Discipline is a Habit

When people think of discipline they think of a particular instance of not acting on an impulse. Discipline is treated as a special force we use to do what we know is right. And it is! But like most things in life, discipline has to be cultivated and practiced to thrive. Theoretically discipline has no limit, but in practice it does. For example, let’s say all of your friends and family are obese. Would it be possible for you to be fit and healthy? Of course! Is it likely? Definitely not!

Discipline and Environment

Our environment can be conducive to our goals or counterproductive. In the example above, being fit has so many micro-goals associated with it, that the amount of discipline needed to turn the tide would be Herculean. Not only would you have to eat separate meals, you would have to go to the gym (probably alone), and endure questioning and heckling from your loved ones. Some would say that’s no excuse for failure, but if we put away our virtue signaling for a moment, we can admit that it is very likely a losing proposition.

It isn’t always feasible to dramatically change your environment. Sometimes you can’t just quit a job, or leave a bad situation. But what you can do is be aware of the consequences of an unsupportive environment and take reasonable action to change it. Perhaps you can find an online fitness community. Maybe you can invite your mom to walk with you every other day. The key is to make discipline easy. We don’t win an award for making things harder than they need to be. If the path of least resistance aligns with your values, why make things harder on yourself?

People who seem to have a lot of discipline usually have a lot of systems in place to make doing the right thing easy. I was a vegan for five years. I quickly learned that if I wanted to stick with it, I would need to plan for being around non-vegan food (essentially always haha). This meant making and bringing vegan dishes to Thanksgiving, and lugging vegan treats to parties. I didn’t just go to these events and resist eating animal products because of an iron will, I made it easy on myself. Interestingly enough, I became almost completely impervious to non-vegan food, and very little discipline was required to stick with it. Later on, I decided to give up veganism, and I went back to eating animal products with no sweat lol.

Discipline is a Muscle

Once you do what you can to mold your environment, you begin to find more ways to be disciplined for your benefit. With each small act of discipline you become stronger. Partially due to increased will power, but also due to (as we discussed above) making your environment conducive to discipline. For example, once you begin living within your means, the next step of aggressive saving becomes much easier. You begin to think about the ways to automate it and make it easier on yourself. You become better at identifying potential difficulties and planning for them.

Of course we want to make sure that we live lives of balance, so make sure not to be too disciplined. Remember to stop and smell the flowers along the way and splurge every now and again. What are some of the ways you make discipline easy? Thanks for reading.

The Importance of Delaying Gratification

Many of you have probably heard of or read about the Stanford marshmallow experiment. In the experiment, a child was given the choice between a small reward and two small rewards if they waited. Many conclusions (some controversial) have been made about the results of the study, but the basic takeaway is that the children who were able to wait for the second reward did better in life. This should come as no surprise. Life offers many choices and roads, and often the road that is a little more difficult is the reward that leads to better long-term results.

We will make Sacrifices Regardless

Everything in life requires a sacrifice. From the most mundane to the most consequential, life is a series of trade-offs. For example, if you choose the pleasure of smoking, you also choose the likely consequences of smoking. If you choose to take advantage of others, you will reap consequences (eventually) accordingly. If you choose climbing the corporate ladder over playing catch with your son, you sacrifice investing in one of the most meaningful relationships in your life.

So the question isn’t whether we will make sacrifices, the questions is what are we willing to sacrifice for? This is where delaying gratification comes in full force. When we make a decision we should think, what are the long and short term consequences of this decision? For example, if you buy a brand new car outside of your means, the short and perhaps medium-term consequences are pleasure and status. The long term consequence may be added years until retirement. If we can keep long term consequences in the forefront of our minds, we will make better decisions. If instead we buy a modest car and invest what we would have spent, that money would bring us dividends for decades to come. Sometimes you just want the nice car. I get that. Just remember what you are sacrificing in the process.

Success is a Long Game

When you throw out the outliers of the extremely lucky and gifted, the trust fund babies, and the con men and women, success is always a long game. I read an article by Brian Tracy years ago and its lessons have stuck with me and held me in good stead. I don’t think I can say it any better than him, so I will quote directly from his website.

In 1970, sociologist Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard University wrote a book entitled The Unheavenly City. He described one of the most profound studies on success and priority setting ever conducted.

