Algorithms, Habits, Epigenetics, and Motivation

As I continue to search for better ways to optimize our training in the gym and life outside, I came across what I think is an interesting and powerful correlation between algorithms, habits, epigenetics, and motivation.

I am breaking down this connection in more detail over the next several weeks but I wanted to start with the idea of motivation. Piers Steel, author of the  book, “The Procrastination Equation”, did a meta analysis on papers related to the science of motivation and came up with an equation. The equation is Motivation = Value x Expectancy / Impulsivity x Delay. You could also add “Energy” to this equation and say that Motivation = Energy X Value X Expectancy / Impulsivity X Delay. In this  equation we need the numerator (Energy, Value, and Expectancy) to be high and the numerator (Impulsivity and Delay) to be low, if we want the highest motivation.

I discussed the importance of Energy in a recent blog post and here I feel it is applicable because even,if you are motivated, you need energy to take action.

We can break down each of the other parts of the equation, as well. Value could also be considered your “WHY”. We have discussed this on many occasions and it is certainly applicable here. The bigger your “WHY” and the more connection you can make to it, the greater chance you will be motivated to take action. Of course, in this example, the “WHY” is only part of the equation.

Expectancy could also be considered your belief. No matter how much you say you truly want something and how big you say your “WHY” is, if you do not believe you can achieve it, your motivation to take action on a consistent basis is not going to be high.

Impulsivity in many ways could also be considered distraction. In modern society, the opportunity for distraction is at an all time high. Technology overall is a fantastic thing but it can also be an incredible distraction. If we are not aware of this potential for distraction, we let the tools use us rather than us using the tools. For me, I would say that television is probably my biggest distraction. During the week I am up early every morning and don’t get home until after 7pm on most nights. Although I value my sleep and know its importance, it can still be easy for me to get sucked into watching television and missing out on some of that much needed sleep. For instance, I would not say I am a fan of professional basketball yet I find myself sometimes staying up an extra 30 minutes to an hour to watch the playoffs. This can be true even if the game is between two teams I could care less about. Where do you find yourself being distracted?

Delay can mean procrastination and that you keep putting off something you have every intention of starting. As coaches, we see this version of delay on a very regular basis. A few of my favorite examples are:
1. I need to get in a little better shape before I come to the gym. (How has that been working for you?)
2. I really would like to learn Jiujitsu. It seems like such a cool art to learn. ( So, whats stopping you and when would now be a good time.)
3. I’m going to start my diet next week, month, year etc. (I’ll give you a different way of framing this. If you are eating, you are already on a diet. So, rather than thinking you have to change everything at once just make one small change today rather than waiting for the opportune time for the perfect mystical diet.)

Delay doesn’t have to only be about putting things off but can also be about setting goals that are too far in the future or too big to be accomplished in the near future. It is fine to have audacious long term goals but you still need to reverse engineer those goals to what can be done in the present in order to maintain your motivation.

So, what  do algorithms, habits, and epigenetics have to do with motivation? The connection lies primarily in belief. When we think of what makes us what we are, what comes to mind? Some may say that our genetics play a huge role in who we are. Others may say that we are in control of who we become and the result of who we become is based on our actions and behavior. There has been a debate of nature vs nurture for some time but I think everyone would agree that both play an important role in who we are and who we become. I am currently taking a taking a course called “Epigenetic Precision Performance Coaching” and am finding it fascinating. We are all born with certain genetics and depending on what you deem as important, it is certainly true that some have been blessed with better genes than others. However, what I find most interesting is that how our genes get turned on or off or in other words expressed is largely due to lifestyle factors. Science emphatically supports this and if you believe this then you should believe you are largely in control of your health and fitness because you are ultimately in control of your lifestyle behavior.

Our lifestyle can be though of as a set of algorithms. in his book “Homo Deus” Professor Yuval Noah Harari  says, ” Algorithm is arguably the single most important concept in the world. If we want to understand our life and our future, we should make every effort to understand what  an algorithm is, and how algorithms are connected to our emotions.” If you think of the majority of your day as a series of “IF/THEN ” statements you can see his point.

Another way of thinking of algorithms is a series of habits. Again most of our day is habitual. So, the quality of our day and ultimately our life is largely based of the habits we have established on a daily basis. These habits affect our gene expression for good or bad.

If you understand this process, you then should have the belief that you can change almost anything. Therefore if you truly value something your expectancy of being able to achieve it should be high and as result your motivation.

Change and improvement may not be easy. It certainly may not be fast but it does not have to be mystical. Change and consistent progress is possible. It is simply a process. More on this process in part 2.

