Taking things a day at a time

Lately I’ve realised the importance of taking one day at time when it comes to my personal life.

I am incredibly self critical and can beat myself up really bad when I screw up or even just don’t do things perfect – this can become a vicious circle as I go on a trail of self destruct because of how disappointed I am in myself.

For example, if I get tempted to eat some junk food, I will become immediately frustrated with my lack of will power and this can often allow it to spiral into a cycle of eating poorly for days, or even weeks.

Likewise, a skipped gym session can sometimes turn into weeks or months of inactivity.

The key is letting go of the past. No matter how things went yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year – you have the power to change the trend when you wake up to start your day.

You have the opportunity to start with a blank canvas and have an awesome day.

And then you can build on that the following day – and the next day – and so on.

Set aside half an hour to plan out an awesome day. Keep it simple – just 3 or 4 things that will make your day pretty awesome. And then do that.

Likewise if you screw up in the morning, you can still have a great afternoon, it doesn’t mean you have to write off the whole day. Re-group and plan out an awesome afternoon. And then do that.

What are you going to do with tomorrows bank holiday?

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My Results on Paleo

After reading Robb Wolfs book The Paleo Solution, I was convinced it was the right path to good health.

So, 30 days ago I commited to the Paleo Diet – avoiding dairy, grains, processed foods, sugars, beans, starches and alcohol. Eating lean meats, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, seafood and healthy fats.

I’ve managed about 80% consistency. I’ve taken a couple of days off and have had the odd slippage here or there – but for the most part I’ve stuck to the script.

It wasn’t crazy hard to do. It definately requires some preparation (I planned my weekly meals out at the beginning of the week and did a big food shop) and conscious decision making around snacking and eating out – but for the most part it’s suprising how the shift to eating Paleo doesn’t feel like a major shift.

My breakfast tended to be either scrambled eggs / bacon / tomatoes or fruit and nuts.

My lunch was normally left over dinner from the day before or fruit and nuts.

My dinner was usually things like meat & vegetable stir frys, home made burgers & sweet potatoes wedges, big salads, steak & vegetables etc.

When eating out I would just lean towards meat type dishes without the starches and order an extra side of vegetables to fill out the meal.

In short – I really, really like Paleo.

As I said in my previous post, I’ve tried many things in the past – but this is the first approach that actually feels like a lifestyle and has long term good health at the heart of it – rather than just short term weight loss.

So what results did I notice? Well two main things:

1. Weight Loss

Even though weight loss was far from the primary reason to go Paleo, I did in fact lose weight. Previously I was maintaining my weight consistently at 13 stone, 7lbs (189lbs) using a 5/2 diet (well actually 4/3) and doing approx. one crossfit session a week and running on average fifteen miles a week.

Over the last twenty-five days my weight has dropped to 13 stone, 1 lb (182lbs) – a loss of 6lbs. Whats interesting is because of some lower back / calf injuries, I’ve only been able to manage one low intensity gym session a week – so the weight loss would have likely been more if my exercise had of remained at it’s higher, previous level.

For me that’s awesome, because I really feel like maintaing a weight of 12 stone, 7 lbs (175lbs) is about right for me and it’s a good sign that it shouldn’t be terribly hard to get there.

Whether the weight loss came from calorie reduction (Paleo meals do tend to be calorie light – although I should note I wasn’t intentionally trying to eat less calories and it didn’t feel like I was) or the subtraction of the ‘avoid’ foods I don’t know. But the facts are the facts, my weight dropped nicely and with less exercise.

2. Feeling Awesome

Aswell as weight loss, I simply feel much better avoiding starches (potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, cereals etc.) and processed foods.

Previously I would finish a meal and really feel quite awful – sleepy, bloated etc. I now find myself no longer feeling bloated or sleepy after meals – yet feeling full. In general I just felt leaner and less bloated most of the time.

What was also noticeable was about 15 days in I made a decision to take an entire day off Paleo due to a social event. I ate bread and some processed foods and felt like absolutely crap later in the day and for a couple of days afterwards.

