All posts by bearjohal


THREE Ways to Increase Performance Now

This post is inspired by my most recent read, an excellent and concise book on our most vital organ, the brain. Brain Rules by John Medina is a guide to understanding your brain and striving towards using it better in work, school, and life; based on a set of 12 principles:

  1. Survival
  2. Exercise
  3. Sleep
  4. Stress
  5. Wiring
  6. Attention
  7. Memory
  8. Sensory Integration
  9. Vision
  10. Music
  11. Gender
  12. Exploration

Although every rule is worth delving into, I would like to share my three biggest takeaways. Having put these into practice myself, I can attest to these tips, which will almost certainly increase your performance immediately.

1. EXERCISE – make time to get active!

In my opinion the most salient of Medina’s Brain Rules: Exercise Boosts Brain Power.

The science is sound, thousands of published and peer reviewed studies all supporting the claim. Proteins called BDNF are created during exercise and essentially supercharge your brain–who doesn’t want that?

FACT: Exercise aids ALL areas of Executive Function

  • concentration
  • impulse control
  • foresight
  • problem solving

I’m fortunate enough to be able to exercise during my lunchbreak, the mid-day pump provides me with an excellent boost to power through the afternoon. Making time whenever you can to get moving daily will pay dividends, whether it’s a morning jog,  evening sports, a standing desk–or all of the above.


2. SLEEP – proper sleep schedule and the magic of naps

We all know sleep is important, but it is still incredibly unknown in the grand scheme of things. As Medina points out; despite centuries of research, we still do not conclusively know why we do it.

We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping and studies show that the time isn’t so much for recovery, as most people assume, but rather to review events from the day and imprint them onto our memory.  This new research makes the concept of pulling an all-nighter before a big exam rather counter-intuitive. Get those 8 hours in every night.

FACT: A 26-minute nap improved a pilot’s performance by more than 34% (NASA Study)

The findings behind the effectiveness of naps are staggering; there literally isn’t a stimulant on the market that can come close to boosting cognitive performance by 34%. Unfortunately, most companies aren’t quite ready to let employees nap for 20 minutes at 2:00pm, despite the proven benefits in productivity. If you can’t nap in a bed, try finding a quiet space like a car or boardroom and laying back for 20 minutes. Your brain wants to nap, so it’s better to embrace the lethargy than continually fight it, it will reward you with increased performance.

Also, check out this article coffee naps which are taking the silicon valley by storm.


3. Attention – multi-tasking is a myth

Your brain is not capable of multi-tasking, you are literally switching between tasks and in doing so, depleting brain power and reducing productivity. Medina presents several case studies pointing to the same conclusion: you will be more productive by setting 10 minutes of focused time on a task, then you will by multi-tasking on that task for an hour. Use this to your advantage; there are plentiful programs (like TimeDoser for Chrome) which will allot work time and break time, allowing you to dedicate your focus to one task.
Hint: try spurts of going offline to get things done!

FACT: Our attention span is 10-minutes

This is extremely relevant for professors, instructors, or anyone giving a presentation. Simply put, you need to do something emotionally relevant every 10 minutes to maintain your audiences attention. Yes, it is more work, but it’s far better than speaking for an hour and only having the introduction remembered.

We don’t pay attention to boring things–we pay attention to things like emotions, threats, and sex.


A nice infographic (check out for more information):



The Books of 2014

First and foremost, a massive thank-you goes out to all the friends who continually provide recommendations of books to read; this past year’s reading list in entirely composed of either your suggestions, or recommendations from other bloggers. The main reason for this post is to pass these books on, there’s not a single one I do not endorse as a fantastic read.

For the year of 2014 I set the goal of reading 25 books (5 more than 2013’s 20) and, thanks to a 6 hour binge on the 31st of December, was able to polish off number 25. Here is the complete list, in chronological order, with the top FIVE life-changing reads highlighted at the end.

