The Power of Gradual and Consistent

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

When I had just turned 18 my grandfather gave me some advice. He had lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War II and the Korean War. He managed to raise a family of five, get a bachelor’s, two masters’, and later a doctorate. He spent 40 years in the same career, and when he retired he refused to claim social security or any other government “handouts” as he called them. He also refused to take any money from the US military for his service in two wars. As he put it, he was lucky to live and not be injured and that money needed to go to those who deserved it. He had a pension from a 40 year career and his investments, but he started life on his own and alone at 14, yet managed to succeed in what he did with almost no help from anyone. He wasn’t rich when he retired, but he had plenty to live on and some to give away as well. He was also married to the same woman for almost 60 years. When my grandfather offered advice, you listened. I still remember his words clearly, “Son, you’re an adult now. You’re out of school and about to start working. People are going to tell you to do this and to do that. Listen to their words, but be careful what you apply. A lot of people’s advice is only worth half considering. My advice is simply this: be consistent and be gradual, but always do more.”

At 18 years of age I found myself with no options for going to college and only able to find part-time work earning minimum wage. One of my buddies was insistent that I immediately start saving 10% of my income. Good advice, granted, but not exactly realistic at the time. But I remembered my grandfather’s words: consistent and gradual. So I applied my friend’s advice, but in a way that was consistent and gradual. I saved 1% of all income and purposed to add an additional 1% each year until I retired. There were some months where I only took home $160 a week after taxes. But I saved $1.60. I continued this for 10 years and at age 28 I was saving 10% of my income and I’ve continued this practice. I don’t worry about inflation or if my benefits cost me more this year or if I get a raise or not. In a month I’ll be 38 and as of Jan 1, 2014 I’m saving 20% of my income. There’ve been rough spots and layoffs and medical bills and an ever growing family, but I’ve managed to adjust our income/savings by 1% each year and we never notice a loss. The only thing I noticed is that I managed to put away 19.5K last year and 20 years later I’m already seeing the benefits of compound interest.

Right about now you might be asking what this has to do with Mark’s Daily Apple? Well, in my case it took me until I was 35 to realize that “be consistent and be gradual, but always do more” applied to more than just savings. It also applies to time with family, learning, and especially physical health.

Here we are in the third week of January. Statistically speaking, this is the week where 90% of New Year’s resolutions will fail. This is the week when the gym memberships go unused and the ellipticals don’t see any use before they’re eventually covered in “things” and eventually sold at a yard sale a few years later. Ask most gyms and they’ll tell you that the third week of January is their slowest week of the year. This is true for the 24-hour, exercise-in-the-windows-with-the-world-watching gyms as well as the local CrossFit boxes. Sadly, this is failure week for the vast majority of people that want change in their physical well-being. And the reason why is simple: most people bit off more than they could handle. They weren’t consistent and gradual. They were full of gusto and then fizzled.

I remember it clearly. I was 25 years old and in my mind high school was just a couple of years past, not 7. I decided I needed to get into shape again. I still had fond memories of running cross country in high school and setting three state CIF records (1 of which still remains unbroken). Surely I couldn’t have deteriorated that much! I used to walk with my girls to the playground at their school. I knew it was about one mile away. One night I decided I’d stretch and jog there and back. There were two minor hills involved, but what did that matter? So I did and at the half-way point I had so much energy I thought I’d go a bit further. I ended up doing about three miles with some minor hills. Mind you, I hadn’t run more than a 100M sprint in over six years. The next day I was definitely sore. The day after that was unbearable. I couldn’t walk without limping. My thighs hurt to the touch and I couldn’t fully extend my legs. I almost fell down our stairs because I couldn’t walk right. Pushing the gas pedal felt like someone was stabbing my calf muscle with a knife. The only time it didn’t hurt was sitting at my desk, but if I had to eat or urinate I could barely stand. It took a full six days before it didn’t hurt and another four before I wasn’t sore anymore. No more running for me…

Five years or so later I again realized I needed to get into shape. I was 30 and my gut was having an impact on my ability to view my feet. Sure, it was only 20 or 25 lbs, but it seemed that all of it had coagulated onto my waistline, and besides, I needed to deal with it before it became 30 or 40 lbs. So I got up early and decided to do three sets of as many pushups and situps as I could, just like in my high school days. Sixty pushups and seventy-five situps later I started my day. By that night I had tendinitis in my elbows and my abs hurt. By the next morning I couldn’t straighten either arm all the way and I could barely stand up straight. My arms recovered in a day or two, but my abs were even more painful on the third and fourth days. It took a full week before I was normal again. Well, no more situps or pushups for me…

Three years ago my wife decided to join the local gym. They had a special of getting a free personal trainer for 12 sessions… basically three times a week for the first month to show you how to use the equipment, proper technique, etc. On day number one the PT decided to start with an evaluation. My wife did squats, lunges, crunches, knee pushups, bench presses, burpees, and numerous other exercises all to exhaustion. She came home tired, but energized and ready “to hit it”. But the next morning she could barely move. Literally every muscle and joint in her body hurt. She tried ice. She tried heat. She tried stretching. On the second day, she called to cancel her PT session saying she was in too much pain. She cancelled again the third day. Eventually, the membership was abandoned.

