Since the world began to change a few months ago, the average person has found it increasingly difficult to stay healthy. You start going to bed a bit later, drinking a little earlier, and grazing on whatever you can get your hands on all day long. Combine those issues with a fleeting motivation for exercise, and the future of your waistline does not look so good.
During times like these, we dwell on our current lack of motivation. Home-based exercise has always been a challenge for most people. Similar to the common issues found in working from home, when you are in a familiar, comfortable, unstructured environment, things just don’t get done. You don’t have anyone to hold you accountable, and you are missing the critical transition that moves you from one frame of mind to another. For example: when you leave your house, arrive at the gym, put on your fancy gym clothes and meet your coach, you prime yourself for exercise. When you’re at home, there are many competing primers to sit, eat, watch T.V., or do some busywork.
The keyword here is ‘primed.’ People believe that motivation is a trait. Some people are motivated, some people are not. We view a lack of motivation as a character flaw. The truth is that (much like willpower) motivation is an unreliable source of productivity. It is weak, sparse, and finite by nature. Especially when it comes to routine acts that can be monotonous at the moment and have a long lag between action and outcome (like flossing your teeth), motivation is not the correct fuel source. What you need is discipline, and this is where ‘primers’ come in.
People also wrongly believe that discipline is a character trait. You are disciplined, or you aren’t. That belief is incorrect. Discipline is simply a combination of knowing yourself and organizing your life in a way that decreases your chances of messing things up. For instance, it may be your intention to wake up at 6 AM each morning and exercise before the kids wake up. That’s a nice thought, but what usually happens at 6 AM? You wake up, you look at the clock, you think of the ten reasons why staying in bed is better than exercise, and you go back to sleep. Or perhaps you wake up and tell yourself that you’ll just work out after lunch (which you never follow through with). Or maybe you get out of bed and meander around the house for 45 minutes, drinking coffee and staring at your smartphone. Then when the kids get up, it’s too late to exercise. These examples are not issues of motivation. These are issues of a lack of calling yourself out and being prepared.
If I want to work out during a time when I historically find endless excuses not to, my goal is to make those excuses nearly impossible to access. If I were to set the alarm on my phone, I wouldn’t just ‘set the alarm’. I’d add a note to it (a feature available on any smartphone) that said something like ‘hey, don’t even think about going back to sleep. It’s now or never’. I’d put my workout clothes on the floor, likely beside my bathroom door so I’d have to step over them in the morning, literally. Then I would make sure to prepare my water, music, and everything else I needed. That way, I can just go downstairs and get to work. That is all discipline is composed of. Know yourself, anticipate the future, and set primers to keep you from being yourself.
If you drink too early in the day, set a strict limit on your start time and even put a note on the wine fridge if necessary. If you snack on chips and crackers excessively into the evening, get that shit out of your house- or at the very least- appoint a snack bowl of a specific size that you mentally commit to as your single evening serving. If you spend too much time on your smartphone, download an app that gives you a single session or total daily reminders when you’ve hit your screen limit. These interventions sound silly to people, but they work.
Being a disciplined individual is not a complicated process requiring David Goggins or Jocko Willink on your speed dial. Discipline is knowing yourself + implementing silly primers that keep you from being who you usually are when you fail. Think about where you fall short and get creative with your commitments. Implement strategies that will hold you to the promises you make for yourself and see just how ‘motivated’ you can become.
The world has shut down, and if you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, you’re probably struggling. In my world (the world of health and fitness), many businesses are not going to survive. The same is true for anyone large enough to have staff and other bills to pay, but too small to get giant bailouts or lean on private and public funds for survival. The diverse ‘in-betweeners’ that we need more of, especially at a time like this, will suffer most.
If there is one thing you have more time for right now, it’s reading (or some other form of information consumption). Learning x Action is going to be your best shot at pivoting your business and coming out on the other side in one piece, so you’d best get to it. Since the beginning of this lockdown, I’ve read six books on my phone while holding a baby. These also happen to be the only six books I have ever read on an electronic device. When things change, you adapt and make the most of it.
