By Tom Coffey
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what you’re up to these days?
Excitingly, I just wrapped up my newest book How to Be Better at (Almost) Everything, which teaches people how to become generalists–that is, how to get good to great at a lot of different things, and then combine those skills to form competitive and creative advantages in life–which is sort of what I’ve been teaching for years, though mostly in the fitness space. This book is bringing the concept more into business.
That said, being a generalist leaves me interested in a wide variety of subjects. I am mostly interested in philosophy and religion, along with being a husband and dad. I am only slightly less interested in writing and fitness. Also, business — that, too. My pursuit these past fifteen years has been trying to get good to great at many things, and then finding ways to combine all those different interests, hobbies, and skills to offer something unique to the world.
I’ve written five books (some of them best sellers; one just for my kids)—with a new that just went up for pre-sale—How to Be Better at Almost Everything, BenBella 2019), recorded music albums, gotten my black belt, built online businesses (and one offline business), and been on the radio a few times. The last one is really not all that special or interesting. But everything else I am pretty happy about.
I’m also a minimalist. So, I do my best to teach people how to get to where they want to be in the least amount of time and with a minimum of equipment or otherwise.
Both my podcast and blog explore a lot of these topics. I talk about fitness, but I also talk about business and philosophy and spiritual things. It’s a mix. Some episodes people might enjoy a whole lot more than others. But I never talk about something unless I think it’s important; unless I think it can help.
Did you have an athletic background growing up?
I wasn’t brought up in an athletic family so I only ever played sports because some of my friends were. But my time spent practicing sports was valuable to me, if for no other reason than hearing the criticism of the coaches who cared. My football coach was especially direct: told me I ate too many Hostess’s, which is why I couldn’t run fast. As a kid, that was hard to hear, at first. But then I realized: he had a point. I was eating too many Hostess’s. Eventually, I thought I should probably do something about that. And that’s (at least partly) how I got into fitness.
You’ve become an authority on all things kettlebell training. What inspired you to first start using kettlebells though?
Like I said, fitness was not something that came easy to me. But I knew I needed to do something about the direction I was headed, otherwise I was going to wind up like so many people in my family, which wasn’t entirely an appeasing thought. So, at around fifteen years of age, I joined a Tae Kwon Do gym. I’d never practiced a martial art before, but after driving by on my way to school everyday, I decided to stop in.
That experience changed my life. The coaches were tough but fair. They demanded a lot of me and didn’t let me get away with just schlubbing about. I learned to fight and workout and hold standards for myself. All this eventually led to me falling in love with fitness. After seeing how training impacted my life, I then wanted to share this with as many other people that I could.
Long story short, I discovered kettlebells in the following years as I began competing more seriously in the sport. I found them to be solidly effective and efficient for what I needed as a Tae Kwon Do athlete, versus the typical bodybuilding stuff I’d been doing up to that point. They also allowed me to train in my dorm room, which was cool and neat. But what impressed me most was just how much my power and strength improved. Even more so, my conditioning. I didn’t always win all of my TKD matches, but I don’t think there was ever a time (after discovering kettlebells) when I lost because somebody was in better shape than me. A lot of times I won because I could outwork my opponent, even when they had better technique.
All this inspired me to go on to get my Russian Kettlebell Certification. At the time, I was the youngest person to ever do so.
Just for fun, is there a “single hardest” kettlebell workout you’ve ever done, which is burned into your memory?
Most people tell my that my Great Destroyer workout is the one they most love to hate.
I’d probably agree with that assessment.
Your philosophy on working out/training is quite unique. Could you tell us a little more about “The Pat Flynn Method” of training (and living)?
I got such a late start in fitness, that I knew right away I’d never be the best at anything–that I’d never be the strongest, or leanest, or biggest, or fastest. But I also never wanted to be. I just wanted to be well rounded and good at (almost) everything. I wanted a both/and, and not an either/or, approach to fitness. What I discovered is that being a generalist has been far more interesting and rewarding (at least for me) than trying to be the best in the world at just one thing. It also comes with far less injuries, I’ve noticed.
Let me put that last part another way. Whereas specialists are often forced to trade away health to achieve fitness (think professional powerlifters, bodybuilders, etc) the generalist doesn’t have to make any such sacrifice. Since generalists aren’t preoccupied with being the best, they can get just good enough at a whole lot of things–they don’t have to grind themselves into the dirt. The generalist is somebody who never has to put fitness and health at odds.
That said, my approach to becoming a generalist may sound ironic at first: Specialize. But only specialize for a short while, and then switch focus. But whatever you do, don’t try to be good at everything all at once. Rather, focus on just a few things at a time, and really try to bring those skills up to speed, while maintaining everything you’ve gained so far. Then, once you’ve reached however much competency is required for that particular skill, pivot. Bring in a new short-term specialization, and drop whatever you just developed into maintenance mode. It’s this back and forth between “surging” in one area and “maintaining” all others that truly impressive generalists are made.
This is not just an approach that applies to fitness, but everything.
Are you reading any good books right now?
I just finished David Bentley Hart’s Experience of God. I would highly recommend it.
Speaking of books, you’ve already written 3 top sellers and are working on a 4th. Could you tell us a little bit more about your latest book and where folks can go to learn more about it?
The whole project of my upcoming book How to Be Better at Almost Everything, is this: First, to establish why skill stacking > specialization — or why you’re better off getting good to great at many things (or at least fairly competent), than trying to be the best at just one. And then, how to go about doing so.
So, I talk a lot about how to develop skill, but also a lot on how to combine skills to form creative and competitive advantages throughout all areas of life, everything from fitness to business, learning to relationships, and so on. It’s sort of a modern day Aristotelianism, on how to know and make and do good things.
As for where to get it? We actually just kicked off a pretty cool pre-order campaign. In other words, we’re giving away a lot of neat stuff to anybody who decides to grab themselves a copy ahead of time.
The best place to see what we’re offering for that is here.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in writing their own book (e-book or physical)?
Writing is hard. So, get used to being in process, and snapping pencils. But whatever you do, don’t lose that early momentum.You need to practice everyday by putting down, on paper, some certain, non-negotiable number of words. Then, when things start getting a little more serious–when all those babyish misconceptions of what you thought being a writer was about finally start to drop away, and you realize that every project takes (at least) twice as long as you expect, and is magnificently painful–that’s when you know you’re becoming a writer.
Could you tell us where people can go to get in touch with you, and learn more about your philosophy on training?
My primary website is ChroniclesOfStrength.com, but you’ll hear from me most on my email list (which you can join by getting my free 101 Kettlebell Workouts guide) and on my podcast The Pat Flynn Show either on iTunes, or Android.
Is there anything else you’d like to add to this interview which you think our readers may benefit from?
I’d simply reiterate that if anything about this ethos of generalism resonates with you, then you’ll probably really enjoy my upcoming book How to be Better, and get a lot out of some of the bonuses we’re offering for anybody who pre-orders.
Thank you for the interview, Pat. We appreciate your time.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Coffey is a former Army Ranger, certified nutrition coach, and coffee connoisseur. He specializes in helping busy people who work full time jobs lose their first 20-50 pounds without giving up the foods they love.
You can read more of Tom’s work over at Tom Coffey Fitness.
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