Banfield’s goal was to find out how and why some people became financially independent during the course of their working lifetimes. He started off convinced that the answer to this question would be found in factors such as family background, education, intelligence, influential contacts, or some other concrete factor. What he finally discovered was that the major reason for success in life was a particular attitude of mind.

Banfield called this attitude “long time perspective.” He said that men and women who were the most successful in life and the most likely to move up economically were those who took the future into consideration with every decision they made in the present. He found that the longer the period of time a person took into consideration while planning and acting, the more likely it was that he would achieve greatly during his career.

Brian Tracy

Imagine the rewards bestowed upon those with the longest time perspective. Think of those beautiful ornate medieval castles, or the beautiful streets of European towns. They didn’t look for the cheapest material and the fastest building time like we do now. The people who made them (whether well intentioned or not), knew that future generations would marvel at their grandiosity. I have a hard time imagining future generations fondly remembering McMansions. Our forefathers gave their lives in war to afford us the luxuries of our present. A dad with a modest job can set up his family for two or more generations of financial abundance with hard work and intelligent financial planning.

Delaying gratification is a major key in creating the things we want in life. Paradoxically, to enjoy long term comforts, we must overlook present luxuries. How far into the future do you look when you make decisions? Thanks for reading.

The Oura Ring (Part 1)

Inspect what you expect. Tracking our health and fitness is important for a number of reasons. We can find what works and doesn’t work with our body dealing with sleep and nutrition. We can get a heads up for time periods when we may experience heightened stress. The reasons could probably make a book in and of itself. My personal experience with self-quantification has led me to the Oura Ring. The Oura ring is a normal sized ring used to track various metrics. I plan to talk about the benefits and usefulness of the ring throughout multiple posts, so be on the lookout.

What is the Oura Ring?

The Oura Ring is a self-quantification device. What that means is that the Oura Ring will give you detailed data on what your bodily state is at any given moment. In the paragraphs below, we will discuss the specific metrics you can get from the Oura Ring, and in later posts, we will take a deep dive into those metrics and see what the numbers can tell us.

Design and Specifications:

  • Sleek design coming in a number of colors.
  • The size of a normal ring.
  • Easy charging station and data syncing.
  • Airplane mode available for low EMF use.

I have included some pictures below for scale.

What does the Oura Ring track?

Now this is where the Oura Ring shines. I have used a Fitbit in the past, and the continuous heart rate data (in my opinion) allows for a more accurate calorie count, but the Oura gives much superior data in terms of recovery and sleep.

The Oura Ring uses a very user-friendly interface to display:

  • Resting Heart Rate
  • Heart Rate Variability
  • Body Temperature
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Total Sleep Time
  • Time in Bed
  • Sleep Stages (time spent in each stage)
    • Deep Sleep
    • Light Sleep
    • REM Sleep
  • Walking Equivalency
  • Steps
  • Total Burn (Calories)
  • Daily Movement
    • Low, Medium, and High intensity time tracked

All of these metrics are broken into three screens: Readiness, Sleep, and Activity.

As you can see, the Oura Ring gives so much valuable data and insight into how well our body is functioning. As I stated earlier, in future posts we will look at how to use this data to make meaningful predictions about our health and well-being.

Why Success Isn’t Always Possible

I touch on a lot of this theory in my article Success is Cyclical, but I know anything insightful is worth repeating. Most people who are into personal development learn early on not to make excuses. We learn that our lives are our responsibility and we have to take action to get results. But as you mature, you realize results don’t always happen and aren’t always possible. You encounter numerous situations where the underserving get success and the intelligent, effective, and kind get ridicule. The reason this happens is because all living things are subject to cycles of growth and decay. “Good” things and “bad” things just the same. So the next time you feel like you want to be hard on yourself, gently ask “What season am I in?”, and you may get insight into your next moves.

Growth and Decay are two sides of the same Coin

Let’s take the stock market for example. Everyone loves when the market is up and hates when it’s down. Everyone, that is, except the wise. Wise people know that the stock market going down is both useful and necessary. When the stock market crashes, it forces companies and people to reorganize. After the first stock market crash we saw more legislation and federal protections from fiscal disaster. In 2008, we saw the Dodd-Frank Act. And, I believe, in the aftermath of the Coronavirus, we will see a push for Universal Basic Income.

