How to Pick a Mentor

I have had short stints as a personal trainer in a couple of commercial gyms. Most personal trainers are naturally athletic people. Not to say they didn’t work hard or were not disciplined, but they had years and years of experience with playing sports or being active in other ways. I found that my clients always complimented me on how well I was able to break down different lifts and a framework for building fitness into their everyday lives. At first I thought it was because I am a teacher by trade (although that definitely helps). Then I realized that I was different as compared to most personal trainers: I had to learn it all myself. 

Growing up, my parents had me playing all types of sports. But I was never very good. I was always middle of the pack at school mile runs and I never particularly excelled at anything physically. I have been underweight, overweight, skinny, fat, muscular, skinny-fat, and any other body type you can think of. Because of this, I know what it feels like and what it takes to start a fitness journey from ground zero. When choosing a teacher, choose someone who has experiences similar to yours. That way they can guide you through the process knowing what big challenges and opportunities lie on the path of your success journey. 

The Natural and Unconscious Competence

Imagine you want to become president of the United States. Would you ask George W. Bush or Barack Obama for advice? I would suggest you ask Barack Obama. Why? Because he likely started from where you are. No particular advantages, but a desire to work hard and be president. What about George W. Bush? He would give well meaning advice, but none of that takes away from the fact that he was groomed from a young age for the presidency. His dad was a president. He likely learned so many small lessons he didn’t even know he was learning, had so many advantages that others could only dream of, and had a support system to help him along the way. 

I say that to say naturals are what we call unconsciously competent. Meaning they know how to achieve results, and they aren’t thinking about it. It just happens. Now of course they are following the same rules that guarantee success for anyone, but they didn’t learn them by themselves. Let’s say you find a trainer. He was captain of the football team and then played intramural flag football as an adult. Sure, he can be a great trainer, but he may have trouble helping someone starting from square one because he has never been there. Conversely, think of Linda. Linda was my mentor for a while at one of the gyms I worked at. Linda was 50 years old and only got into fitness at the age of forty after her sister had gotten sick. Linda is now fit and healthy. She knows what it’s like to start at square one. No athletic history. Her parents weren’t athletes. She was self made. This made her not only relatable, but very proficient at explaining what it takes to get from point A to point B. 

So the next time you are looking for a personal trainer, a teacher of some sort, or a mentor, remember that the people who can help you the most are usually the people who achieved success from ground zero. 

My Workout and Meals Today 2/17/20


My most recent goals for fitness have been to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. For me, this will probably look like the equivalent of a brisk walk for thirty minutes each day. Even for having stuck to it for two weeks, I can feel a difference in energy levels and a modest weight loss. For many years I have played around with higher intensity workouts, but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that total active minutes are both less stressful on the body, and I can feel the fitness I am getting as a result. Instead of dreading going to the gym, I look forward to my evening brisk walk or time on the treadmill listening to music or a podcast. 

So today, I woke up, had my coffee, and headed out to the gym. I have been reading “Body, Mind, and Sport” by John Douillard, and have been keeping my workouts at a lower intensity. I have always favored a lower-intensity for cardio, often following a Maffetone type protocol. But recently John Douillard’s words about exercising and feeling no strain have been speaking to me. My Maffetone heart rate is about 150 bpm, but my heart rate when following Douillard’s recommendations is anywhere from 110-120 bpm. It feels easy and pain free, no aches while incline walking at all. Most interestingly, however, is that I am walking at a pace that used to bump my heart rate up to 150 bpm at a lower heart rate of 120 bpm. 

I did incline walking for thirty minutes and that was it! The main point Douillard makes is that exercise should be pain free, you should look forward to it, and you should feel energized as opposed to run-down after it. For me, exercising like this has not only been fun, I can also feel and see (from heart rate data) the fitness gains! 

As far as food, it is a fairly typical day for me. Started the morning with coffee, then had a post workout protein shake and oatmeal for breakfast. Lunch will be chicken with rice and vegetables. An egg wrap for a snack, and taco bowl for dinner. Probably coming in at around 2800-3000 calories. 