I remember another time where I had quickly worked up to running three miles, in part because I’d been challenged to join a friend in a 5K. I went from nothing to running three miles straight in about six weeks. Once I hit three miles, I decided I need to do five miles and started pushing it. Within two weeks I had an inflamed Achilles. It took 10 weeks to heal, during which time I could do no running and even some walking hurt. When I tried to run just a mile 10 weeks later, I was limping home after about 100 yards.

All of these situations lacked two things: gradual changes and consistency. Ironically, the lack of consistency was actually hampered by the lack of gradual change. It turns out the order of my grandfather’s words were important. Being gradual allows for consistency. Here I had mastered this concept financially… and even in regards to our family time and other things, but when it came to physical health, I missed it completely.

Around the time of my wife’s failed gym evaluation, we stumbled across paleo/Primal. We knew we were eating crap and one day we noticed our girls were a bit heavier than they should be… at the higher end of the “normal” range. Despite a summer of playing outside from sunup to sundown, they were still a bit too pudgy. We committed to making a change for the whole family and decided to cut out all fast food and soda and later all processed foods. We were on the road to Primal without realizing it. While looking for recipes, we found Mark’s Daily Apple and refined our eating even more. But I couldn’t escape the fact that while we were eating better, we weren’t being active. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in our subconscious we were afraid of the pain of activity. The phrase may be “no pain, no gain”, but our past pain simply hadn’t been worth it.

I knew I had to do something, though, but all at once it hit me… grandpa’s words apply to all areas of life. Up to this point, I was walking about two to three miles a day, but that was it. I knew I needed to do a bit more. Heck, I wanted to do more. But I didn’t want the pain. And truth be told, I was in my mid-30s and didn’t want to risk injury either. So I tried the gradual and consistent approach. The first step was to stay consistent. So I kept eating whole, unprocessed foods and continued walking two to three miles a day. But for anything new, I knew it had to be gradual.

That evening I stretched and went out for a run. I know I could have run at least a half mile. I probably could’ve run a mile. I would’ve been sweaty and out of breath, but I know I could’ve done it. But I also knew that if I overdid it, I wouldn’t do it again. So I jogged one quarter of a mile and walked back. I was gone for all of maybe seven minutes and didn’t even break a sweat. My family was like “um, I thought you were going to go running”. 🙂 It was only one quarter mile, but it was a start. Guess what? I didn’t have any pain the next day or the following day. So two days later I did it again. Exactly one more quarter mile jog and a quarter mile walk back. I did this three times a week that first week, every other day. I never felt any pain or soreness. The next week, I added another quarter mile… one half mile jog out and a half mile walk back… three times, every other day. Week three was three-quarters of a mile. After a month I ran my first mile. I’m sure I could have done this on day one or even on week two, but I decided to be gradual and consistent. In hindsight, I realize that not only did my muscles need to build up gradually, but so did the connective structure of tendons and ligaments and bones and joints. My body needed time to adjust to the new stress.

I continued to add one quarter mile a week each week for five months. After five months, I was running five miles, three times a week, every other day. Of course, at this distance I felt soreness from time to time. But I never felt pain. And best of all, I never had any injury setbacks. Once I hit the five mile point, I made a slight adjustment. I now ran five miles or 45 minutes, whichever came first. I didn’t want to get into chronic cardio and I wasn’t looking to race, but over time, I got down from my first 11 minute mile to averaging 9:15-9:30 min/miles. Besides, I had read that with cardio anything more than about 45 minutes and you’re looking at diminishing returns. I also didn’t feel like overworking my heart. I figured a 9 min/mile was sufficient. To do this day, I have no desire to run marathons or to complete my runs under seven minutes a mile. I still run 45 minutes or five miles, whichever comes first and I’ve been doing this for over a year now.

A year later I was still eating better, walking two miles, six mornings a week and running five miles or 45 minutes, three times a week. All this work had helped strengthen my core and built endurance and brought my weight down about 27 lbs. Seeing the success of applying “gradual and consistent” to my running, I decided to start doing core bodyweight exercises the same way. I knew I could do 20-25 pushups and 3-5 pullups and 7-10 dips and probably 30 crunches. But I didn’t. Instead I did one set of 10 pushups, 2 pullups, 3 dips, and 10 crunches. Two days later I did two sets of the same. Two days later it was three sets of the same. And then I increased each slightly every week. I added two pushups, one pullup, one dip, and three crunches each week. Within a few months I was doing three sets of 25 pushups, 10 pullups, 15 dips, and 25 crunches. And again, I had no injury setbacks. In fact, the combination of eating better, cardio, and exercise all improved my immune system so much that I had zero sickness setbacks in the last calendar year.

