Clutterfree Inspiration: Two Beautiful Transformations

March 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today I’m going to share the stories (and photos) of two people who tackled their clutter and lived to tell the tale.

Not only did they survive, they can serve as inspiration for anyone else who feels hopeless and helpless in the face of mountains of clutter. It’s possible, and we have the proof.

What follows are stories from Sarah and Rick, two amazing students in the Clutterfree Course. Read about two more transformations on Be More With Less by Courtney Carver, my partner in the Clutterfree Course.

Sarah

Sarah’s Clutterfree Transformation

 

In Sarah’s words:
De-cluttering has taught me a lot about myself:

  • As a child we were in a financial difficult situation (parents divorced and my mum on her own with three children). So being able to buy stuff was not that much about the stuff itself but rather about the ability to do so.
  • That I shop when I am emotionally stressed and addressed this issue.
  • That I do not want to spend valuable time with my partner making spending decisions so I’d rather stop buying and have quality time.
  • That I can embrace free space and that it is beautiful – before I had the urge to fill space so it feels more comfy and homey.
  • That de-cluttering makes me happy.

Decluttering is tightly linked to reduced shopping and saving money: I actually started with decluttering because I thought that this is the most fun way of saving money and I was very right. The more I declutter, the more I diminish my desire to buy stuff and realise that it is very satisfying and freeing to own less.

Decluttering makes you more creative – I chose so many gifts for friends from my de-cluttered items that made people very happy. I like this. So rather than going shopping I look into my shelves I have reserved for de-cluttered items that are nice presents to give away. Similarly, if I feel that I need something I first look around my flat if I can repurpose something I already have to serve the need I have. I was quite surprised with what I came up with.

De-cluttering makes cleaning so much easier and fun and I feel so much more in control now and do not have this underlying feeling of the weighing down of stuff and I spent less and less time with household chores! I did not believe before that visual clutter is such a stressor.

Tips
I declutter every day for 8 minutes as an established habit according to Leo’s simple method for habit creation – but I sometimes mix it up and do a number goal decluttering. For example if I focus on the bathroom – each time I go to the bathroom I will choose three items that will leave the bathroom with me.

It’s good to have an idea of what to do with the won space – so my motivation to get rid of the chest of drawer was to be able to put a nice reading chair there instead. Or for the shed – I want to put the bikes there. That helps so much to get rid of a lot of things and knowing why I am doing it.

Colour code your wardrobe – I heard this tip from Peter Walsh and arranged my wardrobe that way. Also have same type of hangers now and it looks so neat indeed.

Remaining issues:

  • I still have to tackle how to deal with some items that I attach a lot of memory to and learn how I can let go of it.
  • Not patronise and preach to other about de-cluttering, especially my partner. Just being an example of a happy de-clutter is enough and will have some consequences on people around me and if not that is fine too – I can learn from that!
  • How best deal with valuable items that you are willing to declutter but reluctant to donate. But then the hassle of selling stuff should not be underestimated. Maybe donating for a good cause?

Clutterfat challenge – what worked best?

  • Being part of a group: for me it is important to be able to exchange on ideas, experience and to motivate each other to declutter and being accountable to get the work done each day.
  • Taking before and after photos: I could not face the thought of having to count my stuff, so I took photos and it really motivated me to see how far I got and what transformations are possible in such a short time – this is important for the days I do not feel like doing my decluttering habit.
  • Using the month of January to focus on my decluttering habit: I established decluttering as a daily habit of 8 minutes every day following Leo’s simple method – tiny steps every day can get you far, it is amazing!
  • Choosing specific areas to declutter: For example I choose my desk, two shelfs and the shed and did not tackle the whole flat at once and I had an aim with the space that I could free of clutter – e.g. put a nice reading chair for the space I gained from getting rid of the chest of drawers next to my desk.

Clutterfat challenge – how does it feel?
If someone would have told me a couple of months ago that I would enjoy decluttering and that it is a life changing habit, I would not have believed it. But it is true for me. Decluttering is fun and feels very liberating. It brings order into my physical world but I also learn so much about myself and feel more in control – definetly a habit to keep for life. So I will continue to free myself of my clutterfat!

