“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Anonymous
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
“Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso
“Just Do It.” – Nike
This post will not be new information. I think it’s something we all know and feel deep in our DNA. But, occasionally, it’s nice to get a friendly reminder that we can be, should be, and ought to be the architects of our lives.
We have the ability to write our own narrative.
I could probably write 10,000 words about how we desire to take action in the many areas of our life that we perceive as stagnant or under performing. It could be professional, personal finance, interpersonal relationships, education, fitness, nutrition, etc…and the list goes on and on. I get those feelings all of the time. Friends and family that I talk to also get those feelings. I think it’s a pretty amazing aspect of the human condition that we can reflect on what we do or who we are, and then conjure the desire to make an improved version of ourselves.
There is an entire industry out there geared towards publishing books, seminars, infomercials and the like with the focus on trying to pump you up and convince you that you can get what you want if you are willing to try. And buy their book. Or pay their fee. That wasn’t meant to be cynical, it was meant to make the point that we (people) are willing to trade our money for these services because we value them. It feels good to be told (or to read) that you CAN do what you want. I’ve never been to one of those seminars before, but after watching the Tony Robbins Netflix documentary, I completely understand why people pay their hard earned $$$ for these events. From what I saw, you will leave Tony’s seminars feeling pumped up and ready to take on the world. That has to feel amazing. Swimming in a deep pool of possibility and hope must be elating and energizing.
Whether its a book, a seminar, or some other professional giving you counsel about advancing your life, a common theme will be action. YOU need to DO something. YOU need to TRY something. Burgess Meredith said it best in Grumpy Old Men…
I’m not saying don’t wish. I’m saying that action or change will not happen just because you wish it will. You need to actually move your feet. You need to actually move your hands.
A question I get asked frequently by my friends/family, and even people that have started following this project is, “…where should I start…?” The simplest advice I can give is to START by STARTING. The biggest challenge in change is overcoming our own inertia (thanks dictionary.com).
There is so much exercise/fitness information and so much diet/nutrition information available, that it can almost be paralysis by analysis. People are so focused on wanting to do the right thing that they end up not DOING at all. If you never make a change, you will remain unchanged. That is the law of inertia in a nutshell. The cool thing is that once you start moving (literally), you will/can keep moving (literally). That is also the law of inertia. It all starts by doing just one thing. After that success, maybe it becomes two things. Or three things. Success will beget more success.
Okay – simple enough, but what is that first thing?
As it pertains to nutrition, I’d say that the one mostly universal piece of advice that doctors and nutritionists are agreeing on is to consume less sugar. I’m not saying no sugar (although, there are people in the deep keto world that argue you don’t need to consume exogenous sources of glucose). I’m just saying reduced sugar. According to the New Hampshire Health and Human Services website, the average American consumes approximately 3 lbs of sugar per week, versus about 2 lbs of sugar PER YEAR in the 1800’s. Yes, that is right. 200 years ago, we only consumed about 2 lbs of sugar per year. Now we consume about 150+ lbs of sugar in a year.
If you are consuming over 150 grams of carbohydrates (note – all carbs except for soluble and insoluble fiber end up breaking down into glucose) a day, you are probably falling into the camp of people that would benefit from consuming less sugar. If you don’t believe me, try this dialogue during your next physical…
You: Hi Mr/Mrs. Doctor, quick question – will it hurt my health if I consume less sugar this year?
Mr/Mrs Doctor: Nope.
If your doctor says anything other than “nope” (unless you have some type of metabolic condition where your body can’t synthesize its own glucose), you should find a new doctor ASAP.
Some VERY SIMPLE ways to reduce your sugar are:
- Drink less soda (ideally none, but start with less)
- Substitute water – not fruit juice. Fruit juice is just as much of a sugar liability as soda.
- Eat less food with added sugar
- You’d be amazed at how much sugar is pumped into our processed food supply. Check your breads, check your salad dressings, check your condiments, check your soups. Sugar is everywhere. So called “healthy” or “low fat” foods are really just vehicles for copious amounts of sugar. Try to swap out items that have less (or no) added sugar.
- Look in your pantry and donate/purge some items with added sugar
- Once these items are out of the house, that will inspire/motivate you to go shopping and look for new items that have less sugar.
Once you see that you can survive just fine with less sugar, that might motivate you to look deeper into your nutrition regiment and make another change. That is inertia at work. There are tons of things that you can do to improve your nutrition, which, ultimately, will lead to overall better health. It’s just a matter of you doing some research, and finding an approach that makes sense to you. I can offer some suggestions here that have completely changed my life. All you need to do is that first step.
With regards to fitness & exercise, it’s necessary to calibrate expectations and perceptions. I’d argue that a person should engage in regular exercise for reasons that aren’t 100% tied to weight loss. In my humble opinion, that is a very results-oriented approach, and the person is more likely to stop their exercise program if the weight loss goals (the result) aren’t pacing expectations. Instead, I’d prefer that people exercise because they just generally feel better when they do it. That is a tricky carrot/stick scenario because the person is motivated into exercising by some nebulous promise of “feeling better.” The feeling of euphoria after exercise is a real thing. Studies have provided brain scans of people before and after exercise, and there are clear changes in the brain. Regardless of the science, I still think that is a better mindset because it will engage the person more in the “process” of exercising rather than the result of, “…do this and you’ll lose 10 pounds…”
The big question always is, “…well, what should I do…?”