Fast forward to today. I only run 5 miles/45 minutes twice a week now. One other day of the week I do about a quarter mile’s worth of sprints followed by a shorter two mile run. I’ve added more bodyweight exercises that I do twice a week and one day a week I do resistance work (lifting heavy things besides my own body). I’m 6’ 2’’, 178 lbs, about to be 38 years old, and for the first time since my senior year of high school I can see definition in my stomach area. I’m no six pack wielding underwear model, but I don’t care to be either. I look good with a shirt off at the beach in summer and that’s really all I care about.

But this brings about another aspect on “be consistent and be gradual, but always do more”. There comes a point where you need to enjoy what you have. You can still do more, but maybe that “more” is a new thing. My grandfather eventually retired and enjoyed not having to work and save. But he was still “doing more” as after retirement he started getting into photography. For me, I had to learn to be content with a 5 mile or 45 minute run… with having stomach definition. For me, “doing more” wasn’t more miles or more crunches. For me it was dropping a day of distance running and doing sprints instead. I was gradual and consistent and doing more, but now more meant new. It’s good to allow our motivations and desires to push us, but it’s equally good to learn to be content where you’re at or with what you have.

I know this is long, but I want to encourage others that it’s not just about good intentions. As my grandfather would say “it’s about being gradual and consistent”. It’s about sticking it out. It’s about the long haul. But it’s also about knowing your limits and being willing to start below your limits. It seems counter-intuitive to start below your limits if you want to surpass them, but the end results show themselves. Maybe you skipped the gym today after your first two weeks. Maybe you were in pain but decided to push through but now the pain is worse. My advice is simple: stop, rest and recover, and then start over. But scale it back. Do less than you know you can in the beginning. You can make bigger strides later. Skip the pain. Skip the injury setbacks. Let your body adjust gradually. Start small, start with less, and than gradually add more. No baby walks out of the womb. It crawls before it toddles before it walks before it runs. Maybe you want a six pack stomach. Does it really matter if you have it in three months or in six? How will you feel if you never have it at all because you did too much at the beginning and ended up failing? How will you feel when you realize you’ve had the same New Year’s resolution for 10 years in a row and have never seen success in completing it? Don’t give up, but do scale back in the beginning. Knowing your limits is awesome. But if you’re just starting out and if you’re about to become a statistic, then STOP. Scale it back and start small. Let your body gradually build up.


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114 thoughts on “The Power of Gradual and Consistent”

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  1. what an amazing website, and what an amazing story.
    You Mark are an inspiration,
    god bless

  2. This is a great story! I am 46 and trying to get my first pull-up (at least as an adult). I had sort of already figured this out (that I needed to slow down and adjust as simply hanging from the pull up bar for about 10 seconds created massive soreness the next day) — but the way you laid this out was great Simple but very true advice for many aspects in life.

    1. If you’re still working on that first pullup, consider “negatives”. Basically you stand on something (chair/box) so that your chin is slightly above the bar and then stop off and let yourself down slowly. This is how I got to being able to do 25 pullups straight. Step one was “negatives” with a 3 second lower down and only 3 reps in a chinup position. Once I got to doing 10 reps, I changed the slow let down to 5 seconds, then 7, and finally 10 seconds… so 10 sets of 10 seconds slow let downs. At this point, I reversed my hands to a pullup position and dropped back to 7 sets with a 10 second let down and worked it back to 10 sets of 10 seconds in the pullup position. Once I hit that, I started doing real pullups (dead hangs, not crossfit kips) and was able to start with 3 sets of 5, 4, 3 and build up from there. Bear in mind that in the beginning I couldn’t do a single chinup. Negatives are a great way to start.

      1. Thanks. Basically hanging at the bottom of the negative for a few seconds is where I am starting off (without even lowering myself), but I will keep this in mind when I am ready to move on. As in your story, I already tried this last year but was derailed for various reasons so new year, trying again, slowly.

      2. Perfectly timed and so helpful, as I havethe same goal as Colleen (rock on sistah!). The hub also suggested changing the hand position from pullup to chinup and I had read about the benefits of starting eccentrically (or negative), but the simple and straightforward outline of how to progress is super helpful, so thank you very much!

      3. Thank you, Andrew. I’ve been struggling for a while to be able to do a pull-up for a while, with no success and my progress has stalled. My initial progress was slow, due chronic shoulder problems from having had whip-lash several times. I’ve been using a stepstool to help with the pull ups, but, like I said, my progress has stalled. However I can do negatives now. I used to not be able to do any. I think I’ll try negatives for a while and see if I can restart my progress. Thank you for the suggestion.

    2. Doing reclined pullups can help. It is sort of like an upside down pushup, where you pull yourself up by a bar, trying to keep you body straight.

