I scribble notes to myself whenever I read a new book, talk with a meditation teacher, or finish a therapy or coaching session.
I have journals filled with quotes, snippets of conversation, and reflections from my own meditation practice. Here are a few, just for fun.
“Be alert and receiving without interpretation, analyzing, or thinking. Implicit memory and everything you need is already installed. You could respond like a Tai Chi master… or you could let it dissolve back into the flow of experience.” (From a conversation with Loch Kelly)
Let walking walk. Let talking talk. Let thoughts think. Let seeing see. Let hearing hear. Let breathing breathe. Let everything appear in its own place.
Listen! What if this wasn’t about you? And what if you took full responsibility for your own experience of the world and your own wellbeing?
“What if you rested in between contradicting energies? What if you practiced holding contradictory views at the same time with no fantasy of them ever being resolved?” (From a conversation with Bruce Tift.)
What does this small sense of self and ego feel like? Familiar facial tensions and expressions, a feeling of being behind the eyes, familiar impulses. Can these be seen through immediately, right now?
“Have you ever listened to breathing without knowing what it is? Without thinking about where it comes from or where it goes? This is an innocent listening—unburdened, unhindered by knowledge or by judgment, such as ‘My breathing is too shallow’; innocent listening is no right breathing, no wrong breathing. What is there when I don’t come to listening with preconceptions, but rather start freshly?” (From an interview with Toni Packer, Tricycle Magazine.)
Look at your life in whole, right now. Where is the problem?
What if nothing was truly at stake here? What if improving your experience of the world was seen as a form of play, with no winners or losers?
“If we are scrupulously honest, we discover that we don’t actually know what we are, where we are, or when we are. This discovery is unsettling and profoundly liberating. Once we get over the initial shock, it’s a huge relief to see and feel that we are not who, where, or when we have taken our self to be.
The truth is that we don’t know and can’t know any of this—at least not with our ordinary, strategic, goal-oriented mind. We discover that we can rest in this not knowing. This is not the same as being ignorant. Acknowledging that we don’t know opens us to a different type of knowing.” (From The Deep Heart, by John Prendergast.)
We have eyes all over our body.
Commit to challenging the feeling of compulsion every day of my life. Don’t worry about the content of the compulsion. Just challenge the activity of compulsion itself.
1. I renounce being the star of my own movie.
2. I renounce measuring the success of my life by how many of my desires are gratified.
Can you see habitual patterns arising as new and fresh experiences?
Take responsibility for the things you’re choosing in life. And for the things you’re not choosing.
Nate: “If I stand up and start walking around the yard, I can feel the energy and sensations of getting up and walking. I can feel the grass under the feet. I can feel the legs moving.
I can feel the mouth moving as talking is happening. I can feel a part of me trying to figure out what I should say next, and not knowing what it’s going to be. But all these things are appearing from and disappearing into the same place.
The feeling of the grass, the feeling of talking, the feeling of movement—there are no boundaries. There is no ‘down there’ and ‘up here’ or ‘over there.’
And now a question is coming to mind: Have I ever really moved an inch in my entire life? “
Loch: (Laughs.) “No, you haven’t moved. Because you’re everywhere.”
I’m sitting in a primary school auditorium with a hundred other people, mostly from Hong Kong and mainland China, with a few stragglers from random parts of the US, Australia, Canada, and Europe. This is Day Three of a ten-day Dzogchen meditation retreat.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche is in the center of the stage, sitting on a raised platform. He’s wearing a dark red robe, the color of blood. All around him are gold vases full of flowers.
He picks up a napkin. He looks at us.
“How much strength does it take to hold this napkin?” he asks.
He waits. No one says anything.
This is not a question he wants us to answer out loud. Instead, he wants us to feel the answer.
“How much strength does it take to hold this napkin?” he asks again.
He looks down at his hand, and holds the napkin gently between his pinky finger and thumb. He smiles.
“This.” he says. “This is all the strength you need. So why are we all holding our napkins like this?”
He quickly crumples the napkin up in his fist, and squeezes it so tightly that his arm starts to shake. He brings his clenched fist up to his face and stares at it, with his eyes bugging out of his head.
For the next minute, he treats his closed fist like a snake charmer following the head of a cobra—full eye contact, deadlocked, his neck undulating in step with the fist.
He stops and everyone laughs. He’s a funny dude, after all.
But the lesson is not lost on us:
The napkin is our life. And most of us have a death-grip on it.
What would it feel like to loosen your grip? What would it feel like to slowly… unfurl…. your…. clutched…. fingers?
Loosening your grip does not mean not holding the napkin. Loosening your grip does not mean that you don’t care, or that you stop trying, or that you give up.
It doesn’t mean that you stop growing, or stop learning, or stop confronting your own biases, or stop being touched by the beauty and tragedy in the world. It does not mean that you stop fighting for what is right.
Loosening your grip simply means that you hold the napkin with as much strength as it requires to hold—and not an ounce more.
Loosening your grip means freeing up energy, and allowing it to collect into an ever-deepening reservoir that nourishes you.
A reservoir of energy that you can access at any time, for any reason.
A reservoir of energy you can use to help others.
And right now, we need all the energy we can muster in order to listen to each other openly… to confront the social and racial inequality in our world….to question our assumptions and move past emotions…and to do our part to spread messages of love and understanding, regardless of our views.
But we should also remember to not take ourselves too seriously while doing good and necessary work.
As Rinpoche said at the end of our retreat:
“How miserable must you make yourself in order to live a responsible, beautiful life?”
