Your Habits Will Determine Your Outcomes


A little over three years ago I significantly ramped up my interest in diet and exercise. I've always exercised and although was generally aware of the dangers of too much sugar I didn't really understand diet issues very well. The catalyst for this was being told I was pre-diabetic and that I should "exercise and cut the sugar." I was already exercising a lot so I had to learn about sugar. As I started to study and learn I would share what I found with friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter and then I incorporated my interest into fire department activities. At the start of each training I take maybe five minutes to go over something related to diet and or exercise. Last summer I also took on the role of wellness coordinator for the county fire chiefs association.

Quite a few people have asked me questions and made changes for the better in terms of losing weight, getting more fit and improving blood markers. Some people on Twitter even started to follow me because of this sort of content. My Twitter feed is curated to follow several disparate topics including health and fitness and I simply pass along the stuff I understand as I try to learn.

An important idea that I take from self-improvement Twitter and have been good about incorporating into my life is that success comes from habits. There is of course a parallel to saving an investing that we'll get to.

If you're on Twitter you know that you see a lot of Tweets from people you don't follow (obviously they are trying to promote more engagement with their platform). One of the people I see a lot of Tweets from is Dennis Michael Hynes @HynesDm. He appears to be well into his 60's and very fit. He posts videos of himself doing exercises that don't appear to be super human like benchpressing with four plates per side for reps but when you take a moment to watch, you realize are pretty impressive. He frequently includes the tag line comfort is a cage, do hard things.

Self-improvement Twitter has come to the collective conclusion that we have become too soft and it is to our detriment. There is at least something to that as our health has collectively deteriorated in a shocking manner. The path to fix this starts from the bottom up and I think modifying our behavior by changing our habits is the way to do this. There is overlap here with retirement planning. Just as we are less fit physically, we are also collectively less fit financially. Whatever the reasons, whoever you want to blame, this is where we are; collectively unfit and undersaved.

In terms of eating better, people often talk about diets, they'll say they're on the keto diet or vegan or anything else. Often these diets are criticized for not "working" because they're hard to maintain. I think eating properly becomes much easier when viewed as a habit. I am partial to a low carb highish fat ~~diet~~ habit (maybe not that high fat but saturated fats are not the problem, Google it, draw your own conclusions). I am betting my life that sugar consumption is the source of many health problems, the list is astounding. The more sugar to cut out of your diet the better off you will be (Google it, draw your own conclusion).

Being difficult to maintain is almost always cited as a reason not to do low carb or keto. Regardless of whether you believe in low carb or not, something being difficult is not a reason not to do it. Giving up because it's hard seems like a good example of our being too soft. Many people have told me that giving up bread would be hard to do. The way I approach low carb is to target a daily limit for carb consumption, no more than 100 carbs/day regardless of where they come from. While people push back on bread, no one has ever pushed back on me about eating breakfast cereal and drinking orange juice. Google it, but stuff like this in the morning (the list also includes oatmeal) is very unhealthy, it causes an early morning spike in insulin that is likely to persist all day. This leads to insulin resistance (Google why that is so terrible). Avoiding carbs (carbs=sugar) at breakfast is a habit that all by itself can make a huge difference. As much as someone might like bread, if they can avoid it at lunch too then they are well on their way to significantly cutting sugar consumption. One that I know is very difficult is cutting sugary drinks like soda. If all you do is avoid carbs until 2pm and avoid all sugary drinks regardless of time of day then you might not need to take on any other new dietary habits to make meaningful metabolic improvement.

The bottom line on diet is that by taking on the habit of significantly cutting sugar consumption you are likely to lose a lot of weight and reverse a lot of medical issues (Google it, draw your own conclusion).

Exercising is also a habit. There is no one who doesn't know that exercise is important. They may not know the best ways to do it and they may have a difficult time squeezing it in but they know it is important. For basic health and fitness, I think weightlifting is by far the best way to go, far better than cardio. The are countless studies (Google it, draw your own conclusion) that show that weightlifting done with the proper intensity offers the same or better cardiovascular benefits as cardio but with the added benefit of increasing muscle mass and improving bone density. Lost muscle mass and loss of bone density is what makes people frail in old age. Weightlifting with proper intensity also helps prevent all sorts of other medical problems (Google it). What is proper intensity? Very little time in between sets and using enough weight that it forces you to move slowly until you fail momentarily after 7-12 reps.

The benefits of just one 30 minute, high intensity weightlifting session per week are enormous but you need to get into the habit. Getting into the habit is hard to do and maintaining the proper intensity will leave you gassed but the benefits can't be overstated. If your life includes something beyond seeking basic cardiovascular health (for me it is volunteer firefighting) then adding high intensity interval training like jumping rope and cardio makes a lot of sense in addition to lifting weights.

One way to think of habits is to think they require discipline. Discipline is a word that is pretty important to investing and other aspects of personal finance. Discipline relates to not spending beyond your means, managing how much debt you take on, maintaining a reasonable savings rate and sticking to your investment strategy in a market environment that challenges all strategies or just yours.

I've said numerous times before that I get a similar sensation from lifting weights as contributing to one of our retirement accounts. I am doing something for my future. There is no one who doesn't know that they would be better off in the future by exercising and saving some money. Again, people may not know the most effective way and it may be hard but still they know they will be better off.

Think about that for a second; your future. I've been blogging for a little over 15 years. That arc has taken me form my late 30's to early 50's. The year 2020 was certainly my future back then, yours too. In a manner of speaking, our future is here now just as 2030 will be here one day. Where did 2004-you think 2020-you would be? Where do you think you'll be in 2030. The habits we took on or maintained in 2004 along with any new constructive habits we've implemented have contributed in some measure to where we are now, good or bad. Luck certainly plays a role but our habits are our best shot at the outcomes we want.

Taking on and sticking with productive habits makes every other aspect of life easier. Years of living below your means makes enduring a financial hardship easier. Being very fit gives you more optionality in the face of any type of hardship. There is research out there that concludes that being fit reduces the likelihood of getting sick and makes it easier to recover on the occasion that we do get sick.

If you're happy with your progress to 2020 then you just need to keep it up even if it has been difficult and maybe seek out ways to improve incrementally (the improve 1% per day idea is popular but I don't understand what that means). If you're not happy with your progress to 2020 then maybe the answer is in improved habits. The body is very forgiving and we've blogged many times about recovering suboptimal financial circumstances, you just need to start. No matter where you've made it to in relation to what you hoped for, no one will care more about your outcomes than you.

As a quick note, there a couple of reasons I say Google it and draw your own conclusions. One is that anyone making changes to their lifestyle should not do so based solely on comments in a blog post but from a reasonably informed study. Additionally, if someone is not curious enough to seek out the information to try to understand it then it is unlikely that habit will stick when it is just spoon fed in a blog post or Tweet.