  3. I’m surprised you don’t have a picture, but I think the lack of picture is probably making a statement, right? To quit with the instant gratification factor of all of this? Anyway- your post really speaks to me. I have been on again, off again with the primal diet part for years and just recently went full-fledge. And I bought a kettlebell a month ago and haven’t touched it… but now I’m going to start really gradual like you suggest… and I haven’t even jogged since I ran a half marathon in 2012… but I’m going to take a short run when I get home from work today. Thanks for this; I really needed your grandfather’s message today… but now I think you can officially call it your message. 🙂

    1. Actually, the lack of a picture is two-fold: one, its to protect my identity as I work for a government contractor and occasionally have to work overseas under other credentials. But, yes, the other reason is that I think too many people want the instant gratification. Nothing against P90x or Insanity or some of the supposedly fat burning *supplements* out there, but I think too many people try the “start hard to get the six pack” after seeing other people’s results, but end up binging on Krispy Kreme’s a week later. Personally I think that showing results can sometimes have the affect of encouraging people into what will only become burnout. 🙂 Nothing against showing the results, but I think it can sometimes be as discouraging as they can be encouraging…

      1. The road to success is never as linear as we imagine. Its a lot of ups and downs and winding turns. Your grandpa was right though, the best fit line should be a consistent and steady upward slope.

  4. I like this, many of us want things “yesterday” so we end up doing more than we should, me included. Years ago I figured that if I started slow I would keep the routine. Good information for all of us who have a tendency to overdo it in the beginning. Thanks!

  5. Love it! This is exactly what I do, I need to work hard on being consistent and not fizzling out, or thinking “I need to do SO MUCH, that I can’t even imagine where to begin…so I just won’t even begin”.

    Thank you for your story and inspiration!

  6. Thanks for this!! I had a killer workout last week, working my muscles until failure. This was my first workout using the primal fitness guidelines for “lifting heavy things” and I felt great afterward. Then the next day and the next I had unbearable muscle soreness. It hurt to walk, and it was challenging to walk up and down my stairs. Way too many squats! I am just now feeling back to normal, and I was gearing up to do it all again on Saturday and just deal with the consequences. However, I think I will take your advice and work more within my comfort limit while I’m just starting out. Didn’t mind the length of your post at all! Thanks again.

    1. I can totally relate to that. Try this… take a few extra days to recover so you’re 100% but not so long that you lose your motivation. Then do everything you just did and cut it by 50% two ways… 50% less reps and 50% less weight. And then write down where you’re at. I have a dry erase board I update daily/weekly to track progress. Remember the normal rules of giving yourself enough sleep, eating right, and letting muscles groups rest (arms one day, legs the next, etc). And than gradually increase. Maybe it’ll take you a month to get to where you just were. But you’ll be there w/o the pain. And if it takes 3 months, who cares? You’ll still feel better and look better. Then map out your plan to increase. Sometimes that’s one more set… sometimes its another 5 or 10lbs. Just go gradually. And be sure to realize when you’re there and need to change it up. Maybe you get up to 50 crunches. Do you really need to do 55? Maybe 50 is enough and its time to try something new. Just my $0.01 (used to be $0.02 but I had to adjust for inflation)

  7. Your grandfather sounds like a very special person. Thank you for sharing his story and yours! Congratulations on your lifestyle upgrade!!

  8. Well– at 63+ if I move along too gradually I’ll be retired before I can have a six-pack (unless it’s a six pack of Bud!)

    Seriously– nice advice–Just Do IT

      1. Eh? No– Born in Queens, NY raised in NJ–escaped to University of Georgia and live in Nashville TN

    1. Uh, I meant the Turtle beats the Hare…or something like that!

  9. Great story and a great message – I’m going to apply this to several aspects of my life too! Well done and thanks for ‘passing it on’.

  10. Great story! I totally felt your wife’s pain. I too, went back to the gym 1.5 yrs after a hospitalization, and my orientation was with a sadistic personal trainer, who once he learned I couldn’t afford to buy sessions with him, made me do all these exercises (which I still managed to complete). Despite the fact I was 70 pounds too heavy and I told him I had been sedentary for years, especially post-hospital, he still had me doing crunches while balancing on the Swiss ball, etc. I could barely walk down the stairs leaving the gym that day and was in horrible pain for ten days. I cursed him every day I had to descend stairs, but his ‘jock-guy’ attitude did not put me off. I said to myself “I’ll show him!” and when I went back to the gym, I picked an exercise I knew I could do – recumbant bike. For 20 minutes, 3 x week, I did that bike and stretched after; I was learning how stick with a routine. I treated it like one of my doctor’s appointments, too important to miss. Paleo eating and graduated low resistance were added three months later. It is now 3.5 yrs later, and I am 70lbs lighter and never sick. After a powerlifting intro last year/Jan, I now regularly do front and back squats, deadlifts, etc and I am now practicing hanging cleans to work my up to getting coached on the oly lifts. This story struck such a cord with me: slow and steady will always win the Primal race. Thank you for sharing!

  11. This is awesome advice. I tend to be an all-or nothing person (which is why I’ve either been losing or gaining weight for the last 20 years, never at a stable weight). “gradual and consistent” sounds like an excellent mantra to stay on track!

  12. Love the “six pack wielding underwear model” statement! Great story and great advice, also very well written.

  13. Very well said – I received similiar advice when I was young – to get good at something, do a little, a lot.
    Don’t wait to cram for an exam, do a little each day. Don’t try to run a marathon the first time out, do a little running a lot of times. If you want to do 10 chin ups, do one or two often – grease the groove.

