by Bret Contreras March 15, 2012
In Part I of this two-part series I discussed some of the science behind happiness and well-being. In this post, I’m going to inform you about the specific steps that I took to reclaim my happiness. Without further adieu, I’m going to dive right into things.
How to Turn into A Negative Prick in Just One Year
If you want to turn into a stressed-out Debbie Downer, just do what I described in this blogpost about How to Be Successful in the Strength & Conditioning Field: work around the clock, don’t make time for your friends, don’t sleep much, get in over your head, and abandon those who provide you social support. I will look back at 2011 for the rest of my life with awe and amazement. I was a productivity-machine. I crammed more learning into one year than most do in a decade. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to acquire more knowledge in a single year; I gained a good sense of the literature both past and present, I learned how to use sports science technology, I had countless amazing discussions with professors and strength coaches, I increased my mastery of Biomechanics, and I dramatically improved upon my critical thinking skills.
But this comes at a price. I started getting a gut due to lack of sleep, way too many carbs, too much stress, and not enough physical activity. I was lonely and sad; I missed my friends and family especially my twin brother. I missed predictable sunshine, and I missed a lower cost of living. I didn’t realize it at the time but I believe I was on a pathway to destruction.
The Turning Point
On December 2-5 of 2011, I spoke at the FMA Strength Training Conference in Australia. The host Mark Buckley, also a good friend, informed me upon arrival that I’d be sharing a room with some jerk named Paul Taylor. Little did Mark know I was actually annoyed as I don’t like sharing rooms especially with some shady Irishman (totally kidding). Here’s a quick video of Paul:
Turns out this was exactly what I needed in my life at that time. This son of a gun put on the greatest presentation I’ve ever seen in my life, and I think I’ve seen at least a hundred presenters over the past decade. He spoke for around four total hours over two days, and his talks were so incredible that I actually fought the urge to urinate for around two hours one day as I was determined not to miss a single word of what he said. Paul’s talks were on body and brain health and performance and their symbiotic relationship with one another; it was a mixture of brain and neuroscience, positivity science, happiness research, child development, psychology, fitness, and health, with well-timed f-bombs and other curse words peppered throughout.
It’s ironic; my mom loves positive psychology and raves about the power of thoughts all the time. Though I listen to my mom intently, the skeptic in me often questions my mom’s preachings. However, Paul is what he calls a “Pracademic;” someone who blends the research with practical, real-life advice. His entire presentation contained links and excerpts to exciting studies that had been conducted, which showed me that my mom’s advice wasn’t just some ra-ra motivational gobbledygook, it’s quite real and there’s research to back it up.
For three nights in a row Paul and I would strip down to our skivvies, lie in our beds (which were fixed to the ground and separated by around a foot of space), and start reading our various journal articles and scientific magazines. Inevitably we’d end up discussing science, fitness, health, and the meaning of life. Little did Paul know that these talks were planting seeds that would take root shortly thereafter. I feel deeply indebted to Paul and I highly recommend you see him speak if you get a chance – his presentations are world class.
On a completely unrelated note, on this same trip Paul coerced me to play some crazy Irish drinking game which went awry and resulted in a permanently scarred buttocks. I believe that Rachel Guy has a video which she’ll probably blackmail me with for life. I took this picture just two days after the incident when it had just scabbed over. Now it’s just a scar. On another unrelated note, this trip yielded Rachel a video clip of her tapping me out with a surprise rear-naked choke that I couldn’t defend in time. Good times!
When I got back to NZ after the AUS trip, I started doing two things. Before I divulge them I’d like to offer a quick disclaimer. This is going to sound really “un-masculine,” but it helped my well-being so much that I feel compelled to talk about it. So at the risk of sounding like a sissy I’m going to let you know what steps worked for me. I’m never going to be Marry Poppins or be whistling Dixie all day long; I’m a thinker, I’m very passionate, and I’m the type to rage at the dying of light. But I can definitely meet in the middle and learn to appreciate life and be happy and positive most of each day, and once upon a time I was the life of every party. I just needed to resurrect that guy.
First, I started a gratitude journal. Every single night I started jotting down three to five things that I was grateful for, and I tried not to repeat myself from day to day. I’ve been doing this for three and a half months and it’s been an excellent practice for two main reasons. First, it gets your mind right; you end each night on a positive note, focusing on “the good” and acknowledging the things that make you “wealthy.” And second, it allows you to look back every couple of weeks so you can be reminded of your wealth, and you can analyze what you write down which allows you to figure out what truly makes you happy.
