We are already a month through 2018.
It seems that everyone I’ve spoken to has remarked about how fast January flew by. So we are 4 weeks down, making it the perfect time to consider our end of 2017 goals, behaviour changes and life improvements that we set for ourselves.
It’s odd there are still ‘New Year, New You’ promotions appearing on my social media, of course it’s always the right time to initiate positive change, but procrastinating making a change for this amount of time needs some investigation.
Personally, I think the emphasis of one-off transformation of resolutions is over-hyped and can be destructive to building positive new habits. For example, whilst a new calendar is symbolically important for a ‘fresh start,’ there is no real reason why any change that seems important at the end of the calendar could not have happened in December, or November, or at any other time it came to your attention.
Apparently, 80% of resolutions fail by February (see here), perhaps this is indicative of the obligation to want better by listing off unclear, non-SMART and non-directive goals.
- Eat better
- Get fit
- Save more
These are not good goals but they are all resolutions that I’ve made for myself and that people I work with have told me about. It’s running the same script year-in and year-out, and its no wonder that they fail, and that these resolutions reappear year-to-year.
If you missed the point with your resolutions, consider these questions and take massive action towards a chain right now…
- How will you know that you’ve succeeded with your goal?
- How will it make you feel?
- What number/metric can you use to track progress?
- How often will you track progress?
- What can be done to reward progress towards your goal?
February is as good a time as New Year. In fact, it’s probably better because by now, we’ve left holiday and celebrations and we’re back to the hustle of everyday life.
“The days are long, but the years are short.” — Gretchen Rubin
Now is the second-best time to start, the best time was last year.
p.s. I recently listened to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Gretchen Rubin and I think it’s really worth a listen here for anybody interested in personal experimentation, happiness, habits and just a fresh perspective.
p.p.s. On a personal interest note, Dan Carlin recently launched a new Blitz episode focusing on the history of pain as entertainment here. Prepare to question ‘human-ness!’
In coaching and in achieving change, self-awareness is a key skill that requires constant honing and practice. Wikipedia defines self-awareness as
“the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.”
The capacity for introspection is the most important aspect for creating positive change. This is because the ability to know yourself, to know your idiosyncrasies and to know how you cope with situations enables conscious ‘pattern interruption’ to make better decisions for long-term health, or to respond to fear courageously, or to just say ’no.’
I’d add that this separateness enables recognising oneself as capable of changing the environment as well as changing yourself.
For example, I know that I really struggle with self-control on evenings when I get home from work at 8:30 or later. At these times, I’ve found myself eating half a jar of peanut butter, finishing a block of chocolate and eating tomorrow’s prepared meals. Obviously, this isn’t great!
Acknowledging it for what it is let me change the behaviour for the better. So first, the next time I went to the fridge door, I paused and reminded myself that I am a healthy person, and really, healthy people do not do this.
Naturally, this only half worked.
Maybe I had a tablespoon (or three) of peanut butter rather than half a jar. It’s a step in the right direction.
Now it was strategy time. I realised that this behaviour was often me misinterpreting dehydration as hunger and then wanting to reward myself after a long day at work. Then the inconvenience of cooking a proper meal was too big at that time.
Ah ha the insight!
So I began preparing a small meal I could have before leaving work such that I wasn’t grumpy, hungry or irritable. I ensured that good hydration habits were maintained all the way into evening sessions, and I placed a handful of dark chocolate bars in the fridge at home.
Hydrated, fed, happy, rewarded. It’s simple.
It would have been too easy for the days to roll into months, and the months to roll into years, where I continued to wolf down random collections of food every night before bed. Now though, I have taken control of the habit and made it work for me.
On the whole, it seems to me that this is the main reframe we need with our lives. Habits are habits, they will always be a part of us and how we live. Then they can help us or hinder us. Habits can also be reactionary or proactive – that is, we candesignour habits to improve our lives or our habits can rule us to despair and dis-ease.
Working at Fitness First I see all sorts of training mistakes and less than optimal strategies to improving health, body composition and functionality.
Endurance athletes have known something for decades that ought to be a central idea in health and fitness. Mark Sisson (former pro-triathlete and mastermind behind the Primal Health movement) talks about the almost universal modern situation of being excellent an sugar-burner yet poor fat-burner. How to test this? There are two obvious ways.. First, how long can you go without eating? Second, do cravings and severe hunger rule the day?
The majority of gyms and trainers are amazing at building a hype around feeling the burn and getting a sweat on to ‘balance’ being sat at a desk all day. When work stress is prevalent, layering that with stressful exercise is not the fastest way to achieve results – unless the desired result is falling ill, getting injured or wasting time.
