Category: Habits

How to Create a Powerful Morning Routine (And the Surprising Reasons You’ll Want To)

How often do you find yourself mashing the alarm clock, desperately longing for a few more glorious minutes of shut eye? A couple days a week? Every day? Not sure why you’d ever NOT want to mash the alarm? For a lot of us, working from home has allowed for a much more relaxed morning routine. And by relaxed, I mean sleeping right up until the last minute, throwing the covers off, throwing a decent-looking top on, and scarfing down a bar or several cups of coffee as you scramble to log on to your first Zoom call. Sound familiar? When you start your morning like a fire drill, guess what happens? The whole day follows suit. Every minute feels like you’re playing catch up. Things tend to fall through the cracks with zero chance of regaining control. And all of your good intentions – you know, preparing a healthy protein-forward breakfast and getting outside for some fresh air quickly become a task for another day when it’s less busy. Why a Morning Routine Helps You Crush It Besides the obvious reason (see above), having a solid morning routine sets the tone for your entire day. No matter what happened yesterday or what’s on your schedule for today, a morning routine is a constant you can rely on — something that allows you to assert your authority over the day. It’s a ritual you’ve consciously carved out time to do in the name of self-care and sanity, because you value your health, happiness, and general wellbeing. Take a look at people who are known for totally crushing it. You’ll notice they all have something in common: Tim Ferriss starts every day by making his bed, because it’s a simple action he can take that gives him a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Plus, it’s something he can do that’s totally within his control. Julianne Hough swears by her morning gratitude ritual, which includes thinking of five things she’s grateful for and setting small spiritual goals for the next 24 hours. Even former president Obama has a routine, beginning each day with a workout, followed by breakfast with his kids. It’s not just the entrepreneurial, celebrity, and political set who are privy to creating such a routine. In fact, that’s one of the first things I recommend my clients do when we start working together. When you take the time to create a morning routine that means something to you, you decide that you’re worth putting yourself first. You decide that you’d rather be proactive about your day instead of reactive. What do I mean by proactive vs. reactive? What being proactive looks like: Staying actively engaged Feeling a sense of clarity and control Knowing what’s important to you Looking ahead and anticipating your needs What being reactive looks like: Letting circumstances control you Feeling helpless or threatened Neglecting your own needs Taking action without thinking things through Too Busy to Get Up Early? Read This If you’re someone who works … Continue reading “How to Create a Powerful Morning Routine (And the Surprising Reasons You’ll Want To)”

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How to Quit Sweets, for Real This Time

By far, the number one complaint I hear from people who are trying to upgrade their diets is that they can’t seem to ditch sweets. Even once they’re comfortable eating a Primal or keto diet, sweet cravings still hang around like a devil on their shoulder, whispering that they should go ahead and “cheat.” I’m using the term “sweets” here to encompass the wide world of candy, baked desserts (cookies, cakes, cupcakes), ice cream, donuts—that sort of thing. Let’s throw soda and sugary breakfast cereals on the pile, too. You know what I’m talking about: the sweet-tasting, uber-palatable foods we categorize as treats in the modern diet. Note that I’m specifically not using the term “carbs” here—as in, “I need to quit eating carbs”—for several reasons. One, “carbs” is not really a type of food, it’s a macronutrient. Second, the way most people use the term, they also mean savory grain-based foods like bread and pasta. Certainly, lots of people crave those foods, and most of what I say here will apply to grains, too, but the focus is on sweets because that’s where most people have a harder time. Third, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and even things like mollusks contain carbohydrates. People aren’t grappling with those. But lots of people struggle to stop eating sweets. It’s why there are so many books and influencers promoting sugar detoxes, promising to help you break free of sugar cravings forever in three days, five days, a week. Of course, if it was simple, quick, and unambiguously rewarding to cut sweets from your diet, we wouldn’t need so many programs. No, You’re Not Just Weak Before getting into it, I want to validate that eliminating sweets from your diet can be very difficult. This might seem like a no duh, but I see so many people spiral into shame, guilt, and self-recrimination when they struggle. They believe it “should” be easy, if only they were stronger or more determined. “If I were just ‘better,’” they think, “I wouldn’t experience such strong cravings, and I definitely wouldn’t give in to them.” They reproach themselves as if we aren’t hard-wired as humans to seek out quick and easy energy. As if we aren’t all surrounded by messaging and advertising that encourages us to indulge in foods that have been manufactured to be hyperpalatable. As if most of us haven’t learned through a lifetime of associations to use these foods for comfort and pleasure. I’m not saying your efforts to quit sweets are doomed to failure, nor that you shouldn’t take responsibility for health. You can and should do hard things that help you achieve your goals. However, I firmly believe that unrealistic expectations cause a ton of angst and are a major reason people give up. When they inevitably struggle and stumble, people shame-spiral and quit instead of dusting themselves off and taking another step forward. In the spirit of having realistic expectations, I’ll tell you up up front that I don’t have the one … Continue reading “How to Quit Sweets, for Real This Time”

