gymnastics rings press with added resistance and with feet suspended

Video on May 1, 2014

Resistance: 100 lbs. (45.5 kg) suspended from waist (in addition to bodyweight with feet suspended)

Bodyweight: 178 lbs. (80.9 kg)

When performing pressing movements, there is a progression of increasing difficulty due to load stabilization with the following continuum: machine presses, barbell presses on a bench, dumbbell presses on a bench (i.e. symmetric loading), dumbbell presses on a Swiss ball (i.e. symmetric loading), one-arm dumbbell press on a Swiss ball (i.e. asymmetric loading), rings press with feet on ground or bench/box, rings press with feet suspended, and rings press with no leg support (i.e. planche press (“push up”) in rings). Instability in terms of yaw, roll, and pitch has already been addressed for Swiss ball pressing movements in supine and incline positions in prior posts

movement dynamics: body control and yaw, roll, and pitch

If performing rings presses with feet fully supported, then yaw, roll, and pitch are not problematic for body control due to the feet being solidly planted in dorsiflexion. However, the issue with rings is control of roll (“wobble”) because the rings are free to rotate with respect to the two axes of rings suspension as well as yaw in each hand independently (the vertical axes along your forearms, not with respect to the long axis of your spine). There is injury risk to the wrist from uncontrollable yaw (excessive wrist extension or flexion). Yaw increases with fatigue: it is not the wrist (i.e. forearm flexors/extensors) that will likely cause yaw, it is fatigue of the major pressing muscles (triceps, deltoids and pectorals) that exert motor control of the ring. Body pitch (“rocking”) is noticeable when the feet are suspended with no additional weight suspended from the waist. Body pitch becomes less problematic as additional weight is added due to damping but maintaining trunk stabilization becomes a major difficulty as the load is increased. The load vector is vertical right at the pelvis so a large effort for steady-state isometric contraction of the abdominal wall and the spinal erectors looms large with significant loads (greater than 50% of bodyweight) and/or increased duration under load.

There is a large motor control difference between external load (barbell/dumbbell) and internal load (bodyweight with or without additional load) pressing movements. Both are needed for full-spectrum pressing function. Rarely considered is the freedom of action of scapular protraction and retraction: in most external load movements the load you are lifting is compressing scapular mobility whereas in internal load movements you are reversed into a prone position and thus unencombered. Beginners should begin with both external and internal movements with pushups being the starting point for internal movements. Pushups can then progress to parallettes and then, finally, to rings. Depending on competent instruction, vertical movements graduating to handstand presses in parallettes and then rings would be outstanding, comprehensive development for any athlete. Yoga and gymnastics both offer beginner to intermediate internal-load progressions.

mental dimension

This is a very complex movement with multiple moving parts and contingencies. There is a lot going on! This is one of those movements where you must show up with your game face locked and loaded like front squats. Your mind in the background is locking down the trunk so that it is rigid and stable. This eventually is on autopilot. Feel your abs and lumbar spine regions as “locked down.” Breathing is constricted similar to squats because the inhaled breath must be used to expand the diaphragm to make the trunk rigid to protect the spine at the vulnerable bottom position but is relaxed near the top at elbow lock-out. Synchronize your awareness of breathing with your background awareness of your hip position to avoid lumbar hyperextension (see safety precautions below).

In the mental foreground, tune into a controlled raising and lowering of your body while focusing on control of the rings. Unlike using barbells and dumbbells where the mind is focused on lifting “weights”, with the rings press the mind is focused on control of the rings while you lift your body under precise control. The very foundation of the pressing movement are two very squirrelly rings!

As you gain experience in this very complex movement acquire a feel for the prime movers (triceps, deltoids and pectorals) as a function of the depth of the press in relation to your hip joint: changing the angle of the hip/femur angle with slight hip flexion changes the recruitment patterns of the prime mover muscles just like a slight change from an incline to a supine press does or a regular push-up to a push-up in pike position with feet on a box or Swiss ball. In fact, an advanced variant of the rings press in plank is engaging hip flexion to the point you are in a pike position by pulling your suspended feet toward your hands. This variant is helpful for increasing handstand shoulder strength (much greater recruitment of the rear deltoids and much more intense on the abdominal wall while reducing engagement of the pectorals). A weighted vest can be used in lieu of a weight belt for lighter loads.

