High Horse Assholery - Lessons on offering fitness advice from Dunning-Kruger and "The book of the samurai"

By Ciaran O'Regan

I have been deeply interested in fitness and nutrition for over 11 years.

In such time I have accumulated a shitload of information: some being good, and unfortunately, quite a lot, being not so good. The nutrition and health fields are ones in which once somebody dives in, they find themselves in a never-ending maze of rabbit holes going in an infinite number of directions with the vast majority of these directions being gimmicky and not worth a fuck for the most part.

The subject of nutrition and health is super close and personal to people due to their own insecurities as well as emotional attachments to certain ways of living and eating. On top of this there is the obvious factor of their own body image and health. Something I wish I knew earlier (but am still refining all the time), were more socially intelligent ways of imparting this information about this emotionally charged area onto other people.

Due to eating and health being such emotionally charged topics, along with my own history in the fitness industry, the topic of fitness and nutrition is a great example for me to shine some light on the topic of Advice. 

In retrospect, I have most definitely given health and fitness advice (whether solicited or not) in a crude, and quite frankly; pretentious manner.

I must have come across like a serious dickhead. The reason I cared so much, and was so passionate, was that being physically fit and healthy means so much to me as a person. The lifestyle of hard physical training and attention to nutrition has given me so much in terms of physical health and confidence as well as healthy, intelligent, and like-minded friends.

Improving certain physical traits such as strength, mobility, speed, and conditioning, has also given me a sense of purpose and direction regardless of what else was going on in other aspects of my life. In all truth, physical health in the form of training and nutrition is the framework around which I have built the rest of my life. 

When I really go deep in analysis however, my inability to communicate my knowledge and passion, in a manner appropriate to where that person was with regards to their ability to receive the information, must have come from three sources: 

The first of which were my own insecurities.

These insecurities must have stemmed from the fact that I was once an unhealthy kid myself. I was one of those proper chubby sedentary little lads who would easily put away a full box of some sugared cereal while playing PlayStation. However in my teens, I essentially went from an overweight young lad who was unsure of himself, to getting some abzzz and some muscles after taking up strength training and the eating a lot of chicken and broccoli. I think the fact that I had been able to transform my own body, while still retaining a legacy of certain thought processes rooted in insecurity from the chubby days, led me to feel a sense of superiority over people who had not transformed themselves yet: hence the pretension when telling people how to do it themselves. 

 

“All cruelty springs from weakness.” - Seneca

 

The second, was the way a lot of the providers of health and nutrition information online, and in books, actually impart their information

This vastness of information available, and the fact that quite a large proportion of it is delivered from seemingly omnipotent, know it all, grandiose-guruish-gobshites (how was that for alliteration?) doesn't help. I think it potentially increases the likelihood that impressionable young people like myself, who were unsure of their place in the world, would adopt some of their know-it-all ways of communicating.

Such ways of communicating involve the use of definite statements, pretension, and just general high-horse assholery for (purposeful) lack of a more eloquent description.

Finally, The main reason I think I gave advice like a prick, was the simple fact that I actually knew fuck all about what I was on about.

I did not know enough to realize how little I actually knew. I basically had enough knowledge to think I knew everything, but not enough to realize I was not even scratching the surface. 

 

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." - Shakespeare

 

This is an all too common phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

 

"The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability of those of low ability to recognize their ineptitude and evaluate their ability accurately." - Wikipedia

 

(Note: Before I go any further I want to just highlight how much I fucking love the phrase "illusory superiority". It is so beautiful in both its language and meaning. But I digress....)

For example, when giving nutrition advice to people looking to improve their body composition (lose fat and gain muscle), I used to place huge importance on the minutia like "superfoods", supplements, meal timing, the "anabolic window" etc. I did not know enough to see that the big picture stuff that got you the biggest return on investment, were simply managing your caloric intake and eating sufficient protein throughout the day. I was 100% missing the forest for the trees and did not know enough to realize what was actually most important. I basically only knew enough to hang myself. 

The below twitter post I came across pretty much sums up the Dunning-Kruger effect in action and wonderfully illustrates my (hopefully) once lofty perch up on "Mount Stupid".

So what is there to learn here from my past fuck ups When giving advice?

Before you give advice to anyone, on any topic, make sure that you meet these two criteria:

1. You genuinely actually want to help people learn, and are not simply offering advice to feel some sense of superiority over your victim.

2. Most importantly: you actually know what the fuck you are on about regarding the topic you wish to opine on.

So assuming one is neither an insecure dickhead, nor ignorant fool, how does one actually set about giving advice? - Enter "The book of the samurai"

Had I come across the below section of the "Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai" by Yamamoto Tsunetomo years ago, I potentially could have saved my victims from an ear beating, and myself from some bad karma.

“To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of an individual is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying the things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if not received well they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off ones chest.

To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leave-taking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.

This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a bad habit of some years prior, by and large it wont be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?” – Yamamoto Tsunetomo.

 

As you can see there is an art to the concept of giving advice. For a large chunk of his life, Tsunetomo was himself an aid to a very powerful Samurai lord, and as part of his job was essentially a professional advice giverAs such he had put a lot of thought into the best ways of imparting his advice to his master. 

learn from my mistakes, then internalize the lessons on advice "The book of the samurai" can teach us. 

