Friday, July 13, 2012

AJ and Alex TONIGHT at Opening Bell Coffee in Dallas!

AJ and I will be playing an acoustic set at 9 PM tonight at Opening Bell Coffee!  We have worked up some new cover songs for this gig and will be playing some freshly written original material in addition to some tracks off of the record!  Oh, and some audience participation may be required, so come prepared to sing along!

NEVERBLU takes the stage right before us at 8 PM, so come out then to kick off what should be a great evening of live music!  I hope to see you there.
Click the link for directions and parking information.
Opening Bell Coffee- Directions

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Brief Update

It has been far too long since my last blog post.  So much has happened in the past three months!

Here is a list of what has happened:

- Performed at the House of Blues in LA with my "School of Rock" 5th grade guitar class
- Performed my Master's Recital
- Broke my right hand and sustained some other injuries in an epic bike accident days after my recital
- Graduated from USC
- Moved out of my apartment and into a storage unit
- Secured several job positions making it possible to return to LA in the Fall
- Drove back to Dallas from LA in 24 hours in order to make my flight to London
- Went to the UK for two weeks in order to visit family
- Went on tour with AJ Adams and played a gig in Boston

My plan is to write additional posts further detailing some of these endeavors, but life can be so busy sometimes.  I have several gigs with the AJ Adams Band lined up for July and August- I will post dates as the gigs get closer.

In August, I will return to LA where I will continue teaching private lessons and working for Mobius Music Group.  In addition to these jobs, I will also be starting an internship with Remote Control Productions in Santa Monica.  These jobs should keep me busy and I am so thankful for all of the opportunities that have come my way. 

I am very thankful for all of my friends and family who continue to support me on life's journey.  Thank you for reading!  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Beach

This photo, taken by Sean Davey, is one of the most beautiful images I have ever seen.  It is a picture of simplicity.  Beautiful simplicity.

Taken somewhere on a deserted beach in northern New Zealand, this picture captures the vast color palette of a Southern Hemisphere sunset.  The water serves as a perfect reflector, capturing every detail of the sky in mirror form.  But the first thing that catches the eye is the lone vehicle.  I like to think that it belongs to the photographer.  After a long day of surfing, he stayed until the end in order to witness this magnificent sunset.  

When it comes to photography, I have always enjoyed looking at pictures of sunsets, beaches, and cars; this photo contains all three.  I believe that everyone needs to have a vivid image or "happy place" stored in their memory.  That way, when life gets tough, you can be transported to a far away place, if only for a short time. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"The Tool Works at Both Ends"

This is another great article from The Art of Manliness.  It is so true that we, as a society, are becoming more dependent on technology and less dependent on the most basic of motor skills.  I really encourage you to read this article and consider how you can perform "Mental CrossFit" everyday!

"The Tool Works at Both Ends"

From chipping out spearheads in primitive times to modern day tinkering with computer chips, men have always been very connected to their tools. For thousands of years tools have magnified and extended our natural abilities, allowing us to gain power and control over nature and our circumstances and better fulfill our roles as providers and protectors. Tools enable us to mold and shape things in our external environment for our use and benefit.  And that is what we typically focus on when it comes to tools: what does this tool allow me to do?  But something else you need to think about is this: what is this tool doing to me?  You may have heard that tools are neutral things. And this is true in one aspect; for example, you can use a hammer to drive in a nail…or to bash in someone’s head. But tools are absolutely not neutral in the fact that the tools you choose to use and how you use them not only change things externally but mold you internally. The Jesuit priest and media scholar John Culkin put it this way: “We shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us.” Or as Darren’s blacksmith friends say, “The tool works at both ends.

The way in which you use your tools creates real biological and neurological changes in your brain, which fundamentally alters who you are.

