Last weekend Ausra’s cousin was visiting us and we had a lovely time interacting while walking in the old town of Vilnius. We even went up to see the stunning panorama from the bell tower of Vilnius University St John’s church. That’s the highest building in all of old town and hundreds of old red roofs were under our noses. Ausra was brave enough to climb the viewing place.
She has never done this before although she went to this bell tower many times. We all were very proud of her. Although we used an elevator to go up, we climbed down those 197 steps on foot. Even now, when 2 days have passed since this visit, I still have some muscle fatigue in the back of my legs because of climbing down.
That morning we had a breakfast during which I talked to Ausra’s cousin about what it is we are doing online. I told her that if she has a special skill set (and she has - she is a high-in-demand physics teacher), she could teach a global audience through sharing her knowledge online on her blog.
I also told her about my new From 0 to 10 Pull-Up challenge during which Ausra was quite skeptical because she saw me fail so many times before at various experiments and challenges in the past. But her cousin seemed impressed and said that my speech was inspiring to her.
Then of course I suggested to her she could do some kind of challenge herself and share the process online. It was then when her enthusiasm left her and she said, she couldn’t even attempt to do it.
She didn’t believe she could.
How is it that some people start without even knowing how they will reach the end goal? It’s like jumping into the dark pool at night, not knowing how deep the pool is. It could be a few feet deep in which case you might break your neck and it could be 10 feet deep, enough to dive safely. But they still do it.
And others don’t ever start because they don’t believe they have what it takes even though it’s clear for people who have done it that they can.
They don’t have the bravery to believe. Therefore they feel they can’t, shouldn’t and won’t pursue their dreams.
It’s exactly the opposite of what Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing: “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
I hope you’re doing just that.
Today again I started my workout after breakfast. I don’t know why but I got lazy in the morning. I was rather writing about my Day 2 workout experiences than actually coming out to my garden and doing some dead hangs right away.
So anyway, feeling quite heavy after breakfast I came out and did one 10 second dead hang. Then I spent about 2 minutes picking fallen apples after which I again hanged on the bar for 10 seconds.
I was surprised that it wasn’t particularly hard. Maybe my muscles are starting to adapt after all. I again picked up some more apples for 2 more minutes and returned to the bar. In this manner I did total of 5 sets of 10 second dead hangs.
At the end I was so excited that I held the last dead hang for 20 seconds. However, since the gloves I was wearing where slippery, I placed my thumb under the other fingers. This was a mistake because afterward my thumbs started to look like they might develop blisters soon.
This was supposed to be the end of today’s workout routine for me but…
Soon afterward I received an SMS about the delivery of my gymnastic rings to the parcel automate which I ordered last weekend. So after lunch I drove there and picked this parcel up.
Together with the rings I received a pair of special fitness gloves. From now on I will do my workouts the right way.
When Ausra saw the rings being unwrapped she was very skeptical. She said it was one of those moments when I started something enthusiastically only to stop a few days or weeks later. This is true but then I wasn’t blogging about my challenges and experiments in public. So maybe this time it will be different…
Now came the time to actually position those rings somewhere. At first I struggled with inserting the bands into the lock but after a while I figured out how to do it.
So I went up to our balcony and started working on hanging the bands from there so that I could do the workouts from downstairs.
Then Ausra came out and with a terrified look said that the balcony won’t hold my weight…
I then said, Plan B and moved down to the garden and placed the rings on one of the thickest branches of an old apple tree. The branch was quite high and to reach it I had to use the ladder.
I then tested the firmness of the rings and the branch with another 10 second dead hang. They seemed firm enough for my weight.
Then I called Ausra to take a picture of me doing another 10 second dead hang. Without a t-shirt, of course. She said, “I hope you aren’t going to share it online since you look really ugly without a t-shirt.”
“No”, I said, “it’s the BEFORE picture of my From 0 to 10 Pull-Ups challenge.”
For a long time I had a recurring fear that I had forgotten to feed my pet. The feeling wasn’t nice - although I actually didn’t have pets since I was a kid, somehow this idea of discovering your pet after a while without any food was quite prevailing.
Maybe it was part of the guilt I was feeling because I sold my best friend Rex to another boy in hopes that my mom will buy me a bigger dog… Of course, she wouldn’t and she didn’t and maybe Rex was better off in the home where his best friend didn’t want to exchange him into something fancier and bigger.