In my case, I realized that I never write down things like, “Earned a thousand dollars today,” “Sold a bunch of eBooks,” “gained a client,” “planned a consultation,” “gained ten new subscribers,” etc. The things I write down always have to do with family, friends, relationships, being social, having fun, and being productive. The things that make me happy revolve around relationships and getting things accomplished, not so much around money.
Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. – Henry David Thoreau
Another simple but effective method I employed was listening to guided imagery. For some reason I really like the woman’s voice in the video below. I started listening to this at night which allowed me to relax and fall asleep. At this time I was sleeping 5 hours per night tops, and I was able to build up to 6-7 which is difficult for me. I realized that I always have anxiety and I’m always “balls-to-the-wall.” I don’t know how to shut things off. Guided imagery helps me shut it down for the night.
I know that since I’m a man I’m not supposed to like fluffy clouds, but it is what it is. This woman’s gentle voice just does the trick and calms me down.
Taking Charge of My Life
At this point, I was gaining happiness and positivity each day. All of a sudden it hit me – I am in control of my life. I can do whatever in the hell I want to do. I’m lucky in that I’m my own boss and can live wherever I want. But I wasn’t in a good place and I needed to steer the ship back on course. I asked myself the following questions:
Here was my thought process with the aforementioned questions:
To make a long story short, I immediately scheduled a flight home and told my twin brother (he’s a realtor) to find me a place. Literally the very next week I’m settled into my condo. It was very challenging packing and clearing out my apartment in NZ and then setting up my entire condo in AZ, but I made it work.
Personal Trainer Cribs
I filmed this video tonight to show you my new crib. I just moved in and am so happy. I’m in Phoenix. I have a 1 bedroom condo on the 6th floor in the Biltmore area (very nice region of Phoenix). I’m 2 miles away from my twin. It’s been sunny every single day since I’ve been back (I think 50% of my happiness is simply a matter of whether it’s sunny out or gloomy). I have a gym and steamroom on the 3rd floor, as well as equipment in my bedroom. I have a rooftop pool, jacuzzi, and grill. I have a California King bed and a plasma tv. There’s a gym right down the street, as well as a movie theater and tons of shops and restaurants. I’m spending much less than I was in New Zealand. Here’s the video:
What Does the Future Hold?
I’m not sure what the future holds. When I wrote Part I of this series I thought I had it figured out. I originally planned on continuing with my PhD and thought that everything was squared away, but now I’m not sure.
I make plenty of money to support myself these days so I’m not concerned about financial matters.
The bottom line is that I’m extremely happy right now and my life is amazing! I’m getting much more fit. I hang out with my twin bro a few days per week; we train, run, hit up the jacuzzi, etc. Sometimes his wife Angie comes along, sometimes my stepbrother Brent comes along. A couple days per week I’ll hit up the steamroom, and a couple days a week I’ll get some sun up at the pool. I’ve been going to dinner with several of my guy friends every Friday night. On Sunday nights I hang out with my family and we’ll go see a movie on Sunday night. Basically, I’m back to having a life again.
I’m doing what I love for work, I’ve been training 6 different people already since I’ve been back (and people don’t even know that I’m back yet).
If it was up to me I’d finish my PhD (I’d just need to travel to NZ for a couple of 3-week trips to collect data over the next year), but I’ve been getting mixed messages from my University so I’ll see what happens.
If that falls through, I still have all my equipment and could open up another training studio.
I could start doing more speaking.
I could try to line up a gig as a strength coach for a local high school football team.
I’d have more time to put into my blog and articles.
So I know everything will be fine either way.
I guess I’m like Honey Badger right now; I don’t give a shit!
I’m Back in Phoenix and Lovin’ It!
Right now I’m just enjoying life and staying busy. This is where I belong! Some wouldn’t like my situation at all, but I love it. I often work too hard and am prone to being a workaholic. I need to be around my friends and family so I have more options to take the time to smell the roses. I’m going to keep working hard but right now I feel a bit like Tom Hanks at the end of the movie Castaway.
Moral of the Story
The moral of the story is that if you’re currently not happy or content in life, do something about it. In just a couple of weeks I transformed my life and am a new man because of it. Figure out what you want and pull the trigger. You are destined for happiness and positivity; make it happen just as I have.
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