This Is Your Brain on Tools

Scientists used to think that when we were young, our brains were pliable and easily shaped, but that after adolescence, they set and hardened like concrete. But modern technology, which has given researchers an unprecedented look at what goes on inside the brain, has completely flipped that theory. It turns out our brains are very “plastic,” and this is true not only in youth, but throughout our lives. Our brains are constantly being reshaped and rewired every day by our experiences, thoughts, and actions.  And also by the tools we use.  Examples of how our brains change in accordance with the tools we use are fascinating:

When MRI’s were done on violinists, it was found that the part of their cerebral cortices that corresponded with the fingers of their left hands (the digits they use to finger the strings of their instruments) were bigger than in the brains of non-musicians. But in both groups the area that represents the fingers of the right hand were the same size.

When the brains of London taxi drivers were studied, they were found to have larger posterior hippocampi, the part of the brain responsible for processing and integrating spatial representations of one’s surroundings. This area of the brain stores our mental maps—a key tool for cabbies who need to navigate their way around the city. The study also found that the posterior hippocampus grew bigger the longer the cabbie had been on the job.

The brains of the literate and illiterate have been shown to handle interhemispheric processing differently. When a person becomes literate, the organization of their brains’ cognitive activity changes, and the corpus callosum becomes thicker.

In a study with preschool children, one group of children practiced learning their letters by writing them, while another group practiced by seeing and saying the letters. A month later, the children’s brains were scanned with a MRI machine, which showed that those who had practiced writing the letters had neural activity that was greater and more adult-like than the children who had said the letters aloud.

Internet use activates a specific part of the prefontal cortex of the brain. When people who are new to the internet are introduced to it, this part of their brains does not show any activity. But after using the internet for only one hour a day for five days, they show as much activity in this area of the brain as veteran internet users do. Brain rewiring takes place in less than a week.

Tool Tradeoffs

So in the case of your brain, the tool truly does work at both ends. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it’s both. As psychologist Patricia Greenfield puts it, “Every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Regular use of one kind of tool will strengthen some areas of the brain while weakening the areas that don’t get exercised; our brains operate on the “use it or lose it” principle.

For example, the study done with the taxi drivers found that while their posterior hippocampi were larger than the average person’s, their anterior hippocampi were smaller; the area for spatial memory had crowded out the area for other kinds of memory, and follow-up tests showed that tasks involving non-spatial memory were more difficult for the cabbies to do.

These kinds of mental tradeoffs occur with all tools that we use. Surfing the net can strengthen areas of the brain that deal with things like hand-eye coordination, reflex response, and the processing of visual cues. It may also build our visual-spatial skills (increasing our ability to do things like rotate an object in our minds) and our working memory. But at the same time it may, some scientists like Greenfield argue, “weaken the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

The problem these days is that we’re using fewer and fewer tools in our lives. We once had a bunch of specialized tools for all the different aspects of life: paper and pencils, calendars, maps, books, hammers, saws, telephones, radios… Now we have one all-purpose tool: the computer.
And that’s making for some lopsided brains.

Enroll Your Brain in Mental CrossFit

Have you ever seen a dude that concentrated on building up his upper body but never did any lower body exercises? The result was a beefy, well-sculpted torso, along with a pair of disproportionate chicken legs.  Because of our reliance on computers, we’re developing some chicken-legged brains. We’re using some parts of our brains a ton, but letting other areas atrophy and fall into disuse.  And this matters.  One, because our technology may not always be around. Break your GPS, and you’ll still need to be able to read a real map and utilize your “mental maps.” Will your hippocampus be up to the task?  And two, there are still a lot of areas of our lives that require parts of our brains that are not activated by the internet.

