Back to Basics: Practicing What I Preach

Whatever you’re doing in business or ministry, your most impactful investment is yourself. It’s for the same reason that flight safety briefings tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. If you’re unconscious or dead, you can’t help anyone.

Recognizing that, I have a confession: I am a hypocrite, I unhealthy. I am convicted by James 3:1, knowing that as someone in a teaching role (counseling and coaching are at least partly teaching), I am “judged with greater strictness.”

There are seasons of life when you have to make sacrifices to achieve your long term goals. Don’t let your health be one of those sacrifices.

Since January of 2013 I have been employed full time AND a full time graduate student. My priorities have been faith, family, and future. Fitness got squeezed out. Probably not coincidentally, it got squeezed out right when I had finally found a nutrition and exercise combination that was sustainable and enjoyable for me.

The last time that I was in the gym was April of 2013. Now, in May of 2015, my health reflects my choices (physically, that is).

Yet, with clients, I preach that whatever challenges life puts in front of you, you will have the most resilience by optimizing four areas of your life: Sleep, diet, exercise, and spiritual disciplines. I have purposefully left relationships off of the list, I’ll address the reason why next week (hint: it has to do with control).

Anyway, I’ve hit an inflection point. If I don’t change, my body is going to break. I can’t go back to what I was doing before, there just isn’t time. But I can go back to the basics. There really is no excuse not to do at least that much.

The Basics of Sleep

Sleep has been shown to impact literally EVERY health condition we know about. Good sleep has a positive impact. Poor sleep has a negative impact. Since I am a little bit of a podcast nerd, I have heard several interviews recently with Shawn Stevenson, who wrote a helpful little book called Sleep Smarter, which includes 21 specific changes that anyone can make to improve their sleep.

He also wrote a blog article with the same basic tips as the book. Of course, the book goes into much more detail about why each tip is beneficial for your sleep, and practical ways to implement each tip in your own life.

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The basic changes that I need to make to improve my sleep are these (do any of these apply to you?):

  1. Get outside more: I work indoors, so “getting outside” for me has often been the time between the car, the house, and the office.
  2. Move more: Being in school involves a lot of sitting. So does my work. Burning more calories and getting some sort of exercise will help me fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
  3. Caffeine Curfew: I have a bit of a coffee habit. I don’t have to give coffee up to sleep better. But I shouldn’t consume it any later than noon if I want it all out of my system by bedtime.

Lord Kelvin is supposed to have said “What gets measured gets done.” With that in mind, I will also be using a Sleep Tracking App to measure improvements in my sleep.

The Basics of Diet

Diets fail. Period. A nutritional lifestyle will produce results. The old saying isn’t “you are what you eat this week.” It’s “you are what you eat.” Thinking that a diet will work for you is like thinking you will win the lottery.

The nutritional lifestyle that I would like to live (I’m being honest enough to say that I’m not living it right now) is most informed by the book The Carb Nite Solution, by John Kiefer. Like any other lifestyle issue, people get religiously committed to their ideas about good or bad nutrition. There is a lot of nonsense and a lot of poorly researched garbage out there.

What I appreciate about Kiefer’s work is the quality of the research behind it. He researches the research, changing and updating his model as new information comes up. He doesn’t do one study and get personally invested in the results of that study (like, for example, Atkins).

No, by the way, I don’t buy the crap that calories burned minus calories consumed = weight loss. There is some truth in that. But the relationship between calorie deficit and fat loss isn’t so simple.

The basic dietary changes that I need to make are these (right now, I’m living the exact opposite):

  1. Fats first: Fats are the fuel for most of our daily activities, and we get 9 time released calories per gram of fat (think of that as 9 miles to the gallon).
  2. Proteins Second: Proteins are the construction materials. When we need to burn protein for energy, we only get 4 calories per gram.
  3. Carbs Last: At 4 instant calories per gram, carbs are an important energy source when used correctly.
  4. Drink More Water: We all know that water is necessary to life. But the right amount of water will send fats, proteins, carbs, and vitamins and minerals straight to where they’re needed. Even relatively inactive people like me should be drinking at least 1 gallon of water per day.
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Measuring it to get it done: I’ll be using My Fitness Pal to track progress here.

The Basics of Exercise

Exercise programs, like diets, have religious followings. I am a weightlifter. You might be a walker, a runner, a cyclist, or a cross fitter.

As much as I want there to be, there just is not time for me to train 10 hours a week as a power lifter any more (which is what I was doing before I went back to school). Since I am a weight lifter, my ultimate goal is to get back in the gym and to be moving barbells again. Until there is time in my week, this is my plan.

  1. 10k steps a day: Ten thousand steps doesn’t seem like much from a weight lifter’s point of view. But honestly, it’s more than I’m doing now.
  2. Morning Calisthenics: 6 minutes of burpees, 20 seconds on, 40 seconds resting, every morning.
  3. Strong Lifts 5×5: (Starting in September, when my school load goes down) Strong Lifts is a 3 hour/week workout regimen for Average Joes that is built around the three basic exercises of power lifting (squat, bench press, and deadlift). When I was training 10 hours a week, this was my gateway drug.

Tracking: Google Fit and the Strong Lifts App. Maybe I’ll eventually buy a FitBit Surge.

The Basics of Spiritual Disciplines

There are tons of books about spiritual disciplines. The only two that I have ever actually finished were Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas and Living Prayer by Dennis Fuqua.

I recently heard an interview with Hal Elrod (who is either Buddhist or very new age) where he used the acronym SAVERS to summarize his book, the Miracle Morning. Even though it comes from a worldview very different from my own, the acronym is helpful for providing structure to some abstract ideas from Thomas and Fuqua.

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To synthesize those books in a Christ-honoring manner, here is the series of six morning disciplines that I want to build into my life. The order doesn’t matter so much as that they’re all there.

  1. Silence (prayer): praying through the Lord’s prayer as talked about in Living Prayer.
  2. Affirmations: A series of simple, encouraging “I am…” or “I exist to…” statements.
  3. Visualizations: Just like an athlete visualizes a good play, I’ll be visualizing myself completing the goals of the day.
  4. Exercise: I’ve already addressed this component above (morning calisthenics).
  5. Reading: Namely, scripture reading, following a 1 year bible reading plan.
  6. Scribing (writing): for now, I’ll use the prompt question “What would make today great?”

Tracking: HabbitBull (Android) Habbitlist (iOS).

The Basics of Sustainable Change

Baby Steps

I’ve listed out 16 individual goals above. If I try to implement all of those at once, I will flat out FAIL. But one or two at a time should be manageable.

Over the next 16 weeks, I will add one individual goal each week. I’ll use HabbitBull for my overall goal tracking.


The order of these goals is important. I’ll go from easiest to hardest so that I get to feel success early on, and have momentum to carry me through the harder changes.

Getting 10k steps and drinking a gallon of water per day are the easiest, because I have already started on those goals. Putting carbs at the end of my day will be the hardest, so I’ll add that one in week 16.

Find Synergies

I’ve written about synergies before. All of these goals work together in ways that reinforce the other goals. They are mutually supportive. They don’t compete with each other.

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. What small changes can you make to improve your sleep?
  2. … Your diet?
  3. … Your exercise?
  4. … Your spiritual disciplines?

Disclaimer: The book links above are all “affiliate links.” This means that if you happen to purchase anything from Amazon after using one of these links, I will receive a 4% to 6% commission.

By Dan

Founder, Executive Director, Mental Health Counselor at Restored Life Counseling