Mentally train the neck and trapezius muscles to relax as much as possible while maintaining a neutral head position. Avoid straining these muscles: they are not doing the movement!

injury risk exposure and safety precautions

There are two risks to be aware of: wrist roll and lumbar hyperextension. Wrist roll is discussed above. Watch out for “going for 1 more rep.” With added resistance at the hip, lumbar hyperextension occurs if the pressing movement coming out of the bottom is not synchronized with a rise in the hips because of the added load resisting your ability to keep the trunk super stabilized and in unison with the entire body. There will be some lumbar extension at the bottom depending on the height of your feet in relation to the bottom of the rings. Some lumbar extension is not a problem as long as the trunk musculature is locked down; it is hyperextension like a yoga cobra pose but under load that would be the cause of injury. As you press your body from the bottom keep your butt up via hip extension which will neutralize the natural tendency to “sag” under load.

There is a third risk, although of minor status: the neck due to the unsupported prone position. In bench or incline presses and most Swiss ball movements, the neck is supported. In rings presses it is not. Strain can occur. Keep the head position neutral and try to relax the neck muscles and trapezius as much as you can. These muscles are not doing the lifting but the natural tendency is to fully contract them.

For more information:

David Goggins wins 2014 Frozen Otter 64 mile Race on January 18, 2014

I talked to David last night to better understand the weather conditions of this winter trek at the Kettle Moraine State Forest on January 18th in the hilly terrain in the wake of the Wisconsin Glacier. The race started at 10:00 AM with a still air temperature of 10 degrees Fahrenheit and he finished at 2:12 AM the next morning for a time of 16 hours and 12 minutes. The temperature declined to 15 degrees below zero during the night. He lead from start to finish with the second place finisher 1 hour and 17 minutes behind. There was a significant wind producing a bone-chilling wind chill factor. There was 8 to 10 inches of snow throughout the race making footing very tenuous with a lot of slipping and sliding. You are not allowed to use skis or snow shoes so this is like doing 2.4 marathons in running shoes but in calf-deep snow for 16+ hours in sub-zero temperatures with wind at night. You are not allowed to have a support crew.

This kind of event is what I mean by exploring the far right margin of the human performance envelope wherein this casethe stresses of environmental conditions in aggregate with the energy demands and ensuing fatigue push the limits of what is humanly possible in both physical and mental dimensions. Survival is put on trial.

David used BIONX products for training and racing.

Race Results and race web page

James Autio

What is the Art of Competition?

The Art of Competition allows you to come up with the ideas, the solutions, the ways of going forward that never present themselves through logic. It relieves the outcome of being important and bestows the highest significance to the exact moment at hand. Nothing else matters. That focus quiets your mind. Art begins the instant stillness is initiated. Every facet of your being opens up, locks in and ignites the potential just waiting to be catalyzed in that moment, and then the next. Past and future disappear. Winning and losing are forgotten. You’ve let the others take care of competing. You are the guardian of art. The only possibility is that anything is possible.

Mark Allen, 6-time Hawaiian Ironman World Champion

A champion exploits every detail without ever forgetting the basics.

Mark Allen, 6-time Hawaiian Ironman World Champion

Get in the face of the unknown.

James Autio


We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.


[Image of James Autio performing a 1-arm cable pull in tuck position with a BOSU® ball |]

