What is that terrible sound? Oh.. right, it's my alarm. It can't be time to get up, can it? It feels like I just fell asleep. Oh why not, another 7 minutes (hits snooze).
Typical morning conversation for you as well? If it is, and if you are hitting the snooze like I used to, please just STOP. This is completely throwing off your productivity and cognitive ability in the morning. More on that later.
Sleep, and rest in general are things we don't necessarily have to think about while doing, so we typically don't think about how to best optimize them beforehand.
They are not as passive as we may think; in fact, a lot of times we end up sabotaging our ability to properly recover because we don't think about either enough.
As a potentially widespread, undervalued asset to health and performance, taking and applying the science of sleep to our daily lives could be more life altering than many of us realize.
The Biology of Sleep
By the time we die, we'll have spent an astounding third of our lives asleep, despite our culture's promotion of a less is more attitude when it comes to sleep.¹
I myself often burn the candle at both ends, and have been guilty of buying into Margret Thatcher's comment of "Sleep is for wimps."
But, the reality is, it's actually not for wimps. It's for people who want to be elite and is an unavoidably critical aspect of human physiology.
Lack of sleep means functioning in a constant state of fatigue, causing:
Sleep to Remember
There is a natural phenomenon called the forgetting curve, where our brains forget 40% of the information just learned within the first 20 minutes of learning it. Discouraged? Don't be.
What scientists have discovered, is that while short-term memory is pretty pathetic in terms of retention, long-term memory is far more durable.
We can remember more information through a process called memory consolidation, in which information from our short-term memory is moved to our long-term memory.
This is enhanced when our bodies enter Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) "deep" sleep cycles, both of which are entered into 4-5 times per night after two stages of "light" sleep.³
The Cruel Cycle of Stress and Sleep
Stress can both keep us from getting sleep and increase if we aren't getting sleep. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 43% of adults report that stress frequently keeps them awake at night, and 21% report that if they do not sleep enough, they feel more stressed.
Very unfortunate to be the one who experiences both. Which, if that's the case, it's time to work on some stress management techniques to help with daily functioning and overall quality of life!
In fact, on average, American adults sleep 6.7 hours a night and only 20% report that their sleep is good or excellent.⁴
I used to think of sleep as a kind of linear thing, with a dosing stage, dreaming stage, and eventually ending in REM. Of course now that sounds silly when we focus on the meaning of a sleep cycle, which naturally implies something that repeats itself.
The typical adult will drift through 90-120 minute cycles, comprised of four different repeating stages.
Sleep Inertia: STOP Hitting Snooze!
When pulled from the midst of REM sleep, scientists have formally identified that temporary state of grogginess and mental fogginess, as sleep inertia.
Defined as a "transitional state of lowered arousal occurring immediately after awakening from sleep and producing temporary decrements in performance," sleep inertia can be blamed for your feelings of mental and physical dishevelment upon waking.⁶
This is due to higher levels of melatonin that is formed in our bodies during the REM stage. The longer we sleep, the higher those levels get.
Contrarily, when we wake up during non-REM sleep, blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity are slowed down, which helps us feel awake and alert much quicker.
So back to that bit in the beginning about hitting the snooze and it's slap in the face to our productivity.
The two hours prior to waking, our body begins to go through a thaw out stage that gradually helps us wake up more easily; however, if we hit snooze, our body thinks we are returning to another 90-120 minute sleep cycle.
Physically we can wake up, but mentally the cortical region of our brain cannot. It will take our brains up to 4 hours to come out of sleep inertia when this happens.⁷
Therefore, the initial amount of energy that is required to push yourself out of bed will have a higher return on investment than the extra energy you think you're depositing by snoozing after the alarm rings.
Also, the small act of getting up when you intended to the night before, deposits a coin of discipline into your mental bank. When enough deposits accumulate in this bank, it translates into other areas of your life.
It will suck in the beginning, there's no doubt. But, if change and difficult choices were easy, everyone would do it, and we would all be fit, rich, and beautiful.
How Much Sleep Do I need?
The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep, and adolescents need around 10. Yet, like anything, there is individual variance within this generalization.
I know people who function great on 4 hours, others who must have 8 or they are major crank-pots, and some who are chronically functioning in sleep deprivation (6 or less) and supplementing liquid naps to make up for it.
Bottom line, find what works best for you. If possible, go a week without setting an alarm, which for many of us this may need to happen on a vacation, and see how much sleep your body wants based on when it naturally wakes up.⁸
Making time for a full nights rest is not only highly undervalued in our society, but also scoffed at. Yet, there is no out talking the science that has proven sleep is a critical part of human physiology that should be taken seriously.
Sleep is not for wimps, Margaret Thatcher, it is for the elite.