    Works every time. I like the addition of always do more. it was implied in the advice I was given.

    I am much older at 58 but I can still see my abs and have enough money never to worry about it again. All from essentially the same advice.

    So I certainly second what your grandfather said – and your story said it better than I ever could.

  14. I tend to me an all-or-nothing kind of person and this reminded me how important it is to not give up, but to stay consistent and gradually improve. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  15. Thanks. Basically hanging at the bottom of the negative for a few seconds is where I am starting off (without even lowering myself), but I will keep this in mind when I am ready to move on. As in your post, I already tried this some years ago but was derailed for various reasons so new year, trying again, slowly. Maybe time is key to reach goals

    1. Hanging from the top position is always best, even if it’s only for 1 second to start with.

      But… if you insist on hanging at the bottom, make sure your shoulders are down, chest up, arms slightly bent, and complete body tense (otherwise it’s too easy to pull, overstretch, and damage your shoulder and elbow ligaments, tendons, and muscles).

  16. Really inspiring read. Well written to boot. I had to stop to think if this was a modern Hemingway article. Congrats on everything. Many people forget about quality opposed to quantity. I’m going to start saving 10% of my paychecks.

  17. Thanks for the excellent story and the words of wisdom. My goal for January was to run (without stopping) 3 miles. I had been running/walking consistently for 2 miles when January began (okay, probably not during the holiday break). I made it to 2.5 miles in week 3 (there it is, the 3rd week of January), got out of bed the next morning and injured my achilles walking to the bathroom. No joke. Of course, I was also weight-lifting, working on my balance and flexibility and taking a Pilates class, for 45 minutes, 6 days a week. Up till now, I’ve been thinking, “dang, I’m getting old,” but now I realize it probably wasn’t my running plan that caused the injury, but the whole plan. I’d been weight training before January, but it was too much of everything – endurance, intensity, etc. It seems obvious now, doesn’t it?

    Here’s another pearl of wisdom, from my friend’s personal trainer:

    “Don’t let what you want today get in the way of what you want in the long term.”

    1. Its funny… so often when people try to get into shape we’re conditioned to think “build muscle” or “burn fat”. But those are only two parts of our overall frame. What about tendons and ligaments and joints and bone density? When we’re out of shape, all of those things are out of shape. Forgive the generalization as I’m no doctor, but those tendons and ligaments are what connect the muscles to the bones. When we go all out we don’t just over work the muscles, but all the connective tissue in between. Same for the bones. Statistics show that you’re at a greater risk for snapping a bone when first starting a new exercise regimine than if you’re already conditioned. The gradual and consistent approach works your muscles and starts kicking your metabolism into burning off some of that stored fat, but it also gives the supporting structures of your frame (tendons, ligaments, bones, core, etc) time to re-condition themselves as well. And on the flip side, how many comments or success stories on MDA relate a lack of joint pain with cutting carbs (hint: a lot!!!)? I’m personally convinced that the way to long term success in this area is both the diet (as the saying goes… “abs are made in the kitchen”) and in tackling smaller, but consistent challenges. Eat right to reduce the joint pain and inflammation, but go slow and steadily to build up the whole body, not just burn the fat to show a six pack or bulk up the arms to impress people.

      1. This is what wreaked havoc with me! I should’ve known better– my joints are my weakest link & always have been since I developed Celiac-related knee pain at 14. I know I need to be cautious, but I get so angry at myself for being weak, sometimes… I’m going to print this post out to read when I get in that self-defeating mood.

        Thank you so much!

    2. This reminds me of a quote I read a long time ago, but can’t remember who said it–“The greatest cause of unhappiness is giving up what we really want for what we want right now.”

      1. “The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want right now” Zig Ziglar

  18. Wow!!

    I must say, this story truly moved me. Great article, great site, that just made my day.

  19. This may be one of my favorite posts I’ve read on MDA in awhile. What great advice!

  20. what a great, encouraging message. as i look back, my primal transformation over the past 3 1/2 years HAS been gradual and consistent, and always adding a little more. and it’s stuck! i started with gradually cleaning up my diet, and now i’m gradually getting stronger and fitter. thanks for the wisdom!

  21. Your grandfather gives great advice. An acquaintance of mine recently recommended that I try the Convict Conditioning protocol, which is a progressive calisthenics protocol that advocates the same “gradual and consistent” strategy. I’ve also heard the same strategy applied to habit formation from people such as James Clear, but until your story, the dots just didn’t connect as strongly as they have now. And I never even thought to apply that same strategy to other areas of my life. So thank you for that!

    And ten bonus points to you for submitting such a well-written story! Stories like these are such a pleasure to read.

    1. Oops, I forgot to add this: Congratulations on all your success so far, and may you have many more years of it.

  22. Exactly the story I needed, as having been a fibromyalgic most of my life, but needing to increase the exercise, was wondering how to do it. Thankyou.