the theory of improving maximal lipid power via endurance capacity training


In exercise physiology textbooks, three energy systems are described: aerobic (uses oxygen), anaerobic (glycolytic; “without oxygen”), and alactic anaerobic (CP-ATP or phosphogen system). This is correct but unfortunately does not address fuel substrate utilization as a function of energy demand which is what matters in defining training protocols. Hawley and Hopkins in their paper published in 1995 proposed that the aerobic energy system be decomposed to two pathways: aerobic lipolytic and aerobic glycolytic. This accommodates for the graded shift in fuel source from fat to carbohydrate as power demand increases from low to moderate levels of intensity under aerobic conditions. This illustration displays the real-time logic of energy production as the demand for ATP increases. The reason for the shift from lipids (fat) to carbohydrate is that the pathway for lipids to be converted for inputs (the beta-oxidation pathway) to the Kreb’s cycle in the sub-cellular structure called the mitochondrion is O2 dependent while the process for carbohydrates to be converted to the same convergent downstream pathway is not. But the real reason is the rate in which these pathways produce ATP: the aerobic glycolytic pathway can generate ATP at twice the rate compared to the aerobic lipolytic pathway. This is crucial to understand! In other words, if under “aerobic conditions” the demand for energy becomes too great, your body uses carbs instead of fats: biochemistry and biophysics dictates this without any wiggle room. Once the threshold of maximal fat utilization (called maximal lipid power and measured in grams/min) is exceeded, all further fuel used is carbohydrate BUT at intensities producing a blood lactate concentration of 4 mM/liter (approximately the anaerobic threshold for elite athletes), fat utilization drops to ZERO—100% carbohydrates are used. Alas, at around 85% of VO2 max (92% in elite endurance athletes), the body uses no fat at all! The reason for this is the differential rate of ATP production as a function of fuel source and metabolic pathway (illustrated on bottom left). It even gets worse: for non-elite endurance athletes (or elite non-endurance athletes) this phenomenon occurs at even lower relative intensities (see bottom right of illustration). 

In my book The Digital Mantrap: An Operating System for the Human Organism (2000), Chapter 6 goes into the theory and practice of these facts in depth. Knowledge of maximal lipid power and how to train to increase it is not new and has been used by serious long-distance (i.e. 4+ hour competitions at close to steady-state pace) endurance athletes for a long time (remember LSD training (long, slow distance)?). The science has gotten more refined and quantitative but the basic concept is not new. Stage race cyclists, Ironman triathletes, long distance runners (like 100 milers, etc.) have the training down to a science. For example, here is a paper from that goes into detail on training protocol for Ironman distance triathlons. Contrary to popular belief, the marathon is not a ultra-distance endurance event: the marathon is primarily a glycogen-fueled event and race-pace is around a 2.5 +/- 0.5 mM/liter lactate concentration in elite competitors. In 4+ hour to multi-day events, maximal lipid power is the performance-limiting factor. The additional benefit of improving maximal lipid power in any long-distance or ultra-distance endurance event is conservation of glycogen stores. This is obvious.

So, what happens as endurance capacity increases? The following diagram from my first book illustrates the training effects at the organism level. Assuming that you do the training properly, you are able to go longer at a fixed heart rate and at higher power levels before there is a heart rate inflection point (fatigue ensues as you deplete glycogen stores). In the diagram observe the pie charts on the right where the pie chart’s area represents total energy expended and the relative contributions from carbohydrate, adipose fats, and intramuscular triglyceride stores (yes, fats stored inside the muscle, called IMTGs, increase and their % contribution increases as well, to a point). Chapter 6 describes this in detail.


The training heart rate ranges, technically speaking, are determined by plasma lactate concentrations and are individualized for each athlete. But this is expensive and requires a lot of technical expertise! I provide a good rule of thumb for determining heart rate ranges for improving endurance capacity (which is the area under the curve in the above diagrams: power (watts) x time = energy expended (kjoules)). Of course, improving endurance capacity like this approximates the intensity range for impacting maximal lipid power. You cannot have one without the other: the entire biological reason for this adaptation is to increase your survival under conditions where food is lacking (thus a chronic semi-fasted state) and you must move at low power (evolutionarily speaking, doesn’t walking on uneven terrain sound like the lion’s share of daily energy expenditure for any primate’s lifespan?) for hours or days. This is the most basic adaptation to stress that exists for mammals and is entirely ignored by the entire human population—at their peril—except for a miniscule population of serious long-distance endurance athletes. I call it “woolly mammoth training” because it is the most ancient metabolic adaptive response there is.


