It’s easy to get lost in the details. Heck, it can be fun to get lost sometimes. Having a keen interest in a habit you’re trying to form is great – it keeps things engaging. However, things can quickly start to go awry when the minute details become the focus, and even worse, when that focus turns into an unhealthy obsession.
Like most things in life, it’s generally a better idea to first think about the foundational changes that are going to get you 80% of the way there before you start messing around with the other stuff that’s cool to talk about, but that probably won’t do much for you now, anyway.
Let’s take nutrition for example. The latest magic antioxidant extract or cutting-edge, fast-absorbing, athlete-endorsed protein powder probably isn’t going to help you much (if at all) if you don’t first get everything else in order. A supplement is supposed to supplement an already pretty healthy diet. They aren’t designed to fix all your health problems, nor are they designed to enable you to get away with eating crap. First, get your eating habits in order. Learn about protein, carbs and fat, and what foods fall into those categories. Then, find a food choice balance that works best for what you want out of life. For example, get your veggies in so you’re not deficient in the essentials that support your immune system, and get adequate protein so you recover and repair well. Then, maybe take a look at overall food quality, and perhaps food timing. Get in tune with your body. Before anything else, figure out a sustainable strategy with real food, because that’s where you’ll get the most benefit from nutritionally.
The same principle applies to exercise. It’s easy to get granular with exercise variation and specific energy system training and all that jazz, but for most people, it’s first about simply moving around more. Then, it’s generally a great idea to sometimes get the heart rate high so you stay out of breath for a while. Then, you should probably think about loading your structure to signal strength adaptations. Even better if you can make the loading balanced so you develop structural integrity, bone density and familiarity with your body. Then, challenge yourself to find your unique balance of intensity, technique and load, and see how you fair depending on different work and rest periods. Once you’re comfortable with that, perhaps it would be wise to next look deeply into varying the intensity depending on how you feel, because you’ll probably be able to do a lot by then.
You see how in both nutrition and physical activity, complexity is built on top of solid foundational blocks? Focus on those foundational blocks and you’ll realize that living healthily doesn’t need to be that complicated.
In fact, instead of overthinking everything, you’ll probably find it extremely beneficial to first work on:
– walking around a lot instead of taking cabs,
– getting some high quality HIIT work in,
– trying to get really good at manipulating your own bodyweight,
– eating a good balance of protein, carbs and fat,
– increasing your vegetable intake,
– getting more/better sleep, and
– managing your daily stress levels.
Together, these fundamental changes will get you much further along in your fitness and health journey than any secret training formula, quick-fix crash diet, fancy new exercise equipment, or 3-day detox. Focus on building the essential habits that will get you 80% of the way there. Get these important variables sorted first, and then tweak if you feel like you need more. Chances are, you’ll find that you don’t even really want that last 20%, because life is great when you have the 80% dialed in, and that last 20% might not be worth the extra restriction.
More than anything, once you have your 80% sorted, you’ll realize that what you’re really setting yourself up for are the long-term adaptations that come with consistency. Sure, the afterburn effect is amazing and helps you keep burning calories for a long time after exercise, but the real life-changing stuff comes after months and years of repeated exposure to that 80%. With consistency, you can literally encourage your body to change on a cellular level so you become more efficient at using stored fat, increase your bone density, increase your lung and heart capacity, become more tolerant and efficient with sugar, and regulate hormonal responses better, amongst all kinds of other things. By taking your time and focusing on the right things, you can literally build long-term resilience and vitality.
Today’s take home message: keep it simple, prioritize the important stuff, stay consistent, and play the long game.