Start from zero and simplify

Start from zero and simplify

Higher! Faster! More cowbell! We often think that more is better. That the more habits we can cram in, the more likely it is that we’ll reach our goal. This, of course, isn’t how it works.

We know that our success rate is good when adding just a one habit change. But the odds of sticking with the changes drop dramatically if we’re making two changes at the same time.

And going for three or more changes at once? We might as well wait until one morning we’ll see an image of Elvis Presley appear on our toast, then open a can of beans, arrange them on the floor, close our eyes, and whisper quietly for our all dreams to come true.

Most of us are terrible at multitasking. It dilutes our efforts. Sure, we end up doing a lot of things. But none of them well enough to actually get anywhere. There’s a saying in Finnish that roughly translates to “trying to climb a tree with ass first.” That seems accurate here.

Instead, start from zero. Where are you now?

Decide where you want to go. What is your goal?

Then, simplify. What are the least amount of steps you can take to get to your goal?

This forces you to eliminate all the unnecessary paraphernalia. The actions and habits that might sound nice. But don’t bring any meaningful value to the change you’re trying to make.

Then commit to only taking one step at a time.

It’s going to be hard. Because hard steps are the only ones left once you strip away the excess.

Double down on it

Double down on it

Fat loss doesn’t always have to be this epic battle. We often start fat loss by focusing on what we’re doing “wrong”. Which leads us to ruthlessly cutting out food items.

There’s something about the human psyche that yarns for a painful challenge. We think that to get anything even remotely rewarding in life requires us to choose the steepest, iciest side of the mountain. If there’s fire and eagles and angry mountains goats, even better.

Sure, cutting down on Oreos has its place. Reducing sweets and grease (but definitely not Grease!) is a non-negotiable when trying to lose fat. But cutting down on sweets and grease on its own is rarely a sustainable change.

There’s a reason we crave for Oreos. All 85+ flavours of Orios. (Yep, just looked it up. And I’d like to point out that some of the flavour choices are questionable. Hot Chicken Wings Oreos anyone?). Most of the time, the reason for our cravings is the lack of proper food. You know, things like fibrous vegetables, filling carbs and protein. And stuff.

It’s a combination of not getting enough nutrients and calories that lights up the neon sign above the Oreo section. Cutting out Oreos won’t reduce our craving. It’ll make our cravings worse. Because you know what’s the one thing that we want the most in this world? The Oreo we can’t have. Especially when we’re hungry as it is.

By all means, cut down on sweets and grease. But double down on what you’re already doing well. If you’re already eating a portion of vegetables with each meal, have two. Or three for those who struggle with maths. If you’re physically active, maybe you need to eat more carbs. You might need it. It’ll help you stay fuller for longer.

Dim that Oreo neon sign by eating more food. And when you do occasionally have a cookie, you can be confident that in the long-term it won’t make a damn difference to your fat loss efforts. Just don’t make it that Hot Chicken Wing version. Because that shit just can’t be good for anyone.

It starts with you

It starts with you

Groceries, emails, phone calls, lawn moving… When your to-do list is greater than the opening paragraph of A Confederacy Of Dunces, it might feel like doing a workout is not the best use of your time. Except for the impact on your mood, the positive physical effects of exercise are far from being immediately tangible.

Which means that it’s easy to justify skipping a workout in favor of ticking off a task.

Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about how I wish I could make a bigger impact with my work. I was mulling over how I could only really impact one person at a time. Regardless of how busy I would be, my impact would be capped by the amount of clients I could see.

My friend, being his annoyingly uplifting self, made a not-so-annoying uplifting point about how I was potentially having an indirect positive impact on hundreds, if not thousands, of people. And just between you and me, he might have even mentioned the word “million”. Crazy, right?

Because even though I was only helping a one person at a time, that person might impact thousands (or millions!) of people in their life and work.

There’s a chance that without our work together, my clients wouldn’t have the energy, the strength, the health or the fitness to make the impact in their own life. Even if my role is just to act as an accountability partner for my clients to show up.

But, I am not sharing this (just) to pump my own tyres.