Think of fat-burning ability as the base of your pyramid. The wider, the base, the greater the return from high intensity training. Training at a lower intensity improves the machinery underlying accessing our own fat storage, in place of relying on external sources of carbohydrates. Think about our ancestors – we would often have been forced to exert ourselves in pursuit of prey, without access to quick sugars or a proper meal. We need to set our nutrition, training and lifestyle up to improve our fat-use to be fit, healthy and live a long time. Improving fat use as fuel is linked to nutrition strategy, but also how movement is approached.
Endurance athletes talk about heart-rate zones to no end. Using the “180 – age” rule of thumb tells us where we want to be spending most of our training time (maybe 80%) to get better at utilising fat as fuel during movement and also at rest.
Using myself as an example, I’d look at 180 – 23 = 157 bpm. What’s my protocol?
I’d structure my movement so that approximately 80% of it is spent at this easy, but not nothing, heart-rate. For example, jump on the treadmill with a heart-rate monitor and adjust the incline until I’m cruising around 154-157 bpm. Start small, say 30 minutes, and over time increase the time to 90 minutes and increase the incline to improve the efficiency of our aerobic energy system.
The standard I like to see is 45 minutes focused walking at 12% on a treadmill – without being completely puffed out. Then if it suits, progress to jogging, running, cycling, whatever.
Luke Leaman of Muscle Nerds describes a protocol including this as a ‘least mode’ plan – slowing down and becoming a fat-burning machine in order to push the functioning of higher-intensity zones to new levels.
Yes, to achieve greater results in Beast Mode, get a whole lot better in Least Mode.
Burn fats, work the aerobic system, get stronger and get faster.
I think about these figures a lot. At the core of how I set goals and evaluate myself is the belief that nothing is constant, this means that either things improve or they decay. As an example, in 2016 I ran a 1.32 half marathon, which is approximately 4:22 minutes per kilometre.
Due to changing my priorities and dropping down the amount of mileage and training hours generally, I currently can maintain something in the region of a 4:44 pace for half an hour. I’d predict that a half marathon would take me a little over 2 hours.
Likewise, if we are not careful, giving insufficient thought to our food, lifestyle, sleep, fun can led to poor health outcomes, dis-ease, and burnout.
Life is a one day at a time game, aiming straight for an Ironman or cooking a complicated soufflé is perhaps setting up for disappointment. It’s considering what stage our life is at and which bars we are attempting to lift.
Dr John Demartini lists 7 life areas: spiritual quest, mental space, career, family, finances, social and physical health. Ranking each of these 7 out of 10 provides an excellent framework for identifying what to work on and what we have succeeded in.
I understand that we all have commitments and things in our lives that take up lots of our hours. In the 168 hours in a week, say 40 are work-related, say 65 are asleep – that leaves us up to 63 hours to address any shortcomings.
Dr Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor and research at the University of Toronto, talks about the idea of starting small, and in fact, starting by ‘tidying your room.’ For me, whilst certainly true literally, the idea expands to include all those little tasks that have been on my mind… doing the washing-up, taking books to the charity shops, tidying social places and cleaning the oven. It’s preparing our environment to free our headspace to focus on improving what matters.
I don’t know about you, my bedroom certainly has symptoms of gradual decay. Applying the method is just using 5 minutes to put some things away and make order.
Start with the simple things, and apply in each area one day at a time. Settling at any time means decay, so managing time to work out the areas of biggest return is awesome for holistic life improvement.
On a journey with no well-defined destination, any path is correct.
To move forward to a desirable future requires defining exactly what it is we are working towards. The most common goal I help people accomplish is to get fit and/or to lose weight. Both of these are unclear and fail to provide instruction.
How do we know when we are successful?
How do I know when I am fit?
Is it the number on the scales really what matters?
Let’s take getting fit. Each of us has a different mental image of fitness. It might be Kayla Itsines, Ben Greenfield or maybe doing what we did a decade ago. Fitness has come to include how we look, how we feel, what we can do and even our health overall.
I have found that whatever resonates and jumps out as significant for each of us is a sign of something that we can work towards. Maybe it’s getting the 1:30 half marathon, or dropping that 10kg, or moving painfree. As a gateway to self-understanding, the process of sacrifice and improvement to attain that goal is critical in developing excellence in fitness.
Working with runners in this regard is simple. They have concrete metrics that can be used to track progress and the micro-goals add up over the months to amazing transformations. Tracking and following numbers is one part of getting to the final destination, because the course to success in non-linear and requires individualised experimentation and adjustment.