  23. AJ, your Grandpa is a wise man as are you to follow his advice. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. It’s time for me to do something different. Like live in the present, make purposeful and thoughtful decisions, and take your advice 🙂

  24. I really loved this one, thank you so much. I tend to get overenthusiastic about every new enterprise, tell everyone about it ad nauseam and jump all in only to burnout embarassingly fast and, too often, publicly. At 37 it is getting ridiculous. Time to consistently and gradually (and quietly) become a steady and responsible and ever-doing-more adult.

    I can’t wait!

  25. This is such a good message for me right now. I hurt myself last Fall trying to do too much too fast, & it took me back almost to square one. Very frustrating, but I’ve been inching my way up again. Sometimes I feel so impatient & discouraged, & catch myself thinking really negative thoughts about being doomed to be a wimp. This post was a much-needed pep talk about the power of small changes & patience!

  26. For the embodiment of this advice see “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training” by Mark Rippetoe. GROK ON!

  27. Also I really appreciated your point that more doesn’t need to mean more of the same. When we decide to pursue something (health, financial security, career, etc.) and we spend a significant amount of time in that pursuit, it is so easy to get caught up and to forget to stop to take account: am I there yet? I suppose it is physics: a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

    We would be better off, more balanced, if we stopped once in a while to take note of our surroundings and of ourselves, to consider whether we have achieved enough in one pursuit or another, whether something new would benefit us more than something more.

  28. I’m always so encouraged by the Friday stories (and far too often comment of WOW, EXCELLENT, WAY TO GO).

    but, today? Today just blew me away. I *truly* needed to hear this. I went gangbusters last summer into a Whole30 + weightlifting + cardio + a ton of other changes. That train to crazy town lasted about 2 months. then, the wheels started coming off. Fast forward to today and I’ve gained back every pound and inch I lost and everyday I tell myself that tomorrow, I’m getting back on that train (and doing everything all at once.) Clearly, this pep talk of mine isn’t getting me back into action LOL.

    But, I gave up soda 12/31/13 and so far, I haven’t had a drop. I’ve added in 5 salads a week. Now, I need to S L O W L Y add in physical movement instead of the 6 day a week torture. Slow and steady.

    Thank you for this today. You are a wonderful writer and I almost thought I was on Mr Money Mustache for a bit. 🙂

    Be consistent, be gradual. But always do more. I just printed that out and hung it on my cubicle. Love it!

  29. That was awesome. I just printed “be consistent and be gradual, but always do more” and hung it on my wall. Thanks for the great reminder. It’s so easy to forget with all that’s going on. Definitely need to teach my kids this valuable lesson, especially while time is on their side.

  30. Further to my comment further up, another thing I was told was that if you read a half hour a day in your chosen profession, you would get a ahead faster. I tried this for a while but when you are young you have better things to do and a half hour is a long time. When my career stalled out, I did try this again but again 1/2 hour is long time :-). I finally commmited to this when I started at 10 minutes a day reading a sales book. Then I bought another, then I went ot 15 minutes, then 20. I never really was consistent at 30 minutes but I sure read a lot more and learned a lot more just by doing a small amount consistently.
    So again Grandfathers wisdom prevails !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  31. One of the best written and inspirational posts I’ve seen. Thanks Andrew!

  32. Your grandfather was a wise man, and so are you for taking his words to heart! Thanks so much for sharing your story 🙂

  33. AJ, you hit the nail on the head. You speak the truth! Normally I get a little annoyed (not in a negative way) when there are no before/after photos. But this has been one of the best success stories I’ve read in the last 3-4 years I’ve been on MDA. Thanks! I plan on implementing “gradual and consistent” throughout all aspects of my life. It’s like the whole Primal lifestyle, it’s always been sitting there in the back of my mind waiting for me to bring it out.

  34. At 54 years old, this lesson took me a long time to learn, and unfortunately, it seems that I have to relearn it periodically. My philosophy now is to leave a little in the tank. Meaning I don’t push myself to the point where I can barely do the next rep or extra mile. My injuries and pains have reduced quite a bit by thinking this way. Not perfect because like a said, I forget every now and then and have to relearn.

  35. “Leave little in the tank”. That’s well said. That way you can function tomorrow.
    Loved this post!

  36. Wow. Great story and quite timely for me.I am 47 and I injured my shoulder (rotator cuff sprain) going to hard too fast. I still am not back 100%, yet I inquired at the local Crossfit today. I think I will build up gradually to bigger things (like Crossfit) down the road. Thanks for sharing AJ.


    1. Nothing against Crossfit (I do Murph’s each weekend) but watch out for the kip’ping pullup if you have rotator cuff issues. I prefer military dead hangs. Kip’ping pullups can cause or exacerbate rotator cuff issues…

      1. No kidding. I think doing pull-ups is what aggravated my rotator cuff to begin with. Thanks for the tip.

  37. Wow, this is probably the best success story I’ve ever read! I am definitely the instant-gratification, all-in kind of person (which is how Primal got me hooked, actually), but this approach makes so much more sense and is sustainable! I love it!