A couple weeks ago I was giving a talk about writing and entrepreneurship when a guy raised his hand and asked me, “But what if you’re too scared to start writing?”
I told him that he shouldn’t worry because the truth is that we’re all going to die anyway.
And once we’re dead, being worried about writing or anything else is kinda out of the question (since we’re dead).
So my advice to is to just keep everything in perspective because writing a blog post is really no big deal when you think about the fact that you could literally die at any time.
That pretty much ended the Q&A portion of my talk.
Of course, what I was trying to communicate was a sort-of value of mine: The worst case scenario is that I die…so I should just do this thing since it probably won’t kill me.
Unlike the self-help, rah-rah, life-coaching people on the internet, I don’t have a specific LIST of one-word values I try to follow. Stuff like “community”, “authenticity”, and “balance”. (Honestly, even writing those out feels stilted and unnatural.)
But while I don’t have a list of words, I do have phrases I’ve stolen from friends and strangers, plus a quote from Arrested Development. These things pop into my head (and out of my mouth) at random times throughout the day, and that’s pretty much how I live my life.
So what follows is a collection of the phrases that occur to me most and have had the biggest positive impact on my life.
Hopefully one or two will resonate with you.
SPEND MONEY TO REMOVE A NEGATIVE (INSTEAD OF ADDING A POSITIVE).
Meaning: Once our essentials are taken care of, spending money to remove annoying things from our lives leads to more day-to-day satisfaction than adding new and novel things. So, getting a better mattress in order to sleep better will give us more lasting satisfaction than upgrading our iPhone.
In Practice: When we lived in Portland, we only needed one vehicle since public transportation and car-sharing services were cheap and easy. But after moving back home to Montana — a place where most things are far apart from each other and may or may not include bears — we realized how annoying it was to coordinate our individual schedules. So we got a second car (used) and our lives instantly improved.
AT WORK, FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS. AT HOME, FOCUS ON YOUR WEAKNESSES.
Meaning: Our goal at work is to a) get paid and b) make a positive impact in the world. To accomplish these goals, we’ll be better served by focusing on the stuff we’re really good at to the exclusion of most everything else. That way we can spend more hours doing the things that only we can do, the things that add the most amount of value to the most amount of people. But in our personal lives, when the goal is to become a better person and improve our relationships, we’ll be better served by focusing on the “hard stuff” — the psychological weaknesses that tend to cause so much internal and external conflict.
In Practice: On my best days, most of my “work time” is centered around writing, strategy / planning, and talking with people. These are highly valuable, highly lucrative activities that have a bigger impact on my happiness and my bank statements than, say, checking my email 42 times per day. But in my personal life, I can only become a better person by embracing the “shitty” parts of me, and actively working to change them. That usually means empathetic listening with my full attention, while resisting the urge to interrupt or “solve the problem”.
Meaning: No matter what we’re doing, who we’re with, where we’re going, or what we’re hoping to accomplish, every single thing in life will suck at some point. So we might as well embrace the suck. That way we’re prepared for it when it comes, and will refuse to tell ourselves stories like, “I just need to do XYZ and then everything will be totally different!” XYZ might very well be different…but it will still suck.
In Practice: I experience this on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Recently it’s been around buying a house. First, I think, “Interest rates are still so low, and we’re just throwing money away by renting.” (Not true.) Then I think, “But if we buy a house, then we won’t be able to move and travel as freely. Plus, the money we put into the mortgage and maintenance could have gone into the stock market and made more money! WAAHHHH!” But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. Whether we rent or buy, it’s still gonna suck.
FOCUS ON THE 20% OF ACTIONS THAT WILL LEAD TO 80% OF THE RESULTS.
Meaning: Most things in life are not distributed evenly. Often, a relatively small number of inputs produce the most (or best) output. In other words, if we have a list of 10 goals we want to accomplish, two of those goals will likely turn out to be worth more than the other eight goals put together. We just need to figure out which two are worth our time and attention.
In Practice: In order to improve my self-defense skills, I recently started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. (My dad is a Krav Maga instructor, as well.) You’d think the first thing we’d learn to do is how to punch a motherfucker in the face, or maybe do a triangle choke or something. But you’d be wrong. By applying the “80/20 rule” to self-defense, we can see that the very best way to avoid violence is to BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND WALK AWAY. That’s the magic “20%” that will likely produce the best benefits. (Of course, if a fight is unavoidable, then you should be fully prepared to defend yourself by using force. Like a triangle choke.)
PAY YOURSELF FIRST.
Source: Every financial guru ever.
Meaning: Before we pay our bills or spend any money whatsoever, we should set aside a specific chunk for our future-selves. That way we won’t be stuck eating beanie weenies and cereal three meals a day when we’re 64.
In Practice: Richelle and I save a minimum of 20% of our combined gross income every month. We put this money into IRAs that are invested in low-cost index funds. It’s all about as sexy as Warren Buffet, which is to say: not very sexy. But it works.
Meaning: When we’re trying to change a behavior, it’s important to remember that 1) change is hard, 2) willpower may be a finite resource, and 3) most of us are relatively lazy. By making the right thing the easy thing, we’re giving ourselves the opportunity to succeed without needing to use a heroic amount of effort or willpower.
In Practice: To avoid getting sucked into the vortex that is my smartphone, I use “Nuclear Mode.” To make sure I go to the gym consistently, I have a coach who writes my programs. To make sure I invest a minimum of 20% of my income and don’t spend it all on bourbon and $18 hamburgers, I set up automatic bank transfers. And to make sure I don’t eat my bodyweight in pudding every evening, I buy smaller jars. Then I eat two anyway.
