I spend a lot of time listening to people try and explain that their mindset is so bulletproof that they don’t need training. They seem convinced that they are the exception that proves the rule. They’re a special, unique snowflake that will survive August in Arizona, because they have a patent on the secret of mindset uber alles.
The problem is, if experience in both winning and losing has taught me anything, it has taught me that mindset is a skill. Like any skill, the more you practice it the better you will become at that skill. Practice enough and that skill will hardwire itself into your brain. Unfortunately, also like every other skill, mindset is a very perishable skill.
Of course, “practicing” combat mindset or “killer instinct” would seem to be rather challenging for most of us, in our daily lives. I mean, most of us, whether combat veteran or not, are simply not walking around every day, worried about getting caught in the kill zone of a well-executed near ambush. Fortunately, there’s a lot to be said for treating physical training (and, for the record, although I will use some PT examples in this article, I’m not speaking specifically about PT per se—although it certainly fits—but any training that naturally encompasses a physical expression) as mental training as well.
Training has a mental aspect that matters at least as much as the physical expression of the training. If you don’t believe that a goal is attainable—or even if you just don’t believe that the goal is attainable for you personally—then you’re not going to achieve it. It doesn’t matter if the goal is hitting a sub-one second first shot from concealment, a sub-seven second El Presidente with your pistol, a 1.5x bodyweight front squat, or surviving and winning a gunfight with eight coked-up Zetas armed with PKM machine guns and RPG-7s.
Aristotle famously wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” What you do is what you become. If you don’t do something, you’ll never get good at it. If you used to be good at it, but don’t do it anymore, relying on what you could do during your “Glory Days,” you’re fucked.
One of the most common arguments I hear concerning why people cannot train is either age or genetic related—and the aging issue really is genetic at its foundation as well. “I can’t do that. I’m too old/broke/decrepit.” “I can’t do that. I wasn’t blessed with the genes for that. I’m not some super-duper ex-Special Operations gunslinger!”
Well, here’s good news for you. Geneticists have found that DNA can be chemically altered by some regulatory proteins. In response to signals from your environment, such as external stressors affecting your brain, the genes you were born with can be switched on or off. It’s not changing your DNA, it’s changing how your DNA is expressed. Honestly though? This is kind of like my doctor (MD type) who keeps telling me “You’re not gluten intolerant. It’s actually very rare, and unless you’ve been diagnosed by a doctor, you’re just not.”
Well, okay, motherfucker. But, I had the shits for twenty years straight. Then I stopped eating shit with gluten in it, and the diarrhea went away. Now, maybe it’s not actually the gluten that my body rejects. Maybe it’s something that comes with the gluten. I don’t know. I do know though, that functionally, my happy ass is gluten intolerant. You may not be able to change your DNA, but if changing the expression of that DNA does the same thing, I might as well be able to change my DNA, right?
So, how do we change the expression of our DNA, through the manipulation of our environment. Through practice. Practice though, is not just a matter of logging hundreds or thousands of hours of uninspired hours of doing something. HOW we practice matters as much—or more—than how much we practice (everyone remembers the NCO who preached that “practice doesn’t make perfect! Perfect practice makes perfect!” right?). This is the difference between the hero of mythic legend that faces the dragon and saves his tribe, and the mewling serf in the fields, simpering about being barbecued, after spending years beating on a tree with a stick, pretending he was a warrior in training.
It takes deliberate practice, which has been defined as “considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well.” You develop expertise by pushing yourself to the limits of your comfort zone of competence…and then a bit further, to the point of failure. Then, you work at that point of failure until it is well within your comfort zone of competence, before pushing forward again…and again…and again…Deliberate practice is about walking the precipice that is the edge of your current ability without making for an unrealistic challenge. It’s going to the deep end of the pool by holding on to the edge, when you’re learning how to swim, instead of being helocast out of a Blackhawk, into the Atlantic in December ten miles off the coast, in Scout-Swimmer gear, and being told, “Sink or swim, Bitch!”
Deliberate practice is weeks, months, and years of practice gradually chipping away at the margins, building skill and expertise gradually. It’s Stoicism in practice.
