5 Self-Improvement Tips for Lifters

Beyond Dumbbells and Diets

Lifting makes you stronger. Diets make you leaner. But there’s more to life than that. Here’s how to feel better, fight stress, get organized, and get happier.

The Question

How can T Nation readers improve their lifestyles to become even more awesome than they already are? Give them something to try for the next week.

Dan John – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

Seek the middle ground. Create a routine. Get organized.

Seek the Middle Ground

I used to work with a guy, Phil, who did something interesting. During Lent, he gave up his health. He was one of those guys who combined yoga with meditative movements from every corner of the world, drank cocktails made of frog bile and various magic herbs and oils, and spent lots of time on his little rug balancing rocks.

But, every spring, he stopped all of it. He ate doughnuts, drank coffee, and smoked cigarettes. He stopped doing everything healthy. When Easter came around, he told me he couldn’t wait to get back to his ascetic lifestyle.

It never made sense to me. But, like the Atkins Diet, spending a few weeks emphasizing one thing after years of doing the opposite seems to help. So, on some level, I understand it.

The only issue is that it goes against the thousands of years of Western tradition. Achilles’ search for “Arete,” striving for virtue that will last well beyond your lifetime, is based on understanding that “somewhere in the middle” of the extremes is the road we seek.

Many people I work with are actually just like Phil. They just live on another extreme. They focus on a thousand things at once, answer every ping from the phone, scroll through social media for hours, try every diet and supplement idea all at once and leave everything in life unfinished, cluttered, and messy. And that brings us to the next point.

Get Organized

I have a new piece of advice for personal trainers working with new clients trying to lose fat: Walk with him or her out to the parking lot and look in the backseat of their car. Nearly universally, the backseat is a mess. Fast food bags, clothes, crap, and God knows what cover most of the seating area. If the backseat is cluttered, the car is cluttered, and this person’s life is cluttered. And the car smells of old McDonald’s French fries. You know that smell.

And, yes, this might sound simplistic but the secret to fat loss is cleaning the backseat of that car. Stick with me here. The mind will struggle to focus on something as difficult as fat loss if everything is a mess. Significant fat loss is one of the MOST difficult things you can do without surgery, and a chaotic environment will make it even harder.

Set a Routine

  • Establish a bedtime.
  • Two hours before, set the coffee maker (or whatever) for half an hour before your alarm clock.
  • Take your supplements and medications. I take fish oil (on Amazon), vitamin D (on Amazon), and magnesium (on Amazon).
  • Make your “to do” list for the following day. If you can eliminate one or two items (fill out a form, send an email, etc.) do it.
  • Then if you’re a messy car person, here’s what to do every day for the next week:
  • Day 1: Clean and declutter the backseat of the car.
  • Day 2: Clean and declutter the glove box, the little wells in the driver and passenger seats, and the general front area of the car.
  • Day 3: Open the trunk, if you dare, and clean it up. Put away all the stuff you should have put away years ago.
  • Day 4: Clean and declutter your bathroom.
  • Day 5: Declutter your clothes. Donate things you don’t wear.
  • Day 6: Clean and declutter your fridge.
  • Day 7: Open your computer and reorganize your folders. Put things where they belong. Add new folders and clean up the mess.

Every minute decluttering seems to clear the mind more and more. As I type this, I noticed that my desktop needs a quick sweep; thirty seconds later, my mind is clearer and more laser focused.

To quote the greatest philosopher of our times, Barney Stinson: “Challenge accepted.”

Flameout Buy-on-Amazon

David Otey – Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Shift your bedtime forward by an hour.

Different hours of the day are more productive than others. A one-hour shift in your day can give you a more productive hour that normally would’ve been squandered watching TV, eating unwanted snacks, or trolling the internet.

So try this: Move up your bedtime by 60 minutes, then wake up 60 minutes earlier. For example, if you usually go to bed at 10:30 PM and wake up at 6:00 AM, try going to bed at 9:30 PM and waking up at 5:00 AM.

Here’s an example of how to use that time:

  • Prepare healthy food for the day.
  • Get to the gym before the rush.
  • Get your ab work done if you don’t already do it.
  • Add in that cardio work you’ve been putting off.

Getting one hour back in your day means you’ll be getting 7 hours back over the course of the week. It’s a shift from wasting time to making time.

Chris Albert – Trainer, Gym Founder, Marine Corps Vet

Take gratitude to the extreme for one week.

We hear about people keeping gratitude journals these days. In them they write down three things that they’re grateful for every morning. The idea there is that, if you reflect on gratitude, you’ll have a more positive mindset and it will carry over to everything else you do.

The problem is that you can only be grateful for your wife, your kids, and all the good things in your life so often. If you do that too much, the exercise just becomes you repetitively scribbling the same things in your journal over and over again.