So people who have pets will understand this. When a new pet comes to their home, they suddenly are faced with the new responsibility to feed and take care of him. And at first the habit to do this isn’t there. You have to build it up over time.
What happens when you don’t give food to your pet? Well, if it’s a dog, he starts to follow you everywhere, looks into your eyes and makes those yelping sounds.
It’s similar with creativity. When you first set out to create a painting, a musical piece, a novel, a business or whatever, the burden to continue suddenly follows you everywhere you go. With every passing day you invest more and more of your time and energy into this new endeavor and you start feeling guilty when you’re not practicing it.
The feeling of guilt is always hard to bear so the solution to this is simply to continue to create for a couple of months or so until the new habit will be forged. If you don’t skip a day and practice your art for 66 days in a row, after that you will start to miss it and you won’t have to force yourself to do it.
It will a be part of your daily routine.
For me the same thing is happening right now, because I’m on Day 3 of my 0 to 10 pull-up challenge. Every morning or afternoon or whenever I have to remember to do my set of exercises otherwise a feeling of guilt of not practicing will follow me all day long. Despite my many failed attempts in the past, this time I’m determined to see it through. It feels different this time maybe because I’m writing about it in public. This is how I get public accountability.
If you haven’t started practicing your own challenge, I hope you will do it soon.
“When you can do 5 pull-ups, then you call me,” my wife Ausra said to me yesterday during breakfast.
Her cousin was visiting us and I incidentally told them about my challenge. Ausra, of course, knowing about my failed past attempts to exercise for longer periods of time was skeptical.
Ausra’s cousin seemed to be quite impressed by this challenge. Maybe it was because she didn’t know me as well as Ausra did. I said to her she could do something like that too if she wanted. But she said, no, she didn’t believe she could even attempt anything of that sort.
Yes, believing is everything. If I didn’t believe in this challenge, I also wouldn’t bother to start. That’s the reason my initial goal is not 100 pull-ups, right?
Nevertheless, after breakfast I asked them to go with me to the garden where my pull-up bar was. I went upstairs and changed my t-shirt and while they looked at flowers, apples and raspberries, I grabbed some gloves and did my set of 5 10 second dead hangs with 2 minute rests in between.
Although I just had my breakfast, somehow it was easier to hang for 10 seconds on the bar. Maybe my shoulder and chest muscles are already slowly getting used to the idea that they will have to be miserable for the next few months…
At the end of the last dead hang I attempted to do one pull-up. But no, I could only flex my hands half way before they gave out.
You know how the first day of any challenge goes, right? A little scared and very excited…
I was a little scared that I picked the wrong challenge for myself and that I won’t last long enough to see the result. But at the same time I was very excited. I wanted to start training and do it right away.
In the morning I went outside to my garden and put some gloves on because I knew what strength training can do to my musician hands over time.
I decided to start my experiment with 5 dead hangs X 10 seconds each with 2 minutes rest in between exercises. This seemed like doable task for a beginner like me.
So I jumped to the bar and held myself there while counting until 10. Good thing I put the gloves on because my hands wanted to slip. The gloves fastened my grip.
After 10 seconds were over I walked around for a couple of minutes and ate an apple which was fallen from the tree. So juicy, so sweet…
Then I repeated my dead hang 4 more times. Each time with some rest in between exercise. Each one was more difficult than the previous one. But not something too strenuous. I didn’t want to over-exert myself on the first try.
I finished the last dead hang tired but not exhausted.
A good start of the day.
They almost didn’t let me graduate from high school because I couldn’t do any pull-ups. My PT teacher said I won’t get my diploma unless I’ll do something about it.
I got scared and for a couple of months before graduation went to the running track in the mornings to exercise. Luckily, I made some progress and they let me graduate.
I’m 42 years old. Never properly trained in the gym for more than a few months in a row. Sure, I had my share of New Year’s resolutions, like every one else but they didn’t last long.
So why now? What’s the deal with those pull-ups?
A couple of days before I met my friend for coffee who has recently quit his main job and settled for a temporary solution for a year. During this year he was supposed to figure out what he would do when this year expired.
So this time I asked him how his future plans are going? He said, he doesn’t know what he will do next year yet and he can’t do anything about it for 6 more months because he is busy working in his temporary position.