Being fit and healthy will have a positive effect on every other aspect of your life. Your work, your family, the relationships you have, the causes you support, your sex life… Everything.

I am probably preaching to the choir here, but here it goes. When you don’t feel like doing a workout, think about the people who rely on you to be at your best. It starts with you looking after your own wellbeing.

Even when that oppressive to-do list is towering over you.

It’s in our nature to be lazy

It’s in our nature to be lazy

Remember when we all used to live in caves and hunt our meat and gather plant roots for dinner? Yeah, me neither. So let’s take a real quick history trip to the Paleolithic era. (Don’t worry, this is a not a pro-paleo diet / an anti-carb write up.)

Let’s teleport ourselves to the day when our fellow homo sapiens had just discovered stones. And let’s make it a Tuesday. Because it’ll make sense for the purpose of the point I am trying to carve this week.

Ok, so here we are in the heart of the Paleolithic era. And everyone is eating coconut oil. Not. Welcome. I know, the jetlag is the worst. Lay off the wine next time you’re teleporting in time.

As you might have noticed, we are sitting on the ground. Feasting on this charred animal and these delicious roots. Here’s a secret. Eat as much as you can. Because there might be a long stretch between this and the next meal.

Ah, you’re finished with your meal? Great. See that dark corner there in the cave? Yep, the one with hay and mammoth skins on the ground. Go lie down there and be as lazy as you homosapiensly can. Like I said, it might be awhile before the next meal. Try to conserve as much energy as you can.

And don’t bother getting up for the hunt. It’s not like you and I would know what to do anyways.

BAM! Welcome back to 2021. Wild ride, huh?

As you just earlier witnessed in the Paleolithic era, it made sense for us to be as lazy as a human can be. We have evolved to conserve energy. Here’s the bad news though. Paleolithic era is just two and a quarter blinks of a mammoth’s eye in evolutionary terms. Our biology hasn’t even started to catch up with our modern lifestyle.

It’s annoyingly obvious that our evolutionary laziness works against us now. Most of us (at least in the west) are lucky enough to have an abundance of food readily available. No hunting, gathering, or even cooking needed to access it. And if we’re feeling super lazy, it’s entirely possible to outsource our chewing to a blender. All we really need is the will to swallow.

Anyhoo, we have to acknowledge and accept that laziness is part of our biology. We can’t help it. But we can’t use it as an excuse. We can’t become victims of our laziness.

If we want to live a vigorous life and age gracefully, we have to fight our inbuilt laziness with all we have. It’s not always fun. It takes effort. But our biology is unlikely to catch up during our lifetime.

So we might as well get on with it.

The punishment culture

The punishment culture

So much intensity and teeth grinding in the beginning. Nope, I am not talking about the first scene of Fight Club. But the reason why most people struggle to make strength training a lifelong habit.

We’d do much better by shifting the overall training culture away from the “no pain, no gain” nonsense. Away from the punishment culture.

Except for the chosen few, the punishment culture strategy doesn’t work in the long-term.

It doesn’t work for the 40-year-old mother of two who has done no strength training in 15 years. Or the 50-year-old man who’s 20 kilograms overweight and feels insecure about his body. And it sure as shit doesn’t work for the 60-year-old who’s struggled with back pain for the last 20 years.

What happens when these three people walk into a gym or to an outdoor bootcamp session dominated by the punishment culture? I tell you what happens. It’s likely that all three walk away feeling like they just shared a hug with an earthmoving truck. But they keep showing up because “no pain, no gain”. Right?

They keep showing up until one day soon, they don’t. They’ll wake up one day (they all share the same bed), and the thought of another punishing workout is too much to bare. The relentlessness tiredness buries the euphoric feeling that every trainee chases. And they quit.

How did we get here?

The problem has (at least) three sides. There is a certain stereotypical way non-fitness people look at strength training. Most people who join a gym or an outdoor bootcamp have stereotypical expectations of what strength training is all about and what it involves.

Arnold Schwarzenegger popularised bodybuilding in the 70s. There’s no denying that a lot of good things came out of it. He got non-fitness people interested in strength training. But unfortunately that 70s “no pain, no gain” mindset still dominates non-fitness people’s idea of training.

