add a bit more intensity to the experience – a bit more urgency, maybe.  You and a partner are sharing the assigned work, with only one partner working at a time.  Because you are resting while your partner is working, you feel accountable to your partner and to the results of the team, not just yours, and you move through your reps with a little extra speed.  Maybe just for the 30 minutes of that workout, you are not a lone wolf – you’re a member of a two-wolf pack!  You work hard for the pack, your own needs and wants at the time be damned!

As happens often, this physical training experience with a partner or a team is a great metaphor for life.  We all know that person in our lives that tends to put others needs in front of her own, who thinks about the family first, or props others up on a project team at the expense of her own professional advancement.  Is this a completely altruistic act, or do they know that advancing the cause of the group will also benefit them in the long term?  Maybe it’s a bit of both.  But that does seem to be a point of character that we admire in others, so maybe something to strive for in our own lives.  And what a good opportunity to practice that team-first mentality than in the gym with your friends!

So, next time you come across a partner workout in the gym, try to notice that mental tug to go a little bit harder – not for yourself, but for your wolfpack, as small as it might be.  Use that positive pressure to generate even better results in the gym, and in your life as well!

“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book


Sign Up for You, Show Up for Us

When I get introduced to someone for the first time, it usually goes something like this:

My friend:  “This is Ryan, he owns a gym.”

Me:  “Yeah, but a CrossFit gym.”

New guy, confused as to why I would specify that: “Ok…..”

Me:  “I guess what I meant was… it’s not just a gym.”

New guy:  “What do you mean?”

My friend:  “Oh, not this again.”

Me:  “It’s a gym, but it’s also, like… a community.”

New guy backs slowly away.


Community.  Boom, there it is – the word that appears in 99% of my writing, and for good reason.  It’s not just a buzzword for me, and for us as CrossFit Kent Island.  Community is the best word I can use to define it.  Community is what it feels like in our airplane hangar filled with weights and pull-up bars and a single ski-erg.  When we “go to the gym,” it’s not just to put our heads down and workout.  We show up to the gym randomly with cookies, or mimosas at 5am for someone’s birthday.  To that extent, we know all our workout buddies’ birthdays, what sports their kids play, how they are feeling today, and what they hope to do with their lives.  We “go to the gym” to see our friends.

In my last post, I half-jokingly stated that I liked seeing class reservations being cancelled, because that means that at least those people had PLANNED to come to class.  But again, planning to workout is a great first step but only that!  The next step, where the results that we’re all looking for come in, is following through and showing up!  But know that you’re not just showing up to fulfill your plans – you’re showing up for your friends!  You should know that YOU are a huge part of the CrossFit community, especially in the class that you regularly attend.  When you don’t show up, we miss you!  And we wonder why you’re not there, how you’re doing – we’re stressed out!  How many times have you walked into the gym a couple minutes late, and as you turn the corner someone sighs with relief, “There she is!” and the whole group smiles and waits their turn to high-five you as you join the class.  It happens every day!
The happiness that you feel when you walk into CrossFit Kent Island and see your friends is not a one-way street.  They are also wonderfully happy to see you!  So you’ve signed up for class, and we love to see your name on the roster, we’re excited to see you.  Now show up for Us!

Next week is our first ever Bring a Friend Week!  We’re excited to meet the people in your life that you enjoy being around, because we’re sure to enjoy them too!  They sound awesome!  They can’t be too good of an athlete though, guys – no one likes being beat by the new guy.
Feel free to send this email to your friends, so they can get a preview of what they’re getting into (and maybe they’ll show up with cookies?).  And they’ll also get this link they can use to reserve a spot in any class they’d like to for the entire week!

See you guys again soon in the gym community!


Plan for Success

We have had a higher than average rate of members cancelling their class reservations lately, I think.  I can’t be sure, I don’t have historical data on this from our Wodify system.  But it just seems like there are a couple more names crossed off the list when I look at the class rosters.  And I’ll tell you what I like about that.  People are PLANNING to come to class!  They are planning their dive, as I’ve written about before.  And that’s step one of the two-step system for consistency in your fitness results.  Now, of course step two is showing up and doing the workout, and I’ll address that in next week’s blog.

Cancellations come mostly from the early morning classes, those 5am and 6am athletes that everyone else says are “crazy”.  I wouldn’t say they’re crazy – I feel very safe in the gym with them – but I would say they’re “committed”.  And they are great planners – they have to be!  I don’t think anyone has every popped out of bed at 4:30am and spontaneously decided to go to the gym.  You have to plan it out at least the night before, maybe even lay out your gym clothes so that you’re not rustling around in the dark in the morning, waking up the rest of the household.

Adding your name to the class roster the night before is also a great way to hold yourself accountable to the team that you’ll be training with.  Over time and lots of tough sessions together, that special bond develops that prompts a “where were you this morning?” text from several people in class when you don’t show your sleepy face.  That’s why we sign up for class in advance – to plan out our day and commit to ourselves that we are training today, but also to commit to our teammates that we’ll be there for them, ready to take on another challenging workout together.