It was the fascinating (if in my opinion a little too pessimistic) book, The Shallows, that got me thinking about this subject. The author, Nicholas Carr, writes many pages on the powerful effect technology has on our brains and our thinking. But it was this short little observation from his own life that stuck with me the most, because it hit so close to home:
My mind…[is] changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I feel it most strongly when I’m reading. I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or a lengthy article. My mind would get caught up in the twists of the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration starts to drift after a page or two. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel like I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
How many of us could say the same thing about our own minds? And this inability to focus affects not only how we read; while we have come to expect all areas of our lives to function like the internet by giving us short, constantly changing little bursts of information, many areas of our life stubbornly continue to function in the slow, linear fashion that they have for hundreds of years. Going camping, sitting through a church service or a college class, giving someone our full attention during a conversation…if the only tool we’ve been using is the computer, the chicken legs of our brain easily give out during the “strain” of such activities. Everything outside the net feels a lot more boring than it used to. But there are some experiences in life you don’t want to scan and skim your way through, but would rather completely lose yourself in. So how do you maintain the ability to truly immerse yourself in life?

The answer is not to cut off your internet and throw your computer out the window, but instead to enroll your brain in “Mental CrossFit.” You’ve probably heard of CrossFit by now. It is a fitness program governed by this simple mission statement:
The aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness. We have sought to build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable. After looking at all sport and physical tasks collectively, we asked what physical skills and adaptations would most universally lend themselves to performance advantage. Capacity culled from the intersection of all sports demands would quite logically lend itself well to all sport. In sum, our specialty is not specializing.
This philosophy not only works for your physical body, but for your mental capacity as well. In your daily life you should seek to “punish the specialist” by building up all parts your mind and preparing it for anything and everything by using a wide range of tools, not just the computer. You want as many areas of your brain to be as fit and game as possible.
Some of the ways you can do that are:
While you tone up your brain by using a wide variety of tools in your life, you also strengthen your man spirit and your character. Scientists can’t prove this of course (although some have theorized that internet use leads to a decline in social skills like empathy), but you have surely felt it in your own life. Writing an email feels very different than writing a letter by hand. An hour spent surfing the net feels very different from an hour spent whittling on the porch. When we confine ourselves to only one tool, we shut down avenues of our spirit, as Carr describes so well:
 In Understanding Media, McLuhan wrote that our tools end up “numbing” whatever part of our body they “amplify.” When we extend some part of ourselves artificially, we also distance ourselves from the amplified part and its natural functions. When the power loom was invented, a weaver could manufacture far more cloth during the course of a workday than they’d been able to make by hand, but they sacrificed some of the manual dexterity, not to mention some of their “feel” for the fabric. Their fingers, in McLuhan’s terms, became numb. Farmers, similarly, lost some of their feel for the soil when they began using mechanical harrows and plows. Today’s industrial farm worker, sitting in his air-conditioned cage atop a gargantuan tractor, rarely touches the soil at all—though in a single day he can till a field that his hoe-wielding forebearer could not have turned in a month. When we’re behind the wheel of our car, we can go a far greater distance than we could cover on foot, but we lose the walker’s intimate connection to the land.
For millenia, tools have helped us live our lives more fully, and it is wise to pick up and master the new ones that are developed. But it is up to us to continue to use tools consciously and carefully, in order that they may allow us to be more, and not less, alive.

The Shallows By Nicholas Carr

Monday, March 26, 2012

New Music Discovery: Imagine Dragons

The history of popular music is littered with countless examples of the indie rock band, slaving away at the local level and finding mainstream success only after spending several years as "unknown or undiscovered."  Bon Iver, formed in 2007, just won Best New Artist at the 2012 GRAMMY Awards.  Kings of Leon is an even better example, having been a band since 1999.  They eventually experienced major commercial success in 2007 with the release of their single "On Call."  The point being: it takes several years to really "make it" in the music industry.

Listening to 106.7 KROQ (LA's alt. rock station) and driving back to my apartment in Culver City last week, I heard something that really caught my ear.  The music was new and the band relatively unknown.  After some research, I found out more information about the song and the band that I was discovering for the first time.

