by Dr. John Berardi, CSCS
This holiday season a buddy of mine and I decided to make the 1000 mile round-trip drive from my Toronto home to my parent's place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We originally debated flying to PA, but we've always been fond of road trips. With enough Spike, we usually arrive at our destination having performed several concert's worth of iPod karaoke, written several philosophy dissertations, and solved many of the world's most pressing and difficult problems.
Sure, that one time we combined one too many Spike tablets with one too few rest breaks and ended up performing Tom Green's "Tiny Salmon" for 3 hours straight, but that was an anomaly and with the proper Spike-to-rest ratio, this sort of thing can be avoided and more productive endeavors made possible.
For example, during this most recent road trip, we got on an "I wonder" kick, throwing out all sorts of ideas about health, fitness, nutrition, and success in general. And since many of my best articles have been nothing more than glorified transcripts from casual conversations, I figured I'd share some of our top musings from the trip. Here they are:
Is it holiday overeating that makes 65% of the adult population overweight/obese?
Despite the fact people think of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners as their biggest food-fests, I wonder if it's really the entire holiday season that does the damage. Think about it, starting around Thanksgiving, folks begin to overeat and this pretty much continues through New Years Day.
Doesn't it go pretty much like this? You've got Thanksgiving dinner in late November. Then it's the leftovers, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the candied yams, the pies, and the cranberry sauce till early December. And before folks get back into their normal nutritional groove, here come the Christmas chocolates, cookies, and treats. Then come the Christmas parties. The treats and the parties ramp up till Christmas Eve and then comes a big Christmas Eve dinner.
Of course, the next day is Christmas and it's cookies and snacks all day leading up to a big Christmas dinner. Two big dinners in a row means lots of leftovers, leftovers that'll last till January. Even after Christmas day, the dietary debauchery can continue. No one eats light on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.
So before you know it, you've been overeating for 5-6 weeks. That's a heck of a lot of overeating isn't it? Yet not only are you overeating calories, you're displacing good foods with nutritionally marginal or questionable ones, the worst form of dietary displacement. With all this overeating and no exercise (everyone is just too busy to exercise during the holidays, aren't they?), it's surprising that most folks only put on a 3-5 pounds of fat during this time. One might expect the average person to pack on more!
So let's say your holiday season packs a mere 3 pounds of fat on you. Three pounds is nothing much to worry about, is it? Well, not if you work those 3 pounds off during the rest of the year. But most people don't. They retain those 3 pounds. Compounded over 10 years, you've got 30 extra pounds of body fat. Continue this pattern from ages 25 to 45 and you're looking at 60 pounds of unwanted baggage.
Must be age-related metabolic decline, right? Or maybe it's just 20 years of seasonal overeating followed by 11 months of inactivity or, at least, inadequate activity. Maybe not. But I wonder...
As for me, I'll keep my holiday treats in moderation, keep my exercise volume high, and avoid the holiday weight gain.
Would success come more easily if people looked for success patterns vs. viewing success as a mystery?
Whether it's relationship success, business success, or fitness success, once in a while, success just seems to "happen" and no one, not even the experts, know how or why. However, this "lucky guy" success story just described is actually quite rare. Far more often success is no more a mystery than is a soluble mathematical equation. Sure, just like math equations, the success equation may be hard to solve at first. But if you study success hard enough and enlist the right guides (coaches, mentors, etc.), I have no doubt you can decipher the code.
In a recent interview with rapper, actor, and producer Will Smith, Will talks about his commitment to seeing patterns in life, a trait passed down from his military-trained father. In this interview he discusses the genesis for the movie Independence Day.
"My business partner and I came to Hollywood to be stars. We wanted to make a blockbuster movie. So we looked for patterns. We observed that of the top ten movies of all time, ten were special effects or animation. And nine were special effects or animation with creatures. And eight were special effects or animation with creatures and a love story. So we came up with the idea to do Independence Day."
Will Smith got it. He looked for the patterns in the movie industry that lead to blockbuster hits. Duplicating them, he in turn created a blockbuster hit himself. This can happen in every industry and in every endeavor. By studying success stories, modeling quality, and plugging in important variables, success can easily be demystified. And with the right amount of work and luck, success can be duplicated.
I often offer similar advice with respect to supplements. From time to time I encounter supplement skeptics, folks who heavily distrust the supplement industry and believe that no supplements are necessary. Once they form this opinion they begin their anti-supplement crusade.
My advice –look for patterns. There are thousands of unbiased real-world examples of supplements making a difference. And even more, if you asked every single person that had a noteworthy physique if they took supplements, you'd find that a huge majority of them (90% or more) do.
