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Happiness: Taking the Bull by the Horns Part II

By March 15, 2012February 6th, 2017Announcements

In Part I of this two-part series I discussed some of the science behind happiness and well-being. In this post, I’m going to inform you about the specific steps that I took to reclaim my happiness. Without further adieu, I’m going to dive right into things.

How to Turn into A Negative Prick in Just One Year

If you want to turn into a stressed-out Debbie Downer, just do what I described in this blogpost about How to Be Successful in the Strength & Conditioning Field: work around the clock, don’t make time for your friends, don’t sleep much, get in over your head, and abandon those who provide you social support. I will look back at 2011 for the rest of my life with awe and amazement. I was a productivity-machine. I crammed more learning into one year than most do in a decade. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to acquire more knowledge in a single year; I gained a good sense of the literature both past and present, I learned how to use sports science technology, I had countless amazing discussions with professors and strength coaches, I increased my mastery of Biomechanics, and I dramatically improved upon my critical thinking skills.

But this comes at a price. I started getting a gut due to lack of sleep, way too many carbs, too much stress, and not enough physical activity. I was lonely and sad; I missed my friends and family especially my twin brother. I missed predictable sunshine, and I missed a lower cost of living. I didn’t realize it at the time but I believe I was on a pathway to destruction.

The Turning Point

On December 2-5 of 2011, I spoke at the FMA Strength Training Conference in Australia. The host Mark Buckley, also a good friend, informed me upon arrival that I’d be sharing a room with some jerk named Paul Taylor. Little did Mark know I was actually annoyed as I don’t like sharing rooms especially with some shady Irishman (totally kidding). Here’s a quick video of Paul:

Turns out this was exactly what I needed in my life at that time. This son of a gun put on the greatest presentation I’ve ever seen in my life, and I think I’ve seen at least a hundred presenters over the past decade. He spoke for around four total hours over two days, and his talks were so incredible that I actually fought the urge to urinate for around two hours one day as I was determined not to miss a single word of what he said. Paul’s talks were on body and brain health and performance and their symbiotic relationship with one another; it was a mixture of brain and neuroscience, positivity science, happiness research, child development, psychology, fitness, and health, with well-timed f-bombs and other curse words peppered throughout.

It’s ironic; my mom loves positive psychology and raves about the power of thoughts all the time. Though I listen to my mom intently, the skeptic in me often questions my mom’s preachings. However, Paul is what he calls a “Pracademic;” someone who blends the research with practical, real-life advice. His entire presentation contained links and excerpts to exciting studies that had been conducted, which showed me that my mom’s advice wasn’t just some ra-ra motivational gobbledygook, it’s quite real and there’s research to back it up.

For three nights in a row Paul and I would strip down to our skivvies, lie in our beds (which were fixed to the ground and separated by around a foot of space), and start reading our various journal articles and scientific magazines. Inevitably we’d end up discussing science, fitness, health, and the meaning of life. Little did Paul know that these talks were planting seeds that would take root shortly thereafter. I feel deeply indebted to Paul and I highly recommend you see him speak if you get a chance – his presentations are world class.

On a completely unrelated note, on this same trip Paul coerced me to play some crazy Irish drinking game which went awry and resulted in a permanently scarred buttocks. I believe that Rachel Guy has a video which she’ll probably blackmail me with for life. I took this picture just two days after the incident when it had just scabbed over. Now it’s just a scar. On another unrelated note, this trip yielded Rachel a video clip of her tapping me out with a surprise rear-naked choke that I couldn’t defend in time. Good times!

Baby Steps

When I got back to NZ after the AUS trip, I started doing two things. Before I divulge them I’d like to offer a quick disclaimer. This is going to sound really “un-masculine,” but it helped my well-being so much that I feel compelled to talk about it. So at the risk of sounding like a sissy I’m going to let you know what steps worked for me. I’m never going to be Marry Poppins or be whistling Dixie all day long; I’m a thinker, I’m very passionate, and I’m the type to rage at the dying of light. But I can definitely meet in the middle and learn to appreciate life and be happy and positive most of each day, and once upon a time I was the life of every party. I just needed to resurrect that guy.