You can sign up for class up to an hour before it is scheduled to start, but of course the best practice is to plan more than a day ahead, penciling your name in for the whole week.  Plan out your week of training on Sunday as you plan out the rest of your week, understanding where the 6am class won’t work because of an early meeting and instead signing up for the 4:30pm class that day.  Then before bed each night as you recap your day and look at the next day’s schedule, you already have that hour of training committed, and you can plan other new activities around it.  When you finished the On-Ramp program and became a member at CrossFit Kent Island, you committed to yourself that your physical fitness and health is a major priority, so remember that in your weekly planning and nightly recommitment to your plan.

Waking up in the morning and hoping to have time to make it to the gym at some point during the day does not sound like a highly successful plan.  It’s not a plan at all – it’s a wish!  Your health and fitness is more important than that.  Make a plan, make it as far in advance as you can.  When you review your daily schedule, then you can recommit to your training scheduled for the day, and get fired up about knocking it out of the park.  The next step is to push all distractions aside, and just show up to the gym!  More on that next time…


Climb the Mountain

“Because in the end you won’t remember the time spent working in the office or mowing your lawn.  Climb the goddamn mountain.”
– Jack Kerouac

I haven’t read Kerouac’s On The Road (but kind of want to) and I know that he lived a life that was not wholly worth celebrating, but I came across this quote and it struck me as true, and in line with a philosophy that I strive to remind myself of, especially when I get “stuck” or feel bogged down by lots of little things in my life that tend to pile up once in a while.  We all have to go to work, and pay the bills, and take care of the house, and shuttle the kids to their practices, and catch up with our parents and friends and people that used to be friends but we haven’t talked in… years.  We have to read books because other people tell us that they are good.  We have to try to stay up on all the craziness that is happening in the world around us.

At times I feel stressed out with all of these commitments that I have made – which are all worthwhile, mind you – and I feel like I am not prioritizing any of them correctly.  I feel my energy level backsliding towards negativity as I know I’m not performing well in all of my roles in life.  And then my high school friend – who I don’t talk to nearly enough – texts me out of the blue and asks, “do you want to run a 50K race with me?”  Almost instantly, my perspective changes.  As soon as I said “Yes” and went through some quick stages of fear, nervousness, and instant buyer’s remorse as I clicked REGISTER on the race website, I transitioned to a positive, EXCITED energetic state.  Each morning as I review my daily plan, I make sure that there is a specific time allotted for physical and mental preparation for this race.  This race is now my mountain looming in the distance that Kerouac beckons me toward.  Quite literally actually, we’ll be climbing a mountain, and then descending, and climbing again, you get the idea.  But this mountain gets closer every day, and it makes me feel ALIVE.  And that motivation of upcoming adventure doesn’t make those other commitments go away, but instead provides me with positive energy to take them on with gusto after I have completed my daily training.

Our CFKI community is chock full of athletes that are climbing different mountains, but just as steep and full of exhilarating risk and reward.  We have people taking on similar trail races coming up, all of which I would say are out of their comfort zone.  We have new members that are taking on CrossFit training for the first time, which we all know feels like the highest mountain there is at first – good for you!!  And this year we have three teams competing in the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Challenge in just two and a half weeks, many of them for the first time!  A full day of CrossFit competition is a big chunk of fitness to bite off, but these animals have been training hard individually and as teams, and all are ready to throw down.  I’m super proud of all of our community for taking on these audacious goals, and then working so hard to smash them.

When we have successfully climbed these mountains, the feelings of personal accomplishment and strengthened friendships will change our perspective on what we can do, shattering our current limitations and negative self-talk.  Leaning into adventure creates a snowball effect of growth and confidence that then bleeds over into all aspects of our lives.  It makes us feel ALIVE when what we’re doing every day is connected to a goal that is exciting to us.  This is truly Kokoro training – connecting to your heart and leading your life with that deep-seeded desire to do amazing things.

Reading with a Purpose

“Books are door-shaped portals carrying me across oceans and centuries, helping me feel less alone.”
– Margarita Engle, Tula (“Books are door-shaped”)

Just about a year ago in August 2022, I established a personal goal of reading more – specifically one book per month.  This was a way for me to refocus on personal development, learning new ideas and ways of looking at the ideas I already have, and also to get away from more destructive habits that were taking up my time such as social media.  I’m proud to say that our CFKI Book Club has now been reading and meeting for a year, and it has been a great experience to connect with members of our community on all kinds of topics.  We’ve read books on outdoor adventure (and catastrophe), inspiring books on personal struggles and growth, books on social issues like the tug of social media and the psychology of interacting with strangers.  We’ve read relatively new books and some dating back to WWII and the experience of concentration camps.