  1. Andre Agassi – Open
  2. Jordan Belfort – The Wolf of Wall Street
  3. Christopher MacDougall – Born to Run
  4. David Shenk – The Genius in All of Us
  5. Piers Paul Read – Alive
  6. Joe Simpson – Touching the Void
  7. Josh Waitzken – The Art of Learning
  8. Richard Bach – Illusions
  9. Gregory David Roberts – Shantaram
  10. Josh Kaufman – The Personal MBA
  11. Jeremy Roenick – J.R.
  12. Tom Wrath – Strengths Finder 2.0
  13. Gary Vaynerchuk – Crush It!
  14. Jon Krakauer – Into the Wild
  15. Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People
  16. Jordin Tootoo – All The Way
  17. George Samuel Clason – The Richest Man in Babylon
  18. Cal Newport – So Good They Can’t Ignore You
  19. Chris Hadfield – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
  20. David Epstein – The Sports Gene
  21. Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
  22. Malcolm Gladwell – David and Goliath
  23. Malcolm Gladwell – Tipping Point
  24. Viktor E. Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning
  25. James Allen – As a Man Thinketh

The Top FIVE:

5. David Epstein – The Sports Gene


A must read for not only sports fans, but anyone with a curious mind. I know many people enjoyed Born to Run, this book is similar, but with a much stronger scientific base, as well as touches on several aspects of extraordinary athletic performance, not just running. Simply could not put it down, some jaw dropping facts and explanations, organized into neat story-based chapters.


4.  Jordin Tootoo – All The Way


Admittedly, this one’s a little biased, I’m a sucker for both hockey books and, more so,  a thrilling biography. If you’re the same way, you’ll love this book. Tootoo’s story, as the first Inuk-born player (from Rankin Inlet, Nunavat, no less!), is truly one that defies the odds. It’s concise and features commentaries from famed sportswriter Stephen Brunt.


3. Cal Newport – So Good They Can’t Ignore You


I’ve been vehemently recommending this book to all my friends, especially those caught in the mid/late twenties rut. This book is the only one on the list I would deem as ground-breaking, it shatters all the previous conceptions of what a career should be by dispelling the passion principle and instead introducing the craftsman principle. Want to love what you do? Don’t chase your “passion”, instead become VERY good at something through consistent, dedicated practice.

2. Viktor E. Frankl- Man’s Search for Meaning


Ok, I lied, if you want to talk ground-breaking, this book is it. Rightfully in the list of the “Ten Most Influential Books in America,” it was written by Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl during his imprisonment at the Auschwitz concentration camp and published in 1946. The first half is a staggering first-hand account of life in the concentration camp, while the second gives way to “logotherapy,” the type of psychology coined by Frankl, in which he delves into identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about. The odds of an inmate surviving Auschwitz were 1 in 26; those who couldn’t find purpose in their suffering, simply could not summon the strength to survive. The book is concise, but incredible powerful. An absolute must read.

1. Gregory David Roberts – Shantaram


Action, drama, suffering, romance, despair, triumph–pretty much everything you could want out of a book, all loosely based on true events. This book is often hyped, but never underwhelming, although it did take me a few years to get through, as it’s a little slow at the beginning. Once you’re into it, be warned, you’re entranced. Roberts’ writing style really tugs at your heart strings and imagination, taking you on a truly wild ride.


Episode 4: Nicaragua

The last instalment of 2014 is also the first episode shot outside of Canada. Episode 4 is set in the tropical wonderland of Nicaragua, Central America. A two-week spontaneous trip included travel throughout Granada, Ometepe, San Juan Del Sur, and Popoyo. This country was truly amazing, some of the most beautiful beaches and a completely refreshing outlook on life.



Episode 3: Summer in Beautiful BC

Simply put, the place I call home is my favourite place in the world. British Columbia is a marvel to behold year round, especially coming to fruition in the summer. This year, I strapped on my GoPro for the majority of the adventures, in an effort to remember the good times and share them with the world.


