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BKB Personal Trainer, Jeff Siegel: 10 Lessons I Learned in 2014

Something about this time of year makes me reflective, so I compiled a list of 10 things I have learned, discovered, or relearned about myself and the world during this last year. Items are in no particular order.

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1. Your body wants to be healthy, but not necessarily fit.

I believe bodies naturally seek balance and integration. A healthy body moves well, feels good and has sufficient strength and endurance to make it through the day. But your body could care less about running 26 miles, squatting 300lbs or most other fitness personal records. You have to push hard to achieve these feats because your body won’t do it for you. That’s why they’re called feats; they’re displays of athleticism contrived by human minds. Human bodies, on the other hand, simply want to survive and reproduce (this is the biological definition of “fitness” remember). While ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ often get lumped together, the former is about quality of life without disease, while the latter is typically synonymous with strength, stamina and athleticism. There is meaningful overlap, but training for one may or may not benefit the other.

2. Apply the 80-20 principle to cooking meals and your body will thank you.

If you’re not familiar with Pareto’s 80-20 principle, it basically states that 80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs. In other words, a few things you do have a disproportionately large effect on the results you get. One of those things that produces dramatic results across all domains of wellbeing is cooking. Enough has already been said about this topic by Mark Bittman (e.g. “The Truth about Home Cooking”). My approach is to use the 80:20 breakdown as a guideline for lasting health. Simply, prepare and cook 80% of your meals at home. The other 20% do as you wish. This year I’ve stepped up the number of meals I make for myself and my body has never looked or felt better.

3. You don’t have to shop at the same supermarket all the time. [corollary to #2]

In other words, to maximize your budget, health and culinary pleasure, don’t just be a savvy shopper in the grocery store, be a savvy shopper between grocery stores. In many parts of the world, there aren’t supermarkets, there are just markets. Consolidating everything in one place certainly adds convenience. The trade-off is allowing one big-box retailer to control your food supply.

I’m fortunate enough to live within a few miles of a Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods, a Market Basket, a gourmet meat shop, and dozens of ethnic markets. I understand not everyone has this accessibility, but for those that do, rather than get caught in routine of shopping only at one place, use all the grocery stores for their comparative advantage. I’ll head to Market Basket for pantry staples, Trader Joe’s for prepackaged frozen items, Whole Foods for high quality seafood, and so on. [The trick with Whole Foods is to buy what’s on sale so you’re not blowing your whole budget.] This approach keeps my kitchen filled with a diversity of foods and saves me money too!


4. Your body is probably all F*#$&+!^ Up.

You may not feel bad or even know there’s something askew, but pretty much everyone is unbalanced. You may have crappy posture, limited range of motion, joint dysfunction, or compensations for poor movement patterns. I rarely come across a person who has really developed and mastered foundational movements, especially when an external load is involved. Most people favor one side (usually their right), lack anterior core control and shift faulty movement patterns around from one muscle or joint to another. Don’t even get me started on the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting.

Basically everybody could use some bodily awareness and technical movement work. We need to go back and think about foundational movements (e.g. squatting, hinging, crawling, etc.) and how we breathe. Moreover, we need to be teaching these things in school. By sacrificing PE class to save money and focus on test scores, we are setting up kids for a lifetime of poor movement. If kids engage in sports and fitness, they’re probably going to lack proprioceptive awareness and proper movement foundations. The result is what movement specialist Gray Cook calls putting fitness on top of dysfunction, which inevitably leads nowhere good.

5. Screens = Not Present.

Nothing new under the sun here. When I’m engaged with one of my many devices, I’m not engaged with whatever or whoever is right in front of me. I find this most problematic during meals and phone conversations. As much as I try to practice what I preach, eating in front of a computer is a vice of mine. Answering emails or browsing the web not only leads to unnecessary crumbs in my keyboard, it leads to mindless shoveling of food down the hatch.

