Instead of Monday’s regular Dear Mark  post, today I have the pleasure of bringing you a fantastic guest article from Mark’s Daily Apple reader Paul Attia.
At the age of 24, I was a two-sport varsity athlete while in law school; I thought I was busy. A very “short” decade later, I was a trial lawyer with an intense job as a criminal prosecutor, I was married, and I had three kids under the age of three; then I understood what being busy actually meant. In the intervening period, however, I needed to learn much and adapt vastly, my own lifestyle goals and patterns in order to continue to achieve some goals that I had set for myself. During that same period, I was introduced to the Primal Blueprint (via my brother Peter , whom many of you know).
My goals are very similar, no doubt, to the goals shared by many of you. Namely, I want to be the best spouse I can be; the best father possible; the consummate professional in my job; and live a very full and healthy lifestyle. Goals, as many of you know, are tantamount to looking at a road map and selecting a destination; goals tell you where you want to go. But selecting and following the best route to your chosen destination is what will determine whether you arrive or not. I am writing today to let you know how incorporating the PB into my life is helping me reach that destination; I believe that my experiences will be very similar to yours and that today’s article will equip some of you with ways in which you can incorporate the PB into your busy family and work life.
To that end, and in keeping with my profession as a trial lawyer, I shall break my writing down into three separate but related parts: Fit Father vs. Fat Father; Primal Parenting; and Executive Workouts.
Fit Father vs. Fat Father
As you can deduce from the above, my transition into fatherhood was a rapid one. On my 30th birthday, I was unmarried with no children. By the age of 34, I was married and we had three kids. My wife and I have very similar backgrounds. She was a national champion in track and field, and went on to have a very successful university career in track, as a two-time conference champion. We are both very intense in the pursuit of our passions. So, once we were married, we decided to take the same approach to our family. We wanted a large family and we wanted to build one at a fast pace.
When I became a father, I recognized early on that I had to make a choice as to whether or not I wanted to be a Fit Father or a Fat Father. I also knew that to “not make a choice” was indeed to make a choice; and that would be a choice for the latter, i.e. one has to pro-actively and actively choose to be a Fit Father.
It is important to be aware of two critical factors that occur when a man becomes a father. One, the amount of “tasks” in your daily life increases at an exponential rate; simultaneously, the amount of time you have to complete said tasks decreases at an exponential rate! It is at this intersection that many become fat fathers as opposed to fit fathers. Most other dads that I talk to will share similar stories: They were young and healthy, keeping fit by either exercising (jogging, biking, etc.) on a consistent basis, or playing a sport often (Ultimate Frisbee, baske-ball, etc.), until they had a kid. Soon, times for morning or evening jogs were gone; taking off to the gym was no longer an option; and evening games of Ultimate could not be attended. Soon, the desire to “get back into it” also decreased.
This touches on another important principle at play: the longer one has gone without being physically active, the more difficult it is to return.
So, how do we, as parents of young children (I am writing this to fathers, but many of the principles apply equally to mothers), change this, and ensure that we can be Fit Fathers (and Mothers)?
Let’s take a look at First Principles.
One, choose, in your mind, that it is a goal of yours. If it is not even set as an objective, you’ve really got no chance. Two, decide to make subtle changes, consistently, over a long period of time. Yes, that is right, you heard me correctly: Subtle changes; Consistently; Over a Long Period of Time. The PB is about changing your lifestyle in such a way that you can maintain it… It is Not about implementing methods that you can only maintain for a short period of time. That is an important distinction. Three, decide what those changes will be and implement them. They may be related to the type of exercise, location of it, or duration. They may be related to how you eat, what and how much. They may be related to your sleeping habits, your social choices, or decisions about your attitude. They may include all of the above.
I’ll give you a few examples that I used in my life. One, I made a choice that I wanted to be a Fit Father (my reasons for this choice shall be explained below). Two, I determined that I needed to make some changes in my life; I needed to change the way I viewed exercise; and that I needed to change the way I ate. As a varsity athlete, my idea of a workout included a trip to the gym and hours spent there. Once I became a father, opportunities to take off to the gym for hours on end, disappeared. Therefore, I had to change my idea as to what a workout was. Once I realized that a workout could take shape in a number of different ways, in different locations, with little to no equipment, I quickly realized that I could in fact be active daily. And that was my first goal: Do something physically active each day. Sometimes that might be a trip to the gym. Sometimes it might be a mountain bike ride for an hour. Sometimes it might be a 10-20 minute “Executive Workout” (see more below). Some days it’s my commute to work and then a few sets of pullups and pushups once I am there. And some days, it might just be a hike in the woods with my kids, as we run around and explore. Either way, I am physically active every day.