The other dude might be younger. He might be gifted with better, more athletic genetics, but ultimately, it’s how he has used those genetics and youth that are going to make the difference. If this mythic athletic Adonis has exercised his abilities by eating Twinkies and watching American Idol, instead of tossing kettlebells around, or going to the range with his pistol, an ammo can of 9mm, and a shot timer, while you—the old, less gifted guy—have been religious about doing a little bit of PT every day, dry-fire daily, and getting to the range at least once or twice a month, guess what? You’ve BOTH changed the expression of your DNA, so his “better” genetics no longer count….at least not as much.
Of course, you MIGHT still lose, despite regular, religious, rigorous training. The other guy might have been training too, AND had better genetics. You might just have a really, really shitty day. You can’t control that. You can control YOU. So do so. That’s our goal: to stop worrying about what the other guy is doing, and focus on improving ourselves by thinking of training as deliberate practice instead of just another chance to fuck off at the range.
The Impact of Stress: Becoming Anti-Fragile
Legendary researcher Hans Selye argued that stress—whether physical or mental/emotional—comes in two distinct flavors. Distress is one. This is what we normally think of when we’re stressed out. It’s both a psychological and a physiological impact on our bodies. This is what the SEAL candidate is experiencing during Hell Week, the Ranger candidate gets during Ranger School, and the SF candidate gets during SFAS.
Some of our training NEEDS to be this. It still won’t come particularly close to the stress of actual combat but your brain—and your body—needs the experience of extreme distress, and the anti-fragility (to borrow Nasim Taleb’s term) that comes with surviving and rebounding from it. Ideally, we want to experience it under controllable conditions, so that the stress levels can be ratcheted up or down, depending on the tolerances of the individual trainee(s) and the principles of progressive training.
If one of your guys shows up with a potential member candidate, let’s say it’s Fred from marketing, and you dump his ass off, blindfolded, in the dark, with a 75# ruck, a map and a compass, fifty miles from civilization, and tell him he’s got 24 hours to be at the parking area for the rendezvous, if he wants in, that’s probably taking it an extreme.
On the other hand, if your core group of guys have been training together once or twice a month, for a year, this could be a completely reasonable “crucible event” for building frith and esprit de corps through “mutual exclusivity.” Give it a cool name like the “Survival March” or “Hike from Hell,” or something, and it’s a team-building exercise, even if it’s done solo.
Selye also identified another type of stress though, which he termed eustress (I’m sure there’s some Latin or Greek meaning to it, but I don’t know what it is). This is a low-level of stress that actually has a positive long-term effect on the homeostasis of our physiological and psychological systems. We thrive on it, in an evolutionary sense, because it’s the type of stress that actually drives evolution. We push out of the comfort zone a little bit, and our body adjusts to overcome the stress. Then, we repeat it, and our body repeats its recuperation and recovery process. It’s not a massive effort. We’re not even overloading the body or mind, really. It still has a beneficial effect in the long-term however.
An example in PT would be the difference between adding one pound to the barbell, versus jumping up ten pounds on the bar. In shooting, it would be the difference between improving your shot time by a tenth of a second, versus a whole second. Either of the two extremes might be possible, in the short term, but it’s going to kick your ass in the process. The less stressful progressions might take longer, but you’ll see a two-fold benefit in return. One, it won’t fuck your week up by piling too much stress on at once, and two, you’ll be able to continue progressing longer, before you have to back off and recover a little bit.
For most of us, no longer professional soldiers, who have the obligations of families to support and jobs to go to, most of our training SHOULD be of the eustress type of stress. We have to go to work on Monday, so doing a mini-Selection every weekend that leaves us broken, battered, bruised, and blistered, is just not an option. Fortunately, it’s just not necessary. Sure, our crucible event COULD happen tomorrow on the way to work, and we’ll be fucked, but….probably not. We can get by with the incremental improvements in the margins, because we’re PROBABLY not going to war tomorrow, or even next week.
If we do, and we haven’t done enough? Well, that’s one of those things outside of our control, isn’t it?
If I can only hit something with my pistol by taking three seconds to draw, find a sight picture, and squeeze the trigger, but tomorrow I need to be able to do it in 1.5 seconds, or I’m going to die, then yeah, I’m fucked. If I’ve got until fall though, or until next spring, and I can shave one tenth of a second off each week, I’m golden. Which is a more realistic approach?