Gratitude Journal

First, I started a gratitude journal. Every single night I started jotting down three to five things that I was grateful for, and I tried not to repeat myself from day to day. I’ve been doing this for three and a half months and it’s been an excellent practice for two main reasons. First, it gets your mind right; you end each night on a positive note, focusing on “the good” and acknowledging the things that make you “wealthy.” And second, it allows you to look back every couple of weeks so you can be reminded of your wealth, and you can analyze what you write down which allows you to figure out what truly makes you happy.

This is my gratitude journal

In my case, I realized that I never write down things like, “Earned a thousand dollars today,” “Sold a bunch of eBooks,” “gained a client,” “planned a consultation,” “gained ten new subscribers,” etc. The things I write down always have to do with family, friends, relationships, being social, having fun, and being productive. The things that make me happy revolve around relationships and getting things accomplished, not so much around money.

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. – Henry David Thoreau

Guided Imagery

Another simple but effective method I employed was listening to guided imagery. For some reason I really like the woman’s voice in the video below. I started listening to this at night which allowed me to relax and fall asleep. At this time I was sleeping 5 hours per night tops, and I was able to build up to 6-7 which is difficult for me. I realized that I always have anxiety and I’m always “balls-to-the-wall.” I don’t know how to shut things off. Guided imagery helps me shut it down for the night.

I know that since I’m a man I’m not supposed to like fluffy clouds, but it is what it is. This woman’s gentle voice just does the trick and calms me down.

Taking Charge of My Life

At this point, I was gaining happiness and positivity each day. All of a sudden it hit me – I am in control of my life. I can do whatever in the hell I want to do. I’m lucky in that I’m my own boss and can live wherever I want. But I wasn’t in a good place and I needed to steer the ship back on course. I asked myself the following questions:

  1. What city do you most want to live in?
  2. Do you want an apartment, house, or condo?
  3. Do you want a dog?
  4. What possessions do you want?
  5. What other things are important to you?

Here was my thought process with the aforementioned questions:

  1. I want to live by my friends and family. I want to live where it’s sunny. I want to live near my twin brother. I want to live in a city that’s inexpensive.
  2. I don’t want to take care of a yard. I want a condo.
  3. Yes, very badly, but I want a condo and I don’t want to have to take the dog out every few hours to go potty.
  4. I want a plasma tv. I want a California King bed.
  5. I want access to a jacuzzi. I want to get regular sun exposure. I want to be nearby plenty of strength training equipment.

To make a long story short, I immediately scheduled a flight home and told my twin brother (he’s a realtor) to find me a place. Literally the very next week I’m settled into my condo. It was very challenging packing and clearing out my apartment in NZ and then setting up my entire condo in AZ, but I made it work.

Personal Trainer Cribs

I filmed this video tonight to show you my new crib. I just moved in and am so happy. I’m in Phoenix. I have a 1 bedroom condo on the 6th floor in the Biltmore area (very nice region of Phoenix). I’m 2 miles away from my twin. It’s been sunny every single day since I’ve been back (I think 50% of my happiness is simply a matter of whether it’s sunny out or gloomy). I have a gym and steamroom on the 3rd floor, as well as equipment in my bedroom. I have a rooftop pool, jacuzzi, and grill. I have a California King bed and a plasma tv. There’s a gym right down the street, as well as a movie theater and tons of shops and restaurants. I’m spending much less than I was in New Zealand. Here’s the video:

What Does the Future Hold?

I’m not sure what the future holds. When I wrote Part I of this series I thought I had it figured out. I originally planned on continuing with my PhD and thought that everything was squared away, but now I’m not sure.

I make plenty of money to support myself these days so I’m not concerned about financial matters.

The bottom line is that I’m extremely happy right now and my life is amazing! I’m getting much more fit. I hang out with my twin bro a few days per week; we train, run, hit up the jacuzzi, etc. Sometimes his wife Angie comes along, sometimes my stepbrother Brent comes along. A couple days per week I’ll hit up the steamroom, and a couple days a week I’ll get some sun up at the pool. I’ve been going to dinner with several of my guy friends every Friday night. On Sunday nights I hang out with my family and we’ll go see a movie on Sunday night. Basically, I’m back to having a life again.