Episode 2: The Yukon

I finally made it up to the Yukon earlier this month to experience the coveted Northern Canadian Summer. I tried to document as much as I could, but frankly, one cannot capture the sublime, quintessential beauty of such a place. I sincerely urge everyone to put this destination near the top of their list. Cheers to the ladies & gents, the Yukon Gold, and the Land of the Midnight Sun!


Vertical Jump

I’ve always loved to jump.

As someone with an inherent fear of heights, cliff jumping or anything of the sort was never my favourite. The ability to propel oneself through the air solely using one’s own body as propulsion, however, has always been far more appealing.

As I grew older, I became better at jumping and as is human nature, once we recognize we are good at something, we take far more enjoyment in practicing it. Box jumps became my favourite lower body workout and now I’m hard pressed to find a box at a gym which really challenges me. Nevertheless, at my 5’9 stature, dunking a basketball seemed like an impossible dream, but a dream nonetheless.

If there’s one driving theme behind Unlocking Human Potential, it is dreams and the rejection of any doubt that may surround them. The greatest obstacle we present ourselves is our own mental barrier, once we deem something as impossible in our minds, it becomes exactly that, impossible. History has done well to highlight this point, nothing more poignantly than the 4-minute mile. For centuries, the human body was deemed “incapable” of running a mile under 4 minutes. The record of 4:01 lasted throughout the entire 1940s until a man named Roger Bannister came about in 1954 and ran a mile in 3:59.4. Several runners followed this mark and now it’s almost routine for seasoned runners to run the sub 4-minute mile.

This principle of belief can be applied to any aspect in life, especially those of the performance realm. Enter Brandon Todd, the shortest dunker in the world.

I came across Brandon Todd’s story serendipitously by typing “short dunker” into Google. His achievement is staggering; a 5’5 individual who can soar through the air and dunk a basketball on a 10 foot hope. Needless to say, I immediately bought his app (Flytright), tweeted him, and have begun the conquest to also slam dunk by year’s end. Impossible? Never.

Here is Brandon Todd’s story as featured in the Five/Five documentary series


3 Books for Enhanced Learning

Reading is one of my favourite past times, I spend a good portion of each day engaging in literature, predominantly of the non-fiction variety. Books that promote higher learning (I hate when people call them self-help) are some of my favourite. Here are THREE, which inspired this blog itself and notably improved the way I consumed information:

1. Flow by  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

This is less of a book, but rather an entire new way of thinking. Summarized as: “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity,” flow has become the accepted term to describe complete absorption in what one does. Learning is a dominant theme, but flow applies the experience as a whole. You’d be hard pressed to find a self-help book that doesn’t reference Csíkszentmihályi and his psychological break through.

2. The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

The name undoubtedly speaks for itself, written by chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, the star of the book and film “Searching for Bobby Fisher.” Although arguably less enigmatic than that of Bobby Fisher, Waitzkin also lived a life as a young chess prodigy, constant being paralleled to his older American counterpart (as is the context of the “Searching for Bobby Fisher,” written by Waitzkin’s father). The Art of Learning finally gives Josh the canvass, who provides some remarkable learning tools gathered in his chess journey, of which were successfully transferred to other facets of life, including a Thai Chai championship in minimal time. The techniques shared are unprecedented and Josh continues to push the frontier of learning in all of his life endeavours.

3. The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman

It took me a few years to get through this one, be warned, it can feel like a straight-up business textbook. However, as Josh states in the preface, skip around to the things that interest you. This book has an insatiable amount of knowledge packed into it, but it’s all incredibly condensed and concise. Kaufman doesn’t waste a word, something which isn’t an option when trying to condense the meat of an MBA degree into one book. By far my favourite part of the book was the section on productivity and ways to increase efficiency in both learning and getting things done. That being said, I’ve riddled this book with sticky notes and check back on it at least once a week.


Mass March 2014 – The Results

The gluttonous month of Mass March has come to an end and this year’s 6 contestants put on a combined weight of 47lbs!