Meaning: Most of us feel as if we have a little problem-solver person living inside of our heads whose job is to constantly (and frantically) look for problems to solve. Every single thing in our lives is a potential problem that needs solving. “It’s too quiet in here. Now it’s too loud. I’m too hot. Now I’m too cold. This is boring, I should do something different.” It’s exhausting. But it’s possible to “lose” this problem-solver identity for short periods of time, and the resulting experience feels incredibly natural and peaceful. The goal, as Loch explains it, isn’t to deny the normal difficult situations in your life, but to escape the prison of the problem-solver identity — even if only for a moment.
THE WORST CASE SCENARIO IS THAT I DIE. AND THEN IT DOESN’T MATTER.
Meaning: I mentioned this at the beginning of the article. The reality is this: I’m going to die, and I don’t know when. (Also, you are going to die and you don’t know when.) That is the worst-case scenario, and it immediately puts everything else into perspective.
In Practice: Whenever I’m feeling nervous — especially when I’m trying something new for the first time — I tell myself that the worst-case scenario is that I die and then it doesn’t matter what happens. Dead people don’t care about the outcomes of things. For instance, the chances of me dying while giving a talk on stage are relatively low. So I might as well get over myself, be willing to feel the butterflies, and just give the damn talk. And maybe scare a few people in the process.
THERE’S ALWAYS MONEY IN THE BANANA STAND.
Source: Arrested Development
Meaning: You’ll have to watch the TV show or read this quick excerpt to get the full story behind the “the banana stand.”
In Practice: For Richelle and I, “There’s always money in the banana stand” has become a mantra we say aloud whenever we’re struggling to decide what project or job to work on next. To us, it means that no matter what happens, there’s always a way to make enough money to pay our bills and live a good, simple life. (At least, that’s the hypothesis.)
Meaning: When we’re dealing with other human beings, it can be easy to be wary and confrontational. But while psychopaths may be unloving, most people are just trying to get by. They probably aren’t trying to screw up our entire day for no reason.
In Practice: It doesn’t always work, but I try to approach every encounter with another person with the assumption that a) they’re kind, b) they’re generous, c) they’re smart, and d) they want to work together to solve a problem or create something valuable.
We whip in and out of traffic and careen around corners, zooming past small cars and stray dogs, scooters and street vendors. The bright smell of Thai chili mixed with sweat, jungle, and exhaust fills my nose.
I breathe it all in.
I’m alone in the back of a songthaew, a red truck taxi with a covered bed and long seats wrapped in green vinyl. I paid the driver 30 baht (.93 cents) to take me the three miles from the airport into town. We’re making good time.
We pass a small store where a group of young monks in orange robes drink Coca-Cola from glass bottles. The walls of the old city of Chiang Mai come into view, tall bricks surrounded by a moat of murky water. People walk over footbridges and play human Frogger to cross the street. My driver whizzes by them without a glance.
A mile later, we pass through a gate and turn onto a narrow, uneven street flanked by an ornate Buddhist temple. My suitcase rolls back and forth over the grooves of the truck-bed and I squeeze it between my knees to keep it from falling out.
We round another corner and slow, slow, slow….stop. The heaviness of the air immediately catches up with us. Sweating and smiling I step out of the truck, say khob khun kop to the driver, and step into my new home for the next few months.
Friends and family ask: Out of all the places in the world you could live, why pick Thailand? Simple. I’m becoming a monk.
Soon I’ll shave my head, don orange robes, renounce all material possessions and wander into the forest where I’ll live amongst the…nah, I’m just bullshitting you.
I’m not becoming a monk. But I am in a laidback version of “monk mode.” Which basically means I’m living alone, simply yet comfortably, and not doing much of anything beyond the basics. (And for the month of October I decided to play with a few rules, including no dating or sex, no alcohol, no spending money on non-essentials, and no new friendships beyond small talk. Fun!)
The past week has been rewarding and necessary, mostly because it comes as a sharp contrast to how my life was the month leading up to my arrival in Thailand. After putting a few boxes and my car into a storage unit in Montana, I went on my “farewell tour”, traveling to four different cities in four weeks. I spent time with dozens of friends and family members, went on a handful of dates, stayed out way too late, and spent too much money on eating out, AirBnB’s, and airfare.
I loved it all.
But I’m also really, really, REALLY loving being alone right now.
“Hermits don’t withdraw from the world because they feel rejected, can’t find anything better to do, or because they are unable to assume their responsibilities. They are not running away from the world. They distance themselves from it to put it in perspective and better understand how it functions.”
This deliberate narrowing of focus and stripping away of distractions has been liberating. Turns out I don’t need much to live well. Turns out I can sit for an hour or two in a room alone, not doing anything, and feel pretty damn good about it. (I already knew this from my 10-day silent meditation retreat, but it’s a nice reminder.) This may be naiveté—something I’m definitely prone to—but I feel like I’m tapping into a way of functioning in the world that’s becoming lost to the ever-increasing-speeding-up of modern life.
For example, here’s a typical day for me right now. Try not to yawn as you read it.
Wake up without an alarm clock
Make coffee and sit and stare into space
Meditate for 20-30 minutes
Check text messages and connect with a few people
Turn phone off, shower, and stretch
Walk to co-working space
Work for 4-5 hours, without distraction
Walk to lunch
Take a nap or read
Go to the gym or get a massage or sit and stare into space
Walk to dinner
Go to bed
I’m incredibly lucky to have a schedule like this. It’s only been a week, of course. I may hate this schedule soon. (I’ll let you know.) But for now: ahhhhhhhh…….
