How to Make Self-Improvement Suck Dramatically Less

Reading Time: 4 minutes

They don’t know you, but you know you.

One of the reasons why most lifestyle enhancement plans and products fail is that they were not designed with you in mind. These influencers and plan developers don’t know you. They have no clue about what lifestyle changes would be sustainable for you. They don’t know what activities you hate doing and which you enjoy. But do you know who does know? You do, that’s who! 

What do you enjoy doing?

To design a growth-oriented lifestyle tailored to your specifications, the process itself must be enjoyable—or at the least, potentially enjoyable.

Step 1. Jot Down What You Like to Do

Bring to mind all of the things you currently enjoy doing as well as the activities you once enjoyed—regardless of their positive or negative implications. Physically jotting these down on a piece of paper or typing them into a document may prove to be helpful.

Step 2. Strikethrough the Destructive Habits

Recall or look through these activities and strikethrough all of the activities that are bad for you. These can range from unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking to compulsive social media checking, maintaining toxic relationships, and the like. 

Step 3. Highlight the Activities That Are Good For You

Regardless of how unhealthy your favorite activities are, there are likely a few that aren’t bad for you. Heck, some may even be good for you. There are probably even some that are extremely good for you that you haven’t thought about in decades. Even still, there are likely some activities you enjoy that share an unlikely component with something that is good for you. 

Let’s use some examples to get the wheels turning. 

Activities You Currently Enjoy That Are Good For You

Ok, maybe you’re not a total loaf of soggy bread. Maybe you genuinely enjoy the occasional walk around town. Perhaps you enjoy learning from historical documentaries. Consider the things you do every day that aren’t actively hastening your demise.

Activities You Once Enjoyed But Hadn’t Thought About Since

Did you play sports in high school? Middle school? Elementary school? Did you enjoy writing stories as a kid? How about painting? Have you stopped playing a musical instrument because life got too busy? 

Activities Your Enjoy That Could Correspond to Something Good For You

Do you enjoy sitting still? Look at you—you potential meditator, you. 

Do you tend to doodle during inconsequential meetings? Is that a budding illustrator I see?

What are your personal goals? 

We all have positive goals in life. Maybe you want to achieve and maintain a certain level of fitness. Perhaps you’d like to get more sleep. Maybe you want to become an avid reader. Bring these specific goals to mind and jot them down—the more specific, the better. 

And finally—use your favorite activities as tools in your growth.

Whether you physically wrote down your goals and favorite activities or just have them at the forefront of your mind, begin to draw lines between the two. 

  • Which of your favorite activities can you leverage toward your goals?
  • Which of your past favorite activities could you revisit to aid your progress? 
  • Which of your favorite activities are negatively inhibiting your goals?
  • How can you replace these harmful-yet-enjoyable activities with positive activities you enjoy? 

Stuff You Enjoy + Stuff That’s Good For You = Stuff You Should Do

venn diagram of stuff you enjoy and stuff that is good for you

When you leverage your favorite activities that also happen to align with your goals, you can begin to craft a growth-oriented lifestyle you enjoy. This Venn diagram should summarize the point of this article as well as anything. 

I jump rope because it’s fun. Fitness is a side effect. 

When I was in elementary school in the early-to-mid ‘90s, Jump Rope For Heart was on a crusade to get kids jumping rope. I remember enjoying the experience thoroughly. However, once I moved into middle school, where gym class was optional, I didn’t touch a jump rope again until I was into my 30’s. 

Why did I pick up jump rope again? Was it because I was at my heaviest weight of 235 pounds? Was it because I was researching various forms of exercise and found jump rope to be one of the most underrated forms of cardio? 

Nope. It just looked fun. And it was. 

Beginning again as an easily-winded sack of flab means it wasn’t necessarily easy, but even as an utterly sedentary desk jockey, I enjoyed the challenge. 

