More than with any other prompt, I feel qualified to write this one: one of the things I believe I’ve done best as an adult is to follow an (arguably) extreme diet and chase down (less arguably) extreme fitness goals, and do both in a way that feels … well, normal. And for the past four years, my wife and I have made this lifestyle work with young kids.
But while living it is one thing, explaining it is another. That’s kind of what this whole blog is about, what close to 700 posts and a book are here for.
I’ve thought hard about how to boil down the essentials of balancing healthy habits with the rest of your life into a tidy bullet list to make it seem oh-so-easy. And I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s impossible.
None of it is easy; it’s a choice you make — and sometimes a difficult one. What people chalk up to “balance” in someone else who makes it look easy might look more like obsession when you view it from the inside, on a day-to-day level.
So instead of an “easy ways” bullet list, I’m going to list three things that are hard to do. But if you do them, I think you’ll all most certainly be able to balance fitness and healthy food and the rest of your life.
First, you have to prioritize and make sacrifices. In Cloud Cuckoo Land most of us don’t like to talk about this part, but it’s true. What you focus on and measure will improve, and what you neglect will get worse and eventually be overtaken by weeds. But you can’t possibly focus on everything, so you’ve got to compromise.
My wife and I spend as much money on food for our family as we do on all our other expenses combined, except for rent. And we almost never eat out — maybe once or twice a month at most — so it’s mainly just groceries.
Several times we’ve had conversations that start with one of us saying something like, “Are you sure we should keep spending this much on food? We could literally save $1000/month if we just stopped buying organic and fresh produce.”
And every time, those conversations end with mutual agreement that yes, we should keep spending this much on food, even when it means giving up something else.
Believe it or not, staying active doesn’t come easy either. Far more than many other runners, I struggle with boredom: barring race day, a two- or three-hour run is never my idea of a fun Saturday morning. So to get myself to spend it that way is hard. But it’s worth it, and if I go too many Saturdays in a row drinking coffee and doing crossword puzzles instead of pounding the pavement, I know it’s time to set a new goal.
Speaking of which …
Second, learn what motivates you and use it.
The fact is you’re not going to stay in a constant state of eager passion about eating well and staying fit. There will be times when your motivation wanes, and when it does, knowing how to connect again to a source of inspiration (or fear, which gets overlooked as a motivational tool) is crucial indeed.
I know that really big goals motivate me as runner. Qualifying for Boston, running 100 miles … these two goals have motivated 95 percent of the miles I’ve run in my life. As I said above, I’ve learned that when I’m not feeling it, it’s because my goal isn’t right. (And usually, that means not big enough.)
I also know exactly what motivates me to stay vegan: not wanting to do harm to animals, and wanting to live as energetically as I can and for as long as I can. (“Not wanting to kill and not wanting to die” sure sounds more catchy, but my vegan-preaching censor just wouldn’t let me write it.) Do I think being vegan does either of these things completely? Of course not. But it’s the best way I know to do both, so when I’m feeling out of it, I do things to get in touch with those motivators.
One more specific example: I’ve noticed that I respond really well when I learn that a certain habit is linked to longer lifespan. Two recent ones are eating nuts and flossing your teeth. I used to be sporadic with both habits, but as soon as it “it’ll help you live longer” flashes in through my head, it trumps any amount of laziness. Having realized this, I’ve started reading more longevity research as a way to become better at habit change (as opposed to studying habit change in order to live longer through healthy habits). This is what I mean by “learn what motivates you and use it.”
Finally, understand that nothing is static; everything is either growing or dying. When we’re talking about health it’s easy to take this literally, but I actually mean it in a figurative sense: I’ve learned that if I’m not actively focused on learning more or getting better in the way I eat or as a runner, then I am getting bored and I am getting worse.
This is why I do so many diet experiments when the way I already eat is surely “good enough,” and why a quarter of the books in my bookcase are about food or fitness (and also why another quarter of them are about personal development). It’s the reason I’m so into big goals and habit change.
Yes, you can (and should) still use tricks to put things on autopilot. I certainly make use of these, to keep the weeds from taking the garden when my back is turned. But as Rich Roll has pointed out, progress and fulfillment aren’t about lifehacking, they’re about passion. Maybe even obsession.
So what can you do about this?
Be curious. Set goals. Experiment. Just don’t stand still.
Garmin vívofit Giveaway
This giveaway is now closed.
To help you not stand still (this time in a literal sense!), I’ve got a Garmin vívofit to give away today, just like the one I’ve been using for this series, courtesy of Garmin.
As usual, enter with a comment, and I’ll randomly draw a winner a week from now and announce his or her name in the comments section. Share this post somewhere and let me know about it in your comment, and you’ll get two entries.
I’ve enjoyed my vívofit for what it has taught me about running and giving me an awareness of my daily step count (which itself seems to predict longevity), and I think you’ll like it too. Good luck!