Before my feet touch the floor in the morning I’ve already put in the work to bring awareness and intention into my day. I make an active choice to wake up on the right side of the bed by doing a simple check-in with myself. “Not enough time” is not an excuse. There is no “too small.” Even if it’s 5 minutes… that’s enough to make a difference.
Once I committed to showing up and practicing this simple check-in each morning, noticeable changes in how I felt and the direction of my day took place. I’m hoping that by sharing this with you, you’ll at least consider testing it out yourself.
Before my feet touch the floor, I’ve contemplated and journaled about things such as:
- How I am enough as I am right now. I’ve dialed into the fact that I am in the process of becoming a better version of myself, not because I should or have to but because I want to. My pursuit isn’t driven by a sense of inadequacy but rather by a sense of curiosity, self-love, and interest in fully participating in and maximizing my life.
- Why I want to become better than I was yesterday. I’ve reminded myself of how rewarding a life rooted in experimenting and learning far outweighs a life of perfection and judgment.
- Being careful not to confuse learning for failure. It’s okay to mess up. Not everything is going to go as planned. Obstacles will arise. I am not my setbacks. Setbacks are merely things that I experience. I choose to see them as important opportunities to recalibrate and learn.
- Rather than getting swept up in the current of automaticity where I’m solely focusing on what I lack, I’ve put in some time recognizing what I have and what I’m grateful for.
- What I plan on doing well today in realistic terms. Rather than focusing on how much I have left to do relative to my goals, I’m focusing on what’s next. What’s truly attainable today? I think in terms of effort rather than achievement.
- I’ve made an oath to fully participate in the day that’s before me and to prove my worthiness not by comparison to others but by intentional effort that serves my values and goals.
Without showing up to my journal each morning, it’s very easy to slip right into the groove of automaticity. Life has a way of pulling you in undesirable directions when left to the “tide of the day.” I’m sure it sounds a little crazy to you… journaling for a bit each morning can’t possibly have such a profound effect.
I dare you to give it a try, though. What do you have to lose? A few extra minutes of sleep? Isn’t it worth trading a tiny sliver of time in exchange for potentially living life more fully and intentionally? This is a worthwhile ritual… I’m telling you.
What Are Keystone Habits?
I’m not exactly sure where the concept of keystone habits came from. I first heard of the term in Charles Duhigg’s phenomenal book, The Power of Habit. In it, Duhigg explains:
Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “keystone habits,” and they can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.
Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.
When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”
I’ve found that for many people, practicing intentional thinking in a journal – especially as part of a morning ritual – acts as a keystone habit. Once the lever is pulled, other habits downstream of it tend to positively shift. It creates the conditions by which a growth mindset is born. It’s as if you’re programming your brain through repetition to start interrupting some of the recurring negative thought patterns that rob your momentum and make you feel lousy.
At a minimum, it helps set the tone for the rest of your day.
- Keep your journal on your nightstand so there’s little effort to getting started each morning.
- Use whatever format suits you… electronic or paper.
- Again, there’s no “too small.” Start where you feel comfortable and confident. Ease into this skill. If it’s 5 minutes to start… great. Go with it. Many of my sessions are 5-10 minutes. Showing up consistently is more than half the battle.
- Rather than freely writing whatever comes to mind… start by consistently answering 1-5 questions. Seriously, if this seems like a daunting task… start with a single question. Under each question, list out 1-3 answers. Some example questions include:
- What will I accomplish today?
- What am I grateful for today?
- What will I do to make today great?
- Write a single affirmation in present terms that defines the person I want to be 5 years from today.
- What proof do I have today that I am capable and awesome?
- Fill in the blank with something that honors your best you. I’m someone who _______.
- Experiment. Don’t feel locked in to any one or handful of questions. If you’re not feeling a given question after testing it out for a week or two, switch it up. I’ll typically keep a given question until it stops resonating with me. The “what will I accomplish today” question has been a constant pretty much since the beginning. Other questions turnover much more frequently. Long story short, I’m flexible with it, changing it up as appropriate.
- Be honest and real. While this exercise doesn’t demand a lot of time, it does demand truthfulness. Answer your questions from your heart.
- If you really feel that this is having an impact on you, consider adding another brief session in the evening before going to bed. While my morning session tends to be more preemptive in nature, my evening session tends to be more reflective… where I’m asking things like “What did I learn today,” “What went well today,” “What limiting belief do I want to start questioning more,” and “What will I do differently next time X happens?”
That’s that. I’d love to hear your immediate reactions, so feel free to reply. And if you do wind up giving this a go, definitely share your experience with me. I’m constantly refining my system and how I communicate this to clients.
I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years. It’s crazy to think that I’ve got nearly 15 years “in the game.” Having had the great privilege of walking this journey with so many fine people… I’ve picked up on some common themes that tend to be present in the vast majority of success stories. One of those themes is meal planning. In some form of fashion, flexible meal planning seems to be critical for most peoples’ success in this fitness thing. I know that it is for me.
