Body, Mind, & Believing

Body, Mind & Believing

“Believing is half the cure.” – Toba Beta

It was 3 days after ACL surgery.

I’m on crutches, limping down my driveway.

My neighbor yelled at me.

“No way you’re still 100% Italian.  Zero chance that guy was a paisan.”

Wow!  Great to see you too.  I’m fine, thanks for asking.

Sarcastic neighbors aside, the dust was starting to settle.

The grind was about to begin.

The week after ACL surgery feels like a year long.

It begins with a bumpy, semi-conscious ride home from the hospital.

It’s rare that I get into a car and think, “Not enough leg room in here”.

But any ACL patient will tell you that you have to pull out your best Cirque Du Soleil move to get into the backseat post-surgery.

Your leg is numb, swollen, & immobilized.

You bounce around in the back seat like you were just tasered.

Back home you get planted on your sofa, mobile as a fire hydrant.

Nothing left to do but lie there with a nasty headache as the anesthesia wears off.

Fun times.

The Body Follows the Mind

The RECOVERY process is more mental than physical.

Your recovery begins when you BELIEVE it does.

The week after surgery:

  • You can’t move the way you want.
  • Getting comfortable is impossible.
  • You get tired fast.

It’s easy to get frustrated.  Your attitude gets tested.

I made a choice to stay away from all things negative.  

  • No negative people.
  • No local news.
  • No depressing movies or TV.

In 1956, Earl Nightingale wrote, “You become what you think about.”

This idea is as true today as the day it was written.

As soon as I believed I was healing, so did my body.

Get Moving

I couldn’t believe when my surgeon told me to report to physical therapy (PT) 3 days after surgery.

The thought of bending my knee scared me.

It seems counter intuitive, but being inactive sets back your recovery.

A PT friend told me, “Get a good night’s sleep, then get moving.”

Plato wrote, “Lack of activity destroys the human condition, while movement preserves it.”

Movement builds upon itself.  

Nutrition is Everything

The day before surgery we took a page out of Hippocrates playbook and, “Let food be thy medicine.”  

We did a Whole Foods’ run and stocked up on fruits & vegetables.

Healthy eating is a HUGE strategic advantage.

I am convinced that a healthy diet sped up my recovery.

By the end of the 1st week, the pain meds and crutches were history.

Sometimes the smallest victories are the sweetest.

Feeling down and out is AVERAGE.  

Believing things are getting better feels REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

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Bright Lights, The Grateful Dead & A Leap of Faith

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Key

All days are not created equal.

I knew this day would be different the moment the surgeon autographed my knee with a sharpie.

It was time to get a new ACL.

There is an incredible SIMPLICITY to surgery day.

The present moment is all that matters.

Getting ACL surgery brought me back to 3 basic truths.

Preparation is King

Knee surgery requires the same planning as an incoming blizzard.

Food is bought in advance.  Commitments are put on hold.

All the ACL gear I collected had to get packed up and brought to the hospital:

At the hospital, 4 different people asked me to confirm my name and what type of surgery I was getting.

The OR prep room was an odd mix of orthopedic & plastic surgery patients waiting to get wheeled back.

ACL’s clashed with cheek implants.

This would not be an ideal time for a chart mix up.

I was there for a new ACL.

I did NOT want to wake up looking like Joan Rivers.

Trust the Process

A physician friend told me, “Do NOT YouTube the procedure. You have a great surgeon.  Trust the process.” 


“Orthopedic surgery is still all about power tools: drills & saws.”

Worrying solves nothing. Anxiety is wasted energy.

My focus was to:

  • Clear my mind
  • TRUST the process
  • Stay Positive

This attitude served me well when it was game time.

I was wheeled down a hallway, into the operating room.

The scene looked like an alien abduction.

Picture being captured and brought to the mother ship.

  • You are lying on a table.
  • Bright lights, beaming at you.
  • Masked strangers hover over you wearing gloves and goggles.
  • Loss of consciousness.

I may have become an honorary member of the Grateful Dead that day.

There were enough narcotics injected into me to buzz the cast of Breaking Bad.

My anesthesiologist had to be a LA Lakers fan.

I was waiting for her to say, “Count to 10…”.

But she did the no look, behind the back, Magic Johnson sedation.

No warning.


Lights out…

The next thing I know,  I’m in another room with a nurse telling me, “Wake up, it’s all over.”

Have Faith

When I woke up, my knee looked like it was about to be shipped to China.

