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The exercise habit (joel.is)
153 points by joelg87 on May 30, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments

Perhaps the only thing I really gleaned from this article is how brands apparently play such a key role in this man's habits.

Macbook air, textmate, Octopus card, Fitness First, Red Bull, Volvic, iPhone, Gmail, Caffe Habitu. All of these were jarring to me as a reader, as the article would read more naturally with generics--laptop, text editor, charge card, gym, energy drink, water, phone, email, coffee shop--with no loss of meaning. Many of these brands are mentioned 4 times or more during half a dozen paragraphs.

Whether intentional, it demonstrated the power of good branding; get inside someone's head, make them associate good habits with your brand, and you will become part of their daily ritual. They no longer 'go to coffee shop', they go to Caffe Habitu. It's not buying a bottle of water and hitting the gym, its "purchasing a Volvic in the 7/11 then doing the 3 minute walk to Fitness First". They don't check email, they check gmail.

A related takeaway from this blog post is the inherent "bragging rights" people feel when they stick to a habit. This guy doesn't just get up in the morning, it gets up at 5.50am people. Now that's early! Now it's time for 12 reps at 30kg at Fitness First as I knock down my redbull after crushing some sick bugs on my macbook air at the crack of dawn working in the cloud at my webapp startup.

Premium brands do the same, and it's part of the reason for the consistent brand-dropping here. People don't have phones they have iPhones, not because they are ubiquitous (like hoover became the vacuum) but because people must differentiate normal phones from their phones, due to the premium pricing they paid. And by using the new product as part of a habit (like your iphone is an integral part of a morning workout), it becomes more justification for the purchase.

The Red Bull and Volvic seemed particularly out of place to me, especially in that he made buying them one at a time a part of his daily ritual. Maybe he wakes up in the morning with a compulsion to throw his money away at a 7/11 instead of getting a 12-pack from the grocery store? Instead of filling his own bottle from the tap and drinking coffee for his caffeine like normal people who don't attach brands to all of their routines?

I don't know the exact price of Red Bull or Volvic, but at $5 a day and 260 weekdays in a year he'd be spending $1,300/year.

Red Bull is $40 for 24 cans on Amazon, probably twice that at 7-11. Call it $3.20/can.

Volvic is $28.81/12 on Amazon. At the same 100% mark-up, it's $4.80/bottle at 7-11.

That's $8/day, plus local sales taxes, or nearly $2100/year.

Getting a good water bottle and filling it at home is likely too cheap to meter. Making good coffee at home and using that for the caffeine boost is a lot less than $3.20/serving, and then there is this:


The results of a study showed that the ingestion of one, 250mL can of sugar-free Red Bull, in a sample of 30 healthy young adults, had an immediate detrimental effect on both endothelial function, and normal blood coagulation. This temporarily raised the cardiovascular risk in these individuals to a level comparable to that of an individual with established coronary artery disease.

Finally, he jumps straight into 12 reps dumbbell press @ 30kg (66lb per hand). Riiiight!

I looked into energy drink costs compared to amazon and 7-11 and the difference is minor. Sometimes 7-11 is cheaper than amazon. Energy drinks are surprisingly price controlled.

I can't read the article you linked, but what would be the difference between drinking a 8.4oz red bull (~70mg caffeine) and drinking 1 espresso shot of coffee (~65mg caffeine) with a B-complex and taurine pills?

>he jumps straight into 12 reps dumbbell press @ 30kg (66lb per hand)

That really isn't that much weight- imagine bench pressing 60 kilos.

30 kilo dumbbell presses shouldn't all that strenuous for someone who works out regularly.

That really isn't that much weight- imagine bench pressing 60 kilos.

A more general rule is Bench Press = 3 x 1 dumbbell weight. Pressing dumbbells is harder because it involves more balancing, so it is harder to press 30kg dumbbells than one 60 kg bar.

my bench is currently around 5x6-8 @ 85kg (5 sets, 6-8 reps, 185lb) That's a workout set

So, I could probably handle 65lb dumbbells @ 12 reps, but I wouldn't start there for a warm-up.

Which was my point.

You really don't need to warm up by actively doing something. Just like salivating your breathing and hart rate can increase in preparation for strenuous activity's.