Then I suggested the idea of experimenting and documenting his life in public. Basically Medium profile, pick a challenge for himself and document his way through this challenge. This way he will find his passions, he will find out what works for him and what doesn’t, he will see how the audience reacts to his ideas and gradually start to expand his network which will come handy when it’s time for him to monetize his efforts.
On my way home, I thought, what about my own experiments and challenges? Am I doing enough of those?
I went over the 4 main areas of my life: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. In all but physical areas I was fairly active and I realized that although I’m exercising somewhat more or less regularly now, I struggle with long-term commitment and progress.
I remembered those pull-ups from high school and discovered I wanted to start doing them again. OK, but what about the end result? What would my goal be? 100 pull-ups? This seemed unrealistic. May 50? Also too magical. How about 20? This seemed doable but I decided to settle for a smaller number because I didn’t want to waste my time.
If I couldn’t force myself to advance to 10 pull-ups, how I would do 20? If 10 pull-ups weren’t achievable so maybe those aren’t for me. Maybe I would need to find some other challenge. We’ll find out in a few months.
So there you go - I needed to start small so that I won't quit. I made quite a few efforts in the past but all of them didn't go anywhere because I was too ambitious. I always picked the wrong goal, the one which was too big for me.
But not this time. 10 pull-ups is something I see myself doing in a few months. And of course I don't have to stop there. If I'm successful with 10, next time I can challenge myself with 20 or 30 or 50 or whatever number seems realistic.
I found a rusty metal bar in my garden and put it between an apple tree and one of the buildings. I measured if it was horizontally OK and put a brick on one side to level it up.
That’s it. I was ready to do some pull-ups. Except… I couldn’t. All I could do was to simply hang from the bar for a while until my hands couldn’t hold it anymore.
So this seemed like my starting point. 0 pull-ups…
I decided that the next day I would do some sets of dead hangs for starters. We’ll see how it goes.
Oh, an by the way, feel free to join me in my challenge if you want or find your own challenge that fits your needs.
Do you ever feel like your time is limited on earth?
I always knew that I won’t live forever but this idea wasn’t part of my reality. I knew that other people will die but I would probably live indefinitely. Funny, isn’t it?
I first started to realize that I too am going to die only a few years ago. I didn’t even internalize it when my dad died back in 2012.
So now I feel the passing of time much more closely than before. And I’m scared of one thing.
That when the time comes for me to go, I won’t have created everything I wanted to create. As Todd Henry says in his book, I want to die empty.
Not to leave any songs inside me. Instead, I want to let them out into the world. It doesn’t matter if they are good, it doesn’t matter if people resonate with them, but I have to let them out before it’s too late.
A lot of people live their lives without this idea. A lot of people carry a painting, a novel, a musical composition, a business idea inside them without even realizing this. And when they finally lie on their deathbed, they have this regret.
I wish I didn’t keep my songs inside me.
I hope you’re not one of them.
Have you ever observed kids play? You surely have noticed the amount of focus and immersion required in these fun activities. And the same amount of focus for them goes into drawing, reading a comic book, or building something.
What would happen if we didn’t allow kids to play? That’s right, no more running, hiding, fighting, building, exploring, having adventures until they are 18!
That would be insane… In fact, cartoonist Lynda Barry argues that without play, children would go crazy. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why there are dysfunctional families, psychopaths, entire generations and countries where people live in war zones who have seemingly lost their humanity.
Play is a basic human act, primary to our psychological and physical survival. Creativity is primary to our survival too because brain activity when someone writes or draws or plays an instrument is similar to when kids play with each other.
Play inevitably produces laughter which has all kinds of healing benefits. Kids laugh 300 times on average and adults - only 5 times on average. Who is happier on average?
We as adults don’t play that much anymore. If we had to give an answer, the most obvious would be - we don’t have the time. We have to make a living.
I haven’t played for fun a few months now. The last time I remember was with Ausra’s brother’s dog. We ran around our garden like crazy. It was so much fun. Exhausting but really fun. The kind of fun you wish it could continue indefinitely.
Instead of playing, I had to find other ways to have fun and laugh. We watch movies a lot. Especially comedies. After a couple of hours of a good stand up or a comedy, I feel whole again.