Imagine Dragons was formed in Las Vegas in 2008 and began capturing local attention almost immediately.  After releasing two EPs, Imagine Dragons became "Las Vegas' Newest Must See Live Act" and "Best Local Indie Band 2010."  Despite this initial success and early touring efforts, they did not experience mainstream success until the release of their first major label EP entitled Continued Silence.  Released on Valentine's Day of this year, this EP is far and away the most exciting new music that I have heard since Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto.

The lead single on Continued Silence, "It's Time", is the song that I heard on the radio.  The track commences with a thundering drum rhythm united with hand-claps that gives way to the song's first hook, a simple melody played on mandolin with piano accompaniment.  The sound is both pure and raw.  The song unfolds in layers as the vocals of Dan Reynolds roar above the building accompaniment.  The first chorus further increases the intensity by adding synthesizer and a more pronounced piano melody.  The wails of an E-bow coat the following verse and bridge adding to the tonal palette.  The closing two choruses provide glimpses into the song-writing prowess of Imagine Dragons.  The entire song is perfectly paced and has a fresh quality in the realm of the pop song. I have no doubt that this band will be huge one day.  Probably very soon.

The rest of the tracks on Continued Silence are brilliant as well.  The album contains several dance-worthy tracks that incorporate hip-hop beats into a rock and roll setting.  If I had to compare Imagine Dragons to some bands, I would say that they are similar to Temper Trap, U2, Coldplay, and Snow Patrol.  The guitars are loud, the rhythm section is powerful, and the vocals howl with intensity and world-weary swagger.  Imagine Dragons have served their time on the local scene.  Now it is time to bring their music to the world.  Keep your eyes and ears open for these guys because they are on the rise.  Please give these guys a listen.  I promise that you won't be disappointed.



Spring Break 2012- Friends and Family

I cannot believe that it has already been a week since I was in Texas!  Time is really flying by and I am becoming aware of how quickly graduation is approaching.  Two weeks ago, I started my Spring Break with the knowledge that it could very well be my last (that sounded more morbid than intended- what I mean is that Spring Breaks are traditionally celebrated by students or those in the education field and I may never have an official Spring Break again).  In that spirit, I vowed to make it a memorable one.  It certainly was.

I landed in Dallas late Thursday night (3/8) at 10 PM.  Julie picked me up from the airport and took me home.  We took a little detour due to the poorly signed D/FW airport construction site, which is starting to resemble a large meteor crater.  After finally making it home, we spent some time with my parents and talked for a while.  Julie went home and then I stayed up late reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (my plan is to write reviews for each book in the trilogy).  Friday, I spent some time helping my dad look for jobs and we actually found a few that fit me.  It was nice to spend time with him as he was scheduled to travel the following week.  That evening Julie and I watched 50/50.  This is a fantastic film and I highly recommend it!  It takes the audience on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and is a truly "human" film.

On Saturday, I met my good friend Daniel for lunch and was able to catch up with him and hear about his life.  Daniel is a friend from my home church and I have known him for over ten years.  We always enjoy grabbing food and catching up whenever I am back in town.  After lunch, I had to drive home (rather quickly) and change into my suit for the wedding double header taking place that afternoon and evening.  Julie came to pick me up and we drove to Fort Worth in the pouring rain (which had started while I was at lunch).  The first wedding took place in the chapel at the NAS Joint Reserve Base.  The bride was a college friend of Julie's, so there were plenty of Horned Frogs in the building!  It was a really nice ceremony and reception!  The only problem was that we had to leave the reception early in order to make it to the second wedding ceremony in time.  We left the base with about 45 minutes to make it to the next location (the chapel on TCU's campus).  The rain was really coming down at this point, but we made it across town with plenty of time.  The bride for this second wedding went to high school with Julie and I.  Julie actually went to elementary school with her as well!  It was another beautiful ceremony and reception and good times were had by all.  The rain persisted until we left the reception at around 10:45 PM.  The only downside to this evening was the fact that the clocks sprung forward, robbing us of one hour of sleep.