Rick

Rick Before
Rick After

In Rick’s words:

Thoughts on the Process

  • You need to be ready for it. What is the old saying? When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. That was certainly the case here. When Leo wrote about the Clutterfree book and course, the message really struck a chord with me. I knew I was ready to make some changes in my life. I can’t say that I was anticipating everything that was about to unfold. But the Clutterfree course came to me right at the time I was ready to receive it. There is no way I would have been able to do this work five/ten years ago. I just wasn’t ready for it.
  • Doing it together helps. I started talking about the course with my significant other, Amy. One of the things we decided to do was to limit the number of physical Christmas presents we would exchange. Amy agreed that one of the “gifts” she would give me this year was to share the experience of going through the course with me. Having my partner on board with this undertaking made things so much easier. I seriously doubt if either of us would have made the progress we have made so far without the support of each other. Just having someone to talk to – about the concepts in the class, the emotional issues that arise during the process, the things with which you are struggling – is so very helpful.
  • Set ground rules. Since we were both going to be dealing with issues that arose as we let things go, we decided it was important to set some ground rules. Our most important rule – each of us had to deal with our own stuff. I would not force or press her to get rid of anything that was “hers”. And she would not press me to get rid of anything that was “mine”. For the many things that are joint property, whoever had the stronger emotional attachment to the item got to decide what to do with it. We promised each other that the most we would ever do to question the decision to keep any particular item is to pick it up, look at the other person and say, “Seriously?!?” then walk away. We’ve kept to these rules pretty well so far.
  • Set your goals. Before this class, I was only vaguely aware of the whole minimalism movement. Early on in the process, we talked about what we wanted out of the course. We realized we have no desire to live in a tiny home, or to dress using only 33 items. I have been describing my goal for the course like this… I do not desire to create the perfectly empty “zen” home. However, I would like to use any random horizontal surface in my house without first having to move a bunch of stuff. You need to decide what living “clutter free” means for you.
  • Things will get messier before it gets better. Both literally and figuratively. Half way through the process, everything will be pulled out and dumped in the center of the room. You will create additional clutter as you set aside items to sell, or fill boxes of items to donate. Be ready for it.
  • Get ready to deal with emotional issues. Things will probably get emotionally “messy” as well. One of the big reasons we hold onto items we no longer need or use is that we have imbued the items with emotional meaning. Perhaps we have tied certain objects to our sense of identity. Identifying those emotional issues and then dealing with them is a huge part of the process. I read the Clutterfree book pretty quickly over the holidays. But the course forced me to actually implement the ideas and make real changes. It is one thing to understand the concepts on an intellectual level. It is quite another to dive in and deal with your crap (both physical and emotional).

What Worked Best

The course materials Courtney & Leo provided each week were great! I particularly enjoyed the audio interviews, video lessons, and the weekly webinars & live chats.

The ideas that worked best for me:

  • Taking “before” pictures. In the first week of the class, Leo gave us the assignment to count everything in our home. The idea was to record where we were at the beginning so we could look back at the end and see how far we had come. I found this assignment totally daunting. So I modified it. Rather than counting, I took pictures. These “before” pictures were very helpful. They forced me to actually see many things I had slowly taught myself to not notice. The pictures helped to remove my mental blinders and notice the things I didn’t want to see.
  • Every thing needs a “home” where it needs to “live” when not in use. And no object “lives” on the floor (other than carpets or furniture). If you can’t find a home for an object, you don’t have space for it in your life.
  • Focus on clearing one area at a time. One item at a time.
  • Make conscious decisions. For me this included consciously deciding to not focus on particular areas – at least not yet. For example, I knew I was nowhere near ready to tackle clearing my music CDs or movie DVDs. These areas got a “weeding”, but not the full de-clutter treatment. Maybe someday I’ll tackle these areas. But not today.
  • Identify the the “why”. For each item in your house, ask yourself, “Do you love it? Do you use it?” If the answer is no, then why do you still have it? Really delve into that “why” for each item. Are you keeping it “just in case?” Are you putting emotions into that item? What does that item represent for you? Why? Why? Why?
  • Share the ideas. You only really understand something if you can teach it to someone else. I talked a lot about the ideas in the course – with Amy, with friends, with co-workers, with the other people in the class. The more I shared these ideas, the more I owned them myself. Sharing ideas via the class message board also helped me greatly. The message boards helped me work through some of the emotions I had attached to things.
  • Be kind with yourself. This process will take longer than you think it will. Don’t worry about it. It is about making progress. Each person will progress at his or her own rate. Focus on the progress you are making. Do not be concerned about how fast or slow things are going.

