Building a healthy lifestyle is fairly straightforward if you don’t have any other responsibilities.
- Eat lots of protein and veggies
- Get 8 hours of sleep a night
- Move a decent amount everyday -- about an hour or so
- Strength train 2 or 3 times a week.
- Have fun.
Alas, the unpredictable shitstorm of life is ultimately the road we’re all trying to navigate. This makes implementing the behaviors above a bit messy. Especially if you hate your job.
If you hate your job, you probably have zero energy at work and outside of work. You feel drained constantly. No matter how much sleep you get, you still feel exhausted when your alarm goes off every morning.
You waste energy thinking about work even when you’re not at work. Which you acknowledge doesn’t make sense -- because why would you waste any more energy on something you don’t even like?
You’ve noticed this not only has a negative impact on your mood and general outlook on life, but on your physical health as well.
Maybe you’ve been steadily putting on weight for the past 7 years. Maybe you know you’re getting older and health should become more of a priority if you want life to be enjoyable. If you want to be able to travel and go on adventures.
Or maybe you just want to be able take out the trash without throwing out your back.
Either way, something needs to change.
The problem here is when you’re mentally and emotionally drained, it’s difficult to build new behaviors. It’s soooo much easier to fall back on old habits. Especially if those old behaviors are directly correlated to coping with work -- stress eating, late night snacking, drinking, etc.
There is hope though. Most of the awesome people I’ve worked with, online and in person, have very intense work lives, yet they still got their workouts in, changed their eating habits and, consequently, lost weight and built a healthy lifestyle they love.
So how do they do it?
The success they had with their health and/or fat loss goals has a cascade effect to the rest of their lives.
Here’s a few things clients have said to me:
- They have more energy
- They’re less irritable and stressed
- They’re more patient and understanding in their relationships
- They feel more confident when they walk down the street
- They’re more productive at work
- They like what they see in the mirror
So the first thing is to get out of the headspace that working out is just another thing you have to do, another chore forced upon you by someone else.
Because, if you’re reading this, (hint: you are) there’s something compelling you to do so. There is some reason you want to focus on your health. You need to get out of the mindset that working on your health will, or needs to, take away from other areas that are important to you.
You don’t need to sacrifice everything. When you do it right, being a more fit version of yourself doesn’t detract, it complements. It adds and makes the rest of your life more enjoyable and fulfilling.
You feel better in your body, you feel strong and confident. This puts you in a better mood and keeps you relaxed. Anxiety lessens. You feel like you can function better and are happier in general.
Of course, things can’t remain the same to achieve this. As the saying goes, “If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you always got”.
However, you don’t need to live like a IG fitness model to get the doctor off your back about your blood pressure. It’s not all or nothing. You ought to find a balance between your goals and how you want your daily life to be.
Think about what you want your daily routine to look like: what kinds of food you would eat, what time you would go to bed, when and how often you would exercise etc.
Because if you can’t see yourself doing something for 3 years there’s not much point doing it at all -- the weight will come back if you don’t stick with the habits that initially caused the weight loss.
With all this in mind, here are the nuts and bolts of building a healthy lifestyle when your job feels like it’s sucking every ounce of energy from your being.
Meet yourself where you’re at.
Being realistic and kind to yourself is key. If you know going to the gym everyday isn’t feasible, don’t attempt it. Commit to something you know you want to do and definitely can do, even if it’s going to gym once a week for 10 minutes. Or eating 1 broccoli floret everyday.
Start small and work your way up. Just like any pursuit, health is simply a set of skills. Granted it’s a set of skills many struggle with, but ultimately it’s something anyone can learn how to do if they go about it properly i.e., with a fuckton of patience and practice.
You wouldn’t try and Deadlift 300 lbs on your very first day at the gym, so you shouldn’t do the equivalent with your health e.g., change everything all at once (going to the gym everyday, eating “perfect” at every meal, etc.).
Start with a small daily commitment you know for a fact you’ll dominate. Make it a priority. Then execute. After that, progressively build on it. Make it a little harder. Add a little intensity.
Think about it like this ... In an RPG the bad guys you fight at the beginning of the game are a really low level. However, they’re still slightly challenging because you’re also at a very low level. You don’t have enough experience yet to fight the baddies that come later in the game.
Putting in the time fighting these low level guys is necessary though. It builds up your experience so eventually these low level guys become too easy -- you kill them in one hit and don’t get much XP (experience points) from them. To continue leveling up, you need to seek out higher level foes.
This is how progressing in anything works, even fitness. ESPECIALLY fitness.
Start with some low level, easy habits to build up your experience. No need to get game over on level 1. Then work your way up to higher and higher level daily commitments.
The challenge stays about the same throughout (excluding life emergencies (read: boss fight) but we’ll talk about that later) but things that used to be hard become easy.
