I am 77 years old and I have always been physically active. I box and lift weights 3 times a week. I go on walks with friends. I also make sure that I eat well. I enjoy taking care of myself, but more importantly, I enjoy what being fit gives me the freedom to do.

At my age, many of my friends who are close in age are starting to experience some health issues. Back pain, hip pain, cancers, heart issues, dementia, and even death. I want to acknowledge that I feel blessed and lucky that I haven’t had many of these issues, but I strongly believe a big part reason is, how diligently I have worked to stay fit.

When you invest money, you make deposits so that the money can grow and compound. It’s the same thing with your health and fitness. Each time I exercise and choose to eat healthy, I am making a deposit in my current and future “health account”. Over time, all those individual choices (deposits) will hopefully compound into a life of better health.

Life is busy and if you do not prioritize your physical activity, it will fall behind other things. So, I make sure to protect the time I need for my workouts. Some people might think this sounds selfish, but it goes on the calendar and I make sure to keep that time for the exercise.

I create a structure in my life that encourages accountability and makes the workouts more enjoyable. I work out with a trainer. He pushes me and keeps me accountable. Prior to having a trainer, I would still exercise but I would maybe do half of the work I do with him. If I felt tired or bored, instead of doing 50 reps, maybe I would only do 20.

I also have young friends that I walk with regularly. Without them, I most likely would not do it as often as I should. Also spending time with these young men, keeps me mentally sharp and curious.

Most people think that as you get older, you should slow down. Since 50, I have ramped up my workouts. I know that as we age, it’s harder to maintain muscle mass and stay fit. So I know that I just have to work that much harder.

I genuinely believe that has been a secret to my life and I cannot stress the importance of this enough to young people. If you want to stay active and healthy so you can enjoy your older years, regularly make “deposits” into your health.

Have you seen people at the gym who are very strong but also very stiff? Although most of us want to become stronger, the potential for weight training to make us stiff and less mobile could discourage us from lifting.

While post workout stiffness cannot be fully blamed on lifting (it is also associated with lack of adequate nutrition and proper recovery), it’s still a very common experience. If the muscles are not properly stretched before or after a weight training session, there is potential for them to become constricted and tighter.

Fortunately, there is a way to become stronger while still maintaining or even enhancing our mobility. Pre-workout dynamic movements, such as hip opening exercises and active stretches, are great ways to warm up our muscles before training, helping us have a greater range of movement.

Additionally, focusing on a full range of movement during training sessions is also an important key to maintaining or improving mobility.

With better mobility, you will feel less stiff, and will be able to move better while lifting.In short, think of lifting as having four important variables: mobility, stretching, strength and stability. Ultimately, to get the maximum benefits from lifting weights, we need to give attention to all.

Why does this matter? Especially with our long to-do lists and the constant feeling that we’re each so busy…

The hard-wired brain mistakes “being busy”–the feeling of non-stop effort–with making more progress on priorities. Unfortunately, that “progress” can be mostly an illusion. It”s easy to get lost in this cerebral and sensory swamp of automatic and mostly mindless “doing.”

Let’s interrupt this pattern. Glance at today’s schedule. Commit to completing one specific task or meeting today five minutes earlier than planned–and devote this time to creatively streamlining and the remainder of today and tomorrow so that you can make greater measured progress on your top priorities… Note: Devote the final minute of these five minutes to reviewing and re-committing to your “To Don’t List”–which can matter even more than your To-Do List.

“Investing in the Loss” is a term that we discovered in Josh Waitzkin’s book, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance. It’s had a profound influence on how we approach life and performance.

Josh is a former Chess Champion who then became a champion and master of Tai Chi Chuan. One of his biggest takeaways was that everyone who wants to perform at a high level needs to invest in the loss to succeed.

Investing in the loss is a mentality. It’s a process of acknowledging that something is going to be painful and difficult. This is where the growth comes. Through the process of humbling yourself and being ok with it.

Most people are not willing to be embarrassed, look foolish, or do anything that might result in failure. This fear is what holds them back from achieving new levels of performance. When we’re afraid, we revert back to old habits and avoid activities that might be difficult or make us uncomfortable. This is why we won’t speak new languages in public, take on new ventures, or step up in high performance situations.

In his book, Josh references how Michael Jordan, made more game winning shots then any NBA player in history, but he also missed more game winning shots in NBA history. Make or miss, Michael Jordan was willing to invest in the loss. He knew it would be painful and he would be exposed if he missed but he was willing embrace that as well.

In order to improve we need to embrace a growth mentality and invest in the loss. Acknowledge that something might painful. It might be embarrassing and you might even fail very publicly. But willing to accept that allows you to reach levels beyond where you might have imagined possible.

The words from “Man In The Arena” exemplifies investing in the loss.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

What we do not know about ourselves tries to awaken us by glinting and winking at us throughout our lives, yet most actively avoid answering the call. Life is always reminding us that we have unfinished business. There is no easy way to achieve maturity. It always involves the death or revision of old (dated) mental models that keep us thinking too small. In the words of Ben Franklin, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”

When you’re preparing for takeoff on a place, the flight crew will go through their safety procedures. One of which is, in the event of an emergency place your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. Only if you can breathe properly will you have the strength and capacity to help others.