Joel and Angie

I’m doing what I love for work, I’ve been training 6 different people already since I’ve been back (and people don’t even know that I’m back yet).

If it was up to me I’d finish my PhD (I’d just need to travel to NZ for a couple of 3-week trips to collect data over the next year), but I’ve been getting mixed messages from my University so I’ll see what happens.

If that falls through, I still have all my equipment and could open up another training studio.

I could start doing more speaking.

I could try to line up a gig as a strength coach for a local high school football team.

I’d have more time to put into my blog and articles.

So I know everything will be fine either way.

I guess I’m like Honey Badger right now; I don’t give a shit!

I’m Back in Phoenix and Lovin’ It!

Right now I’m just enjoying life and staying busy. This is where I belong! Some wouldn’t like my situation at all, but I love it. I often work too hard and am prone to being a workaholic. I need to be around my friends and family so I have more options to take the time to smell the roses. I’m going to keep working hard but right now I feel a bit like Tom Hanks at the end of the movie Castaway.

Moral of the Story

The moral of the story is that if you’re currently not happy or content in life, do something about it. In just a couple of weeks I transformed my life and am a new man because of it. Figure out what you want and pull the trigger. You are destined for happiness and positivity; make it happen just as I have.


  • Uh, Bret. Lisa and I just watched your video. And we’re moving to Phoenix!!!!

    Welcome back dude. Glad you’re happy.

  • Will says:

    Cool post Bret.

    1. That clip of Paul Taylor is from a TV series he made a couple of years ago. I actually had a tiny role as a trainer on that series, and was fortunate enough to learn a ton from PT. Very smart dude.
    2. I also learned not to drink with an Irishman. And that vodka can be consumed through the nose.
    3. Even though this was a post on happiness you have succeeded in making me decidely unhappy, with this newfound knowledge that I could have a glute-ham raise in my bedroom, but I don’t.
    4. I think you may have just launched what will be a spate of Personal Trainer Cribs videos popping up everywhere in the next few weeks!

    • Bret says:

      Hey Will, it’s funny, my Dad was so mad at me for bringing the ghd into my bedroom. He says I’ll never get a girlfriend. If my future gf has a problem with it I’ll move it out to the balcony…but right now I’m just enjoying the convenience. I’d like to see more Personal Trainer Cribs episodes as I really don’t know crap about most of my colleagues and their situations. Thanks bro!

      • Vicki says:

        One afternoon I was rearranging my living room (power cage, platform, 11 KBs, Glute Ham, db rack, Oly bar & weights, etc) and my husband (who is out of shape and not interested) said “most women would KILL for a living room like this.” We had a good laugh! No couch or chairs. I LOVE my living room. Age 62 & hoping to get to a workshop with you one day.

      • Dawn says:

        I had to laugh at your bedroom. It looks just like mine. I have a tiny apt and most of the space is filled with fitness equipment. As of yet, it has not hampered my love life 🙂 The healthier you are, the better your love life- and life in general! This video made me feel a little less like a nut job. Thanks!

  • Scott says:

    Thats awesome Bret. I know how hard it can be ring away from family, friends & ‘normal’ things. But my big question is now who am I going to hang out with at this years FMA conference?? Glad you’re back home and happy!!! I guess I’ll have to make a little longer trip to visit!

    • Bret says:

      Scott, there’s a good chance I’ll be at this year’s FMA conference. I had tons of fun there last year and hope to be there again next year, and if I can swing it I will. Thx bro!

  • Sean Andersen says:

    That rooftop is amazing! Great post!

  • Eric says:

    Awesome video, I’m glad you found what you needed to make you happy and make it happen. The apartment looks great!

  • Larry Iadonisi says:

    The neurobiology of happiness; great post! Way to step back, gather information and finally, make a decision.

    The lever squat in your bedroom, who makes that? Also, is Strong Curves going to be a DVD also? Looking forward to the book!