Your actions/skills get more and more advanced, but the challenge feels the same, more or less. The baddies you’re fighting are a higher level, but they feel about as hard as the lower level baddies used to. This is what progress looks like.
This is the goal. For the behaviors that lead to the happy, long, adventurous life you want to become second nature. This is possible because you've put in enough time grinding and gaining experience points to reach a high level.
You become the person your friends ask for fitness advice and have no problem ordering healthy stuff at restaurants. It doesn’t feel awkward and you enjoy the food you eat. You actually enjoy food more because you’ve learned not to feel guilty about it, regardless of whether it’s “on plan” or not.
It feels strange because it’s not what you’re used to, but this is your new reality. And you’ve earned it.
You can also handle any boss fights that comes your way. They’re definitely harder than the day to day, but you can hold your own, because this is what you’ve worked for.
A boss fight in this analogy is what we’d call “life happening”. So a family emergency, a really stressful time at work, really any life event where continuing to eat healthy and stick to your exercise plan becomes temporarily more challenging than the status quo.
These boss fights are important. Because this is what makes or breaks your momentum.
This is when people tend to put their health goals on hold. “I’ll start back up again when work calms down”. More often than not, this means quitting because they lose too much of their hard earned momentum.
Unfortunately, unlike an actual video game, the boss fights in life are unpredictable and random. There won’t always be a place to refill all your health meter beforehand.
They might happen when you don’t have as much XP as you’d hope. You still have to deal with them though. Game over isn’t an option.
Point here is this: don’t let a spike in difficulty deter you from continuing on your journey.
For example, I have an online client who’s essentially been dealing with perpetual boss fights for like, a year, but he’s still kicked tons of ass.
Despite a seemingly constant barrage of unpredictable, stressful, and emotionally exhausting circumstances, this client kept their health a priority -- racking up small victories wherever he could find them. He kept taking action in whatever capacity was realistic for a given situation.
This client is a textbook example of not letting “perfect” be the enemy of “better”. He’s stayed focused, patient, and adaptable through it all. And it’s paid off!
Consistent and sustainable action works. Every time. You have to keep moving in some capacity no matter what happens. These events will still give you XP, a lot of XP in fact.
Boss fights are unavoidable, it’s not a matter of if, it’s when. So you need to take account of that and prepare for them. If your success depends on life being sunshine and rainbows all the time, you’ll fail. Because that’s not how reality works.
You need to learn how to stay consistent during the tough times. Keep doing this and eventually you’re at such a high level, health is a given. You don’t have to consciously think about staying healthy during the boss fights. It’s just “what you do now”.
Until you reach that level you have to learn to constantly take small, imperfect actions. Just something to keep you moving forward -- to maintain/build momentum. Even if it seems insignificant, remind yourself it adds up, as it did with the online client I mentioned earlier.
This brings us right back to meeting yourself where you’re at.
Progress isn’t linear.
The trick is to keep moving in whatever capacity you can at any given moment.
That’s really the key to building consistent exercise and nutrition habits regardless of your energy levels.
Commit to doing something you know with at least 90% certainty you could still accomplish on the worst day of your life. Then do that everyday.
Find the most likely time in your schedule you’d do this. If you know there’s not a chance in hell you’re one of those people who can wake up at 5am to go to the gym, don’t say you’re going to wake up at 5am to go to the gym!
This is the whole theme of this post, to work with where you are right MEOW.
Forget any arbitrary ideas of where think you should be, and be crystal clear about what is actually realistic for you.
Here’s what I mean. I often have clients say on Day 1 (Day 1!!!!) of lifting “I should be stronger”. Then they’ll ask me if their squats are good compared to other folks. Repeat after me:
It doesn’t matter what other people are doing. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing!
When I’m coaching a client, I’m not thinking about how my other clients squat! I’m thinking of the best way to coach the client in front of me. I simply congratulate them on their hard work, for showing up, and any improvements they made since the beginning of the sessions.
All that matters is you start with something and get better. Everyone has a different starting point as well as a different rate of progress. In addition, the rate of progress will be different during different periods of your life.
The point is, let go of where you think you ought to be. Focus on where you are.
Focus on making realistic commitments that will move you forward. This is the fastest way to progress.
You may think you should be able to stick to a strict diet just because you want to be able to. However, going from never paying attention to food, to a strict diet is like expecting to be fluent in a foreign language with zero practice or study.
Ain’t gonna happen.
Health boils down to having the right skill sets. The only way to build skills is with practice. Just like if you were to learn a language, you’d start with the simple, basic stuff, then learn a bit more every day.
It’s exactly the same with any health related skill.
Start with the easy stuff, then little by little you become more advanced. It takes daily practice and time.