Every week, my stamina increased, and my body began to change. I had no specific weight-loss goal in mind, aside from possibly dipping below 200 pounds for the first time in about five years. That happened rather uneventfully because, though the process was challenging, it didn’t suck. I enjoyed pushing myself to my limits and leaving puddles of sweat in my driveway. I would look forward to my next jump rope session with anticipation rather than dread.  

At the time I write this, I jump rope six days a week, regardless of the weather, for 15-30 minutes, striving to keep an average heart rate of above 145 bpm. 

Is it hard some mornings? Yes. 

Is it challenging to push through when I feel like giving up? Definitely. 

Does it suck? Absolutely not. 

Leverage what you consider fun. Lean into what you consider challenging. 

Whether you’re looking to run a faster mile, lose and keep off a certain amount of weight, or develop a useful meditation habit, utilizing the activities you already enjoy will help you not only tolerate the growth process but crave it. When you use enjoyable activities to push your journey towards achievement, you pour rocket fuel on your progress.

For Your Future Self: 4 Attributes of a Sustainable Existence

Reading Time: 5 minutes


“How long can I keep doing this?”

143

In addition to being an accomplished television personality, minister, and musician, “Mister” Fred Rogers was also an immensely disciplined fellow. He was a vegetarian who never drank or smoked. He went to bed every night at 9:30 PM. He rose every morning at 5 AM, and began every day with prayer, answering fan mail, and swimming laps. After swimming, he’d weigh himself. Every time, the scale was the same: 143 pounds—the “I love you” number as he’d call it due to the number of letters in those words. 

Was this routine flashy? Hardly. Was it sustainable? Undoubtedly. 

Inspired by Rogers and my desire to be a friend to the older versions of myself, I’ve grown fixated on cultivating the most sustainable lifestyle possible. This research continues, but this piece contains what I’m presently referring to as “The Four Attributes of a Sustainable Existence.”

Life Sustained

Four touchstones must be present when determining which lifestyle activities, habits, or routines are sustainable—a sustainability test, if you will.  

  1. Positive: The activity has to be something that you won’t need to give up eventually. 
  2. Honest: The activity has to be something you honestly want to pursue with motivations authentic to your character. 
  3. Simple Reasoning: the reason for pursuing this activity needs to be simple.
  4. Enjoyment: you need to enjoy the activity separate from the benefit it brings. 

Throughout this piece, I’ll be using the routine of jumping rope for 25 minutes, six days a week as an example of a sustainable lifestyle habit of mine and why it met all these criteria for me (and maybe you, too, but hey, that’s you...)

1. The activity needs to be good for you…or at least not bad for you.

Starting with the most obvious, any lifestyle activity you hope to pursue into old age shouldn’t be anything that will, at some point, result in negative consequences. Some examples of not-good activities include nightly cigar smoking, a keto diet, or afternoon ice cream. While any of these may begin as harmless niceties or even helpful tools, if you’ll have to give it up eventually, there’s no use in starting it now.

Example: One of the reasons I chose jump rope as my favorite form of exercise as opposed to, say, motocross racing, is due to its sustainable nature. With the proper conditioning, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do jump rope cross-overs and boxer-skips into my 90’s. Ok, maybe not double-unders, but I can take or leave those.

Secondary thought: is it good (or at least not bad) for the world?

This activity should also not be harmful to others. (This is perhaps the most common understanding of modern use of the word sustainable—which many use in an environmental context.)  For instance, if you decide to pursue an activity that requires a product whose manufacturing or disposal is overly destructive to the environment, this activity may not be sustainable. Likewise, if this activity damages a valuable relationship, it’s also likely not sustainable.

2. Do you really want this? Why? 

Despite our ambitions, there is a certain amount of virtue in properly giving up on a goal. To determine which ambitions to pursue or discard, we can simply look at the honesty of our motivations. 

  • Do you want to read all 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud to glean its information, or are you doing so for the bragging rights? 
  • Do you want those six-pack abs to combat dangerous subcutaneous and visceral fat or to flaunt it on your Instagram feed?
  • Do you want to wake up 5:30 AM to get a jump on the day or because you simply want to share that aspect of your daily routine with your favorite influencer? 

