Death by sand–when do fine details matter?

On May 11, 2010 In Tags: , ,

There are many iterations to the famous story about some guy who fills a large jar with big rocks and asks other people if they think the jar is full. They inevitably say, “Yes” and then he puts pebbles into the jar that fall in the spaces between the rocks and asks the same question for the same answer. He then pours sand into the jar that fills all the space between the pebbles and the rocks. Same question, same answer. And then he pours a liquid (water or beer) into the jar, the moral of the story in my favorite version being, “No matter how full your life is, there’s always room for a beer.”

The very fact that you are reading this means that you are a person who is looking to improve yourself. Maybe you’re not quite started yet, or maybe you’ve been well on your way for many years; or maybe you’re trying to help other people.

There is a lot of information out there on how to make yourself better. And it’s not just about making yourself better, but making yourself better in the shortest amount of time possible. I am personally, on the whole, not a big “it’s all about the journey” kind of person. The journey is hopefully pretty cool, but if I don’t end up at my destination efficiently, I don’t care what’s on the side of the path (unless the goal is precisely to look at the the stuff on the side of the path).

It’s easy to fall prey to “death by information” too. It’s all at your fingertips: convenient, fast, and completely unfiltered. It’s actually harder to get filtered information than it is to get it unfiltered.

However, what gets lost in the quagmire of easy information is the big rocks. In the case of your fitness and your nutrition, the jar is your time and your effort. It’s not your money, or even your attention (which is we like to believe the marketers are after). You only have so much time, and you can only spend so much effort. And if you’re filling your jar with sand, then there is no space for the big rocks.

Unfortunately, it’s the big rocks that actually allow you to build anything of note. Sand is transient. It washes away with very little effort. Spending your time with sand means you’re spending your time with details that are not going to have large impacts on the outcome. When to eat, what to eat, how much protein, how much fat, trans-fats, whole grains, sugar, sucralose, whether corn in any form including syrup is evil, which exercise style, steady-state cardio vs. HIIT, beta-alanine, creatine, nitric oxide…it’s all sand. If your big rocks aren’t in place, it doesn’t matter how much sand you put in the jar, you’re going to need a LOT of it to make any difference in your results.

If you’re not taking care to spend most of your time and effort on the big rock-type things, you will ultimately fail to build anything of importance. So what are the “big rocks” of fitness and nutrition? These are just a few:

1) Are you consistent with your fitness and nutrition program?

2) If you are trying to lose fat, are you eating fewer calories than you are spending? How do you know?

3) If you are trying to gain muscle, are you progressively lifting more weight? How do you know?

4) Are you objectively measuring your progress? How are you doing this?

If you’re not taking care of the things that will make the MOST impact on your health and fitness (and looks–let’s face it, most of us could care less as long as we look good within reason), everything else is just fluff. Sand only makes the a difference when the jar is already full of large rocks. And you shouldn’t need a whole jar full of it. Keep things simple. Clear the clutter. Defy the madness and don’t get buried alive by the sand. Put your energy and effort into the things that will make the biggest difference. Worry about the small stuff only after you’ve taken care of the big things.

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