The Happiness Diet!

I think nearly everyone is in agreement with the fact that nutrition is one of the critical areas if you are pursuing life optimization and being your best self. We have discussed this on many occasions in the past. However, the book , “The Happiness Diet”, brings to light another important aspect of diet which is just how important your diet is regarding not only having a lean and energized body but a sharp brain and balanced mood.

I think the tendency is to focus on diet in terms of how it affects our body composition, weight, performance and health in general. What we may not be as aware of is foods powerful affect on how we feel. I remember first being introduced to this idea when reading Dr. Barry Sears book, “The Zone Diet”, many years ago. He repeatedly suggested thinking of food as a drug. He mostly was referring to its influence on the hormones insulin and glucagon. Although those hormones are important, food affects much more than that.

A quote from the book, ” What if you discovered that the best place to begin your personal pursuit of happiness is at he end of your fork? Emerging research from the fields of neuroscience and nutrition shows that by changing what you eat, you can improve your mental and emotional well-being. You can stabilize your moods. You can improve your focus. You can even make your brain grow.”

“A large study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that eating processed foods, such as refined carbohydrates, sweets, and processed meats, increased the risk of depression by about 60%. Eating a whole food diet on the other hand, decreased the disease by about 26%.”

The recommendations for “Happiness Diet” are much the same as we have been making. One main recommendation is to avoid the MAD or SAD! This simply means avoid the modern American Diet of the Standard American Diet which is high in sugar, vegetable oils, and processed foods. There are many studies out there that may support different dietary recommendations, as far as what is best; however, there is no study saying a diet consisting of sugar, vegetable oils, processed foods, and flour is good. Therefore, if you eliminate those things and eat whole foods you are moving in the right direction.

If you need a little extra motivation to stay away from processed foods, the book gives some interesting facts from that industry. Some of the biggest brands in the processed food industry are owned by tobacco companies. Both Nabisco and Kraft are owned by tobacco companies. Just saying, that these companies aren’t know for putting the health of their  consumers as a priority and they spend 10 billion dollars a year marketing to kids.

If you need another reason to stay away from processed foods consider this. “Deciphering food label ingredients leads to unappetizing results. Take the innocuous-sounding castoreum, which is used to enhance the flavor of puddings, candies, and some frozen dairy desserts. You might be surprised to know that it’s derived from beavers—beaver anal glands.”

We can get very precise with recommendations for nutrition, supplements, etc., but first you should get a handle of the basics. This is our basic philosophy.

Learn to commit. Focus on the process and realize progression will not be a straight line but more of a zig zag. It will not be perfect and it doesn’t have to be.


In one of my last articles we talked about creating a Masterpiece Day. An integral part of that process involved focusing on three important areas in our life: Energy, Work, and Love. Here I want to go a little deeper into the area of Energy.

I spoke in the last email about our mission of helping you close the gap between where you are now and your greatest potential. When you really think about it, anything we do requires energy. We don’t have an unlimited supply of energy. Certain things we do will deplete our energy and other things can help us create energy.  Energy is an area where Alliance can help you create a greater supply. 

The five critical areas that we speak of that are fundamentals for Life Optimization are:
1. Mental
2. Physical
3. Nutrition
4. Sleep/Recovery
5. Spiritual
If we examine those areas, we see that physical movement, sleep, and nutrition are all intimately linked to your energy.   

You could say energy runs the show. It literally means the capacity to do work. We need both physical and mental energy. Energy is also linked to health and vitality. Without it could be said we have nothing.

So, what can we do to increase our Energy? 

Physical Movement
This is one area that can help us increase our energy. Exercise including resistance training, anaerobic, and aerobic is part of this equation. Exercise is important but movement beyond structured exercise is also important. If you exercise for an hour and then sit for the rest of the day you will not optimize your energy. It is important to get up and move throughout the day. If you are stuck at a desk, try to get up and move around every ninety minutes at a minimum. 

Obviously, we need food for energy. How and what we eat can have a huge impact on our energy. A good place to start is to focus on eating real whole food. This includes eating adequate protein, vegetables, and healthy fats to fuel our body with adequate micronutrients and calories. We want adequate   clean fuel without excess calories and carbohydrates which can actually make us feel sluggish. Avoiding sugar, flour and vegetable oils are other things to consider for optimizing energy.