I also changed the way I ate. I realized that as a man in his mid-thirties, I could not eat the way I ate in my mid-teens or even mid-twenties for that matter. I implemented the PB into my life and realized that eating this way was almost like I was “cheating” because it was so easy. I eat as often as I want and as much as I want. I just choose to eat from a list of foods that are ideal; I choose to never eat from a list of foods that are poison (read: sugar); and I sometimes eat from a list of foods that are okay. Basically, my diet is very simple: I eat lots of fruit, tons of vegetables; some good meat; and zero wheat. Sugar is a poison. I try not to eat poison.
I implemented the above changes subtly, but consistently, and have now been doing them for a long period of time. The results have been very rewarding. I am healthier, fitter, stronger and more energetic at this stage than I was before.
Here is one other major advantage – and in fact, the most important one: I am happier. And as result, I am a better father.
You see, being a Fit Father vs. a Fat Father appears on its face to really be a decision that is all about you as a father. But it is not. It is really a decision about what is best for your kids. That may sound paradoxical, but it is not. Let me explain.
When you’re fit, you’re happy; when you’re happy, you enjoy your life more; when you enjoy your life more, you enjoy your kids more. It is really very simple.
When I come back from a mountain bike ride in the woods, or a workout out in the park (or at the gym, for that matter), I am feeling physically refreshed, but I am also feeling better about myself mentally. I feel good that I did something productive for myself (as selfish as that might sound) and I can now throw myself fully into time with my kids uninhibited; as opposed to skipping out on exercise in order to be with the kids. That option sounds lovely, but in the long term it renders one unhappy and possibly resenting your family. That is dangerous in the long term.
Of course there are other benefits of being a Fit Father: You have more energy. Playing with your kids is a joy, not a physically tiresome task. In fact, you love it, and often initiate it. They reciprocate in a fantastic fashion and great memories and bonding ensue. You can incorporate physically active family adventures and outings, whether it be a hike, or just playing in the backyard. Being Fit opens doors.
Lastly, when I became a father, a good friend and mentor told me, “do not worry that your kids are not listening to you, but be very worried that your kids are watching you.”
Kids look to us as examples. If you want your kids to be physically active people, who love life, soak up every ounce of it, and pursue it passionately, then don’t tell them to do that, just do that and they’ll probably follow your lead!
Primal Parenting: Implementing the Principles of the PB with a Young Family
Children are inherently primal in so many respects. We can, in fact, learn a great deal from observing them. By nature kids love to move. They are perpetually interested in running, playing, chasing, falling, jumping. You name it. So, let’s encourage that to the max. Set up your life and your home in such a way that play is allowed and encouraged. Put your TV in a room that is far away from the main hangout area; build forts in your living room, not just your backyard; play tag with your kids; take them on hikes and nature walks. Feed them great foods and teach them at a young age how great these foods really are. They will follow our leads. When they see us enjoying fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, they’ll follow our lead. Pragmatically, set up your life in such a way that good, healthy food, is readily available.
My days are busy, but they begin very early with our kids and playtime is generally what we’re doing from the get-go. The kids begin their day, running around the living room, chasing dad and playing a sport of sort – even if it is still before 6 am. They love it and always want more. We keep the house full of good snacks – cashews, almonds, cut veggies, fruits and berries are regular snacks for our kids – and “treats” like ice cream are easily made by crushing up a frozen banana with some cocoa powder.
Weekend plans usually involve a hike in the park, climbing “mountains” (i.e. any hill or staircase we can find), and heading to a farmers market for some good snacks and lunch.
Each and every time we implement any of the above mentioned practices, the kids seem to love it more and more; showing me just how “primal” we really are.
Primal “Executive” Workouts: How to Incorporate PB Workouts into a Very Busy Schedule
Like so many of you, my days seem to be becoming busier and busier. “When will my schedule settle down?,” I often ask myself. Well, I think I’ve stopped waiting for an answer. Between the three kids under three and my days in court, the “windows of time” for me to go to the gym only seem to be getting smaller. My experience is not unique, I know.
To solve this problem, we need to become creative in our implementation of a PB lifestyle, in spite of our busy and hectic schedules.
I began drafting “Executive Workouts” when I first starting working as a lawyer, nearly a decade ago, as my schedule was becoming increasingly busy I called them “Executive” in that they are Efficient and Effective – and because they are most useful to people with busy lives.
After reading the PB, I began to implement Primal components into my Executive Workouts, and now enjoy them that much more.
Let’s go back to first principles – and let’s be pragmatic. What task(s) are you doing every day? The answer is likely commuting to work, taking a shower, grabbing a meal… etc. So, how can we incorporate exercise and physical activity into those daily tasks? When I began to answer these questions, the answers led me to make some subtle, but very important changes in my life. My commute is now a form of activity. I walk, bike, run or even skate to work (I live near a body of water that freezes in the winter).