1, 8. Foster, Russell. Ted. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep.
2. Aguirre, Claudia. Ted. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.ted.com/talks/claudia_aguirre_what_would_happen_if_you_didn_t_sleep?language=en.
3. Marcu, Shai. Ted, Ted, www.ted.com/talks/shai_marcu_the_benefits_of_a_good_night_s_sleep#t-267995.
4. American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx.
5. "Stages of Sleep - Non-REM and REM Sleep Cycles." Tuck Sleep. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.tuck.com/stages/.
6. Tassi, P., and A. Muzet. "Sleep Inertia." Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports.
August 2000. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12531174.
7. Robbins, Mel [VNV]. The 5 Second Rule: The Surprisingly Simple Way to Live, Love, and Speak with Courage. S.l.: Post Hill Press, 2017.
It's that time of year again. The time of year we all start realizing that we either need to rollover or refresh some of our goals and ambitions.
Why do New Year's Resolutions end up just being a nice idea for 92% of the population anyways?¹
Setting targets is easy, actually striving to reach them is another story. You know what I'm talking about.
But who is to say that this isn't the time where we overcome some hurdles, turn on some lightbulbs, get serious, and make sh*t happen?
Make Time or Excuses
The most common self-limiting statement I hear in the fitness world, is "I don't have time for that."
Trust me, I get the whole not having time concept, but let's be real with each other for a second, what you should be saying is "It's not important enough to me." Right?
If something is important enough, taking yourself or a loved one to the ER for example, then you make the time.
Okay, yes. I understand that would be an emergent issue, but what I'm really saying is that things we need to do, like eat, go to work, sleep (for some of us anyway), take the dog out, and so on, are things we always have time for.
These are necessities. Things we must do for optimal human functioning. Hold up though, couldn't we now argue that with all the research coming out on how physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of death due to its links to cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc, that exercising is a human need?²
That we are made to move.
That when we don't move, our bodies start to feel gross, even when we have chronic pain and think that rest is the answer.³
But if it's not important to you, meaning you probably don't understand the importance of it (you don't have a why), then you will not make time. And real talk again, it will catch up to you in one way or the other.
So what do you say you and I make a deal? The first goal for 2019 (no we wont' be using the word "resolution" around here), is to determine what is actually important to us and why it is important.
The next goal, determine when this fits for our schedule. Many times we don't realize that if we plan our days a little more intentionally, it frees up quite a bit of room for things we say we should do.
More real talk, you know as well as I do that if you don't verbalize this to someone, or financially commit to something, the chances of you actually doing and achieving what you would like to set out to do is far less likely of happening for more than a few weeks.
That said, our third goal is to find the person or thing that will hold us accountable. You know yourself, what will keep you motivated?
I'll share with you why it has been easy for me to stay motivated to workout. It has become automatic. But, it wasn't always that way. It was one of those things that it would happen if I had time or energy.
Now, it is just going to happen like eating breakfast or brushing my teeth. That will be an hour of my day, which by the way is only 4% of your waking time.
As an athlete, and even a few years after, I dreaded working out. It made me feel tired just thinking about it, and I felt like I had to do it to stay in shape and not get pudgy.
I now look forward to and love working out. What's the secret? I get to see people I enjoy being around, I get to release some stress from the day giving me a mental reset as well as physical reset, I don't have to think about what I'm doing at the gym, I can just go and do the work.
During a very emotionally stressful time in my life, the gym was like my sanctuary. It kept me sane. Had I not been able to get rid of that stress, I can't imagine the horrible alternatives I may have chosen.
Long story short, the hard work there then translates to other areas of my life. Such a win, and it can be for you too!
Let's Get Started
First step, write out those goals, friend.
Next step, pick your form of accountability. I can help.
Third step, establish your routine.
Fourth step, persevere dang it! Don't give up after a week because it's hard. You're better than that and know it.
Fifth step, keep coming back. Leave me a comment below, start a conversation, ask a question. I would love to help how I can, for as long as I can!
1. Diamond, Dan. "Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year's Resolutions. Here's How They Do It." Forbes. January 02, 2013. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/#1487c797596b.
2. Carlson, Susan A., E. Kathleen Adams, Zhou Yang, and Janet E. Fulton. "Percentage of Deaths Associated With Inadequate Physical Activity in the United States." Preventing Chronic Disease15 (2018). doi:10.5888/pcd18.170354.
3. Geneen, Louise, Blair Smith, Clare Clarke, Denis Martin, Lesley A. Colvin, and R. Andrew Moore. "Physical Activity and Exercise for Chronic Pain in Adults: An Overview of Cochrane Reviews." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2014. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd011279.
One of life's greatest tragedies is never having started on the path towards something we deeply desire because of self-imposed limitations.