John Lee Doumas (of Entrepreneur on Fire) talks about FOCUS as standing for…
That’s what it’s all about, really. Goals do not work unless we do, so first and foremost, defining where I want to be in 12 months gives me feedback of how I am progressing month-to-month and week-to-week.
A resolution for myself this year is to be more real with myself, and looking at the metrics for what they are – being on track is great, being off track requires adjustment.
Trust the process and the results will come.
What an amazing time of year!
I still have yet to come to terms with celebrating Christmas in beautiful weather and stunning sun – it’s definitely a bit different to my childhood experiences!
Personally I love this time of year…
Family, friends, love and connection. Having free time devoted to just being with family and friends and making the most of the moment is special. As an expression of this, I really love giving gifts and expressing gratitude. Often it is only a tiny, insignificant demonstration of what I feel… it is nice to give that energy out to the world.
Taking stock and looking forward. The symbolic meaning of Christmas.. as the (re-)birth of the hero in the depths of darkness talks to me a lot – and it strikes me as the perfect time to take a few hours alone or with someone I trust to look back, review and then look forward.
This post will outline how I approach this yearly review process – it’s not exactly comprehensive, but these are the questions that I ask and the notes that I make.
Running through this process has become a ritual now – for the last 5 years, I have devoted perhaps 6-hours every Christmas-week to journalling, reflection and projection.
Questions to Take Stock…
- What am I most proud of in the last year?
- What new dream did you achieve in the last year?
- Who did you meet and how did they shape you?
- What skills and experiences are you proud to have honed?
Questions to Guide What’s Next…
- Where do you feel you let yourself down, or let fear take control?
- What would you have done differently?
- What did you do last year that had you feeling excited, and how can you take it to the next level?
- What 6-12 bucket-list experiences do you want next year?
Taking the time to flesh out full answers to these questions, and letting the unconscious run with any answers is a formational time for transforming your life. With all the people I have talked to who have done remarkable things, they always bring up a time usually 3 years ago where they sat down and wrote down what they wanted their life to be 3-5 years later. They set concrete, objective goals in health, happiness, wealth, relationships, business, whatever. Then by asking, the Universe and the Unconscious adjusts and provides.
It reminds me of this Napoleon Hill quote…
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
Now whether this is synchronicity or ‘the secret’ or any other theory isn’t important. Defining what is coming up next sets the standard for evaluation – and given enough leg in the game, adjustment towards the goal will take place!
Personally I believe that most New Years’ Resolutions do not trigger real sustainable change is because they are too fluffily defined – “This year I will be healthier” is a really ineffective resolution — what does it mean, how will you know, how can you track progress, when is the deadline, and what is the emotional motivation behind it?
As a ridiculous comparison – I’m going skydiving next year. It’s a goal and maybe not a resolution, but principles cross-over. In the process of realising this bucket-list item… I had to become someone who goes skydiving – I had to ‘put in the work’ of finding a provider, of scheduling, and of paying. So, I’ve already paid and put it in the calendar.
In this example, the leverage for me to fulfil this goal is that I’d lose my money. I’ve acknowledged this and understand it – because my money is with the provider! It is a silly example – but with our person wanting to be healthier… they could ask themselves:
- How am I tracking this – is it how I look, my body-fat percent, how I feel, my posture?
- When will I evaluate this – all of the above really should be monitored at most monthly – but also there need to be harsh deadlines. So…
- How can I leverage emotion to create a reason why? Like, if Sally’s wedding was in 6 months, her food and movement priorities will reflect this – looking killer in her dress is a huge emotional pull towards healthy choices.
- A fun alternative to this is making a deal with a friend. So let’s say John wanted to lose 10kg by June 2018 for a holiday… John can give his trusted coworker Steve $500 with the agreement that if he is not 10kg lighter by 1/6/2018, that $500 is donated to a charity or organisation that John despises – maybe the Australian Nazi Party. If he does achieve his goal, it gets returned to his holiday fund.
- The most important question that I ask myself every day is possibly “what is the smallest possible step I can take towards my goal?” Ask this question, answer it, then do it!
Let the mind run wild and feel the excitement of achieving some long-held bucket-list goal or correcting something that was off for 2017. Taking out-of-focus plans and making them clear is a key step in having a magical year.
Making 2018 the best year so far is in your hands.
So 2017 is rapidly coming to a close, meaning, for many of us, holidays are coming up. Celebrating and socialising sometimes puts health and wellbeing on the back foot, as enjoying ourselves takes precedent over looking after ourself.
Alchohol, sweets, going places, excessive food, all take their toll if we aren’t mindful of how we’re spending our time and remember what we’re trying to achieve. Health and wellness is a practice, meaning that it is the small things that are done consistently that bring the best results.