Honest Motivation = Stored Willpower

Any activity we pursue will occasionally depend upon stored motivation and willpower to commence or pursue. If our motivations are frivolous or shallow, that fuel source will be spoiled when we need it most. When our motivations for pursuing a specific goal are constructed on vain or fragile foundations, they are doomed from the start.

To test this, ask yourself: 

“Do I want the result because I want it? Or do I want the result because I’m supposed to want it?”

Example: 

My motivation for jumping rope is pretty straightforward: to maintain my fitness and because it’s fun. Yes, I’m supposed to want to maintain my fitness and pursue fun things, but I also genuinely want to pursue these endeavors for my own sake—thus, this goal has a sustainable motivation.  

Besides, if I was going for cool points, I could have done a lot better than a jump rope

3. Is your motivation simple enough to endure?

If our motivations for pursuing a task are unclear or overly complicated, determining success may be difficult—and thus, the reward illusive. To test your motivations’ simplicity, see if you can express them in a single concise sentence. 

Here are a few examples of my own reasons for pursuing my routines/habits:

  • Why do I practice intermittent fasting? To aid my digestion and boost metabolism. 
  • Why do I jump rope six days a week? To maintain my fitness and because it’s fun.
  • Why do I journal? To process my thoughts and emotions. 
  • Why do I meditate? To train my attention span.
  • Why do I allot eight hours in bed every night? To maintain my health and focus.   

Now, enjoy some examples of my past routines/habits I’ve abandoned due to complicated or misguided motivations: 

  • Why do I practice strength training? Because I’d like to, at least once in my life, see what my abs look like under that gut fat. I mean, wouldn’t it be pretty cool? I guess, though it’s not a huge deal, it seems like something I should want. (Yep, and I ditched it.)
  • Why do I engage in the Daf Yomi (daily reading of Talmud every day, resulting in completion in seven-years-time)? I imagine that studying Talmud and navigating all of the arguments of the sages would give me immense insights into Jewish life. Besides, being able to say “I’ve completed Shas(Daf Yomi)” is something not everyone can say. (And thus, I closed the book.)
  • Why do I get up at 5:30 AM? Some of the most accomplished minds get up at 5:30 AM, if not even earlier. Getting up an hour or more early will give me time to do more throughout my day…right? (I didn’t quite believe this and was tired of cutting sleep short, so I have since abandoned the notion.)

If you have to sell yourself on your motivations, pursuing the associated goal is likely not sustainable.

4. How much fun are you having?

Another sustainability sniff test for a lifestyle activity is how much pleasure you derive from the process…independent of the goal. 

“Because I Want To” Passes the Test…As Long As You Do

To piggyback on clearly defining motivations, one of those motivations may simply be, “because I enjoy doing it.” That was my initial motivation for jumping rope. Though it has transitioned into, “I jump rope to maintain a certain level of fitness,” as well, the process began solely as, “Hey, that looks fun.” Because fun was my original motivation for starting it, I still enjoy the process to this day. Any project or activity we begin must remain pleasurable to remain sustainable. 

Pleasurable Doesn’t Always Mean Non-Stop-Fun

Only pursuing projects I find pleasurable does not mean that I am perpetually laughing like an idiot through every step of a process. During a writing project, I may end up banging my head against the wall regarding what word to use or how to structure a piece. During exercise, I may end up frustratedly tripping over my jump rope. Despite these challenges and disappointments, exasperations eventually give way to breakthroughs, making them an enjoyable part of the process. However, when the highs no longer justify the lows, it may be time to abandon an unsustainable initiative.

In Conclusion: I’m Actually Lazy

While the idea of cultivating sustainable lifestyle activities and projects seems ambitious, it’s actually a process I’ve lovingly dubbed utilitarian laziness. It’s nothing more than buffing out the friction of false-starts, thin motivations, and superfluous fluff from life to get us closer to the good stuff—fewer items on our docket, but each one packing a resonant punch that helps us live a life that truly sticks to our ribs.