With 12.6lbs gained, I was able to regain my Mass March title. Admittedly my bodyfat did raise by 3 percentile (from 12 to 15), but it was still a MUCH cleaner bulk than 2 years ago (gallon of homo milk a day).

March 1, 2014


March 31, 2014

1. Eating more food than I ever imagined possible. Again and again and again.

I seriously shudder when I think about the meals I consumed over the past 30 days. It was on more than when occasion when consuming a meal brought me to the verge of tears. The pain was often unbearable, pushing one’s stomach well past the limit not once, not twice, but three times a day. Then add two liquid meals on top of that, because chewing five supersized meals was out of the question. I was almost always bloated, slow, and sluggish from constantly being in a state of digestion.

This was dinner…on a low calorie day.


2. A disciplined regimen, planned out for every day, meal, and workout.

I followed this regimen (with a few minor changes, all made beforehand and saved in an excel spreadsheet) taken from Tim Ferriss’ health blog featuring a program by GSP’s trainer Dr. John Berardi. It’s very comprehensive and NOT for the faint of heart. Having a detailed plan for all 30 days meant there was no reason to falter.

This is 3 days of food. I prepped meals every Sunday and Wednesday (rest days)


3. A lofty goal.

I set my goal for 20lbs and although I was 7lbs short, 12.6lbs is the most weight I have ever gained in one month, making me the heaviest I have ever been. Setting a lofty goal serves more like a vision, it allowed me to really push it and break my previous record. As Bruce Lee once famously said:



Mass March 2014

Well folks, it’s the third annual Mass March, the month when only the manliest of men take 30 days to pack on as much as lean muscle as we can.

It’s all about transformation and putting our bodies’ to the test. People often frown upon it, but for many of us it’s harder to put on weight than it is to lose it. Without further ado, here are this year’s contestants–who will have the iron will this year and be crowned the Mass March Champion of 2014?



The Contestants

Contestant 1

5am mornings and four packed lunches a day









Reigning champ (7.4lbs)
City of residence: Vancouver, BC
Starting weight (March 1st): 76kg (168lbs)
Mass Goal: 4.5kg (10lbs)

Motivation: “Defending the title!”

Diet: Simple.  Calories in > Calories Expended.  5000 calories per day, with a few clever natural supplements to establish a bit of an edge.

Workout: 5-3-1 protocol (3 weeks of progressively increasing major lifts, with a “deloading week” to prevent plateauing).


Contestant 2

flash, flex, repeat.










City of Residence: Krakow, Poland
Starting Weight (March 1st): 84.2kg (186lbs)
Mass Goal: 3.6kg (8lbs)

Motivation: “Hate what you see in the mirror!”

Diet: Eat healthy, I don’t count calories. Eat when I am hungry. Protein every 3 hours.

Workout: Lift any weight I see for that particular day. I do isolation workouts. Day 1 Arms, Day 2 Chest, Day 3 Back, Day 4, Shoulders, Day 5 Legs. Repeat, no rest days, you get enough rest in your sleep. Abs every other day, no cardio.


Contestant 3

The pump is the cure!












City of residence: Winnipeg, Canada
Starting weight (March 1st): 96kg (212lbs)
Mass Goal: 6.8kg (15lbs)

Motivation: “Live to lift, love to eat, bump the beats and pray for gains.”

Diet: Backload, Warrior style diet, No Carbs in the AM to up regulate fat burning and heighten insulin sensitivity, Carbs during/prior to training, Mini Skipload’s (Eat as much high GI carbs in a 3hr window) when I feel flat or the pump is lacking at the gym (usually EoD due to very physical job), Protein from Eggs/Beef/Chicken/Fish, Low GI Carbs from Yams/Whole Oats/Jasmine Rice, Fats from Free Range Whole Eggs/Fish Oil/Coconut Oil, Skiploads include Chips/Pop tarts/Children’s cereal/Baked Treats/Chocolate Rasins pretty much anything high GI while watching fat content.