How it Feels

How does it feel? It feels great!

Being in these rooms is so much nicer now. They feel much more calm, much more inviting. They are now places I actually want to spend my time.

I find that I am much more content to spend time at home. One night we were sitting in the living room and Amy turned to me and said, “Just look at this place! It looks like grown-ups live here.” We shared a good laugh at that!

Not that we are “done” – or that we will ever be “done.”

We still have lots to do as we work to finish this first big de-clutter.

It is also a challenge to keep the rooms we have cleared from backsliding. It is easy to let things accumulate. Especially as we move everything out of a new area to de-clutter that.

But we are making progress. We’ve started saying things like, “I know this thing doesn’t live here. But I just need to leave it here until ___.”

We’re not perfect. (Whatever that means.) But we are making more conscious decisions about our stuff and about how we live.

From Leo: Thanks for the inspiration, Sarah and Rick! Courtney and I wrote the Clutterfree book to help you understand the emotion behind holding onto clutter and to give you the motivation and momentum to let it go and live without it forever. Read the book and share your challenges and success in the Clutterfree Forum.

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It’s Not Too Late to Change Your Habits

March 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

A (slightly) older reader wrote to me recently, wanting to know how to change her bad habits ingrained after so many many years of doing them. She wanted to know, “Is it too late to change?”

And I can understand the feeling. Doing bad habits for years makes them deeply entrenched, and getting out of that trench might seem impossible, hopeless.

I once was stuck, and felt the weight of built up bad habits crushing, smothering, burying me. I felt helpless, like I had no control over myself, and was too discouraged to even try to change.

This discouragement is what does it. It’s not that changing bad habits is impossible. But if we are so discouraged we don’t try, we will never change them. To try and to fail is of little consequence, but to never start at all is fatal to the habit change.

And I’m here to tell you, that changing bad habits is not impossible. No matter how long you’ve done them, no matter how many decades.

It can be done. By you. By taking a single step.

Here’s how.

Know as you start that you aren’t changing a mountain. You don’t have to change years of bad actions. Those actions are gone — they’ve evaporated into the ether, and you can forget them. Forgive yourself for them, then forget them.

You don’t need to run a marathon to change a habit. You just need to take a step. And you can take a step.

Consider for a moment your bad habit. You might have a dozen, but choose an easy one. Not the one you’re most afraid of — the one you think you can lick.

Take a step back and think about this habit. When do you do it? What things trigger the habit — stress, food, drinking, socializing, boredom, sadness, waking, being criticized? What need does the habit fulfill for you? Know that it does fulfill a real need, and that’s why you keep doing it.

Realize something — stop here to drive home for yourself a crucial, crucial point: you must realize that you don’t need this habit to fulfill this need. You don’t need the habit. You can deal with stress in healthier ways. You can beat boredom. You can cope. You do not need the habit, and you will learn better ones with practice.

You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point, but you’ve done the hardest part. Now you just need to take one more little step.

Commit to yourself to make a small tiny insignificant but powerful step each day. Commit fully, not half-assed. Commit by writing it down, and putting it up on your wall. Commit by telling a friend about it, and asking for help. Commit by putting it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, your blog, a forum you frequent. Be all in.

Find a replacement habit. One that is healthier. One that fulfills the need. One that is easy. One that you can do after your trigger, instead of your bad habit. One that you enjoy and will look forward to. If you need to relieve stress, for example, consider walking, or pushups, or deep breathing, or self-massage.

You’re now ready to climb out of your trench. Remember, just a tiny tiny step.

Notice your urge to do the habit. Pause. Don’t do the bad habit. Let the urge pass, then do your new replacement habit.

Repeat, noticing the urge, letting the urge pass, not doing the bad habit, doing the good habit instead. You might mess up, but that’s OK. You’ll get better with practice.

Practice as often as you can, every day. You’ll get really good at it. Don’t worry about how long it takes. Keep doing it, one urge at a time.