I use this analogy quite frequently with friends and family who are feeling burned out. The stresses of daily life can pull us in many directions if let it. Family, friends, careers…. we all have people who are depending upon us to support them and give our best effort. But I don’t think it’s possible to give our best effort if we don’t take the time to “put our own metaphorical oxygen mask on”. We need to give ourselves permission to take step back, refresh, and recharge so we can be at our best to help others.

This is not a license to be selfish or only focus on our own wants or needs. But instead a realization that only by taking the time needed for ourselves, will be able to serve others. If we neglect our health, our bodies, our minds, or our spiritual health, no matter how good our intentions are, we will not be able to show up at our very best.

My good friend is a fanatic about protecting his time for exercise and reflection in his steam room. It’s on his calendar and it’s part of his daily routine to take care of his health, mind, and spirit. He’s well into his 70’s and I don’t know many people who have more energy or who do more to help people. I believe a big part of it, is his understanding of the space and time he needs, so that he has the energy to serve others in the most meaningful way possible.

An essay by Tony Schwartz in the New York Times, “Addicted to Distraction,” has created a lot of buzz, including being the most emailed piece from the newspaper in the days after it appeared. The buzz is deserved: Schwartz describes a phenomenon that plagues many people—the seemingly irresistible draw of the internet for “the brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation, and immediate gratification”—and he compellingly describes his own efforts to overcome it.
As a neuroscientist who has worked with organizations and their leaders for three decades, I would like to expand a little on Schwartz’s observations and suggest a larger phenomenon that might be even more important. Schwartz attributes our distractibility to a specific “addiction” to various forms of instantly-available information, and writes, “Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect.”
It is valuable to recognize that our brains are wired for distraction, not for paying attention, and so distraction is just our brains having their way with us, as they always do if we don’t consciously manage them. In many ways, not only related to distraction, our brains’ hardwired tendencies move us away from our hopes and expectations for ourselves, not closer to those hopes and expectations. We are hardwired to be at less than our best most of the time, as our best intentions are hijacked all day long by our brains.
Regarding distraction, our brains have two independent systems related to attention: one for paying attention, and another one for being distracted. The paying-attention system is what scientists call “top-down”: you manage it with your conscious mind, but the being-distracted system is “bottom-up”: it happens automatically. The top-down paying-attention system has to be deployed by you; the bottom-up getting-distracted system has a life of its own. As one neuroscientist has put it, “The mind is always trying to wander, every chance it gets.”
Schwartz quotes Nicholas Carr: ““The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention.” No, the net is what it is. We, and our enthusiastic brains, find interruptions and diversions appealing, and the net simply services that. Research shows that we’re just as distracted walking down the street as we are in front of a computer. It’s how we’re built.
It’s easy to imagine why our brains might be wired in this way. Flitting attention might have kept our distant ancestors safe from sudden attacks from predators, or more attuned to opportunities for hunting or foraging. It also could be that often the things we switch our attention to are just as important or valuable as the things we divert our attention from. Whatever the evolutionary or practical reason, our brains are as they are, and they want what they want.
There are scores of other kinds of brain wiring that are detrimental to our biggest dreams. They might not be as apparent or infuriating as the urge to distraction, but they’re unhelpful individually, and cumulatively their effects can be very severe. For example, there’s the inclination to view situations, other people, and even ourselves negatively—“negativity bias,” as neuroscientists call it. How costly can it be to have instant negative reactions (which often are not even apparent to the conscious brain) that hold us back from constructive engagement, or that cause us to dwell on our current and past shortcomings instead of our strengths or our future potential?
There’s the brain’s incessant observation of ourselves in relationship to others, the comparing and calibrating that can leave us satisfied with less than our best if it’s as good as others are doing, or that leads us to seek to fit in rather than being our own unique selves. When neuroscientists isolated the parts of the brain that enforce conformity to social expectations, the lead researcher said, “We have shown the mechanisms of what is probably the most fundamental social mistake—that of being too different from others.”
Other brain wiring has other potential negative consequences. It can make us too fearful of change; too committed to less-than-fully-effective reactions and habits; too quick to judge others; too ready to give up before we have given our best; too inclined to drift, on autopilot, through too much of each day.
In short, our brains often make choices for us that are different from what we actually want for ourselves at our best. Tony Schwartz put in a lot of effort to change that regarding distraction, and we’re potentially better off from his example. We also know, of course, that pieces like Schwartz’s may also get emailed and tweeted not as a serious incentive to change, but because they confirm and even subliminally reinforce the idea that this is just how life is—ain’t it awful, but maybe inevitable and even kind of amusing, too, in a misery-loves-company way?
Schwartz, after all, had resources that most people don’t have: among other things, a background in behavior change; no boss demanding instant responses; and a month-long vacation to wean himself from distraction. Bravo for him, many might say, while not feeling that they have the same skills, freedom, and flexibility—or even willpower—that he has.
The “addiction,” as he notes, will never be fully conquered. The constant vigilance that he describes is essential: he writes, “As often as possible, I try to ask myself, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing?’ If the answer is no, the next question is, ‘What could I be doing that would feel more productive, or satisfying, or relaxing?’ ” Unlike distraction, many of the brain’s traps that I mentioned above, such as negativity, comparing, drifting, and unwarranted fear, are so natural and comfortable to us that we may not even recognize that they are occurring or are interfering with the attainment of our goals, unless we learn about them and attune ourselves to noticing them. Once we start noticing them, they can be addressed by asking questions like the ones that Schwartz asks himself when he starts to become distracted: Where is my brain taking me right now? Is that really where I want to? What would be a better choice?
Schwartz also applied systems to the distraction issue. He writes of setting priorities at night and then working on them the next morning in 60-to-90-minute interruption-free periods. A great idea that changes lives when it’s implemented with commitment. Other systems can be created to be sure that the other obstacles our brains create are also challenged, not just in the moment but systematically.
By hard-wired nature, our brains are primed to do what they’re built to do. Recognizing the many ways in which they are structured to thwart our higher hopes for ourselves is a critical step for changing things. As I have written in previous posts, new studies suggest that we can add vital new brain cells through effortful successful learning—even in very brief bursts of focus—and, via self-directed or intentional neuroplasticity, we can change or guide some of our wiring into more optimal performance states for work and life.
But as a starting point, I think, we will be best served by a greatly heightened awareness of the traps our brains set for us, along with knowing practical, straightforward workarounds to sidestep those traps. The workarounds can even grow into new and more effective habits if they’re consistently applied. The more that we learn to manage our brains instead of letting them manage us, the greater our potential accomplishments and satisfactions will be.