Of course, despite my reading material, I’m far from an actual hermit. As I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful, air-conditioned co-working space drinking Ethiopian coffee. I’m collaborating with the amazing team at Precision Nutrition and building a new working relationship with Men’s Health magazine.
I’m not cut off from civilization. I’m cut off from the craziness of civilization, at least for a short time.
Does this mean I’m going to live in Thailand forever, read every esoteric book on Buddhist philosophy, and never go on another date or have a glass of bourbon again? Hell no.
But right now, I’m enjoying myself. Right now I’m trying to do work that helps others while trying to not let that work define me or my worth.
There’s no shame in snagging the 5:30pm reservation at a popular restaurant.
There’s also no shame in having a second dinner at 8:30pm at a cheaper place where it’s easier to get a table.
Street food in other countries: Look for a long line of locals and order what they order. (Yes, even that weird thing with eyes.)
Your guest gets the seat against the wall that looks out over the entire restaurant. Unless you don’t like them that much, in which case they can stare at the wall.
Question: “How would you like that prepared?” Answer: “Whatever the chef recommends.”
If you’re dining alone, sit at the bar. Keep your phone off. Talk with people.
Get the housemade hot sauce.
If you’re in a new city and find a good restaurant, ask the staff where they eat or take their friends from out of town. Sometimes you’ll get one recommendation. Other times you’ll get an entire list of places written down on a napkin. This is culinary gold.
Don’t lose the napkin.
For a great date night, order one course at a time. Get drinks and appetizers. Eat and talk. Get small plates. Eat and talk. Get the main course. Eat and talk. Get dessert and after-dinner drinks. Eat and talk. The whole thing will take 2-3 hours. It’s worth it.
Don’t order a cocktail in a place that isn’t known for cocktails. You’ll just be disappointed. Instead, get a beer or a high-proof bourbon on the rocks.
But first, make sure to ask if they have big ice cubes. If they don’t, order your whiskey neat. Or get a beer.
Skip the housemade chocolate-tobacco-guava-rosemary bitters.
Not drinking? Tonic water or soda with lime.
Question: “Should we get a bunch of food for the table and share?” Answer: “Yes.”
Take the wine recommendation.
When looking for a good coffee shop, pull up photos on Google or Yelp and look at their milk drinks. If their lattes have a leaf, rosetta, or heart pattern, you’ve likely found the right kind of hipster place that takes their coffee (perhaps too) seriously. Which means they have good coffee.
Go for a walk after dinner. It helps the food settle.
Have sex before dinner. It’s the rare person who feels like fucking after eating a ridiculous amount of cheese.
Minimum 20% tip. 25%+ if they really knock your socks off.
Nonna: “Where’s your wine? Water is for washing cars and for bathing. Never toast with water.” You: “Yes, Nonna.”
If the place isn’t busy, it’s totally acceptable to ask the waitstaff to bring you whatever food they think you should have. Give them a dollar amount. $30 bucks per person. $100 per person. They may not be interested. But most love sharing their favorite dishes.
But if it’s busy, order off the damn menu.
Same thing in cocktail bars. Order off the menu unless it’s slow or you’ve built up a good rapport with the bartender.
Signs you’ve succeeded: The meal is amazing. Your guests are happy. You’re slightly intoxicated from all the butter and booze.
Signs you’ve really succeeded: The chef comes out to meet you. You’re invited to join in on the staff drink. You get asked, “Are you in the industry?” You have sex after dinner, despite the ridiculous amount of cheese.
Question: “Sparkling or still?” Answer: “Sparkling.”
Enjoy your food but don’t get too snobby. A good meal is more than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t matter how much it costs or where the ingredients come from. The best burger I’ve had recently was with my Dad and brother at a Red Robin in Billings, Montana.
An inside look at my daily schedule. Plus, powerful tools and strategies to help you become more focused and productive.
Here’s something most people (including some my friends and family) don’t know: Over the past 5 years, I’ve written over one million words.
That’s everything from books, articles, sales pages, coaching curriculum, marketing plans, and more. (I spent the last 5 years as a marketing strategist for Precision Nutrition.)
In a minute, I’ll deconstruct my schedule and share how I did this—including a simple tool I use every day to stay focused.
But first, an explanation:
The reason most of my readers haven’t seen most of these million words is simple: 90% of them exist behind the scenes in various products and educational courses.
Or they were ghost-written for other people, which means I wrote the first draft but often gave someone else the byline; something I was happy to do to help PN grow its revenue and influence.
People tend to have the same reaction when they learn how much I’ve written. They say something like, “One million words? You must have been so busy and overwhelmed.”
My answer: Rarely.
First, writing one million words seems like a lot…but when you look at the math, it’s totally reasonable.
365 days per year – 105 days (weekends) – 30 days (vacation) = 230 workdays per year.
230 workdays x 5 years = 1150 days of total work.
1,000,000 words / 1150 workdays = an average of 870 words per workday.
I averaged 870 words per workday.
It’s simply an example of consistency and practice.
Second, I’ve always thought of myself as a “productive slacker”.
Although there are some exceptions, I tend to work for about 5 hours per day, starting around 9AM and stopping around 3:00PM (with an hour or so for lunch). The rest of the time, I hang out, read, go out for drinks, meet people for dinner, listen to music, explore, or simply sit and stare into space.