Crossfit, P90X and other hardcore training styles have kept this punishment culture alive. They’re marketable. Even if the most marketable training styles are not the most sustainable option for most people.

Then there’s the stain of the Biggest Loser.

Comparing that tv show to a real-life sustainable lifestyle change is about as accurate as showing someone Rambo III and drawing comparisons to what it was like to go buy milk from the grocery store before online shopping.

Which brings us to the side number two. Trainers often feel pressure to cater to these expectations. At least young, new trainers do. I know I did when I first started.

But the biggest issue is the fitness industry’s lack of empathy for people who are not that into fitness and strength training. We think that you enjoy training as much as we do. Sure, you might fall in love with strength training, eventually. Or at least to not feel the same way about training as you might about colonoscopy.

All of that takes time. If we crush you to the ground from the get go, you never stand a chance to enjoy the training. That’s the third side, for those counting at home.

All of this is to say that the punishment culture is a self-reinforcing cycle. Until we decide to break it. It’s not as marketable. But it’s definitely more sustainable for most people.

Better than a cocktail of caffeine, discipline and willpower

Better than a cocktail of caffeine, discipline and willpower

“Oh, The View is on again!” An accurate comment from a client’s witty husband. After 18 months of Zoom, he’s well aware of what our early morning small group sessions involve.

The most important thing about your progress isn’t the training program. Unless you have super specific sport or adventure goal, it doesn’t matter that much what you do in your strength workouts. As long as it’s balanced, suitable for your body, progressive, and challenging. At least most of the time.

The most important thing isn’t your willpower either. Willpower comes and goes. Most of us eventually run out of it. And use it as a lame excuse.

It’s not even the discipline to show up. I know, I know. Asking people to “just show up” is sort my thing. But having the discipline to show up isn’t the most important thing.

The piece with the most positive impact on your progress is finding people, or a person who’s company you enjoy. It can be a friend. Or a group of people whose vibe seems like they’re probably not dickheads. It could even be, gasp, a trainer. Holla at me!

Either way, enrol with someone who doesn’t make you want to order your flat white with a side of mercury. Training with someone you connect with is better than a cocktail of willpower, discipline, and the perfect training program.

In our morning sessions, everyone gets in a workout. But the commentary is 10% training and 90% movies, tv shows, music, food, and yes, politics. Ok, it’s more like 5% and 95%.

It just so happens that everyone gets along. Plus, my strict “no dickheads” – policy means that I only work with extremely pleasant people. Like I said, holla at me.

Yes, if your goal is to make strength training a twice a week habit, you need the discipline to show up. But showing up is a lot easier when you can look forward to delightful conversations. Ideally about topics that you enjoy.

Training hard doesn’t mean that you can’t spend 95% (Ok, 96%) of that session talking about something else than the actual training.

The four commitments

The four commitments

Here’s what it takes to live vigorously. To age gracefully. And to have a healthier relationship with fitness.

First, the commitment to regular practice. The practice of learning a new skill. For some it’s touching toes for the first time since pasta salad and sundried tomatoes were hip.

For another, it’s about getting ten pullups. And for someone else, it’s simply the practice of being active. It could be a full workout. Or a walk, a bike ride, or a swim. Maybe it’s just a few stretches while watching Billions.

It could take 90 minutes. Or just long enough to heat the leftover pumpkin lasagne in the microwave. We’re ticking a box. Every day. And we will slowly become the person who is physically active, daily.

Second, the commitment to moving at our own pace. To worry less about what others do. And focusing on what pace is right for you. For today.

Third, the commitment to ‘compete’ only with our self. Trying to become little better each day.

Fourth, the commitment to plateaus and boredom. To show up, not because we’re motivated to do it, but because we made the commitment to regular practice. See the first commitment.

I’m sure there’s more. But that seems enough for now.

A one long workout

A one long workout

There was a time when I wouldn’t even consider training unless I had an hour for it. Then, we had a kid.