While I would not consider myself an ‘expert’ in entrepreneurship, I am indeed an experienced enthusiast. I have run my own ever-evolving business for 12 years now, I am an avid learner and consumer of information, and I have my M.B.A. specializing in entrepreneurship and management. I can act as a decent filter for information, and that is what I am doing for you right now in this blog post.
Here are a few of my personal rules that you should know about before you read this list
- can’t take advice from people I couldn’t see myself hanging out with for more than five minutes. Regardless of how brilliant a person may be, if s/he rubs me the wrong way, I can’t take his or her advice seriously. I’m not sure if this is wise or idiotic on my part, but I can’t seem to get around it.
- I do not take business advice from academics (who weren’t first business people). Academics who don’t have any real-world business experience are reductionistic nerds without a real concept of what is happening out there. Follow their advice at your own peril.
- I also do not take industry advice from internet gurus who seem to be better at internet marketing of the consulting they sell than they are at actually doing the thing they are telling you to do. If you haven’t accomplished what I am trying to accomplish, there is no way for you to coach me
With that out of the way, if you are struggling, or if you are on your way to struggling, here are some resources that can help you save your business, or at the very least, make you a more resilient person if it all comes crashing down.
Books you should read
There are a few good business books out there for entrepreneurs. There are even more good books that can help you build character, and thus, indirect success in business. There are also a few books that seem as though they were explicitly written for a time like this. Here is my reading list for all three categories.
Regardless of what your future holds, you get to decide how you handle it and what you make it mean. These books will help you write the best ending to your life story.
Man’s Search For Meaning
Inspiring Entrepreneurial Biographies
Some people in this world are straight-up gangsters when it comes to bootstrapping their lives. Here are two of those fantastic stories.
When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead
If real business advice is what you need right now, here are a few books I highly recommend.
The E-Myth Revisited
The Lean Startup
Specific to Current Chaos
If you feel as though you’ve just been hit by a Mack truck, these books will explain what the hell just happened and give you some perspective on the matter.
Fooled By Randomness
Not everyone is a reader. If you fall into this category, you should rethink that trait. In the meantime, here are a few podcasts that can be inspiring and helpful when it comes to business.
How I Built This
The Knowledge Podcast
The Next Big Idea
My last piece of advice is as follows: do not be an over-consumer and an under-applier of information. And believe me, unless you are in the .001% of intellects in this world, if you’re the first, you’re also the last. I have been down the road of believing reading fifty books is better than reading five, and all that left me with was a scattered mind and shallow learning. Find 1-5 books that speak to you and read them each 5-10 times. It’s a better strategy for growth.
Remember that failure only becomes a reality once you’ve given up. If that sounds silly to you, perhaps this Taoist tale can help
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbours exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbours again came to offer their sympathy for what they called his “misfortune.”
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
You story isn’t over until you’re dead and buried. Every scene before the final take is just what makes the ending interesting.
I am a low carb eater. I have been eating low carb for over a decade now. For the past few years, I have averaged around 90% of my daily caloric intake from animal foods. This is an important point to begin this post because my following viewpoint does not stem from an issue with the concept of low carb dieting. My problem(s) is with the religious echo-chamber which the low carb dieting world has become. The recent COVID pandemic has shown how deep that dogmatic iceberg goes.
If you have been following me on Twitter (which you probably haven’t been. I only really began posting a few months ago), you’ll notice that I have taken on the role of full-on troll against the low carb community. I didn’t do this on purpose. I follow many low carb personalities due to my personal dietary choices, so my feed is overwhelmingly filled with that theme of the content.
The more I read the thoughts and feelings of what the paleo, keto, and carnivore community have to say, the more I disagree with their approach. Not because I don’t agree with the potential benefits of all those various ways of eating, but because the generalizations and bold (if not arrogant) claims that are beginning to be made by this group require push-back. The groupthink ‘back-patting’ that insulates this collective is preventing top personalities from facing liberal opposition of their views.
My opinion on the matter has been pretty clear
Ideas like ‘all carbs are unhealthy,’ you can’t manage blood sugar while consuming carbohydrates, and carbohydrates cause diseases like type 2 diabetes are commonplace in this group. Claims like these are even celebrated.
