The butt clench

I call it the butt clench. Tldr: a few months ago, I realized that I clench my butt pretty much all the time. Like all day, for no reason. So I’m learning, slowly and rep by rep, how to relax my butt muscles…yup.

Oh and it’s not my outer butt muscles, the glutes. It’s actually the inside, the sphincter muscles. What you use when you gotta poop. But I feel more comfortable just calling it the butt clench :)

It’s partly amusing, kinda frustrating, and mostly weird. I don’t know when I started to do this. I might not be alone in this habit but it feels that way. The behavior can’t be healthy or helpful. It’s simply a bad and stuck habit.

Singing lessons helped me spot the clench. In everyday life, when you exhale, your body likes to squeeze your breathing muscles to get that last bit of oxygen goodness. When you sing, this squeezing and contracting is bad. It wastes air. One way to fight this tendency is to push outward, slightly, as you breathe out. Fight the contracting muscles. This is known as support. Some people say when you’re doing it right, it should feel like taking a poop. Others suggest expanding your stomach like a balloon – in a full circle, and then to maintain that expansion.

The more I practiced support, the more I noticed that my inner butt muscle, my sphincters, would relax. It’s like a tight knot that would unravel when I focused on it. And when the muscles relaxed, it felt good. Like noticeable good – relaxed, less tension, a kinda looseness around my pelvis.

I began to try and spot check throughout the day. I’d think about that inner spot and invariably I’d notice it was clenched. So I’d make a conscious effort to relax and release. But only moments after doing so, if I spot checked again, I’d notice that it tightened up again, like a slinky returning to its default form.

Through practice, it got easier to unclench. Less concentration was required. Occasionally – rarely – I’d do a mental check and notice that the muscle was naturally relaxed. But 98% of the time, it’d be tight and balled up.

How did this start? Why? No clue. Certainly doesn’t feel like a healthy habit, not in the least bit. Imagine flexing your bicep and walking around all day. Your bicep would get exhausted, and you put a lot of strain on your body, and over time your arm might forget what it felt like to really relax.

In addition to the conscious unclenching practice, I should probably do more relaxing stretches and physical activities – like yoga and massage and sauna.

Why am I writing about this? Also no clue. Just wanted to. This experience made me appreciate anew the enormous cumulative effect of tiny habits. If you walk up two flights of stairs every day, 300 days a year, that’s 5-10K steps you’ll take in a year. That’s meaningful exercise. If you write a page of your novel every morning, no matter how bad, you’ll have 300 pages – a full book! – in a year.

But life has a balance to it, and whatever applies to good habits also applies to the harmful ones. Sleep one hour less than you need every night, and your body will crave hundreds of hours of rest and recovery by year’s end. Daily damage to a body that is already fighting an unbeatable battle against father time. When we sleep 10 hours a day over the holidays, it’s because we badly need it. Hibernation isn’t just for bears.

In my case this butt clench. Bit by bit, day by day, it felt better or safer to tighten up, and now I do it all day every day and can’t even feel it! I began to wonder: What other muscles do I unnecessarily tighten? What effort am I exerting that is unhelpful and stressful? How can I relax more? What are the figurative and literal butt clenches in my life?

It all sounds a bit funny and I share it in part because it’s amusing, in a smh kinda way. For years now – maybe for most of my life – I’ve walked around with a clenched butt. Such is life.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid. – Robert Greene

I am reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power [Kindle] for the second time. A selection of his 48 rules are in my personal bible. I’m a strong believer in re-reading and reviewing your favorite content. You always learn something new. Not unlike the way your experience evolves as you appreciate a favorite song or movie.

This time Law 28 really spoke to me. The power of audacity and boldness. Whatever your politics, Trump has it in spades. Softbank founder Masayoshi Son. Of course Elon Musk.

Here’s an excerpt from Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness:

Most of us are timid. We want to avoid tension and conflict and we want to be liked by all. We may contemplate a bold action but we rarely bring it to life. We are terrified of the consequences, of what others might think of us, of the hostility we will stir up if we dare go beyond our usual place.

Although we may disguise our timidity as a concern for others, a desire not to hurt or offend them, in fact it is the opposite – we are really self-absorbed, worried about ourselves and how others perceive us. Boldness, on the other hand, is outer-directed, and often makes people feel more at ease, since it is less self-conscious and less repressed.