The above equations are expressed in the Karvonen heart rate reserve format. HR(target) is the starting heart rate for a training session and you don’t stop the training session until HR(termination) is reached. If you are out of shape this may only take a few minutes or less (I have seen that happen many times). If that is true, then you need to begin a walking program until you can do this or else reduce the heart rate percentages in the equations from 60 and 70% to 45 and 55%, respectively. When you improve to the “Early Adaptation Stage” in the diagram, you will be able to stabilize the heart rate at HR(target) for a longer time. Eventually you will be able to stay at HR(target) for 60 to 90 minutes. What progresses are the two variables: load and time. As you improve, at a given load your observed heart rate decreases so you increase the load until you are back at HR(target). Tremendous progress can be achieved with two training sessions per week in six months. Additionally, this is the best weight management approach that exists if coordinated properly with macronutritional management.

Now here is the most common error: instead of going longer you increase HR(target) to shorten the workout. You cannot substitute intensity for duration! This is the tragic error that I have seen and it seems to be going viral for two reasons: (1) ignorance of the complex physiology and biochemistry of maximal lipid power and endurance capacity and the stress requirements for optimal adaptive response; and (2) people think they can prepare for an Ironman or equivalent through interval training. No one has ever won an Ironman or equivalent metabolic event doing this and never will. The error is as follows: if you shift your training to higher intensity (meaning going from an ideal intensity at or just beyond maximal lipid power and move closer to the next metabolic switching point of the anaerobic threshold) the adaptive response shifts to improve the glycolytic pathway at the expense of the lipolytic pathway. You need to understand that the lipolytic pathway is progressively abandoned as intensity moves between the two switching points and is totally abandoned at the anaerobic threshold. It is a nonlinear relationship as the anaerobic threshold is reached meaning fat metabolism falls off a cliff.

Now if you are beginner and are sedentary you can go do hill repeat sprints and improve the lipolytic pathway. But that is not what I am talking about: I am talking about as you become more adapted to improving O2 and fuel transport and utilization, the margin for error in defining your training protocol substantially decreases. In fact, a point is reached in advanced endurance athletes even doing the correct training will fail to improve because the damage caused by training will exceed their ability to recover. It reaches the extreme right end of the human performance envelope and yields negative marginal returns (think “pushing the envelope”) as your genetic limits are approached (your theoretical phenotypic ceiling) and survival capacity approaches zero. I call people that operate at this level Red Zone Operators. This is because Homo sapiens are not designed to do the Tour de France, Ironman, climb K2 solo without oxygen, or the 135 mile Badwater run!  At this point, micronutrition, macronutrition, recovery modalities, sleep, functional strength training and stress management must be optimized or else you are doomed to the fate of Sisyphus. For more information on my theory of human performance envelopes (a facet of my Unified Theory of Fitness) and Red Zone Operators see this.

If you want to learn how to execute training for long-distance endurance events professionally and affordably, contact Mark Allen at He is the greatest endurance athlete of all time and nobody has more experience than him on this kind of training. (Mark Allen’s bio). I have known him since 1991. He walks his talk.

Note: Red Zone Operator David Goggins, a BIONX SUPERMODEL 2 client, is preparing to do the 2013 135-mile Badwater run on July 15-17, 2013. He finished 3rd in 2007 with a time of 25:49:40 and 5th in 2006 with a time of 30:18:54. He broke the Guinness 24-hour pull-up world record with 4030 repetitions on his third assault of the record on January 20, 2013.

Note: in my example training session and video I was around 136 bpm for slightly over 90 minutes at a load of 200 watts before heart rate inflection. I stopped at 120 minutes at a heart rate of 144.

—James Autio

For more information: 


the practice of improving maximal lipid power via endurance capacity training

All of the training videos to date have been on the theory and practice of state-of-art functional strength training. However, to be a full-spectrum conditioned athlete you need to showcase the following three physiologically-distinct dimensions at levels approaching your potential: (1) endurance capacity; (2) maximal aerobic power; and (3) functional strength (both force and power development). Flexibility is a structural property that underwrites the three physiological dimensions (i.e. distinctly-trainable metabolic domains). Although they are not fully independent from the organism’s perspective (absolutely nothing is totally disjoint!), we will ignore any overlaps between these three dimensions for the time being.

