Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.
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Scaling the Rock
Imagine you’re scaling a several hundred foot vertical face in the desert overlooking Las Vegas. This is a skill you’ve been looking forward to learning and improving, as you know it will help you in your daily tactical missions. After the initial adrenaline of beginning a new climb passes, you begin to notice your palms are sweating and your heart is racing. Your excitement and adrenaline have shifted to fear and an inability to move. All you can think about is how long of a fall down it would be, and that you’re journey would be ending before ever really getting started. Every ounce of your being regrets every beginning this climb. As your mind wanders to all of the things that could possibly happen to you, from a strong gust of wind knocking you off the wall to a misplaced finger sending rocks and your body tumbling, everything within your control is blurred out of focus and all you can concentrate on is the external. Then out of nowhere your lean and muscular scraggly haired hippy instructor free climbs up to you, looks you in the face, and says….
“Focus on your three-foot world. Focus on the three feet within reach of you that you can control, and nothing else.”
And with that simple piece of advice, your attention shifts, your palms dry up, your breathing settles, and you’re back in the saddle of the climb. Well that’s exactly what happened to Mark Owen, a veteran Navy SEAL who was one of the first through the door on the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden. Many years prior to the Bin Laden mission, he was on a training trip in Las Vegas to improve his climbing skills, and those five words “Focus on your three-foot world” are what snapped him back into focus and allowed him to successfully complete the climb. I read that story in Mark’s book, No Hero, and it’s stuck with me for how appropriate the advice is as we navigate the path of creating a remarkable life. Intentionally creating a life of remarkabilty means that we depend upon ourselves to do it, and not external circumstances. We control what we can, and discard the rest. It’s not worth our mental energy to do otherwise. When we purely focus on the things within our control, we save ourselves the mental exhaustion of incessantly worrying over things we have no power to affect, and we become hyper aware of the things within our grasp to create change with. We can’t control our genetics, but we can control what we eat and how often we move. We can’t control our boss or our customers, but we can control the effort we put forth each day in our work. We can’t control the personalities and actions of others, but we can control how we respond to them. So what does this all look like in day-to-day application?
The Three-Foot World of Our Health
The three-foot world of our health is one of the levers of control that elevates or deflates every other area of our lives. It has the power to amplify the positive effort and results we’re seeing as we pursue a remarkable life, or it has the ability to take the air and momentum of everything we’re trying to do. It is not just an option to pursue remarkable health as we pursue a remarkable life – it’s required. As Buddha put it “To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
Over the years I’ve coached thousands of people, and studied all walks of life in health and fitness. What’s surprised me time and time again is that there is no single formula for vitality. There are many many ways to achieve the same thing, and since we’re all wired differently it makes sense that we all thrive with different inputs. So my goal here is not to tell you what workouts you should be doing, or what food you should be eating. Instead I want to highlight the things that I know work, regardless of what your lifestyle is and what fitness goals you have. These are the couple things that are within all of our three-foot world of control, and can be the foundation of a healthy life for each of us. Whether we’re paleo or vegan, a runner or a Crossfitter, a walker or a triathlete, the two levers we can control that positively impact our worlds are quality and quantity, both in regards to fitness and nutrition.
Quality refers to the nature of the food we’re putting in our bodies, and the intentionality behind the movement of our bodies. For our nutrition, this means eating whole, unprocessed ingredients as much as possible. It doesn’t matter what our personal beliefs are about food. We can all eat more veggies, eat fewer refined and processed foods, and focus our meals around this foundation. Nature is very good at providing us with the nutrition we need. By consuming more of what nature provides us, our bodies feel better, our minds operate smoother, and we give ourselves the best chance possible of leading a healthy lifestyle of vitality. More veggies + less processed foods = happier minds and bodies. Quality in our fitness means being intentional in what we’re doing. Just like vegans and paleo eaters can both lead healthy lifestyles, walkers and triathletes can also achieve healthy lifestyles through being intentional about their movement and goals. This means scheduling in time to workout each day, or several days per week. This means planning out ahead of time what we’re going to do, and sticking to it. This means intentionally moving through our workout with the purpose of improving, not just showing up. By improving the quality of what we’re doing, we by nature reduce the quantity that we need to do to show remarkable results.