Know, Consider, Realize, Commit, Find, Notice, Repeat, Practice. These are easy steps that don’t take a lot of work. You can do them as you sit here, reading this post.

It’s never too late. There is no habit that can’t be broken by the pressure of a single footprint. Make that footprint by taking a single step, today.

An Autodidact’s Schedule

March 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

While I’m not as big on goals as I used to be, I do get excited about learning new things.

A single blog post I read about making bread is enough to set me off into hours of research about bread-making techniques, a week of experiments in baking and kneading, a couple weeks trying to make my own wild yeast starter, and some fun moments with my family eating some fresh-baked bread (is there a better smell in the world, btw?).

Learning is one of my favorite pasttimes. It can take up my entire day if I let it. And while I’m a big advocate of focusing on one thing at a time, after a few weeks or a month of focusing on one thing, I tend to move on to another — without necessarily abandoning the last thing I was learning.

What I’m Learning

As an example, here’s a list of what I’m learning right now:

  • Spanish. Still at the very beginning stage. Hola, Señor.
  • Meditation. Have been doing this off and on for years, but I’ve been doing it for a few months now, every day.
  • Coding. Absolute beginner. I’m taking Javascript courses from Code Academy.
  • Breadmaking. Have made a few basic recipes with some success. Am now making my own wild yeast starter, and will try tougher recipes. Am also learning to cook pasta and pizza from scratch.
  • Wine. Each month, Eva and I have been exploring a new kind of wine. Last month, we did Napa Valley cabs, and took a trip to Napa in January. In February, we have been exploring pinot noirs from Sonoma.
  • War and Peace. I love to read. I love the Russians. I started Tolstoy’s War and Peace in December, but am only halfway through right now.
  • Building muscle. I don’t normally focus on building muscle, but have started a 14-week hypertrophy program as an experiment. Just three full-body workouts a week, lots of rest, lots of calories, lots of protein.
  • My business. Recently created the Zen Habits Premium Membership, am experimenting with ways to best teach things to people, including webinars, mini-courses, videos and more.

An Autodidact’s Schedule

So how do I fit all of that into a day? Well, honestly, I don’t always. Some days I’ll focus on one or two things, others I’ll do a little of each. I don’t like rigidness, and want the freedom and flexibility to let my interest and enthusiasm take me where it will.

That said, I’ve been working lately with a rough schedule. It’s not set in stone, but having a loose schedule helps me to keep everything going.

Here’s what it is right now (subject to change at any time):

  • Morning: Meditate, read, write/create, workout/yoga/stretch.
  • Afternoon: Language, code, read.
  • Evening: Bake/cook, language, wine.

I tend to do anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour for each one, but if other things come up and I can get to some of them, that’s OK.

How I Learn

I learn not as a chore to check off my list, nor as a route to self-improvement, but because I’m excited about something. That’s the only way to learn, in my experience.

Some other things I’ve been learning in recent months:

  • Tea.
  • Beer.
  • Neapolitan pizza.
  • San Francisco, by exploring by foot.
  • Fat loss.
  • WordPress themes, CSS.
  • Book publishing.
  • Squats & deadlifts.

Here’s how I usually approach learning:

  1. Read. It will usually start through reading — I read a lot each day, and it’s pretty varied. If I get excited about something, I might read about it all day, or for a week or two. Mostly through blogs and other websites, but sometimes through books.
  2. Do. The best way to learn isn’t by reading, though — it’s through actual doing. The mistake some people make is they just read about something, but it’s when you actually use the knowledge that it becomes real, that you find other problems that you have to solve, that you learn all the things that go along with main idea. If I don’t put something into practice, I don’t really care about learning about it.
  3. Socialize. The best learning is social. When I bake bread, it’s for my family. When I learn Spanish or coding, it’s with my son. When I meditate, it’s with my Zen Habits members. Sometimes I learn alone (Tolstoy, the gym), but it’s more fun to learn with someone else, even if they’re only online.
  4. Practice. Just doing something for a week never really teaches me something. I have to do it repeatedly for weeks or month or years. Writing, for example, is something I’ve done practically every day for two decades. I’ve learned more about that than almost anything else.
  5. Love. Everything I learn is learned with love. It’s a way to experience my love for life, the wondrous gift we’ve been given. It’s a way to practice my love for myself, or my love for others. If learning is infused with love, it becomes a practice you won’t want to stop.