  38. Beautifully written word picture of your grandfather and kudos to you for listening to his sage advice. As a general rule I have found 90% of the best advice in the world isn’t listened to as people don’t want to hear it or are not ready to hear it. Congratulations. Cheers

  39. Great story, thank you for sharing. I’ve been training for a triathlon and although I’m in pretty decent shape and typically feel like I can always do more than what my training program says, I make myself stop because I know in two days (or next week, or next month) I actually WILL be doing more, and I need my body to be ready for that. Wonderful advice, and reminds me of my current mantra, “Trust the Process.”

  40. Loved this post! (I didn’t even notice there was no picture until someone brought it up in the comments.)

  41. One of my all-time favorite posts. I have heard so often over the years that one should “work to failure” when doing weights or body-weight exercises that I would feel like a failure if I did a workout where I was still able to walk or lift something afterward. So I would “work to failure” on every exercise, be so sore the next few days, and invariably get discouraged in my workouts. Since “going Primal” in September 2013, I have tried to implement the philosophy in this piece, telling myself that baby steps are OK, and that doing something, even a little something, is better than doing nothing at all. After reading this, I am convinced that doing something, even a little something, is also better than doing way too much all at once. Thanks so much for this inspiring story. I now have renewed faith that I am on the right track (even if I am in the tortoise lane).

  42. Awesome story, and very true in my life at the moment. I recently started stronglifts 5×5… starting with just the bar felt silly. But at the end of 12 weeks you’re magically squatting over 200lbs, so slow and steady definitely wins the race.

  43. Thanks AJ. You made a lot of people think with your story, me included 🙂
    Grandpas are the best kind of people (sometimes)!!!

  44. Skydive coaching we had a mantra ‘slow is smooth, smooth is fast.’ Working out I repeatedly tell myself ‘Slow is injury free, injury free is fast.’

  45. I have always been an “all or nothing” sort of guy, and lately I have been examining that approach and trying to find better ways. This story helps me in that, and I thank you for sharing.

  46. So when you are 58 you’ll be saving 40% of your income? Please come back and write again for MDA. Mark will be 80 and I’ll be 72. I can’t wait!

    1. I plan on retiring at 70 and to keep adding 1% until I get there. So when I retire I’ll be saving 52% of my income. Just note that this is A) after taxes and such… I save 1% of my take home pay and 2) is in addition to other retirement options. I also have a 401K and an IRA. My employer requires I do at least 2% to my 401K and then they match the 2%. I can do more and they’ll match up to another 3%. So I do 5% and they match it. So technically speaking, I’m saving 5% of my pre-tax income and getting a 5% match and then I’m doing the 20% off my take home so I’m actually saving quite a bit more. The catch is that the 20% goes to a money market account and I usually have to pay tax on the interest, etc where as the rest is tax deferred. But to me the amazing thing I don’t notice the 1%. Some years I get raises, some I don’t. Some years cost of living goes up, others it stays the same. But say I take home $6000 after taxes… another 1% is only $60. I don’t even notice that on a check by check basis. But 20 years later I certainly notice it when you factor in compound interest. 🙂

  47. Great advice passed from your grandfather. I hear about people spending hours at the gym every day. Dat’s crazee. Take a walk, dance your heart away. So many ways to stay fit, physically and psychologically. Oh, and if you add some vacuuming, you’ll have a clean house too.

  48. Thanks AJ. Great words of wisdom you have been given, and are in turn passing on!

    On reflection, I realised that my health improvement journey (2 years) has been a sort of slow and steady thing. Maybe you have just nailed for me the illusive reason I have been seeeking, as to why I have stuck at a change in outlook & lifestyle for so long for the first time in my life. I haven’t launched impatiently into a “diet” or “gym” wanting immediate results, but have been patient. Gradual and consistent in fact! Thank you for putting this into words for me. I have been trying to pass on to other women in the prime of their lives (mid 50’s +) how I have succeeded this time around, and I think I now have the words to give them.

    Keep up the great work……….

  49. This post is reassuring. I am definitely applying the gradual but consistent (and do more) in the job field. I was definitely trying to go for more than I can chew as well as the economy being difficult. In the end it was just making me frustrated. So I decided that working minimum wage is better than not working. I’m going to be gradual and consistent and not bog myself down with stressing what I should or want to do…(b/c tbh I still don’t know what I want). I see a lot of potential for valuable skills to be learned in my new job and I will do my best. Thanks for this post. 🙂

    ** Before I read about your grandfather and his pension I was thinking, but huh? he put away money from working so why not take his pension…but then I read he took his pension and that made sense. It was only regarding anything from the government/military. lol

    1. Yes, my grandfather had a pension, an IRA, and a 401K. He used them all when he retired. He also had a few minor stocks purchases that he sold off at 65. He lived off of these. Every month the Army sent him a check. Every month he marked it “return to sender” and mailed it back. He wanted the money to go to people that were injured in their service… from his way of thinking he was paid with a paycheck during his service and wasn’t injured. He didn’t feel he deserved anything else. When it came to social security, he words were that he was “already secure” and “didn’t need social welfare”. He never claimed social security and when his wife died and they started automatically paying social security death benefits he also marked them as “return to sender” and mailed them back.