Sunday morning came rather quickly, but it was wonderful to be back at my home church, Metrocrest Presbyterian.  I played guitar, my Mum played keys,  and my Dad played bass.  Playing in the "family band" is always a blast!  After church, Julie and I came back to find Brother Bear at the doorstep!!  He returned from Waco after having played at the Big 12 tournament.  We all enjoyed a nice lunch together and then Julie and I met up with Steve and Albert (two friends from high school) for Bubble tea.  I always enjoy hanging out with old friends.  For a few hours, it seems as though we have accessed time travel by taking a trip down memory lane.  Reminiscing about the past is something that I love doing and this afternoon brought forth strong feelings of nostalgia.  I hope to be 50 years old and still in touch with high school friends (I have actually known Steve and Albert since Middle School).

Julie and I then planned our discussion for that evening's Bible study.  That night, we had a great discussion of the Believer's Prayer in Acts.  Another thing that I love is small group Bible study.  It is so encouraging to hear how people are being used by God!  It was another fantastic night.

Monday was a rather chill day that consisted of practice and hanging out with my brother.  My brother and I are very close, so we really took advantage of the fact that we had the same spring break.  We went running, watched a fair amount of NCAA college basketball and American Dad!, went to several sporting good's stores, and ate amazing home cooked meals (this isn't the grand total of our activities, but these were certainly the highlights).  Monday night found Julie working late, so I got a chance to hang out with the family.

On Tuesday, I slept in for a while and then finally rolled out of bed so that I could hang with another old friend, Parth.  He had just put the finishing touches on a wicked custom-built guitar made out of a cigar box, so we spent the afternoon playing with it.  After hanging out with Parth, I went back to Coppell to have a belated celebration of my Dad's birthday.  Julie came over and my Mum made a really excellent curry (traditional British fare).  We ate cake and did the whole birthday thing as a family.  Another great evening was had by all.  If you didn't already know this, I love my family.

Yes... those are my legs and my new shoes!
Wednesday was another restful day.  My dad left early in the morning for New York, so we got up and sent him off before going back to bed for a few more hours.  In the late morning, my brother drove me to Dick's Sporting Goods in Dallas, so that I could pick up a pair of Asics running shoes.  I wanted to get new shoes and break them in before the 5K on Saturday (more on that later).  Wednesday afternoon was spent in peace.  Willy and I went to the track and I broke in the new shoes with some sprints, and then spent the rest of the afternoon lounging.  Wednesday night= time with Julie.  Julie needed to get some things at the grocery store for her work event on Thursday, so I came along and kept her company.  After that, we watched I Love You, Man for quite possibly the 100th time.  Sadly, or perhaps not, it never gets old.  That's the sign of a great movie.

The Downtown Canadian- Brady Heslip
Thursday brought on more hanging out with Parth.  We drove around Coppell and Flower Mound, eventually finding a place where we could hit a few golf balls.  Neither of us possess stellar golf abilities, but we hit pretty far.  It's actually a great past time because it's a relatively passive sport.  We talked about the future and enjoyed the great weather.  After that, we went to Home Depot to check out more materials for the next cigar box guitar.  Thursday night, one of my Mum's old work friends came over for dinner.  He is a teacher/coach at CMS North and it is always great to catch up with him.  We always end up talking about LA because he is a huge Lakers' fan.  The entire evening was capped off with a great Baylor victory over South Dakota State.  Later that night, I decided to get out the Xbox (I blame nostalgia) and Willy and I enjoyed playing again.  We are not gamers now, but it is fun to remember how much time we wasted playing that thing in our youth.

