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 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! 

How to Plan for your Habits


“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Although this saying is “played out” in a lot of ways, it still remains a truth in almost all areas of life. Planning is vital to achieving any level of success in almost all endeavors. Planning needs to have a structure and philosophy to produce results. Otherwise, it is just planning in vain, and that sounds like one of the worst ways to spend your time. 

Do your Research

Before we begin planning a path toward any particular goal, we must decide what is worth planning for. Let’s say you decide to plan a fitness goal. It would be helpful to have a teacher or trainer guide you through the process. If you are a rebel, perhaps you want to figure it out on your own. But in any case, you need to gather the necessary information to know what reasonable steps to take. As was stated in my earlier article on making small habits, be sure to start small and build slowly. Okay, so now you know that you are going to start your journey by walking for at least ten minutes a day. The next step is to take that small goal and create a reasonable and visible plan. 

Have a Reasonable and Visible Plan

If a beginner to fitness made a goal to begin running 30 minutes each day they would likely fail. Not only is the goal not reasonable, it is unnecessarily hard. Now, if I go from being sedentary to walking ten minutes a day, that is a reasonable goal. Big enough to begin producing results, but small enough not to set off my body’s resistance patterns. 

I now need to make this plan visible. This is a minor, but crucial process in creating a good plan. Let’s say you open up your Google Docs and create a weekly meal plan. The next morning you get up and go to the fridge to begin prepping your meals for the week. What was your snack supposed to be? How many cups of rice go in your lunch? Now imagine that you printed that document and placed it on your fridge with a magnet. Now you get up, go to the fridge and know exactly what to pack to meet your goals for that day. In my experience, this small habit of making the plan visible is indispensable to 100% compliance. 

I am a teacher. When kids don’t do their homework, I make them verbally tell me they didn’t do it. I don’t do it to be vindictive, I do it to provide accountability. If I just walk past and they can look the other way, they don’t have to admit their failure (albeit insignificant) to me or themselves. Going back to the fridge example, If I have to look at the document on my fridge and willfully put something else in my lunch bag, I must admit that small failure to myself in that moment. Of course we forgive ourselves when we make mistakes, but knowing that you have to confront them soon afterward makes for a good accountability measure. 

Be Ready to Tweak

Jack Canfield has a lot of great little sayings that I remember. One of them is “ready, fire, aim”. Basically the concept is to “just begin” and then take stock of the results to make tweaks as you go. This is exactly what we must do with our plans (unless we are under the guidance of a professional). It sounds like a contradiction to tell you to make a plan, and at the same time be flexible, but that is exactly what we must do if we are creating unique goals for ourselves. Just let the idea settle that achieving your goals will require flexibility on your part. 

So remember, do your research, have a visible and reasonable plan, and be ready to tweak your plan as you go.

Thanks for reading!

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!

How to Not Care what Others Think

Not caring what others think at all may prove to be a fool’s errand. Of course we care (even if only a little) about what those important to us think. That is natural. What I am speaking of here is how to live our lives so that the need for approval doesn’t stunt our authenticity. 

Answers to big questions are often simple. Not easy, but simple. It may take a significant amount of time to actualize them, but the idea itself is simple. 

Why do we Seek Approval?

There are many habits in life that are the vestiges of our earlier human development. Approval seeking is a great example. Think about it. You are out in the wilderness with your tribe. You cannot survive alone. Because of this, staying in everyone’s (particularly the leader’s) good graces is a matter of life and death. Fast forward to modern life, there are very few people whose approval we need to live a good life. The only exception may be as a child. As a child, we should get the unconditional approval of our parents, but that is a different story for another day. 

We seek approval for fear of being cast out of whatever group we are in. If our friends love to gossip, chances are we will too, because our brains are telling us that if we don’t, we risk being kicked out of the group (that might not be a bad thing). Now, translate this to other areas of your life that could hold you back. Maybe you want to become a writer, but the criticism from those around you stunts your efforts. You want to study a new skill, but your sister unintentionally giggles when you tell her. That is when this perfectly normal survival mechanism becomes a sabotage mechanism. 

How to not Care what Others Think

Not caring what others think comes down to values. Story time. When I was in my early twenties, I loved reading articles from Brian Tracy. One of his suggestions was to come up with a list of values. I wracked my brain and had to confront the sobering truth that I didn’t have any. I had the values that other people wanted for me, but I had not developed them on my own. I mostly forgot about that exercise for a number of years. 

Fast forward 5-7 years, and with some valuable life experiences, I developed my own set of values without even thinking about it. After years of dealing with the problems of daily living, I naturally unearthed what was important to me. 

Whenever we fear the criticism of others, it is because we have not decided what is important to us. Don’t get me wrong, the fear may always be there, but in a much less overwhelming way that won’t stop you from taking action. When you have your values in order, you will realize that the only person whose approval you desperately need is your own. Other people’s opinions matter, and sometimes we need to alter our values based on valuable feedback. But the ultimate change is up to us. Getting your values in order may take some time. Life experience will help you unearth them even if you aren’t trying to. Exercises like this one can help you start, but remember, life experience is what will ultimately set your values in stone. 

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!