These 8 practices will help cement the progress we’ve made, so that we can start 2018 feeling amazing, healthy and on-track.
1. Take time for yourself
This is a macro idea that becomes especially important when ‘holiday mode’ switches on. What I mean by this is that often when we go on holiday, we are in a frame of mind of maximising relaxation, enjoying our time and generally expending as little energy as possible. Rather, I find it is crucial for making the most of each day to spend time moving, running, fascia-working, reading and ‘staying on.’
Getting in at least an hour of deliberately improving my knowledge, body, etc. sets up the rest of the time to zone out and enjoy the amazing Melbourne summer sun.
A few things I’ve got lined up include…
– Rereading The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene (see here: https://www.bookdepository.com/The-48-Laws-of-Power/9781861972781 )
– Exploring and attempting to understand some Quantum Biology with Dr Jack Kruse’s material as my teacher (see here: https://www.jackkruse.com/getting-started-guide/ )
– Getting some time in the sea!
2. Think 80-20
My thinking about food centres around an 80-20 ratio. What I mean by this if (broadly) 80% of what I put in my body each day is spot-on, the remaining 20% is flexible. Like if meals 1, 2 and 3 are clean, healthy and ticking the right boxes, then having that chocolate in the evening is fine. To me, it’s not the numbers that matter – it’s more about ensuring that the majority of what I do builds a future state that I am the cause of, rather than the victim of.
Practically, I know that over Christmas-NY, there will be a little more alcohol and a little more chocolate. So I think “okay, let’s start the day right – a perfect breakfast and lunch, some movement, and then into the afternoon, I’m in a good place.”
For some further reading, check out Ryan Holiday’s blog here https://ryanholiday.net/best-articles/.
3. Start well
Choosing to be proactive with my life is a practice that requires consistency. Tying into #2, it’s interesting to observe that the most effective and healthy people seem to start their days exactly the same way regardless of what day it is, where they are or what they’re doing.
Whether it’s rising at a certain time or eating the same meal, following a routine is the key to making sustainable improvements in anything. When I adopted waking up at 5am as a solid foundation to each day, I noticed the days became more productive and I felt more empowered.
The idea of starting the day proactively or reactively is worth real consideration. Are we starting the day with the mindset and perspective that we want to fill our day, and our life, with?
I find the way that ex-Navy SEAL Jocko Willink describes this incredible…
“The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day. The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win — you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions.”
Just for an idea of this man, check out his Instagram feed (here: https://www.instagram.com/jockowillink/ ) and I definitely recommend his book Extreme Ownership.
This post captures Jocko’s philosophy excellently http://aplus.com/a/wake-up-early?no_monetization=true
The temptation to avoid going and moving because we have time off work or because we have a different structure to the day is one that must be overcome. Whether its continuing a program at the gym, or heading to the Tan for an hour, or just getting down and deep in myofascial release, it is again all about consistent action towards our goals.
We are back to the idea of a ‘practice.’ Adding a daily ritual adds up – it’s doing something repeatedly, 1% better every day, that brings about life-changing results. The mindset of “oh I’m writing off this week because it’s Christmas” is not conducive to creating the life we aspire to live. Perhaps having a little less urgency because of the extra time is fine, perhaps not. Do what needs to be done to get 1% better – take the selfish action of spending an hour on fascia release, a few years later, your body will thank you.
Simultaneously, that extra free time is perfect for combining socialising with movement – grab a friend and go out in the sun! It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon – especially if it get combined with fresh air, nature, the sea and having some fun!
5. Switch off (social media, tech) – MA renew yourself quote
“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.” -Marcus Aurelius
I really like this quote, in fact – it is permanently visible on my MacBook desktop. In my own life, I have been struggling with switching off. Acknowledging how much time I was spending on my phone (I used the App Moment) and then noticing that I have become addicted to constant notifications and ‘checking for updates’ was a huge realisation. Given that breakthroughs happen when our brain has nothing else to do, those times of ‘boredom’ are actually of huge value – letting our mind wander and giving our unconscious the space to work stuff out lets us level up.
Whilst at work, we can use the excuse that we are working to justify spending over a quarter of our waking time looking at our phone. But really, a lot of the time, an instant response isn’t necessary, nobody is going to miss you or be that frustrated by a longer response time and living life happens physically, not technologically.
So I’ve set a goal to massively cut down on my phone screen time, and to mindfully use the device. Rather than mindlessly refreshing Instagram, Facebook and email, the break over Christmas will help me rediscover the joys of physical presence and to work through an addiction that is almost certainly preventing me levelling up in life.