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Your 80-Year-Old Self as Your Life Coach

Four years ago, I had a memorable interview with retired Olympic triathlon gold (’00) and silver (’08) medalist Simon Whitfield. As we sat on the rocks overlooking the bay in his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, Simon offered deep insights about an evolved approach to endurance training, and life. I asked him about the often-difficult transition from being wholly focused on Olympic gold for nearly 20 years to pursuing recreational fitness goals. Simon mentioned his passion for extreme standup paddling, where he solos for hours way out into the ocean, careful to avoid the shipping lanes where giant container ships which could easily suck him and his board into the abyss. Simon is one of the most reflective athletes you’ll ever see, and he emphasized the need for balance and sensibility at length during the interview. This exclusive footage is available as part of the Primal Endurance Mastery Course, but we excerpted one of the great sound bites of all time on this YouTube clip: “Today, I’m coached by my eighty-year-old self.” https://youtu.be/ootdfWkeZC8 Striving for Olympic gold entails obsessing about making incremental gains that have nothing to do with health, and would surely make anyone’s 80-year-old self cringe. On the outside, 45-year-old Simon looks like he could still line up at the Olympic triathlon start line, paddling, yoga, and sensible fitness endeavors have taken the place of the extreme stuff. With his 80-year-old self calling the shots, Simon is now honoring his ideals to, “…be aware of self regulation, including moderation,” and knowing when to, “…turn the dial back a little bit to give my mental well being a chance to recover.” Along these lines, I enjoyed listening to Dr. Peter Attia on a School of Greatness podcast episode describe how his training decisions today are informed by his goal of participating in his personal “Centenarian Olympics.” These are physical feats he wants to be able to complete when he turns 100. Attia mentioned hoisting himself out of a swimming pool, hopping over a three-foot fence, squatting with a kettlebell of similar weight to a grandchild, and so forth (he promised to convey all 18 in his long awaited book about health and longevity.) Honoring your 80-year-old self and setting distinct performance goals along the way is a beautiful way to inform your day-to-day workout decisions, not to mention all other life decisions. I’m reflecting on the concept more than ever as I battle a minor knee injury that’s been messing with beloved sprinting and jumping workouts for several months. After participating in a real track meet for the first time in years in early 2020, I became enamored (okay obsessed!) with the high jump. I ramped up my workouts ambitiously and made great progress for six months. Whenever I show up at the track for a full-scale workout of jumping drills, short all-out sprints, and high jump technique practice, I am super-excited and able to deliver a peak performance. One time my college athlete son joined me for my … Continue reading “Your 80-Year-Old Self as Your Life Coach”

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11 Questions to Ask Yourself at the Start of a New Year

One thing I like to do at the end of every year is look back on how I spent the last 12 months. This past year was like no other. There were a lot of surprises. A lot of reasons goals were more difficult to achieve. A lot of forces in play.

It’s possibly more important to reflect on this year than any other year. My reflection practice follows loosely the same structure every year. I’ll go through my usual practice of asking myself tough questions about my successes and failures — and to be brutally honest with my replies. But this year, there’s another layer.

The overtone is, what did I overcome? 

Now, this exercise must be done with some dedicated effort. A passing read through the questions while nodding only to forget about them in twenty minutes won’t get the job done. Discuss them with a friend, spouse, or loved one to make them real. Write them down on a piece of paper, or type your answers out. However you pay special attention to this exercise, give careful, thoughtful answers. This is about resolutions, but even more than that, this is about dialogue. Open, honest dialogue between your multiple selves, between the person that should be doing this or would rather be accomplishing that, and the person who does neither but desperately wants to. The resolutions will come, but expect it to take a little work. Let’s get to it…

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Not Seeing Results? This One Mistake Could Be Keeping You Stuck