One of these awesome people – Kara, a former client – recently dropped some gold right in my lap. I’m quick to say… my clients are far more expert than me at applying fitness to their lives. I’m just their ally… helping them figure out how to keep doing it. I’ve known Kara a long time from the ‘net. She’s always a wealth of information – quick to help people on the various message boards. She recently posted this on the BI Chance Community. Kara being Kara, she quickly agreed to let me share her advice about meal planning here on the main site.
I’m a meal planner. I love to plan meals and part of that is that I love to cook. And as messed up and crazy as I can get about other things, meal planning and missing a meal or having to change things up is one thing that I don’t freak out about. I don’t know why – I don’t know if it’s related to the way I plan or if it’s something inherent in me. But I’ll explain my process and see if it helps you any or makes anything click.
First of all, I almost always eat the same thing for breakfast. I have either yogurt & frozen blueberries OR a smoothie made of yogurt, blueberries, spinach OR scrambled eggs on toast (or in a tortilla if I have tortillas handy) with onions and spinach. The first two are fast and easy meals for when I have to leave home in the mornings. The scrambled eggs is something I make when it’s too cold to face yogurt or when I have extra time in the mornings. I eat that 6 mornings out of 7. The 7th morning, I generally sleep in and then go get brunch with my boyfriend or housemate. I don’t worry about the brunch meal and I have whatever I want and don’t freak out about it. It’s a “freebie”.
During the week lunch is always leftovers from the night before/earlier in the week OR a lean turkey sandwich/wrap OR a tuna salad sandwich – usually I have veggie soup with the sandwiches. I often make a big batch of veggie soup on Sunday and keep it in the fridge and I keep backup cans of low-sodium veggie soup that I can heat in the microwave in my desk. And I usually have either a sliced apple or some grapes or whatever fruit is in season with that.
Dinner is where I go crazy. I start off planning 5 meals – allowing for one “I don’t know what the hell I want” or “let’s just go out” night and one Sunday evening where I know we’re going to snack, probably grill something, or maybe order pizza. Again, I don’t freak out about the unplanned snack meal. I just make sure that I have things like a variety of veggies and fruits and pop some popcorn so that I don’t over eat on junky stuff.
For the planned meals, I start with a protein and a veggie (the men in my life are meat eaters, so unless it’s just me for dinner, every dinner will contain an animal protein of some kind). I start with the protein – fish, chicken, pork, beef – and then pick veggies to go with. About 3 out of 5 meals I’ll plan a starchy side – either rice or potatoes or something like that. Every meal includes a green salad of some kind – either a spinach salad, or a mixed green salad, or cabbage slaw. Even if the salad is a handful of greens out of a bag, I still include a salad.
Now here’s the trick. I don’t assign my 5 meals to a day. I just have a list that I’ve shopped for. So if I have a particularly tough day at work on Monday and I decide that I don’t feel like making stuffed pork loin, I look at the planned list and pick the baked salmon that I can just shove in the oven for 20 mins instead. And if I don’t make all 5 of my dinners, then I just roll whatever doesn’t get made over to the next week. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes stress gets the better of me and I stand in front of the fridge and mindlessly eat cheese and crackers, or I’m exhausted and I have a drink and go to bed without dinner (that’s happened a lot recently), or … I dunno. Whatever.
But the whole thing about the plan – as it’s written above – is that it’s a GUIDELINE. It’s not written in stone. If Zach says on Tuesday “I don’t want a turkey sandwich, I’m craving Thai food” then we go get Thai food. Or if I have to go into the office and don’t have time to make my tuna salad then I swing by Wendy’s and get a chicken salad to go. (and sometimes, yes, I do get fries with that).
I’ve never seen a meal plan as something that I had to adhere to or be a miserable failure (I reserve that for other issues in my life wink emoticon ). If you miss a planned meal, you miss a planned meal. Eh. So what. Move on and eat the next one. And if you eat a little more because you’re hungry, that’s fine too. Then the next morning just go right back to it.
***Here’s a screenshot of the simple spreadsheet Kara uses for her meal planning. You might have to click on it a few times until it’s enlarged.***
One last word of caution. Kara touched on it a couple of times and it bears repeating. Meal plans are not meant to be rigid rules. They’re guidelines to help you plan ahead, prepare in advance, streamline your shopping, and make the quality choices easier to make. As with everything else, the art of meal planning is a process of experimentation in order to figure out how it best fits into your life.
I have clients who literally plan every single day for the next day. I have other clients who ride out the same meal plan for months on end. And obviously everything in between. There’s no right or wrong to it… it’s what meets you where you are and the only way to figure that out, again, is through experimentation.