> Finally, he jumps straight into 12 reps dumbbell press @ 30kg (66lb per hand). Riiiight!

<s>It was the power of the Iphone that allowed him to do so. </s>

Do people really and actually concern themselves with <$5000/year habits? I mean, why not focus on something important?

On the one hand: yes, I hate brand manipulation too.

On the other: you have to triage. If you want to establish a morning routines like this, then you can't worry about every optimization or you will never get anywhere. I'm impressed as hell at his consistency.

When the price differential between 7-11 and Costco becomes the biggest problem in his life, and when he has plenty of time and space to screw around with inventory management, he can surely come up with a plan to fix that. Until then, 7-11 is solving the stocking problem for him.

Thanks so much for this, it's definitely something I need to improve on.

My aim with the post was to be extremely detailed, in order to try and emphasise how many different aspects have become habitual. Clearly, the way I ended up being detailed was to use brand names. Now you mention it, it makes sense. I remember writing "bottle of water" and thinking it will have a better effect if I make it more specific, hence "Volvic". Now it makes a lot of sense that I could actually be more detailed in many other ways and still achieve the same effect.

This is great learning, and something I'll try and improve next time!

I really don't think that the brand name dropping is much about status or cost, it's about products he recommends for those tasks because they are the best. Most of the products he mention cost pretty much the same as the competitors anyway.

I think it has to do with how you see creating your own products too. Are you trying to make a product that would be indistinguishable from the competitors, or one that's so good that people mention it by name?

I disagree. You think he's recommending the Volvic brand of bottle water? Or suggesting a specific coffee shop? Keeping up with your fitness regime can be done with paper and pen; it desn't need a smartphone and a special app. He's not even suggesting his Macbook Pro and Textmate (both definitely premium choices) aid him really, he's just brand-name dropping.

I'm not criticizing the author, but just highlighting that he either implicitly or explicitly uses brands to form habits, and how he reinforces them with this very blog post (there is little reason to mention Octopus Card 3 times in the article, nor red bull five times).

And for those looking to build brands, it hammers home just how valuable they can be if they form a part of someones habits. This guy every day spends $5 to go and buy a small bottle of water and energy drink on his way to the gym instead of bulk-buying at home or drinking free tap-water because it's now part of his daily ritual. Then he will happily tell others both on his blog and in real life and advertise these products, likely without even knowing he's doing it.

Now that you pointed this out, I notice similarities in writing style to the first chapter of American Psycho.

> I live in the American Gardens Building on W. 81st Street on the 11th floor. My name is Patrick Bateman. I'm 27 years old. I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine. In the morning if my face is a little puffy I'll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1000 now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial mask which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion.

Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?

Great post on the benefits of habit-forming. I've certainly found something similar in my own exercise experiences.

On a more humorous note, the first portion of the piece reminded me of this gem:

"I live in the American Gardens Building on W. 81st Street on the 11th floor. My name is Patrick Bateman. I'm 27 years old. I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine. In the morning if my face is a little puffy I'll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1000 now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial mask which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion. "

1000x better than the movie, which in itself is not terrible. One of the few novels I've taken the time to read since leaving school.

The one piece of advice I curated from the many articles I read and have put into practice is: "Make it easy".

I moved all the things I need to exercise into one place, streamlined the entire process, and reduced the mental inertia it takes to do things that are good for me.

Part of it is simplifying the process, the other half is making it a habit. I'm also a fan of picking some rationalizations. For stopping caffeine - every time I drink Coke I'm just thirsty for water, and should just drink water. For the gym - every time I've ever gone to the gym I feel good when I get home and don't regret going. For food - I'll enjoy this for 5 seconds and won't even remember it by tomorrow, but it's got the caloric value of 30 minutes of exercise.

The other way to look at it is "resign yourself to doing it." It's amazing how easy thing become when you just decide they must happen. I made the decision that I don't go to work until I've gone for a jog in the morning and it's amazing how much easier/enjoyable it becomes.

The disclaimer is I work where I can be into the office a little later in case I have a late night. But the main point is once you convince yourself you're going no matter what, suddenly your lizard brain has a hard time saying no.