How to Build the Muscle of Change

March 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

When you try to make a change in your life, create a new habit, set a resolution … are you usually good at it, or does the change fail after 2-3 weeks?

Some people are better at it than others because they’ve learned some simple strategies for changing, but also because they’ve built up their change muscle.

What’s a change muscle? It’s the muscle we use for creating changes in our lives, and like our physical muscles, it is weak if you haven’t trained it.

I started training my change muscle in 2005, when it was weak and I could never make any lasting changes. I felt helpless, and didn’t know what to do. I felt like I couldn’t ever make changes.

But I’ve learned in the years since that the change muscle is like other muscles: you might be weak at first, but you get stronger with regular training.

Imagine trying to lift a barbell with 350 lbs. of weights on it. Even lifting it 6 inches off the ground would be a nearly impossible feat for people who haven’t trained their muscles to lift heavy loads. You’d struggle and nearly burst a vein, but you wouldn’t budge the barbell. But … if you started with just the barbell (no weights on it) and began lifting that, you’d be much more likely to succeed. Then add 5-10 lbs. on each side, and your muscles will grow stronger. Keep adding a little at a time, and soon you’ll be able to lift the 350-lb. loaded barbell that once seemed impossible.

Your change muscle works in the same ways. As I’ve been learning about growing physical muscles, I realize how many parallels there are with growing the change muscle.

Principles of Growth

The principles for growing your change muscle are similar to growing regular muscles:

  1. Start small. If you try to lift too much weight at first, you’ll have bad form and injure yourself and won’t last long. But if you start with just the barbell (or other light load), you can learn how to lift and you’re much more likely to stick with it for awhile. The change muscle is the same: start with one change, just 5 minutes a day. You will want to do more, but if you do more, you’re much more likely to fail in the long run.
  2. Train regularly. Some people will go to the gym for a week, then stop, then start again in a few months. This is a waste of time, and no progress will be seen. You have to do it regularly to see progress. Same with the change muscle: do it daily, just 5 minutes a day. You’ll get stronger and stronger with regular training. Don’t start big, then fail after 1-2 weeks, then start again later. Regular repetition is key.
  3. Increase load gradually. If you don’t increase the weights, you don’t get stronger. But if you increase too much, you’ll get injured. With your change muscle, increase your daily training by 5 minutes each week — so 5 minutes a day the first week, then 10 minutes a day the second week, etc. You’ll be amazed at how strong your change muscle gets with gradual progressive loading.
  4. Rest, & cut back on other work. Most people don’t understand the importance of rest when it comes to training. We train, then rest, and we grow. If we don’t rest, we hurt our progress. Growing the change muscle is the same — you need to train (just 5 minutes a day at first), then rest. Meaning don’t try to make changes all day long at first. Don’t try to make your first change as you’re traveling and taking on big projects and also taking classes and making three other changes at the same time. You’ll overload yourself. Make one change, and let yourself stick to your regular routine/load the rest of the day.
  5. Fuel the growth. Aside from rest, fuel is one of the most overlooked aspects of muscle growth. You need sufficient calories for growth, otherwise all the training in the world won’t get you anywhere. So what fuels the growth of the change muscle? Motivation. Find as many ways to motivate yourself as possible: make the change enjoyable, get a partner, join a class, blog publicly about it, join a forum, create rewards, celebrate small victories, create a chart to see your progress, etc. The more, the better. Most people underfuel their change muscle.

First Steps

So how do you get started training your change muscle if it’s weak and undertrained? Just like you’d get started with strength training — start with bodyweight exercises, and just a few per day.

Here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Pick an easy, positive change that you can do in 5 minutes. Want to garden? Just 5 minutes of gardening a day. Want to declutter? Eat fruits and veggies? Jog or swim? Meditate? Just 5 minutes a day.
  2. Focus on enjoying the new habit. If you enjoy it, you’ll want to keep doing it for longer. If you’re doing it to “improve” or because it’s “good for you” or you “should”, you won’t stick with it for long.
  3. The focus is on doing it regularly, not on growing it quickly. Do it daily, at the same time every day.
  4. Cut back on other changes, so you can put all your energy on this one change.
  5. Fuel your change with as much motivation as humanly possible. More is better in this case.
  6. Grow it gradually by adding 5 minutes to your daily training a week.

