SMART Fitness

Coaching people to EAT SMARTER and MOVE SMARTER so they can develop the habits necessary to achieve their HEALTH and FITNESS goals and keep them for LIFE



How I Became a Morning Person

Up until about 9 years ago, I hated mornings. Actually, it wasn’t mornings I hated; it was getting out of bed in the mornings. I would stay in bed until the last possible second (plus a few more), sprint to the bathroom for a shower, shave if I had the seconds to spare (or my stubble was so bad I had no choice), get dressed, and maybe grab something unhealthy to eat on my way out the door. As you can imagine, I was almost always late. And being late is not a very good way to impress your boss, customers, or whomever you are supposed to be meeting with.

Sunrise at Myrtle Beach 2012 taken with my iPhone.

There were rare occasions when I actually did get up early enough to not have to rush around like a crazy person. And those days were always so much less stressful, and WAY more productive.

Finally, I decided enough is enough. If I am ever going to be successful in life, I need to start by changing how my day starts off. Here is what I came up with:

  • WANT IT – Every successful person I have ever met or read about is a morning person. They get up long before the sun rises to do things that would improve some aspect of their life. And they were NEVER late for anything! Just like any habit you are trying to develop, you have to really want it. By the way, those bad habits in your life require the same thing–you gotta want to quit!
  • MOTIVATION Okay, you’ve decided you want to develop the habit of getting up early. Why? For me it started out as a way to spend time with God through prayer and Bible reading. But as I started backing up my wake up time, I found I had time to do other things, like working out, writing a blog, and working on my novel. I’m one of those people who needs a goal to motivate me to make a significant change. Maybe you are too. Pick a dream or goal, and work on it during those extra minutes or hours in the early morning.
  • START IT – Pick a good time to wake up. This is important because if you go too early to start off, you are more likely to quit. I began with getting up at 6:00 am. This was a full hour earlier than I used to get up, but not so obnoxiously early that I would give up. If you can get done what you want in that amount of time then stay there. I wanted to do more so I gradually moved it back to 5:30 for a couple of years, and this past year I started getting up at 5:05 am (I actually “sleep in” until 5:30 on weekends!).
  • GET YOUR SLEEP – There is no way I was going to be able to get up early if I didn’t also go to bed earlier. Sleep is critical for the health of the body, and if we don’t get 6-8 hours of sleep every night, bad things will happen. This is key to the consistency part below. TURN OFF THE TV, OR FACEBOOK, or whatever is keeping you from going to sleep!!
  • BE CONSISTENT – Consistency is the key with any habit. It’s not really a habit if it’s not consistent, right? That means weekends too! I mentioned above that I allow myself an extra 25 minutes sleep on the weekends. This works for me and may work for you, but I wouldn’t go much more than that. Just like “location, location, location” is the most important thing in real estate, “consistency, consistency, consistency” is the most important thing in developing a new habit.
  • GET HELP – If you are married or have a roommate, let them know of the changes you are making. Get them to remind you to go to bed earlier. In other words, give them permission to give you a hard time if they catch you staying up late on the computer or watching TV. If they are early risers, ask them to help make sure you are up until you get your body used to it. My good friend Chad recently asked me to call him when I woke up every morning for a week to help him develop this habit. I was happy and honored to do it.
  • PREPARATION – Before you go to bed make sure you are set up for success. If you have a coffee maker that has an auto-on feature, set it to be ready BEFORE you come down so little time is wasted getting that caffeine in your body. If you plan to use this time for a workout, lay out your clothes, shoes, GPS, etc. so you can put it on right away. If you plan to read/study your Bible, have all of those materials staged and ready to go. Whatever it is, plan for it. And try NOT to hit the snooze button. Trust me when I tell you–it only makes it harder to get out of bed.

Hope this helps someone out there with their goal of becoming a morning person or early riser. If so, or if you have any questions or comments, please let me know using the comments section below.

What motivates you to get up early in the morning?

Marathon (part 1) – Thank You!

During a run recently, I started thinking about the marathon I ran a few years ago, and what an amazing experience that was. And then I realized that there are a couple of aspects of that experience that I would like to share.

The marathon, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a 26.2 mile race.  There are hundreds of them all over the U.S. and the world. It is an Olympic event. It is unique because the distance is so extreme.  It takes most people at least six months of training and preparation. It took me nine months. The majority of runners who decide to take on the challenge of running a marathon do so with the help and encouragement of many other people. I would like to recognize those people in this blog.

