These are “action experiments” and it’s best if we have an established baseline to work from. Starting off fat, lazy and unhappy isn’t what this is all about – and just about any action would be an improvement over that bad scenario. What I want to do is make sure that I’m implementing the ‘best practices’ I’ve learned over the years so I can see if the experiments are an improvement over those best practices or not.
There are three interrelated ideas here: the first is having a baseline. The second is the idea of a ‘solid base’. And the third is understanding your ideal day.
If you are going to run experiments with your life where you try different things and get weird with yourself, it helps if you have a certain ‘baseline’ so you know what’s normal and what’s not. Quick example: if you start drinking goat’s milk and you lose inches around your waist, is that because of the goat’s milk or were you already losing inches off of your waist?
You also don’t want to change too many things at once. If you add a ton of weight training volume (volume is weight x reps x sets) at the same time you start drinking goat’s milk, and your waist starts shrinking, which was it? You changed too many variables at once.
It’s important to have normal stuff you do as part of your routine that you know works. This also interrelates with an idea of having a ‘solid base’. This is an idea from periodization that before you can ‘peak’ (that is, prepare for a competition) you have to ‘build a base’ of training. Periodization, in my mind, is the idea that you do different kinds of training at different times throughout a training period. You have a few different attributes that you want to bring into your competition, like strength, endurance, flexibility, etc. But trying to build all of these attributes at once is very difficult, if not impossible. So essentially you work on building one of these attributes at a time, then maintain the rest of them. Building a solid base is just a way of saying ‘bringing all attributes up to a certain base level’. This is the reason that marathoners will put in a ton of miles early in their training period: it creates a base that they can then build on by running hills, sprint repeats, negative splits and other, more advanced techniques. I personally believe that strength is the mother attribute of most of the other physical attributes, so I will focus on building strength. At the same time, I will be doing a large volume of sub-maximal work to ‘build a base’. Of course, I’ll discuss all of this stuff in detail later, so if you’re interested in strength training, stay tuned.
You can extrapolate this concept of having an experimental baseline and a solid base with all the aspects of your life: how do you keep yourself happy? How do you keep your spiritual practice locked in? What practices help you grow as a person? How do you make sure that things work smoothly in your life?
I think if you have lived a certain length of time, you know what those things are. Oh, hey, I have a better day when I make my coffee the night before. Oh, my days go better when I eat dinner with my wife. Or whatever it is. That being said, there’s an old saying that “if you want to get something that you’ve never gotten, you’ve got to do something that you’ve never done before.” So you start with the solid base of stuff that you know works, and then you try something you’ve never done before — an action experiment.
So there are two ways to look at this problem of ‘best practices’. You can do it from past experience – “oh, when I was the weight I wanted to be, I was eating in this way” – or you can do it with a thought experiment: “what would my ideal day look like? “ When I say this, I don’t mean “I lounge in a chair while being fed grapes by green-skinned alien women while I enjoy my winnings from the lotto by ordering an endless stream of random crap from eBay.” What I mean is, what is the best version of your current day?
For instance, say you have to wake up at 7 am to take a shower and catch a train at 7:45 to get to your job on time. What would your day look like if you woke up at 6:00 and had an hour to work out? To meditate? To write your novel, take photos, write a song? How about your commute? You spend an hour on the train doing what exactly? Playing some dumb phone game? What would your commute look like if you committed to reading a book? To listening to an educational podcast or lecture? If you committed to watching videos from a class on a subject you want to learn?
How about your lunch break: What would you eat? What kind of food works the best for you? A homemade sandwich that’s good for your budget? A salad that’s good for your waistline? A lunch out with a chance to catch up with the co-workers that you like?
What do you need to bridge your transition from work to home? Maybe you carry too much work home and you need a 20 minute ‘unwind’ routine at the end of the day. Maybe you’re better off working out after work. What about dinner? Is it prepped once a week, so it’s ready to go when you get home?
If you’re trying to wake up earlier, what time do you need to go to bed? What do you need to do before you go to sleep? Have you looked at UFYH’s nighttime list (NSFW)?
The key is going to be that you figure out what’s worked well for you in the past and you implement it. You know you do the best when you get 7 hours of sleep, or 9.5 hours, or whatever, so plan for that. You know you do the best when you are getting some time to video game with your friends, so plan for that. You know you do the best when you have time to play with your kids, so you plan for that.
Having a solid base is really about having a sort of set of guiding principles for your life. And so when you try something new, you know how it works in the context of the other things that you are already doing that you know work well. That’s it.
Going forward, I’m going to talk about what my solid base looks like. I would encourage you to think of the same things. Be mindful about your days, because that’s what your life is made up of.