You’ll be amazed at how much progress you make over time, as your change muscle grows stronger.

We tend to blame our failures on our lack of discipline, but we’re not undisciplined … we’re just undertrained. Grow your change muscle with smart principles of growth, and soon you’ll be a hulking beast of a change master.

5 Excuses that Keep You Unhealthy (and How to Destroy Them)

March 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Each and every one of us, as a human being, is hardwired to choose the path of least resistance. We’re programmed to conserve energy for when we might need it and to avoid risk wherever possible, because that’s what it took for our ancestors to survive (and reproduce) in a world full of unknown dangers.

Today, it’s why the status quo — tested, predictable, familiar — is so comfortable. And it’s why we find change so difficult, even when our very lives depend on changing.

I’m referring, of course, to our health.

As Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin have so gracefully written, we procrastinate because somewhere deep down, we’re afraid to start. The resistance, or lizard brain, will fight tooth and nail to keep us right where we are. Because change is risky, and where we are is safe.

But when it comes to health, where we are isn’t safe. Known, sure. But not safe.

The excuses we use to justify one more pack of cigarettes, one more TV show, or another quick spin through the drive-through window (it’s convenient, and I had a rough day) are the tools of this fear. What we say to distract ourselves, to make it feel alright for now, is nothing more than a smokescreen.

It’s time to cut through the haze. What follows is a list of five of the most common, most debilitating excuses and fears that keep people unhealthy and powerless to change. Find the one that’s holding you back, and see it for the sham that it is.

1. “Before I can start, I’ve got to plan.”

Sure, planning is important. But right now, it’s just procrastination.

You know how it goes: “Before I start, I need to get workout clothes that fit. And shoes. And join a gym. And load some new songs on my iPod. Then I’ll get a meal plan and go shopping, and I’ll be ready to start!”

Maybe you do need all that stuff. But first, just start.

It’s easy: go outside and start walking or get on your bike. Go in one direction for just five minutes — fast when you want, slow when you want. Enjoy yourself — play — then turn around and come home. Do it again the next day, and the day after that, feeling free to gradually do more as your body allows you to.

Build some momentum by doing something small every day. Then, and only then, should you think about planning.

2. “I’m so out of shape, it’s overwhelming to think about getting healthy.”

Right now, don’t focus on getting in shape. The important thing is to take the first step.

Look at it as an experiment: commit to eating well or exercising for just one week, to see how it goes. Be curious and be playful, but really commit to it: set some ground rules, tell other people about it, and don’t cheat.

Forget any long-term health goals right now. Just take note of how you feel, paying particular attention to your mood and mindset — that’s where the changes will show up first.

When the time is up, congratulate yourself for sticking with it. If at this point you’re not excited to keep going, you can stop without feeling guilty and change your approach.

But maybe you feel lighter. More energetic. Happier. These incremental benefits are immediate, no matter how far away you are from whatever your ideal is.

So what would happen if you did this again for two weeks, or 30 days? Try it again, with the same strong commitment, and evaluate again when you reach the end.

The great thing about this approach is that it shifts the focus to the process, not the outcome, and at the same time prevents you from ever feeling like you’re locked into something that you don’t enjoy.

3. “I don’t know how to cook, nor do I have time for it.”

I believe you. You don’t have two hours each night to spend preparing a gourmet meal for your family, nor are you a master of matching flavors and textures to create beautiful, perfect dishes that are also healthy.

But I bet you can follow instructions. Find five minutes to search this site and others for simple recipes. Many won’t take you even half an hour to prepare.

Here are just a few examples of delicious, nutritious meals that don’t take much active time to make:

  • Smoothies
  • Beans and rice
  • A grain, a green, and a bean
  • Soup
  • Slow cooker stews

Look at cooking as an opportunity to work with your hands and to be present in the moment, focusing on that one thing only.

Enjoy the smells, the textures, the process. The occasional Sunday when I spend three hours in the kitchen making pasta or vegetable lasagna from scratch is the most meditative time of my entire week.