If I were 100lbs overweight, and I could follow any diet without issue, it would be a low carb diet. I am not in denial of how these dietary approaches can be beneficial in the way that these groups promote it. The problem is when you imply and conflate the idea(s) that a person becomes overweight by eating blueberries, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage: my god, maybe even rice and a sweet potato every once in a while! Yes, those are all carbohydrate dominant foods, and they ARE NOT the cause of obesity or any other lifestyle-driven disease. Here’s what does cause these issues: processed foods, constant snacking, meals that are absent of whole foods, and sitting on your ass all day long. A person can have a reasonable amount of carbohydrate from whole food sources in his or her diet without health consequences. But in the language of the low carb, table sugar and asparagus are not separated from each other. Carbs are carbs.
Now with the recent COVID pandemic, the low carb zealots have taken this to a whole new level. Carbohydrates now fuel the virus. Here is the logic that is saturating twitter.
‘Metabolically unhealthy people are suffering worse outcomes from the virus.’ Yes, this is true. Of course, they are. Do you know of any diseases that are not worsened by severe metabolic disorders?
‘Low carb dieting can help a person lose weight, and thus, more metabolically healthy.’ Right again. But there are also one hundred other dietary approaches that can likely help an overweight person lose weight.
‘Therefore, the avoidance of carbs is going to protect people from, or cure this virus.’ That’s a stretch.
Hey, dumb dumb. January is also World Carnivore Month
The overweight population in North America is not in the state they are in because they have not learned about low carb dieting. Obese people know they are overweight, and they know how they got there. You are not as insightful as you think you are. We have an obesity epidemic because people eat junk food all day long, drink a lot of alcohol, and are generally quite lazy. These unhealthy actions are also driven by emotional suffering and stressful lives. Not an absence of your low carb advice.
I am all for nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle advice. It is what I do for a living, after all. But you need to know where and when your information is going to make an impact, and you need to understand the difference between offering advice and offering a cure for an acute pandemic.
Here is some advice that is going to go much further than ‘eat a carnivore diet.’
Try to exercise each day
Go to bed earlier and maximize sleep
Wash your hands if you need to go somewhere, and protect your respiratory system
Try to reduce stress and take part in activities that can calm your mind
You know, universally helpful stuff like that.
Any diet and exercise advice we give (for the precise purpose of saving people from COVID) is too late. The pandemic is here, and we are in the thick of it. Steak and push-ups aren’t going to cut it. If you are metabolically unhealthy right now, you need to protect yourself with isolation and finding ways to be happy and purposeful. Once the dust settles, it’s time to ramp up your diet and exercise efforts. By all means, start now if you can, but understand that diet and exercise changes today are not going to save you from a virus you catch tomorrow.
That is the point. The people who need this advice the most have already put themselves in a tight spot. They know how they got there, and if changing were as easy as reading your new low carb diet book, people wouldn’t be unhealthy. People are also not getting obese from ‘carbs.’ People are getting overweight from a decade or more of terrible food choices, inactivity, and self-destructive lifestyles. Low carb dieting can be a way, but it certainly isn’t the way.
Please stop using a pandemic as your ‘I told you so’ moment or as an opportunity to sell your propaganda. Keep doing you and offer your expertise, but enough with hitching it to the coronavirus wagon. It’s unhelpful at best, and unethical at worst.
There was a time when I used to scoff at those who set New Year’s Resolutions. When I was younger and much less understanding, I believed that the type of person who waited a year to take action on his or her life was doomed to remain unchanged. Today, while I still believe that Dec 31st is an exponentially more compelling date to commit to making a life change than on the following day, I think that anything that can spark your transformation is a good thing. I’m on team human, not team ego.
For the last five years, I have written an annual post with the best advice I can deliver to help a person set and achieve resolutions that matter. Here is the 2020 version of that post.
Be clear about what you mean, and don’t follow consensus definitions of health, professional, and personal success.
You want to get healthier. Great. But what does that mean? Does it mean you need to lose 30 pounds or fit into a specific sized dress? I’m all for cosmetic goals, but be wary of setting a resolution that deep down you are hoping will protect you from the judgment of other people, and yourself. That is a zero-sum game that you will never win. I suggest setting meaningful goals with specific actions attached.
