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Phuket Retreat

The Fragility of Strictness

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One of the most important aspects of reaching goals is consistency. This usually means waking up everyday, setting a plan of action, and executing – without missing a beat.

But what happens when life throws you a curve ball?

You get sick, injured, life emergency, or some other unavoidable obstacle interferes with your routine. What do you do then?

For people who create strict routines, these interruptions are jarring and can destroy years of hard work in building habits of success. They form the basis of their routines and principles on immutable ideals: I always have to eat clean, never miss a workout, train at a specific time everyday, etc.

While these are all good things, the rigidness of the principles can become a problem. Because at some point, you will have a conflict and cannot live up to your ideals. For example, you might have a business meeting that causes you to miss a training session, and perhaps have to eat a meal that would break your diet.

While a small break from your routine seems harmless, some people with strict routines can fall apart. The key example is diet. We all know someone that was crushing a new diet for weeks getting good results, and suddenly they crash hard and end up worse than they started. For some people it can be going on vacation, for others getting busier at work, but sure enough something caused them to have to alter their routine just a little and that derailed the gravy train.

A very strict routine is like a piece of ceramic – very strong but brittle. It takes a lot to break it, but it has no flex whatsoever, so any force that exceeds its toughness causes irreversible damage.

In materials, many applications desire a mix of toughness AND flexibility. For example, metal. Metal is tough, but it also has the ability to flex under high stress without catastrophic failure. This allows it to survive dynamic stress situations without failure, where a material with a higher toughness but lower flexibility would not.

For routines, we desire the same traits. A routine that is too strict will not survive the inevitable monkey wrench life will throw at you. You need to build in some flexibility. This is one of the reasons why modern diets allow cheat meals.

For example, I just finished a 11 day vacation in Spain with my girlfriend and my parents. If you know anything about me, I love to eat, especially when traveling. So I did eat plenty of exotic foods I normally don’t eat, and at times I normally wouldn’t eat (restaurants in Spain open around 8pm at night as they close for siesta from 3-8pm).

Plus, when you are traveling, getting access to quality gym equipment is tricky. We stayed at 3 hotels, and only one of them had a proper gym to workout in. Now I am sure I could have found a gym within the city and made time to train there, but then I would have made the vacation harder to enjoy for everyone else.

So do I break or flex?

I flexed.

I still tracked all my calories and macros with my phone, and tried my best to stay close to my macro goals as I could. When I had a good gym I worked out in the morning. When I didn’t have a gym, I just made a point to do more cardio in the form of walking and going up stairs during sight seeing, on average walking 8 miles a day and climbing 40 floors.

By the time I got back home, I had actually lost 1 pound and body measurements were about the same, with the added benefit that I allowed some of my injuries to recover, while being hungry to return to my routine with renewed vigor.

So I didn’t go completely off the plan (eating like a pig or lounging around all day doing nothing), but I didn’t go hardcore either (eat super clean and workout like a beast and miss out on vacationing). Like steel, I flexed under pressure but was able to bounce back and keep to my regimen as usual.

While I know some people that are built like ceramic that are very successful, I find very few people who can live life super hard-nosed 24/7. I can only think of one of the top of my head right now still active.

So I believe being built from steel is a better approach to regimens. Build your routines with some flexibility to them, allowing your to adapt when the time call for it.

Don’t mistake this as meaning you can flex everyday. Just like metal, if you are bending left and right regularly, you will snap. The flexibility is only required once in a while. For me, that is a couple times a month. Some people need once a week. I find the longer your stick with a routine, the less you will need to bend it.


What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

Comment with your take on this.

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