Swift Meat Packing Plant- Ft. Worth
Julie and the Horned Frog
On Friday, I slept in yet again and then went down to Mansfield to pick up the race packets for Saturday's race.  Willy and I didn't realize how far south Mansfield was and the entire round trip took an hour and a half!  We got back and then ate lunch really quickly so that I could go hang out with Julie.  She took a half day off of work, so that we could spent the entire afternoon together.  It was great!  We went to see This Means War and we loved it.  It was very funny!  I don't entirely understand the negative reviews.  It doesn't have the best plot, but it is still entertaining.  I think that critics sometimes overlook beautiful simplicity.  After the movie, Julie helped me pick out some new shoes as my old ones actually fell apart in a shoe store!!  She has great taste and found me some really nice shoes.  Following the shoe shopping, we met her family for dinner at Red, Hot and Blue.  I love barbecue and this place delivered in a big way.  After dinner, Julie and I decided to be spontaneous.... we drove to Fort Worth!  We drove around the stockyards and went to look at the Swift Meat Packing Plant.  It is an old abandoned building that is apparently haunted.  It was also used as a set in the show Prison Break.  Julie and I love scary things and this place certainly looked the part.  After our brief driving tour, we went to Sweet Sammie's for ice cream and then we drove to TCU.  We spent the evening walking around the gorgeous campus.  The lights were lit up at Frog Fountain and spent some time looking at the buildings Julie used to frequent as a student.  I couldn't help feeling nostalgic and I didn't even go to TCU.

Frog Fountain

Saturday morning was spent fueling up for the afternoon's 5K.  The race was called the Pickle Palooza and it was enjoying its debut as an official race.  Everyone was wearing green and the atmosphere was really fun.  Willy and I decided that we would try to stick together as much as possible.  With the sounds of Run DMC blasting from the event speakers, we approached the starting line to get into ready position.  The horn sounded, starting the race, and we were off!  There was a large crowd to wade through at the beginning, but it started to thin after the first quarter mile and Willy and I settled into a rather quick pace.  We picked off runners one at a time and managed to hold 10th and 11th position for a while.  Even though the pace was fast, we were feeling pretty good as we ran downhill with the wind at our backs.  The hill turned into a winding trail that ended at a turnaround point where a water station was positioned.  At this point, I was feeling exhausted, but we decided to keep up the fast tempo.  As we made our way back through the winding paths of the course, we encountered our first problem- an onslaught of about 500 runners heading straight for us.  We managed to weave through the crowd and came out of the trail feeling fully drained.  And that's when the fun run became a pain run.  As we turned the corner to begin the long hill climb, we realized that the wind would no longer be behind us.  The wind beat down upon us with furious gales that didn't dissipate.  It took all of my strength to keep moving.  I eventually told Willy to press on as he was looking strong.  I ended up stopping for about 15 seconds to catch my breath as I was physically spent with about a half mile to go.  After regaining some strength, I willed my legs to move forward.  As I rounded the last turn, I gave one final sprint to the finish, glancing at the clock to see if I had reached my goal.  I had wanted to run around 22-23 minutes and Willy and I had wanted to come in 1st and 2nd place in our age division.  Well...

I ran a 22:18 (7:11/mile split) and finished 2nd in my age division (19-24 yrs. old) and 9th overall.  Willy ran a 21:35 and finished 1st in our age division and 6th overall.  Mum ran an excellent 34 minute 5K and finished 8th in her age division.  These results were nearly identical to last year's Bearathon results!  It was great to get outside and compete with my family.  Hopefully Dad can come to the next one!

Saturday afternoon was spent in recovery.  After some relaxation, I went to the mall with Julie in order to help her pick out a bathing suit.  I thought it only fair since she helped me find shoes.  After some shopping and several successful purchases, we went back to my house for dinner.  My Mum made fish 'n chips and it was superb (I love home cooked food!)  After dinner, Julie and I drove to Allen to spend the evening with Doug (my old roommate) and Parth.  We had fun celebrating St. Patrick's Day by playing cards and drinking Smithwick's.  Another evening spent in great company.