For more reading (perhaps exaggerated..), check out https://www.facebook.com/drjackkruse/posts/1800067610057585
Australian sun, here comes a can of worms. For most of us, we spend excessive amounts of time indoors – to the detriment of our health. Not only is this coupled with low levels of movement, but it also can severely disrupt our circadian rhythms due to crazy-excessive blue light and EMF exposure and this has severe ramifications for the rest of our body (see .).
Giving yourself the gift of waking up early to watch the sunrise, or taking that hour or two to go to the beach, or even just taking a ‘sun break’ in contrast to the more common coffee break. Feel and see the sun, touch nature, reset the body clock and frequency.
Now the sun here definitely is a little much during peak hours and obviously we do not want to risk getting burnt or excessively crispy, so look after yourself.
Having a bit of extra time and less to think about is a perfect opportunity to delve into something we’ve been meaning to do.. whether this is heading to a new suburb, checking out a new beach or exploring a new book, the Christmas break is great for this.
Now that we’ve got more flexibility and more time available, setting goals to explore outside our comfort zone is a great way to have some personal growth and to dig into that curiosity that we haven’t found the time for yet.
Personally I love wandering off in some direction, maybe with a podcast on, maybe not, and just walking until I feel compelled to turn around and head back. Taking this idea from physical, to mental, to anything else is, in my opinion, an excellent use of time.
8. Give and love
The best part of Christmas and New Year is that it comes with more family time and celebrations. It might be that we are distracted by Christmas and gifts and festivities, yet sharing in the good mood and celebrations is magical.
Feeling the love and giving it in return only turns up the magic, and, I think, might be the most important thing in life.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, I am honoured and I truly hope I have given you some value for this festive season. See you in 2018!
A quick Google search for running training plans often distils down to a) slowly increasing volume, speed, intensity, depending on the goal and b) using gym sessions to build up core strength and ‘single-leg strength’ work.
Now part a) has its place in any endurance program and of course to get better at running speed-endurance, we had better run.
Typically, our gym work is physio-like movements that micro-target individual aspects of the running movement. Single leg deadlifts, 1-8th range single leg squats, push ups (?), planks (?), hyperextensions… the list is endless.
Advice centres on the idea that muscular strength in ‘sport-specific’ movements transfers over and improves our performance. Alternatively, large compound movements building full body strength, and prepare our muscles for the volume in running. Build strong legs, a strong back and a strong core and you’re a strong runner! Right? Wrong.
Why are large compounds better for body transformation than running? Large lifts target our musculoskeletal system, with massive metabolic effects, whereas running (and so the fundamental of human movement) is fascial and cardiovascular.
When we run, we utilise networks of fascia to propel us forward. Fascia is like a webbed network across our body, it encompasses our muscle groups, and gives that ‘whipping’ effect whenever we throw, run or jump. Think about the difference in feeling between a really good throw and smashing your chest with bench press. Our throw feels all encompassing (think about a baseball pitch), whereas a chest press is isolating.
Even if we don’t know about it, the SAID principle applies. This ‘Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands’ basically says that we get better at what we do more of. I’d like to point out, this adaptation includes our muscular system, our cardiovascular system AND our biomechanics as a whole.
Picture the biomechanics of a horse. I hope you imagined something like this.
Now do the same thing for us, what are the biomechanics of the human body?
Now to core training… most fitness professionals (from my small perspective) agree that sit-ups are largely redundant for optimal posture and performance because they encourage slouching, which most of us are pretty good at anyway! That is, the problem is that it is ‘training’ us to be in a poor position. (This is additional to the mismatch with the actual function of the rectus abdominus as a dynamic stabiliser.)
Let’s talk about planks. Question is this position what I want to get better at? 9 times out of 10, runners have tight hip flexors, kypho-lordosis and associated shoulder-chest rounded problems. Get in a typical plank with all this going on, and what’s getting encouraged?
You got it. Tighter hips. A slack lumbar. Rounded shoulders.
Running is a challenge in hip extension (kicking our leg down, from bent to straight). From sitting, stressing and other lifestyle problems, 99% of us have dysfunctional core-hip relationships and our glutes cannot properly facilitate running.
If your plank is practicing pelvic tilt, pelvic shift, kypho-lordosis and rounded shoulders, it might not be improving your core in any helpful way.
So what’s the alternative?
Take a look back at Usain (who, by the way, does not have perfect biomechanics, but obviously he’s doing something right!). Notice that at no point in his movement does his body look like a plank, Russian twist, dragonflag or anything else. Likewise, I’m hard-pressed to see a hip-hinge pattern, a squat, a push up or anything like that.
If being an efficient runner is our goal, the SAID principle tells us what to do, impose demands on our body that parallel the movements we are aiming to enhance!