Quantity refers to the amount of food we’re consuming and the amount of stress we’re putting our bodies under each day. In today’s western world, most of us plain and simple eat too much. We’ve built a culture of constantly eating, and have somehow bought into the idea that we need to be eating from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed. What’s ironic about this is that studies have shown time and time again that one of the ultimate keys to longevity is reducing our overall caloric intake. By doing this we give our digestive systems more time to rest, recover, and repair. We improve our blood sugar levels. We create a better mindset around food, using it as fuel instead of comfort. I personally achieve this through fasting each day, minimizing my window of eating each day to just eight hours. It’s the single best thing I’ve ever done for my health. Quantity in regards to our fitness means doing what’s required for improvement, and nothing less or more. By doing less, we’re obviously leading stagnant lives. By doing more, we can be overtraining our bodies and causing more stress than is necessary. There is no magic formula for what your body needs. We can only figure it out through trial and error. But once we’ve found what works for us, all that’s left to do is stick to it. When we combine quality movement through intentionality with the right quantity of movement, we’ve built a recipe for not just short term success, but long term success and vitality.
The Three-Foot World of Our Work
There is not a single path or profession on the planet that isn’t directly impacted by others. Even our picture of the most isolated professions possible, like the hermit genius novelist for example, is still significantly impacted by his editors, publishers, critics, and ultimately readers. For any and all of us, our work is immeasurably entangled with the actions of others. This is a critical point if we’re to understand how we control our own happiness and our own destiny in our work. For us to continually grow in our work, we must focus almost exclusively on the levers we can control and not worry about the rest.
To start, let’s explore the things we can control in our work. For simplicity and clarity, the main things we can control are our effort and focus. Effort is the more obvious of the two. We understand that each day we have a choice in how much effort we put toward something. We can work hard or hardly work. We can wake up early or sleep in. We can do the work or we can avoid the work. It becomes easy for us to blame a lack of work on external forces. We get interrupted by co-workers. We have to wait on someone else’s work before we can do ours. We are waiting on a client’s feedback. These are all external forces that can easily be morphed into excuses. Our work is our work. As much as we try to talk ourselves into it being impacted by people outside of ourselves, the truth is much simpler. We have the opportunity to wake up every single day and put pen to paper, phone to ear, and output to input. When we fully own that our work is in our control, we reframe our days and our priorities. The effort becomes the priority, not the external. And when the effort becomes the priority, we’re very good at finding ways to get it done.
If effort puts the work in motion, focus is what makes the work great. And just like effort, focus is entirely in our control. The most common malady in today’s work environment is trying to do too much at once. I think this stems from a desire to please a lot of people, all with different demands on our time. But when we try to please everyone and everything, our work becomes muddied regardless of the effort put forth. It’s like trying to move a giant boulder. You can apply pressure to multiple sides of the boulder but ultimately it won’t budge. If instead you combined all of that effort into a single focused area, the boulder begins to move and even better it becomes easier to move. This is our work. When our focus is everywhere, our progress is nowhere.
No effort + no focus = no progress.
No effort + focus = no progress.
Effort + no focus = minimal progress.
Effort + focus = remarkable growth.
The Three-Foot World of Our Relationships
In the three-foot world of relationships we stop trying to control the other person and instead focus on controlling ourselves. This is a tough pill for most of us to swallow, because we’re not entirely conscious of our incredible ability to control others, through our words and actions (or lack thereof). We say words to get a rise. We say words to shut someone up. We do things to get back at someone. We do things to get someone’s attention. Whether words or actions, spoken or unspoken, proactive or reactive, we are all guilty of trying to control others instead of simply controlling ourselves.
We can’t control other people’s words, but we can control how we respond to them.
We can’t control other people’s actions, but we can control our reactions.
We can’t control other people’s intentions, but we can control our own.
This is not isolated to significant others either. This is coworkers. This is bosses. This is family. This is friends. Our happiness in relationships is not dictated by others, but by us. We are giving away our power to others when we respond with reaction instead of intention. By focusing on our three-foot world of relationships, and not worrying about the rest, we retain our personal power, and in turn retain our sanity.
I know for myself, so much of the stress in life is introduced by things outside of my control, yet I let them disrupt my world anyway. The way of the Redwood does not worry about aspen down the road, or fret about the coming storm, or ponder why the other tree is taller. The Redwood just drinks in the water when it can, soaks in the sun as much as possible, and focuses on the one thing it wants to do – grow.