  50. I have to say I have been reading these stories for several years ,and well, this by far is the most inspirational! Enough for me to actually leave a comment for the first time ever. I just want you to know I had to write your grandfather’s quote down; it’s wonderful! He is a true American. I thank him for his wisdom and service to our country and for you, for sharing this story.

  51. What a fabulous post…I swear, “gradual and consistent” should be a primal law. Absolutely fantastic advice, and as folks point out, it applies to training, to eating, to professional development & education, etc, etc, etc. Great letter.

  52. Your sharing of implementing such such simple but powerful advice ( core of our daily living where thousands of books have been written) in your life is truly inspirational. You did wonderful in expressing relating two most key factors of our life –finance & health. Wish you good health, happiness & prosperity. God bless.

  53. Great story and something most (if not all) of us need to take to heart. I do think we tend to ‘want it yesterday’, weight loss, strength, money – everything. Your grandfather is a very wise man and kudos to you for listening to him AND for sharing his wisdom.

  54. Truly inspiring.
    What a beautiful way to honor your Grandfather!
    What a great thing to pass it on to others.

  55. Awesome message!!

    Good, solid, sound advise, taken from an older, IMO wiser, generation!
    One of the best I’ve read on here in months, and with no pictures on top of it!
    That takes some doing, and IMHO, you did it.

    I’m glad to see that you took your grandfathers very sound advise to heart financially, and found a means to apply it to your health goals.

    Great job! Very motivating!


  56. This story is very encouraging to me. I have tried to jump into the Primal lifestyle several times only to fail. It was then that I realized I needed to slow down and create healthy habits. I like this approach because it has been working great for me. Thanks for the motivation to continue this way.

  57. Andrew, this is one of the most powerful success stories I’ve ever read here on MDA, or anywhere else for that matter, and I’m not talking about the exercise/weight loss component (which is certainly inspirational). Your ability to take the incredible words of wisdom from your grandfather and apply them to your life says volumes about you as a human being. In a world filled with people wanting instant gratification, you, through the exercise of your grandfather’s principles, stand as a beacon. I’m saving your story for inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing.


  58. This is exactly what I needed to read.
    I’ve been employing this idea for the past couple of weeks & was getting frustrated but I know deep down it’s the way to go. Thanks AJ for reminding me of that & encouraging me to stay on track!

  59. Andrew,
    I am so grateful for your story, it’s so inspirational! Your grandfather was a wise man, with integrity beyond measure.
    And you. What a great example you are, and what a great legacy to pass on to your family.
    I am truly moved. Thank you.

  60. I really needed this. I think I’ve done too much too fast and expected too many results! Thank you for putting it all in perspective for me! Keep up with all the gradual work ;-P

  61. Thank you for passing on this excellent advice. I wrote it down and taped it to the bathroom mirror as a daily reminder. I find it relates somewhat abstractly to another one of my favorite mantras. “Speed is a byproduct of accuracy.” Regardless, thanks again for paying forward your grandfather’s wisdom. You never know how many people will benefit.

  62. AJ – that was awesome! 🙂 Thank you for sharing those words of wisdom!!

    New Zealand

  63. Thank you sooo much for sharing, I’m posting this on my wall. This is my favourite success story of all time!

  64. This is fantastic advice, and my favourite success story to date, which has come at exactly the right time for me!

    I have frequently gone all out at things (not just exercise but in other areas of my life too), and ended up further behind the starting line than I was to begin with. Eventually this makes you give up. There is no point in continuing because the results don’t come.

    Just recently I have come to realise that it isn’t the big milestones that matter, but rather the ‘inch pebbles’, those tiny little consistent and gradual steps that are both achievable and maintainable. Your wonderful post has reaffirmed this for me, and I am looking forwards to using this method to help me to carve out a healthy and happy life.

  65. We gain weight in a “slow and gradual” manner.
    We never got tried of eating or took weeks to recover.
    It should take years to get where you want to be.. especially if it took years to get overweight and out of shape.

  66. That is absolutely wonderful. I dare say… Life changing! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, it can be applied to so much, and is such a healthy attitude. You’ve inspired me to start applying this all around.

  67. I love this article! I get so tired of the “Hoorah” crowd always pushing the idea that you have to push yourself to your limit constantly and in all areas of life. The fact is that most people do better building a habit gradually and implementing slowly. If you can do it the other way, good for you, but don’t expect everyone to be like that. I don’t even WANT to be like that.

  68. Great advice and personal story. I am applying this advice to my recovery from knee surgery and am already seeing better results. We live in a “more is better society” and it is good to be reminded that sometimes “less is more” and “slow and steady wins the endurance race”.
    Thanks for sharing.

  69. One of the best Friday stories I’ve seen- thanks so much for sharing not just your success but the path you took to achieve it. Great advice from you, and your Grandfather!