So I lost weight and felt awesome which is obviously… well… awesome. And I haven’t even mentioned short and long term health benefits (the key driver behind me starting Paleo). Obviously this wasn’t going to come through in the form of tangible results in a twenty-five day period, however Robb Wolf lays out the health benefits incredibly well in his book The Paleo Soltuion and I’m concvinced it’s a much healthier way of living.

It goes without saying I will be continuing to eat a Paleo Diet from here on and will be working to improve upon my 80% consistency.

If you want to know a bit more about Paleo and how to get started yourself, check out the What is the Paleo Diet section on Robb’s site.

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Do These Two Things to Significantly Improve Productivity and Success

When I have felt the most productive and successful, there are two things I was consistently doing.

Rise early

This one changed my entire life and I’ve never looked back.

There is something so incredibly powerful about early morning time – its focused, you literally get extra hours to work with and you start the day off on a strong foot (which has a huge impact on how you move through the rest of day).

For me, getting about three extra hours and balancing that time between myself and work is key. The holy grail (again, for me) looks like this:

  • 4.30 – 6.30 – two hours focused ‘me’ time
  • 6.30 – 7.30 – shower, eat and get to work
  • 7.30 – 9.00 – 1.5 hours focused work time

I know 4.30 seems crazy early, but I’m naturally an early riser so is doesn’t feel so crazy to me. 🙂

I got in the habit of doing something similar to the above a while back and I was on fire. I’ve let that slip and it’s noticeable how less productive I feel – so I’m going to work hard to get back to it over the coming weeks.

Try it for yourself. If you aren’t used to waking early, go about it slowly. Start with just rising 15 minutes earlier than you are used to for a week and make good use of the extra time – and slowly increase it from there. Figure out what works for you as it could be that simply an extra one hour of focused time in the morning is best for you.

I can guarantee that once you become an early riser, you’ll never look back.

Also, check out The Unfair Advantage – Achieve More Than Others Do The Entire Day – Before Breakfast! for a fantastic and short read on rising early.

Plan out the day

Taking the time to consciously map out what you will do for the day is SO powerful (incidentally, getting up early gives you the focused time to do this).

I used to just jump into the day and start ‘doing’. I would find myself being dragged into all sort of things – many of them urgent, but not necessarily important. When you think about it, it’s the equivalent of a business having entirely no strategy and just doing a bunch of slightly random things each day.

Nowadays I take at least fifteen minutes to think quietly about what I want to achieve for the day. What are the items which will make the biggest impact and allow me to move significantly forward – try and think what is important to do, not necessarily urgent.

I think about what things to do, how long each will take and in what order I should do them and that translates into a realistic plan for the day. You should be able to look at this and know that if you achieved it, you would feel awesome at the end of the day.

Having such a plan puts you in a great position to be able to make conscious decisions about your priorities throughout the day (you’ll find yourself starting to say no to things more).

Lastly, be flexible. Most days it’ll be unlikely you get everything done, perhaps less than 50% some days. This is because we tend to be unrealistic with what we can do in a given day and secondly because you will undoubtedly come across things which rightly deserve to be a higher priority than what you set out at the beginning of the day. And that’s ok, because you’re now making a conscious decision on priorities.

Again, play about with daily planning and figure out what feels right to you.

Having some structure to hold onto before you set out will put you ahead of virtually everyone else. Try it and see 🙂

Personal Reflection

It felt good to write about rising early and daily planning.

It’s been rattling about in my head for a few days and lately I have strayed from how disciplined I was in these areas. I got more clarity on why they were important and I’ll be making moves next week to start getting back to where I used to be with these habits.

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Little and Often is Always Best

When you are trying to do something new – little and often is always best.

Little can mean as few as two minutes. Often means daily.

Sounds obvious and easy right? But it isn’t easy to stick to this, even if we know deep down that it’s the best approach.

Most people (me included!) tend to think that small is a bit pathetic, perhaps even a waste of time – especially when you have it in you to do more in a given session.

I mean why get outside and run every day for just five minutes if you are capable of fifteen minutes?

Isn’t taking five minutes to be calm a bit of a waste? Surely meditating for thirty mins is a much better length? I mean it’s only sitting still right? What will you get out of just five minutes?