For example, I want to have the energy necessary to get to the gym at least five days per week and still have enough left over to play with my kids every night. To do this, I’ll need to start going to bed by 10 PM each night, so I can get up at 5:30 AM and get to the gym. If I wait until the end of the day, I’ll never go. I also need to have my breakfast prepared the night before; otherwise, I’ll end up rushing out the door, eating in the drive-thru, and demotivating myself.
Actions: Be in bed by 10, up by 5:30, breakfast prepared, cut out the drive-thru breakfast. That is what clear, actionable goals look like. Setting a goal without the necessary commitments that go into achieving that goal is an arbitrary waste of time.
Be honest about how and why you’ve failed in the past
Have you noticed that you set similar goals for yourself each year, and you rarely reach them- yet the following year, you set the same goal expecting a different result? You’ve probably never really thought about it because human beings are avoidant when it comes to assessing our painful shortcomings. Without understanding those shortcomings, however, we can never change our path and succeed.
Perhaps you tell yourself you’re going to go to the gym after work on most days of the week. But when the end of the day comes, you’re so drained that you end up going home instead. A few weeks of that failed commitment, and you’re going to quit on yourself. You’ll likely tell yourself that fitness isn’t for you because you assume that a more committed, healthy person would be able to get to the gym at the end of the day. This is a false assessment of your problem. Some people aren’t end-of-day exercisers. Ignoring the writing on the wall and trying to stick to a habit that isn’t going to work for you is a recipe for disaster. In this scenario you should have found a way to get to the gym first thing in the morning, on your lunch break, or spent a few hundred bucks on some exercise equipment for your basement. If you dropped the judgment and honestly assessed the issue (in this case, I cannot motivate myself to exercise after work), you could’ve made the proper adjustment and made a path that worked for you. Taking a hard look in the mirror and saying to yourself ‘this is where I fall short, and these are the things I will never be able to commit to, but these are the things that I CAN commit to’ is an essential practice. Focusing on what you can do and what is ‘easy,’ especially at the beginning of your journey will take you much further than trying to ram a square peg into a round hole. Assess your weaknesses and past failures and adjust your approach so you can get some wins under your belt.
Don’t attach urgency or strict timelines to your goals
Setting expectations is making a future promise to suffer. I don’t recall who I first heard this from, but in my experience, it is true. I would say the biggest mistake most of us make when goal-setting is attaching urgency and a timeline to what we want to achieve. I would go as far as suggesting that specificity can be unhelpful. When it comes to your body, I am convinced that the whole S.M.A.R.T. goal setting model should go in the trash. When you say that your goal is to lose 30 lbs by June 1st, you are setting yourself up for disappointment if your body does not respond to your arbitrary timeline- which for most of you- it won’t.
In most cases, soon as you get the slightest whiff that you are off track, you will quit. ‘I’m three months into this life change, and I am only down 11 lbs, I’ll never lose another 20 by June!’ If you set a goal to lose 30 lbs in 6-months, and after six months you only lost 1/2 that much weight, is that a failure? Of course, it isn’t, but that’s precisely how you’ll see it. On top of that, weight loss is not a linear process. Your weight is going to go up and down along the way, and if you get rattled every time the scale comes back up one or two pounds, you’ll never survive. What you need is a trajectory. Better is better. If your goal is to lose weight, set a goal to lose weight. Every month look at a four-week average of weekly weigh-ins, and if it is less than your starting weight (or the previous month’s average), you are succeeding. If it isn’t, you need to adjust.
On top of that, you need to become motivated by the act of taking care of yourself. If your only motivation to eat well, exercise, and drink less alcohol is to look good in the mirror, you are playing a losing game. If you can’t find value in moving and eating well for its own sake (being autotelic) you will never retain any of the progress you achieve. Set trajectories and lose the timeline. A forgivable means of goal setting is going to take you further than rigid ideologies.