I feel the same when I draw Pinky and Spiky comic strips. I like to laugh at those silly characters and their actions. When I start drawing them, at first I don’t know what they will say. But as soon as they appear on the paper, they start interact with each other. Actually, I have to make them stop because they won’t shut up.
I also try to live my days while looking for those moments around me which could go into Pinky and Spiky comic strips. Doing this, also helps me resolve conflicts and dramas with kind of self-irony and don’t overreact, sometimes even don’t engage with toxic people (although I still have plenty to learn in this area).
When I see myself or others do or say something annoying, I make a mental note, sometimes a real note in my notebook and wait for the moment to turn it into a comic strip. It is fun.
I’ll tell what else is fun for me - improvising on the organ. While I do this, I can be myself, completely relaxed, detached from the outside world and forget everything.
Nowadays drawing and improvisation are my favorite forms of play. What is yours?
Do you remember that voice in your head when you were a little kid which said that all the world around you is full of wonders?
You could stare at stars and think about the miraculous infinity of the universe. You can watch the clouds and discover strange beasts which kept constantly changing. You could even hear this voice asking do we all really exist or all of this is just a mirage?
This voice is still inside you no matter how old you are now. Maybe it is buried deep inside underneath daily worries and insecurities, maybe it’s barely audible at times but it’s still there. And it is indispensable in the process of creating art because it helps you feel constant curiosity about the world.
So we have to remember something important we forgot since childhood.
Making art helps you do it. Making art helps you immerse yourself in the fantasy world that you had as a child. Making art helps you forget the sorrows of the world.
Making art helps us play.
It’s a little difficult for me to answer this question because I’ve been creating every day since Christmas 2011. And played organ long before that too. At first, I wrote blog posts, then created videos, then courses for my subscribers. Later I started to compose, improvise and draw. I also started creating podcasts. Well, maybe not every day.
Sometimes Ausra and I produce a few of the posts and podcast episodes back to back and schedule them to be published in advance. Our subscribers receive them every day but we don’t have to actually record them every day.
On the days I don’t record anything, I try to at least create Pinky and Spiky comic strip and write a blog post, and of course play the organ.
My recent memory of not creating almost anything perhaps was in London when Ausra and I played organ duet recital at St Paul’s Cathedral. I didn’t take my laptop with me to that trip, prepared a few blog posts in advance for our subscribers and had only my pocket notebook and a black pen. I didn’t want to miss creating during this trip so I at least drew a comic strip once a day.
To find a day of not creating, I actually should dig deeper into my memory. Maybe on the days when I was sick, maybe when I had a lot of errands to run. I don’t remember exactly when such rare occasions happened but I do remember the feeling from these days.
I would be grumpy, even angry with family members and I definitely felt that something important was missing in my day.
Even now I don’t necessarily compose music every day. This bothers me. I don’t have any excuses for this, of course. Like many people, I still hesitate. And when I don’t compose, I don’t feel whole. I feel like I’m not living up to my potential.
I feel like the days go by too easily. I should be more tired before going to bed. Like an empty cup, to be refilled during the night.
Do you have this feeling when you don’t create?
Sure, physically and emotionally your day might be exhausting, you might get a lot of things done and be spent like a sponge at the end of the day, but if you don’t have anything to show for yourself and others what you have created, how does it make you feel?
I’m pretty sure not everybody feels this emptiness. People who have silenced this childish voice of curiosity long time ago and buried it underneath all the mundane worries and fears might not even remember how it sounds. They might look at the sunset or sunrise and don’t feel the awe at the beauty of nature.
So naturally they don’t feel any urge to create and express this beauty which is all around them and actually inside them. To them the world is not a happy place, a place for sorrows, worries and fears. They don’t have anything to hope for.
But even for them the miracle can happen. I believe everyone is capable of seeing the beauty of the world and expressing it in art. Sometimes all it takes is one life-changing moment or event and the world will never be the same for them.
But if you are a creator, if you feel that deep down you have something to say and offer to the world and you’re not doing it, how does it make you feel? Or if you are doing the bare minimum and you know you could create more, do you feel like cheating?
Because I do. And I hate this feeling.
That’s what helped me to pick up that pocket notebook and a pen and create a comic strip about Pinky, Spiky and the dancing shoes yesterday.