Habits are Investments

In a previous post, I discussed the idea that you should focus on building habits one at a time. When we commit to smaller habits that are easy to form and sustain, we grow our ability to achieve more and more. If we try to do too much too soon, we quickly encounter our body’s natural resistance mechanisms. A good way to think about a habit is as an investment. 

Results Take Time

Depending on how big the goal, the subsequent energy required to reach it is proportional. For example, if your goal is financial independence, you can expect to spend several years in that pursuit. If your goal is to become fit, you can expect to achieve your goal after several months (maybe even a year or two).  

But what if instead of setting a big lofty goal, we set a more reasonable one and think of it as an investment? A few dollars a day over the course of many years can lead to financial security very quickly. For example, if our goal is to become fit, perhaps we can choose the small goal of eating a piece of fruit every day. It seems inconsequential, but once that habit is solidified, the door opens to add another small habit (maybe eating adequate protein to support an active lifestyle). Then we add another habit…and another…and, before you know it, you reach your goal. 

Patience is required in this process. If we eat our piece of fruit and then expect to see results after a day, we are delusional (you might feel better, but you won’t look any different). But we can eat our fruit knowing that this habit is the step to begin a journey that will lead us to bigger and better (and more noticeable) results. Think of each small habit built as a deposit into the account that will soon pay dividends much larger than the original investments. 

Compound Interest

Achieving a goal is the end of an exponential process. Much like compound interest. You put in $1,000 and earn $20 interest. The next year, you now have your original $1,000 plus the next $1,000 you invest, PLUS the $20 interest. Habits work the same way. Month one you decide to eat fruit. Month two you are eating fruit and watching your protein intake. Month three you are eating fruit, watching your protein intake, and counting calories. With each habit you build, you have the value of that habit, plus all of the other little habits that are grown out of that one. Does that make sense? (I am a math teach haha) The results may not be immediate, but they will grow faster than you think. The beginning is the hardest. It is against our nature to put in effort without seeing reward. But it’s just the way it is. With a little faith, we can know that these small habits will eventually bear fruit. 

Thanks for reading!

Three Ways to Make Going to the Gym a Habit

The hardest thing (for most people) about going to the gym is getting there. Not “getting there”as in whether to take a car or bus, but “getting there” in terms of finding the motivation to get out of the house. In this article, I will share a few of my tips that have helped make getting to the gym relatively easy for me. 

  1. Plan in Advance

A good habit to instill is making sure that you pack your bags and all necessary items for the gym the day before. This is a big help for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Obviously it saves you time when you grab your ready-to-go bag the next day, but it also makes it more likely that you’ll grab the bag as opposed to leaving it by the door. Why? Because if you don’t, you’ll have to deal with the bag anyway! You’ll have to unpack it and put all the stuff back. Sounds minor, but if your brain knows the bag must be dealt with at some point, better to make it when it will benefit you. 

2. Take Collateral 

When I say “take collateral”, I mean tie something to your gym trip that will make more work for you if you don’t go (similar to the bag idea above). If you spend time making a pre- and post-workout snack, have it in your fridge and ready to go, every time you open the fridge, you’ll remember your commitment to going to the gym. My trick is that I make a post-workout protein shake each night before I go to the gym and put it in the fridge. I remember (I kid you not) EVERY single time I poured one of the shakes down the drain. One because protein is expensive and two because I had a stark reminder of a broken commitment. 

3. Find what You Like to Do (or find a way to make what you don’t like doing fun)

I think at some point, everyone realizes that to have total fitness you have to do something you don’t like. I hate cardio. I find it repetitive, boring, and even a little physically uncomfortable. I can get hype about lifting weights pretty much any time, but cardio is another story. To solve this problem, I found “hacks” to help me enjoy doing cardio. One of them is to listen to an interesting podcast. Makes the monotony of the treadmill much easier. Another way I hack cardio is by trying to stay at a specific heart rate zone. It seems silly, but having to adjust my effort level makes the cardio feel more responsive and almost like a little game. Moral of the story, try to think of creative ways to make the less pleasant parts of your gym experience more fun.

Thanks for reading!