What getting healthy in the real world looks like
If you quit your job and became a recluse solely devoted to your fitness goals, they would be a lot more simple. But who wants to do that? You must take account of this “life” nonsense to be successful.
For example, say you travel several times a month, work lots of overtime, and generally have an unpredictable schedule. In this case, having an in-person trainer probably isn’t realistic. Working out every other week isn’t enough consistency to build results or an exercise habit. You’d want to look for something more flexible, like an online coach *WINK WINK because that way your results aren’t dependent on where you are physically. You’d improve your health week in week out, no matter how erratic and unpredictable your schedule.
You need to plan your fitness around your current conditions. Sure, you could wait until you find a better job. But what if that never happens? Besides, if you start gaining experience points now, if you do find a better job and life eases up a bit, your results come that much faster.
Figure out what the biggest obstacles are to the actions you need to take to reach your goal. Remember we want to take reasonable actions to build the skills that get results. So think about obstacles on a macro and micro level.
Macro: In general, what is the biggest obstacle to you bettering your health. Is it stress? Is it time? Is it motivation? Is it fear of change? Is it bees?! Why do you think you haven’t reached your goal yet?
Micro: After you decide what you’re going to commit to for the week, think about what could potentially thwart your efforts of achieving that specific action. Then come up with a back up plan. This could be scaling back to an easier version of the commitment, doing something else entirely, or avoiding that specific obstacle. Take a guess at what you think might stand in the way of this specific daily action and plan accordingly.
Remember, you want to be able to keep this commitment during the worst day of your life.
The cool thing about getting healthier is you’ll find your shitty job feels much lighter. You might still want to to change jobs of course. But my clients always tell me how eating better and exercising consistently drastically improves their mood and their confidence.
They’re less irritable and more resilient in the face of the challenges life loves to throw in our face when we’re already feeling like we’ve had enough. The better your health skills get, the easier it becomes to keep getting better. But to get to that point you have to be smart, patient, and realistic.
So, in summary ...
- Be realistic: What is your reality? How can you make progress within your current circumstances?
- Decide on an action based mini goal. Pick something you can do every day on the worst, most insane week of your life.
- Anticipate likely obstacles and devise back up plans for your back up plans.
- Follow through. Even if it’s’ not the exact version of the mini goal you initially set out to do, even if it’s with one of your many back up plans. Follow through consistently.
- At the beginning of each week, reassess your mini goal. Run through the whole process again. Look at your work schedule and try and envision what your week will look like. Then commit to a realistic mini goal.
- Ideally you level up your goal each week. As you gain more XP that mini goal feels easier, so the realm of what seems realistic broadens.
However, as we’ve talked about, life doesn’t care about your goals. So if you need to stick with the same mini goal for a while before you feel ready to move on to a more advanced mini goal, that’s totally fine.
In fact it’s great. Because it’s better to act consistently than to be unrealistic, consequently not taking as much action as you would with an easier mini goal.
Besides, you’re still leveling up your health skills. The more you practice something, the more you cement that habit, the more you solidify your foundation of health skills/habits. So don’t think you’re not making progress because you haven’t leveled up your mini goal in a while.
The goal is to keep doing something, always. Regardless of what happens in your life to keep acting in some way towards your goal, no matter how small. This takes patience, self awareness, and a rejection of the all-or-nothing mentality.
This is 100% necessary to make lasting changes to your life. Eventually, you won’t have to think about this stuff so much. It won’t feel like a chore, it’ll just be what you do.
When that happens this stuff gets easy. You’ve put in enough practice to have pretty advanced health skills which have consequently given you some awesome results. You’re leaner, feel more comfortable in your skin, and aren’t worried about shortening your life with your lifestyle.
That weight has been lifted off your shoulders and you find you’re doing better in your relationships and at work.
This all comes from patiently building up your skills one day at a time.
Be consistent, be patient, and be kind with yourself. This can be your reality, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. I’ve helped tons of people like you, both online and in-person, who felt like they were stuck.
They thought they’d never reach their health goals because life just kept getting in the way whenever they were starting to make progress. It’s possible, and guaranteed if you go about it the way I outlined in this post.
The whole point of this article is to say your health doesn’t exist in a vacuum -- it’s influenced by everything else in your life: your job, your relationships, your family, your friends, and any other complications life throws at you.
If you feel like you need guidance, support, accountability, and flexibility before you get started, well, that’s what I’m here for.
I currently have 5 online coaching spots open and I want to help you live a longer, healthier, more fulfilling and adventurous life. If you’d like to take advantage, or know someone who would, click the link below for whichever coaching package fits your goals:
- Online Exercise Coaching for People Who Don't Like to Exercise
- No-Diet Nutrition Coaching for Health and Weight Loss
- Online Total Fat Loss Coaching.
Looking forward to hearing from you :)