Thanks for reading!

The Importance of Safety and Routines

Routines are important because they provide us with safety. When we are safe, our bodies can recover from and appropriately respond to stress. As a teacher, one of the big things veteran teachers will stress to younger teachers is the importance of classroom routines. How to ask to go to the bathroom. How to enter the classroom. Where homework goes. How a lesson progresses. Whether they know it or not, these teachers are seeing the importance of providing safety and predictability to their environments. They instinctively know that safety and predictability is the space where the most productive learning will come from. Similarly, when we provide our bodies with predictable healthy nutrition and a good base of fitness, it sets the stage for growth and development. 

Why Safety is Important

Safety is important because it allows our bodies to enter a parasympathetic state. A state of relaxation and ease. Imagine a person who does crash dieting. They send their body the message that food may or may not be coming, so the body responds with stress and a tilt toward fat storage. Alternatively, think of a person who eats the same general foods each day, and makes it a point not to drastically change their calories or macronutrient ratios haphazardly. The body can then adapt and get used to the routine. Gaining or losing weight will be easier because metabolism is fairly consistent and will be very responsive to changes. 

In fitness, the principles still hold true. Consistency trumps intensity every time. All fit people are consistent people. Maybe when we are young (<27 yrs old) we can be unpredictable with our body, but otherwise, fitness necessitates consistency. The person who walks briskly for 20 minutes every day will experience vastly more benefits than the person who does a sprint workout on an inconsistent schedule. And interestingly enough, as we will see below, the brisk walker’s body will probably respond more favorably to a sprint workout than the inconsistent sprinter. The main point here is that if we can provide our bodies with a consistent template of movement and activity, it sets the stage for higher levels of health and wellness. 

How Safety Allows Us to Grow

I know there is a lot of talk in popular culture about no pain no gain. And while this is at least partially true, without a background of safety and security, challenges will damage any open system as opposed to growing it. Lack of safety is dangerous to the body. The crash dieter will have trouble adjusting to changes because the body doesn’t have a baseline metabolism to adjust from. A sedentary person will have an exponentially higher risk of injury doing a sprint workout than someone who has built a fitness base through consistent activity. Someone who has experienced trauma will not deal with stress as well as someone who grew up in a safe nurturing environment. So an interesting paradox develops. Stress and difficulty make us stronger, but only if we have background safety. If our baseline is chaotic, it will make it all the harder to make beneficial changes. So the next time we need to take on a big challenge or introduce a new stressor (physical, mental, or emotional) into our lives, we should evaluate whether or not we have set the stage for positive adaptations to occur by providing safety and routines. 

Thanks for reading!

Consistency > Intensity

Active minutes are the main driver of your fitness. I have tried to find ways around it, but it is simple. The more time you can spend exercising the better, as long as you can adequately recover. The American Guidelines for Physical Activity say that people should get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (weight training, brisk walking, leisurely bike riding, hiking, dancing, jogging, etc) a week to enjoy the health benefits. And from there more is better. 

Consistency is Better than Intensity

I know that some will immediately argue that if you do more intense exercise, you can get faster results. And that is true…to a point. The guidelines also say you can do 75 minutes of vigorous activity and enjoy benefits as well. I wholeheartedly agree, but I would say that vigorous levels of activity are also much harder to recover from. Think of a fast-paced basketball game, or high intensity interval training. 

Everyone should do some vigorous activity weekly, but I want to posit the idea that moderate levels of physical activity are much easier to recover from, and much easier to do in bulk. I was under the impression for many years that I could just do intense exercise and be fit. It never worked. Every time in my life where I have been fit, it has been because of moderate activity in high volumes. This isn’t the time to skimp on the time investment. Vigorous activity will have much higher injury rates and be much less sustainable. Think about it. When do most football and basketball players retire? Around age 35-40. This should show you that vigorous level intensity is not wholly sustainable, especially as we get older. But, you could go to any 5k and see people in their 50’s, 60’s and beyond still putting up good numbers. 