But heres the kicker. When you are starting out, establishing a habit is so much more important than exactly what or how much of it you do – especially for the long run. And you would be suprised just how many results you will see from little and often.

I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to do too much and then subsequently failing to establish a habit many times in the past. Luckily nowadays it’s becoming few and far between, but I still screw up now and again.

The other important thing to remember is not to be so hard on yourself. Doing new things can be difficult and often it will take a little getting used to. If you don’t do things perfect, don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember that simply taking the time to do something on a daily basis is significant progress in itself – and it’s quite amazing how quickly you adapt and become better at what you’re doing by practicing daily.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the point:

Mobility:

Lately I have had lots of injuries and niggles as a result of exercising. It was a stark reminder than I need to make mobility a much higher priority. I found it incredibly tempting to put together a really thorough mobility routine that covered all angles. I could have easily pulled together 15 or so exercises, which would have taken the best part of 45 mins to complete.

Instead, I fought the temptation (and given how much I need to improve, it was very tempting) and decided little and often was better – establishing a habit of daily mobility exercises is absolutely the MOST important thing for me right now.

So, every morning I do the following:

  • foam roll
  • hamstring band stretches – 1 x 15 on each leg
  • 90 / 90 glute stretch – 30 secs each side
  • air squats – 1 x 10 reps
  • good mornings – 1 x 10 reps

I can whizz through this in ten minutes. At the end I always feel I can do much more, but I rarely do. Instead I just move on with the rest of my day and repeat it the following morning. It’s slowly getting easier and becoming more normal for me to do every morning when I wake. Soon I will start introducing a new exercise or two and will slowly expand my ten minutes to fifteen minutes – being careful to only do so after I feel I have properly estabished the daily habit.

Meditation:

I have tried to get into meditation quite a few times in the past, but often ended up frustrated and finding myself quitting. I would set myself a goal of sitting still for thirty minutes and most of the time got very frustrated with how much my mind would wander and how much I just wanted to get up and do other stuff. It started to feel like a drag and wasn’t enjoyable at all – hence why I would quit after just a few days.

However lately I have been using an app called Calm and it really is quite good. It has seven guided lessons to listen to, each one lasting approx. 6 minutes – with the seventh step lasting only nine minutes. After that you can either repeat them or just set a custom time and continue being calm for that length of time. The app does a fantastic job of reminding you that little and often is best – and that you won’t do it perfectly to start with and that’s ok. Daily practice is the most important thing.

I’ve now taken the time to be calm every day for 8 days and I look forward to each session and soon might be able to commit to 10 minutes each day. What a massive contrast from trying to commit to thirty minutes and quiting after three days.

Little, often and not being hard on yourself can be applied to mostly anything you are trying to learn.

If you want to read, just read for 5 minutes a day (every day).

If you want to write, just write a paragraph or even a sentence (every day).

If you want to exercise, just get out the door and walk for 5 minutes (every day).

If you want to drink water – just drink half a glass when you wake up (every day).

Well, you get the idea 😉

Have a think about applying ‘little and often’ to something you have been trying to get to become a habit recently – I promise you won’t look back.

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Work / Life Balance is Nonsense

I guess the strongly worded title reflects how I feel about work / life balance nowadays – in fact having a healthy balance in life in general. Also, I just really like the word nonsense 😉

I was having a chat with a friend yesterday and the subject of work / life balance came up. We found ourselves agreeing that the whole ‘good balance in life’ thing is pretty much a myth.

Lately I’ve let go of striving to achieve a healthy balance in my life. Or at least – I’ve changed what a healthy balance means to me.

I used to drive myself round the bend trying to excel in all areas of my life. I’d literally reach points where I felt so overwhelmed I thought I was going to snap.

I had all of the areas of my life mapped out (about 8 of them – health, finance, relationships, career etc.) and had ambitious goals for each area. I’d start the week quite clear on what I needed to do in each area and usually didn’t get anywhere close in most of them.

As I’ve found with most things in life, focus is the key to making progress. If you try and do too many things, you simply end up being mediocre in everything and it quickly becomes super overwhelming and stressful.