    Thanks for all of your work and dedication to your PATH.

    Best, Larry

    • Bret says:

      Larry, Tuff Stuff makes it. It’s really smooth and follows a similar path to a natural squat. Kellie and I are definitely considering filming a Strong Curves DVD as well. Cheers, BC

  • marci says:

    You were right, the second part was even better than the first. Hopefully your honesty and transparency will help people realize that its ok to stray from the original course, if doing so improves their overall quality of life. I admire you for doing what is best for you, and Im happy to hear that you are in a better place! Youre gonna be unstoppable! Although I really think you should reconsider the dog thing. No matter how down I may be, whenever I see my dog my spirits are immediately lifted!

    • Bret says:

      Marci, I know! I love dogs so much and I want one more than anything, but right now I have no responsibilities and have complete freedom. If it weren’t for having to go up and down the elevator all the time it would be a no-brainer. But I might go ahead and get one…I’m a huge dog lover and it’s very hard for me to not own one. Thanks for the kind words and encouragement! BC

  • David Morales says:

    Welcome back Bret! Glad you’re happy again. Reconsider getting a dog

  • Rocky Bisogno says:

    Thank you Bret.

  • Heather says:

    Just so you know, I’m a female and I would love the workout equipment in the bedroom so…your comment may have been accurate for some girls, but not all of us 🙂 Just givin’ ya a hard time. I am on a quest for happiness and getting to where I want to be, too. In fact, I just had an “aha” moment this past week that made me think about things in such a way as you are expressing here. It was really nice to see I’m not the only one. Thanks for being open and honest and most of all, human. We appreciate it.

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Heather!!! That’s what I told my Dad (who was all ticked off about it as he helped me move it up here). Some girls would appreciate it, just need to find the right one haha! Glad you’ve embarked on a similar path. BC

  • Howard Gray says:

    We are not machines. We are men, women, and children. We have to take care of ourselves sometimes, rather than just those athletes and clients we work with.
    Great blog and great to hear you are back!

  • Jessica Jane says:

    I wish my man had a bedroom like yours, including your closet library of excellent reading material AND the workout equipment! 😉 How decadent! My iron gym would be in my bedroom door as well, but the frame doesn’t allow for that unfortunately… You can also row me with one arm.. Impressive. Were you in New Zealand right before Phoenix? I always wanted to visit but didn’t realize it was expensive. It’s a struggle to be healthy in a country that doesn’t really support health.

    A year or so ago I read somewhere that writing your “ideal day” (I think it was that Nate Greene guy??), perhaps every year or so, is a really good tactic to narrow in on your goals, aspirations, and passions. Why do you work so much? Have you ever asked yourself that?

    Great post, you are doing so well!

  • Echo says:

    Aww, Bret. This 2nd half made me feel for you a bit. I knew you were grinding the education out in NZ but I didn’t know it had affected you so acutely. I’m proud of you for stepping up and changing things; sometimes the fear of the unknown paralyzes people into staying in an unhappy position.

    Except for me being an old married lady you and I are alot alike (and hence why I think of you as my super-smart kid brother):

    We were stationed in northern Germany for a while and HATED the lack of sunshine. Settled in FL just to make sure we had enough.

    We also have an iron gym in a bathroom doorway.

    I kept a separate gratitude journal after each of my deployments and it did wonders for keeping the twitchy nerves and possible depression at bay. Today I am recovering well from surgery and subsequent cancer treatment and have read over those old journals recently. The themes in all of them remain the same and they never revolve around money or status.

    I used to HAVE the complete book of butt and legs, no chit! I distinctly remember tights guy.

    We both love Kellie Davis and I’m straight-up psyched about how quickly the new book is coming together.

    My dog says a pet would do you good. Get some kid (or grandma) in the building who could use some extra cash and has time to take Spike out when you aren’t around. OR, volunteer with an organization that deals with dogs.

    I have twin sons and have seen first hand how it bothers them to be apart. It is an amazing connection.

    Does my heart good to see someone else doing THEIR heart good; great, honest post. Thanks for sharing the real deal.