Video on May 29, 2013

Bodyweight: 181 lbs. (82.3 kg)

Power output: 200 watts (constant load on a medically-certified ergometer (Cateye Ergociser EC-1600))

Interval duration: 120 minutes (continuous single effort after a 3 minute warm-up)

Ambient temperature: 70 degrees F

Cadence: 66-72 rpm

Approximate number of repetitions (cycles): 8400

Heart rate: 136-144 bpm (maximal heart rate cycling: 198-201 bpm)

Maximal heart rate % reached at termination: 72% (75% of the time at 68%)

Baseline intensity: 56% Karvonen heart rate reserve method

Net energy expenditure: 1510 kcal (6318 kJ (kjoules))

Endurance capacity (energy expenditure/bodyweight):  76.8 kJ/kg (@ termination heart rate of 144 bpm)

Note: not a maximal endurance capacity effort

This post addresses the practice of increasing endurance capacity. The key theoretical aspects are addressed in this post. The training session was executed in a fasted state with no food for the previous 10 hours and none during the ride. Approximately 1 liter of water per hour was consumed during the ride. 

The video, as expected, is very boring to watch so it shows less than 60 seconds of a 2 hour effort. The objective is to perform at higher endurance capacity levels while keeping heart rate at the baseline intensity level for at least 90 minutes before it rises due to fatigue. See the post on theory for more details on this topic as it is quite complex. This is not doing “cardio”; cardiopulmonary performance is not challenged by sub-maximal endurance training. Endurance capacity training is a distinct physiological dimension that cannot be addressed via high-intensity interval training. In other words, it is not possible to substitute higher intensities at shorter duration in lieu of properly executed endurance capacity training. The primary reason for this failure in judgement is that people conflate the lipoytic pathway with the glycolytic pathway. Yes, they do overlap but the lipolytic pathway (“fat burning”) can be targeted via the proper training stimulus synchronized with macronutritional management. Long distance endurance sports (greater than 4 hours in duration) are founded on the principle of targeting maximal lipid power.

Note: video of instrumentation displays: heart rate (bpm), power output (W), torque (kg-m), cadence (rpm), cumulative energy expended (kcal), duration (min:sec).

Note: A cadence in the high 60s rpm range is slow by cycling standards (the lower range for time trialists on level ground is mid-70s but is mostly higher in the 80s or low 90s) and it feels like walking up to your knees in molasses or thick syrup but is still cyclical as opposed to “pushing squares”.

For more information: 


1-arm, variable-angle, incline dumbbell press and trunk stabilization on a Swiss ball

Video on June 9, 2013

Resistance: 105 lb. dumbbell

Swiss ball diameter: 55 cm (22 in.)

Bodyweight: 181 lbs. (82.3 kg)

Ratio of resistance to bodyweight: 0.58 (58%)

Similar concept to the 1-arm supine dumbbell press on a Swiss ball, this movement has significant advantages to conventional incline presses with either dumbbells or a barbell with an incline bench. First, significant yaw is introduced by the synergistic combination of asymmetric loading (use of one dumbbell) and instability from the Swiss ball. Second, by varying hip position via hip extension/flexion, you can modify the angle of your spine with respect to gravity effectively changing the incline angle and, consequently, the recruitment contributions from the deltoids, triceps, and pectoral engagement. A supine (i.e. “bench press”) has an angle of 0 degrees and a shoulder press has an angle of 90 degrees whereas an incline press is 45 degrees and sometimes, with a pin selector, adjustable to 30 or 60 degrees. In contrast, this movement encompasses an infinite range of angles in real-time just by moving the hip angle even during the course of a single repetition.

This movement has different properties than the supine press version (0 to 25 degree spine angle) when the external load is great enough. In this video the load is almost 60% of bodyweight and the spine is around 45 degrees. Also, in previous videos I was using a 65 cm Swiss ball and in this one it is 55 cm. The increased load along with a smaller diameter ball transforms this movement from a incline press with stability challenges to primarily a trunk stabilization/balance movement with the press being secondary. If you watch my trunk and legs they are working hard to maintain equilibrium and, additionally, because the point of support for the ball has shifted from the lower cervical/upper thoracic spine area to mid-thoracic, extreme effort must be made to maintain a stiff trunk through prolonged isometric contraction along with partial holding the breath to stiffen the diaphragm like when doing heavy squats or deadlifts. Yaw is increased from the higher load and the longer lever arm from the smaller ball’s lower contact point on the spine to the center of mass of the dumbbell increase the level of difficulty significantly (the load could cause thoracic hyperextension if not resisted). This movement would have value if you just held a heavy dumbbell in the extended, locked position for 20 seconds. Perhaps something to tinker with and develop.