“Jump, Fatboy, Jump”: A “Skinny Fat” Man’s Jump Rope Rediscovery

Reading Time: 7 minutes

10-min read or listen

Drowning On Dry Ground

It had been one of the first times I had heard actual wheezing come from my throat. The feeling of drowning on dry ground wasn’t so much disturbing as it was the assurance that I was doing something right. As soon as I caught my breath, I couldn’t help but chuckle about hitting a wall that day in my driveway.

No More “Skinny Kenny”

In my late twenties, I first noticed that I was no longer a candidate for the nickname of my teens: Skinny Kenny. Despite having this nickname, I hadn’t paid any mind to exercise or a healthy diet aside from eating kosher (definitely not synonymous). Beer and other carbohydrates were close friends. My body had become a shape that I’d later hear fitness personalities refer to as “skinny fat” — the illusion of skinniness…until take off your shirt. Still, it didn’t quite come to a head until Passover 2019. 

After a delightful Passover, I noticed a tagged photo of me from before the seder. In the picture, I’m holding my then-ten-month-old son. Just below my adorable son was the most substantial belly I’d ever seen on my frame. My button-down shirt was divided toward the bottom, revealing my undershirt. Wow, ok. For the first time, I realized that I was pushing the bounds of a weight limit I didn’t know existed in my mind. It was the sign I needed — an indication that I needed to “clean it up.”

Inspired by…Meditation?

As the month progressed, my weight continued to ride in the backseat. Instead, I began to realize how much I was squandering all of my free time. While parenthood didn’t allow for oodles of unbridled hours of self-paced leisurely delight, my free evenings and early mornings were engulfed in utter useless nonsense — social media, YouTube clips, and anything else that illuminated my stupid face. 

Recognizing this, I quickly consumed heaping piles of content related to living a controlled, minimalist lifestyle and forming better habits. The first big push in this direction was a reading of Atomic Habits by James Clear

In the process of taking control of my life and my attention span, I wanted to develop a habit of daily meditation. While I never found a single YouTube meditation tutorial that made it click for me (that would require reading Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris), I stumbled upon a video that outlined some of the benefits of meditation. In the video, a fella probably a decade my junior discussed how he especially liked to meditate following a jump rope workout. 

Wait, jumping rope? People actually do that as exercise? 

Even though the video only mentioned the terms “jump rope” and “jumping rope” maybe as many times as I just did, something clicked for me on a level unrelated to meditation. Jumping rope fit the middle of the Venn diagram of “something good for your body” as well as “something fun to do.”  

venn diagram of fun vs health

In my elementary school days in the ’90s, The American Heart Association was on a veritable crusade in gym classes to get kids jumping rope. Being naturally skinny with decent rhythm, I took to jumping rope pretty quickly. After a few months, I was pretty darn good at it — even one of the only kids in my school able to perform double-unders (two rotations under a single jump). Soon, elementary school was over, and any interest in jump rope was replaced by garage jam sessions, skateboarding, and, ahem, girls. Somehow, five seconds of jump roping in this YouTube video seemed to bring me right back to jump roping in my school gym.

Before that YouTube clip had finished, I was already scoping out jump ropes on Amazon. About $10 and a few days later, my first jump rope in over 25 years arrived. I was ready to get started.

“That’s a Keeper”

Figuring that an interest in a particular exercise was the beginning of something monumental, I stepped into the bathroom. Awkwardly clutching my phone, I snapped a quick shirtless “before” image in the mirror. If the aim of a “before” picture is to incite disgust, mission accomplished. I scarcely recognized the pasty ogre reluctantly looking back at me from my phone screen. While the image is quite educational, that one stays hidden until the paparazzi hack my Google Drive. 

Donning swim trunks, recreational sneakers, and t-shirt, I stepped onto my driveway — jump rope in tow. Once I found a place where I was sure not to smack any of the wires connecting my house and that of my neighbors, I began to jump. 

