Hidden Gem #1: Consistency Beats Optimization
So, when does exercise come into play? What should I do? When? How? How often?
You’ve probably heard the quote often attributed to the late Vince Lombardi, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” When it comes to health, is your goal to be perfect or to adopt a sustainably healthy lifestyle? You may also have heard it said that success in health is often achieved in spite of our methods as opposed to being achieved as a result of them. This is usually promoted by fitness purists who are in constant search of optimal technique and performance. Their recommendations often look like this: Eat _______ at _______ times targeting _______ calories including _______ supplements in conjunction with _______ exercise with _______ repetitions at _______ intervals. I’ve even seen suggestions for timing bowel movements and taking ice cold baths daily to assist with weight loss. Sound like fun? Sound sustainable? Not to me. Oh, but you might get a scheduled cheat day…
When I see suggestions like those above related to overall health and fitness, the only motivation I feel is to close the associated media and give it a toss. But, perhaps there is a hidden gem that we’ve overlooked. Maybe we should go back and take a closer look at one of the above statements. It starts with “Success”. Let that sink in. Now, let’s look further. “Success in health is often achieved”. Let that sink in. Now, let’s finish the statement, but this time let’s take more of a glass-is-half-full approach. Try it this way: “Success in health is often achieved because of the consistency with which we perform our sub-optimal, but sufficiently good, habits.” When performed to the letter, the extreme approaches addressed above will likely achieve the optimal results they boast, but optimization theory without consistent practice amounts to failure.
When it comes to foundational exercise [think of this as the spring from which your health flows], consistency is everything. In order to remain consistent with your foundational exercise, you must have a sustainable approach and always keep it in balance. I’ve mentioned previously starting your day early and taking time for yourself (a purely enjoyable activity) before engaging in exercise. To start, I recommend spending no more than 15 minutes on exercise and stretching prior to preparing for the rest of your day [based on 5-day work week]. The key is to make subtle, sustainable changes increasingly until you reach an acceptable maintenance point. This maintenance point will vary based on individual time and goals. However, to remain sustainable, you must continue to keep a sufficient amount of time for your enjoyable activity prior to starting exercise, and the exercise (stretching included) should never exceed 30-45 minutes [I’ll continue to address exercise and how it drives other factors in the next post].
Hidden Gem #2: Perception Beats Misconception
I really love this approach…but…I’m not a morning person.
That’s okay. I’m not either…at least how I define it. I believe it’s a common misconception that being a morning person or not depends on what time of day you typically wake up. For the bulk of our marriage, I’ve maintained an earlier schedule than my wife, yet she’s far more of a morning person than I am. Whether I wake up at 4am or noon, I need a solid half-hour to sip coffee in complete darkness with no sound…and certainly no conversation…before I am able to function properly. My wife, on the other hand, is ready for all the above the instant her feet touch the floor…whether she gets up at 4am or noon. On occasions (usually weekends) when we’ve woken up at the same time, I’ve noticed her out of the corner of my eye physically rocking back and forth [pre-combustion] before blurting, “Can I talk to you yet?” A slow growl is my usual reply. For this reason, I build in an extra 30 minutes before starting my enjoyable activity on weekdays. My wife joins me after my coffee time when the beast has once again transformed.
Hidden Gem #3: The Same Benefit without the Side Effects
But…you don’t understand…I really love the snooze button.
I get it. Snooze button addiction is not uncommon. The habit forming pattern usually goes like this:
Day 1: Alarm goes off; I’m not ready to wake up; I hit the snooze button and get a few extra minutes of sleep; I like it, so I decide to do it from now on
Day 2 and 3: Hit the snooze button once
Day 4: I decide one snooze isn’t enough; I hit the snooze button a second time; Oops…I was late for work, but I liked having the extra snooze; I decide to set my alarm clock earlier so I can hit the snooze button twice and still get to work on time [I’m a genius]
Day 30: My alarm clock is now set a full hour early so I can enjoy multiple snoozes while gradually waking up [even more genius]
Day 60: OMG!! It’s 8:00am! Did my alarm clock go off? Why didn’t I hear it?
The above (and all too common) scenario portrays a systematic reprogramming that gradually makes us less and less responsive to the alarm clock until we are able to ignore it completely [Warning: this habit has high potential to keep you single unless others in the household are either very patient or equally immune]. So, what do we do about it? It’s important to understand that the perceived benefits of the snooze button are purely psychological but still may hold some value. I believe it’s possible to achieve the same psychological benefit while avoiding the snooze button altogether.
I have employed two tricks for this purpose that haven’t failed me since I started using them five years ago:
Trick #1: The Built-In Snooze
- I get up at 4:15am on weekdays. Why 4:15 instead of 4:00? It’s a built-in snooze, a psychological trick, that takes the perceived sting out of getting up a 4:00am. Don’t think it’ll work? Give it a try…
Trick #2: The Safety Net
- I use a cell phone instead of a traditional alarm clock. For one reason, it’s not subject to overnight power outages, but more importantly, I can set multiple alarms equipping me with a backup plan or safety net. I set a second alarm for 4:45 and a third for 5:15 [worst case scenario].
In five years, I’ve only had to rely on the safety net once, and that was a long time ago. In truth, I could probably do without either of these tricks at this point, as I’ve become so conditioned to this process. But, you know what they say, “If it ain’t broke…”.
More coming soon…