What is important is that we workout consistently. Thirty minutes three times a week is a good start. Start at a conversational tone, and then build your way up. Phil Maffetone’s approach to cardio is a good baseline to build off of. We don’t want to leave ourselves out of breath more than maybe once or twice a week. High level efforts require longer recovery times, and much higher risks of injury. 

Allow Adequate Recovery

I can get any healthy person to do thirty minutes of moderate pace cardio six days a week and they should recover just fine with good nutrition. I could also throw in two days of weight training and they’ll do fine. If I tried to get a person to do high intensity interval training even four days a week, they would very quickly begin to accumulate fatigue. 

How do we know when we are recovered? This is where technology has given us a great opportunity. With a device like an Oura Ring, we can see our daily levels of recovery via our HRV scores, resting heart rate, and body temperature. If we exercise intelligently we can expect to see modest rises in these scores as the weeks and months go by. 

In conclusion, always remember that if we want to be fit for life, we have to train consistently and intelligently. Don’t be lured by quick results. Look for results that can hold you in good stead for the years and decades to come. Thanks for reading!

How to Cultivate Your Aura

“Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think about that a lot. This points to a bigger idea that people, places, and situations can sense who we are and what we stand for just by being in our aura. All these little visual and energetic cues allows people (who are in tune with themselves) to get a “vibe” from us without hearing us say anything. I know it sounds woo-woo, but we all have the experience of meeting a person and being immediately off put by them without knowing exactly why. Or being very drawn to a person without a conscious reason. Whether we realize it or not, the world responds to us based on our energy. 

Our Knowledge, Skills, and Experiences Create our Aura

My wife and I always joke that we can tell when someone is rich. There is a certain quality that shines through. Even nasty rich people. They walk differently, smell differently. It’s rather uncanny. Also the expensive clothes give a clue too. 😉 Or think of a professional musician. You can sense power in someone who has attained a certain level of mastery. 

In my estimation, our aura is the result of our knowledge, skills, and experiences. When you take time to learn skills, study, and provide yourself with meaningful experiences, you cultivate an aura that others can sense. Even if you are having a bad day and your clothes are tattered, most self-aware people can see through those surface level things to your essential core. 

Imagine someone with little to no knowledge, skills, and experience. We probably know people like that. They are super uncomfortable to be around. We can sense that something is amiss. That doesn’t make them bad people but it limits them. Here’s why: 

People, places, and situations respond mainly to who we are not what we do. 

Bill Harris at Centerpointe Research Center would say:  “We have control over what people, places, and situations we attract”. We attract people, places, and things based on our energy. Of course time and chance happen to us all, but most of our life results come from what our energy has attracted. 

So how do we increase our energy or aura? Once again, I would say that we need to seek out knowledge, skills, and experiences. These three ways we can develop ourselves will build instant equity to our energetic vibe. Imagine someone who is a scholar of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. They are a concert pianist, and they have traveled the world. They have raised beautiful children and have a loving wife. They are kind, strong, and principled. Imagine the immense energy they would bring anywhere they go. How nice would it be to be around such a person? Whenever we take a chance to improve our energy, life responds. 

Thanks for reading!

How to Eat Enough Protein

If there were one single habit that I feel produced the biggest fitness results, it would be eating enough protein to support an active lifestyle. Notice I am using the word active. The average active person will need about 0.8 – 1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. This means that a 180 pound man would need about 144 – 180 grams of protein each day. 

Now consider his sedentary counterpart. He would need about 0.4 grams per pound or about 72 grams of protein. An amount very easy to get with normal balanced eating. Bodybuilders often say the hardest part of bodybuilding is eating. Training is fun. Eating (especially healthy foods) is often a chore. My point is, the average active person has to make a concerted and well planned effort to meet their required protein intake. This will not happen by accident. 