Let go of useless relationships (and recognize when you are the problem)
If you have a drinking problem that you are trying to get under control, you stop going to the bar. You also stop hanging around people who are continually striving to pull you back into the world of drinking for their selfish reasons. The same goes for personal health and habit-breaking of other kinds. You may have to spend less time going out to eat and drink with your friends if their M.O. is getting shitfaced and eating street food at 2 AM. Try seeing these friends at earlier times in the day when this sort of behavior is less likely to happen. Explain your need to change your health and what you need from them to assist you in your success. Failing those interventions, make new friends. Just know the difference between people around you who can’t help but drag you back into their world of gluttony and excess and your desire to be around people who enable you to remain in that space. Quite often, we blame others for our lack of commitment when deep down, we seek out those who tell us that it is O.K. to be overweight, unhealthy, and hungover every weekend. There is still a time and place for indulgence, celebration, and cocktails- but it should not be the underlying theme of your social life if you are trying to live well.
Pivot on the approach, but not the goal
Sometimes you make a real effort, and the result doesn’t come. If you’ve been at it for at least three months, and little has changed, you may need to change your approach, but NOT your goal. This is a pivot strategy that I pulled from the business world that most people misunderstand. The nature of pivoting is to keep your plant foot in one place while changing the angle- it is not a complete uprooting of what you are trying to achieve. You hear these fantastic brand success stories like Instagram, who succeeded in a completely different space than what the company initially intended. What you don’t hear about is the 99% of other companies who attempt this strategy and fail. The same should go for you and your health. If your goal is to lose weight, and you don’t lose weight, a pivot is not now deciding that you are going to take up bodybuilding. A pivot is a change in strategy that gives you a new angle to approach your goal. Let’s say your goal is to lose weight, so you decide to join a pilates gym. After three months, you’ve gotten a bit stronger, and your energy levels are up, but you are no closer to the goal you set. Perhaps your body will respond better to a different style of exercise. Maybe you need to run or lift weights. Please don’t throw away the goal, and don’t throw away the basic structure of needs (in this case, exercise), change the most superficial action first, and see where it takes you. That is a real pivot.
In all the posts I have written about transforming yourself in the New Year, there is one thing that has always stayed consistent: if you want to change your life, you need to change the way you think. You need to quit looking for strategies and techniques and get introspective and do the hard work. If you don’t, you’ll be in the same body (or worse) at this time next year, looking for the same magic bullet. Health and fitness begin in the mind, and if your mind does not change, your body will remain stagnant as well. It’s a new decade. Perhaps it is time to take a different approach.
I’m not trying to preach or sound judgmental when I write this, but ‘picky eaters’ are not a thing. Not inherently, anyhow. There are some things that some kids won’t eat- but when you claim that your child doesn’t have a palate for an entire food group, you may be pointing the finger in the wrong place.
Right now, on this planet, from Bangkok to Brazil, children eat bugs. Ya. Fucking insects. Some kids in some countries drink blood. And you think your child’s distaste for vegetables or red meat is due to a built-in gag reflex? Forgive me for sounding high and mighty, but two nights ago, my son ate octopus. He’s three and a half. Do you know why he ate octopus? Because he saw me eating octopus. Do you know why I eat octopus? Because I didn’t have parents who told me that octopus was gross. My parents fed me liver, heart, and a varietal menu of many other foods that most parents find appalling. I was never forced to eat any of it, but if I saw my parents eat it, I became interested.
If you have a picky eater at home, it’s because your general attitude toward food is picky, and you probably don’t cook very much or eat a lot of whole foods. I’m sure there are exceptions to this hypothesis, but the word ‘exception’ means what it does for a reason.
Your child is not a picky eater. Either s/he has never gone long enough without food to experience hunger or you’re the picky one.
Every time you seek out external sources of validation, you are outsourcing your most valuable tool — the ability to decide when you are a person of value, and why.
When you take twenty different versions of the same picture of yourself before putting it out into the world, or when the opinions of others determine the quality of your work, you are outsourcing your value system. You look to others for validation rather than deciding your success.
You need to decide what healthy is, what hard work is. What is your value? Make that decision and then let your actions dictate your worth- not the perceptions of others- or worse, your opinion of the judgment of others. Do the hard work and reap the internal reward.