The next time you genuinely wish to help someone, and it is a topic in which you are sure you are not sitting on "Mount Stupid", use the invaluable lessons outlined above by Tsunetomo nearly 300 years ago.

Giving advice to someone is a huge responsibility, please treat it as such.  

 

“If they’ve made a mistake, correct them gently and show them where they went wrong. If you can’t do that, then the blame lies with you. Or no one.” – Marcus Aurelius.

 

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Death, Destruction, Misery, and True Appreciation - Lessons from Jocko

By Ciaran O'Regan

We all know the scene.

As I write this I am sitting in a Starbucks. I am debating to myself whether or not the quality of the internet and the availability of elbow space and electricity sockets really does make up for the fact that the coffee in the small privately owned café across the street is in my opinion of a far greater quality.

The people walking past in the street to whom I find myself throwing a glance from time to time are going about their lives in a manner typical of 2016 Ireland.

Humans of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, race, and nationality are getting on with each other in peace. They are cooperating in accordance with both the obvious written laws such as not taking that which is not yours and the unwritten ones such as the gentlemanly expectation to briefly stop and help a young mother carry her babies’ pram up a set of steps with no payment other than a genuinely appreciative smile accompanied by a thanks/thank you/cheers/sound or other locally appropriate synonym. While I am writing this using a Microsoft Office package and on a MacBook Pro, the man to my left is studying case law for what I assume are upcoming exams in the local university and the man to my right is frequently giggling as he watches Netflix on his I-pad. 

Life is good here. In fact, I would go so far as to say life here right now is fucking tremendous.

The thought running through my mind is whether or not these conscious objects of my observation really do appreciate how good the circumstances they currently find themselves in, really are. The thought has only occurred to me as up to recently I took all this for granted.

I am a firm believer in living life at extremes.

  • While I train hard in my physical fitness and martial arts training by relentlessly paying attention to the little details and regularly bringing myself to horrific levels of discomfort and fatigue, I also recover hard by controlling my stress levels and increasingly partake in various forms of meditation and mindfulness practice.

  • While I pay attention to my macronutrient requirements and the micronutrient content of my diet that is, for the most part, made up of high-quality proteins and veggies, I have no issue with going out from time to time with friends and family and fitting things like ice cream or a few beers into my caloric intake (which in the big picture does fuck all to negatively affect my body comp or health and in fact improves my health in my eyes due to the social experience that accompanies it outweighing any negative physiological impact of the food itself).

  • While I work hard by putting my focus on the task at hand and hustling to get jobs done, I also socialize hard (for want of a better word) by paying as much attention as possible to my friends and family when I am with them by doing such things as ignoring the allure of my phone drawing my simple ape brain towards the addictive dopamine bursts achieved from the strategically designed notification alerts.

To paraphrase a line I heard from the very clever and inspirational Gary Vaynerchuk, I live my life at extremes and achieve my balance through the net rather than living in mediocrity.

While I have been gradually improving my ability to operate on a day to day basis with this mentality for years; it was not until the last few months however that I started to apply this same viewpoint of operating at extremes towards the appreciation for what I have.

I may not have been born to a wealthy family by western standards, but relative to a vast chunk of the world I have a winning ticket. 

The prizes that have been afforded to me through my winnings in the genetic and geographic lotteries have meant that the bottom rungs of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs have been met. I have food, shelter, clean air, political stability, physical safety, education, affection and appreciation for and from family and friends, and find myself ultimately on a path towards self-actualization at the peak of Maslow's pyramid. It was not until I started listening to a podcast by author, navy seal veteran, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and all round inspirational character Jocko Willink on his simply called “Jocko Podcast”: that I realized just how fucking lucky I am.

Regularly listening to Jocko talk about his own personal experiences from war, along with his reading of extracts from books pertaining to the most horrible shit imaginable has afforded me with a whole new outlook on life as the penny finally dropped regarding just how bad life can be for a human.

Throughout my life I have been subjected to the idea of war in movies, documentaries, books, and the news media over and over: sometimes accompanied with negativity but more often than not with ideals of glorification, honor, and justification. I think I simply got numb to the realities of what I was seeing. For some reason unknown to me it was not until I heard this admirably introspective and self-aware former combatant read particularly impactful extracts and talk about his own experiences that the realities of war sunk in. I do not know why this particular content impacted me so much more than any other but it has.

Just a few examples of such horrible descriptions: 

  • In episode 12 he talked about the beyond comprehensible pain and misery experienced by a Scottish soldier at the hands of his captors in “The Forgotten Highlander” by Alistair Urquhart. Such misery includes having to resort to putting maggots on his sores to eat the dead skin so the tissue necrosis did not spread.

  • In episode 16 he talked about the Rwandan genocide from the perspective of the culprits wielding the machetes in a book called “Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak” by Jean Hatzfield. The people interviewed for the making of that book, coldly described how they took off their Sunday best clothes and put on their "work" clothes after church to set about hacking up their neighbors and family members with machetes simply due to tribal affiliations.