It may be a protein supplement, it may be a greens supplement, it may be a multi-vitamin, it may be a fish oil supplement, it may be a creatine supplement, it may be a workout recovery drink, or it may be all of the above. Yet let's not get bogged down with the specific types just yet. The bottom line is this, there's a close correlation between having a great, note-worthy body and having used supplements. Is it directly causal? Not necessarily. But there's an important pattern there and only a fool would ignore it.
Most people believe that success is a mystery and only the "lucky" or "gifted" achieve it. And it's precisely this attitude that ensures that they themselves will remain "unlucky." The success formula is right in front of our eyes and the patterns are there, we just have to look for them. Of course, maybe you'll find them and success will still remain elusive. But I wonder...
As for me, I'm going to keep searching for success patterns and trying to duplicate them.
Would more people overcome "average genetics" if they devoted 1-2 hours to their exercise plan every single day?
A new Canadian television program, The Dragon's Lair, features aspiring entrepreneurs who are given the opportunity to pitch a business idea to 5 successful venture capitalists in the hopes of convincing them to invest in their business ideas. In typical reality TV fashion, the show presents a string of woefully unprepared contestants making a mockery of entrepreneurship.
However, on a recent episode, a woman from London Ontario, home of my Alma Mater, the University of Western Ontario, impressed the "dragons" with her business model and approach. She had started a line of delicious, omega-3 rich, organic salad dressings, She already had distribution and was looking for capital to mass-produce and distribute her dressings. Her presentation was on point, her marketing and advertising was solid, her product was of high quality, etc. And as a result, two of the dragons kicked in a total of over 100K to help her along.
When interviewed, post-show, she confessed that she was a mother of 2, worked full-time during the day, and devoted only 1-2 hours/night during the week to her salad dressing business. "People are always shocked when they hear about how I've grown the business" she stated in the interview. "But you'd be amazed by how much you can accomplish with 1-2 hours of directed effort performed consistently 4-5 nights a week, every week."
This is a great testimony to the power of directed effort. You don't always need a ton of time to get in shape, to grow your business, to pursue a new hobby. This woman spent merely 5-10 hours per week, or 250-520 hours per year (the equivalent of 5-10 50 hour work weeks) on her business. But what you do need is quality, purposeful effort, consistently performed.
The American Time Use Survey recently reported that the average American adult watches 19.8 hours of TV per week (n=50,000). That's nearly 3 hours per day. And I often hear adults complain that they don't have time to exercise, to start new hobbies, or to even read a book. So I'm blown away when I consider what people could accomplish if they were to replace some of that TV time with purposeful, consistent effort. Maybe there's more to big accomplishment than this...But I wonder.
As for me, I'll keep plugging away with purpose and consistency.
How much more dedicated would people be if they entered into challenges listing their advantages instead of their disadvantages?
A good portion of my time is spent consulting with exercisers and athletes wanting to improve their health and body composition. I also spend a lot of time with fitness professionals wanting to improve their professional offerings and make more money. As a result of this experience, I've seen all sorts of different approaches to change. Interestingly, it's much more common for people to enter into change by listing all their disadvantages instead of listing all the things they've got going for them.
Just last week, a well-known strength coach/personal trainer hired me to help him make over his physique, sort of like The Dave Tate Project. Over the years this guy has devoted so much to his clients that he's neglected himself, allowing his body fat to exceed 20%. Finally, sick of his unimpressive body, he reached out for help.
I was impressed as one of the hardest things to do as a professional is admit that you need professional help yourself. Yet I quickly realized that this guy needed an attitude adjustment. He began by stating the following:
"This is long overdue. I seem to be the least genetically gifted guy on the block and seeing as I haven't been "shredded" in about, oh, 20 years, you've got your work cut out for you.
"Further, I've got everything from lots of nagging injuries to big-time muscle imbalances. I'm over 40, have fears of losing muscle size, have to wake at 4am every day, work in a high stress job, and have a family to take care of. And although I'm finally weaning off anxiety meds, that's another challenge. "
Now how's that for an attitude designed for defeat?
"Hey John, I want to get in shape but here's my laundry list of difficulties and insurmountable hurdles."
Knowing that with this attitude of defeat, we'd never get anywhere, I flipped things around on him. Here's what I wrote:
"No worries, I'll be easy on ya. Well, as long as you're compliant and focus on your advantages rather than your challenges.
"Dude, you've got lots of experience, more knowledge than 99.9% of the trainers in the world, a wife who knows what it's like getting in shape and has even been on stage herself, lots of muscle memory, access to a gym 24-7, access to the Precision Nutrition team, a flexible schedule that's far from 9-5, a son who will look up to your progress and see a great example set for his own future, a group of trainers around you every day at work supporting you, and so on.
When you look at it that way, you've got it a lot easier than most, don't ya?"
It's amazing to me that this coach, a guy who's trained under the top coaches in the world, has achieved physique success in the past, has coached countless bodybuilding and fitness competitors to success, has published articles and books on body transformation, and works in the field day-in and day-out, believed that he has more working against him than for him. And if he believes this, how much worse must it be for the average trainee, one who's never been in shape in his or her life?