And then stopped. Whoa, is there someone sitting on my shoulders or something? They made it look so easy on the videos. 

Well, I wasn’t that bad. I could jump for a good 15 seconds before my legs would burn and I’d gasp, struggling to throw air down my stupid throat fast enough. Despite being May, the air felt like spring. Still, it wasn’t long before I was utterly drenched in sweat, panting like an idiot who just tried to outrun a car. I’d never felt like such a winded mound of dough.

Blame it on the Gear

Another problem I was experiencing was my rope getting caught on the tread of my shoes. 

“Oh, I just need a longer rope.” 

I got a longer jump rope, which still got stuck. 

“Oh, I just need different shoes.” 

I got different shoes, which still caught the rope. 

I also got a foam-rubber mat to jump on. 

Still, stuck. 

Oh, my technique is garbage, you say? Ah, why didn’t you say so? 

That lesson cost about $106.

Coming Together

  • After the first week, my calves quit burning all of the time and I could walk normally. 
  • A few weeks later, I started jumping for five minutes, each minute spaced out by a minute of rest. 
  • A few weeks after that, I decided to up it to 10 minutes of jumping, each minute spaced out by a minute. 
  • A few weeks after that, I started ending sessions with 2 divided minutes with a weighted rope. 
  • A few weeks after that, I began my jump rope sessions with 2-minutes of continuous jumping.

Boxer Skip = Cool Points

Around this time, I finally started to learn the “boxer skip” — a move where you casually shift weight from leg to leg. You may recognize this move from the background of any boxing gym scene in a movie…or, you know, an actual boxing gym. While it looks like more work, when performed correctly, the boxer skip is a lifesaver for stamina — giving each leg a split-second micro-break as you go. It also makes you look like you kind of know what you’re doing. 

Here’s a link to my own boxer skip tutorial.

boxer skip

“Well, that’s a first.”

As more pieces started to fall into place, something bizarre started to happen — I began to look forward to evening jump rope sessions. What had started as the dry-land-drowning sprees had become “Let’s see what I can do” time. During the day, I would catch myself occasionally daydreaming about jumping rope. When I didn’t think anyone was watching in the bathroom or waiting for the microwave at work, I’d practice ropeless heel taps, boxer skips, and seeing how long I could hop on one foot (obviously, not while I was using the bathroom). Starting to see results on the scale and in the mirror only intensified my anticipation of evening jump rope sessions. 230 pounds became 225, 220, 215, 210, and then 205 pounds. My wife also said that my core seemed less flabby and my “man boobs” seemed less evident. Hey, how much more empowered can you get?

It’s a Big Deal…For Me

This may seem pretty bland to many of you, but the concept of craving exercise is entirely new to me. While I’ve enjoyed physical activities whose side effect is exercise, craving the exercise itself is not a feeling I can recall having in my over 30  years of life. Looking forward to out-jumping the shadow in my driveway is something I’m still getting used to. 

I also feel tremendously grateful to have discovered that one of my favorite exercises is one of the best ones in existence. Seriously, check out the health benefits of jumping rope. 

More than anything, jumping rope fits my personality.

  • Introverted: I can do it by myself, whenever I want, wherever I want — provided there aren’t any ceiling fans, low-hanging light fixtures, or people I could accidentally sweat on. 
  • Challenge-seeking: More than another hampster wheel, it’s a skill I can continuously work to master. I find myself taking notes after almost every session. 
  • Cheapskate: It’s ridiculously cheap. There’s no required gym membership. Seriously, for the cost of some cheap sneakers and a $3 rope, you can be making puddles of sweat today. 
  • Sustainable: I can keep doing it into old age…provided I keep doing it now.

In James Clear’s Atomic Habits, one of the methods of forming a good habit is casting votes towards an identity you want to have based on what you do.

I think I’m finally to the point of being able to say, “I’m a jump roper.” 

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do. – Epictetus


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