While I recommend exercise, and know that the kind of routine described here can be a very useful tool, doing this all the time seems absurd to me. Humans have managed to remove almost all natural physical stressors from their lives, but then we figure out we need "exercise", and set about to find a half hour activity that optimally affects some fitness parameter. This local optimization can easily become a stressing madness with constant driving here and there to move your muscles in extremely boring ways.

I think, for cardiovascular workouts, it's a much better solution to try to hack your commute into a run / bike ride, if that's possible. You get to use that time twice, since it is both commute and exercise, and this kind of multitasking actually works well. Sure, the workout may not be as "efficient" (locally) as doing everything under perfectly controlled conditions, but this is really not the main concern unless you are inte competing.

Walking desks are a similar kind of hack, even if I find them a somewhat perverse use of electricity.

For muscular workouts I haven't yet found anything that would function as well as the gym, but with less life-overhead.

> Walking desks are a similar kind of hack, even if I find them a somewhat perverse use of electricity.

You can get non-electric treadmills.

And I am fairly sure the daily Volvic has a bigger negative environmental impact.

> doing this all the time seems absurd to me.

Then maybe you shouldn't do it?

I don't mean to pick on you too much, but one of the things that makes me crazy about Hacker News on topics like this is the amount of "you're doing it wrong" that people produce.

The guy has a routine that he likes and meets his needs. He was smart enough to put together a routine that works for him; presumably he's smart enough to change it when he notices something negative about it.

Are there any scientific studies to back the common meme of "Fitness is a cornerstone of success"

Does Mark Zuckerberg work out? How about John Lasseter?

It honestly doesn't seem fitness has any relation what-so-ever to success but I'd be happy to be proven wrong with actual data rather than anecdotes.

Zuckerberg did 5000 pushups throughout the course of a week[1], which proves that he's at least moderately fit.

Richard Branson's main piece of productivity advice is "work out"[2].

A strong counterexample would be Warren Buffett, who was once the world's richest man, never worked out, and ate terribly.

Ultimately though it's best to look at the studies other responders to your post cited, which do show some correlation between exercise and mental performance.

Edit: forgot my links

[1]: http://venturebeat.com/2009/10/02/mark-zuckerberg-the-evolut...

[2]: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/222739

Buffett was into bodybuilding as a teenager/young adult.

Source? I didn't see anything like that in his authorized biography The Snowball. And it specifically mentioned several times that Buffett always hated manual labor, always ate badly etc.

It is in his biography where it appears. Though it is not talked about a lot.

Oh wow, totally forgot about that. It's covered in a couple of pages in section 11...good to know.

I cannot find this "work out" advice in the article you linked [2].

You're right-the quote showed up in the Google summary of the page, but not the page itself. Weird.

Here is a video where Branson says he achieves "twice as much" on a day when he works out compared to a day when he doesn't exercise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFjgMKwpz_k

Are there any scientific studies to back the common meme of "Fitness is a cornerstone of success"

The ways exercise benefits the brain was discussed on HN before multiple times.

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3620529 How Exercise Fuels the Brain (well.blogs.nytimes.com)

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3047554 How Exercise Can Strengthen the Brain (well.blogs.nytimes.com)

A search for 'exercise brain' returns many more results. Now it's up to 'is improving your brain function cornerstone to success?'

I don't think working out is a necessary condition for success, unless you're so unhealthy as to be physically incapable of doing the things that you need to do in order to be successful.

But the kind self-control you need for fitness could also help you become successful. If so, there might indeed be some correlation between fitness and success.

From personal experience strictly: First and foremost the exercise is something we can all use, successful or not. What working out did help me do is get into a sort of a discipline and made me eat and drink proper healthy food. A side effect of workout, indeed a good one for all us chair-dwellers, is that it fixed my posture as well - no wrist pain, no back pain, no neck pain ...

One of the fittest guys I know, works out and runs several miles every morning, has terrible wrist pain. I know 3 other similar people at my current job.

I don't think your lack of pain has anything to do with your working out. More likely luck, genetics, or lack of other activities that would lead to pain.

To answer your first question, he's fit enough to finish 5000 pushups in a week.


For anyone else who was wondering:

Octopus card: The Octopus card is a rechargeable contactless stored value smart card used to transfer electronic payments in online or offline systems in Hong Kong.


Good idea. Linked it in the post. Thanks.