Sure, I could spend eight hours a day practicing my drawstroke, and I might drop a second and a half in a week…MAYBE. Probably not, but it COULD happen, especially if I went to a coach who was that much better than me, and could point out the errors in my current methods. Of course, if I spend eight hours a day practicing with my pistol, then I’m not going to work, not spending time with my wife and kids, and will end up having to pawn the pistol to pay for a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine when I’m a homeless, unemployed bum whose wife left me…and rightfully so. Plus, since I won’t have the pistol anymore, to maintain my practice, in two weeks, I’ll be back at a three second drawstroke anyway.
It would be far better for the durability of my skill set—and my life in general—to take the time to make the incremental improvements along the margins, and really master the skill. We become what we do.
If I need to hit a 300# front squat (1.5x my bodyweight, roughly, depending on what I’ve been eating that week), to meet the physical standards of my training group, and I can only hit 135# today, I’m probably not going to get there by adding ten pound per week. I’ll plateau way too soon (the caveat I’ve experienced myself? If you were previously able to hit that, and your strength dropped quickly, due to injury or illness, and you started lifting again as soon as you were able to, you MIGHT get close to the old level at 10# per week).
If I add 1# per day though, I’d be there in six months or so (and before some would-be physiology expert starts chiming in with “overtraining” and “linear versus wave progressions” and “you can’t lift every day,” just…don’t. If you feel you must, go do a Google search for Bob Peoples and his records—as well as his training program logs—before you bother. Please?). There will a reduced chance that I will injure myself in the process, as well, leading to increased durability and consequent anti-fragility. I’d bet a silver dollar that NOBODY would argue that if their 5RM was 135#, that tomorrow they couldn’t do 5 reps with 136#, would they?
Of course, you don’t always see your best improvements by just aiming small and settling for mediocrity. Once in a while at least, you need to go big and push yourself into the distress side of the spectrum. Whether it’s PT, shooting drills, SUT, or just a challenge like, “Hey, I’m going to do a linear traverse of the Wind River Range!” lots of small doses and the occasional extreme will generally serve you better than sticking to the mediocrity of using the gradual, incremental process. Even Milo didn’t JUST carry the calf until it was a bull. He also got in the ring and wrestled his way to Olympic fame. That’s why he’s a legend we still talk about, centuries later.
Making It Mental
Success and failure are up to you. This is not some New Age, feel good, self-esteem building horse shit. Beliefs DO matter. Success isn’t just about who you are, it’s also about who you THINK you are. Optimism—practical, realistic optimism—is a necessary precursor to the production of success. You’re simply more likely to continue pushing, meeting those daily challenges—or even facing the setback of abject failure—if you legitimately believe you can succeed.
Again, this is NOT some libtard, progressive, Little Engine, “I think I can, I think I can,” bullshit. I’m not saying you can wish yourself white to black, or male to female. What I’m saying is, sure genetics matter, but not as much as determination and will. Given two people, let’s say they’re hypothetically identical twins—the results of their training programs are going to vastly different, based on their outlooks. Yes, genetics matter, but claiming that environment doesn’t impact genetics is as stupid as pretending that genetics don’t matter at all.
The problem with Americans today is that our minds are as weak and soft as our bodies. We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to bask in the luxury of middle-age comfort, but still be a bad ass. People want to believe that running a two hour obstacle race makes them a “Warrior” or a “Spartan.” Others want to believe that wearing a bunch of cool-guy kit and a homo Hoplite velcro patch will make them one of Leonidas’ 300. Well, tough shit…It doesn’t work that way.
Sure, going to a shitty job, five or six days a week, for 40-60 hours, is a form of self-discipline. Unfortunately, it’s really a form of eustress that is very specific to…well, surviving a career in a shitty job, and not much else. It’s really only hard in the beginning, and then your body and mind adapt to it. Sure, it still sucks, but it’s not a challenge anymore. It’s just…work.
The cool part is, we can leverage that into training, and improve both our physical and mental performance. If we focus on the little bites, the eustress form of training, it becomes not so much something to fear and dread, but just….work.