I bought a pullup bar for the doorway of my office at work and of my office at home. I set a goal of doing X amount pullups in the morning before my shower, and a certain amount of pullups once I arrived at working in the morning. That number began in the single digits; within a few months, it was into triple digits.
I bought a resistance band and kept one at home and one at the office; same thing with a set of dumbbells; and I apply the same principles as above. And let’s not forget the good ol’ fashioned pushups, body weight squats, etc. I have now set up a series of “Executive” Workouts that I can do virtually anywhere, with little or even no equipment, and I work these exercises into my daily life, whether it be 5 minutes before I jump in the shower or 10 minutes first thing in the morning, doesn’t really matter. The point is, that I have worked physical activity into my daily life in a way that is easy and simple to implement.
My current schedule (read: deal with my wife), is that I take off to the gym very early on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (and often on Saturday mornings). On the other days of the week, however, my mornings are usually spent running around with my kids, playing, making food, changing diapers, “negotiating with them” over what they’re going to wear that day… the list goes on. On those days, my “physical activity” includes my running around and playing with my kids, my commute to work, and I’ll add in a Primal “Executive” Workout, such as the following:
- 2 minutes of Core Pushups*
- 4 minutes of Body Weight Squats
- 2 minutes of Pullups, completing a total of 50 in that time period
- 2 minutes of Core Pushups
Total: 10 minutes
*(Core Pushups involve doing 1 push every 5 seconds for the duration of the set, e.g. here I’d do 1 pushup every 5 seconds for a 2 minutes straight, thus essentially doing a “plank” in between pushups).
Here are some other practical examples of ways in which I have incorporated workouts in my every day life, that may work for you as well:
- I may bike or run to work, stopping at a nearby hill to run sprints, intervals of timed pushups, or pullups from tree branches.
- When working on a long and intense trial at work that occupies days, mornings, and nights, I’ll run the couple of miles to work and back, setting my watch timer to beep every minute, reminding me to stop and do a set of pushups. By the time I’ve commuted to and from work, I’ve run several miles and done hundreds of pushups, but really have not taken very much time out of my day.
- As mentioned above, I have a pullup bar, dumbbells and a set of resistance bands in my home office and my office at work, so I can never have an excuse to not get a workout in.
- Commit to doing a certain number of pullups every day on the way in or way out;
- Set your smart phone timer to go off once per hour as cue to get up from your desk and to do a set of pullups and pushups
- Take 20 minutes over lunch and do a workout on the equipment right around you
- At home, I’ve set up a large, kids play area near an exercise area for myself, so that I can also exercise at home, with my kids right there.
- In warmer months, I’ll head to the park with my kids and set up a circuit wherein I may run from the monkey bars (doing pullups) to a bench (for steps ups) back to the sand box (for sprints). My kids think it is hilarious to see their dad get tired and they turn it into a game for them too.
- In the winter, rather than driving places, I’ll pull my kids in a sled. They enjoy it much more and it turns into great exercise for me (pulling 2-3 kids in a sled, through a few feet of snow has the tendency to do that).
You’ll be amazed at how fantastic you feel after a quick, short, and intense workout like that. You, of course, all know that from your experiences to date, with the Primal Blueprint.
I hope and trust that my experiences with the PB will assist and encourage many of you to find creative and practical ways to incorporate the PB into your busy family and work lives as you all aim to be Fit Fathers and Mothers, Primal Parents and members of the Executive Team.
All the best,
Fit Father vs. Fat Father Summary
- Two things happen when you become a parent: your amount of tasks goes way up and the amount of time you have goes way down. It is at this intersection that many people falter.
- Choose to be a Fit Parent.
- Make subtle changes, consistently, over a long period of time.
- Incorporate physical activity into everyday life, recognizing that your life as a parent is very busy, and likely will not slow down, so you have to adapt.
- Create some easy ways to make practical changes:
- Turn your commute into a form of exercise (walk, run, or bike to work, stopping at a hill for sprints, or pushups on the way).
- Throw a pullup bar, set of dumbbells, or a resistance band in your home or work office and set some fun, daily or weekly goals for yourself.
- Learn to do Executive Workouts (see main article).
- Incorporate your kids into exercise (circuits in the park, bike rides, runs, hikes, sledding in the winter).
- Set up easy ways to eat as per the Primal Blueprint, even when on-the-go:
- Put a small fridge in your office stocked with fruit and vegetables.
- Keep a stash of snacks (nuts, seeds, etc.) nearby.
- Find some spots near your office and home that serve up good primal foods, so that you have readily available options when you eat out.