In other words, I tend to strike a good balance between my work and the rest of my life. The only caveat: the 5 hours I work are focused. Like ridiculously focused.
Focus and productivity are things lots of my readers struggle with. I know because I hear from them daily:
But here’s something almost no one ever talks about: Being productive isn’t a matter of having the right tools or technology.
Instead, the ability to focus and produce at a high-level are both skills you must build.
I had to learn this fast.
At 22, along with running my personal training studio, I was also writing for major magazines under tight deadlines and negotiating a book deal.
If I didn’t get my shit together, I didn’t make money and I didn’t eat food.
Even then, I’d occasionally drop the ball or get in over my head, and my mom would have to bring me care packages of food and toilet paper.
But over time, I learned how to work.
I learned how to be incredibly productive on a day-to-day level. And I learned how to decide which projects and opportunities were worth my time, and which ones I should avoid or abandon. (That’s something I’ll write more about soon, if you’re interested.)
The world’s simplest (and most powerful) productivity tool
One habit I’ve followed for the past 8 years or so is planning my day on a simple notecard. It looks like this:
This habit is so ingrained in me that I often forget it’s weird until someone else points it out. Now, the notecard may not look like much…but it’s incredibly powerful and multi-layered.
That’s why I want to to spend the rest of this article deconstructing what’s on it.
I want to show you 1) how I think through my day and 2) how you can increase your focus and find more balance in your own life.
(And then I want to give you a free mini-book my friend Jason wrote recently.)
One quick note before we dig in: It took me years of work to have a schedule like this. Plus I don’t have any kids or dependents to take care of. So don’t feel discouraged if you’re schedule looks wildly different than mine.
You can still become more focused and productive by implementing just ONE idea from this and practicing it consistently.
Deconstructing my daily notecard
I have a notecard like this for every single day (even the days where I’m not working or creating). I like to know where my time goes and how I’d ideally like to spend it.
On the surface, it can seem too restrictive, but I’ve found planning in this way allows me to affect the quality of my day. (To steal a line from Thoreau.) In other words, I know what’s expected of me every day and what I’d like to do.
I don’t always stick to it 100%, but I’ve gotten closer with practice.
“Morning – Meditate, coffee + grateful
I front load my morning with stuff that’s good for me. These are things I’d likely forget to do (or choose not to do) later in the day.
I meditate for 20 minutes every morning, sometimes using Headspace, sometimes using Sam Harris’s guided meditation, and other times just sitting there in silence. And I wrote about my coffee and grateful exercise (and how it improved my relationship) here.
protein shake + tea”
I’m usually very excited to start working, so I try to eat a fast breakfast so I don’t have to cook. (I prefer cooking at night.)
Now I usually eat a couple of hard-boiled eggs (cooked the night before) or fast until lunch.
Focus – Outline 1st draft of men’s sales p(age).
I try to only work on one thing per day, and I try to make it The Most Important Thing.
How do you decide what that most important thing is? Well, that’s a whole skill in and of itself, but I will say you can usually get close by asking yourself a version of the following:
What ONE thing can I do today that will make the biggest impact for me and my business?
On this particular notecard, my Most Important Thing was outlining the men’s coaching sales page for Precision Nutrition. (No sales page, no clients.)
Of course, the Most Important Thing will change depending on what project you’re working on. (For instance, my Most Important Thing today was writing this for you.)
WB 1 – 90m
“WB” stands for “work block.” “90m” stand for 90 minutes.
I do one completely focused block of work for 90 minutes with absolutely no distraction. That means no email, no phone, no social media, no interruptions, no nothing. The only thing I do is set a timer, sit my ass in a chair, and work (and maybe stand to stretch a couple of times).
The first 15 minutes are usually hell (sometimes the first 30). But by minute 35, I’ve usually hit my stride. After my 90 minutes are up, I grab a peppermint tea and do some light stretching. And then I’m right back to it.
WB2 – 90m
My second work block is usually a little easier since I’ve already built momentum.
I tend to eat lunch out so I can completely disconnect from my computer and whatever I’m working on. Takes me about an hour.
WB3 – 90m
This is often my final work block for the day (unless I’m really cranking or under a very tight deadline). The third work block is kind of a crapshoot; sometimes it’s good and easy, and sometimes it’s absolute slog and I hate my life.
This is when I allow myself to go on the internet for the first time.
I start with my email and try to get back to as many people as I can. Then I check social media (which I hardly update since it’s rarely a priority.) And then I’ll send any articles I want to read directly to my Kindle so I can read them later when I’m off my computer.
After my 30 minutes are up, I write down my next day’s notecard and completely shut down my computer. That means I’m done with work for the day. (99% of the time, I don’t open my laptop again after this.)
EFL stands for Elemental Fitness Lab which is where I trained while I was living in Portland. I find it helpful to have a “hard stop” for when I finish my work, and heading to EFL to meet up with Chris and Blaine always gave me a reason to get out of work-mode.
After I exercise, I head home to shower and either stay in and cook dinner with Richelle, or go out to meet friends. Pok Pok is one of my favorite restaurants in Portland.
(Notice how I try to “bookend” important personal things at the beginning and end of my day.)
How to find more focus – a few suggestions on where to start.
So that’s my notecard and how I generally structure my day. But like I said earlier, becoming focused and productive are skills that take practice and consistency to build.
To help you get started, I have a few suggestions depending on your situation.
What to do if…
…you have “too many ideas” and don’t know where to start. Get into the habit of asking: “What ONE thing can I do today that will make the biggest impact for me and my business?” Do that thing (and only that thing) and see how you feel.