First of all, my amazing wife Lori: if not for her encouragement and sacrifice, I could never have made it.  When I started training in March of 2004, our son Noah had just turned one. Ironically, sometime in September of 2004 (marathon was in December), God decided to bless us with Sarah (she was born in June of 2005; you do the math).

Chronologically, I need to go back a bit to thank Scott M. (not me) and Brian H. (I’m using initials for privacy) for asking me if I would be interested in joining them in training for the Chicago Marathon (I ended up running Kiawah because it was closer, and it gave me longer to train).  I want to thank Scott for also jumping in as my pacer at mile 13 until somewhere around mile 23. We actually had a deal that he would pace me so I could break 4 hours at Kiawah, then I would pace him so he could break 4 hours at Myrtle Beach (the Feb 2005 race). Unfortunately Scott got injured before I could return the favor.  Scott and his wife Grace, along with Brian, his wife Kim, and Jimmy P. and his wife Davii, all gave up a weekend to drive down to Kiawah to see me run 26.2 miles (with Scott’s help).  How awesome is that?!? Thanks guys!!

I also want to thank my father-in-law, Creig for choosing to take on this challenge with me.  There was many a Saturday morning that I did NOT want to get up at 5:30 am to drive to Riverfront Park to run some crazy long distance, but knowing he was there counting on me made it possible.

Bottom line: whether it’s a marathon or something else similarly challenging, we need to recognize those around us who make it possible, and also recognize that without their influence, encouragement, and sacrifice, we could NEVER have accomplished our chosen goal.

For those who just realized I didn’t mention God, Marathon (part 2) will remedy that.

Love fights fair

Every married couple will experience conflict–period.  Just as Paul warned us we will all experience trials when we follow Christ, every one who choses to marry another person, because of our fallen nature, should expect to also go through trials in their marriage.  Here are some of the key paragraphs from The Love Dare followed by some rules to help make sure your “heated fellowship” stays fair…and above the belt, so to speak.

The deepest, most heartbreaking damage you’ll ever do (or ever have done) to your marriage will most likely occur in the heat of conflict. That’s because this is when your pride is strongest, and your anger is hottest. You’re the most selfish and judgmental.  Your words contain the most venom.  You make the worst decisions.  A great marriage on Monday can start driving off the cliff on Tuesday if unbridled conflict takes over and neither of you has your foot on the brakes.

But love steps in and changes things.  Love reminds you that your marriage is too valuable to allow it to self-destruct, and that your love for your spouse is more important than whatever you are fighting about.  Love helps you install air bags, and to set up guardrails in your relationship.  It reminds you that conflict can actually be turned around for good.  Married couples who learn to work through conflict tend to be closer, more trusting, more intimate, and enjoy a much deeper connection afterwards.

But HOW?  The wisest way is to learn to fight clean by establishing healthy rules of engagement.  Basically there are two types of boundaries for dealing with conflict: “We” boundaries and “Me” boundaries.

“We” boundaries are rules you both agree on beforehand that apply during any fight or conflict.  And each of you has the right to gently but directly enforce them if these rules are violated.

    1. We will NEVER mention divorce!
    2. We will NOT bring up old, unrelated issues from the past.
    3. We will NEVER fight in public or in front of the children!!
    4. We will call a TIME OUT if conflict escalates to a damaging level.
    5. We will NEVER EVER touch one another in a harmful way!
    6. We will NEVER EVER go to bed angry.
    7. Failure is NOT an option. Whatever it takes, we WILL work this out!

“Me” boundaries are rules you personally practice on your own. Here are some examples:

    1. I will LISTEN first before speaking. “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
    2. I will deal with my own issues up-front. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s [spouse’s] eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3)
    3. I will SPEAK GENTLY and keep my voice down. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Fighting fair means changing your weapons. Disagreeing with dignity. It should result in building a bridge instead of burning one down.

Remember, love is not a fight, but it’s ALWAYS worth fighting for.

This may be the best advice a married couple could get.  Here’s a suggestion: cut and paste the above rules onto something you can print.  Make a couple of copies. Maybe even laminate it and keep it somewhere you can find it when you need it.  Maybe give a copy to a friend.  I know I plan to.

One more thing: Choose to follow these rules NO MATTER WHAT….even if your spouse chooses to break them.  And yes, this advice is for me too!

Challenge to Men (Husbands actually)

With the new year and new decade now here, many of us (maybe even most) are “resolving” to do some new things, as well as some existing things better (well, hopefully better).  I am one of those that sees a new year and especially a new decade as an opportunity for improvement.  A few of the goals I have for myself are:

  • Run in the Cooper River Bridge Run in March and in a half marathon (probably the Governor’s Cup on Nov 13th), and in the process get back down to 170 lbs (I ate way too much over the holidays this past year).
  • Read through the Bible in one year. Lori mentioned this in her blog here. I am following her lead by reading Eugene Peterson’s The Message Remix/Pause.  And yes, I know it is a paraphrase.
  • Write the novel I conceived years ago, even if the only readers are my wife and children.