  • In episode 18 he talked about the experiences of a Russian Soldier involved in fighting the Chechen rebels from a book called “One Soldier's War” by Arkady Babchenko. In this book, Babchenko details what it was like to be assaulted and beaten by his own comrades while on base and then witness his friends tortured and killed by the enemy out on the battlefield.

  • Finally in what was in my opinion (and his apparently if you see the tweet below), the most heavy of episodes, he talked about the My Lai massacre from the book "Four Hours in My Lai" by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim. I will not even try to describe the details of this episode: it needs to be experienced to be understood.

If you only ever listen to a single episode of Jocko Podcast in its entirety make it  this one.

If you only ever listen to a single episode of Jocko Podcast in its entirety make it this one.

 

War is fucking shit. 

War is up there with only with natural disasters as being the worst thing that can happen to a person. It is at one end of the extreme. The death, destruction, and misery that accompanies it is as bad as life can get.

Looking at the extremes of what is possible in life, if even from a literary and anecdotal perspective, has given me a new lens through which to view everything I have. It took hearing about a Navy Seals’ take on the most disgusting and traumatic shit possible for a person to experience to realize just how good this shitty coffee really is.

IF YOU FIND YOURSELF WITH THE ABILITY AND FREE TIME TO READ THIS ARTICLE, IT MOST LIKELY APPLIES TO YOU.

Don’t get caught focusing on the minutia and missing the big picture of your life. Don’t allow yourself to focus on the seemingly negative aspects of life or worrying about things outside of your control. Don’t get caught up in the bustle of commercial life convincing you that you need to buy ridiculously expensive well-marketed bullshit to serve no purpose other than to feed your ego and insecurities

There are unfortunately quite a lot of people in society around us with a victim mentality. They give out about not getting this, or not getting that. They feel unlucky and jealous of people they know or even see on reality TV or social media. They blame other people for their failings. They allow life to happen to them rather than happen to it. 

Appreciate the fact that simply by pure luck, you are not living in a literal hell on earth.

Next time you find yourself starting to get upset over some person who has said something you didn't like, some celebrity couple break up, some order a waiter messed up, some promotion you didn't get, some "fashionable" shoes you are unable to afford or some other totally insignificant bullshit, use this (potentially) newfound awareness of what is possible to go through as part of the human experience to cultivate true appreciation for the opportunities afforded to you in life because you are not living in hell

 

Know the darkness” – Jocko Willink

 

- Ciaran. 

 

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Don’t Fuck Around

By Ciaran O'Regan

Let’s say you live the “perfect life”.

You set out on a journey to become the best you can be at your field and end up becoming one of the greatest and most influential contributors to that area in all of history. Your name ends up in the same lists as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

You live a life of overcoming obstacles, relentless self-improvement and hard graft. You experience the inevitable failures and problems along the way but you end up accomplishing as much if not more than anyone else ever has and maybe ever will in that field.

Let us also assume you have enjoyed yourself along the way and are totally at peace with what you have done with your life in those last few moments prior to returning your temporarily borrowed carbon to the universe.

Now let’s say your life has been a complete and utter shitshow

You spend your life faffing about and fucking around going in no clear direction with no focus or aim. You work a job to simply facilitate the maintenance of your rudderless existence. You hide yourself away from your seemingly inconsolable and originless frustrations with a dependency or dependencies on some substances (alchohol or drug abuse) or behaviors (reality TV, gambling, lottery tickets, excessive social media use, celebrity gossip, shopping etc).

In the grand scheme of things the aforementioned universe could not give less of a fuck either way what you do with your allotted time.

Whether you live a life consisting of a passionate and driven quest towards self-actualization or whether you live an existence based around production and consumption clouded by self imposed distraction; it doesn’t matter.

At the end of the day, should we as a species and culture manage to avoid self destruction, disease, natural disasters, or simply being hit by giant rocks from space and wiped out like the dinosaurs: the sun will still eventually explode like a giant reset button anyway.

We are still fucked.

This however is NOT a bad thing. It is actually a fact that you can use to motivate yourself. Acceptance of the finite nature of everything is about as powerful a stimulus to get off your arse and enjoy yourself as you could find.

While nothing matters in the grand scheme of things, when it comes to what you do with your life; everything matters.

A beautifully eloquent quote I heard somewhere that summarizes this whole philosophy goes as follows:

 

“I do what is important to me, not because it is important, but because it is important to me.” - Unknown

 

Realistically, all we can do as individuals is to live a life of passionate pursuit, fervently going after whatever paths excites us the most while simultaneously trying our best to leave the world in a little bit of a better state when we leave than if we had not been born at all. If everyone was to look at life like this I would hazard a bet there would be a lot less unhappiness and negativity. 

Life is too fun to waste time on the negative going in no clear direction. There are too many cool people to meet, too many beautiful places to see, too much delicious food to eat, and too many obstacles to overcome and learn from.

 

“Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow “or the day after”. Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was-what difference could it make? Now recognize that the difference between years from now and tomorrow are just as small” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Now go get it done. Don’t fuck around.

 

“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” - Confucius

 

- Ciaran 

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