It was stitched, wrapped, braced, iced, & elevated.  Wow.

It had everything but a FedEx tracking number.

Surgery (like life) has risks.

You have to be prepared to run past fear & doubt.

Sometimes you have to take a leap of FAITH.

You have to trust your surgeon, the process & your ability to recover.

How will my rehab go?

Hard to predict.  

But preparation, trust, & faith are great places to start.

Being afraid is AVERAGE.

Taking a leap of faith is REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

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Sunsets, The Karate Kid & Adapting


“All failure is failure to adapt.  All success is successful adaptation.” – Max McKeown

This was a bad idea.

My 3 year old daughter & I were sitting on top of a sliding board.

As we started to slide, I realized why sliding boards and torn ACL’s are not a great combination.

I limped through 100 days of summer with a torn ACL.

The experience was an amazing teacher.  But not one I plan on repeating anytime soon.

A complete ACL tear is an unique injury:

  • There is minimal pain after the “Pop!” (Yikes).
  • You’re not contagious.
  • There are many people dealing with MUCH worse.

But you are reminded 24/7 that you are living life at HALF SPEED.

An ACL tear affects the way you:

  • MOVE
  • WORK
  • SLEEP 

The injury changes how you look at a flight of stairs.

The injury changes how you approach the world.

If you are not careful, it can mess with your ATTITUDE.

I learned 3 lessons living with this injury:

1) I take my health for granted. 

Having the ability to HUSTLE through life is a GIFT.  

Showing GRATITUDE for simple things is a 2016 priority that I am putting in motion now – 4 months early.

I will give thanks more often.

2) Adapt or become irrelevant.

When you are injured, you have to get creative to stay active.

You have to be open to new ideas.  You have to have the courage to experiment.

I was forced to stop training Gracie Jiu Jitsu.  Not fun.

I had to swap out training Street Week & Open Mat for pull ups & the elliptical machine.

I used this as an OPPORTUNITY to update my U2 library.

Nothing like rocking out with Bono & The Edge.

Like Bono sings in the Song for Someone, “There is a light that we can’t always see. There is world where we can’t always be.” 

Sometimes we have to operate in a different light.  We have to learn to ADAPT to new worlds.

3) Shared experiences create strong bonds.   

I struggled with my inability to be active with my kids.

This injury made me realize how important being ENGAGED and ACTIVE is to making strong connections.

2 days before my surgery, we headed off to the beach.

Our goal was 1 last dose of summer before I was as mobile as a fire hydrant.

On the last night, we walked the beach at sunset.

My 8 year old asked if I could walk out on the jetty with him.

He wanted to get an “awesome view” of the sunset.

A torn ACL was not stealing this moment.

Waves crashed around us as we walked out over the slippery jetty.

I walked slow.

My FOCUS was not to end our trip with the ACL Splash into high tide.

While we were watching the sunset, my son said this was like The Karate Kid movie.

Daniel-San taking on a challenge with 1 good knee.

Adapt and overcome.

Is there any other way?

Living life at half speed is AVERAGE.

Having the ability to adapt is REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

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Torn ACL’s, Cadavers & Decisions

Move Forward

“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” – Tony Robbins 

The way forward begins when we decide it does.

I was training in jiu jitsu.  My knee popped.

It was the sound that changed my summer.

I tried hard to convince myself my knee was “getting better”.  After a few futile attempts at jogging, I knew it was time to see a specialist.

Fast forward: 2 weeks of limping, X-Rays, and an MRI later.

I was standing next to an orthopedic surgeon.  He read the MRI report.

Full ACL tear.


The surgeon gave me 2 options:

1) Physical Therapy:

  • Strengthen my injured knee with physical therapy.
  • See if my knee could learn to live without an ACL.
  • Go about my day to day life, minus any full speed activities.
  • A knee brace and a “take it easy” attitude would be needed for all athletics for the next 40-50 years.

I ruled this option out in about 3 seconds.

2) Surgery – Allograft ACL Reconstruction:

  • Have the surgeon create a new ACL by drilling a cadaver tendon into my knee.
  • Follow his rehab regime for about 6 months.
  • If the 1 hour procedure was successful, I would be “…home by dinner, driving in 2 weeks and jogging in 90 days.”  

Surgery was the only option that offered a chance to get back to FULL SPEED.

He had my attention.

I had questions:

Me: What’s your success rate for this type of surgery?