A market crash can provide lower buying prices for a commodity that (we hope) will always go up. The point here is that when anything grows for too long, its outdated practices and inefficiencies necessitate a correction. This is why all successful companies, people, and organizations continually analyze and change as they gain more feedback over time. All those systems that don’t eventually fail.

Rewards and Recognition are Arbitrary

Speaking in generalities is a little dangerous. Of course rewards and recognition are good things usually given to the deserving, but not always. If you ever saw someone get promoted and you can’t wrap your head around why, this is why I say rewards are arbitrary. If you were a high-level executive at Enron, you would be rewarded and recognized for being dishonest. I think this happens in far more businesses than we would like to acknowledge. On the other hand, if you worked for an honest organization, you would be rewarded for hard work, ingenuity, and your ability to produce results. So if you took an honest, intelligent, hard-working person and put them in an executive position at Enron, chances are they would not be rewarded for their work (and hopefully the toxic culture doesn’t change their character).

Does that mean they aren’t doing the “right” thing? Of course not. It just means they are not doing the right thing to be rewarded under those circumstances. That’s why it is important that we screen all of the intimate relationships in our lives (work relationships, money management, romantic relationships, friends, etc.). We need to make sure our values are aligned with the values of the people we work closely with.

Hopefully this serves as some solace when you see things going sideways. Remember that success is not always possible, and that is a good thing!

How to Track Workouts

Tracking workouts is one of the keys to success in fitness. Every person seeking fitness should be doing cardio exercise and weight training. Although there are many methods to track fitness, they always boil down to a few essentials.

Tracking Cardio Workouts

Cardio workouts usually center around two variables. Duration and intensity. I am of the mind that most (80%+) cardio should be done at a talking pace (you can talk but NOT sing). This usually correlates to brisk walking (like you are late to class) or a slow jog. Since intensity is controlled for in this case, tracking cardio could be as simple as counting the minutes you are exercising. Of course, you can do more in depth tracking with a heart rate monitor and data collection device such as a Garmin or Strava. For the more intense 20% or less of workouts, they will likely take the form more similar to a weight training protocol where you count sets and reps.

In my opinion (and the opinion of many health care professionals), low to moderate intensity cardio is the foundation of fitness. A minimum of three thirty minute cardio sessions seems to be enough to maintain good cardiovascular function. I do cardio four days a week for 30 minutes to an hour. This usually consists of brisk walking around the neighborhood and/or nearby parks.

Weight Training Workouts

Weight training is slightly more complex than cardio because there are many variables that you can change in a program. The most important variables seem to be total volume, relative intensity and rest periods. Changes in any one of these areas can have BIG effects. For weight training, I believe one must be a little more meticulous in tracking.

In a properly designed program, a person would have a moderate amount of volume (say 12-20 sets made of three to six exercises), moderate intensity (60-80% 1 rep max), and moderate rest between sets (30 seconds to 3 minutes). Most training programs fall within these three criteria. Keeping track of all that requires that you (at minimum) track exercise selection, weight, sets, reps, and rest period. I have found that a simple note on my iPhone does this well enough. I do however use the Strong App to track my workouts. The resulting ease of use and subsequent data makes tracking workouts much easier.

Now, the obvious sequel to this is how to use this data to achieve manageable progressive overload and get bigger, faster, and stronger over time. We’ll look into that in another post. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Instant Pot Black Beans

I talk a lot about nutrition and health, so I figured I would add some healthy recipes to the site to give an idea of what I eat on a daily basis. This recipe for black beans uses an Instant Pot, which is a MUST if you want to increase legume intake (excellent source of fiber). Are you eating 20-30 grams of fiber a day?!?!? Beans are delicious, super duper cheap, filling, and a good source of protein.