Sunday morning came and brought forth another much needed worship service.  I was able to lead the singing which is something that I always love doing.  After church, Julie and I ate lunch at my house before falling asleep on my couch.  I was mostly packed at this point (and by mostly packed I mean that my suitcase was empty).  I packed my stuff while Julie slept and then I fit in one last go on my Rugby Xbox game.  After that, I had a cup of tea (PG Tips) and then got ready to head to the airport.  I sat at my gate, watching NCAA basketball on the TV and thinking about the next time that I would be home.

These trips back home are reminders of how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life (if you have read this far, then I include you in this sentiment).  Whilst many of my contemporaries jet-set off to the beaches of Florida or some of the "world's greatest cities," I choose to come home.  Not because I have to, but because I want to.  Seeing my family, Julie, and my friends reminds me of what is really important in life.  Sure, going to the beach is great, but the beach doesn't love you back or laugh with you.  The greatest food in the best cities can never live up to the feeling of eating a home-cooked meal (that's right, feeling- home cooked food doesn't just taste better).

Our most basic instinct is not for survival but for family. Most of us would give our own life for the survival of a family member, yet we lead our daily life too often as if we take our family for granted. -Paul Pearshall

Living away from home has taught me many things, but the greatest thing that I have learned out here is the importance of family and friends.  Everything else in the world can seem wrong and yet your loved ones will always be there for you.  I will never take them for granted.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Four Basic Life Lessons from Basic Training" by Mike Inscho

I follow a blog entitled The Art of Manliness and this was posted a couple of days ago by an enlisted Army officer by the name of Mike Inscho.  I really appreciate his application of skills learned in basic training to "real world" situations.  Enjoy!

As an enlisted member of the Army, and now an Officer, I’ve gone through what was essentially two separate stints at basic training. The first as enlisted and the second as an Officer. During the training, it’s difficult to see the lifelong lessons being drilled into you. Now, however, years after finishing, it’s easier to put a finger on those lessons and apply them to everyday life.

1. If You Can’t Carry It, Wear It, or Shoot It, Leave It Behind

When I would travel in high school, my bags were packed with everything that I might need in an encounter. It might get cold…throw in a few hoodies. What about rain? Take the rain jacket. Doing laundry sucks…I’d better take 3 pairs of underwear and socks for every day I’m going to be away just in case. Seven days in the Carolinas required the same amount of baggage as moving to a new house.
Drill Sergeant, in his infinite wisdom, was about to teach me a more efficient way to pack my bags.
One day we were told we were doing a ruck march the next day and were handed a packing list. This packing list was mandatory, and everything on it had to be packed in our ruck sacks or worn on us.
“The stuff on the packing list is more than my ruck sack can hold…how am I supposed to bring the extra gear I might need?!”
After that first ruck march with 10 days worth of gear and change of clothes, my ideas about packing changed drastically.  If it wasn’t 100%, absolutely crucial to my survival, it wasn’t packed.  A uniform, two or three changes of undergarments, a poncho, and some bungee cords were all we used, and therefore, were all we needed. Twelve undershirts is unnecessary when you’re only gone for ten days.  Nobody cares what you smell like and that same space could be used for food or ammunition.

How to Apply This Lesson to Everyday Life
Do you need a walk-in closet full of dress shirts if your job requires a hard hat and a tool belt? Do you need six different methods of making coffee when you end up just stopping by a coffee shop anyways?  
Take an inventory of everything you use, and donate or sell everything that hasn’t been useful in the last four months. How do you decide what stays and what goes? Do what I do. Twice a year, turn everything you own backwards. When you look in the dresser drawer, you’ll see the backs of your shirts; in the cabinet you’ll see the back of the peanut butter jar. Then, when you use an item, turn it back around so it’s facing you.  If you don’t use it, leave it alone. After four months, everything that is still facing away from you is donated or sold…no questions asked.