4. “People will laugh at me when I exercise because I’m out of shape.”

A few might laugh. They’ll do so because of some insecurity of their own. But most people are so distracted and focused on their own lives that they won’t even notice you.

Of those who do pay attention to you, the vast majority will be inspired, and they will envy your determination. No joke.

Five-million-plus people watch The Biggest Loser each week. Are they doing it for laughs? No, they watch because it motivates them, even if they never take action.

When people see you working hard to get in shape, it reminds them that somewhere, they’ve got that fight in them too. Without realizing it, even if you’re doing this only for yourself, you become a leader by example. People are drawn to that.

I know, it feels like everyone’s watching you, judging you. But trust me: inside, they’re cheering for you.

5. “I’d like to exercise with a group or class, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up.”

The quickest way to get better at something is to hang around people who are getting the results that you want. (You’ve heard it before, right? If you want to know your weight, add up your five closest friends’ weights, divide by five, and you probably won’t be far off.)

But with groups comes the fear of being “the weak one.” The one who can’t keep up, the one holding everyone else back. Most of us have been there at some time, and it’s no fun.

So how do you get past this fear?

Accept it and face it. Let the group know, beforehand, that you think you might have trouble keeping up. Tell them that if they need to go ahead, you won’t be offended, you’re just thrilled to work out with them and learn from them.

With that, it’s out in the open, no longer something to be ashamed of. Gone are the pain and potential injury of pushing yourself too hard in attempt to avoid embarrassment. And it probably won’t be long until you’re helping someone else who is new and afraid.

Go

The time to take that first step is today. If a flaw in your excuse has been exposed, take advantage of it now, before your fear can come up with a better one.

Getting yourself to start is the hardest part. As you begin to experience results and your new habits are reinforced, it becomes easy. You’ll discover that the more energy you use, the more you have, and being healthy is actually really fun.

Sure, it’s possible that you’ll stumble at first. Getting in shape isn’t as easy as watching TV, or eating whatever you want. But that’s okay.

The trick isn’t to never fall down, it’s to never stay down. When you mess up, use it as an opportunity to adapt and improve, not as a reason to quit.

And when the excuses crop up, step back, smile to yourself, and see them for what they are — a last-ditch effort by the old you, the comfortable, change-fearing you, to go back to the way things used to be.

Stop believing your excuses. Start.

The Simplest Diet for Lean Fitness

March 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m in the best shape in my life.

I’m incredibly happy to say that. For years (as many of you know) I was in terrible health — I was overweight and sedentary and addicted to junk food and a smoker and overworked.

Today after more than five years of living healthy I am about 65 pounds lighter. I’m leaner than I’ve been since probably high school with the same pants size as I had in high school (31 inches) — while being much stronger than I was back then. More importantly I am fitter: I can run and play sports and hike and do activities of all kinds better than ever before.

How have I achieved all of this? Slow change. I’ve done no fad diets or quick weight loss. I’ve done nothing extreme. Everything is about living healthier and eating whole foods and being active most days. And about enjoying the journey.

Today I thought I’d share a bit about how I eat. It’s not meant to be copied exactly but to inform others trying to make a similar journey. Also see the next post: How I Train.

Overall philosophy

My general philosophy of eating:

  • I don’t go for anything extreme. I’ve made small changes to my diet over the years and have found this works best: if you try for drastic changes you’ll hate it and won’t stick to it for long. But add a few extra fruits and veggies and it’s not hard. Change soda to water next month and it’s not deprivation.
  • I eat slowly. OK … not always but most of the time. Eating slowly allows me to fully savor the taste of the healthy food I eat and at the same time eat less while still feeling satiated (not stuffed).
  • I eat real foods. I try for veggies and fruits and raw nuts and seeds and beans and some whole grains. Sometimes my food is processed but mostly it’s just the stuff you’ll find in the produce and bulk sections of a supermarket (or farmer’s market).
  • I eat plants. I do that mostly for reasons of compassion (killing animals for pleasure doesn’t feel right to me) but I’ve found it’s also an extremely healthy way to eat. Sure it’s possible to be vegan and unhealthy (eat processed fake meats and sweets) but if you’re a whole-food vegan it’s hard to go wrong. And yes it’s easy to get protein as a vegan.
  • I enjoy myself. I look for healthy foods I love — berries for example — and savor them. I’ll eat sweets now and then but in small portions and truly enjoy the few bites I have. I have red wine and love it. I drink beer sometimes and it’s wonderful. I have pizza about once a week and it’s delicious. Eating healthy isn’t about deprivation but about finding ways to enjoy yourself while living a healthy life.