Likewise, when I’m on the phone with someone while in front of the computer, it’s all too easy to start browsing the internet. As a result, I’m definitely not paying much attention to whatever is being said. These are crappy habits that stem from my ego’s desire to “be productive” at all times. The bottom line is that this type of multi-tasking is not productive; it’s an escape from being present with reality. New rule for 2015: No screens while eating or conversing with others.

6. Buddha was right; The middle path is almost always the optimal one.

Anything can be taken to extremes. There’s really no such thing as an unqualified good. A lot of my work in the health and fitness domain is about shifting people from one extreme (usually moving too little and eating too much) back towards the other pole. However too much exercise is just as damaging as too little. The same can be said for having terrible dietary habits verses orthorexia (the compulsive obsession with eating healthy). Even well-intentioned self-care can become narcissistic self-absorption when people use retreats, exercise classes, decompression time, and so on as an escape from reality. All practices exist on a continuum, and health is about finding balance between extremes.

7. Schedule moments to make memories.

Most of us are so in over our heads when it comes to managing competing obligations, responsibilities and priorities, that if we don’t schedule things in our calendars, they often get neglected. In the book Decide, Steve McClatch says the reason so many people fail to achieve their goals is because they have not committed to defending the time which they will work on them.

8. We are all control freaks.

Yes, I admit that I’m a control freak. The truth is that we are all trying to regulate our external and internal states to feel safe, comfortable and loved. We do this unconsciously, and we do it all the time. Arguably, our egos are highly evolved mechanisms to make us feel comfortable and in control of the unpredictable world around us. As Michael Singer says, we can control our mind but we can’t control the world. So in order to get the world the way we like it, we internally verbalize it, judge it, complain about it, and then decide what to do about it. All this helps to give us a semblance of control because reality is just too crazy for most of us to deal with. We have to temper it with our minds. One way to open Pandora’s box of self-inquiry is to stop right now and ask yourself, “What is my mind trying to control?” Answer this question and you might see how often you cause your own struggle.


9. Rest is the most undervalued factor in health.

I often thought I was resting if I wasn’t out and about, working with clients, or riding my bike. But sitting around at home isn’t necessarily rest. Rest is a profound shift from doing to being. Rest is to action as light is to dark. The two are inseparable, yet we often get so consumed by doing that we forget how important rest is to everything we do. Let me dissect rest even more completely.

On the purely fitness level, rest periods in any given workout determine the overall metabolic demands on your body. The difference between a 10 second rest period and a 60 second rest period are worlds apart in the types of energy systems they engage. Decreasing the rest periods in a workout shift the activity from an anaerobic one to aerobic one and completely change the physiological adaptations the workout elicits. Know what you want to achieve with your workout (work capacity? Power? Both?) and consider how your rest period is influencing the energy systems you’re training.

Rest on a quotidian level refers to sleep: the mother of all rest. Sleep allows your body to integrate demands from the day, rebuild tissue, and rebalance all sorts of physiological functions. This is even more important if you’re physically active or demanding a lot from your body on a regular basis. If there is one thing that I’ve done this year that has made the biggest impact on my health, it is going to bed early.

Rest on a deeper level is about surrender and letting go of the ego’s compulsive struggle to control everything. Resting is fundamentally not about getting you somewhere, but in growing in your capacity to be here right now. When we rest, we give up wanting something else and rejecting what is right here in favor of some imagined future or recaptured past. This type of rest is not only supremely restorative; it is freedom from the unconscious habituation that usually governs our lives.


10. You, in the deepest sense, are whole and complete just the way you are.

As screwed-up as your body might be (see #6), and as chaotic as your work or personal life might be, there is a part of you that does not need fixing. In fact, it has never needed fixing. It is the awareness we all share as living beings: the consciousness that lies behind the “self” we identify with. This part of us is a doorway to the true depths of our being and a launching ground to letting go of worry, distraction, and struggle. This is the spiritual part of being aware and alive that is simply along for this human ride. It’s always there. We just lose touch with it. This is one of those things I will probably have to relearn every year. It’s just all too human to forget.

Cheers to learning (and relearning) about life’s amazing mysteries in 2015,

— Jeff Siegel

This article was originally shared on Jeff’s blog, edited for BKB.