These are the ones that are measurable.  At the end of 2010, I can evaluate how I did on each of these.

There are several other areas in my life that I would also like to improve that can’t be measured quantitatively.  The most important of these, not counting my relationship with God, is my relationship with my wife.

Bottom line: a strong relationship with my wife makes me a better father, better provider, better friend, etc.  If you don’t believe that, pick up any Christian or secular book on marriage and relationships.

Better yet, and this is where the “challenge” comes in, pick up just one book: The Love Dare.  You can get it brand new for under $10, and it will be the best ten bucks you’ve spent in a long time, maybe ever.  I’m currently going through it a second time (read day 3 today…if you follow me on Twitter, I post the one thought that grabs me most each day) .  I should finish up just in time for Valentine’s Day.  It’s a 40 day journey to a better marriage, and it only takes 5-10 minutes to read each day’s message.  Then comes the “Dare” for the day.  That’s where you get to apply what you learned.  Your wife will be amazed, maybe not immediately, but by the end of the 40 days, there will be no doubt in her mind that something is different about you.  Let God take it from there.

So, go to the bookstore today, or click on the link above to order it from Amazon.  Then, take this challenge and take it seriously.  You will be amazed at the results, not only in your marriage, but in every part of your life.

P.S. If you see no change after spending 40 days going through this book, email me your story and I will refund the $10 you spent on the book.  Deal?  Now get going.  No excuses!

Forgiveness: Not a Suggestion

As I began digging into the topic of forgiveness in the Bible, I discovered that the word forgive, forgiven, or forgiveness is used 79 times in the New Testament, 50 times by Jesus alone.  That tells me it’s probably way more important than I realized.

Let’s look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son: Luke 15:11-32.  In this parable, Jesus describes a rebellious younger brother who got tired of doing his chores and living a boring life on the farm.  He went to his dad and demanded his inheritance so he could go out into the world and have some fun.  Amazingly enough, the father did as his son asked.  The father puts up no argument, which to me makes it very hard to take seriously, but that’s because we are looking at it from our own perspective and not God’s.  What Jesus is trying to say is that “I” am the younger son, and God is the Father, who allows me to turn my back on Him and do what I want, knowing that it isn’t what He wants for me.  I know this because this was the life I lived for most of my life.  But the real point is at the end of the story: it does not matter to the father what the son had been doing or that he had squandered his inheritance.  The Father loves him so UN-conditionally that forgiveness was part of His nature.  Not only did He forgive, but He brought him back into the family as if he had never left.  However, there was an older brother–the obedient, straight-as-an-arrow brother, but we’ll talk about him a little later.

Another example of forgiveness is found in Paul’s letter to Philemon.   It is regarding Onesimus who was a servant who had stolen from Philemon and ran off.  Somehow Onesimus ended up with Paul, who lead him into a relationship with Christ.  The letter is a formal request from Paul asking Philemon to not only forgive Onesimus, but to accept him as a brother and treat him as he would treat Paul if he were there.  And, whatever debt was owed by Onesimus was to be charged to Paul.  That sounds familiar.  Not only is it similar to the Prodigal Son parable, but it is what Jesus was sent to accomplish here on earth.  More about that later also.

This is where it gets tough. The first two parables were about “being forgiven”. Now Jesus wants to teach us about “forgiving others”.