No wonder people fail to stick to their plans. No wonder people give up short of reaching their goals. They're counting disadvantages and ignoring advantages, or even failing to recognize the advantage they possess. I now advise each of my clients to start by listing each and every one of the things they've got going for them. And if they miss a few, I add to the list. Maybe this new exercise will help establish the right mindset for results. Maybe not. But I wonder...
As for me, I'm going to continue emphasizing my advantages when starting new projects. Oh, I like to remain aware of what I'm up against. But I'm unwilling to give it equal or greater power than what I've got going for me.
Why people will waste a hundred hours per year scouring the web for free information when they could have popped on Amazon, bought a definitive book, read that book, and used the remaining 95 hours to apply what they learned?
In marketing and advertising circles, WWW (the acronym for World Wide Web) has become synonymous with another triple W; the wild, wild west. Focus groups have revealed critical insights suggesting that most internet users see the web as an uncharted, undiscovered land of informational access and promise.
Just like the American West around the time of the gold rush, fortunes can be made, dreams crafted, and information gathered on the Internet, all at the click of a few buttons and all for a very low monetary cost of entry. However, I wonder if all these internet cowgirls and cowboys have considered the opportunity costs.
For those of you unfamiliar with this term, opportunity cost is loosely defined as the cost of what you have to give up for what you actually get. For example, let's say you want to pick up an iPod accessory package and it costs $25 at a discount retail outlet online. You consider this to be a good price but you spend the next 2 hours surfing the web to find a better deal.
Lo and behold, you do, finding the same package for $23. Yep, it's great that you saved 2 bucks. But as far as I'm concerned, you got hosed. You spent 2 whole hours to save 2 whole dollars! Do you really think your time is only worth $1 per hour?!?! What else could you have done with those 2 hours to be more productive? As the old saying goes, don't go broke saving money!
From this perspective, it never ceases to amaze me when I watch people spend countless hours scouring the dark corners of the web for free info. It's like informational gold prospecting, day after day sifting through dirt in the hopes of finding a small piece of value. Yet the irony is that a few minutes and a few bucks could have yielded them a far greater prize. In the time they spent searching for a free nugget of wisdom, they could have purchased an encyclopedia of knowledge, read the encyclopedia, and applied the knowledge; perhaps with time to spare.
Don't get me wrong, I love the web and have received immeasurable benefit from it personally and professionally. Yet using it as one's only learning resource seems to me a mistake, especially when we can quickly and inexpensively gather and read definitive books. Now, I may be wrong about this. But I wonder...
As for me, I'll spend a few bucks to save a boatload of time. And with all that time I saved, I'll get busy applying what I've learned.
How much further ahead would people be if they replaced 2 hours/wk of watching football with 2 hours/wk of goal setting, program organization, and record keeping?
From all the current literature on personal achievement, it's clear that appropriate goal setting and record-keeping are critical to success. Setting personal records is never the result of haphazard and misdirected efforts. Nor is it the result of simply wishing and hoping. Yet it is the result of appropriate goal-setting, organization, planning, and record keeping. This has even been discussed here at Testosterone in the article Long Haul Training. Yet I wonder how many people actually take 1-2 hours per week to set goals, organize their time, and record their progress.
I personally take 2 hours every Sunday to do this. I start by reviewing how I did the previous week. Did I accomplish all my behavior goals? Did I follow my nutrition plan? Did I get in all my workouts? Did I make all the phone calls I was supposed to make? Did I finish all the projects I had planned for the week? Did I spend enough time doing leisure and recreational activities? What's my body comp like? How much money went out this week? How much money came in this week? And so on.
Once my review is finished, I plan for the upcoming week. I plan my meals, I plan my work schedule, I plan my training sessions, I plan my meetings and phone calls, I plan my email time, and I plan my leisure time. All these obligations and activities are then written down on my calendar and I'm ready to begin the week.
Of course, this doesn't have to all happen on Sunday. It can happen on any other day of the week or you can split your review and planning sessions up over several weekly sessions. Further, you don't have to skip 2 hours of football. You can skip 2 hours of Internet surfing, forum posting, or Seinfeld re-runs.
In the end, 2 hours per week of quality planning time quickly adds up to 104 hours per year. And these 104 hours will likely pay huge dividends in your personal and professional life.
So whether you're trying to grow your business, grow your muscles, or grow your relationships, here's my advice. Pick a block of 2 hours/week to free up. You can easily find these 2 hours/week if you look hard enough, especially if you strive to reduce the time you spend on time-wasters like internet posting, you tube viewing, pirated music searches, MSN messaging, etc. And spend those 2 hours planning how you're going to spend your time, what you're doing to accomplish your goals, and what you're going to measure to ensure you're on the right track. Sure, these two hours may not revolutionize your life or bring success beyond measure. But I wonder...
As for me, I'll keep skipping one of the games and spend that time goal setting, planning, and measuring.
How much would the North American IQ increase if people read 1 book a month, every month?
Personally, I read a lot. If I were to make a conservative estimate, I'd say I read about 4 books a month, on average, or about 48 books a year. Sure, I've read some duds, and have probably read more bad writing than good. And no, not every book has "changed my life." But, as Alwyn Cosgrove has said:
"I've never gotten dumber from reading any book...It always makes me smile when I hear people asking, "Is this book worth it?" I can honestly say I've never read anything that didn't enhance my knowledge in some way. Knowledge is the only guaranteed slump-buster in any field."
Never a truer statement was put forth about reading. No one gets dumber from reading and while not every book will provide a wealth of enlightenment, every book has the potential to help you out in some way. Nearly every book may help enhance your knowledge. Nearly every book may help you open up to new perspectives. Nearly every book may introduce you to new strategies. Nearly every book may help you understand and identify with other people's beliefs, prejudices, and biases. And this is why it's said that the difference between where you are today and where you will be five years from now can be found in the quality of books you have read.
Horribly shameful plug for TC's book made unbeknownst to the author of this article.
Isn't it funny how the most successful people in each profession tout reading as one of the top things one can do to enhance their results and their success. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him which books he's read."
With all this great support for the value of reading, it's amazing to consider the following stats:
58% of the US adult population never reads another book after starting high school (this includes graduates and non-graduates).
33% of US high school graduates never read another book after high school.
42% of US college graduates never read another book after college.
70-80% of US households haven't purchased any books in the last year.
70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57% of new books are not read to completion.
It's also amazing to consider that each day people in the US spend an average 3-4 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio, and only 14 minutes reading. Maybe there's more to being successful than balancing out your TV, radio, and reading time. But I wonder...
As for me, I'll continue to avoid cable TV, opting instead to read a new book every week.
Would people learn new things more completely if they stopped "I knowing" everything?
Let's say you're teaching a beginner how to cook a meal. And that beginner keeps turning up the heat too high, burning and ruining the meal. They keep asserting that they're just not a good cook. You suggest that they'll do better if they turn down the heat. What do they say?
"I already know that."
Take a teenager, learning to drive a car, who's not doing so well. The driving instructor (maybe even dad or mom) suggests slowing down, placing both hands on the wheel, and easing the clutch out while slowly giving it gas. What's the response?
"I already know that."
Take a skinny guy who's complaining about being so skinny. You tell him he's got to lift heavier weights and eat more. What does he say?
"I already know that."
Take an obese woman whose health is at risk and wants to lose weight. You suggest that she should increase her weekly exercise to 3-5 hours. What's the response?
"I already know that."
We've all heard the "I already know that" so many times that we block the words out. Yet if we paid more attention to this phrase, we'd get some real insight into the human condition. "I already know that" is a mental shortcut. It enables us to shut off our brains, to stop thinking about the application of information, and to avoid action.
Sure, maybe we've heard certain things before. But, the truth is that we don't really know something until we've done it successfully, and then repeated it. Heck, we might not even know something well enough until we've done it, repeated it, and taught it to others.
So keep this in mind when you're learning new things. If you've got room for improvement, maybe you don't know, not yet anyway. Because if you knew, you'd do. And if you did and achieved, you'd not be needing the improvement!
In a recent interview with Dave Tate, Dave shared this philosophy:
"I know I don't know anything. While I may think I do from time to time, I don't. The only thing I really, truly know, is how to test what I'm doing. I know how to quantify it. Be it training, nutrition, and business, whatever. I go into everything thinking that I don't know a thing. Then I start talking to people who claim to know, and I'll implement what they say. And then I'll test it. I'll have indicators I measure to tell me if it's going in the direction I want, so I can tell if it's working.
"And because I don't know anything, because I don't allow myself to make intellectual decisions, if those indicators don't go the way I want them to, I change things! I try to remind myself that I don't know anything, I try to stay detached enough to view things objectively. If you don't do that, you'll never change things, even when they're not working. You just get stuck in, "It's gonna work, it's gonna work, it's gonna work." And it's not."
I love this attitude as it tells us very clearly that Dave has an open mind. And while there's likely more to learning than starting out with a "blank slate" and an open mind, perhaps if we avoided the "I know" syndrome, we'd learn things more quickly and completely.
But what do I know? I just wonder. If you wonder too, post your musings below.
About The Author
Dr. John Berardi, CSCS, is a world renowned author, speaker, and consultant to a number of elite athletic programs. For more information about Dr. Berardi and his nutrition programs for both athletes or recreational exercisers, check out www.precisionnutrition.com.
© 1998 — 2007 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.