Why You Should Build One Habit at a Time

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step 

Since beginning my personal development journey, I have created and broken dozens of daily habits. I was a vegan, then a meat eater, Paleo, no sugar, high sugar, I’ve worked out three times a week, six times a week, five times a week. I have trained myself to wake up at 7am, 5am, 4:00am (my wife hates that). But anyway, you get the idea. 

Amidst years of building and breaking habits, I have learned that one of the biggest keys to building a new habit is building them one at a time. 

So often when we get a flash of inspiration we get a barrage of new ideas. For example, let’s say you have ascribed to high-carb doctrine for a number of years. Then, after an illness, you read the Primal Blueprint and your mind is opened to a plethora of new health and fitness ideas. Our tendency will be to try and make a huge overhaul of all of our habits and adopt a new “lifestyle”. I am going to predict that very few people will make it work. 

Why? 

Our bodies are not meant to take big changes lightly. Now, let’s say instead of completely changing your lifestyle at once, you choose to start with eating more fat and a little less carbs. That’s an easy habit that the majority of people can implement with no problem. Then after spending a month solidifying that habit, you can add in some explosive exercise. Spend a month solidifying that and then commit to getting 15+ minutes of sun each day. See where I’m going? 

There are lots of reasons to approach it this way, but one of the biggest is because it makes it easy to track and realize what changes are helping you feel and perform better. If you switch up fifteen variables at once, if you do feel better, it is hard to pinpoint which one had the most significant impact. But on the other hand, if you decide to walk 20 minutes a day three times a week, and stick to it for a month, you can be pretty sure that improvements in mood and energy are a result of that habit. 

So remember, good ideas usually come in bundles. Inspiration usually pushes us to make big changes. But if you want to make change that lasts, pace yourself and consider building one habit at a time. 

Advice for the New Year

“Just begin and the mind grows heated; continue, and the task is completed” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

My advice for 2020 is to just begin. Beginning a worthwhile goal can be easy when you know what to expect along the way.

It Doesn’t Matter how Long it Takes, it will be Worth it!

Any worthwhile goal takes time. A good way to have solace along the way is remembering is that the time will pass anyway. Let’s say it takes about three years to achieve the physique you desire. That’s a long time! But in three years you can look back proudly at your accomplishments and progress, or you can look back in regret that you didn’t begin and persist.

Brian Tracy says that it takes about 22 years after you become serious about money to become a millionaire (some FIRE proponents say it is closer to 15 years if you save aggressively). By any measure, 22 (or 15, or 12) years is a long time. But, the time will pass anyway. Just begin! At the end of 22 years, you can look forward to financial freedom, or look back and regret your inaction.

Every Step Forward makes the Next Step Easier

Let’s say you start your personal development journey by committing to working out three days a week. Once you begin, you face various setbacks, you have to rearrange and better plan your free time, and organize your daily activities around this foundation habit. But you begin and persist, and eventually working out three to five times a week is part of your lifestyle. It is almost as if it is on “cruise control”.

As is expected, you begin to expand and set new goals. Here is the cool thing, once you have built the discipline to make one habit, the next one is easier. Discipline is a muscle, the more you work it (not to exhaustion!), the more efficient and stronger it becomes. This is a similar phenomenon to investing money. You invest $1,000 and in the months and years ahead, you earn interest with little to no effort on your part.

I hope this short post gave you some information and inspiration to set a goal and just begin. Until next time…

How You Can Get More Deep Sleep

For a long time, I have wondered what the difference between the day after a hard workout where I feel refreshed and one where I still feel beat up and tired. The answer, I have found, is deep sleep.

I happened to stumble upon this discovery this week when I decided to try and create a deep sleep regimen. I had a list of supplements I would take and gadgets to use, and of course my trusty Oura ring to track all of the data. The reason I started tracking is because I knew I would have trouble sleeping. With the start of a new school year AND a wedding to attend (drinking, not a lot of sleep), I know from experience and quantification that my recovery takes a big hit during those times. I was very pleasantly surprised when the data showed that not only had I improved my deep sleep (even under special circumstances), but I also was recovering very quickly!

But something interesting happened. One night I took all my supplements but forgot to run my PEMF machine.The next day I looked at my deep sleep scores, and they had plummeted!

PEMF to Boost Deep Sleep

My wife and I joke that I am working on my PhD in Woo-Woo Science. Ever since I got into “biohacking” I have had the most interesting journey of finding things that worked very well for me and things that also just seemed like a scam. I consider myself a scientist with a sample size of one…me.