Don’t make this about passing of failing. It’s about trying and learning. Neglecting this skill is literally what stands between some people making progress and remaining stagnant. Of course it’s not a panacea… if you don’t struggle with fat loss or nutrition and you don’t meal plan… all the more power to you! But if you aren’t getting the results you’ve been seeking… this is definitely one of those skills you want to practice.
If you have any further tips or tools, please comment below. By sharing what works for you, you’ll be giving options and tools to people who might otherwise struggle indefinitely.
Recently on the BI Change Community one of our community members posted about how she’s been struggling to commit to healthy behaviors and she’s gained 50 lbs back. She mentioned how she’s been weighing and tracking food for 1,600 days. She also mentioned how, after a lot of self-assessment, she feels that losing weight simply isn’t as important to her anymore.
Here was my response:
That’s a whole lot of obsessing over numbers! Very few people can manage the numbers based approach without critical self judgment and constantly feeling as though they’re walking a tight rope. One small misstep and you fail.
It’s a bunch of bullshit, really. It’s as if the moment you immerse yourself in tracking all the calorie stuff (as if it were even accurate to begin with), you also sign up to regularly remind yourself that:
a) you have very rigid limits that you’re up against each day… and essentially as the day wears on and you get more tired, the limits get smaller and your anxiety gets higher. Horrible combo that often leads to the fuckits.
b) as I said above… tons of self-judgment about being a failure, broken, a food addict, blah blah blah. Lots of self-hate and an acceptance, it seems, of a fixed mindset. You are what you are and that’s how it’s going to be. Which is awful and tons of bologna.
But as I said to you in another post… you really do have to have a strong Why. Like you, I’ve been all over the gamut of the weight spectrum. Even obese by bmi standards, which mean little. But at one point in time I was super lean… like veins popping out all over lean. And at other times I was literally stretching out my pants in order to button then or playing with my roll of fat that hung over my seatbelt as I drove.
So far on my journey I’ve learned a lot. And the fact that I put self learning at the forefront of my mission helps me accept myself. I’m not my weight. I’m not a calorie limit. I’m this total badass who fails a lot… but when I do fail, I fail forward.
I’m not out to look a certain way. I’m out to be a certain way… and that’s my whole concept of my best me.
My best me doesn’t look super hero lean. Fuck that. I’ve been there and it sucked. I was starving, lethargic, obsessed, imbalanced, etc. Society tells us that’s what our best selves look like but looks have very little to do with it. And if that’s the deepest we dig in our journeys of growth… I think we’re always going to run into unclimbable mountains and self-hate.
My best me transcends looks. He’s constantly striving to experience and experiment. He’s on constant pursuit of leaning more about himself and the things he cares about. He accepts setbacks and embraces the concept of recalibrating his approach on the fly as the circumstances of life play out. He thrives on the concept of a growth mindset… where you fail forward by seeing setbacks and failures as data rather than reassurance that he does, indeed suck. I could go on and on about the narrative I tell myself each and everyday.
But again, looks aren’t the be all end all. If they were, we’d be cursed since we all get old and wrinkly.
I look reasonably fit right now. Not “oh my god that guy is ripped” lean. I’m not going to go winning any physique competitions or making people gasp in awe at the beach (unless my bathing suit falls down).
But I’m happy. And more importantly I FEEL my best!! Which is a whole lot better than LOOK my best. Yes, I could look “better” by society’s standards, but again… since I’ve been there… I know that in order to accomplish that, I need to ignore a lot of other things that I care about a whole bunch. And when I do that, I feel out of whack and unhappy.
So how I look now is the byproduct of replacing the intention of looking my best with the intention of being my best. That might sound crazy to some, but it has been about one of the most profound lessons I’ve learned in my life so far.
Freeing. Amazing. Eye opening. Game changing with regards to how I talk to myself, treat myself, and view my world day to day. And massively influential on how I make decisions.
Funny thing happens when you start accepting this kind of thinking. You stop obsessing over food and you stop using food as medication. And then your weight and physique tend to fall into alignment with what’s realistically achievable without a whole lot of effort.
I don’t count calories. I build skills that I believe the best version of myself would have.
This newsletter received a ton of positive feedback so figured it was worthy enough to throw up on the main site, too. I know that there are a handful of you who aren’t subscribed to the newsletter and rely on the website for your BI information. So here goes…
There are many many differences between a master of fitness and you. The vast majority of these differences can be summed up in a simple concept.
What stands between you and the master is lots and lots of reps. They’ve paid their dues of honing the skills that support “a masters” in fitness (or insert any other desired behavior or outcome).
You most likely hold yourselves to the same standard as the master. You see how they behave and expect the same from yourself. It’s effortless for them and a struggle for you, though, because reps.
They’ve got them and you don’t.
They eased themselves into the position they currently find themselves in and you’re trying to brute force yourself there without the prerequisite reps.