Few are born bold. Even Napoleon had to cultivate the habit on the battlefield, where he knew it was a matter of life and death. In social settings he was awkward and timid, but he overcame this and practiced boldness in every part of his life because he saw its tremendous power, how it could literally enlarge a man (even one who, like Napoleon, was in fact conspicuously small). We also see this change in Ivan the Terrible: A harmless boy suddenly transforms himself into a powerful young man who commands authority, simply by pointing a finger and taking bold action.

You must practice and develop your boldness. You will often find uses for it. The best place to begin is often the delicate world of negotiation, particularly those discussions in which you are asked to set your own price. How often we put ourselves down by asking for too little. When Christopher Columbus proposed that the Spanish court finance his voyage to the Americas, he also made the insanely bold demand that he be called “Grand Admiral of the Ocean.” The court agreed. The price he set was the price he received – he demanded to be treated with respect, and so he was. Henry Kissinger too knew that in negotiation, bold demands work better than starting off with piecemeal concessions and trying to meet the other person halfway. Set your value high, and then, as Count Lustig did, set it higher.

Understand: If boldness is not natural, neither is timidity. It is an acquired habit, picked up out of a desire to avoid conflict. If timidity has taken hold of you, then, root it out. Your fears of the consequences of a bold action are way out of proportion to reality, and in fact the consequences of timidity are worse. Your value is lowered and you create a self-fulfilling cycle of doubt and disaster.

Remember: The problems created by an audacious move can be disguised, even remedied, by more and greater audacity.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

The superhuman habits of John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest man in American history

Do you know of John D. Rockefeller? The richest guy in American history. Founder of the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University. Adjusted for inflation, his net worth today would surpass $300B. That’s equal to the combined net worth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett…times two.

Rockefeller led a remarkable habit driven life. The below excerpt describes Rockefeller’s daily schedule. Keep in mind – this is the schedule Rockefeller followed after he retired!

Rising at 6AM, he read the newspaper for an hour, then strolled through house and garden from 7 to 8, giving a dime to each new employee and a nickel to each veteran. He then breakfasted at 8, followed at 8:45 by a game of numerica (a puzzle game), which gave him time to digest his food properly (he was strict about relaxing after eating to let his food digest). From 9:15 to 10:15 he worked on his correspondence, mostly devoted to his philanthropy and investments. (As many as 2,000 letters arrived daily at his home, most of them solicitations for money.) From 10:15 to 12 he golfed, from 12:15 to 1PM he bathed and then rested. Then came lunch and another round of numerica from 1 to 2:30. From 2:30 to 3 he reclined on the sofa and had mail read to him; from 3:15 to 5:15 he motored, from 5:30 to 6:30 he again rested, while 7 to 9 was given over to a formal dinner, followed by more rounds of numerica. From 9 to 10 he listened to music and chatted with guests, then slept from 10:30 PM to 6 AM -and then the whole merry-go-round started up again. He did not deviate from this routine by one iota, regardless of the weather. One friend who observed this rhythm at close range found “something bordering on the superhuman, perhaps the inhuman – in this unbroken, mathematically perfect schedule. It was uncanny.” – Dane Maxwell

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

It’s not about willpower. It’s about habit

Forget about willpower. Stop worrying and wishing you had more of it.

Focus on habit instead.

We think willpower is a kind of mental money, a powerful yet limited resource that can be spent to aide us in starting and finishing difficult tasks. Tasks like a high intensity workout, an uncharted research project, a tough conversation with a work colleague.

I believe anything that can be done through sheer willpower, can be done more consistently and reliably through the formation of the right habits.

If willpower is like building a new house through sweat and tears and aches, then habit is like hiring and overseeing a contractor who specializes in home construction.

Habit, in other words, takes our same machinery – mental and physical – and applies it with less energy and more efficiency to achieve the same outcome. Or better.

But that’s not to say habit is a panacea. It doesn’t cure-all. To build the right routines, you need time and patience.

Willpower, on the other hand, offers immediate gratification. Spend some willpower and you can – right now – finish reading that tough academic paper. But what about tomorrow? And the next day?

That’s why habit beats willpower. Develop the right habit, and you can digest academic papers day after day, week after week. Over time, you might even come to enjoy them :)

Habit simplifies the movements required to achieve a given result, makes them more accurate and diminishes fatigue. – William James

Let’s look at former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink [Wikipedia]. He’s the current rage in early adopter circles.

We think Jocko is gritty as hell. We believe he has a giant vault of willpower. That he can accomplish whatever he sets his mind to, never wimps on any challenge.

I totally agree.