And that hour turned into 45 minutes. Four days a week became three. I had a good two-year run with that schedule and felt better training less than I used to.

Then, COVID. And another kid. Then, lockdowns and working from home and no daycare and 9pm curfews and toilet paper wars and I am getting out of breath writing this.

But you see where this is going. Having 45 minutes for training is as reasonable as hoping for Slayer to put out a Christmas album.

Like everyone else, I’ve had to adjust my expectations about what’s a good workout.

Now the week is a raging success if I get in two uninterrupted 20 minute workouts. That’s usually a quick warm up followed by kettlebell swings and push-ups or overhead presses. Maybe a set of carries in the end.

And most of the time, that’s with a three-year-old sitting on me while I do push-ups.

I need more. For my sanity. So I’ve added tiny training moments wherever I can. Instead of just counting workouts, I now add up my weekly training time total.

And all these count:

  • Pullups on soccer goals while playing with the kids in the park.
  • Pushing the pram up the steepest hill when coming home from the park.
  • Step-ups or single leg squats on the couch while building a cubby house.
  • Carrying the kids around the house while playing. With random lunges and squats in the mix.
  • Crawling around the lounge room with a child desperately trying to cling to me.
  • Feeding the one-year-old while doing a handstand. Ok, this doesn’t happen. I can barely sit and breathe during meal times.

There’s no specific template to any of this. Anything that even remotely feels like training counts. The guiding principle is to do whatever I can whenever I can.

Technically, my entire week is a one long workout. Except that I count the rest between sets in hours and days instead of minutes.

The only goal is to emerge from the lockdown on one glorious day without having lost too much of strength and fitness. And ideally without a potbelly. But we’ll see about that.

Because how good is lockdown curfew cake.

Signing up is not the first step

Signing up is not the first step

In a moment of invincibility mixed with blue-eyed arrogance, we’ve all rushed through to the second step. Whether it’s buying a book, a course, or singing lessons from Ralph. We’ve all payed for something we didn’t end up using. Signed up for something we couldn’t fully commit to. All because we made the mistake of skipping the first step.

Before signing any dotted lines or wiring a single dollar, we have to make a plan. This is the first step. However loose it might be. We have to decide…

How much time we’re going to allocate to whatever we’re signing up for?
When in the week are we going to spend that time?
And how are we going to spend it?

Then we need to take an honest look at our loose plan. To open up our calendar to see if any of that will actually work in real life. Or whether we’re about to sign up for something we can’t finish. And not only waste money, but also our willpower and perhaps a piece of our self-worth.

Considering everything else we’ve got going on, have we over-committed? What if something unexpected comes along? Big or small. Have we left enough white space in the calendar to still stick to our plan? Even if it means changing our original approach.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. And neither do we. But can we reasonably expect our plan to give us the results we seek in whatever we’re about to sign up for? Or are we going to add unnecessary stress to our days by getting into something we can’t afford time-wise?

There’s wisdom in admitting that now might not be the best time.

“To look good” isn’t enough

“To look good” isn’t enough

You might feel immensely motivated about lifting your butt. I get it. I too wish for a better butt. But that enthusiasm about a beautifully elevated rear end will not last. Relying on pure aesthetics as a motivator when starting and trying to maintain a lifestyle change doesn’t cut it. No matter how you’re trying to slice it.

Wanting “to look good” works great for those who have to look perky for whatever reason. Movie stars, underwear models, Instagram influencers selling organic coconut oil, and narcissistic ex-partners. But settling for “to look good” will not float you and me.

We, that’s people who don’t star in movies or promote coconut oil, need deeper reasons and motivations to keep going when life throws its hard, annoyingly shaped, and unchewable pinecones at us. Looking good can be one of the motivators. But more likely, it’s just one of the many benefits of taking care of our health, strength and wellbeing.

Dig deep to find your motivations. Don’t settle for easy, mainstream answers. You’re getting close once your reasons prompt at least a semi-emotional reaction. That motivation is going to carry you through when “to look good” won’t.

You might even get a perkier butt in the process. And someone might even ask you to promote their organic coconut oil one day. Yay.