This takes time. It’s a process. A journey of many steps. It’s not about doing everything perfectly. That’s a recipe for self-hate and frustration. It’s about doing one thing – the step that’s before you – as well as you can in this moment.
You needn’t be a master at all the steps. Let that notion go. Simply master your now… this moment. And if you drop the ball, that’s ok. Really, embrace the concept of “it’s ok.” It’s such a powerful thing.
Give yourself permission to be a student of your life. To make mistakes and to learn.
Mess up this step… THAT’S OK! Onto the next one.
The thing about failure is it only sucks if you think it sucks. If you think that each tiny failure will truly impact you in a positive way – if you’re open to that – the entire game of life changes.
So back to the original question… how many reps? As many as it takes. And hopefully by then you’re open enough, curious enough, and inspired enough about your personal mission to do some more.
Get your reps in!
The idea of a process of tiny steps is about as eloquently presented in this video as I’ve ever seen. If you have a spare 40 minutes, please watch it. I promise, your episode of Dare Devil can wait until tomorrow.
If you actually do invest the time in the video, please hit reply and simply let me know. I owe you a virtual high five for taking a tiny step that I know has the potential to send ripples to other important areas of your life.
Until next time,
P.S. If you or someone you knows is struggling to dial into the process mentality and want an empathetic coach who’s seasoned in meeting people where they’re at and nudging them forward into sustainable change… please keep my coaching service in mind.
Why do you do fitness?
My guess is it has a lot to do with cultural pressure to look a certain way. I always wonder if people would be pursuing better fitness and a better physique if our cultural idea of beauty and attractiveness was 50 lbs heavier than it is right now.
Really think about that for a moment. Would you be as intent on pursuing better fitness or a better physique if our cultural norms were different? I think this question – and more importantly your answer – helps differentiate those who are doing this for themselves versus those who are doing this because “they should.”
Here’s a fact that many people seem surprised by when I share it.
If I could maintain how I feel, perform, and look right now without exercise… I likely would never go to the gym. I don’t do this because I enjoy torturing myself under heavy loads. Rather I look at my fitness as a skill that has tons of utility for enhancing other things that I care about very much.
Put differently, my fitness serves the purpose of maximizing my values. I’m a better father, husband, outdoor adventurer, coach, and person because I consistently show up to the gym and bust my ass. While I don’t necessarily love grinding it out under a heavy barbell on a given day, I most definitely love how I feel afterwords. More importantly I love what all of the reps have meant to the greater concept of who I am and pretty much everything I care about.
I’ve done it enough times now that, when I stop doing it for more than a week, I feel bad. The deleterious effects (physical and mental) that accompany a stoppage of training become more and more evident the longer and more consistently I train.
No matter how much choice I give some clients – no matter how much I scale the target behavior to meet them where they are – they still flounder. They struggle to stay committed to the process. It seems that they like the concept of being fit more so than they do the actual day to day grind of it all.
I think a big part of this is that they lack perspective. They haven’t connected enough dots. On most days, when viewed in isolation, fitness looks more painful than it does pleasurable from my perspective. But my default mental frame for fitness is to view it through a wider angle lens. I’m seeing it as one small piece to a much larger puzzle. The image of this puzzle is the version of myself that I like the best. And if I were to remove the piece that represents fitness… the image appears incomplete.
What role does fitness play in your life?
Family, coaching, learning, outdoor adventure, autonomy, purpose, and the concept of a life well lived. These are the cornerstones of my value system – all parts to my puzzle. And if I were to strip my fitness from my life, it would detract from a vast majority of these values.
I believe that if we aren’t striving to improve ourselves within the context of our value systems, things fall apart emotionally and mentally. We lose that sense of being alive.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of people who do fitness out of sheer joy for the act itself. But these folks tend to be the exception to the norm. Most “everyday people” don’t have the intense intrinsic motivation to do it for the sake of doing it.
While we are a culture that is very centered on fitness and physique, I argue that focusing solely on the pursuit of fitness without practicing perspective of how it fits into your larger picture is a surefire way to lose purpose. A lack of purpose leads to a lack of staying power. Before long you will encounter some ripple in life that easily pulls you away from the pursuit because your Why hasn’t been honed enough in your mind.
Here’s your opportunity to, at a minimum, start thinking about all of your puzzle pieces. How do you feel about spending a few minutes each day pondering where fitness fits into your life for the next 14 days? Oftentimes simply showing up to a journal on a regular basis with the intent of answering a question or two provides massive returns on the investments of time. It has the power to pull your mind away from the automaticity that’s the basis for your current “normal.”
Journaling is a very personal thing, but if you’re looking for a specific question to focus on for the next couple of weeks…
“What matters the most to me in life and how does fitness serve these things?”
If you’re struggling with this, you’re welcomed to join us at the BI Change Community where we can discuss this in more detail.