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Putting the Foundation Ideas Together into a Plan: A Discussion on Decision Fatigue
My plan to implement the four elements of the foundational posts into my daily life
The main reason I started The Curvy Road Project was to revisit all the wisdom I’ve learned over the last couple of decades and put it all together. Essentially, my goal is to create a roadmap of how I can live my life in a way that assures I’m being the best version of myself possible. Documenting this process, hopefully, will help others do the same.
Over the last four weeks, I’ve covered the four “foundational” topics (sleep, diet, exercise, and meditation) that create the base on which every other topic sits. If I assure these four things are taken care of regularly, I’ll maximize my physical, mental, social, and spiritual health.
To implement all four of these regularly, I’m going to attempt something I’ve never done - create a schedule of daily habits, which will include:
The time I wake up in the morning.
When I eat, what I eat, and how much I eat.
When I exercise and what exercises I do.
The amount of water I drink daily and at what times.
When and how long I meditate each day.
The time I go to bed and what bedtime routine I follow.
The goal is to remove as many decisions from my day as possible based on an interesting theory of something called “decision fatigue.” The idea is the more daily decisions we make like what to wear, what to eat, should I exercise today, etc., the less willpower we have and the worse decisions we make as the day wears on. For me personally, this results in making bad decisions at night. Specifically, to drink wine and eat junk food, both of which sabotage my sleep and diet.
I kind of discovered this by accident. At my current job, I wear the same uniform every day. I realized on workdays I felt a little less mentally frazzled because I didn’t have to make a decision on the clothes I had to wear. It was a small but noticeable effect, which led me to research the concept of decision fatigue.
So my goal is to eliminate as many menial decisions as I can by having a plan for the important stuff I do day after day. This, combined with the willpower hack I mentioned in this post about food cravings, should conserve a lot of that willpower to help prevent myself from making bad decisions.
What My Plan Looks Like
Shelly and I decided to dip our toes into the world of competitive bodybuilding. Specifically, physique-based weightlifting. We needed new fitness and exercise challenge, and neither of us is super motivated to get back into running or jiu jitsu/ mma as deeply as we once were. And, quite frankly, we’re at a bit of a low point fitness-wise. That’s code for “we’re fat.” I’m at about 26% body fat, which is WAY higher than the 12-15% range that’s my normal.
We both have to lose body fat and build muscle. Because we’ve been lifting regularly for a few months, we’ll start with a “cutting” phase where we’re running a daily caloric deficit of around 500 calories to lose body fat and minimize muscle loss. So this goal drives the diet and exercise aspects of my plan. This goal doesn’t really affect sleep and meditation; these would remain the same regardless of my fitness goals.
I made a week-long food log in Google Sheets, which looks like this:
Each day, I’ll eat the food in that day’s column. These quantities assure I’ll meet that 500 calorie deficit on average (to lose about a pound per week) using a diet with good variety. The variety is to assure I get necessary nutrients and to introduce novelty without having to make decisions.)
Flavoring will be added in the form of spices and herbs, and I’ll add low-caloric density veggies to the meals above the one cup that’s already scheduled.
The foods generally create a 40% protein, 40% carbohydrate, 20% fat macronutrient distribution (for fat loss and muscle preservation.) Depending on the exact combination of foods, I’ll consume around 1700-1900 calories per day. My basal metabolic rate, the number of calories my body burns to perform basic life functions, is around 1800. Based on my exercise and activity at work for any given day, my total energy expenditure ranges from 2200-3000.
On most days, I’m running a pretty big deficit, which I’ll probably tweak in the coming weeks (by consuming more food.) There’s always a danger of doing “metabolic damage”, which is the apocalyptic term to describe a slowing of our metabolism. In evolutionary terms, this mechanism helped our ancestors survive famine. Today, it slows weight loss. Keeping quite a few carbs and adequate fat in my diet, along with a weekly cheat meal (discussed later), should limit this potential problem.