You can’t have awesome health, a blazing career, amazing relationships with family and friends, growing wealth, learn a number of things etc. – all at the same time. There may be some popular examples of people who seemingly seem to have everything in check, but the hard truth is that most people cannot manage it.

In my opinion, you have to pick one area of your life where you are going to place the majority of your effort and the rest should then be spent on perhaps another one or two areas – dramatically lower your expectations for the other areas. In fact, go and neglect them for a bit.

That’s a tough decision to make and stick to (and it’s why a lot of companies fail). I should know, I have failed to do this in my personal life in the past. It simply doesn’t feel right to stand still or even go backwards in areas of your life – but that’s the price you pay for moving a particular part of your life forward significantly.

I think what’s important is to make a conscious decision about your priorities – stick to it – and be aware enough to understand when neglect becomes catastrophe. You don’t want that, because it then requires a gigantic effort to turn things around (if it can in fact be turned around) and it’s a terribly inefficient waste of your time. People who have prioritised their career over important relationships for too long a period can often find the damage is irreparable for example.

The Spinning plates metaphor is a good one to think about. Picture a spinning plate on a stick for each big area of your life. You should probably attend to mostly one, but also another one or two (maximum and to a lesser degree) – but leave the rest. If you neglect any one plate for too long it will fall and smash and it will require significant effort to get it back up and spinning – and whilst doing so you erode the good work done in keeping your number one and two spinning. You will need to be aware of the plates you are not attending to and from time to time attend to it in a small way to keep it simply from smashing.

A good example of this is when you have prioritised your career and finances, but have been neglecting a key relationship for too long – just take a couple of days off and do something really special with that person. Apologise for neglecting them recently and have a candid conversation about priorities now and in the future. That’s probably enough to keep that relationship from spiralling out of control but also won’t distract you from your top priorities of career and finance.

Today, I believe very strongly that it requires an ‘all in’ effort to significantly move a particular part of your life forward and you must accept lower expectations for yourself in other areas to achieve it.

Here is a personal example:

In 2011 and 2012 I was VERY career focused. I was working a minimum of 60 hours a week and all I could really think about was how to drive things forward for the company I was working for. I was also being well rewarded for the responsibility I had taken on and my commitment – so my finances were moving forward nicely too.

I tried time and time again to be super fit, eat awesome, learn new things, have a good relationship with Ella, see lots of my family and friends etc. But in reality I didn’t make much progress in those areas and in some cases severely neglected them and allowed a plate to drop (I ignored my health, put on weight and felt like crap most of the time). I also constantly beat myself up about not reaching my own high expectations in those areas. I should have just let go of those very high expectations and consciously realised I was placing career and finances as my highest priorities and set much lower expectations of myself in the other areas – tending to them in only a very small way to avoid bigger problems down the line.

Priorities can change – it just depends on what is important to you at any one time

Since the beginning of 2013, my focus and what is important to me has entirely shifted. Enough for me to decide to take some time off work and focus on my health and relationships. As a result I’m drinking 2 litres of water every day, eating paleo, running and have better relationships with Ella, friends and family. I have had to learn to be content with my finances going backwards and for my career to be treading water. I’ve had to drop my expectations completely in those areas. And that’s ok, because that’s how I feel right now. I can’t do it forever or I will start to go backwards in the areas I am de-prioritising which will cause me problems, but I am highly aware of that.

In fact I feel like my priorities will shift again soon and I will have to shift around my focus and expectations a bit. Instead of setting a high bar and crashing often in the areas I am de-prioritising, I will set some sensible ‘tread water’ expectations so I can be content with those areas, whilst I significantly progress others.

So what am I saying? Well, for a start I just felt like getting that off my chest 😉

I think these are the important things when it comes to a balanced life:

  • Understand that you can’t excel in all areas of your life at the same time (and be ok with that).
  • Pick your main focus and your number two priority.
  • Give your main focus 75% of your time / effort and spread the rest between your number two priority and watching the others for neglect turning into catastrophe.
  • Learn to be content with lower expectations for the areas you have de-prioritised.
  • Know that everyone is different. What’s right for you, is right for you. It’s your life and your happiness at stake.

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