I've heard countless times that if you're going to start exercising and stay with it you should compete -- for most people that means running and running races on the weekends once in a while or even training for a marathon.

I've done this in the past and I always overtrain and race too early. I have a bad race and stop training shortly after that.

I've found a much more effective way: Between my wife and I whoever is in the gym less in any given week has to pay the other person on Friday -- around $50. There is still competition (neither of us want to admit to losing) but there is also a very tangible penalty.

The combination is an excellent motivator and neither of us have missed a single day since we started it. It's similar to having a partner (a partner got me through 3 years of weight training in college) except that you don't have to work out at the same time, which is much better for busy people.

Competing is definitely not necessary to stick with exercising.

I haven't participated in a race since around '93 or '94, we're talking 2 races that I've done - both Bloomsday runs in Spokane with family.

My current normal week has me at the gym every day and twice on Wednesdays. I do strength training 2-3 times and I usually run over 110km. The only person I compete against is myself.

I hate going to the gym, and I hate working out. But I much prefer having a BMI of 23.4 than the 40+ I used to be at. It's not fun, but once you get used to it and consider it a necessity, you can stay with it.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that everyone work out as much as I do. --A rather innocuous visit to the doctor earlier this month ended up with a blood test that showed a severe iron deficiency. So now I'm taking 300mg of supplements a day for at least 2 months... And that much iron tends to have a bit of an effect on my digestive system, although the opposite of what the doctor warned me about.

I mostly compete with myself. I am trying to do better now than I did earlier.

It helps that progress in my main forms of exercise (indoor climbing, weight lifting) is easy to measure, and relatively straight forward to drive at my level.

I also dable in dancing, where I am still so awful, that progress is easy to gauge. And mixed martial arts, where the whole point of the sport is some form of competition, even though sparring doesn't see you go all out.

Why do people choose running over biking, with the damage that running can cause?

1) Running has an appealing simplicity: very little equipment is required (just a decent pair of shoes), you can do it anywhere (city/country, on/off road), etc. 2) Biking is not some magical risk-free activity, you have to take care whichever you choose.

I'm pretty sure his point was that running in and of itself (outside of external factors such as other people on the road, etc.) is very detrimental to your health- specifically your knees.

Obviously doing any physical exercise you should be safe about it (wear a helmet while biking, have a light and reflectors if you ride at night, etc., and of course be conscious of your surroundings), but running solely by itself can be detrimental to your health because of the force you put on your knees on impact running on paved surfaces.

I assume that was his point. However it is not a given that running is "very detrimental to your health"; in fact that's a pretty bold claim to make without any evidence or indeed consideration of the health benefits. It's true that knee problems are a concern for some runners (and indeed participants in many other sports), and something frequent runners should be wary of.

"Barefoot" running is much easier on the knees. You land differently and thus avoid the sudden jolting stops.

Yes, I will agree that "barefoot" running is better on your knees than with standard running shoes- also running with proper form would be, but alas- almost no recreational runner will do either of these things, and it is especially hard to do so on typical running paths (such as, you know, roads).

Given the constraints of what we're given, biking is far better for your overall health than running.

I walked in to work this morning, during which time many runners passed me. None of the women--and most of them were women--were heel-strikers; from my past observations, few women are. And of the three men who passed close enough to see, all landed on the middle of the foot.

You don't need to run barefoot. Just tilt your foot forward and land on the ball rather than the heel. You can stick with regular running shoes and do this.

You have to bike twice as long to get the same benefit as jogging.

Around here, biking is too damn dangerous. Narrow, twisty roads.

If you run on the balls of your feet, rather than heel-strike, the impact is greatly reduced.

In my neighborhood, it's much harder to bike a long enough distance for a good exercise. You can get a much better workout using a smaller "track" when running.

Running isn't super bad for you. You need medium impact to build bone density, which is a major protective factor in old age.

Running has more bang for your buck, so to speak. Among other things, you burn more calories per minute, work more stabilizer muscles and strengthen your bones. Its easier to get the intensity up (speed and strength work, fat burning), and to keep the intensity low (endurance building).

Both of the sports will cause damage, as they are both straight line repetitive motion exercises. In either case you want to think of them as specific or specialized uses of your fitness, while creating proper base fitness like flexibility and muscular balance in the gym/yoga etc. would be your non-specific work.