MD:  Over 95%.

Me: How many ACL surgeries have you done?

MD: About 800.

Me:  How bad is the post-op pain?

MD: 3 or 4 out of 10.  Take the meds.

Me:  What’s the risk of NOT getting the surgery?

MD:  Chances are you will be back here sometime in your 50’s with no ACL, a damaged meniscus, and arthritis in your knee.  That will be an entirely different conversation.

Not a road I want to walk (or limp) down.

The surgeon came highly recommended.

His confidence was contagious.

The long term advantages of the surgery were apparent.

But a DECISION to get knee surgery can’t be made in a vacuum.      

  • We have 3 young kids in non-stop activities.      
  • My wife has a busy career.  
  • We had family trips planned over the summer.    

I asked 1 more question:

Me:  Would it affect my outcome if I waited 2 months to get the surgery?

MD:  No.  Just stay off the jiu jitsu mat.


I scheduled the surgery.

Jeffrey Gitomer said, “In the long run, it is always cheaper & easier to fix the problem, than not fix the problem.”

This is true in business and life.

The best way to come back is to move forward.

Not knowing what path to take is AVERAGE.  

Making the decision to move forward is REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

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Adversity, Knee Braces, & Attitude

“If the road is easy, you’re likely going the wrong way.” Terry Goodkind 


ADVERSITY enters our lives when we least expect it.

How we deal with our challenges defines who we are.

While training in jiu jitsu, I heard a pop in my knee.


Not the background music I was hoping to hear while training.

2 weeks later…

I am standing next to an orthopedic surgeon looking at an MRI that shows what a full ACL tear looks like.

Fun times.

Dealing with a knee injury could bring a level of adversity to your daily life.

I am a HUGE believer that our life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond. 

Jeffrey Benjamin said, “Adversity always hides a gift.”  

Our job is to find it.

I have found 4 ways to move forward and uncover any “gifts” my torn ACL is trying teach me.

1) Stay Calm

Fear thrives in adversity.

Expose yourself to enough stories of the worst possible outcome, and your mind will start to believe them.

One way to empty our minds of fear and fill it with positive vibes is to BREATHE.

As soon as I got injured, I focused on my breathing.


  • Slow, deep breaths.
  • In your nose.
  • Out your mouth.

It’s amazing how this simple technique allows your mind to relax.

Learning how to breathe is one of the true gifts learned by those who train jiu jitsu and yoga.

2) Embrace Change

Take a page out of Charles Darwin’s book and learn to ADAPT.

My energy comes from being active.

Playing sports with my kids, training jiu jitsu, or exploring the city with my wife.

But with a knee as strong a Kardashian marriage, I have to make adjustments.

I started rocking out the elliptical machine like a Real Housewife of Orange County.

Not perfect.  But it will do for now.

3) The Power of Community

The fear adversity puts in your head withers and dies in the company of like minded people.

Speaking to friends who went through the same situation is invaluable.

Discussing options with a top physician creates a game plan to get back to full speed.

4) Keep Moving Forward

Life moves on.

An injured knee is not going to stop me from living my life to the fullest.

A few days after I got hurt, I was scheduled to chaperone a Class Trip with my son.

I bought my 1st ever knee brace and jumped (more like limped) onto the school bus. 

Awesome day – Kardashian knee and all.

Call it my Kirk Gibson moment.

Getting injured is AVERAGE.

Learning to live your life in the face of adversity is REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

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Class Trip

Class Trip

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” – Tom Bodett 

No force on earth is as loud as a bus full of amped up 2nd graders.

Every year I block off a day and attend a class trip with each of my kids.

It’s a fantastic experience.

It’s fascinating to see your kids interact with their classmates.

Even at 8 years old, they form their own groups.

Leaders emerge.

Strong personalities are apparent.

My school days may be over, but the lessons keep coming.

1) Attitude Is Everything. 

The day started with a challenge.

The school’s morning announcements echoed over the loudspeaker.

The speaker ended with this quote:

“Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.”  


This caught me off guard.  It took my attitude to another place.

I decided on the spot, my CHOICE was to have an awesome day with my son.

2) Greet People By Name 

Connecting comes more natural when you are on a first name basis.

There was a REMARKABLE activity that everyone did in the classroom before we boarded the bus.

We formed a circle.

Each person threw a stuffed animal to someone.  We had to look that person in the eye and greet them by name.

The person catching the object had to do they same.