My Diet

This month I’ve cut my less healthy choices down to Saturdays — as inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Body. That means I only eat pasta and pizza and sweets and beer and French fries on Saturdays. This has gotten me even leaner and I recommend this way of living.

The rest of the week I eat my own version of Tim’s Slow Carb Diet — the Leo version. That means I eat a little fruit and a few whole grains and I don’t eat the meat. I don’t eat fried foods or drink calories (other than red wine at dinner) or eat white carbs (pasta bread rice potatoes pizza).

What I eat:

  • Beans – lentils and black beans and kidney beans and pintos and soybeans.
  • Nuts and seeds – raw almonds and walnuts and seeds and olive oil and avocadoes.
  • Veggies – lots of greens like kale and spinach and chard and broccoli. Carrots and various bell peppers and sprouts and so on.
  • Fruits – berries and apples and oranges and a little dried fruits like raisins. In moderation.
  • Whole grains – steel-cut oats and Ezekiel flourless sprouted-grains bread and quinoa (not technically a grain). That’s about it — I don’t eat pastas or whole-grain muffins or the like.

My Meals

My typical day usually goes like this:

  • Breakfast: Every day I eat steel-cut oats for breakfast late in the morning (usually between 10:30 and 11:30). I cook it and then mix it with flaxseeds and cinnamon and blueberries and raw almonds and a few raisins and maybe a small amount of banana or raspberries.
  • Lunch: Typically a big-ass salad with kale and spinach and sprouts and avocados and beans and raw nuts and a little fruit with balsamic vinegar. Sometimes I’ll eat a tofu stir-fry with greens.
  • Snack: If I’m hungry in the afternoon I’ll eat some raw nuts and dried fruit or veggies and hummus.
  • Dinner: Beans and veggies or a tofu-stir fry or veggie chili with beans. This meal varies. Sometimes the beans will be Indian style or Mexican style. Usually the veggies will be greens like kale or broccoli or chard. Sometimes I’ll have quinoa. Red wine with dinner.

And that’s about it. Over time I’ve found I need less food than I used to. Eat slowly and you’ll find yourself full on less food.

The Results

I used to spread my “cheats” throughout the week — a whole-grain muffin here and some pizza there and beer more than I’d like to admit. But putting everything on Saturdays has helped me be honest the rest of the week.

I honestly enjoy eating whole foods. I enjoy being lighter and leaner. I’ve gained muscle eating these foods though I might focus on building more muscle later in the year.

I run faster than ever. I can do more intense workouts than ever before. I was tested for various health indicators recently and everything was perfect. Eating this way has absolutely changed my life.

Notes

A couple notes to answer potential questions:

  • Soy is not unhealthy. You might have read various scare articles on the Internet about soy (usually based on misleading articles from the Weston A. Price Foundation) but they’re misinterpretations of science. I eat soy in moderation and try for whole soy in natural forms (tofu, tempeh, edamame, some natural soy milk). I don’t have man boobs and I’m absolutely healthy. Instead of pointing to “scientific” explanations of why soy is unhealthy show me the actual peer-reviewed studies that show that moderate amounts of natural soy (not soy protein isolate) have caused health problems.
  • You can absolutely get enough protein and calcium and iron on a vegan diet if you eat whole foods and not junk.
  • Sugar is junk and that includes white flour pasta and breads and French fries. It’s worthless calories. Whole grains in moderation provide nutrients and fiber.
  • A little meat in moderation is not unhealthy — especially if you choose grass fed and free range. Most people eat unhealthy amounts of meat and eggs and dairy. Those foods in any amount are unethical in my opinion — even if they’re grass fed and free range. Exploitation of animals as objects and their suffering for our pleasure is not compassionate. We don’t need animal products to live healthy lives — as my example shows — so the only reason to eat them is for our pleasure (we like the taste).

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