Stillness and Connectedness 

It is so interesting to see the ongoing assault proclaiming value (or lack there) of social media, importance  (or lack there) of technology in th classroom, greatness (or lack there) of connectedness, vitalness (or lack there) of access, etc..

I have long been done with both sides. Entrenched ideology is scary and both are so buried they are blinded and continue doubling down.

And this leaves a generation of youth lost. One side marvels at our technological creation. One side longs to return to a time that is gone. In particular, schools continue archaic ways and absolute positions at the expense of innovation.

I seek is meaningful, thoughtful directions that are bold but done with a spirit larger than one moment, issue, item. I want mindfulness, mindsets, and wellness to be our unifier. I hope for purpose, a purpose larger than personal interest masquerading as greater good. 

Until then, this gets my attention because it is a crossroads for human potential. Until then, I’ll find stillness in craziness. Until then, my energy is my soul. 

And I hope the words like Pico Iyer move us not towards an absolute or entrenched ideology but towards how to make the present meaningful and powerful: “Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize”.

Live. Laugh. Love.

100 Day Mindset Challenge

I’m obsessed with the potential of mindsets on human performance and potential. No… not the singular notion of “growth” mindset but rather the various mindsets we cultivated through experiences, skill development, and disposition frameworks. 

Born from this passion is an idea to challenge my kids over the next 100 days to dive a bit more deeply into their mindsets. 


I leave my children a note each day that is food for their development. This has shown to significantly mold their thinking and actions. However, I wanted to simplify and amplify this in a bit of a different way. Thus, the 100 day challenge.

  • Each day, I will leave them a baseball card that was created from a meaningful Instagram post focused on mindsets
  • Each baseball card has the Instagram post on one side and a challenge on the opposite
  • On the challenge side, there is room for their thoughts and determined action
  • Over the 100 days, they will have 100 challenges added to their ring along with their thoughts.
  • For the remaining 265 days of this year, they will work on those challenges by randomly or purposefully selecting a card daily.

Drop the Ego to Connect and Grow

Maybe it was my Grandpa Thomson, the greatest story spinner I know. Perhaps it is my dad, the best conversation seeker I know. Or maybe my mentor Jeff Johnson, the most masterful connector I know. Most most likely, all three instilled in me a sense of childlike wonder that seeks out the wisdom of all those around me.

Life is so much about these connections and the energy each offers. I know that I am who I am today and I grow better daily BECAUSE of every person I encounter. These people offer insights that level up my mind, body, and heart on the journey for the creation of my best self.

It takes an unselfish, giving spirit. It takes listening skills. It takes an open heart and an open mind.  But it starts perhaps with dropping the ego and building the confidence that you only look foolish when your mindset is closed and fixed.

Olympic Coach Sommers said, "If you want to be a stud later, be a pud now". I must be well on my way because I constantly put myself in situations where I look and am a pud. _______ This picture means everything to me. Today, I learned so much. This day was about soaking up every piece of knowledge possible. Not just in words and teachings but in actions, approach, mindset, and outlook. It isn't about the weight, lifting, or ego. This is about learning, growing, friendship, and life. These moments are priceless and shape our very being long after the sport has passed us. Find and experience these pieces of life as much as possible. They are the essence of joy. ______ Thank you @fattestillinoislifter not only for identifying my areas of needed growth and showing me progressions to build upon, but for your mindset and passion. The athletes at Barbell Central@ are amazing with such wisdom but Barzeen, you my friend, are other level in terms of spirit, kindness, and wisdom. I hope I can somehow return the love! ______ #livelaughlove #mindset #growth #lift #lifting #BigvsSmall #ISuckatHeavy #crossfit #powerlifting #training #community #learn #lesson #Levelup #neverdone #CheckOutOurCalves #genetics

A post shared by Ryan Bretag (@ryanbretag) on

Olympic Coach Sommers calls it being a pud: “If you want to be a stud later, be a pud now”. Egotistical people don’t have the confidence to be a pud, to recognize how much growth from others is possible, and to maintain a beginner’s mindset, a child-like wonder. Confidence is knowing you can do anything BUT understanding that means in part being open to learning from everyone and anyone.