This recipe will take about 10 minutes of preparation and 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium white (not sweet) onion
  • 1 cup DRY black beans
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 small bay leaves

Directions

  • Finely chop the onion and thinly slice the garlic (or press it if you feel up to it).
  • Set your Instant Pot to the “SautĂ©” function and wait until it says “hot” or until a splash of water will sizzle.
  • Add olive oil (optional) and sautĂ© the onion and garlic until fragrant, about five minutes.
  • Add the bay leaves and continue sautĂ©ing for another minute.
  • Add the black beans and 2-3 cups of water.
    • Add 2 cups if you want thicker beans (if you mash some of the beans they would be a refried texture)
    • Add 3 cups if you want something closer to a black bean soup.
  • Cook the beans for 50 minutes and leave pressurized for another 25 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. Mash the beans (or use an immersion blender) if you want thick refried style beans.
  • Enjoy!

Crimes of Omission

Sometimes life throws us challenges that we cannot anticipate. It isn’t “fair”, but it is the way it is. Recently I was reading an article that said most of a person’s sins are sins of omission. Not that they did anything wrong, but rather they failed to properly prepare or anticipate upcoming challenges. Crimes of omission are particularly wrenching because hindsight is 20/20. We wish someone would have warned us. Jim Rohn once said, “It isn’t what the book costs, it’s what the book will cost you if you don’t read it.” If you never read Richest Man in Babylon you’ll never know the steps to financial independence. Will this impact you immediately? In small ways yes, but in larger ways, not until you are older and it’s much harder to make up for lost time.

A Case Study

Imagine you are a father (if you aren’t). You know that the most important thing you can give your children is your presence. You come up for a promotion, and your hours at the office increase, along with your paycheck. As a result, you get to see your family less and less over the passing years as you climb the corporate ladder. Then one day you wake up and your husband or wife tells you that your child has been caught using drugs. What did you do wrong? Nothing. There was no crime in choosing your career, but that choice means you omitted the choice to be more involved in the lives of your spouse and children. You were not “bad”, and you didn’t do anything “wrong”, you just neglected what you value as most important (your family) over something less important (money).

Common Crimes of Omission and their Antidotes

Luckily, we aren’t the first people to ever walk the earth. On our life’s journey, there are certain difficulties that we can expect and plan for. Our society does a poor job of preparing us to handle life’s problems. Perhaps our parents did better? Maybe not. Maybe we got lucky and found a mentor…but then again…maybe not. In any case, I hope that by sharing some common difficulties were are likely to face and how to deal with them, I can help be a mentor to someone who needs it.

  • Financial Independence
    • One of the great failings of the public school system is our ineptitude at teaching our students how money works and the importance of financial literacy. We can anticipate that a person without financial literacy will always have problems with money. My personal recommendations for money advice are Mr. Money Mustache, Dave Ramsey, and of course classics like Richest Man in Babylon.
  • Relationships
    • The most relevant advice I have ever received on relationships came from Brian Tracy. In his book Eat That Frog he explains that the whole point of working hard and making money is so we can spend our money and time with those we love. He goes on to say that the quality of our relationships are in direct proportion to the amount of time we invest. Relationship advice is abundant and (in my opinion) sometimes not helpful. My personal recommendation for information about relationships comes from an unlikely source: How to Win Friends and Influence People. My experience is that if we spend sufficient time with our loved ones and interact with them using the principles written in that book, we have a good foundation to build off of.
  • Health and Fitness
    • This aspect is the most convoluted of all of the above in my opinion. I think most people can agree that a mainly whole food diet, coupled with cardiovascular and strength training is the ticket to better health and appearance. The best books I have read on this topic are ALL from Renaissance Periodization. Their training and nutrition advice has been the most helpful to me in regaining my desired levels of health and fitness.

No matter who you are, there are certain desires that are common to all people. We want to be healthy, wealthy, productive, and have positive relationships. Much of what determines our success in these areas are small repeatable actions, done over and over, for an extended period of time. Don’t fall prey to crimes of omission. Thanks for reading!

How Long Does it take to Lose Fitness?

This is a question that I have searched the internet for many times and have never found a satisfactory answer. In my experience, losses to fitness come very quickly, but different aspects lose ground faster than others. I will say that these observations are based on my personal experiences, but I have also found other anecdotal data that confirms my thoughts. Sorry to the cold, hard science folks.