Any time you go very specific you are going to find a weak link.

As a musician (string player) and programmer, my neck, back, and wrists are under constant stress, and I find biking tends to exacerbate problems with those joints. Also, I live in NYC. I can go run in the park, or I can ride my bike and get hit by a car. I know lots of people who ride their bikes in the city, and every one of them has been hit by a car, including me.

I'd rather ask:

Why do people prefer to run for hours instead of a more intensive workout in a minutes?

Looking at the typical runners [0], why would you desire a physique like that?

[0] http://diaryofakalechic.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/marathon...

Some people simply like running for the pleasure it gives them. I guess it's the same with weight lifters. At some point the physique is a side-effect of one's regulard and healthy practice.

Note that sprinters as well as endurance runners have to lift some weight at one moment or another. When I run my first half-marathon I was surprised that my arms were more sore than my legs.

You could sprint (or sprint up stairs).

Personally, I'd rather risk my knees than risk becoming impotent from sitting on a bike seat all the time :P

Any exercise is going to carry some risk of injury, it's up to you to learn how to mitigate it.

> Any exercise is going to carry some risk of injury, it's up to you to learn how to mitigate it.

Not all risks are equal.

How many calories are burned biking-vs-jogging? I think biking (on flats) is extremely efficient, so I would imagine that and average person would burn more jogging than biking...For example, if I bike 7 miles, I don't feel it anywhere near as much as if I ran 7 miles...

For calorie burning short intensive work outs are better. For example, deadlifts or playing squash for 30minutes is comparable to multiple hours of jogging.

A better comparison is going to be if you bike 7 minutes vs running 7 minutes.

If you do it right, it won't cause much damage. Have you tried barefoot?

I've had the same experience with competition and I'd say a lot of other members of HN would too.

Competition is too much of a motivator for me and my competitive personality. As soon as a competitive element is introduced to exercise it completely takes the fun out of it.

I would give slightly different advice: sign up for races, but don't compete.

I like having a race booked because it gives me a reason to get out and run even when it's cold and rainy: I want to be ready.

On the other hand, I've stopped caring how I do relative to other people. I go run the race. Sometimes I just run it for fun. Other times I'm working to beat a previous time. But either way, I keep in mind that my main goal is fitness, not victory.

Between 1979 and 1987 I ran quite a few marathons, with the odd shorter races, and a few ultras scattered in. Since the fall of 1987, I've run exactly two races, a 5K each of the last two years. My fitness goes back and forth, but I've seldom failed to keep running on the weekends, and taking long walks.

My experience with over training was that it gave signals that could be ignored only willfully.

Competition can be a great motivator--the thought of an upcoming bike race has been enough to get me up early or out riding in the rain on the days when it didn't sound like such a good idea.

But if you aren't wired for competition, consider companionship. If you run, joining the right weekly running club can do wonders for your motivation.

two small things bug me about this. 1. Why is he buying a single can of red bull and a single bottle of water from 7-11 every day? Why not buy in bulk and keep at your house? 2. Is there really much advantages to drinking red bull before a workout? I know there are advantages to caffeine, but I am not convinced red bull is the healthiest way to deliver that caffeine.

Agreed, I am all for making exercise a habit (and get grumpy when something makes me miss a workout, so I need to be better at simply making it a near top priority). That said, please don't buy bottled water every day. Get a reusable bottle, it's cheaper and much better for our oceans.

He is hong kong, unless he is paying a lots for a nice apartment he is probably living in a tiny shoe box of an apartment, if he bought all those bottles where would he keep them? the fridge would be tiny also. In hong kong there is literally a 7-11 or circle k on every city block. If you are on a major road you are no more than 100 meters away from the nearest 7-11

In fact, the 7-11 and Circle K here are so cheap that often times even buying in bulk, you can't beat their prices. And then there's the convenience factor: literally 30 seconds to grab what you want from the fridge and pay for it with the Octopus RFID tag.

If you look at what a can of redbull contains, it's not unhealthy if you buy the 10 cal/sugar free version. It contains B vitamins, taurine (an amino acid) and about 70mg of caffeine for the under 10oz can. They also use citric acid instead of the cost cutting phosphoric acid which causes calcium leeching.