Are you limiting yourself because you are too scared to start or change, unmotivated, too distracted by things that are unimportant, or not understanding your purpose? Tomorrow is not guaranteed, here is how we start living for today.
We can get so easily caught in the daily rhythms of our lives that it takes a catastrophic event like a death or illness to shake us from our stagnant routines and remind us of what really matters.
"Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with other people." - C. Chang
There is an exceptional Ted Talk by Candy Chang on acknowledging what we want to do before we die. Her talk, linked in the above quote, calls listeners to remember how brief and fragile life can be, and not to be overtaken by life's many distractions.
Daily monotony, material obsession, and technological distraction are all major detractors from building genuine relationships or valuing each day, if we let them.
Finding Deep Meaning
Knowing your purpose in this world makes living in the present moment a much more clear and achievable task. Simon Sinek, TED speaker and creator of Start with Why, has a host of resources to help you dive into discovering life fulfillment, many of which were born out of his own painful journey to self-discovery.
It is one thing to know ones meaning and purpose, but it is another to act on it. Doing is usually the most difficult part of any large undertaking. If it weren't, then everyone would be a fit, tan, well-groomed, multi-millionaire.
Taking Actionable Steps
Fear is one form of paralysis that keeps us from doing the things that propel us towards success and happiness.
Mel Robbins, another well known TED and motivational speaker, talks about if-then planning and anchor thoughts as they relate to getting past fear in her book, The 5 Second Rule.
An anchor thought is a thought that is relevant to the situation you are about to enter that can calm you if you need it. It sets you up for success before you step into a situation you know you're afraid of.
Robbins uses the example of her fear of flying. As she starts to feel the gut reaction of anxiety as the plane ascends or undergoes turbulence, she shifts her thinking from the fuselage splitting in half followed by a fiery death to arriving at her destination and enjoying a pleasant meal with a client or family.
"Plan A, don't get nervous. BUT, if I get on the plane and I start to panic and start to feel afraid then I have my plan B." - M. Robbins
The point is, give your mind the context it's looking for, that way it doesn't escalate the fear and you can put the kibosh on anxiety before it hijacks your stomach and thoughts.
I can automatically think about this for myself when it comes to public speaking. It is something I absolutely dread and get unpleasant physical reactions to when I allow anxiety to take over the controls.
Instead of allowing myself to not saying anything at all because I'm so self-focused on everyone looking at me and staring at physical imperfections or waiting for me to trip on my words, I shift my thoughts to the value of what I have to say.
I recognize that what I have to say is important, and that if articulated well, they can absorb the information and then implement it into their own lives, thereby having an easier time because of it. This reduces my anxiety as it shifts my own focus off of myself and onto what's important - them.
The point to all of this, is that even the most successful people in the world struggle with the things you do. We are all human.
And we can also all learn from one another to better understand how to live our lives with meaning and fulfillment.
I want this of you! My yells of encouragement from the room I currently sit in only go so far, so join the self-made movement to receive email updates with more helpful content.
When it comes to successful people, there is usually a noticeable "it" factor radiating off of them. A swagger, a presence that makes them stand out in a group of people. Something that draws your eye to them.
They're usually the ones out-hustling their competition, making aggressive plays - think business or athletics - encouraging others around them to elevate their game, or relentlessly attacking a problem or task.
There is an intensity behind their eyes that many don't understand. But, what is it about these individuals that makes them great? Can the average individual harness this same fiery spirit to elevate their own life?
My first question: how do you define greatness, or success?
We all want certain things, so the definition of success is more individual than many of us realize. One of the most common, arguably opposite extremes I can think of, is the stay at home mom vs. the career-driven woman.
The mom sees her success in raising outstanding kids in a "perfect" home, with no notion of wanting to work in our social system, as it would take away time from nurturing her family.
On the other hand, the career-driven woman sees her success as climbing the corporate ladder, advancing her career, making money, saving for life after retirement, and has relatively little interest in starting a family as it could hinder her climb.
Different definitions of success, but the values needed to cultivate greatness in both situations, and many others, are the same.
Surround Yourself with the Right People
What are these values? For starters, I would like to introduce you to a man who is one of my personal heroes, Erik Weihenmayer. He is the first blind man to climb all 7 Summits (the tallest peak on each continent) and co-author of Adversity Advantage.
It is his quotes that are scattered throughout this article, because his unwavering will and faith in human potential are unlike anything I have ever read. He embodies Dr. Carol S. Dweck's principle of a growth mindset, which is that regardless of what traits and qualities we are born with, we can learn, improve, and thrive in difficult times.
His accomplishments alone are enough to inspire, but the way he talks about overcoming things that seem at first impossible, is unparalleled.