Muscle and Strength Loss

In my experience, muscle loss is the slowest process among the fitness indicators. With a sufficient caloric intake, I have been able to go up to two or three months and not visibly lose any muscle. Of course, this is not advisable, as other markers of fitness will quickly decline. Muscle seems to be very resilient. If your body has gone to great lengths creating it, it seems to go to great lengths to keep it. Building muscle is a very long and hard process. Now, I’m not sure why anyone would ever need to spend two months outside of the gym (I was taking time to focus on cardio), so that week long trip at a hotel with no gym is not likely to be devastating for your muscle mass.

Strength on the other hand is a measure of your muscle’s efficiency. Powerlifters know that in the week before a meet, you taper (or drop intensity) of your workouts. Obviously this is to allow your muscles to super compensate and get their strongest right before the big lift. When I am doing dedicated strength training, I find that strength levels fall off within about three to four weeks. Once again, you are hopefully still training in some capacity so that when you get back to strength training you come back with an increased work capacity.

Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance, or work capacity (when talking about lifting), is exactly what it sounds like. How much work your muscles can do in a given period of time with a given amount of rest. Work capacity losses in my estimation are very fast. Holding glycogen levels equal, a lack of training work capacity (usually high volume training), can cause fitness losses within a week and a half to two weeks. I find that if I stop training with high volume for two weeks, my first sessions back at it are very tiring, and recovery takes two to three times as long as it normally does.

Muscular endurance training (high volume) also seems to be the most sensitive to over-training. When we increase the amount of lifting (work) we do, we are increasing the amount of stress we place on our bodies. Bigger and stronger people doubly so. Dramatic volume increases, more than maybe three sets per body part per week, seem to be very stressful on my body. Work capacity needs to be gently increased over time, interspersed every four to five weeks with a deload.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardio fitness definitely declines the fastest after a lack of training. Cardio fitness is the slowest to build, but also has the highest capacity for improvement, especially as we age. My experience has been that levels of cardio fitness begin to fall off within three to five days of no training. Of course, if you are lifting weights, you are doing a kind of cardio, but not one that would give you the same benefits as low intensity steady state cardio. Having a high level of cardio fitness necessitates that you train with higher frequency and duration. Just ask a Tour de France rider how many hours they spend on the bike each week. Most health and fitness organizations recommend three days of cardiovascular exercise each week. I imagine this is because the compounded benefits of cardio can quickly dissipate if frequency is not high enough. On the other hand, lifting can be done as infrequently as once every other week (read the book Body by Science) and still post impressive benefits.

No matter which type of fitness you are trying to preserve, the most important thing is consistency. Hopefully my experiences have shed some insight on how long it takes to lose fitness. Thanks for reading!

The Frugality Pyramid

The 80/20 principle says that 80% of effects can come from 20% of causes. This principle, commonly referred to as the Pareto Principle, shows up in economics, science, finance, and a host of other areas. A good example is the fact that about 20% of drivers cause 80% of accidents. The big idea isn’t that the ratio is always 80% to 20%, but rather that results can be predictably unbalanced. For example, say you are trying to lose weight. You decide to eat healthy foods, but you still overeat. You will not lose weight because there is a bigger cause at play, your caloric intake.

Now, obviously this is a guiding principle and not a law. In my experience, and I am sure in the experience of countless others, when we look to save money and be frugal, the VAST majority of our results will come from reducing our spending in two major areas. Housing and transportation. These two expenses are 80% of frugality results. We would be wise to not major in minor things. Eating at home is nice and advisable, but address the elephants in the room first.

Don’t Buy More House than you Need

What is the single most expensive purchase you are likely to make in your life? A home. When we purchase a home, we are looking for safe neighborhoods and good schools, and perhaps even status. This is where many people go wrong. Instead of buying a home that fits our needs (safe neighborhoods and schools), we buy one that satisfies our wants (status etc.). For example, a pool would be nice, but a community pool is just as good (probably better). We may also want two guest bedrooms, but realistically, who has guests over more than a few times a year? Little desires like these can push us to buy a home at the upper limit of our means. I wrote an article about wise practices in home and car purchasing.

If that isn’t proof enough that we should be frugal in our purchase of a home, consider the major level of inflation in the size of homes over time.