The aspartame and sucralose may or may not be a problem for you.

Maybe he doesn't want to be tempted with the Red Bull in his fridge.

A regular tea/coffee does just as well. I never had either before doing weights in the morning and frankly never felt the need either. Takes 10 mins more to snap out of drowsiness but isn't an impediment.

I take those 5-hr energy drinks before going for a run and they seem to help. Same type of thing.

As someone with perpetual difficulty maintaining a 24 hour-based sleep schedule, when I see these "my routine" posts I'm always most curious about their sleeping habits.

These people don't go out and enjoy nightlife, staying up until 3am since that would put you off kilter for a few days in a row with this kind of schedule.

I rarely "enjoy nightlife." I just sit at home not tired for several hours, then lay in bed not tired for a couple of hours. If I get "enough" sleep to not be tired in the morning (7-8 hours), then I won't be tired the same time that night. If I get "too little" sleep (<7 hours) I will be tired all day.

Sometimes it's not the nightlife, but just work...I have a punctuated schedule and this is my second night on an experiment where I'm here past 2am (getting in around 9am the previous day). I hope to wake up early for a jog tomorrow, but it may not happen...

I wrote a post last year on my sleep ritual, this is actually a key part of me being able to do the morning routine. I'm still following it almost identically to how I describe in the article: http://joel.is/post/5303723252/creating-a-sleep-ritual

Curious about what exactly? Like the author, I also have a very rigid early morning schedule centered around exercise. I get up at exactly 5.45, go to the gym at 6.00, etc. It definitely helps me maintain a more regular sleep and work schedule, which used to be a problem for me.

Exercise even helps some people maintain a proper cycle.

"All it takes is putting your running shoes on, and getting out the door." -my cousin

And then running. I guess the point is to make the first step. After that, you just keep making the first step.

Until you run into the recursive base case, then you stop. ;)

I agree that exercise is important, but this guy's life seems so planned out in advance it's almost creepy.

I was going to post something similar. I cannot stand letting my life fall into any sort of repetitive routine. I exercise, but I vary type, locations, duration, time, and everything else.

When I find myself doing the exact same thing every day I think of it as grinding towards the grave without ever doing anything original. Life is full of new experiences, unless you are just placing one foot in front of another for 2 hours a day on a treadmill while watching a screen.

It's a pretty dim view of a lifestyle others love but I don't care of it at all. I guess I guess love chaos too much.

I totally understand :-) I actually agree with you.

The cool part is, I can keep building on top of the repetitive routine, and these additions are the variation for me. The hour of coding before the gym (and getting up an hour earlier in order to do it) was a recent addition, and took some time to achieve as a habitual thing. That's what keeps it interesting and exciting. I don't succeed right away with these additions, they take time. However, the power of habits is when they are actually habitual (and are good habits) and you don't use energy and willpower to accomplish them - that's what I tried to focus on here.

The thing about rituals like this one is that they don't even feel planned anymore after awhile, they just happen. Once their somewhat automatic it frees you up to think about other stuff while you're performing them.

This is exactly the case. I didn't sit down and decide that I would do the routine exactly as I have it in place right now, that developed over time. I started simply with an exercise habit. Over time, I've been able to build on it as each component has become so habitual that I don't think about it.

A great article, and you must be commended on your dedication.

That said, it reads almost exactly like the opening to "American Psycho". Sure, Bateman's routine is slightly different than yours, but both narratives have the same affect.

Best of luck, and I can't wait for your article on business cards!

Haha! Totally understand it can come across that way.

The point I was trying to make, which I've clearly not succeeded with, is that I don't actually plan it as it happens, and I don't think individually of all these details as I do them. I'm not a robot with an algorithm of each step, going through them one by one with perfect precision. Rather, if I sit down and think hard about literally every step that I go through, this is what the routine is. In my mind, I think of none of it - it is completely habitual and I'm on autopilot. I can do the whole routine without expending much energy, so I have all the energy for other things - the more unexpected things that come up and we need to deal with (happens plenty in a growing startup).

One can think of rituals vs. “thinking through each step” in life as using high-level vs. low-level programming languages, or abstractions.