Of all the hacks I have tried, my PEMF machine by EarthPulse has delivered the best and the most easily quantifiable results. When I set my EarthPulse to 2.0-3.2 Hz and let it run while I sleep, I easily increase my deep sleep by 45 minutes to an hour and a half. My current record for deep sleep is 2 hours and 48 minutes! As you can imagine, that much deep sleep is a huge boost to recovery.

I was filled with skepticism before I bought this device, and I encourage you to be too. But once I saw what running this during the night did for my recovery, I was sold. It became very obvious that this was the most powerful addition to my sleep regimen. Let’s look at the data!

The first night, Wednesday September 4th, was the second day of school (stressful). I had taken all of my supplements, but forgot one thing…my PEMF machine. As you will see, this made a HUGE difference.

As you can see, this first night I got exactly one hour of deep sleep. Not the biggest deal in the world if you aren’t under stress or exercising vigorously…but I was!

Above is a screenshot of my Oura app for the night I forgot to run my PEMF (the previous night I got about 2 hours of deep sleep). I figured this would be an excellent time for an experiment. The whole first week of school is about equally stressful. I wasn’t eating or exercising any differently, so most factors were controlled for. But this night I ran my PEMF at 3.2 Hz for the duration of my sleep. Now check this out…

Boom! Deep sleep time more than DOUBLED when I ran my PEMF!

Just for good measure, I ran it again the next few nights to see if it may have been a fluke. All of my deep sleep scores were at least two hours, culminating with two hours and 43 minutes today! Take a look!

My personal experience has been that running my PEMF machine (the Earthpulse) has helped increase my deep sleep significantly. There is much more information available on their website (most scientifically backed), so I’ll spare those details.

Try this hack out and let me know how it works for you!

Why We Must Create and Embrace Discomfort

Life in the modern western world is good. I would argue too good. We are at the point in technology where almost everyone can take out their phone and enjoy endless streams of entertainment, all while taking a brief break to have food delivered to their front door. Not sure that’s what those Sci-Fi movies had in mind for the year 2020 🙂

However, as our lives get easier and easier, something peculiar happens…we get weaker. There are studies showing that grip strength (a major marker of strength and recovery) has been declining over at least the past 30 years.

I am going to make the argument that progress is neutral. Some could make an argument that it is good, and some could make just as convincing an argument that it is bad. But if you really think about it, it’s neither. Let’s look at two very good examples…

Food and Movement

Let’s take a mental trip back in time. Back to, say, 1900. I’m no historian, but I would estimate that the majority of Americans were doing some sort of manual work. We worked outside, we walked, we did laundry by hand, tended our gardens, and built with our own hands.

We were also eating meals at home or at restaurants in our communities, stocked with plant and animal foods that we could all pronounce the names of. I don’t think there were 7-11’s selling sodas and ice cream (not that that would have been a problem as you’ll see).

Fast forward to 2019. We mostly do sedentary work. Innovation, automation, and technology has almost (and will soon) removed the necessity for people to do any manual labor at all. Food is plentiful and readily available. Famine is a relic of our distant past. Life is good! Is that a good thing? Yes. Could it also be a bad thing? Yes.

The Gym and Fasting/Calorie Restriction

Napoleon Hill, a success author, has a very famous quote; “Every adversity contains within it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”. I would posit that “Every benefit contains within it the seed of an equivalent or greater difficulty”.

What happened to us when we became sedentary and over-fed? Over-fatness and chronic diseases. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Now I’m not arguing that these things have a direct one-to-one relationship to our change in lifestyle, but the correlation is rather alarming. When your calorie expenditure goes down (from sedentary living) and your caloric intake goes up (from availability of food), you will begin to gain weight, and with that extra weight comes a greatly increased risk of chronic disease.

But we humans are smart…so we are learning to adapt. Now we interrupt our sedentary lives with trips to the gym and walks on our lunch breaks. We lift weights to make sure we have good bone density and strength. We run 5k’s to keep our hearts healthy and engage in unfortunately fewer opportunities for social interaction. We track what we eat and make sure not to eat too much.

