Two young fish are swimming along when they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?’
The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”
This is a tale which reminds us that, just like those fish, our lives are largely determined by factors we never fully notice: our habits. The unthinking, automatic choices that surround us each day.
A lean physique requires certain actions to happen each day. As each action has a particular decision and trade-off in the moment, those who have habitualised the decision are more likely to succeed.
Habits are so deep-rooted they form our beliefs and summarise who we are. With effort, we're able to change them to become more in line with who we want to be.
Here are 11 habits for a lean physique
1. Sleep 7-8 hours a night
First on the list and easily the most important. If sleep is compromised everything else is too. Sacrificing sleep more something else is a terrible trade-off which will hurt you in the long term.
A lack of sleep impairs fat burning, increases appetite, plummets testosterone, reduces insulin sensitivity and many more horrible things. It is a non-negotiable for leanness.
Habit: Develop your night routine and set a non-negotiable time for bed.
2. Get direct sunlight
Your hormonal cycle is regulated by exposure to natural sunlight. Testosterone, energy, carb digestion, wakefulness - all regulated by sunlight. Our ancestors evolved their body's circadian rhythm in sync with the sun and never getting sunlight completely screws you over.
Habit: Get natural light in the morning as the sun comes up, at least 10-minutes worth on your skin. Try and get at least 30-minutes more through the day (combine it with habit 6).
3. Stick to a whole food diet
People with lean physiques all eat whole foods and if you'd like to improve your physique this is the place to start. They are more nutritious, have a higher thermogenic value (burn more calories to process) and are hard to overeat. Try it. See how much you can really overeat consuming steak and broccoli, chicken and brown rice, oatmeal and raspberries.
Habit: Buy 90% whole foods at the supermarket and prepare your meals in advance.
4. Show self-control
People with lean physiques don't eat to manage their emotions, they have separated the two. They don't say 'screw it' when they're out and binge just because their friends are.
Much of being lean is controlling your relationship with food. Be in tune with your hunger levels and mindful of what you're putting in your mouth during stressful or distracting situations.
Habit: Don't snack. Don't have trigger foods (foods which cause you to binge) anywhere near you. Don't put yourself in tough situations without a plan.
5. Lift weights
Muscle is the holy grail of health. Lift weights if you want to be lean, live longer, look better, feel better, have better sex, better everything.
Habit: Lift weights 3-4x per week.
6. Walk where possible
Your body hasn't gone through millions of years of evolution for you to sit in a car, then at a desk, then on the couch, day after day. You're made to move.
Walking is a simple movement which regulates blood sugar, improves digestion and increases metabolism. With today's high levels of convenience it's becoming easier to get away with not walking anywhere - a habit which will lead to you being overweight.
Habit: Walk 5-10mins 5-10 times per day. Park further from work. Take the stairs. Make phone calls walking around the block.
7. Write out gratitudes
Being lean requires sacrifices and self-control, it helps to remember why you're doing it in the first place. This places the future rewards in the present tense and allows a mindset of optimism, focus and decisiveness.
Habit: Write 3 gratitudes on paper in the morning and at night.
8. Stress management
When you manage your stress you're less likely to emotionally eat or fall out of your routine. The leanest people guard their lives against unnecessary drama, toxic people and bad situations.
Managing your stress isn't about eliminating all stress. That's impossible. It's coming up with strategies to minimise the effects stress has on you and choosing the things you'd like to prioritise. Much of our stress in life is self-imposed and can be radically reduced with some simple strategies.
Habit: Meditate (it's been proven time and time again as a critical skill). This article has some modern ideas you can implement.
9. Develop discipline
Discipline is doing the things you know you have to do. Getting a lean physique isn't rocket science, the information is there, but the difference is in the people who take consistent action.
Habit: Read this article to learn how to create discipline and access this all-encompassing habit which will benefit every part of your life.
10. Get into a long-game mindset
A lean physique requires an eye to the long game. Lifting every week, healthy eating every day, proper sleep every night - these habits compound over time and create a momentum wave.
An obese short game mindset is to declare yourself a failure after 2 days of bad eating. A long game mindset is knowing that 10 years of positive habits add up and a weekend off isn't going to make a difference, and there is nothing to fail at.
Habit: Engage in the process of obtaining a lean physique instead of chasing the finish line.
11. Change your identity
Lean and healthy people don't experience 'hardship' over the lifestyle because that way of being is easy... it's who they are.
The struggle with changing your identity is the doubt over trying to accommodate a new identity whilst struggling through the shedding of your old one. There is cognitive dissonance that is unavoidable. That aside, the identity of being 'lean', for those that live this way, it's simply who they are.
You can tap into this way of thinking.
If you make your change in identity a massive struggle and deify it, you will make it harder on yourself to change. Paradoxically, its more to your benefit to imagine that you are turning more into yourself and that life will be easier as you're living your truth.
Over time, consistent healthy habits tally up a monumental score on the board proving to yourself you really are this person.
Habit: Act as if you are the healthiest version of yourself who has already achieved your goals - would you make the same decisions?
Read this article for more identity-changing tips.
You are the summary of your daily habits.
Pay attention to the things you do each day and make sure they are in line with the person you want to be.
Habits are a major part of how we coach personal training at Executive Performance. It's more than a workout; it's about helping executive men to regain control of their health. With a focus on building structure, discipline and consistency, the results gained will last a lifetime.
Check out the Personal Training here.