Insuring you are getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night can be huge for increasing energy and helping you be your best each day. It said that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be one of the few that can operate at their best with less than 7 hours of sleep. Make sure that you are not so accustomed to operating at less than your best that you have lowered your standard. In other words because you are so used to a lack of sleep that you have allowed that less than best version of yourself become your current identity. I noticed this in myself. I am in a much better mood, recover, and feel I am generally a better person when I am sleeping well.

How you breathe both during exercise and in normal daily activities can have a huge impact on your energy. In general, you should be focusing on breathing through your nose except during very intense exercise. We have been emphasizing this in our training as of late. If you incorporate a regular breath practice into your daily routine you may find yourself feeling even more energized. 

The powerhouse of our cells are the mitochondria. We have a quadrillion of them in our body and they make up 10% of our bodyweight. When it comes to energy, it is the mitochondria which can be considered the cornerstone. All of the things mentioned above can help improve your mitochondria. A hard training session can be a great way to get energized but there are other ways to recover and become energized also.Three other things which can help with energy, recovery, and mitochondrial health are:
1. Sauna
2. Cold Water Immersion
3. NAD+
We have all of these tools available for you at Alliance, as well. I’ve written about some of these tools in the past but if you have questions about how to better implement them into your regimen please don’t hesitate to ask. 


Better Than Just Happy!

I received an email from Scott Sonnon, founder of RMAX and Tacfit , last week that was very thought provoking. I wanted to share my thoughts after reading the email, as well as share the entire email which you can read on our blog.

As you know, the training at Alliance is much more than just physical training. Although the physiological adaptations are important and a big part of what we want to help you achieve, I truly believe the mental, spiritual, and personal growth, which can come from the training far outweigh the physical benefits alone.

When I sit down with a new client, one of the first things I ask them is why are they here and what is their true reason for training. Whether you are just starting training or if you have been training for years it is always a good question to come back to and connect with. If you are lacking in motivation connecting your why for training to your bigger purpose and why in life can be the thing that motivates you. We are working on this very thing in our Optimize Coach program. Brian refers to this as creating “Soul Goals”. What I alluded to in my last email about energy was that it doesn’t matter how great a goal you have if you don’t have the energy and physical vitality to pursue it.

So, in my own searching and realization of some of my flaws, failures, and fears I realize their are many things I avoid because they are uncomfortable. I also realize that success ,which on the surface and to others may seem great, can also lead to stagnation in personal growth. Success can also lead to fear of change or loss.  It is probably a lot harder to leave a job you hate to pursue something you are really passionate about when you make a lot of money at that job you hate. When I opened my first gym I very naive but I also had nothing to lose except the bea tup Nissan Sentra I drove nicknamed the “deerslayer” because I didn’t have money to get it repaired after running into a deer.

I see this in my own training, especially in Jiujitsu, partly because Rafa being the great coach he is pointed int out to me. I sometimes rely too much own my physical strength which may be to my own detriment and personal growth. Why do I do this? Because it is comfortable and I fear losing a position or worse getting tapped out. Nobody wants to say uncle and it is that very reason many people won’t even get on the mat for fear of risking being dominated physically by another.

So, what are some things that you may be avoiding than are uncomfortable and in the short term may make you unhappy but in the long term make you better? It is certainly not a requirement  to do 6 x ten minute rolls in Jiujitsu to get better in Jiujitsu. It is also not necessary to go to absolute failure in exercise or to the point of feeling like you are going to throw up to get physically better. However, it is our goal to truly challenge you and if you are willing to go to your absolute best you may uncover a latent potential you didn’t know existed. By doing so, you may as Mark Divine say” “Meet your true self for the first time”. If you do, don’t be afraid of the power that you truly possess.

Commit, Show Up, Don’t Quit, Be Uncommon, Become Your Best Self,


“Be Better than Just Happy”

Hello Friends,

Have you ever heard the comment about relationships that “it’s better to be happy than be right”? It sounds plausible, but in application it’s a problematic fantasy. Asking two quarrelsome parties to forfeit trying to prove their point and just acquiesce to the other is like asking wolves to wear sheepskins and bleat. They pretend to be happy, as if they’re on a stage… with as much authenticity as a Hollywood film set.

Pretending to be happy, submitting to the will of another who intends to prove their righteousness, slowly cannibalizes your self-worth, and leads to a life of silently seething resentment, passive aggressiveness and randomly explosive releases of pressurized emotions.

If you wear happiness like a heavy blanket, you’ll avoid conflict and confrontation… as a result, you’ll prevent growth and development. Rather than risk an argument, you’ll suck it in and deny the injustices you see or feel. You’ll waste your very short life trying to find a way to be happy, when there is no way to be happy. Happiness is the way. Being happy is a by-product of loving the challenge, of recognizing discomfort as catalyst to growth.