Self-Imposed Discomfort

All of the remedies mentioned above are self-imposed discomfort. It feels better (if only momentarily) to lay around and watch TV than go to the gym. It feels better to eat whatever we want whenever we want than to pay attention to what we eat.

Whenever our lives get better and easier, we have to find ways to induce balance back into our lives, or “too much of a good thing” begins to harm us.

It is a personal prediction of mine that as the need for traditional work dwindles away, we will need to find ways to challenge our minds in productive ways. I think this could take place in the increase of interest in hobbies (learning instruments, crafts, art, any creative endeavor really).

As I have said in other articles, it is all about balance. Whenever our lives get easier, we have to find ways to self-impose discipline and restraint in order to continue leading a happy life.

Until next time…

How to Be Calm (4 Simple Strategies)

Being calm is sometimes an anomaly. It seems the exact moment we need to be calm is the moment we can least attain it. It doesn’t really matter if you are calm while watching TV, but it really matters if you are calm when the guy in front of you at the supermarket starts screaming at his wife and motioning like he is going to hit her.

I am a teacher. Most days are rewarding and even fun. But some days are bad. Rotten. It seems that people (adults and kids) have the sole purpose of pushing you to your wits end. I am no saint. I have lost my cool too many times to count. But I guess that has lead me to noticing those occasions when I can remain calm amidst obnoxiousness, yelling, and even fighting.

Examine your Beliefs

Beliefs are tricky things. A lot of times we think we believe something, but we really don’t. Do you believe that being calm is the best way to diffuse a difficult situation? How can you tell? When one arises! Once we lose our cool all reason goes out the window, so thinking about what we do in that moment really isn’t useful.

But imagine you are watching TV and an asshole character is about to get punched. Do you get excited? If so, you may not actually believe in non-violence. It may just be a politically correct thing you say to fit in. Have I ever wanted to see some jerk get a jab to the face? You betcha! But over time, I have learned that every person has rights and human dignity that we should respect. We don’t have to like them, but we should respect them. And that means not punching them in the face! (physically or verbally) 🙂

Be Fit

As I have written in many other articles, fitness does so much for your life and happiness that the benefits are seemingly infinite. Fitness-specific benefits such as a lower resting heart rate and high heart rate variability allow your body to become more resistant to stress (ahhh, there’s that concept of acute vs. chronic stress again). It will just biologically take more to send a fit body into “fight or flight mode”…the place where the majority of bad decisions are made.

Ever notice how very muscular men (over the age of 30) are usually very kind and gentle? It’s because they have nothing to prove! Just by their physique, you can see that they could punch you into next week. Especially for men, a muscular physique can allow people to become more calm around you. It is as if they know you have discipline and self-control and are less likely to be impulsive. Conversely, how many of us know the loud-mouthed toothpick jerk?

Eat Well

Diet is a finicky thing. Advice for one person would be outrageous for another. Imagine telling a sedentary person to eat 400g carbs a day! When our body is properly fueled, we are better able to deal with life’s inevitable stressors. Don’t believe me? Go on an 18 hour fast and then find an annoying person. Watch your level of irritation triple what it would normally be.

If we are active (and we should be) these are some good basic guidelines for proper fueling:

  • On active (i.e. workout) days:
    • 1g protein per pound of bodyweight
    • 1.5 – 2g carbs per pound of bodyweight carbs
    • Rest of the calories – fat
  • On rest days:
    • 1g protein per pound of bodyweight
    • 0 – 1g carbs per pound of bodyweight
    • Rest of the calories – fat

As far as calories go, this is a rough guideline:

  • Sedentary Days: 12-14 calories per pound of bodyweight
  • Easy / Moderate Workout Days: 14 – 16 calories per pound of body weight
  • Hard Workouts: 18 – 20 calories per pound of bodyweight

Centering Strategies

If we have the right beliefs, are fit, and are fueled properly, we will be able to be calm in most circumstances.

It helps though, to have ways to center ourselves. Particularly if we know we are about to enter a difficult situation. Some methods that I have found effective are:

  • Box Breathing: Inhale, hold, exhale.
  • Rhythmic Breathing: Taking deep, controlled breaths.
  • Listening to calming music.
  • Light Movement: Pacing, slow gentle fidgeting, etc.

Well, those are the methods I have found very effective in making me more calm. What are your experiences?

Until next time…