I guarantee that if you never tracked what you ate, you will be nowhere near 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. You wouldn’t want it. You would rather eat buttered pasta. Carbs and fats are super easy to find and eat. Walk into any convenience store and you have an unlimited array of food choices that are high in carbs and fat (usually both in the form of junk food). Ever try to find some lean protein? Very hard! (Although I must admit that food choices are trending healthier these days. I can now get protein shakes in almost any convenience store.) This brings me to my first point…

Eat Protein at Every Meal

In order to hit your protein targets for an active person, you must eat protein at every meal and snack. If you decide to have chocolate for a snack, this sets you back from your total. Remember, the average sedentary person has a need for protein that is half or less of what an active person needs. So when you are out at breakfast and your friend orders pancakes and a piece of fatty sausage, they may actually be getting the amount of protein they need (but you don’t have sedentary friends, do you?!?!?). 

At first glance, it seems reasonable to say eat a decent amount of protein at every meal, but once you try you will realize how difficult it is to get whole food protein sources at most places. You would be hard pressed to piece together a meal with 40 grams of protein at McDonalds that doesn’t smash your calorie intake for that day. 

You have to plan ahead and make sure that every meal you have contains some protein (ideally from a whole food), and some fruit and vegetables. Protein is slightly acidic, so fruit and vegetable intake will help to keep your body balanced and healthy. This is important because you must remember to still eat balanced. Just because you are eating more protein doesn’t mean you can eat junk otherwise. 

You Must Plan Ahead

As I said before, finding carbs and fats, even healthy whole food sources, is super easy. Most of us can find fruits, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, etc. almost anywhere. Protein sources (especially lean ones) are much harder to come by. As a result, you must plan for this. This usually means meal prepping and assuring that you have whole healthful protein sources ready for the whole day. 

I think you would be hard pressed to find a fit person who is not meticulous about watching what they eat. And they will probably say protein is the one macronutrient that you must plan for. If you leave the house for work with no prepared meals, you are going to have a really hard time hitting your desired macros. 

Here is what my days worth of protein looked like for me. I am aiming to get 180-220 grams per day. 

Breakfast:  Egg White Grill (25 grams) and Core Power Shake (45 grams)

Morning Snack:  Cheese Stick, Turkey Slices, and Carrots (25 grams)

Lunch:  Chicken and Rice (40 grams) 

Afternoon Snack:  Turkey Wrap (25 grams)

Dinner: Pizza 🙂 (30 grams) 

So hopefully you got some insight on what types of things you can eat to make sure that you are getting enough protein each day. Thanks for reading!

How Long Will it Take Me to Build a New Habit?

I have built and broken a number of habits. It seems that when we think of habits, we think of something big such as “working out 3x a week for 1 hour” or “having a spotless house”. But as I said before, smaller habits in almost all cases but be the building block of these larger habits and goals. 

About a Month

To my credit (and demise depending on the situation), I love to learn new things. I highly value my freedom and ability to learn and experiment. As a result, I have spent a lot of time doing both effective and ineffective habits. In most circumstances, I am able to instill a new sustainable habit in about one month. Habits like these include:  

  • Eating enough protein
  • Eating a vegetable with every meal
  • Tracking all workouts 
  • Making sure I don’t wear my shoes in the house
  • Gratitude journaling before bed

As you can see, these are not huge life-changing things in and of themselves, but aggregated they turn out to be the building blocks of a much healthier and happier lifestyle. 

There is no One-Size-Fits-All

I don’t want to deceive you into thinking that every habit will take exactly one month to form, but it’s a good starting point. The next habit that you try to instill will certainly come to fruition faster if you assess how reasonable it is and then just begin. And remember that it doesnt matter how long it takes, it will be worth it. 

Some people may feel that one small habit isn’t enough to make the big changes they need to make. That’s like arguing that compound interest isn’t fast enough. Or that the sun doesn’t rise fast enough. Arbitrary, and completely unproductive. As Brain Tracy says, “Get in line and stay in line”. The patience we learn from staying the course is an invaluable life skill in and of itself. Now obviously, we are all starting from different places and with different levels of resources, but no one ever became a worse person by setting and staying the course to achieve a goal. At the very least, you will have gained discipline and perseverance which are worth their weight in gold. 

I guess I am trying to say, just begin and give it a month. See what happens. Most reasonably sized goals will become a part of your everyday routine within about a month if you can stick to it. 

Thanks for reading!