But instead of wishing you had Jocko’s willpower and grit and discipline, you should want his HABITS.

Put simply, Jocko has incredible habits. For decades, he built habits of hard work, consistency, and order. Each repetition and routine. Every trial. They were small rocks that steadily accumulated into a mountain of self-control. That’s the willpower we think we see today. What it really is, however, is a habit driven life.

Young Jocko probably didn’t start like this. But day by day, experience by experience, he forged those habits. And they are what makes him capable of the accomplishments we find so awesomely gritty: his decades of elite US military service, the black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, his leadership qualities and communication style.

When you’re faced with a challenge, stop wanting more willpower. Instead, focus on the task before you. Ask yourself, What’s the action that’s required of me? How do I break that action into small chunks? Then how can I turn those chunks into habit that can be repeated over and over?

We’ll cover how to build habits in future chapters. For now, just remember:

Willpower is vague. Habit is specific.

Willpower is art, and habit is a science.

Habit beats willpower, every time.

*This is a selection from a book I’m writing on how to build habits and lead a habit driven life.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Passion is a reboot of the happiness myth

Our generation-spanning experiment with passion-centric career planning can be deemed a failure: The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it. […] There’s little evidence that most people have pre-existing passions waiting to be discovered, and believing that there’s a magical right job lurking out there can often lead to chronic unhappiness and confusion.. – Cal Newport

Are you obsessed with identifying your passion? Are you worried you might not have one? Are you frustrated because each time you find a passion, it seems to slip away?

Passion is to your career as happiness is to your personal life. Chasing happiness feels good in the short term, but it can derail your life plans. Pursuing a passion in your career can do the same to your professional development.

Passion is like a reboot of the happiness myth. If happiness is original Coke, then passion is New Coke. And like New Coke, it tastes kinda crappy and will end in failure.

Like happiness, passion is an emotion. And an emotion works a lot like a drug.

Like happiness, passion is capricious. It comes and goes as IT pleases, not as YOU please.

Like happiness, passion is never fulfilled. The more you indulge in it, the stronger your craving, the higher your expectation.

Have you watched the Fast and Furious movies? In particular the first one (the best one).

Remember nos? Pronounced like the first syllable in “nozzle”. Nos is like a turbo button for a race car. It is a chemical that gives a quick surge of acceleration. But you have only a limited amount for use in each race. Use it at the right moment, and you’ll zoom past your opponent and win. Use nos at the wrong moment, or use too much of it at one time, and you’ll not only lose the race, but you might lose control of your car and crash. At least, this is what I learned watching Fast and Furious :)

Well, happiness and passion are like nos. They’re powerful, sexy, and tempting. They give you a brief but exhilarating boost.

But they’re temporary. You wish you could use them all the time, but they only come in limited supply. They’re hard to control. And costly. Like nos, you can’t rely on them to drive you to your destination, your dream.

You must rely on fuel instead. Fuel is stable, reliable, and consistent. Fuel gets you where you want to go.

And – here’s the punchline – if happiness and passion are nos, then HABITS are fuel.

A habit driven person employs emotion like Dom Toretto uses nos: only when absolutely necessary, and only to win.

You can still use nos. Passion and happiness are powerful. Passion can get you so excited to write a song that you’ll literally race to your desk and begin composing a melody on staff paper. But tomorrow you’ll wake up, groggy and irritable, and you’ll ignore that staff paper. You’ll think, I was so passionate about writing yesterday, I’ll wait for the feeling to come back. But she won’t return. Those notes will collect dust.

Rely on habit instead. Habit is emotion’s nemesis. Habit beats emotion nine times out of ten because he always shows up. He chugs along. He makes progress day after day, rep after rep.

Habit is the unsexy turtle. It will always outrun the fickle hare.

The person chasing happiness and passion will WANT to make yoga class in the evening. Really. But if her daily habit is to return home after work, plop down on the oversized leather couch, and eat fig newtons while watching reality TV…it’s just not gonna happen. Doesn’t matter how passionate she is about yoga. Her habit will take over. There’s another class tomorrow…work will be lighter tomorrow, she’ll tell herself.

The habit driven person also returns home after a long day, tired and stressed. But she’s gone to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a month. She knows the regulars. The trainers nod and wink. With the pain and sweat and hours she’s invested, she’s lost ten pounds. You can see definition in her arms. Her gym shoes and workout bag are by the door, ready to go.

Guess what she’s gonna do?

PS. I’m writing on the habit driven life. Thanks for reading!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.