If you want to improve upon the practice, start figuring out a way to be grateful for the challenges and problems you have in your life, and what you’ve learned from them:

  • Be grateful for that shitty workout. It taught you that staying up too late watching TV isn’t going to help you advance.
  • Be grateful for that busted knee you have. It taught you that you weren’t working your posterior chain properly and it’s forcing you to learn better training methods.
  • Be grateful for that girl who broke your heart. She freed you and maybe even taught you to become a better catch for the next girl you meet.

Viewing gratitude in this way makes it a lot tougher to think about, but far more rewarding. Too often, we focus on our victories and our strengths because thinking about those things makes us content.

If you’re a T Nation reader, you’re not looking to be content. You’re looking to advance. That means continually searching for your breaking points and weaknesses.

Reflecting on your challenges while being grateful for the lessons they provide gives you a daily audit of your weaknesses and it’ll motivate you to turn them into strengths.

Get yourself a small notebook and write down your three biggest challenges each day for a week and what you’ve learned from them. By the end of the week, you’ll have turned anything bad that’s happened to you into a potential positive.

Dani Shugart – T Nation Editor

Take cold showers for a week.

This sounds like an exercise in unnecessary suffering, but it gets easier and the benefits outweigh the first 30 seconds of hell. Plus there are some tricks that make it more tolerable.

Why consider it? There are several reasons people advocate cold showers. They say it promotes fat loss, relieves muscle soreness, improves the immune system, helps people with chronic fatigue, and more.

And while some of those may be valid reasons to do it, that’s not what I use them for. Taking cold showers puts you in a mood like no other. You feel exhilarated and ready to take on anything afterward.

They’re like Mother Nature’s happy pill. And while I don’t suffer from depression, there are times when I’m in a funk, mood-wise, and a cold shower will pop me out of it.

So on a practical level, think about why it might do that:

Let’s say you can’t stop ruminating on a situation even though you know stressing over it won’t fix anything. So you turn on the shower and decide to take it COLD.

You step in, and it’s the worst. You have to concentrate on breathing deeply and staying under the water. You become hyper-focused on the present; everything you were thinking about before is suddenly a non-issue. Then something miraculous happens after about 30 seconds. The cold water becomes tolerable.

Once you’re out of the shower, you feel like you’ve just slayed a dragon. You have all sorts of unbounded energy. Even better news? You’ve distracted yourself sufficiently from what was bugging you, and chances are it doesn’t seem like as big a deal.

The shower gave you some distance from the problem, which might actually help you come back to it later with a fresh mind. Psychologists will often tell people with anxiety to find healthy distractions. And a cold shower can absolutely take your mind off the source of your anxiety.

On a more scientific level, researcher Nikolai A. Shevchuk, who’s studied the effect of cold showers on depression, has concluded that this is what they do to the body:

“Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect (1).”

So how do you make it suck less?

  1. If you’re new to cold showers, don’t try to take one when you’re already cold. Have one after you’ve spent some time in the heat or you’re still warm from your workout. If you’re chilled already, you won’t want to follow through.
  2. Do it in silence. If you’re not used to cold showers, now is not the time to try and enjoy a podcast or have a productive conversation. Certain types of music can even be annoying. Get focused on the cold shower, nothing else.
  3. Breathe deeply and heavily. The famous Wim Hof, who’s known for his exposure to extreme temperatures, has an entire breathing methodology that he uses himself (and with clients) to endure crazy cold temperatures. So don’t hold your breath.
  4. Get in gradually. If you’re like me, you can’t just throw your entire body under the water at once. I start with feet, hands, arms and legs, then gradually get my torso in, and then finally my head.

Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach

Create white space, then reconnect with someone.

Start your day with half an hour of “white space” – no laptop, cell phone, or social media. Read a book on self development or journal about your life. This time is not to be spent on worry, or figuring out solutions to problems in your life. It’s your time to put on your personal oxygen mask and allow yourself some healthy selfishness. End that 30 minutes by writing down three things you’re grateful for.

They don’t have to be big things. It can literally be how great your coffee tastes, or how amazing the wind feels on your skin. Try to be thankful for something in that present moment. Not “dinner was delicious last night.” Centering yourself is about connecting with where you are in the present and being grateful for what life is offering you now – no matter how small or insignificant you initially perceived it to be.

After that period of white space you can reach for your phone again, but do it to text someone you care about a quick “good morning,” or send them an email. A phone call is better, but asking someone to make a call these days is like asking them to transfer their 401K into your name. No one wants to do it.

For the seven days, pick a different person each day. Let them know you value them and that you appreciate them being in your life. This is a shift from healthy selfishness to selflessness – the concern for someone else.

The purpose of this is to recharge for life. And the purpose of recharging should be to give back.




  1. Shevchuk, N A. “Adapted Cold Shower as a Potential Treatment for Depression.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Nov. 2007, Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression - PubMed.

Hello there,
I am surely gonna apply the cold shower one, though its not going to be easy I know.

I like this.