2. Run, Shoot, Communicate

Every morning we did PT, and every PT session included some sort of running. If we were ever on a real world mission and had to get to the objective, we knew we could run to it.  Next, if we weren’t on a live range, we were practicing basic rifle marksmanship drills. We knew that if we ever got into a real world firefight, these techniques would be second nature and give us the ability to protect ourselves and our teammates.  After that we communicated. Radios, written orders, hand and arm signals…eventually our squad got to the point that our communication was almost telepathic.  Our Drill Sergeant constantly reminded us that all we needed to be a successful Soldier was to be able to run, shoot, and communicate. If you can do those well and your squad can do them well, all of the extra stuff is icing on the cake.

How to Apply This Lesson to Everyday Life
What do you need to do to be a successful husband? Provide care, love, and resources to your family. Nothing else should be your focus until these needs are met.
What about a successful bachelor? Grandfather? Boss?
The type of man you want to be can be simplified to a few basic characteristics that, when done successfully, lead you to success. Prioritize your life and focus on the “need to haves” before you even think about the “nice to haves.”

3. Practice Mindfulness

My second round of basic training granted me a bit more freedom and opportunities outside of training. Still, training was the priority, and one day I found myself back on the range to qualify with my weapon.
“I’ve done this a million times. No sweat…BANG! I wonder what they are serving for dinner tonight…BANG! What about the gym…BANG! Are they even open today…BANG!”
On and on that went for all 40 targets. My mind on the mystery meat that would be served later for dinner. It should have been on the mechanics of marksmanship that were drilled into my mind and body during my first round at basic training.  I finished my ammunition and awaited my score. No doubt it’d be a 28/40…or maybe even a 30/40 because I’d done this a million times, remember?
9. I shot a 9 out of 40. Talk about embarrassing.

How to Apply This Lesson to Everyday Life
Proficiency does not come from one attempt…not even dozens of attempts. To do something well demands your concentration and for you to practice mindfulness, regardless of how many times you’ve done that task before. If whatever you’re doing isn’t important enough to you to demand your full attention…why do it?

4. Outranking Someone Doesn’t Equal Control of Them

One of the Army Values is Respect, and it’s defined as “treat people as they should be treated.” So even if someone outranks you, if he has shown that he can’t keep track of his equipment, you are well within your rights to treat him like someone who can’t keep track of his equipment. Rank does not automatically mean you get to boss around everyone below you.

Case in point, during Officers Basic Training, myself and 39 other brand new Second Lieutenants made up a platoon that was “advised” by a group of Staff Sergeants and a Sergeant First Class. From the standpoint of the military’s hierarchy, we were being led by people we outranked.
This wasn’t an issue until our field exercise. At times like that everyone’s temper is much, much shorter than usual and the easy way out tends to become the trail most taken.  After we came back from a tactics exercise in the woods, someone realized that he had lost an important piece of equipment. Not something important to him, or assigned to him, but something very important to the entire platoon and the responsibility of our Sergeant First Class advisor.  The search for it was half-assed on our part, and the Sergeant First Class decided we needed punishment.  Except we outranked him and he couldn’t punish us the way it’s normally done in the Army (mass amounts of push-ups and other exotic, and exhausting, types of physical training).  The one thing he could do to us, was hold us in formation for as long as he pleased and wherever he pleased. It was late June, in southern Georgia, and our base was made up entirely of low tents and gravel. Obviously the best place for him to keep us in formation for the next hour was out in the open as the temperature rose to 100+…and that’s exactly what he did.

How to Apply This Lesson to Everyday Life
If you’re a manager, or a boss, or a leader of any type, you need to realize that your position doesn’t mean your subordinates have to automatically bend to your every desire. They don’t even have to respect you.
You earn the respect you are given.

Wrapping Up

These four basic life lessons are nowhere near a complete guide to being a man. They are, however, things you commonly see many men pay no attention to. Practice these lessons daily, one at a time until each one is mastered, and I’m willing to bet you’ll see all parts of your life from a new perspective, and find yourself closer to winning the battle that every man fights–whether soldier or civilian–of becoming the man you want to be.