Amazing how this simple activity brought a feeling of connection to the group for the entire day.

3) Be on time.

Being on time shows respect.  Being late is rude.

School bells, museum tours, & the real world do not wait.

Show up early in life.  You will separate yourself from the crowd.

4) Be Present in the Moment

An adult can teach an 8 year old how to tie their shoe.

An 8 year old can teach an adult how to live in the moment.

An 8 year old’s focus is now. 100% of their attention is on what’s in front of them.

Maya Angelou wrote, “Be present in all things.”

I would have been missed my favorite moment of the trip if I was not paying attention.

A group of kids were waiting for a tour to start.  They started to play a game.

Off to the side a new student, who joined the class a few weeks ago, was standing alone.

The teacher casually walked by and whispered into the ear of one of the students leading the game.

The little leader then walked over to the new student and lead him into the middle of the game.

The new student smiled from ear to ear.

That scene alone made the trip worth attending.

5) You are NOT Too Busy  

I am a firm believer that we overestimate how busy we are.

We underestimate how UNFOCUSED we are.

My life works best when I FOCUS and allocate my time to my 3 most important priorities:

  • Family
  • Health
  • Career

This day was all about spending quality time with my 8 year old.

10 years from now, there will still be customer meetings, conference calls, and endless emails to fill the day.

There will not be a 2nd grader who wants to spend the day with me on his class trip.

Easy decision.

Thinking your education is over is AVERAGE.

Embracing what you can learn from a 2nd Grader is REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

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Home Alone

“Lessons learned at home last the longest.”  – Thomas Monson 

Life finds new ways to challenge us.

Last week my wife had to travel for work.  She went on a 5 day business trip.

That meant 3 kids and I would be HOME ALONE.

3 kids + 101 activities + 1 busy work week = CHALLENGE.

Batten down the hatches.

The 5 day experience was:

  • 1 part family bonding
  • 1 part taxi / catering service
  • 1 part fraternity pledge

The week taught me a few lessons:

1) Preparation is Magic.

Being prepared slows down the chaos.

I did the morning work the night before:

  • Lunches made
  • Bags packed
  • Clothes laid out

This idea is simple, but NOT easy.  

I learned it takes willpower to start making lunches at 9pm after you have been up for 16 hours.

2) Get Up Early.

Getting up early is a HUGE advantage.

Getting up early allows you to set the tone for the day, before the day sets the tone for you.

2,400 years ago Aristotle said, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”

3) Focus on Your Main Priorities.

Where your focus goes, your energy flows.

I decided on each day’s priorities and ignored everything else.

I focused on the kids, work, and traffic lights.

Nothing else.

4) Ask For Help. 

LEADERS know when to ask for help.

Friends and grandparents were a HUGE help with after school pickups and homework.

5) Glitter and Jiu Jitsu do not mix.

I was able to sneak in 1 training session.

By accident, I washed my jiu jitsu gi with my daughter’s glitter tutu.

Note to self…

Glitter & MMA fighters don’t mix.

Each time my opponent smashed me into the mat, glitter bounced all over us.

Mid-round he asked, “Where is all this glitter coming from?”.

My opponent switched his attention from trying to submit me, to wiping all the silver glitter off his gi.

Amazingly, he revealed, “I have a glitter phobia“.

We had to take a break.

Guess that’s my version of  invisible jiu jitsu.

The end of the week came.  Everyone (and our house) was still standing.

Small victories are sometimes the most precious.

Not having the confidence to run the show for a week is AVERAGE.  

The experience of running a household with 3 kids for 5 days is REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

Home Alone

Home Alone

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Break Away

“My only requirement for life is that I don’t get stuck in a rut.” – Malin Ackerman

Break Away

It was time for a break.

No blogging.  No city traffic.  No hustling 5 people out the door by 8am.

Time to reset.  


We had an opportunity to take a vacation. 

I booked our family’s first flight together.

Traveling with 3 young kids.  No small feat.

Time to roll the dice.  Time to create some memories.

The anticipation of a BIG event is sometimes better than the event itself.

Not this time.

“Best week of my life.” – our 8 year old said on the plane ride home.

BIG words from a little one.

We snorkeled over coral reefs.  Hiked in a rain forest.  Kayaked to an island where one of our kids’ favorite movies was filmed.

All accomplished while keeping a non-stop 3 year old entertained.

I learned 3 life lessons during the trip:

1) When you have an opportunity to create a memory, seize it.

