I am on a quest every day. A quest to improve. I work hard at improving skills that relate to my career. I work at improving my intellectual muscles. I work at improving my actual muscles and general fitness. The way I go about achieving improvement in these areas is a strategy I learned a long time ago. I start by thinking through my goals, breaking down those goals into component actions, then begin completing the actions one at a time until the goal is achieved. I can’t remember where I learned this method, or even the official name if there is one, but it is what I prefer to do.
A few months ago I began to think and plan pretty long term. I was imagining what I would be doing and the person I would be in 25 or 30 years. There was one thought that kept sticking with me. It was not good. I was thinking about the current state of my health and what it would look like in those future years. The logical conclusion was not good.
My weight had been creeping up in recent years. It wasn’t drastic, and it was happening so slowly that it wasn’t really that noticeable. But if the trend continued there would be real life negative consequences that I would have to deal with later in life. It was not a path I wanted to leave up to chance. I had to take control.
The first step was to internalize a reason why I wanted to change. Apparently, I didn’t have a reason before this point to keep vigilant on my health as evidenced by an ever increasing number on the scale. I am a believer that to make a real and substantial change you have to really want change. It has to be a decision that holds so much conviction that it almost scares you when you think you might not accomplish it. More simply, you have to want it. This is where I was. I had internalized the idea that I must put in extreme effort from right now going forward. The thoughts in my head were actually scaring me. I was scared at what my health outcomes might be in the future.
I made the commitment to make a change. To be intentional. I believe what got me into the situation in the first place was apathy. I didn’t think much about what I was eating. So that was the first step, and the first step in my process. Think about the final goal. What did I want? I wanted to be healthier and fitter. But what does that mean? Weigh less? Run faster? Bigger muscles? I had to have something concrete.
What I decided on was body fat percentage. I don’t care how much I weigh, I never have. But if I could get to an ideal body fat percentage the rest would take care of itself. I then set my goal… to be under 10% body fat. Now for the action steps to get there.
There is so much information available for dieting, eating healthy, and nutrition. I didn’t have a clue what to do. I was stuck. With the huge volume of information and the complexity of it all, it had me in action paralysis. I didn’t take any action because I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around all the info. I needed a solution.
Now, the above story was a long set up. However, the real topic of this post is about Simple Rules. An amazing book with some of the most powerful lessons I have ever learned. I am going to outline what the book is about and how it helped me solve my problem.
At its core, Simple Rules is about simplifying complexity. The world is immensely complex. We as humans prefer to have our lives presented in black and white. This or that. With us or against us. But that isn’t real life. There are near infinite variables that interact with other variables and most situations in our lives are at a level of complexity that we can’t truly wrap our head around. This complexity makes it hard to make decisions and even harder to make the right decisions and succeed. We need a system to manage that complexity. Simple Rules shows us how to overcome and thrive in a complex world.
Creating simple rules helps to improve your decision making when we can’t know all the information and variables. There are actually no rules in the book. It makes no attempt to give you a predetermined set of rules that will improve your life. You need to make rules specific to you and your situation. But if you set up the types of rules with the characteristics described it will pay huge dividends, it did for me.
First, let’s describe what these rules look like.
- They are specific. – The rules you come up with have to be designed to work with you and your personal situation. Other people will not get the same advantages from your rules as you will. It is definitely NOT one size fits all.
- They are applied to only one activity or decision at a time. – If you are trying to lose weight and be more productive at work the same set of rules will not work for both of those tasks.
- They are low in number. – Having too many rules will lead to disaster. The optimal number is almost always 5 or less. Too many rules can be overwhelming and basically useless. A smaller number of rules can also be remembered easier. When they are easier to remember you are more likely to act on those rules.
- Provide guidance. – The rules should not be overly prescriptive. They act as a guide more so than a recipe. You should be able to have the latitude to move and adjust within the rule.
All the simple rules you make in the future should have these characteristics. You will be more likely to achieve your goal and more likely to stick to following them consistently.
Now let’s discuss the types of rules that are available to help us make better decisions. The decisions I needed help with was getting what I ate under control. I am a firm believer that it is impossible to out-exercise a poor diet. When people say they want to lose weight and then go buy a gym membership I know already they will fail. It all starts with diet. There are immense benefits to exercise but it is nearly worthless on its own for most people if their goal is to lose weight.
There are three types of rules you can utilize to make better decisions.