…you have trouble finding balance. Front-load one or two important personal things into your day (exercise, meditation, spending time to eat breakfast with your family) before you officially start working. Also, give yourself a “hard stop” for when you’ll transition out of work mode. I recommend setting an appointment with someone to have drinks, work out, or another activity. Once that activity is over do not go back to work again.
…you struggle with procrastination and self-control. Remove distractions and the need to have self control by turning off your internet connection, leaving your phone in a different room, and/or setting up a website blocking tool like Freedom (which is what I personally use). Also, set a timer and race the clock. (I use Pocket Cup Noodle Timer.)
…you want to learn more about becoming focused and productive. My friend Jason wrote a an 18-page mini-book with 5 proven strategies to help you get focused, do work you’re proud of, and make more time for the things that really matter. You can download it for free here.
The ability to focus is a rare and valuable skill.
As Cal Newport often writes, it’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. It’s effectively a superpower.
And I believe it’s a superpower you must build if you want to find more balance in your life and do work that’s both meaningful and rewarding.
To build this skill will take time, hard work, and the ability to consistently push through discomfort.
But it will pay you back a million times and more.
PS – If you’re interested, here are roughly 75,000 (about 8% of my output over 5 years) of some of my favorite words that you can find for free online.
Why I go to the gym less often and no longer care how much protein I eat. And how that’s made me a better person.
My friend Dr. John Berardi caused a stir when he shared my “recovering fitness junkie” philosophy on Facebook:
I was appreciative and humbled by JB sharing that. I was also surprised about the reaction: 402 likes, 29 shares, and 27 comments.
My definition of a “recovering fitness junkie” seemed to stir up some emotions, both positive and negative—which is usually a good indicator that people are interested in the topic and want to know more.
So I decided to take those two paragraphs, dissect them line by line, and explain what I mean and how I got here.
Of course, this isn’t advice for you or your situation. It’s just where I’ve been and where I’m at right now.
So feel free to take what you want from it and ignore the rest.
Recovering Fitness Junkie: The Dissection
Here it is again in its entirety:
“I used to work out 5x per week, balance my ratios of protein, carbs, and fats, and considered myself a connoisseur of nutritional supplements.
Now I exercise a couple times per week and care more about sharing good food with the people I love. I also try to get a good night’s sleep, drink water, meditate, and leave my phone at home most days.”
And here it is, dissected.
I used to work out 5x per week…
I started lifting weights my junior year of high school with one goal: to gain as much muscle as possible. At the time, I was a 140-pound skinny kid, and my self-worth was tied to the way I looked. (Still is, honestly.)
So like most young guys who want to get in shape, I started working out as often as possible. My life revolved around the gym. It’s where I challenged myself. Where I made new friends. It’s where I felt in control and dominant.
(Dominance was a big thing for me back then. I was good at lifting weights and that gave me increased self worth. And because I was in my early twenties, it also occasionally made me an asshole show-off, especially as my knowledge and experience grew and I saw how misguided other guys were in the gym. I started to judge them instead of offering to help. That changed as I got older.)
This allegiance to the gym — to becoming bigger and stronger and faster — lasted a decade of my life.
It consumed me, with both good and bad consequences.
The good: I added muscle, gained confidence and felt better about my body. I became a personal trainer, started writing for fitness magazines, and eventually wrote a workout/lifestyle book for young guys.
My blog took off (hundreds of thousands of readers per year), and I took a job as an editor at T-Nation. I met some amazing people, some of whom would become my biggest mentors. I landed a gig at Precision Nutrition, which I love.
Of course, getting a job or writing for a magazine isn’t a direct result of me working out in the gym. That would be ridiculous. The point I’m trying to make is that my dedication to improving my body bled into other parts of my life. I wanted to be a fitness writer because I was obsessed with fitness and enjoyed writing.
The bad: I hurt my body repeatedly — not stretching, using too much weight, doing exercises that weren’t well suited for me, using questionable form, doing the same exercises with no progression, etc. — my self-worth became tied directly to my performance in the gym and how much muscle I had; I only focused on one aspect of health — gaining muscle — and neglected endurance, mobility, flexibility, and balance.
I became one of the “cool guys” with accolades and magazine logos on my website and powerful friends who looked down on all the “shitty” personal trainers and fitness writers out there and how stupid they were…instead of seeing the positive impact they were trying to make in themselves and the world.
Quite simply, the gym and all the things tied to it became my entire life.
Without it, I wasn’t sure who I was.
Without it, I didn’t feel important.
…balance my ratios of protein, carbs, and fats…
I ate 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. I followed a 40/30/30 (total calories for the day: 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 30% fat) mesomorphic macronutrient breakdown. I cycled my carbs and fasted and had strategic over-feedings and all that stuff.
In short, I tried really, really hard to get the “perfect” amount of nutrients. I thought food was fuel, and I treated it as such. Especially early on in my career.
But after joining the Precision Nutrition team over 5 years ago and having a small hand in coaching thousands of people I now realize I likely didn’t need that level of obsession over my food to build muscle and get in good shape. (Literally thousands of people get in awesome shape every year with Precision Nutrition without becoming fitness junkies.)
…considered myself a connoisseur of nutritional supplements.
Between the ages of 23 and 25, I worked for T-Nation and Biotest, a supplement company.
Every month for two years my “care package” would arrive at my front door. It was full of stuff and it was all free.
Workout drinks, fish oil, sleep aids, testosterone boosters, energy drinks, creatine, fat burners, protein bars, and lots of other exotic powders and elixirs.