Michael Strahan said one of his keys to success is knowing that “help will come from the most unexpected places. Be open to everything around you”. To see, however, means letting go of the blinding nature of ego.

Why I CrossFit

I walked into one of my therapist who hasn’t seen me since the summer and she said, “wow… you look different!” My stomach dropped and the look on my face must have been horrifying.

She quickly explained that in the past, it was clear that I was a “body builder who spent time sculpting the body” but now ” you look more like an athlete, a pro baseball player”. And as we talked more and more, the discussion was about CrossFit and this new adventure of mine.

Why CrossFit, Ryan?

I’m an athlete is the short answer. I’m an athlete focused on human performance and developing habits, skills, and dispositions though diverse experiences. I’m always seeking the next challenge and next opportunity for growth in this area as well as the athletic mindset. That is the somewhat longer answer.
Really. Why CrossFit, Ryan?

The full story is a bit longer. When I awoke in my 30s to find my athletic self gone, I returned to my roots: athletics and fitness. 

Bigger. Faster. Stronger. These were the words that guided my youth and early adulthood, one that was highly focused on athletics and human performance. But competition fueled that engine: football, baseball, basketball, powerlifting, and a taste of bodybuilding. 

So being in my mid 30s, I saw a simple connection: bodybuilding. I set my target and went to work. In two years, I did fairly well ending on the national stage as a physique competitor. But here is the truth:

  1. I didn’t feel athletic
  2. I didn’t feel healthy
  3. I didn’t feel functional
  4. I didn’t feel good

This isn’t about that sport, which I will forever hold close to my heart. It is about ultimately my heart and soul always longing for a sport that 

  • Wants an array of atheletic abilities
  • Focuses on intense training that comes from as many angles as possible
  • Attacks the human condition from all angles: body, mind, heart, and self.
  • Honors the jack of all trades athlete 
  • Challenges you mentally and physically
  • Forces you to constantly grow and acquire more skills, techniques, and experiences from every source possible
  • Thrives on hard work, multiple sessions training 
  • Designs nutrition protocols for peak athletic performance and overall wellness more than physical transformation 
  • Targets mentally and physically, hyper competitive athletes 
  • Evolves as human performance and capacity evolves
  • Pushes you outside of the comfort zone of  a singular idea and mandates well-rounded, diverse experiences 
  • And the list goes on…

So it wasn’t surprising that my path crossed with Crossfit; it, however, surprising that it didn’t occur earlier. 

I didn’t understand CrossFit. No. I was ignorant of it. I thought it was a) a program for off-season athletes b) a sport that was kind of like weightlifting. 

But as I trained for my physique shows, I had five different people from far different walks in life mention to me that I was built for and trained like a CrossFitter. I vowed to give it a try at some point.

Then, Colorado. I spent a considerable amount of time there between two national shows this past summer where I was exposed to the philosophy and underpinnings of it. I spent time experiencing it. I fell for it and decided that after the summer, I would get off the stage and try it.

In my short time with it, I can only say two things

  1. Where have you been all my life
  2. I’ve found my sport! (Yeah… too old and too late but better late than never!)

What I’ve Also Found: A Different Option than the Traditional Gym for many People

The real magic is what it means for fitness no matter who you are nor what your goals. 

