We all want to look and feel great but sometimes—particularly after the sanctioned gluttony and intoxication of the five-week-long holiday season—the task at hand seems positively Herculean. If, however, you commit to gradually layering in a very simple new behavior each day over the course of a week, you’ll start to see and feel an improvement in how you see yourself and how others perceive you too. Guess what? Day one is tomorrow. (Unless you’re reading this before breakfast, in which case it’s today.)
Day 1: Don’t eat unless you’re hungry.
Received wisdom says that you shouldn’t skip meals. But there’s a very obvious fact about health and weight loss: When you’re hungry, your body starts eating your body. Evolutionarily, fasting is part of what we do: In the scope of human history, mealtimes are a relatively new thing. People often just eat out of habit: It’s 8:00, you haven’t eaten yet, so you mindlessly grab something. So start asking yourself: Am I really hungry? Today, even if you’re not ready to try intermittent fasting, start being conscious of what you’re eating. It’s absolutely key to jumpstart getting into shape.
People who have a ritual are healthier than those who don’t.
Day 2: Exercise before any caloric intake.
When you exercise in a fasted state, you’re drawing energy from the fuel hanging off of your midriff, not what you just deposited in your stomach. Many studies show that physical exercise can abate hunger for around an hour afterward. Get into the practice that, if you’re hungry, jump rope for 30 minutes. You probably won’t be hungry afterward.
Day 3: Get better sleep.
Poor sleep has been correlated to compulsive behavior, drowsiness, and cardiovascular problems, just to name a few maladies. One of the best things you can do is to practice good sleep hygiene: Taper lights before you go to bed (turn things off, avoid staring into device screens—or at least lower the brightness of your computer) and make sure you use the bedroom only for sleep and sex. If you need to get up during the night, use night lights instead turning on the light—sudden bursts are disruptive to circadian rhythms. I recently got blackout curtains, which has been amazing. I never had a problem sleeping with ambient light, but ever since I invested in curtains that are noise- and light-reducing, I found that I sleep deeper, have pleasant dreams, wake up feeling refreshed and actually look forward to going to bed. Also a good idea: Consider investing in a sunrise-replicating alarm clock, so you’ll wake gently, not jarred by unnatural bleating.
Day 4: Set a morning ritual, ideally including exercise.
A 2011 study showed that people who have a healthy ritual are calmer and less stressed than those who don’t. Why? By taking time for yourself you’re telling this fucked-up world that, even in some small way, you’re putting yourself first. Every morning, I get up and make a French press of coffee, drink two cups and go for a run along the exact same route. Something about that routine that sets me up for the day, and when I don’t do it, I feel worse. Lack of physical activity is correlated with depression. Even if you don’t have love handles you want to get rid of, make a commitment to exercise often. It’s more of a panacea than we think.
I thought goal sheets were hokey as fuck, but everything I’ve set down on paper I’ve achieved.
Day 5: Strengthen your social networks
Take 30 minutes a week to reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in a while, whether it’s a phone conversation or a quick meet for coffee. In a classic study undertaken in the Pennsylvania mining town of Roseto, researchers found that residents had an unusually long life span, and had lower incidences of depression, other mental illnesses and cardiovascular disease. The sociologists were baffled as to why, to the point that they tested the town’s water. Turns out, it was due to the community’s interdependency—everyone counted on each other. Even though you may not have been born into a similar social situation, you can create it now. For example, even though I’m working three jobs, I see friends each day and FaceTime with my Grandma once a week. It makes everyone feel good, and in making them feel good, I feel healthier.
Day 6: Make a goal sheet.
A few years ago, realized that when I have a limited amount of time to do work, I get it done; when I have no timeline, that’s when I slack. So when I made my daily to-do list, I started annotating it with “by-when” times. Talk about everything in the affirmative: This will be done by then. Get into that mindset, and extend it to other areas of your life. I thought goal sheets were hokey as fuck, but everything I’ve set down on paper I’ve achieved. In a year in which I made $60,000, I said that in two years I wanted to earn 150k, and did. I said that in a year I wanted to have worked out enough that I’d be confident about taking my shirt off, and I was. There’s something about getting your thoughts out and putting them on paper—you’re constantly confronted with this thing you’re going to do.
Day 7: Join the new information society.
There’s a huge amount of scientific evidence that the biggest determinant of health and well-being is lifestyle choices. And the biggest driver of lifestyle choices is information. The best way to track that is though wearable devices like FitBit, which measure steps taken, calories burned and sleep quality. We’re lucky to live in a time when measuring physical data is so easy: Our bodies are always telling us what can make us healthier. The industry is just going to keep growing. Make sure you do too.
Join thousands of men and women who are dressing up for a good cause. Go formal with Made Man and Career Gear on Friday, October 9th to help empower men in need with resources, training and suits they can use to rejoin the workforce. Because for every photo posted to Instagram or Twitter and tagged #FormalFriday, we’ll donate a dollar to Career Gear. Learn more at mademan.com/formal-friday.