I took it all.
My friends were all jealous of my perfect supplement regimen.
Taking the right things at the right time became an obsession.
Preparing to go work out took 15 minutes of mixing powders, putting pills in baggies, rounding up random shaker bottles, and eating pre-workout bars.
And then I’d have to go write about how awesome they all were so people would buy them.
To be clear, everything I took was natural and totally safe. And certain supplements definitely helped me improve my performance and gain muscle. But since I worked for T-Nation/Biotest at the time, I had to write the equivalent of a love letter for each supplement I took. It was too much.
Here’s me and my friends at the gym four years ago. This is what I used to do every day.
Now I move a couple times per week…
I burned out on the gym after 6-7 years of hitting it hard. Back in late 2010, I was only going once per week. And half the time I only stayed for 20 minutes or so before leaving.
My back hurt. My elbow hurt. My pride hurt.
I didn’t know what to do.
Lots of guys find themselves in this situation where they have trouble staying consistent in the gym, especially when their identity is wrapped up in their performance.
My experience in the gym had stunted me. I thought that if you weren’t training hard lifting weights 3-4 times per week, you were wasting time. Now I don’t believe that’s true.
Over the past few years, I feel like I’ve achieved a good, healthy balance, training two times per week in the gym and maybe once more at home.
I’m no longer focused on getting bigger and stronger at all costs. Instead, I want to keep making progress while fixing old injuries and improving all the things I’ve neglected in the past 10 years, including mobility and endurance.
Another thing: I’ve stopped seeing the gym as the ONLY place where you can get in shape.
I go bouldering. I play basketball. I occasionally run sprints. I go on long walks and hikes with friends. I do handstands and bodyweight workouts in the park.
The best part: I look and feel better than ever.
…and care more about sharing good food with the people I love.
I’m still aware of what I’m eating and choose mostly organic stuff, even though the jury’s still out on whether or not it’s better for you. I buy it because I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford it.
I still eat lots of meat and vegetables and healthy fats. I even still take some supplements: fish oil, vitamin D3, probiotic, digestive enzymes, greens, and occasionally a scoop of whey protein.
But I don’t remember the last time I had a “specialized pre-workout supplement.”
My energy boosting beverages are now high-quality coffee and green tea instead of energy drinks. And I’ve started to look at food less in terms of “nutrients” and more like…food.
I enjoy cooking, and drinking a cocktail or glass of beer while I’m at it. I eat at good restaurants and spend time having meals with friends.
I don’t turn down freshly made pasta or sticky rice any more. I have no idea how many grams of protein I eat in a day. (Probably not a lot, at least compared to what I used to eat.)
Food isn’t fuel to me any longer. It’s way, way more fun and important than that.
I also try to get a good night’s sleep, drink water, meditate…
I sleep 7-9 hours per night.
I start my day with a big glass of water and drink tea throughout the day.
I sit down for 20 minutes every day, close my eyes, and do nothing but put my attention on my breathing and let my thoughts come and go as they please. (I use the guided meditation app, Headspace.)
These things make me feel healthy, alert, and in-control.
…and leave my phone at home most days.
I’m sure other people are fine with their phones, but I’m very impulsive. Which is why I don’t have internet, email, or Facebook on my phone. (But that’s a topic for another post.)
But really, I just don’t think I should be available every minute of every day.
I don’t like how I feel when I’m constantly checking my phone to see if someone loves me or is giving me attention or validating something I said
So I started leaving my phone at home instead.
Text messages go unread for hours. I have no idea how many emails I’m getting. I probably have like 10 people to call back.
And I’m OK with all of that.
Of course, I want to be connected to the rest of the world. But I want to be connected to it on my terms, and only when I’m ready to give it my full attention.
Till then, I’m trying to put my attention on whatever it is I’m doing in the moment.
Location: School gymnasium in rural Texas. Karate tournament. 7 years old. Workout: Forgetting my kata (training exercises), freaking out, and inventing a new one on the spot with random kicks and punches. Quote: “Judges, my name is Nathan Green. My style is Tae Kwon Do. My kata is called…ketchup.” Verdict: Participant trophies are stupid.
Location: Downtowner Gym. Whitefish, Montana. 15 years old. Workout: Getting pinned under a bar weighing 135 pounds while bench pressing. Quote: “UHHGGG…PULL IT UP, PULL IT UP, PULL IT UP, PULL IT UP!” Verdict: Kyle is not a good spotter.
Location: Elementary school playground. Whitefish, Montana. 18 years old. Workout: Monkey-bar pull-ups and sledgehammer swings against a big tire. Quote: “Son, you can’t bring a sledgehammer to an elementary school.” Verdict: The middle-school playground is better anyway.
Location: DeFranco’s gym. New Jersey. 23 years old. Workout: Running the gauntlet of Combine tests (225-pound bench press, 40 yard dash, vertical jump) with NFL players and NFL hopefuls. Quote:“Yo, look at homeboy’s shirt. What the fuck kind of color is that? Salmon?” Verdict: The same guys who give you shit when you walk in the door are the same guys you slap hands with when you walk out.
Location: Anaconda Wilderness. Montana. 28 years old. Workout: Hiking multiple mountains with a 70-pound pack, trying to keep up with Richelle’s 60-year-old dad. Quote:“Look at that view.” Verdict: Humans were meant to be outside in fresh air. Also, Charlie is killing me.