- Boundary Rules – These rules give you guidance on making a decision on inclusion or exclusion. Should you do something or should you not do something. For example, your rule could help you decide if you should buy an investment or not, or eat a certain food or not.
- Prioritizing Rules – These rules help you rank a group of alternatives that are competing for resources like time or money. If you have a long list of responsibilities to complete, this type of rule will help determine which are the most important and need to be done first. For example, if a corporation needs to allocate funds to different projects, rules need to be made to help decide which projects get the funding and how much money the receive.
- Stopping Rules – The stopping rules help you determine when you should stop your current course of action and pick some other alternative. If your investment is losing money when should make a change? These rules can help you make that decision.
The last concept you need to know from the book is when and under what circumstances you should develop simple rules to help you make a complex decision easier. There are three steps. First, you need to determine what will make an actual difference in your life. Some of our problems can be solved but the are not truly of any consequence. Second, you need to look for the bottleneck, the one area where you can break through and get the most results. Lastly, you need to make the rules.
So, I will now relate all of the above information to how I used simple rules to change the way I eat and get on the path to healthy.
I had to choose an action that would make a difference in my life. I wanted to eat healthier and be healthier. Changing my diet was my decision (not exercising). It was going to make the most impact for me. The next part was identifying the bottleneck I was dealing with. What was holding up my progress? It was the massive amount of information and implementation of a new way of eating. There has to be more opinion and words written on dieting and nutrition than just about any other topic in the world. It was overwhelming. So I started to comb through it and created an idea of what would work for me.
Here are the rules I developed that changed my life.
Rule 1: Eat no grain or simple carbs: (Boundary Rule) I avoid sugar, bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, potatoes and anything else that is an easily digestible sugar. Sugar = Fat. It has been ingrained into our collective consciousness that we have to eat low-fat foods and get most of our calories from the bottom of the food pyramid, the grains. This very, very wrong. I believe that this misinformation that has been pushed on the public for so many years that is one of the contributing factors to the obesity epidemic. I no longer put any value into these “recommendations”.
Rule 2: Eat only from Noon to 8 pm: (Stopping Rule) I eat all my meals in that time frame. This pattern of eating is called intermittent fasting. It is a strategy that helps turn your body into a machine that uses sugar as its fuel (and therefore makes you crave it), into a machine that uses your fat stores as fuel instead. I wanted to lower my body fat percentage and this is a huge part of making that happen.
Rule 3: Eat as many vegetables as possible: (Priortizing Rule) When people try to make a drastic change to their diet that adjusts their carbohydrate intake I have noticed they fall into a trap of eating way too much protein. Without the bread and pasta, they fill the void with more meat. It should be filled with more vegetables instead. I want to remind myself of this and so it is a rule.
Rule 4: Track body fat and food consumption every day: (Boundary Rule) I have a scale that I use every day unless I am out of town. It measures weight, body fat, water content and muscle mass. I record all readings in a journal. It can be horrible to see the numbers if you are still a long way from your goal. But having the courage to have an honest evaluation is critical. It is a scoreboard that I must have. If you don’t know where you are or where you have been you can never make any progress. I also track everything I eat in an app called my fitness pal. It has totally changed my mindset and opened my eyes to what I have been eating and makes me think twice every time I may make a poor decision.
All of these rules combined have produced overwhelmingly positive results for me. I have lost more than 15 lbs since I have started. Even though that wasn’t my goal (low body fat is the goal) it is a great side effect. My body fat percentage has decreased by about 3%. With the conscious step up in the quality of the food I am eating (more vegetables and less simple carbs) my mood has improved, my temperament is more even, I am more clear-headed than ever and my thinking is as good as it has ever been in my life.
Developing this new way of eating is starting to become an ingrained habit. I do fail sometimes, we will all fail sometimes, but I just get right back up and follow the rules again. I don’t dwell on the failure I just accept it and move on. I believe the eating is becoming a keystone habit. It is starting to increase my motivation to get fit again. I am swimming, running, and biking often. The exercise is combining with the diet rules to accelerate my progress. It’s a positive feedback loop that it changing my life.
This new lifestyle is spilling positive vibes into every area of my life like my career and family. It is all getting better each day and I am certain it is all due to my 4 rules for what I choose to put into my body. I can confidently say I am never going back to the way it was before.
I will let you know when I get to my goal.