For obvious reasons, traditional gyms are the choice for many looking to get healthy and fit. The lure of a plethora of equipment, tons of weight, galleries of machines, and all the bells and whistles just sucks people in to the world that we’ve all been told is the solution. But that story plays out over and over for many. These items guarantee you nothing and leave many bored, confused, frustrated, intimidated, and ultimately unsuccessful. Many quit saying “I don’t have time”, “I wasn’t seeing results…”, “I was bored/lost/etc.” or “I felt stupid”

CrossFit is a CURE

Then there is CrossFit boxes. Of all the reasons people tell me why they give up, CrossFit boxes counter this with 

  1. Community and Coaches
  2. Utility and Usefulness
  3. Resources and Results
  4. Energy and Excitement 

Sharing Gift of Wellness; Cereal Celebration Menu

I continue to riff on the idea of spreading the gift of wellness via acts of kindness and play. Modeling in action and speaking about it only go so far. Immersing people into experiences are where change is likely to occur: Acts of Kindness + Great Attitude = Positive Change. 

Today, we tackled breakfast and the default of many working adults: either skipping it entirely or eating something quick (and perhaps too often unhealthy). And cereal becomes one such default if kids are in the mix. 

This is the menu shared with colleagues today at our Quest Cereal Celebration. People of all different ages, backgrounds, and fitness levels enjoyed this experience and shared how the food was surprisingly good! Hopefully, this gives these tremendous colleagues other options for them, their family, and their friends!

The Menu

A. Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal

  1. Chop up two Quest Nutrition Beyond Cereal cinnamon roll bar into 30 pieces each and place in a bowl 
  2. Pour Almond Milk, Fairlife Milk, or MuscleEgg vanilla in a bowl
  3. Sprinkle with Cinnamon 
  4. Enjoy!!

Macros (w Muscleegg) Cal: 360 Pro: 49 Carbs: 36 (6 net) Fat: 9

 B. Waffle Sticks

  1. Slice a Quest Beyond Cereal Maple bar in three
  2. Fill a ramekins with sugar free syrup
  3. Dip and eat

Macros: Cal: 110 Pro: 12 Carbs: 17 (3 net) Fat: 4.5

C. Protein Hot Chocolate

  1. Heat up water (or aforementioned milk)
  2. In a shaker, put one serving of Quest Nutrion chocolate protein with 16oz hot liquid.  
  3. Shake and pour into 2-4 mugs 
  4. Shave pieces of a Quest Nutrition S’mores protein bar into each cup 

Macros (w water and without bar shavings) Cal: 110 Pro: 23 Carbs: 4 (2 net) Fat:0

D. Blueberry Muffins

  1. Cube a Quest Nutrition blueberry muffin bar into 6-8 pieces 
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  3. Place  piece on baking sheet for 3 minute, flip, and bake for another 3-5 minutes

Macros  Cal: 190 Pro: 21 Carbs: 22 (5 net) Fat: 6

E. Cookie Jar Cereal

  1. Chopped the Quest Beyond Cereal chocolate bar into 32 pieces and place in a bowel
  2. Microwave Quest chocolate chip bar for 10 sec, break into 12 pieces, roll into balls
  3. Bake rolled balls for 5 min at 350 degrees
  4. Place the baked cookies into the bowl with Beyond Cereal bar
  5. Pour 3/4c of liquid in the bowl and sprinkle with cocoa 
  6.  Place bowl in fridge for 3-5 minutes
  7. Pull bowl out and pour remaining 1/4c of liquid in bowl.
  8. Boom!!!

Macros (w Muscleegg) Cal: 440 Pro: 58 Carbs: 41 (8 net) Fat: 10

Youth and Social Media: Shifting Mindsets

This past week I say on panel on social media and today’s youth. The panel immediately followed an an opening presentation by two speakers.

What was supposed to be “Understanding Social Media in Your Child’s World” turned quickly to what I often fear in these forums: Us vs. Them.

  1. Track
  2. Follow
  3. Oversee 
  4. Protect
  5. Block

And on and on with a tone that kids are ignorant of how to operate online and unable to make good decisions online all while there are evils awaiting them at each turn.

And while everyone was coming from a place of caring and desire to create the best conditions for kids, I’m fearful of the message that families took away.