  • Joaquin says:

    Bret, I met you New Years at the W. Glad to have you back in the valley with sun 300 days a year! There is no place better than the desert when you know your heart is there.

  • Marianne Kane says:

    Bret, I really enjoyed this post. I’m proud of you 🙂 Oh, and the Guided Imagery made me laugh for some reason LOL!


  • Bret,

    Glad you are back in the States and feeling good about it. Being around family and friends is THE most important thing. I won’t ever regret that I ventured out to California, but moving back to Illinois where I can see family on a daily basis was definitely the right thing to do (especially since my babies get to see Grandma/Grandpa, and all of their aunts/uncles/cousins so often).

    When you posted your “How To Be Successful In The Strength & Conditioning Field” article, I was once again very impressed with your dedication. But I almost flew to NZ right then and there to show up at your door to make you throw back a few beers and shots! I was seriously concerned for you and had hoped you didn’t start to forget the meaning of life (not that I know the meaning of life, but I do know FUN should be a part of it!).

    Keep working hard, but please keep making time to smell the roses (seriously)!


  • Ran says:

    Hey Bret,

    Been following your blog posts for more than two years now, and this was one of my favorite, not so much that it offered a ton of information on strength training, but more so it allowed me to get to know you as the person behind the trainer. The video about the crib definitely helped, by the way, great condo!

    Seeing as how you are having reservations about finishing your PhD, I just wanted to wish you all the best on your final decision, and that either way, you have changed the lives of many for the better, by simply steering many of us in the more informed direction in terms of health & fitness. It was through your blog that I came across other great blogs, such as those written by Marianne and Neghar.

    Again, congratulations on all of your accomplishments, and looking forward to more, and hope you stay happy through it all!

    Stay positive,


  • Matt Dragon says:

    Being that you are one of the best human beings in the business,I’m really glad to see you are finding new happiness. This post really blessed me.

  • Aaron says:


    This is an amazing post. The interesting part is that after reading how you took off for NZ to pursue a doctoral degree and reading your blog as well as many of the articles posted in SCJ, I was quite envious.

    I knew it would never happen because I am married and have a lovely 4-year old daughter. Part of me thought I needed to travel afar to study exercise science in order to be successful. But looking at where I am now, i’m happy. There are more things on my list of goals. But they are not necessarily at the top. I can improve myself and further my career without sacrificing those things that truly make me happy.

    By the way, my twin brother lives out in Queen Creek, AZ. I remember in 2010 it had been about a year since I’d gotten to hang out with him. My family went out to visit him for Thanksgiving and it was great. After getting home, the reflection of not seeing him for a year was so tough. So I know the feeling.

  • Rachel Guy says:

    Great post Bret!
    Likewise – the December FMA conference has has a profound impact on the way I work too. Paul Taylor is a legend! Great memories!
    On a side note – yes – i have hardcore video footage of that night! HA, and completely forgot i tapped you out with an RNC! I will have to call Mark for the video! 😉

  • Matt says:

    Hey Bret,

    My dad worked his ass off working 2 jobs basically his whole life and said to me as he got older that “No one ever layed on their deathbed wishing they worked more.” Those words have stuck with me for quite some time. Once you have financial stability, extra hard work is terrific if it’s a work of passion but it takes a back seat family/friends/socializing, sleep, and a generally healthy lifestyle.

  • Matt B says:

    Good for you Bret! Welcome back to the states! I’m from CA and have been living in NYC for 4 years now trying to work my butt off making a difference in the world. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say the loneliness and hard work eats at me sometimes. Thanks for reminding me what it takes to be happy. Hopefully I’ll find my way back home soon too 🙂

  • D says:

    I hope you do decide to finish your PhD (and your university is agreeable). I think you have quite a bit to offer the fitness community research-wise and you have already put in quite a bit of time (and sacrifice) to complete that goal. Your articles and the quoted research you provide are my favorite of the various fitness writers I follow. Keep up the great work.

  • CHAITANYA says:

    bret thnks for opening up in such a revealing way . it kind of gives me the courage to do all the things tht i need to do to be happy.

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