Location: The sidewalk in front of Chris’s house. Portland, OR. 32 years old. Workout: Swinging 100-year-old Indian clubs and drinking hard cider. Quote: “I’m not usually a big cider fan, but damn this is good. What’s the ABV?” Verdict: There’s a rich history of physical fitness culture just waiting for you to explore—and it usually contains fun things to play with. Also: 7.8%.
Location: Any gym, any Saturday. With friends. Workout: Whatever sounds like fun. Quote: “That’s three rounds! Two more to go! Look alive!” Verdict: Beer always tastes better after lifting heavy stuff.
The human body is a goddamn miracle. Use it or lose it.
“Do you do affiliate marketing?”
Sometimes I include an Amazon link to a book I enjoy, but I usually forget. Other than that: No.
“So…how do you make money?”
I make money the same way Winston Wolfe makes money:
I solve problems.
At least once per week, someone asks me how to make money online. Should they design an app? Write a book? Create a course?
I tell them they’re asking the wrong question. The question they should be asking is this:
“What problem can I solve that people are excited to pay me for?”
Here in 2017, starting a business is simple. All the gatekeepers have been removed. Instead of praying to the network gods to get on TV, you can start your own YouTube channel. Instead of trying to get airtime on the radio, you can start your own podcast. Instead of waiting on a Big Publisher, you can write, market, and sell your own book.
Accounting software, email delivery services, collaborative software, payment processing…all of it is relatively inexpensive and instantly accessible. You can be up and running in an hour or less.
Yep, starting a business is easier than ever. But staying in business…well, that’s another story.
5 Thoughts On Making Money
#1 – SOLVE A PROBLEM
Every successful business or product solves a problem (real or perceived) that people are motivated to exchange money for. Just think of the last few purchases you made. Here are mine:
Thing I bought: Notebook. Problem it solved: I need a place to outline my articles.
Thing I bought: Dog food. Problem it solved: If I don’t feed my dog it will die.
Thing I bought: Tickets to see Blade Runner 2049. Problem it solved: I’m bored and I haven’t seen my friends in a while.
Stop thinking, “What can I sell?”. Start thinking, “What problem can I solve?”
In my business, I solve two problems for two different kinds of people:
Consulting. I help a small number of top-tier fitness and health companies reach the right people, create better products, and make more money.
Coaching. I help busy guys actually do all the stuff they say they want to do: get in great shape despite a busy schedule, start and grow a business, become more effective with their time, and find more balance in their life.
#2 – DON’T FOLLOW YOUR PASSION. INSTEAD, BUILD RARE AND VALUABLE SKILLS
“Follow your passion” is bad advice for two main reasons:
Most of us don’t have a career-relevant passion. Have fun trying to turn your love for football or for eating ice cream into a steady income.
“Passion” is only a small part of what makes work fulfilling. Let’s say you do get a job involving football. Maybe it’s managing the social media account for the New England Patriots. Congrats, you’re now (kinda, sorta) doing something involving your love of football. But what if you’re paid shit money? What if you have a controlling boss? What if you have to wake up at 3AM to respond to douchebags who leave anonymous Facebook comments? Will you still love your job?
In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport makes a strong case for why following your passion is a terrible idea. Because the traits that define great work (autonomy, creativity, impact, recognition) are rare and valuable, Newport argues that you need to have rare and valuable skills to offer in return.
“Nobody offers you a fulfilling job,” he writes. “You have to earn it.”
So stop thinking, “What am I passionate about?” and start thinking, “What rare and valuable skills do I already have — or can I start building right now?”
#3 – REPEAT AFTER ME: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “PASSIVE INCOME”
Whenever someone says they want to “write a book and then just sit back and make passive income” I want to slap the holy hell out of them.
There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. Passive. Income.
If you do your job right, you’ll spend countless hours researching, creating, testing, tweaking, and spreading your message. Sure, if you create a book or an online course and put together a well-oiled automatic sells system you can “earn money while you sleep”. But getting to that point takes months (if not years) of hard work — and more than a few sleepless nights.
#4 – SELL SERVICES BEFORE PRODUCTS
In the fitness industry, a service could be a coaching program, while a product could be a 12-week workout plan. Always sell services before products. Do this for two reasons:
You can charge a premium price for a service, which means you need fewer clients to make a living wage. When I owned my personal training studio I charged $300-$600 per month. If I got 10 clients to sign up for a year-long contract, I was suddenly making a living. But if I started by writing a book that sold for $20 — and if I kept all of it as profit, which would never happen — I’d have to sell 3,000+ just to make the same amount of money.
You can learn lessons that will inform your product if you decide to create one later. Because I’ve been in the fitness industry for so long, I can tell which workout programs have never been tested with real people.”Oh, you want them to do 10 sets of 10 reps of eight different exercises four times per week? Good luck with that.”By starting with a service, you’ll learn the ins and outs of what working with people really means. You’ll learn their motivators, idiosyncrasies, and pains. You’ll learn how to help them make progress despite everything that’s going on in their life.
In short, you’ll learn what works…and what doesn’t. I mean, would you want to work with a business coach who never ran their own business?
#5 – ALWAYS TRY TO 10X THEIR INVESTMENT IN YOU
If someone pays me $30,000 for a project, I want my work to directly result in $300,000 of new business for them. If someone buys a $20 book, I want them to get at least $200 worth of value out of it. It doesn’t matter what the price is. What matters is how much value I can deliver.
The beautiful thing is once you can reliably solve someone’s problem and 10X their investment, getting new work is never difficult. You just show them your track record and smile.
Because at some point your experience and your connections will speak for themselves.
Here are a few great business-related resources to check out: