Recently I took off from work and celebrated my wife’s birthday.
We went to Disneyland and I tried to convince her to go into the Haunted Mansion (and failed), and then settled for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride—which somehow still left her a little terrified. We ate fried foods and what allegedly were chicken skewers (mystery meat would be more accurate), discovered that the “Fast Pass” is really the only way to go for the main attractions, and learned that walking around Disneyland all day is surprisingly tiring. (I can only imagine what it’s like with children.)
The day ended as all days should: with an awesome meal (we went to Boa, one of Rach’s favorite steak restaurants), watched the sun set over the ocean, and then ate ice cream.
If you’ve built an understanding of how things work with diet and exercise, then you can create a world of more flexibility.
I mention all of this because taking off work is kind of a big deal for me. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s something I’m learning to do more. I openly admit that I have a control issue.
It’s not that I love control, it’s that the idea of control controls me. (You still with me?) And thinking that I need to know how to control everything ultimately leads down a dangerous path.
My business functions as a result of routine. It’s something that I have somewhat perfected for myself. I get up at 4:30 am every day, meditate, read, write, and then try to rule the day, working on a variety of projects. I genuinely love what I do, so getting up that early isn’t difficult. In fact, I do it by choice and enjoy it. The early morning is my favorite part of the day.
But here’s the thing: routines can become obsessions. And those obsessions can cause us to start nitpicking details that don’t matter as much as we think they do. These details can be both big and small, and oftentimes we magnify their importance thinking that mastering them will only lead to more control.
This isn’t just limited to work. Stressing the small stuff and trying to “own it” plays a big role in fitness and diet plans—especially with fat loss.
The Business-Body Model
Most people when they enter a plan become driven by an overwhelming mess of details.
“Eat this food at this time.”
“Do exactly this many sets.”
“Have no more than these many carbs.”
“Drink this much water.”
“I went over my macros by 7 gram of protein? What happens?”
“How much weight should I be lifting? Is this good enough?”
“Is my cheat meal cheaty enough?”
“Is my cheat meal too cheaty?”
The questions pile up quickly. But many of them focus on such small concepts that they lose site of the bigger picture. More importantly, those details can oftentimes make the process more complicated than it needs to be.
Instead, it’s better to think of your body being like a business.
Well-run businesses do not depend on one employee or one revenue stream. A good business functions in spite of daily problems, work absences, employee turnover, and whatever other craziness may occur.
It works because a process and machine has been built, and an understanding of that system has been established. Yes, details can be important, but many of them are not worth the stress they cause.
The struggle is seeing the forest from the trees. We closely focus on just one element of what we do—diet, exercise, cheat meals, sleep, hydration, carbs, fats, supplements—you name it.
The desire to become better only forces us to dig deeper into the minutiae of these specifics and spend so much time focuses on only a tiny fraction of what really matters for bottom line results.
The Devil in the Details
You don’t have to have to master or obsess over the little things. And just as important, you don’t have to be in complete control. Your routine doesn’t have to be so air-tight that breaking from it will disrupt the entire system.
If you’ve built an understanding of how things work with diet and exercise, then you can create a world of more flexibility. This, in theory, is how the concept of “if it fits your macros” (IIFYM) came to be. If you understand the basics of what your body needs, then you have leeway to eat some not-so-healthy foods, as long as they are the minority and don’t bust your allowance.
Your goal, then, is not to understand everything.
Think about that. How many mixed messages cloud your ability to just do and live a healthy life? This is because of the obsession and illusion of control. Stressing over every new finding or scientific study, or debating the virtues of one carb over another only achieves one thing: overthinking.
If there’s one thing I constantly hear it’s that people no longer know what to believe. A non-stop influx of information ignites fitness and diet ADD.
It’s much more effective (and freeing) to think about the big picture. Building your life system in a way that you don’t have to stress about every little thing. So when you veer off course—with a missed workout or bad meal—you know how to get back on.
That’s what I try to do each and every day with with my online coaching clients. I’m trying to put them in control so that the process of achieving goals doesn’t become a burden.
Eat real foods. In the beginning don’t even stress organic vs. non-organic. Just eat less processed foods, more vegetables, and include some protein.
Eat when you want. The whole breakfast vs. dinner vs. intermittent fasting vs. 6-meals-per-day argument is fun when you are trying to master your diet. When you’re just trying to get better? Eat on the schedule that works for you and doesn’t leave food controlling your every behavior.
Lift weights and train hard. It’s not always about “Am I lifting enough?” How about, “Am I making it to the gym, following a program, and working as hard as I can?”
Sleep. Don’t worry about if 7 or 8 hours is enough. Sleep so you feel rested and recharged.
Drink water and other fluids. Make sure most don’t have added sugars.
In time or when it’s necessary, you can pay more attention to the details. But even then, they don’t need to be an every day focus.
Your health and your life is about freedom and enjoyment. Control without sacrifice. Knowledge without overthinking. Action without obsession.
And it’s why I took off work. Leaving to be with my wife, celebrating her birthday, and not worrying what might happen if I stepped outside of the office for the day.
Skipping a day for her birthday was easy, but understanding why I could do the same thing on any day is the lesson that really matters. Not when I take off, why I take off, or what I do during the day.
It’s simply: Can I take off work and not worry?
My business won’t rise or fall because of what happens in one day. And neither will your body. Sometimes that’s the first realization to letting go of a little control and by doing so gaining much more power over your body and your health.
Less Obsession, More Freedom
Want help balancing fitness and life? I’d like to see if I can help. No gimmicks or false promises. Just a realistic environment, workouts, and diet help to assist with your health and fitness goals.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.