I’ve seen a lot of posts about biohacking and life hacking and stuff along those lines, and while it’s cool to think in trendy terms like that, a lot of it comes down to the aggregation of marginal gains. Essentially, if something can contribute even 1% to your success or has that much of a benefit to your health, then adding multiple elements of similar benefit can make a notable improvement in your health, strength, athletic performance, or other factors that are important to you. However, by themselves, they’re often not that impactful except in rare instances.
Just to be clear, we ain’t talking butter in your coffee. Stop that, unless you just enjoy the taste of it.
So with that in mind, I thought it would be good to start a regular series that looks at simple things you can do to have an impact on your health, performance, or ability to just make it until the end of Friday without rage-crying in the fetal position, and maybe hit a PR or two.
#1: Change Your Pillow
Pillows actually have a lifespan, and it’s considerably shorter than you might think. Typically, a pillow becomes less effective at maintaining your head and neck position after 1-2 years, which can have an effect on the overall quality of your sleep if you’re using a pillow that isn’t doing it’s job any more. Also, consider whether you’re a side, stomach or back sleeper, or like me do more of a rotisserie where you spin consistently throughout the night. Your pillow can be amazing if you’re a side sleeper and terrible if you sleep on your stomach, and vice versa.
One of the first questions I ask clients when they say they’re getting a lot more neck, shoulder or upper back pain or tenderness lately, especially when they wake up is when they last changed their pillow. Most cost anywhere from $20-100 and if you want to get all fancy you can get “custom” pillows that can run a few hundred bucks, but in the grand scheme of things they’re a relatively low barrier of change that could have some consistently good results.
#2: Shut down the electronics at night
While checking to see what the latest social media hijinx are at the end of the day is a fun way to unwind, it can actually interfere with sleep. Some studies have shown an increase in dopamine release from checking social media and using light-producing electronics like a smart phone, tablet or laptop, which can act like a stimulant and affect your ability to go to sleep. Similar dopamine release can be seen with exercise, however unlike social media check-ins, exercise can also produce a cascade of endorphins, which affect your opioid receptors, and can act as a nervous system depressant, which can help you sleep a lot easier.
Some options that seem universally accepted by sleep scientists as substitutes for device lookery would include reading a real physical book, colouring, talking with a human in person, or doing some hobby that doesn’t take a lot of effort or brain power to do.
#3: Walk, but not to get somewhere
Walking is a great form of transportation, however an often overlooked activity is walking solely for the purpose of experiencing the environment around you. Whenever I’m in a new city, one of my favourite activities is just hiking around to see what I can see. This you can do the same in a new neighborhood, or simply by taking a different route to work or home once in a while.
The change in mode of why you’re walking (I have to get somewhere versus I’m just enjoying where I am) helps to reduce a lot of the mental clutter about what we’re going to do when we get where we’re going and helps you to connect with what’s happening at the moment more effectively. Changing your brain’s focus from what’s ahead to what’s in front of you is one of the most effective things I’ve found to solve problems as well.
#4: The 3:1 Rule
I have a rule in my sessions that’s somewhat unspoken, but I try to make my clients live by it. If they come in with a bad mood or outlook and have a lot of things to complain about, I let them give 3 complaints or negative thoughts before I switch things around and ask about something positive or good they’re going through or experiencing. If they can’t think about something and just want to complain, I keep steering them back to something positive until they can finally think of something. Then they get 3 more complaints before they have to find something positive again. In many instances, this ration goes from 3:1 to 2:1 and eventually to 0:1 fairly quickly.
Negativity is somewhat akin to a virus. It can multiply relatively fast and take over. Positivity or even just finding something good is tough for some people hard-wired to only look at the negative or ways to improve, but once people start adding up the good, it has a massive effect on their outlook, the quality of their relationships with others (who wants to be around a Debbie Downer all the time?), and also on their performance. I’ve had a lot of clients go from an “I can’t” mindset to one of “I want to see if I can” with this simple thought rule.
#5: Find ways to make fewer decisions and do fewer meaningless tasks
Every morning, breakfast for me is the same: coffee. Every evening, my bedtime routine is the same: let the dogs out, kiss my wife, brush my teeth, read, and then bed. I give my clients access to my schedule so they can book in at their leisure so I don’t have to play telephone or email tag with each of them. I have auto-pay features to remove trips to the bank.
For the longest time I wore a uniform which meant work clothes were simply what was clean. Now I have to put some thought into whether my shirt goes with my pants, but I guess that’s okay.
Having fewer “chores” or choices to make each day can significantly free up thought processes and time that would be used to make decisions. It was something I took from listening to Dan John speak in Norway this past September. For the entire time his girls were growing up, he made dinners and had the same weekly menu every single week. Day one was this meal, day 2 was that meal. No variance. It helped speed up everything from grocery shopping to prep time to clean up, and never lead to that awkward “what’s for dinner?” discussion, or the inevitable “is there anything else we could eat?” clapback kids will occasionally make.
Find some elements in your life you can automate or decisions you can remove to help free up some time in your life. It could be as simple as setting the autotimer on your coffee machine so you don’t have to make a cup when you wake up, or as involved as getting a personal assistant to manage every facet of your life.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed todays post, and if you do feel free to like and share so I can know to keep doing these.