We all have habits, rituals, and tools we use each day – or most days – that we probably don’t give much thought to. Similar to the structural supports of a house hiding behind the walls, these habits and tools are the scaffolding and structure of our daily lives regardless of whether or not we take a peek behind the drywall.
This post is an excuse for me to document my own, something I surprisingly haven’t done before. And you, my dear friends that have never asked for such a post, get to indulge me while I organize them into something moderately digestible.
I used to be the guy that was up at 5:30am trying to squeeze whatever virtue signaling I could out of my morning.
And then I had kids.
And my career became increasingly demanding.
And 2 drinks at night started feeling like 10 drinks the next day.
So I ditched it.
Today the #riseandgrind mindset is a relic of my past and my mornings look much different. I don’t even set an alarm anymore. With the aforementioned 3 kids around the roost, a high pitched scream from the crib or the paddle of steps running down the hall has become my alarm.
And this is how I want it. Sleep has risen to the top of my priority list the past several years, and there will likely come a day when I try to squeeze the most out of those admittedly serene mornings before the world wakes up. But for now…the roosters masked as children will do.
With sleep being a priority for me, my habits to assist a healthy circadian rhythm start in the morning. I try to get a decent amount of unobstructed (read: no sunglasses) morning light first thing in the morning which has been shown in numerous studies to aid in sleep that evening.
Walking my daughter to school is the best excuse in the world to get this exposure, and on days where that’s not possible I still try to get outside and walk around for a bit.
A morning habit that I’ve stuck with for ~11 years is fasting. I’m not here to sell you on the benefits of fasting, though there’s plenty of great research to dig into if you’re interested.
For me, fasting has always been a hedge against the control food has over our lives. I have no desire to eat a perfect diet all of the time. I find too much joy in food (and drink) to do that. And so I fast nearly every day. This keeps my overall caloric intake low, gives my gut ample time to repair and recover, and removes any mental anxiety around food that might exist otherwise.
It works for me and has been the single greatest tool in my health toolkit over the years.
We don’t realize how little we pay attention to our breath until we start…paying attention to our breath. Breathing regulates a cascade of functions in our bodies, and doing breath work each day is one of the simplest tools I’ve found for making this amazing system a priority.
I use an app called The Breathing App (creative, I know) to do 10 minutes of breath work in the morning. It is as simple as it gets and helps ground me for the day ahead.
I’m regularly paying attention to my resting heart rate and one of the most surprising finds after implementing breath work is the effect it has on my heart rate. My normal resting heart rate is somewhere between mid-fifties and low-sixties depending on the day. Breath work lowers my heart rate to the low-to-mid-forties. And not just while I’m doing it…this effect lasts for hours after the breath work. I’ve never seen a single tool with this level of an impact on heart rate.
While I won’t try to sell you on fasting, I think everyone can benefit from daily breath work. Our world is increasingly chaotic and we need tools that help center us amidst the chaos.
I almost always do my workouts in a fasted state, meaning I haven’t eaten anything during the day before my workout. A typical day is training around 1pm (18 hours of fasting) and I’ll have my first meal of the day after I train.
My workout methodology also hasn’t changed in about 11 years. When I was running Bodeefit (and later, The Vitruvian Project), I called it “Builders and Burners” because the sessions are broken into a heavy lifting component, and a high intensity cardiovascular component. A simple example would be something like:
- 5 sets of 5 heavy back squats
- 5 sets of 10 strict pull-ups
- 50 burpees as fast as possible
In that example, the back squats and pull-ups operate as heavy, strength building exercises, while the burpees are a great excuse to push my body and cardiovascular systems a bit without over-training.
I’m not a coach or trainer (anymore), and I’m not telling you to mimic the above. But much like fasting, it’s always worked for me, and if there’s a general rule to pull out, it’s to find things that work for you.
Breaking the Fast
My first meal of the day usually comes mid-afternoon (today it was 3pm as an example, which is about an hour later than normal) after I’ve trained. And my first meal of the day almost never changes…3 eggs, some white rice or a piece of toast, and vitamins (a daily multi-vitamin, vitamin D-3, and an elderberry extract). Somehow, after years of eating the same thing for lunch, I’m still not sick of it, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that.
Consistency is the hardest thing to achieve in both fitness and diet, so holding space for a meal that’s the same everyday gives me one less thing to think about and one more variable I can control.
Blue Light Glasses
As soon as I shut my work computer at the end of the day, one of the first things I do is grab my blue light blocking glasses. I don’t care enough about this topic enough to argue for or against the science of said glasses. For me, they act as much as a ritual transition to family time as they do a functional tool for my sleep.
But as I noted above, quality sleep is primary for me, so I wear them trusting that they’re providing some level of assistance as my body prepares for winding down and eventually sleeping.
Capturing the Day
The company I work for (Automattic) acquired a journaling app recently called Day One, and over the past several months it has become central to my day. You can create any sort of journal you’d like, and you can use all sorts of media types like text, video, images, etc.
I have several different journals in the app:
- Daily This is for capturing daily moments, big or small. I post a few times per week in this journal, usually pictures.
- Kids This is one of my favorite things of all time. I capture pictures of the kids and add context about what we were doing, who we were with, etc. It also automatically captures the meta-data of pics and adds info like location and weather. Some day, when the kids are older, I’ll be able to share this journal directly with them as a user through Day One, and they’ll have a lifetime of memories to explore.
- Workouts I’ve tracked my workouts countless different ways over the years. Tracking in Day One is no different than any other method, but I love that it’s in the same place I’m capturing daily memories and my kids’ journal.
- Instagram I quit Facebook in 2016. I quit Twitter a year or two later. Instagram was the only remaining social media
devilplatform I had left, and it wasn’t until Day One that I had an excuse to leave it. Like many people, it’s hard to quit social because I’d captured so many pictures and memories there. But Day One has an integration that lets you pull all of your posts into a journal. Voila. The memories remain, but my Instagram account does not.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of my scaffolding. If there’s a common thread through any of it, it’s intention. It’s far too easy to pass an entire day without any intention. The habits and tools above ensure that even the most hectic days have intentionality sprinkled throughout. I can control much of the outcome without feeling like I have to control any of it. And there’s immense freedom in that reality.
It’s my daily toolkit. But it doesn’t have to be yours. What’s in your toolkit? I’d love to hear about it!