As far as scheduling, all the food consumed for the day will be divided up into five or six small meals roughly three hours apart. This is done to reduce hunger and add convenience. With each meal, I’ll drink about a liter of water in addition to another three liters throughout the day. This assures I’ll be adequately hydrated and, especially in the beginning, it suppresses appetite a bit.
Weekly exercise will follow a similar plan. Because of my fitness goal, weightlifting will be the central focus of my exercise routine. The plan is to start with a basic four-day split routine as follows:
Upper 1 is done on Monday, Lower 1 on Tuesday, Upper 2 on Thursday, and Upper 3 on Friday. The main workout is done in the morning before work; the secondary workout is done at home. The main workout targets major muscle groups by moving a lot of weight in compound lifts (primary bench press, military press, back squat, and deadlift.) The secondary workouts target smaller, more specific muscle groups (mostly.) The exercises will be tweaked in the first few weeks based on some pre-existing bjj injury issues. The entire routine allows for ample recovery time. Combined with a solid diet and good sleep, I should make some pretty significant strength gains rapidly.
The goal of this routine is to maintain (and maybe build a little) all the major muscle groups. I’m measuring my strength relative to common strength standards as published on the Strength level website. After this initial cutting phase, we’ll move to a bulking phase, tentatively set for July 1st. This routine is basically preparation for that bulking phase.
In addition to this routine, I’ll do three cardio sessions for 20-30 minutes every week. Most of these will involve running up and down hills or Fartlek runs. Shelly and I are considering running a five-mile race locally in a few months, and this cardio routine would be adequate to finish that race without risk of injury.
I’ll likely add in one or two jiu jitsu rolling sessions each week depending on how recovery is going from lifting. As much as I would love to stay motivated and train three or four times weekly, I’m still pretty burned out from running our gym. At this point in my bjj journey, I’m much more concerned about playing and having fun.
Sleep and Meditation
Getting adequate sleep is absolutely critical to physical (and mental) recovery. As long as I stay away from alcohol, my sleep has been very good over the last month. To continue this trend, I’m going to set a definite wake-up time (4 am, which I’ve already been doing for years) AND a bedtime routine that is set up to induce sleep. At 8 pm, I’ll do a second round of meditation, then read using the sunset feature on my new sunrise alarm. Over the few weeks I’ve used this alarm, that sunset feature, which is just a progressively-dimming reddish-yellow light, has been incredibly effective.
I’m still having trouble waking up in the middle of the night; usually about twice per week. Combining meditation and an eye fatigue technique has helped me fall back asleep most of the time, but it’s not 100% effective. I’m also going to start experimenting with some free guided meditation tracks from a meditation app called “Insight Timer.”
It’s worth noting one of the reasons I’m adding mediation into the routine, and part of the reason it’s one of the foundational ideas is there’s decent evidence it improves physical recovery after exercise. Anything that can facilitate recovery is a good thing; that’s a major part of muscle hypertrophy. The anxiety-reducing and sleep-enhancing benefits are just icing on the cake.
Shelly and I have been doing some form of regular exercise for particular goals for a very, very long time. One of the irrefutable facts we’ve discovered is that our ability to stick to a routine long enough to accomplish the goal is absolutely predicted on having a “cheat day.” On cheat days, we typically don’t exercise and we can eat or drink whatever we want (including alcohol) in moderation. Because we’re in a cutting phase, we’re not doing a full cheat day; we’re limiting it to a single cheat meal. If we did an entire cheat day, it would be pretty easy for us to eat enough calories to nullify the deficit we built during the previous week.
Cheat meals are the times we’re allowing ourselves to go to restaurants, which is one of our favorite forms of recreation. This is also the situation where we’re most likely to socialize with friends.
The cheat meal also limits that weekly caloric deficit a bit.
This plan covers all four of the domains of the foundational ideas AND removes a great deal of small daily decisions. The goal is to create a foundation for health and happiness and to create a situation where every other idea presented throughout the rest of the year can be implemented successfully.
Want to discuss this plan, or maybe work on a plan of your own? Check out our Facebook Group for some ideas, feedback, and support!