David B. Agus, MD has written several books about health, nutrition and exercise. In his book, A Short Guide to a Long Life, Dr. Agus recommends, in chapter three, to “automate your life.”
I immediately found myself agreeing with this advice but also seeing that there would be many critics to this type of advice. Critics would argue that it is better to be free than to form a rigid schedule. They would point to techniques such as muscle confusion or a complicated weight loss plan to confirm their beliefs that automating life isn’t helpful.
But the reality is that we all automate our life. We all form patterns from our behaviors and then replicate them over and over again. We form habits and solidify them. We form routines, and we have typical responses to situations.
But most of us never really address this part of life. We are too busy looking for the quick fix or the new insight that will suddenly make reaching our goals easy and quick.
When I was at college I epitomized this mindset. I refused to do the work and would constantly search for shortcuts.
In fact one attempt still makes me laugh when I think about it. At the time I never worked out and disliked it so much that I avoided it as much as possible. But being a young single 20-something year old I wanted to look in shape.
I remember seeing a commercial for a new item that all but guarantees a ripped body without any real work. I was intrigued. The product was a belt that shot electrical impulses to your stomach, which caused the muscles to contract. The idea was that I could sit on the couch and eat chips and drink beer, without doing any work, while getting in shape! How could this not work? I believe Chuck Norris even used it.
Obviously this technique wasn’t a new miracle way to get in shape. I can recall sitting there with electricity shocking my muscles. Even though I wasn’t doing any work, I still hated it and wouldn’t even stick to that. I quickly gave up. Years later people came out and claimed that this device was actually harmful and was not at all effective. (To my surprise while writing this story I searched for electric exercise belts and found they still make them.)
But I am glad I tried so many shortcuts because it taught me that there really isn’t a shortcut to success. The only way I finally broke free of the unhealthy cycle was to take it day by day and focus on small improvements.
I would look at the process and set goals around the things I needed to do, not the results I hoped to get. This changed my mindset to be on progress. I could take small steps and make progress.
The wonderful thing about this strategy is that it makes it easier to get started and stay with it. But it also gives you a solid foundation on which to build. Over time I was able to add more and more exercise and do it more consistently. I was able to adjust my diet to avoid certain items that were unhealthy and substitute similar items that were much healthier. I also found out that some of the healthy alternatives didn’t taste as bad as I assumed prior to trying them.
To me this is what it means to automate your life. Find small positive changes and repeat them over and over again until they become habit. Avoid shortcuts and instead find better ways to do the things necessary to reach a goal.
The book by Dr. Agus is a great one. It gives a lot of insight into a healthy body and helps provide the knowledge of a doctor, which can then be applied to our own lives. But in my opinion the most important parts of the book talk about setting process goals, building positive habits and automating your life because that gives the important “how” part to being healthy.