Memories just don’t happen.  They must be created. 

Family vacations take:

  • Time
  • Energy
  • Cash

All 3 can easily be allocated elsewhere in your life.

Remodeling your bathroom or buying a new dining room set will NOT create the memories that walk with you through the rest of your life.

Creating special moments with your family will.

2) Shared experiences bond people together.  

Hiking over a narrow bridge 100 feet above a valley (while carrying your chatty 3 year old) bonds a family together.

There is a special closeness that comes when you take people out of their routine and have them experience uncommon situations together.

The more experiences shared, the closer the bond.

3) Sometimes you have to dive into life head first.

There was a moment when I came face to face with a childhood fear.

I never fully conquered my phobia of swimming in the ocean.

Double that fear when snorkeling.

Watching Jaws a dozen times as a child probably did not help.  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”

I have no problem jumping on the jiu jitsu mat with a 25 year old looking to choke me unconscious.

But putting on the snorkel gear has me focusing on my breathing.

Our trip brought me face to face with a snorkel swim that checked every box on my phobia checklist.


It was time to PUNCH fear in the face.

My 8 year old son and I put on snorkel gear.  We looked down over a coral reef.


dove in.

Getting caught in a rut is AVERAGE.

Diving into life head first leads to REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

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Winners Know When to Quit

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run.” – Kenny Rodgers

I’ve learned what you don’t do is as important as what you do.

The more things I quit, the better life becomes.

The 3 best things I ever QUIT:  

  • Golf
  • TV
  • “To Do Lists”


Golf and I were in a bad marriage.

I would spend hours on the links, shoot my weight, and come home frustrated.

As Andrea Bochelli’s song goes, it was “time to say goodby…”

QUITTING golf was liberating.

No more searching for my drive in the woods or watching grown men walk around in plaid pants.

Quitting golf gave me more time & energy to focus on more important things, like being choked unconscious on the jiu jitsu mat.


Want to talk about a TV series or the local news?  I may be one of the worst people on the East coast to do that with you.

The constant barrage of violence, fires, and false snowstorms kills my positive vibe.

I’ve cut the TV cord (Eagles games NOT included).

Call it purposeful ignorance.   

“To Do” Lists

I used to write out daily “To Do” lists.

I’d spend the day running around, crossing off all the items.

A false sense of accomplishment surrounded me like one of those cheap Today’s Man suits I wore after graduating from college.

I was busy but far from doing anything relevant.

I learned focusing on my “Not to Do” list was more productive.  

Steve Jobs said, “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”

Jobs told Business Week magazine that knowing what NOT to spend their time on gave Apple the ability to focus on developing the products that rocked the world.


Quitting these 3 things frees up significant time.

Focusing on less helps me accomplish the goals I set for my 3 main priorities.

  • Family
  • Career
  • Jiu Jitsu

What are your most important goals?

What are you willing to quit to make them happen?

Saying quitters never win is AVERAGE.

Focusing on what matters most leads to REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone

Winners Quit

Quit to Win

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Open Up

“An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo.” – Seth Godin

This weekend I toured The Art of the Brick exhibition in Philadelphia.

It was amazing.

Nathan Sawaya was a corporate attorney.  He followed his dream to become an artist.

How does he create art?  Legos.

Nathan takes something average and creates something remarkable.

Not only did he have the guts to change career paths,  he had the courage to share his art with the world.

This got me thinking…

There is an artist inside all of us.

Seth Godin says, “Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal.”

  • Teach a jiu jitsu class?
  • Design mobile apps?
  • Make jewelry?

You are an artist.

Not everyone will connect with our work.

And that’s a good thing.

I feel a bit uneasy each time I hit the PUBLISH button on this blog.

We are in a battle between our need to feel safe and our desire to matter.

Blog Time

I wanted to start this blog 3 years ago.

Fear held me back.

I thought:

  • I have nothing interesting to say.
  • No one will read this.
  • People are going to laugh.

Then I realized none of this mattered.

I wrote my first blog post.  The post hid on my MAC book for days.

Finally, I hit the PUBLISH button.


I slayed that fear.  It felt awesome.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”  

What awesome art could you create?  What’s holding you back? 

It’s time to share your art.


The world will be a better place because you did.

Saying you have nothing to share is AVERAGE.

Finding the artist hidden inside of you is REMARKABLE.

– Joe Ciccarone


Open Up!

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