Most behaviors that are short term motivated are robbing our future of our most amazing life.

Health: Smoking, drinking, poor diet, not exercising, not getting enough sleep are all examples of short term behavior that might feel good in the moment (maybe) but rob us of healthier, longer life down the road.

Financial: Overspending, taking on bad debt, not investing all rob our future selves of more financial security.

Business: The best business and investors in the world tend to think with a long term mindset. They make decisions that will play out in 10 to 20 years of building vs thinking about next quarter.

I’ve included a link to Nick Sleep and his business partner, Qais Zakaria. Together they ran the investment partnership, Nomad Capital and now run a foundation. I try to read everything they write, because how they view businesses is profound and aligns greatly with long term thinking. The amount emotional fortitude it takes to think this way is how I aspire to live my own life.

Short-term vs Long-term

I am not a doctor, but this is my over simplified understanding of how we improve our health by introducing small elements of stress to the body. When we incorporate stress, the body will then respond to the stress, and grow back stronger. A few examples:

Exercise- When we do resistance training, the muscles become fatigued and tear slightly. But after recovery, the muscles come back stronger. With cardiovascular exercise this same logic can be applied to our heart and lungs. The heart becomes stronger at pumping blood and the lungs become more efficient at processing oxygen with training. Skeletal systems and bones become stronger as well when exposed to load.

Heat and Cold Exposure- When exposed to extreme cold (ice bath) or heat (sauna) the body becomes stressed and activates survival mechanisms that appear to be beneficial for health and longevity.

Fasting- The body becomes stressed without food, this activates other pathways in the body for survival such as ketosis, autophagy, and other pathways so the body can maintain a source of energy during the period without food. The research indicates some of these pathways can help with health and longevity.

Eating Vegetables and Fruits with strong colors- I’ve heard Dr. David Sinclair say that phytochemicals can be part of the plants defense mechanisms and when we consume the dark green leafy spinach or other vegetables rich in color it can activate defense mechanisms in our own bodies. My analogy is this, our bodies recognize the “micro-dose of chemicals” as introducing stress to the body and activating the body’s immune response. Green Tea behaves in this way, it’s common to associate Green Tea consumption with longevity and health.

This is not medical advice to anyone reading it. This just my own way of thinking about the body’s response to stressors. Please note that I stated SMALL elements of stress. If we overstress the body, it puts us at risk to sickness, injury, or even death, so please be smart with adapting new training or routines.

I’ve heard comedian Dave Chappelle say that when he’s performing, that whether the he lands the joke perfectly or not, “The Beauty is in the attempt.” I believe he’s referring to the attempt of trying to do something difficult, challenging, audacious.

I think there is a lot of wisdom behind that mentality. It’s only by attempting to tackle challenges and to take big risks that we might actually accomplish something special. To me, finding beauty in the attempt means that we should continuously focus on the process of the work that we are doing and remain emotionally indifferent to the result that follows. So many people are afraid of “failure” that it paralyzes them from ever attempting something that is meaningful to them. How many dreams and ideas die before they are even given the chance to succeed?

I’ve also heard Dave Coggins say that failure is just his first attempt, then his 2nd attempt, then 3rd attempt. You only fail if you quit or you never try. These are very powerful mental models that I believe can offer the person the courage to attempt difficult challenges as they strive for their own best life.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

― Theodore Roosevelt