One thing Weihenmayer talks about, is surrounding yourself with people who will elevate your growth. You've probably heard this used with who you pick as your friends before, but the same goes for cultivating greatness.
In terms of athletics, athletes are quite lucky to be in an environment where their success is the main objective. A coaching staff, training staff, and administration are all there to support the athletes and ensure they have the resources they need to be successful at their sport.
For every day athletes without this support system automatically put in place, we must use our resources to develop our own.
"Regardless of how many strengths you possess, it's almost impossible to achieve greatness alone. Linking with the right people can elevate the breadth and scope of your impact. Others will have strengths you do not, and skills that compliment yours."
Finding circles of people who are driven, intelligent, and welcoming can be challenging, but not impossible. A few good places to start may be:
Reprogram Your Mindset
Overwhelming your excuses is much easier said than done, it goes back to the picture at the top about talking versus actually doing. What are your excuses? How do you reprogram your mindset to silence them and instead take action?
Convey Confidence to Build Confidence
The final piece I will leave you with, is building confidence. The most successful people on this planet have incredible self-confidence, or at least pretend to! In Norman Vincent Peale's classic The Power of Positive Thinking, he says:
"Feelings of confidence depend upon the type of thoughts that habitually occupy your mind. Think defeat and you are bound to feel defeated. But practice thinking confident thoughts, make it a dominating habit, and you will develop such a strong sense of capacity that regardless of what difficulties arise, you will be able to overcome them."
Personally, I have crippled my confidence in the past by comparing myself to others or trying to copy them. That's a horrible way to go about things, as comparison is truly the thief of joy.
In fact, most people, despite their confident appearance and demeanor, are oftentimes insecure. That being said, if you don't feel confident, fake it till you make it!
You become what you repeatedly do, so if you decide to put on your confident pants everyday, despite how you're feeling, it may just change your world!
Make Yourself Great
In summary, in order to make ourselves great, we must actively work on things that cultivate our greatness, rather than just thinking, reading, and learning about them.
Ultimate Guide to Having a Growth Mindset
It was December 3rd, 2017 as Nick Bassett sat in front of his computer eagerly anticipating the announcement of the Western States Endurance Run (WSER) runners.
This 100 Mile race uses a lottery selection process due to the high number of entrants every year. Out of approximately 15,000 tickets, Nick's was the first drawn.
To you and I, that's pretty awesome. But what it meant to a man who just had his 73rd birthday, could hardly be articulated in words.
For many years, the historic Western States Trail served as a direct route for the '49ers to travel between the gold camps of California and the silver mines of Nevada. With exception of a scant three miles of pavement, the race follows these trails in their natural state starting in Squaw Valley and ending in Auburn, California.
The Western States Endurance Run (WSER) climbs approximately 18,090 feet of elevation and descends another 22,970 from start to finish. On this particular summer day of 2018, temperatures would flirt with 100 degrees as racers battled their way through the rugged terrain.
WSER also follows a strict list of performance rules that each runner must abide by, including:
Ready to run the WSER for the 14th time, these rules weren't new to Nick. Yet, what was new was how his body, now nine years older than the last time he ran the race, would handle 100 miles of grueling terrain, heat, and continuous movement.
The Value of Preparation
"Wars are won in the generals tent." - S. Covey
When it comes to running 100 miles all in one go, there are two, sometimes three, ways to prepare effectively:
At 73 years old, one has to be slightly more strategic with training than say, someone 50 years younger.
Nick runs or walks a bunch of volume on his own, and our training at the gym is completely geared to enhance his ability to move for longer, faster.
We work to strengthen his entire body and improve his mobility and stability.
Passion is in the process
The obvious question you would ask any ultra runner is, "why?". It's not for the recognition, not for Nick anyway. Being the oldest finisher in WSER history earned him an overwhelming amount of publicity, but it was the first time in his racing career that so many admirers flocked his way to get a comment, shake his hand, or snap a picture.
What makes endurance runners unique is their insatiable desire to push limits--for a long time. A 20 mile training run isn't something they dread, especially not when with friends. It's a social outing, a way to connect with others, themselves, and nature.
I would imagine we can all find some way to relate. The amateur musician who practices for hours on end to play in front of the local pub crowd. The parent who reads every book they can get their hands on to raise a happy and healthy child. The researcher who works late into the night bent over a microscope looking for the next discovery.
For me, I can only relate it to playing basketball or CrossFit, and using that passion as a way to escape from the daily stresses of life and grow the physical and mental.
The point is, we can all relate to passion, and no one has to understand our passion except ourselves.
This is why the great ones separate themselves from the rest, they are willing to do things others are not.
They are willing to grind, hustle, suffer, endure, and grow.
Not through short cuts.
Not by laying around waiting for something great to happen.
By going out and working damn hard for it.
"Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by a steady, long continued process."