My Take

I am not an expert. I don’t see all the evils that law enforcement encounter daily. And honestly, I’m not sure my message which was considerably different than anyone else resonated. But here it is in bite sizes

  1. There is a knowing-doing gap. Research tells us that kids can tell you how to act online, how to keep themselves save, and what to do when there are problems. However, they still make mistakes frequently.
  2. But… This isn’t a tween or teen issue. It is a societal issue. Adults are perhaps worse citizens online than children
  3. Historically, we have banned it then we tried scare tactics before saying we need to educate these kids. Education was “we know you don’t” before than gave way to “maybe they know more than us”. All of these approaches failed to some degree.
  4. Today, what is working is good parenting and good relationships in schools. Let’s embrace this together: explore, learn, and use social media together. It is part of a larger conversation about life than absolutes that governed early attempts
  5. We need to evolve the conversation beyond just Embracing together this journey into three key areas: Mindfulness, Mindsets, and Development of Self.
  6.  We need to know that all humans make mistakes when the emotions of the moment overtake the mindfulness that yields the ability to pay attention and process before action. Teaching mindfulness is key
  7. We need to know that a community mindset builds empathy, leadership, and connection. This frame of community makes us all aware and interested in the best possible things for people. It is human centric at the core.
  8. Knowing our self and developing the best version of that self is at the core. We spend far too much time on content that never yields growth beyond the surface intellectual. 
  9. We are so focused on catching them and assuming wrong doing that we sacrifice relationships, trust, and hope. Engage with your child in the ethical dilemmas we all face and be a positive model in a world full of adult models leading youth towards anger, tension, and meanness 
  10. Remember that right now digital distraction and lack of life focus is the greater concern. Lost in the intoxication of online and keeping up with the Jones is crushing the spirit of adults and youths alike. Mindful. This is the key

Notes to My Kids… Or Mindset Work.

Most mornings, my kids will find a note from me: thoughts, questions, and challenges. 

How did this start? Why did this start? When do you find the time to write these? How do you come up with these? 

Because I post many of these to my Instagram account, I get a lot of these questions so here you go:

How and Why Did This Start?

Honestly, it started from my failure as a father. Because I was not seeing my children in the morning and then at times not at all, I was not engaging in the meaningful conversations with them that I value. As a morning person and someone that thinks the entire time of the day is set within 60 minutes of rising, I became frustrated with myself as a father.

Like all things that disturb me, I go to work on them. I tried a few things that failed miserably: calling each morning, kissing them goodbye, and so forth.

But then a former student contacted me about how he was using two things from my time as an English teacher: BOHA and StoryLab. He, of course, has made them considerably better and more meaningful but he also sparked in me that, “duh… Why am I not doing this with my children.”

When do you find the time to write these? 

I write these all the time

  1. when the thoughts of my children emerge. The story in my head is often most readily connected with pieces that need to be cultivated. These tend to be reflective.
  2. when doing light cardio at the gym. My head is often clear and focused so I can be concise. These tend to be rather intense!
  3. when reading books and articles. These tend to be deep and inquisitive.
  4. and often at random times. These tend to be emotional.

In other words, I write a lot and on any random scrap of paper or phone app. I don’t tend to edit or revise; I keep it raw. 

How do you come up with these?

Experiences and my daily work on cultivating a better me. These are deeply personal and deeply raw, but I am wanting my children to be comfortable with chaos, emotions, growth, and vulnerability. This is a way to model.

Some might say they are too young or not cognitively ready. I’d argue this is the perfect time and example upon example shows me this mindset work is growing them in deeply profound ways.

Discover Each Student’s Story

All people have a story within a story, a tale of…

  • Needs
  • Barriers
  • Opportunities
  • Growth potential
  • Strengths 
  • Dreams
  • Failures 
  • Hopes
  • Disappointments

Our ability to understand the power of the individual story through all of our senses unlocks our ability to connect, feel empathy, and build a relationship.

And this allows for a bridge… A bridge to helping unlock human potential. When people feel they are heard and really listen to, the human condition is maximized allowing them to engage more, open up more, and explore more paths. Just think about a time you actually listened and heard someone’s story!