A different perspective on the evolution of weight training

Imagine a hip flexion/extension continuum where at one extreme you have maximal hip flexion where your legs are almost touching your chest. You would be in a deep squat and your spine would be close to straight up like the bottom position in the Olympic snatch. This would be close to a “shoulder press”. Now, at the other extreme, if the hip joint is extended to where a line through the hip and shoulder joints is parallel to the floor you would have a “bench press” (provided the ball diameter is correct to accommodate this position). Would an “incline bench” have been invented if Swiss balls made for heavy resistance training were invented first? If function weighs in, the answer is no. This is the single most important movement you can perform in the pressing movement repertoire if efficient and general force production to the real-world is your objective.

mental dimension

Mentally the most striking aspect of this movement is the powerful connection between the pressing movement (the control of the velocity and position of the dumbbell in space) AND awareness of your hip position AND micro-positioning of your feet to maintain balance and counteract torque from the effects of yaw. Place your opposite hand on the rib cage of the loaded side to increase the asymmetrical load. Your entire body is very actively engaged with a 100% duty cycle: no resting! Because you are (or can be) on a steep angle with a large degree of hip flexion, please realize you are in a deep squat (below parallel) with a dumbbell overhead with a spine angle of 45 degrees. This is not really an “incline press”, is it? In other words, if you cleaned a heavy dumbbell and then squatted to below parallel and stayed there while pressing would you call that a seated press? In a normal incline press, either seated or standing, you get zero integration of dynamic upper and lower body control; all you are doing is statically pressing two dumbbells or a barbell. There is nothing else happening worthy of mention. This is even more pronounced if you are using some kind of pressing machine which further isolates you from real benefits. What is the outcome of doing that besides big pecs?

addressing yaw and roll

As with any movement where yaw is a potent factor affecting whole-body performance, unrecoverable roll can come into play suddenly if your center of mass breaches your base of support. Given the summation of forces generated by the asymmetric load (your center of mass is deviated to the side of the single dumbbell and the heavier it is the more the impact) plus yaw (the dumbbell moves laterally with respect to your centerline because the ball rolls side-to-side), this produces a torque with rotation about the axis running through your spine causing roll.  If this happens you need to know your exit strategy in advance which is to dump the dumbbell to the floor. Don’t fight it, let it go! Make sure this can be done safely so that you and no one else gets injured. To minimize roll, modify your base of support (the position of your feet and the contact point of the ball with the floor compose the base of support) with hip abduction (your knees move from the midline to outside your body from the hip joints, see the video).

addressing shear forces

Additionally, the coefficient of static friction matters greatly in this movement because of shear forces. Why and where does shear arise? In contrast to the supine version of this movement where your bodyweight presses vertically (i.e. a normal force with respect to gravity) against the Swiss ball and in alignment with the ball’s surface to the floor (your back is not going to “slide” against the ball and the ball is not going to “slide” against the floor), this movement introduces a force vector component that is tangential to two pairs of contact surfaces (shirt to ball and ball to floor) called the shear force component and is vital to the integrity and safety of performing this movement. If your shirt were superglued to the ball and the ball were superglued to the floor, then the materials under shear may undergo strain (become damaged or deform). But without the superglue this will not happen because the shear force will exceed the force corresponding to either the coefficient of static friction of your shirt to the ball or the ball to the floor. What this means is that you must wear a shirt and the floor cannot be smooth and the ball surface should not be smooth.

