I was very intrigued to hear what Russ had to say about habits, happiness, health, productivity, and all the rest.
Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?
Russ: I have two. First, I am committed to not allowing my career to interfere with being a good dad. The easiest way to make this real is to prioritize my family, which means getting home at a normal hour to spend time with them. I am maniacally disciplined about getting out of the office on time. If there’s something happening that requires a late night, I’m there, but I’ve found that to be such a rare case. This means dealing with and managing perceptions about “how hard you work.” I actually work very hard, but I reject that being present in an office for 12 hours a day is a good manifestation of that. BUT so many people lazily ascribe your work ethic to your time in the office, that I end up battling perception.
Second, I work out nearly every day. I carefully put my workout time to coincide with my normal afternoon energy lull. Working out is a great way to relieve stress, but also a great renewal practice. I often feel like a new guy and can fire my brain back up in the evening and be more productive than if I never worked out.
What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
When you’re 18, or young in your career, you don’t really understand what prioritizing means or more precisely, you don’t really know how to do it. You think that “Work Life Balance” is impossible or for lazy people. My happiness is a direct function of my ability to prioritize what really matters: my health, my family, my work, the Philadelphia Eagles in that order. At 18 you say the word prioritize, but you rarely mean it because you’re not comfortable setting your own boundaries or saying ‘no’ to people. It’s not easy.
Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
This will not sound realistic, but no. I have carefully developed routines and habits that help me manifest happiness, keep a positive mental state.
Now, not a habit, but I do occasionally fall asleep on the couch. I wake up a bunch and won’t go to my bed because I don’t want to disturb my wife.
Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)
My daily workout at HomeGrown CrossFit. My wife and middle son are both also members, so we can integrate “family” and “health” habits—for example, we can connect on and discuss the “WOD” or workout of the day. Sometimes we even do it together, as partners, which is awesome. But also, the classes happen at specific times, which force me to step away from everything else, and then just go be in that moment. CrossFit also has a certain intensity about it that makes it impossible for your mind to be anywhere else while you’re working out. My gym is close to my home, so I can get home immediately after I work out and spend time with my family. It all works together.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
See my lightening bolt below answer below. After a long slow decline in my physical health after the Marines, I needed to develop habits around being physically healthy.
I’ve done that.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I am a Questioner. For example, I am sitting here questioning if this is really a MECE [mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive] list of tendencies and in what context are they MECE if at all? I am probably not the most aggressive flavor of Questioner… But WOW do I hate arbitrary practices, doing things because conventional wisdom says to, doing things because it’s how others do them, or because someone think that’s how it “should” be done. (I immediately think “should? by what standard?”) I’m actually getting a shot of adrenaline as I type this, getting irritated by conventional wisdom.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)
Not so much. In truth, I lead a very simple life centered around the things I care most about. The only times I get out of synch are when I’m allowing my carefully developed boundaries to get trampled because I feel like I’m being a “more reasonable” person to others. An example, someone creates an urgent meeting at just the time I need to leave to go to my CrossFit class. Most often, I can challenge whether this is truly an emergency (it rarely is), I can arrange to call in, etc., but sometimes, a person just really wants me there, possibly legitimately needs me there. I will allow my boundary to be trampled, and it rarely (if ever), in hindsight, seemed worth it.
I really dislike traveling for work. I do it, of course, but I try to minimize it, but you can see how easily travel destroys what makes me happy—I am usually away from family, and there is a ton of friction involved to exercising (I am a CrossFitter!) in other places—hotel gyms are mostly terrible. I hate running, etc. Over time, I’ve dialed in the exercise thing—you can drop in on any CrossFit gym anywhere in the world—and I do that, but still taxis, lack of familiarity with my surroundings, not having easy access to healthy food… it’s tough and takes a lot of effort. There’s not a great solve for family when I’m traveling. I don’t find Skype or Google Hangout calls to be particularly useful/meaningful/suitable substitutions for being fully present with my family at home. We actually don’t do them. My wife and I catch up a little bit—she gives me small updates on the day, and I love that, but no good substitute to being around my boys.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
After getting out of the Marines, I allowed myself to get on a slow unhealthy decline over the course of 7-10 years. When I moved to California, I got a horrible case of poison oak. New to the area, I went for the first time to my new doctor knowing I needed a steroid shot, and she said, “Sure, sure, a steroid… but I want to talk about your blood pressure.” I was surprised. She said, “It’s 140/104, which is very high. Are you doing anything about that?” She inquired about medication and I gave her a bunch of crap about how I didn’t like medicine and would solve it with some running, etc. I waved my hand, dismissing her concerns.
She paused, looked at me, and said, “OK, let me tell you about the trade-off you’re making. You ‘don’t want to make medicine’ (she used highly sarcastic tone of voice and air quotes which I can still see vividly in my mind’s eye 10 years later), and that means you’re almost certainly going to have a stroke before you’re 40.” Yeah.
I got on medicine, but set a goal to be healthy enough to be off of it. Built a fitness habit out of that. [Gretchen: This is such a Questioner story that I’m laughing out loud.]
Do you embrace habits or resist them?
EMBRACE. Routine and habit are critical to my positive mental state.
Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?
No, unfortunately, these have been developed through trial and error over years.