Abstracting out doing things that are good for you into a “habit layer” seems unlikely to turn you into a robot or inhibit emotions (as rfugger suggests). Instead, it may allow to focus on higher-level activities and decisions. You can still switch abstractions and go low-level anytime if you have to, if benefit-cost ratio is high enough.

Also, there's probably a lot of unexpected and interesting things happening around that you can notice even as you do your ritual thing. (Important though is not to contemplate on them, at least for me it can destroy the ritual very quickly.)

PS. Thank you for your posts!

Well put. My focus on the robotic aspect probably only reflects my personal struggles, not the poster's reality :)

Yeah, you've explicitly mentioned it was your experience, so I shouldn't have said that you “suggest” it.

I should also admit that, although grandparent expresses the idea I had after reading Joel's comment, myself I don't have that orderly life and many good habits. More of the opposite, actually, and I also often enjoy making decisions on-the-fly.

I find the abstraction analogy appealing and inspiring, though. It probably could help people like me, whose stumbling point in forming and following habits and rituals is the lack of motivation.

For me, ritual is great, but too much ritual can turn me into a robot. If I choose the right rituals for my autopilot program, I may be a fitter, happier, more productive robot, but I'm still a robot. The appeal seems to be, to paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel, that a robot feels no pain. Constant ritual keeps the demons at bay -- ask any autistic person.

I've learned, though, that to feel truly alive I need to turn off the autopilot, feel the emotions that come up, both painful and joyful, and accept the way that they demand to inform my direction on a moment-to-moment basis, often in ways contrary to what I had planned. That's life.

Even though he has some routines, there are still challenges and creative parts inside of these routines and the routines just make it easier to get into these tasks.

In case you missed it, download the recent Mixergy interview with Charles Duhigg on this topic:


Its true, this habit stuff is powerful.

I love all of these posts that discuss exercising and coding at x time. Wake up, code, exercise, rest of day. But I would LOVE to see a post where the person involved has at least one child under the age of 5. It changes everything. You can't just be out of the house at X time, ready to do your exercise - because Junior has to be fed, changed and taken to school.

(Disclaimer: I have 2 kids, I manage to exercise each day, but it definitely comes at the expense of other things).

I am in the same situation. Two kids, 3 and 1, one more on the way. I had to start taking a long lunch to go to the gym. Thankfully I have the flexibility to work a little extra in the evening after the kids are asleep. I find it a lot harder to tear myself away from the desk in the middle of the day and go work out.

For those looking for an easy way to begin forming new habits, I'd definitely recommend professor Fogg's "3 Tiny Habits" guide. link - http://tinyhabits.com/.

He should have recycled the Red Bull can and just filled up a bottle of water from the tap in his apartment.

Fitness is a cornerstone of success. I wish more people took it seriously.

Plenty of people take it too seriously. Everything in moderation.

So what's your evening routine, and what evening habits do you find most helpful?

I feel like there was a tiny bit of prep work before you could just wake up and run in a circle :D

Absolutely! I have an evening routine, and it's key to achieving the morning routine. I need 7-8 hours of sleep or I'll burn out within a few days and fail with the routine one morning. I'm still following it pretty much how I describe in this article from last year: http://joel.is/post/5303723252/creating-a-sleep-ritual

Instead of all the Red bull crap, just start doing some Pranayam and Meditation for 5 to 10 minutes. All your other dependencies will drop off, I promise

This doesn't seem like a habit. It sounds more like an addiction.

The power of habit:

1) Notice how patio11 isn't commenting here.

2) Closes tab.

Working out on stimulants is one of the easiest ways to overstress your heart and can cause permanent cardiovascular damage. Happened to a friend of mine, his CK levels were through the roof, he ripped his heart muscle because he used adderall before workouts.

For a hacker news post, I'm sorely disappointed. The body will secret epinephrine once you start working up a sweat, there's no need to add caffeine and shitty simple sugars to your body before a workout. Eat a brown rice granola bar or bring some Gatorade with you if you really need the sugar boost to get going. Usually, glycogen stored in the liver from previous days will suffice to rocket the body's bloodstream with sugar.

For an xkcd fanboy, you sure aren't putting any science or facts behind your claims. Randall would be ashamed.