All of the books we’ve read have been recommended by CFKI Book Club members, so if none of these themes sound like a good time to you, throw a book out to the group, and we’ll read it!  We’re definitely not too big to accept new members (averaging about 3-5 members per month), and would love to get new perspectives.  The idea is always to be reading different stuff to open up our minds and have an interesting dialogue – maybe even debate – with actual human beings.
To that effect, one of our new members this month (what’s up, Mark!) suggested that we start meeting in person rather than Zoom calls, to encourage more of a social aspect and be able to communicate more effectively with each other.  Our next meeting, in the beginning of October, will be at the Kent Island Yacht Club!
We’ll be discussing the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  It was written in the 1930’s and set in the year 2540 as a dystopian warning of what can happen if we allow ourselves to be constantly fed mind-numbing pleasure, vs allowing for creativity and free thought.  I think – I haven’t read it yet but that’s the vibe that I get from reading the plot spoiler!

Finally, as a side benefit to reading more, I hope to get my kids to notice and to disconnect from the phone in favor of reading, which I think we all can agree is more developmentally important for young brains as well as old.  And if I want my kids to read more, when we get those rare fleeting moments where we are around each other and have time to chat, wouldn’t it be better if I had a book in my hands rather than my phone?


Give $80, Get $80

First of all, I wanted to personally thank you all for being loyal members at CrossFit Kent Island.  Myself and all of our amazing coaches are committed to helping you achieve your health and fitness goals. We appreciate you supporting our small, local business, and we have an exciting announcement to share.

We’ve previously had a referral bonus but haven’t talked it up enough, and so now we’re going to sweeten the deal and also try to get it out there more often.  Our best new members are your friends, because they’re going to consistently make it in to the gym… because you’re there!  And it will make it more fun for you to have a new workout buddy to beat.

So now, when you refer one of your friends and/or family members and they sign up, you’ll get $80 off of your next invoice, and the person you referred will get $80 off of their first invoice.  Workout with friends, save money, help your friend save money, and help our community grow!  I see no downside here!

So, how do you take us up on this offer? We’re going to make this super easy for you and help you start the conversation. We all have at least one picture of ourselves working out at CFKI that we like – among lots of others that we don’t like at all!  Seriously, why is that my workout face??  Simply write something about your experience at CrossFit Kent Island and post your picture on your favorite social media platform.  If you tag us we’ll share it too!  When someone sends you a message, give them this link to contact us and let them know to mention in the comment section that you referred them. https://crossfitkentisland.com/contact-us/  When they become a member, we’ll be sure to apply the credits to both accounts!

If you don’t have a great pic yet, let’s stage an awesome one next time you’re in the gym!  And if you’d rather not post a pic of yourself at all, feel free to steal your favorite picture from our website or Facebook page.

Let’s make our friends fitter!


Kokoro – Leading From the Heart

“What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself?”
 — Eckhart Tolle

If you’ve followed along with my blog or know my background of training with the SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind programs, you might know that I attended an intense 3-day training event called “Kokoro” back in the winter of 2016.  I was emptying my ruck out today as it has accumulated lots of random gear over the past couple months of summer travel, and pulled out the patch I received after completing the event.  It’s always fun to think back on these life-altering moments in our lives, but as I looked at the patch it actually reminded me of what Kokoro means, and reenergized me to focus on training my Kokoro spirit.

According to Mark Divine, founder of SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind, Japanese culture sees the heart as “an essential organ of life and the source from which all action should emanate. The Japanese term used is a word that vibrates the resonance of the warrior.”  That word is Kokoro.

Kokoro describes a person’s way of being. It means “heart, mind, and spirit aligned in action.”  There isn’t one word in English to capture this essential nature.  Most believe the mind is the end all, be all.  As the Western world has evolved in our understanding of the body-mind-heart connection, we use the word energy more and more commonly, just like the Japanese use the word Kokoro.  For example, you may hear someone say, “She has good energy,” or “I don’t like their energy.”  Also, the word spirit is thrown into the mix, which somewhat embodies what Kokoro means because it’s really about a person’s essence: how they feel, think, and communicate when operating from their higher Self, with aligned body language, words, and actions.

If you have been training with us at CrossFit Kent Island or following another hard training program that tests you physically but also mentally and emotionally, teaching you about yourself and evolving your body and mind simultaneously, you have been developing your Kokoro intelligence. The integration of the first four “mountains” in the Unbeatable Mind system (physical, mental, emotional, intuitional) creates mastery at the fifth mountain, the “Kokoro-spirit” level.

With your body, heart and mind all working together as a team, the obstacles in your training — or in your life — don’t stand a chance.  You are acting from your whole mind like a enlightened Zen master, and shifting your life toward a positive trajectory.

Final thought:  when you have strong Kokoro, you’re tapping into your true Self.  If you’ve been searching for your “why” or “purpose”, I believe this is the way to do it.  Train hard, remain focused, listen to your heart, and you’ll get there!