It’s really easy to get distracted from preparedness training, because it’s always WHEN the shit hits the fan. We really are the frog in the pot, not recognizing that the water is already at a very high simmer. So, we let ourselves get distracted. We need to construct our training, goals, and reward/consequences in shorter, more immediate blocks. Doing that however, requires the discipline of planning, and then the self-discipline of sticking to the planned program, including reward and punishment.
In the interest of always attributing brilliant ideas to the people who came up with them (because really, let’s face it, I’m just not that fucking smart), one of the best writers in the strength training industry today is undoubtedly Dan John. In his book Mass Made Simple, he describes a weight loss program he attributes to Tony Robbins (Yes, THAT Tony Robbins), called the Alpo Diet. Now, I’ve never been to a Robbins Seminar, but if Dan says that’s where it came from, I’ll take his word for it. According to Dan,
“...it goes like this: Invite a dozen friends over to your house. Tell them that by the end of the month you’re going to lose 10 pounds. Tell them if you don’t, you’ll eat the can of Alpo in front of them. For the next week, every time you feel the urge to take a piece of chocolate from the cubicle next to you, reread the contents of the Alpo can. If someone offers you something smothered in goo, open the Alpo can and take a good deep sniff. The Robbins approach is based on the principle that most people would rather avoid pain than embrace joy or pleasure.”
The problem with goals and goal-setting, whether in PT or preparedness in general, is that it is really, really hard to get someone to buy into the promise of future benefit, to overcome momentary pain. So, there’s two ways to approach this.
One, we utilize the eustress principle of training. Instead of making it super challenging, so it hurts to do, and we’re sore and broken afterwards, we just do a little bit. Pretend it’s a doctor’s visit when you were a kid, “this won’t hurt at all.” Chances are, it actually won’t, if you keep your aim small. Think marksmanship: “aim small, miss small.” If you aim for a 50# jump in your squat, you’re probably going to fail spectacularly. If you aim to add 1# a day though? That’s cake! If you try to jump in and score Master on the IDPA Classifier, the second time you pick up a gun, after your CCW class, you’re probably going to fail dismally. But, taking a pistol class, then working on your drawstroke, then working on the fundamentals of marksmanship, then working on transitions, then working on improving each aspect, on the margins, pretty soon (relatively speaking), you’ll be shooting Master and wondering why the fuck people are whining about how challenging it is!
The second aspect of approaching this is to devise a way to punish yourself if you don’t achieve your training goals. Think back to the discipline of going to the shitty job. Why, when you first started, and realized, “Holy FUCK! This job SUCKS! My boss is an asshole!” why did you keep going? Because it beat the shit out of the alternative of being unemployed and broke on pay day, right? So, you overcame the momentary discomfort by focusing on avoiding the unpleasant.
The same works for training. I can’t tell you what negative consequence to devise for yourself to convince you to go to training. Maybe it’ll be the Alpo Diet? For some people, it’s all about the ego. “I don’t want to look like a pussy in front of my friends, so I better get to the gym.” “Geez, I don’t want the hottie at Crossfit to think I’m lazy. I better get my rainbow compression socks on and go!”
For others, it might require a trade. “Hey Honey, if I don’t do my fifteen minute dry-fire routine every night before bed, I’ll take you to that damned French restaurant that costs $50 a plate, that you like so much.” “If I don’t do my squats this week, I’m going to have my wife drop me off twenty miles from the house and I’ll have to walk home.”
So, true story about motivation? I took a month off from PT, about three months ago. I did it on purpose, for a project I’ve been working on, in order to run a trial test. At the end of the month, I found myself doing five classes in six weeks, back-to-back, with moving my family halfway across the country in the process. That one month quickly stretched into two months. Then, we spent a couple weeks looking for a house to move into and starting a new job. That one month became two and a half months. So, suddenly, my habit of doing PT had become a habit of NOT doing PT. Now, I had to get back into doing PT, but I’d developed a habit. It was comfortable to sit on my ass and focus on other things like writing Book #3, or playing with the kid, or running 30 minutes to town to go to the grocery store.
Besides, it’s a lot hotter and muggier here than it was in Idaho, and who wants to do PT in the heat when they’re not acclimated, right? That really sucks. It’s a lot more comfortable to sit in the air-conditioned house and read a book. I mean really, even when I was teaching the classes, I could still outperform the students physically, so I’m probably good, right?