People light up when he or she is heard. As an educator, I can think of few things more important than hearing and knowing the story within the story of each student in your room. Listen with heart (feelings) , mind (ideas and opportunities) and body (cues).

From there, the connective and emotional bridge opens up growth of self and community. Invest in stories! 

Why Improv Creates Creative Chaos  for a Compassion Classroom

When I think about why I find it so valuable to bring improvisation to the classroom even to the point that I commit time during new teacher orientation week, it is about aligning our actions with our stated beliefs. Too many times, we talk at our teachers about things we believe but we never help shift them to action nor do we ourselves model those aspects.

Improv is a lever that provides pragmatic strategies, philosophical belief growth, and organizational values grounding.

  1. Mindsets
  2. Mindfulness, Mind-Body-Heart
  3. Courage – Creativity – Community
  4. Play, Fun, and Happiness
  5. Engagement and Movement
  6. Voice and choice 
  7. Growth minded
  8. Risk-taking
  9. Empathy 
  10. Agility, Assessment, and Reflection

These are just a few of the themes that emerged from working with teachers on improv. And many of these themes are what we say we want and believe to be important in the classroom. Improv work allows us to discuss these themes in pragmatic ways that make these deeply philosophical topics more digestible with ways to shape the classroom immediately.

Today, a partner and I continue our journey of reimagining learning and teaching using out of box, “noneducation” ways to approach key themes. Improv was one catalyst that evoked conversations in the aforementioned areas at an empathic, thoughtful way unlike years of conversation that seem surface levels.

Ideas flew at the end of how to use improv for all of the above BUT also the experience pushed them to reimagine practices that were counter to deep learning experiences.

Rethink. Reimagine. Get beyond education to create a new education!

Begin Mindset Work Young

I’m wrestling with the influence of society on human performance and mindsets. Very quickly, we come to believe we lack the gifts/talents/skills/intelligence which leads us to 

  1. develop and HEAR self-destructive language 
  2. Value complacency and settling
  3. Dismiss our dreams as possible 
  4. Shift to coping with what life gives 
  5. Buy into social expectations 
  6. Become change averse
  7. Live with fear 
  8. Talk without action 

So I continue to engage my children in deeply philosophical and growth driven discussions. At the same time, I am now pressing them for action to anchor these lessons. Some people say they are too young to discuss, engage, and utilize these lessons.

While I don’t know for sure, I can’t help but believe that I can counter the norm if I 1) engage them here 2) model for them these conversations and 3) monitor myself in relation to their lives.

Here are two examples from Today

From my son as we drove to practice:

Me: what does it mean if you fail?

Finn: I’m still learning and not there yet. You never stop! 

Me: Will I be mad at you for failing?

Finn: Only if I give up or stop learning from it.

Me: will you fail at something today? 

Finn: No!

Me: If you do, what will you do?

Finn: hmmm…

Me: what could you ask your coach?

Finn: oh! How do I work on that area I failed!

Me: right on!

Before that at breakfast

Mac(19): talking about ISU

Fae (6): I want to go to @IllinoisStateU

Me: want or will- is there a Diff?

Fae: Will means I am – want means I might

Me: So…

Fae: I will! 

Oddly, this is the first time I’ve heard her use “want” instead of the assertive, positive language “will”. As we age, our declarative statements shift to these external hope and passive statements … I want… I’d love… Wouldn’t it be great…

As we enter into a new school year, I’m

constantly reminded of the paradox that exist between what we define as important and the actions we take to get there. This mindset work at any age along with the cultivation of social-emotional habits, dispositions, and skills through engaging, immersive experiences is where our work should sit. In other words, the growth of -self for maximum human performance. 

So what will be our work this year? What will be our driving focus? 

Will we think in terms of discipline? Content? Grades? Standards?


Will we focus on the cultivation of self? Human centric growth? Curiosity and Passions? Play and joy? All of the things that foster the mindsets needed to #livelaughlove for life and continuing growing!