But intending to be “right” is just as stifling. Proving your point is like a blathering child – if they’re talking, they’re not learning anything new. Growth is predicated on failure. Development depends upon mistakes, on being “wrong.” If you’re always “right” – you’re never growing.

If you attempt to prove that you’re right, you’ll be completely missing the potential transformation which could be happening if you realized that… you’re always and already wrong. We’re imperfect and under-developed. No one’s brain is done cooking. So, at any point in time, you’re poorly informed. If you approach life with that humility, you’ll never stop developing.

Look at exercise as an example. You see two predominant types of people: those that want to be comfortable and those that want to be successful. Those who want to be comfortable avoid the specific exercises which make them feel uncoordinated, and the exact training stress which will allow them to grow; and those who want to be successful will avoid the exact exercises that they’re not good at, and the intensity levels that challenge them too greatly.

In exercise, you need to be uncomfortable and you need to go beyond where you’ve been successful… that is, if you want to develop your fitness. If you just want to pretend that you’re exercising, or prove that you’re strong, keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll appear to be happy and successful (albeit incapable of getting better.)

I’d rather be better than be happy (or be right.)

In my past, people wanted to pretend that there was nothing “wrong” with me, and advised me that I should be “happy” with what I got because things could be so much worse. Yes, that’s true: things could always be worse, but that doesn’t mean you should be content with injustice. And it’s an injustice that you should pretend to be happy.

And of course, many have tried to prove that their way of acting, performing or thinking was right and that mine was faulty, or wrong. I realized that I needed to be embrace being wrong, and find an alternative, to learn… in athletics, in academics, in relationships and in my companies.

The people intending to be “right” all the time, one by one began to fade away, stuck in the picture frame of their successful definitions. I just kept evolving… never content with accepting my condition, comfortable with my endless mistakes. Only the desire to “be better” allows you to grow.

The pain of transformation is fleetingly sublime contrasted with a lifetime of suffering. Like one of my yoga teachers used to say, would you prefer 90 minutes of pain or 90 years of suffering, either way – you choose.

Love the challenges rather than coveting the results. Love your failures as the steps to your success. Love the discomfort of growth as the way to true fulfillment. And you’ll always be better and better and better…

Very Respectfully,

Scott B. Sonnon

Optimize Your Masterpiece Day!

What has become more crystal clear to me in regards to my personal mission, as well as, the mission of Alliance as a whole is to help people to truly become their best.. As I have been working through Brian Johnson’s Optimize Coach program I have begun to realize just how powerful this mission can be.

It is my opinion that very few of us have reached our true potential. Most of us are certainly not at our best on a consistent moment to moment basis. I don’t want to make that seem negative but rather frame it as a positive. What I really see is an incredible opportunity for growth!! If you tell me that I have reached my ultimate potential as a human being and that I can do nothing more to become better then I would hope I would be at the end of my life. At that point, I could move on to the afterlife knowing I had lived my life well. I hope I am far from the end and if you tell me there is no more room for growth I might be a little depressed.

What I want to share in this article is some of what we have been working on in the Optimize coach program to help in the journey towards optimization. We are in the process of developing a Carpe Diem Journal. The cornerstone of that journal is creating what we are calling a  Masterpiece Day. The goal of the journal is to seize each day by organizing it in a way where you are working on becoming a little better in a systematic fashion.

One of the first things we worked on is creating AM/Pm bookends which could also be considered morning and evening rituals.These are the times of day when you are less likely to be distracted.

We actually start with the PM bookend by getting to bed early enough to get a good nights sleep. Part of that ritual includes planning for the next day focusing on three main areas :

1. Energy
2, Work
3, Love

In each of these areas you:

  1. Create you specific identity
  2. Express the virtues you wish to embody
  3. Identify the one thing you will focus on in each area

    Another part of the morning and evening ritual is a meditation practice. I have strived to incorporate box breathing into a daily practice for some time but I have never been consistent with meditation. This particular Optimus meditation incorporates several things which I have found helpful in being consistent.
    1. breathing is simply inhale and exhale
    2. it incorporates affirmations focusing on certain virtues that may resonate with you
    3. It focuses on the three main areas of Energy, Work, and Love where you contemplate your identity, virtues, and one thing to focus on in each of those areas for the day.

    Here is the guided version of the meditation.
    Optimus Meditation.

    I hope you find some of these practices helpful in your own journey.