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People and families haven’t gotten bigger (well…maybe we’ve gotten heavier haha), but the size of new homes is steadily climbing. What major elements do you remember lacking from your childhood home? Chances are our appetites have just gotten bigger. When choosing a home, if we are frugal, the savings are astronomical. Couple this with modest investment knowledge, and the path to financial independence is much closer than one might think. Not to mention that bigger houses have bigger utility bills and larger maintenance costs. And, this is just my opinion, but when the second housing bubble pops and future generations look toward efficiency rather than excess, many of these gargantuan homes will suffer losses.

Buy a Modest Car

The next big purchase is a car. If you are lucky and live in an area with good public transportation, you may be able to get by without even having a car. But chances are it is a necessary expense. One of the most ill-advised financial decisions we can make is to buy a new car. Mr. Money Mustache provides great wisdom on frugal approaches to buying a new car. Although extreme, the mental image of setting $20,000 on fire is effective. A new car is just one of the stupidest things to buy unless you are very wealthy and can afford it off of interest income.

The reason buying a new car is stupid is (at least) two-fold. One, the value of your car immediately decreases after you drive it off the lot. But two, you have just weakened your frugality muscle by giving in to consumer culture. This is likely to increase your desire for more luxuries along the way. This is a surefire way to derail you efforts at becoming financially independent.

Hopefully you gained some useful insights into why homes and cars are the two biggest areas in our lives in which we need to be frugal. Thanks for reading!

Success is Cyclical

No one has ever been consistently successful and conversely no one has ever been a consistent failure. The degree to which we succeed in life indeed depends on our efforts and character, but we must remember that outward success is different from self-esteem. Successes are external measures (money, fame, prestige, respect, etc.) of your performance. Self-esteem is the internal measure of your performance. While having and achieving goals is good and healthy, we must remember that there is a certain level of arbitrariness that goes along with that. This idea doesn’t destroy the excitement of achievement and success but rather attenuates and puts it into perspective.

When Good is Bad and Bad is Good

Think about it. If success were a constant, the greatest men and women would always remain perfectly esteemed and free from criticism, or at least close to it. When you achieve something, it is an outward reward based upon the external climate. What I mean by that is your environment rewards you for meeting its temporary needs. Winning the presidency is a reward for making the best case to the American people that you can meet their needs. Winning a powerlifting meet means that, in relation to the other lifters, you were the strongest. Being a popular girl at school means that your body type, fashion sense, and personality are being rewarded for meeting the needs/desires of your peers. All of these things are neither good nor bad, just neutral.

So success is an external validation based on you meeting someone or something’s needs. Let’s look at an extreme example. For a while, Adolf Hitler was very successful. That doesn’t mean he was “good” or “right”, but rather that he found a way to meet (or supposedly meet) other people’s needs and desires. I am sure that there were wildly intelligent, empathetic, and dutiful people in Germany at the time, but they didn’t rise to power. For whatever reason, the environment chose Hitler. My point here is that no matter who you are, you will never always be successful. It’s impossible. Precisely because external needs and wants are always changing.

A personal example. As a teacher I work with groups of students in various capacities. Some years, my students love me. So much so that they buy me gifts and come back years after they have left to see me. Other years, much less so. I don’t think my students have ever hated me, but some years there are no awards or heartwarming appreciation. I, at my core, haven’t changed. I always treat my students the same. But times and things change, and for whatever reason, I am not that special to them. And that’s okay!

Success and Self-Esteem

Success is cyclical and elusive. No sooner than you achieve something, the desire for something bigger and better comes along. One achievement is a spur to the next. Totally natural. But focus on the internal as well. Self-Esteem is a result of feeling good about yourself based on your pre-determined values. If you value family, you will have high self-esteem if you take actions that show that. If you value loyalty, every time to are there for a loved one you feel good about yourself. Success never stays around indefinitely, whereas self-esteem never leaves you so long as you cultivate it. I’m reminded of a Bible verse: Do not store treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, but store up treasures in heaven.

Time and seasons will change, and certain virtues will go in and out of popularity. Everyone is subject to this. Sometimes, external rewards will validate our work and other times they won’t. There’s nothing bad about it, it just is what it is. If you can set your values and stay true to them, you can end up with the cake upon which success is the icing. Thanks for reading!

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