Of course not, so I started thinking about doing PT again. I set up my squat rack and power cage. I got all the barbells, plates, kettlebells, and sandbags out of the storage unit. I got out my interval timer and my weight vest…and I went in the air conditioned house. Holy shit, it’s hotter than three feet up the Devil’s ass out there! And muggier than Harry Potter’s aunt!
Then I started thinking. I feel better when I do PT. My aches and pains from old injuries; my arthritis doesn’t act up so much when I’m doing PT. I need to be physically stronger and more conditioned than the bad guys, in order to protect my family. Those are all really good reasons to get back to doing PT, right? So, I sat down and dialed in a little more of the PT program project…in the air conditioned house.
My wife decides, “Hey, I need to join a gym. I’m going to do Crossfit. I’ve talked about for over two years. I’ve been pregnant for two years, so now, I’m going to do it.” Great. Awesome! I took her to the local Crossfit box and enrolled her. Then I sat and watched a class. And felt like shit, because I wasn’t doing PT. That was a Thursday, probably two weeks ago. On Monday, she was supposed to go back for her next WOD. I went with her, and signed up myself, and the older kid (Crossfit Kids. Not the adult program. I’m not THAT much of a dick…). Then, I did a WOD. It wasn’t bad. Not a lot of weight. I did squat cleans for reps and a lousy 165# (normally, my working weight on squat cleans is around 225#). On day two, I did front squats at 225# (my normal working weight three weeks ago would have been around 275-280 for reps). So, I sucked, bad. By day three, there was no way I was going back, without a rest day. Even the wife needed a rest day. No one would have thought less of me…No one would have known…if I had just taken that day off and been lazy after work.
I knew however, that skipping, even that one day, would set me up to skip the next day as well. “Oh, I’ll just go on Friday. That’ll get me a good one in before the weekend, and I’ll be ready to go hard next week.” That was the mind trying to mindfuck me with the pleasure cure. Instead, I went out in the yard, and did a kettlebell workout. Nothing super intense. Nothing super long. Just a quick, easy kettlebell session, but it got me moving, despite being sore. It also helped me get back into the HABIT of doing PT.
That’s the goal of the eustress approach. Even when you just don’t feel like training—regardless of the type of training—do SOMETHING. My negative consequences were four-fold.
1) If my wife is doing Crossfit and I’m being a lazy piece-of-shit, pretty soon, her conditioning level is going to surpass mine, and it would be really embarassing if I had to have her demonstrate shit in classes, because I was too fat and lazy.
2) Once I committed to doing Crossfit, by signing up and then showing up, I was committed to not looking like a pussy in front of the hipsters at Crossfit. I mean, if a scrawny ass feminist studies major can show up and do Crossfit, I damned well better, right?
3) As a teacher, I am obligated to teach by example. If I show up to a class and am obviously not in shape to perform, who the fuck would take me seriously, regardless of my background, and why the Hell should they?
4) I am responsible for the safety and security of my family. There is a major gang problem where we now live. If I’m not in shape and conditioned for the fight, how the fuck am I going to fulfill that obligation? They’re going to die. I actually like my wife and kids, so I don’t want them to die.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who we were. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past. We become what we do. If we sit around and let ourselves get old, fat, and decrepit, guess what? We become old, fat, and decrepit. It doesn’t matter if we were a bad ass in our younger, Glory Days.
It doesn’t matter if you were a feminist studies major in college (okay, yes, it does actually, but I’m not judging….much). If you’re showing up and doing man shit, every day, you’re going to become a fucking man. Lift heavy shit, you become strong. Shoot fast and accurate, you’ll become a fast and accurate shooter.
I read a couple things recently, that had lines that stuck out to me, and embedded themselves in my memory. One of them was from Christopher McDougal, the guy who wrote Born to Run, about the barefoot Indian runners in Mexico, and is largely credited with revitalizing the barefoot running movement. In his latest book, Natural Born Heroes, he talks about the ancestral health practices on the island of Crete, and the role that he hypothesizes they played in the Resistance there, during World War Two (for those that don’t know about that particular theater during the War, it’s a good introduction to that as well). In it, he discusses the idea (and I’m paraphrasing this here, so….) that the heroes of the myths and legends weren’t accidents. They weren’t born that way. It wasn’t an accident. The art of the hero was passed down, father to son and teacher to student. The art of the hero wasn’t about being brave. It was about being so competent that bravery was never an issue.