This whole year has felt like a continuous cycle of repetitiveness. Wake up, brush teeth, put on a clean-ish shirt, and begin the day. It’s become so monotonous that most of the time, you don’t really need to think about what you’re doing, you just do it. You’re on total autopilot. And before you know it, you’re scarfing down a low-fat muffin or skipping your workout entirely because your next Zoom call is about to start — even though you had loose aspirations of having this be the week you got up early to exercise or set aside time for a solid protein-packed breakfast before work. When you’re stuck on autopilot, you’re not consciously aware of your choices. As adults, we make an average of 35,000 decisions each day. And research shows that 96% of people admit to making most of them with zero thought. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my clients say that they had no clue how they managed to polish off a whole bottle of wine in one sitting or they ate an entire bag of chips while binge-watching TV. And don’t get me started on how often I hear how tough it is to stop smashing the snooze button. Why You Feel Stuck I’ll admit it, change is hard. But it’s even harder when you’re running the show on cruise control. As I’ve mentioned before, the brain is always trying to protect you — it wants to keep you safe and comfortable. In this case, it develops an unconscious decision-making system to take care of routine tasks. Which is great, unless you want to change up your routine. Operating on autopilot looks like: Pressing snooze without knowing it Eating leftovers off your kids’ plates Buying the same foods at the store Realizing you “forgot” to exercise Checking your phone while waiting in line Blame Your Comfort Zone Once you know the simplest way of doing something (that could be feeding yourself, coping with stress, or ignoring your expanding waistline) your brain’s learning centers go into repetition mode and essentially shut down. Your mind strives to take the path of least resistance to conserve resources. It also craves routine. Because, generally speaking, not knowing what’s going to happen next is stressful. When you don’t have to think about how to do your to-dos, it’s a much easier request of your body and brain. You do the same thing over and over again, staying neatly tucked inside your comfort zone and you don’t have to put in extra effort or feel the effects of added stress or uncertainty. That’s why, if you’ve been continually beating yourself up about why you can’t seem to lose the weight or get in shape, your comfort zone could be to blame. There’s too much uncertainty! And really, I’d argue that 2020 has given us more than our fair share of that feeling already. But uncertainty does have its benefits. According to research from Yale, it signals the brain to … Continue reading “Not Seeing Results? This One Mistake Could Be Keeping You Stuck”

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Brain Benefits of Playing Instruments

One of my biggest inspirations was my late father, Laurence Sisson. He supported our family as a painter, primarily water color paintings of New England nature scenes. His work ethic was insane as was his creative genius. But my most salient memories of him are not those spent in the art studio watching beautiful representations of nature’s glory appear before my eyes. No, what I remember most are the evenings spent around the piano. He was also a great jazz pianist, and often took paying work as a musician when the times demanded it. During holidays, he’d play the classics. On quiet afternoons, he’d noodle on the keys. Piano music was the backdrop of the house. And, I’m convinced, playing that piano kept his brain nimble to the very end. Music and Brain Function If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve probably seen the videos of otherwise unresponsive Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease patients lighting up when a favorite piece of music from their younger days plays. There’s this one, where an old man in a nursing home on his last legs comes to life. After listening to some of his favorite music, he becomes incredibly responsive, answering questions about himself and his life. Music gives him access to the parts of his brain that were previously shut out, at least for a brief moment. The most recent one I saw is of a former New York City prima ballerina with Alzheimer’s disease. When she hears “Swan Lake,” she motions to raise the volume and then launches into the choreography from her chair—the same dance she mastered and performed over 50 years prior.  Even as I’m writing this and picturing it, I feel tears welling up from the beauty of the moment. Most of you reading this aren’t in that dire of a cognitive situation, but you can probably relate to the effect music can have on our brains. We’ve all felt the power of music. When that song comes on and catapults you back to some bygone era of your youth. When you hear an album and actually smell the smells, taste the tastes, and feel the emotions it evokes in you. Something powerful is happening in the brain, and we shouldn’t wait til degeneration sets in. If we know there are certain lifestyle, dietary, and behavioral modifications that can improve the outlook of a patient with dementia, then enacting those changes before dementia arises will be even more powerful and effective at staving it off. Music is one possibility. And if merely listening to music can have that effect on cognitive function, even severely degenerated cognitive function, what can playing music—creating it with your own mind—do for it? Playing an Instrument for Brain Health We actually have evidence that playing an instrument is protective of brain health and function. In one recent study, researchers asked 23 former orchestral musicians if they or any musician they knew had dementia. Dementia rates among the queried musicians were nonexistent, … Continue reading “Brain Benefits of Playing Instruments”

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