So what happens? As you approach a vertical spine angle the normal force vector component becomes negligible and the tangential force vector component is dominant. Yaw becomes a big problem because of its role in shear. Either the ball could slide against the floor causing unrecoverable roll, or, if your body slides against the ball this will cause unrecoverable roll. The shear results in a slide (coefficient of static friction is violated) causing an acceleration in a lateral direction which breeches base of support causing roll.  In the video I am using a Swiss ball that is burst proof to 350 lbs. and has a rough surface (see image).The newest version has a 500 lb. rating. The floor is made of rubber. Be careful. Extreme physics are in play here and physical laws like the coefficient of static friction and Newton’s laws are not negotiable. 

For more information: 


Training Reframed as an Exploration of the Adjacent Possible

The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.

Arthur C. Clarke

The purpose of training is to improve your performance akin to the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. The adjacent possible is a theory created by theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman. He proposes that biological systems, whether single organisms or ecosystems, evolve to increase their access and control of energy by increasing structures that constrain greater amounts of energy and their ability to manage that energy. For example, a mouse houses more energy than a grasshopper; has a much more complex nervous system to manage that energy; and—at the integrated, organism level—can more efficiently harvest opportunities that are embedded in its immediate environment (i.e. the mental faculties of attention, awareness, and the protoself [see Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain]). Now, you, as an Olympic gold medalist in the 400 meter freestyle in swimming, have greater energy capacity and “management” than when you competed as an 11 year old. It is a creative process that can only expand its present boundaries one tiny step at a time. But what a difference it creates over time!
 In cybernetics, the brain is viewed as an organ of adaptation to the unknown: your mind is trained to become aware of adjacent possibilities, constantly anticipating what’s around the next corner in your personal growth and development, and excited to explore what you cannot do and do not know—yet. Kind of like a super upgraded mouse. Emily Dickinson gave sage advice in this regard: “I dwell in possibilities.” Mentally it is the process of expanding your comfort zone one little step into the unknown—your adjacent uncomfort zone—but not beyond that. Learning is exactly this process, too. You learn about numbers, then addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division, then algebra, geometry, and it goes on and on. As you open these next physical and mental doors, a whole new set of adjacent possibilities emerge. The view from the next mountain top is not visible until you do the work, one step at a time, to climb there. And the journey is not free; you must expend time and energy to get there. 
 Evolving physically and mentally synchronously through this framework allows you to see by connecting the dots how you transformed from a single cell to: exploring your crib; learning to crawl and then walk so you can play with something out of reach; graduating from high school; lifting a heavy dumb bell overhead; becoming a Olympic athlete; and becoming a parent, professor, mentor, or coach. It is all about the relentless pursuit of the expansion of your limitations; present limitations and boundaries today will become unconscious stepping stones to completely new, even unimaginable adjacent possibles tomorrow. Layers will build on past layers in a process called consolidation, a biological process of integrating motor and control systems (i.e. muscles, nerves, senses and their inter-relationships). But this will only happen if make the transition from what you can do to what you just might be able to do and perform it iteratively (i.e. highly intentioned, repetitive practice). You must accept and learn from small failures and setbacks just like a toddler stumbling in the process to walk.
Your mind and body need to be coordinated to execute the continuous building of a new you. You will be a different person tomorrow in many small but imperceptible ways. You don’t know what you can’t do unless you try and actually experience failure; otherwise you only believe you can’t do it. Don’t let your mind stop you because it is the only thing that can stop you. Instead, train your mind to motivate you to experience your potential. Your mind is a tool and it is your choice how you use and develop it. Most of the time if you just get out of your own way and merely allow yourself access to an adjacent possibility you will either succeed or fail but learn how to succeed on the next attempt. Thus, view little stumbles as part of the learning process of conquering the adjacent possible. Usain Bolt had to stumble a lot on his journey to becoming the world’s fastest man. Visualize how the ocean erodes massive boulders on the shore, one grain of sand at a time over the millennia. Train yourself to continuously test your perceived limits: why not belief you can instead of you can’t? You don’t need to fear the vastness of the unknown; you only need to focus on the tiny layer just out of reach but touching your finger tips. That’s it.  
James Autio
F-22 Raptor breaking the sound barrier over the Gulf of Alaska.
photo credit: Ronald Dejarnett, U.S. Navy

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