Adderall is an amphetamine, lasts about 10 hours and is basically a controlled substance, banned by major competitive sports organizations as a performance enhancer. Caffeine lasts about five hours and (as far as I know) isn't banned anywhere. There's more sciencey ways to compare them but i'm lazy. Check the wikipedia pages.

There is also little to no risk of cardiovascular disorder from using caffeine in "normal" doses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caffeine#cite_note-Dam08-18). The thing that actually strikes me as interesting about the Red Bull thing is its ingredients and perceived benefits. Here's a brief description of the ingredients: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/15-07/st_r...

Apparently not only can the caffeine make you more likely to be dehydrated, it takes between 45 mins and 1 hr to absorb fully into your blood stream. So really, if you want to try to use caffeine (or a caffeine-like substance like Guarana) make sure you take it about an hour before your workout for peak results. And i'll remind you all that continuous use of caffeine can make you dependent and dull the supposed benefits over time. And also, stay hydrated 24 hours before you work out; chugging a bottle of gatoraid while you run is not being hydrated.

(All that being said, I think it's a lame cheat to use a stimulant or performance enhancer when working out. Unless you're trying to win a marathon (which is still cheating) you don't need any "extra edge" provided by $2.50 sugar water. Do the reps and get sleep and eat good food and you'll benefit the most)

The "sugar water" is better than normal water because it's isotonic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotonicity#Isotonic

You don't need anything other than plain water for normal exercising (anything under 2 hours will generally count here). --Sports drinks will simply add calories and are not going to enhance your performance.

If you're going to be working out all day or doing something like a marathon, then you need to consider something to help replace the salts you lose when sweating.

Come on now - while caffeine hasn't yet shown to be an ergogenic aid to anerobic activity (unlike endurance efforts, where it is very beneficial), a single tin of Red Bull isn't going to make your heart go boom, especially if you are habituated to that amount of caffeine.

Just to be clear, caffeine is commonly used as a legal performance enhancer for athletes. The cross-fitter who doesn't consume a cup of coffee (or three) is few and far between.

Odd...over half the crossfitters i know are paleo and caffeine free as well.

Can amphetamine be compared to a downregulated daily pre-workout 80mg caffeine habit?

Red Bull considered harmful:

"The results of a study showed that the ingestion of one, 250mL can of sugar-free Red Bull, in a sample of 30 healthy young adults, had an immediate detrimental effect on both endothelial function, and normal blood coagulation. This temporarily raised the cardiovascular risk in these individuals to a level comparable to that of an individual with established coronary artery disease."


He didn't even suggest it was sugar-free. The sugary stuff is presumably even worse for you (and in my experience: addictive)

I thought the same thing. Some of the worst workouts of my life have been after a cup of coffee.

Errr, you condemn the use of simple sugars before a workout, but then advocate using Gatorade during a workout? IANAD but I'm pretty sure drinking protein during a workout will be far more beneficial to your overall health (unless you are doing something like a marathon, in which case you will need carbs at some point, but marathons in general are terrible for your body).

Do you know of any good references for adderall and ripped heart muscle / increased creatine kinase levels? I did a quick google search and did not find anything reputable/informative.

Man, I feel like I did a week's worth of exercise just reading that. If you want to sell the exercise habit, this blog post isn't the way to do it.

To be honest, I only even read half of it. (All of the above says nothing about the exercise habit, nor the point of the post. Just the actual effect of reading the post.)

I feel like: if I had the actual habits described in the post, few things in life would feel as good or as rewarding as immediately breaking them, forever.

This isn't to say this is true: just that this is the impression the blog post leaves me with, due to the style, writing, format, etc.

Unsure if Red Bull is the best pre gym workout drink. What about eating something? What about buying the drinks in bulk and keeping them in the apartment instead of going to 7/11 everyday?

Nevertheless humans loves routine and working effectively for two hours (coding, then gym) is a productive use of those early hours of the day. Many waste it in bed.

I'm no doctor, but Red Bull on an empty stomach before the gym in the morning sounds like the worst drink possible. I knew a guy who drank Red Bull before and after the gym, immediately after he ate 2 snickers to "restore his energy tank", I think he lasted 2 months before he stopped his exercise efforts. Where do people get the idea that Red Bull and exercise is related? Have they started to market it that way perhaps?

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