Workout: No days off, 4 day split, Legs/Arms/Chest+shoulder/Back rinse an repeat, MTUT, Tension over time, resistance bands, chains, heavy weight, high volume, reverse sets, foam rolling, 10-12k speed walk 5 days a week. The pump is the cure!


Contestant 4

Billy “The Brunch”










City of residence: Vancouver, British Columbia
Starting weight (March 1st): 178 lbs
Mass Goal: 3lbs of muscle; playing it loose with total mass goal

Motivation: “‘Ishes don’t care about cardio!”

Diet: Eggs in the morning, EVOO in the shake, skim milk and trail mix all day, red/white meat at night

Workout: Four no-excuse-are-you-a-hunk-or-not early morning workouts  per week (+regular squash, soccer, football, dball intramurals) TIME TO GO TO WERKWERKGOTOWERKK.  Push-pulls, legs and shoulder/arms/abs.


Contestant 5










Mass March 2012 Champ (11.8lbs)
City of residence: Vancouver, British Columbia
Starting weight (March 1st): 68.5kg (151lbs)–yeah, hot yoga will do that to you
Mass Goal: 9kg (20lbs)–20lbs or bust!

Motivation: “Changing your body allows you to understand your body, which, in turn, allows you to understand yourself.”

Diet: Eat ridiculous amounts of food. Cycled with low-cal days, high-cal days, and fasting days.

Workout: Training like a Warrior; 5 days a week; following GSP’s program, because UFC fighters know a thing or two about how to put on muscle fast.


Let the GAINS begin!

The 2-Week Hot Yoga Challenge

I honestly never thought I’d say this, but I’m officially a fan of hot yoga.

Ever since yoga became a mainstream leisure activity, I frowned upon it, judged those who did it, and borderline resented it. I was dragged into it a few times throughout my university days and found it to be unbearably boring and uncomfortable.

That has since changed…

On Monday I started a 2-Week Hot Yoga Challenge; hot yoga every morning from 6:30-7:30am for 12 days straight. Today marked day 6, the official halfway point of the challenge, and I have nothing but positive things to say about it.


1. Flexibility, Mobility, and Energy

This is the cliché of yoga, which had previously annoyed me. I figured that just being active and stretching a few times a week would save you the dreaded “namastes” on a mat for an hour. However, as I reached the ripe age of 25 I found myself behind a desk for much of the day and my youthful limberness was leaving me rapidly. Gym sessions after work became torturous the morning after and weekend sports? Forget about it.

My body was taking a beating from my active lifestyle and all of a sudden crushing weights at the gym was no longer the solution (not that it had been for my women issues, but a man can dream, right?). My lower back was constantly stiff, sending a chain reaction of pain and misery down to my lower body. I can honestly say that only 6 days in yoga has really alleviated that tightness. My flexibility has improved immensely and my general gait has regained that bounce. As for the energy, that leads me to the second point…


2. The 5am Club

Nearly every self-help book out there always hammers in the fact that the most successful people wake up at 5am. World renowned motivational speaker Robin Sharma coins it as “The 5am Club”. It was something I considered trying, but the yoga challenge has finally given me that excuse to do it. The first morning was tough, but after that, it’s a breeze. Seriously. The only hard part is getting to bed at 9:30pm, but how many productive things do you actually do between 9pm and midnight?

Waking up at 5am is liberating, but also paradoxical in the sense that waking up early makes you feel less tired throughout the day. It’s that feeling of accomplishment–that you’ve done something before most people have even got out of bed. By knocking out that first positive in the morning, you’re just cruising throughout the day. At least that’s how I feel.


3. The Finer Details

Yes, it’s true what they say. As a guy, yoga is pretty awesome because you’re surrounded by fit, attractive women. Wearing skin tight clothing. Doing poses that you thought only existed on late night television…


Needless to say, I’m looking forward to week two and encourage all those who haven’t yet done it, to seriously give yoga a try.