If we are “preppers,” or “survivalists,” who want to help America—The Idea, survive, then we need to strive for heroism. We need to be willing to place ourselves between the threats to our families, traditions, and values; between our way of life, and those that threaten it. It’s not about bravery. That’s the “I’m going to die on my hill” mindset that doesn’t do anybody a bit of good. Then, you’re just a dead guy. We need to focus on the type of mythic heroism that McDougal was talking about.
Somewhere amongst my readers, I am convinced, are the Achilles, the Hectors, the Egil Skallgrimssons, and the Ragnar Lothbroks (I’d throw some Asian and African legendary heroes in there too, but, well….I don’t really know those legends…) of a new era. Someone out there is the Arminius of our time. That guy is not the one bitching about John Mosby telling him to do more training. He’s the guy who is already out there training, and when I start blathering about doing more training, he’s laughing at me, because I took two and half months off from PT. He will become the hero of future myth, because he’s doing the work of the hero. The Art of the Hero is training, and somewhere, the Arminius of our time is training.
As McDougal pointed out (and again, I’m paraphrasing), “just because no one YOU know is living up to the heroes of the myths, doesn’t mean no one ever has, or ever will again.” I can toss example after example of guys in Afghanistan and Iraq that have done things that would have made Achilles look like a fucking charlatan, and would have sent Hector running, screaming, to hide behind Andromache’s skirts. I’ve heard of—and seen—men do things in our own time, that would have made Ragnar shit those hairy breeches he was famous for.
Don’t assume that just because you haven’t, means you can’t. You become what you do. What will you do?
The other thing I read that jumped out to me was a writer’s preface in one of the dozen or so books I’m currently reading. Paraphrasing again, it was basically that author’s write as much for themselves as they do for their readers. In that author’s case—and definitely in my own—the process of writing becomes a way of working things out, sorting through certain dilemmas.
In my case specifically, a large part of the motivation for writing this blog has always been working through the problem of tying what I learned as a SOF soldier into my life now, experiencing the decline of the Empire, as I try to protect my wife and children, and raise those children in a world that is completely different, in so many ways, from the one I knew as a younger man.
One of the realizations I have made, and I’ve discussed this in detail in Volume Two of The Reluctant Partisan, is that the traditional prepper/survivalist fantasy of roaming the woods as a light infantry force is largely just that…a fantasy. Sure, it might happen, for some people. For most of us though, the focus HAS to be on what doctrinally, we would call the Underground or the Auxiliary. We have to keep our day jobs, and keep functioning in a rapidly decaying society, simply because at this stage, the alternative is just not an option.
I firmly believe, in the depths of my being, several things that have been influencing this blog for quite a while now, and will continue to do so into the future:
1) the fundamentals are still the fundamentals, and mastering those concepts will allow you to adapt them to different situations and environments. As Emerson wrote, “As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
In both this blog, and my classes, I will continue to use “methods” or “techniques” to illustrate the underlying concepts, but as I’ve always told students in classes, I leave it to the student to ultimately decide how he or she chooses to express those concepts technically.
2) The basic areas that we need to master include the obvious of shoot, move, and communicate, but even more important are more broad domains include tribe-building through the development of frith, good decision-making skills which are predicated on sound, logical thinking skills, and physical health and fitness, which allow us to exercise all of the others.
Honestly, if all we taught our kids was logical thinking, to live fit and healthy, and to protect themselves from physical and emotional harm, I’d say we’d done a damned fine job of raising them. If all I can offer you are lessons on those subjects, with my personal experiences as the vessels for explaining and teaching them, I’ll be content with my public service.
It is my hope that you still find yourself getting something of value from this blog. I assume you do, or you’d not bother reading it any longer (and because the number of subscribers keeps inching its way up. We’re now past 1600!). If so, do me a favor (and this will be my once annual commercial), and go buy a copy of The Reluctant Partisan, Volume One and Volume Two, so I can convince my wife to let me spend time working on book three instead of doing silly shit like mowing the lawn. If you’ve already bought a copy, do what a reader in Oregon just did, and buy five more copies of each to give as gifts!