Mark Faulkner of Vireo Systems: My Mini Goals for Optimal Health and Productivity
It’s the first quarter of the year and the season of goal-setting, when everyone around you seems to be creating elaborate plans for making over their lives in the year ahead. I’m all for personal improvement and growth, but I think that the biggest reason that resolutions and goals fail in the execution phase is that people are generally thinking way too big. And frankly, it’s just not doable for most people to implement and sustain huge changes overnight.
Instead, I like to take an approach that involves mini goals. Variations on this idea have been lauded in books like Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, as well as Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results (both of which I recommend). My plan of attack is simple – create small, easy systems I can put into place in my life immediately, and on a recurring basis, so I don’t have to kill myself trying to transform into a completely different person. Here are the mini goals that are currently working for me:
- I fast one day out of the week.
While most of us have heard about fasting’s health and weight loss benefits, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. According to many doctors, scientists, and even some legendary philosophers (I’ve heard that Socrates was a big fan), fasting can offer tremendous benefits for more than just your waistline. In his book Neurofitness, Dr. Rahul Jandial, a neurosurgeon who enthusiastically supports fasting, explains why: “Intermittent hunger clears the mind, awakens the senses and improves brain functioning… Going without food for even a day increases your brain’s natural growth factors, which support the survival and growth of neurons.”
At the start of each week, I look at my work and personal calendars and choose one day to complete a 24 hour fast. For me, this means that I only consume water, unsweetened tea (I like lemon with it) and coffee (black or with a little skim milk) – often in generous amounts throughout the fast. This weekly physical and mental challenge works wonders to boost my productivity, concentration, and well-being, while also strengthening my feelings of self-control and mental discipline. I always come out of my fasting day feeling great, as if tackling that challenge has shown me that I can tackle anything that may come my way. When I started fasting, I dove right into this just to prove I could do it, but if you’re skeptical, try experimenting first with a shorter fast – maybe after breakfast until sundown (about eight hours or so) – and slowly building time onto that window as feels right to you. For some, a daily intermittent fasting schedule of 16 hours fasting, 8 hours eating is best (see further down on timing for eating). Others may do well with a weekly or even monthly fasting day. Find what speaks to your body and mind, and then make it a part of your recurring routine…but make it at least a bit challenging so that you are advancing in both health and self-discipline!
2. I strategically time my supplements.
I’ve spoken before about the benefits of regularly taking the correct mix of supplements, and as the founder of a health products company, there’s no surprise that I’m an active supplement enthusiast in my own personal life. I use a schedule for supplements that I recommend to just about everyone. Each day, just after I’ve finished my lunch, I take my supplements with a large serving of water. This ensures that my body is processing the nutrients in those supplements on a full stomach to avoid or minimize any unwanted binding of the compounds and also I’m not likely to feel nauseous as a result. Plus, taking them midday helps to ensure I’m benefiting from the release of the supplements’ components throughout the rest of my day and especially at night when the body uses them to repair and restore itself (just like it does with the digested food nutrients from the morning and midday). To remind me to take my supplements at the same time each day, I do two things. First, I set a daily alarm on my phone that alerts me with a reminder. Second, I keep my supplements right on my desk, so they’re top of mind when I sit back down from lunch. This is a simple habit to build into your life, but also an incredibly powerful and advantageous one since your body really depends on micronutrients to support your health and immune system.
3. I’m careful about my meal size and eating schedule.
Over many years experimenting with tactics and ideas to improve my health, fitness and well-being, I’ve landed upon what I think is the ideal schedule and format for my daily eating – and it’s a return to what I witnessed as a kid with how my grandmother sequenced her meals. She would say “eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at dinner/lunch, and a pauper at supper”. She would go on to say that’s how people learned to eat and sleep well over thousands of years. It’s only recently in America that we have significantly altered and drifted from that time-tested eating philosophy. I will admit to modifying it a bit based on my busy life but I do heartily “break the fast” of nighttime with a healthy “breakfast” and then generally try to make sure that my lunch is my largest meal. Essentially, I eat at midday what most people would consider dinner. I do this so that my body can spend the day digesting food and have the nutrients ready and being taken up into the bloodstream as I sleep to provide the building blocks for repair and restoration of all my cells. I find that doing this also gives me sustained energy while I’m deep into my productivity zone – fuel to get things done and stay active. Conversely, my dinner is typically always the smallest meal of the day – typically just a lean protein, a bit of healthy fat and some vegetables. I simply don’t need the same kind of energy in the evening that I need earlier in the day, and this gives my body and digestive system a chance to rest. Basically, our bodies don’t need to be overburdened or “distracted” with digesting a large meal while we sleep. “Rest” is really quite active as the body spends energy in sleep time working on itself after spending it’s energy during the day working on things involved in living life. Blood flow at night should be carrying the nutrients that were fully digested from earlier in the day to where they are needed for cellular repair and recovery and restoration versus being used in the abdomen to support poorly timed digestion. But then, the next morning, after a quick workout, I break my nighttime fast with a healthy breakfast that is moderately sized (sorry grandma, I’m not a king and I’m in a hurry, but I do eat well!) and I generally eat around the same time every morning so that my metabolic “wake up” gets into a routine (the body craves routines). To make it a healthy and time-efficient breakfast, I usually have things ready, like hard boiled eggs and such, to go along with yogurt and fruit and similar – excepting my fasting day, of course. This eating schedule may sound regimented, but it has made it possible for me to fairly easily realize and maintain health and weight and well-being goals. And I encourage every one of you to take the time to design a customized ‘set it and forget it’ eating plan routine that will work just as well for you and your body .
None of these habits are burdensome or overwhelming in size or scale. In fact, they’re small and recurring tasks that have largely fallen into the backdrop of my day to day life. They can be implemented at any time (no need to wait for New Year’s resolutions!) and I’ve become accustomed to them as routine. Now they’re just a part of my daily existence. That’s the best part about developing a small but mighty habit and setting it into motion – it becomes automatic, and no longer requires effort and energy to work its gradually transformative magic in your life.— Published on March 16, 2021 on Thrive Global