First I’ll say this – if you have never exercised before, and/or are currently impacted by some medical or physical conditions, you should consult with your doctor before engaging in any type of exercise program. Your body is a machine, and you need to make sure that the machine can handle the stress you are going to put it under. There are many paths to developing an exercise lifestyle, so it’s important to start you off on the best path. There is no shame or failure in starting at a slower pace. Everyone has a different starting point. Remember – the key is to overcome your current condition and start moving. Anything will be better than nothing.
In a very literal sense, I’d advocate walking. If you currently don’t have any type of exercise in your lifestyle, I’d say commit to taking a long walk once a week. That could mean 5 minutes or 90 minutes depending on your perceived level of exertion. If that 5 minutes was a challenge for you – congrats, you just challenged yourself. Go home, be happy, and try to walk 6 minutes next week. Progressive overload is how you make progress in exercise. That just means try to do a little extra next time out because your body probably adapted to the load you just put it under. If you aren’t able to ratchet it up a notch on the next session, that is fine. Do what you can, note it, and try to improve the next time around.
Long walks can be amazing. If you choose to just listen to nature, you can treat it as a walking meditation session. That its a two-fer! You are helping your body and your brain. Or, if you want to leverage the time to be entertained or learn something new, consider downloading some podcasts or a book from Audible. A whole world opened up for me once I started listening to books and podcasts when I’d run, walk, or mow the lawn. Before I knew it, an hour had gone by, and I just learned something new.
Once you’ve been walking for a bit, you might be ready to roll with the inertia and get into something new. At that point, assuming your doctor agrees that your machinery can handle it, I’d recommend you use your own bodyweight to train some very functional movements:
- Bending over
These are movements we execute in our daily lives, so it only makes sense that we should become proficient and stronger at them.
Pushing – the push up is a great exercise for developing the muscles associated with PUSHING stuff. See tutorial here.
Pulling – this is trickier – the best exercise for pulling is the pull up, but that is kind of an advanced move. Try lower impact progressions that train pulling into your body. Check out progressions here.
Squatting – bending at the hips and knees to lower ourselves is a very basic part of day to day life. Training this movement will keep our knees/hips/ankles healthy. Check out progressions here.
Bending over – this is another move that is very typical in our day to day life. Note – this is different than squatting. This is primarily a hip movement. Your knees don’t bend all that much. The exercise version is usually called a “good morning.” You can train this move to strengthen your posterior chain (lower back, hamstrings, glutes, calves, etc). Check out the move here. Once you get good at it, you can go deeper, and/or hold a broomstick behind your neck.
Twisting – working the transverse (diagonal) plane of movement is very functional and helpful to prevent injury. Check out the standing twist here. Once you get good at it, try twisting when you are bent over. You don’t need to hold a medicine ball like the guy in the video – just try holding a belt or strap in front of you. Finally, progress to this move called the “wood chopper.” You don’t need to hold a weight to benefit from the movement.
All of these moves can be done with high repetition ranges. If you are just starting out, there will be some trial and error to figure out the rep range that makes an impact for you. Do reps/sets based off of your perceived level of exertion (how hard do you think it is), and also monitor your form. The moment your form starts to suffer (incomplete or incorrect range of motion), you are done for that set. Rest 2-3 minutes, and do one more set of that exercise. For many of the progressions, you should aim to complete a couple sets of 20-30 reps before advancing to the next progression in the exercise series.
With regards to how often you should do these exercises, I’d say shoot for once a week to start. If you want to do them more than once a week, give yourself a day’s rest in between. So, if you exercise the push movement on Monday, wait until Wednesday (at minimum) to train it again. Maybe you’ll do all of them as a circuit (one right after the other), or, maybe you’ll just start with one move a week until you get your feet under you. Again – we are just trying to overcome your current condition and get you moving a little bit. Once you do one exercise a week, you may find yourself WANTING to do two or three exercises a week. Before you know it, you are doing them all, 3 times per week.
Eventually, when you are regularly walking (or running), and you’ve been making good progress on the bodyweight movements, then you’ll probably be ready to increase your intensity and consider some more specialized training. At that point, a whole world opens up to you. There are limitless exercise options out there. You could join a class. You could subscribe to a streaming service. You could buy a library of exercise videos. You could hire a personal trainer. The sky really is the limit once you GET MOVING. There are a bunch of free resources on YouTube than can provide structure around your exercise desires.
A final thought on “progress” and “walking the path.” Personal improvement can become addictive. There really is no better feeling that seeing results from action you’ve taken. Those accumulated wins will make you want to win more. And more. And more. Success begets more success. BUT, do yourself a favor and make sure you enjoy your successes rather than just crave your next improvement. Remember – try to enjoy the process – don’t chase results. Gains will eventually level off. If you are constantly chasing a new achievement, you’ll eventually get disenfranchised when your rate of progress levels off into a plateau. Plateaus do happen. In George Leonard’s book “Mastery,” he writes,
“The achievement of goals is important. But, the real juice of life, whether it be sweet or bitter, is to be found not nearly so much in the products of our efforts as in the process of living itself, in how it feels to be alive…even after we’ve just caught the winning pass in the Superbowl, there’s always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. If our life is a good one, a life of mastery, most of it will be spent on the plateau. If not, a large part of it may well be spent in restless, distracted, ultimately self-destructive attempts to escape the plateau.”
Always remember that you had to move/climb to reach that plateau. And, if you stay on the plateau long enough, an opportunity to climb to a new level will eventually present itself. When it does, enjoy the climb. When you reach the summit, enjoy the nice long walk on your new plateau. Don’t forget to take a moment, look back, and realize that it all started with just one single step.
What journeys are you currently on? Are you about to try walking a new path? If so, please feel free to share your story below. If you liked this post, please feel free to “like” and “share.” Thank you!