Let’s look at another parable, this one from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18: The Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor.  Just before Jesus tells this parable, he is asked by Peter how many times he should forgive someone.  Before Jesus can answer, Peter tries to quickly guess the correct answer by saying: “Seven times?”, probably hoping the Teacher would say something like: “Very good Peter; everyone should be as smart as you.”  But as always, Jesus answers in a completely unexpected way. He says: “Not seven, but seventy times seven!”, with an exclamation point!  Every Bible Commentary I checked says this means we are to forgive each other an unlimited number of times.  Wow! Most of us struggle with once or twice for those we supposedly love, much less for our acquaintances and enemies.  I’m getting ahead of myself here. OK, back to the parable.  Jesus knew that Peter didn’t get it, and that we wouldn’t get it centuries later, so he told a story to explain AND drive home the point.  I’ll sum it up: the King is reviewing his books and sees that one of his servants owes him the equivalent of about 10 Million dollars or so.  An impossible amount to pay back, so the king was going to have him, his family, and all he owned sold to pay some of it back.  However, his servant fell down and begged him, “Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.”  Seriously? 10 Million dollars?  Amazingly enough, the king had pity on him, released him, and forgave his debt, as in clean slate!  Think about that.  This guy is in debt to the king for more money than he could earn in 20 lifetimes.  He is about to lose everything, and in the blink of an eye, he is debt-free, and back with his family.  Even Dave Ramsey would be impressed.  Wow, just having my mortgage debt “forgiven” would make me happy beyond words.  But here is the point of the story and what Jesus wants so much for us to understand.  After this man is released, he goes to a fellow servant who owes him money, grabs him by the throat and demands the couple of thousand he owes.  Ironically, the fellow servant asks the same thing: “Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.”  But, he decides to have the guy thrown in to prison.  As it turns out, he should have been looking over his shoulder because those who witnessed this went and told the King.  The King was very angry at hearing this news.  He brings him in and says: “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. Here’s the thing, this is a debt that can NEVER be repaid, especially if the guy is being tortured and can’t work to pay it off.  Sound familiar?  WE have a debt that we can never repay!  Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging on this.  His next statement is the scary one:

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” Matthew 18:35 (NLT)

Jesus leaves no room in that statement for misunderstanding, or an “I don’t get it” excuse.  This is not the first time Jesus has taught this principle.  He taught his disciples this earlier in the same book, but without the whole torture thing.  In Matthew chapter 6, towards the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, He is teaching about Prayer.  Those of us who grew up in church probably memorized this as children:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.  Matthew 6:9-13 (NLT)

I’m betting the next two verses are the ones we chose not to memorize:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. BUT, if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will NOT forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)

There it is.  Jesus could not have made it more plain.  But of course Peter didn”t “get it” or he wouldn’t have asked the question about how many times to forgive in Chapter 18.  But Jesus knew that Peter, the other disciples, as well as all of us, wouldn’t get it the first time (or the second or maybe even the third), so He really drove it home with the parable of the Unforgiving Debtor.  I don’t know about you, but the “truth” side of the forgiveness coin scares me to death.

Thank God for Grace!  Because of God’s unconditional love for us, He sent Jesus to earth so that we could be redeemed to Him.  That happens when we recognize our sin, ask forgiveness for our sin, and turn from that sin, while recognizing that Jesus is the Son of the Living God.  Yes, it all starts with “love”, but love and forgiveness are directly and permanently connected to each other.  Love can NOT exist without forgiveness.  If we say we love someone yet cannot bring ourselves to forgive them when they hurt, betray, or mistreat us, we are lying.  Jesus tells us the most important commandment is two-fold: “Love God AND Love others as ourselves!”  It is pretty easy to love God, especially in good times.  He is perfect, wonderful, and amazing!  However, people are not so easy to love, and therefore forgive.  They are messy, mean, selfish liars who will eventually hurt us.  I’m not saying we are like that all the time, but everyone has the capacity, unfortunately, to act that way.

Those who follow Jesus Christ are called to be different in how we treat each other.  Unfortunately, we are not so well known for that.  Sometimes we tend to act like the “older brother” from the Prodigal Son story.  We look at our friend or neighbor and say: “That’s not fair! I’ve been so good and obedient, going to church every week, and working my tail off.  Look what they’ve done! And now they get this or that or some other blessing we feel they don’t deserve.”  Sound familiar?  Way too familiar to me, I’m ashamed to say.  What does that have to do with forgiveness?  Once again, LOVE and FORGIVENESS are connected.  If we ever act like the “older brother”, even occasionally, odds are that we struggle with truly forgiving others “from our hearts”, as Jesus commands.  That means making a conscious decision to look at the person who has wronged you as the child of God they are, and not looking at that person and seeing only the “thing” that they did to hurt you so badly.  They may not even know they have hurt you.  Two very important things we need to remember: Do NOT wait for an apology to forgive!  And, if you know you have wronged someone, ask for their forgiveness as soon as possible no matter how hard it is.

One final thought:

I am of the opinion, based on all of the above, that our spiritual growth and maturity, as well as our personal joy, are directly related to our ability to forgive others. Therefore:

  • Every day, I will look for opportunities to forgive those around me, not just for them, but for me, and my relationship with God.
  • Every day, I will pray for my own forgiveness, AND:
  • Every day, I will pray for the burning desire to love others in such a way that forgiveness becomes second nature.

References used (besides the NLT Bible:)

  1. The Village Church’s Beau Hughes’ “Forgiveness” podcast (also available free on iTunes)
  2. North Point Online’s “Losing Your Religion” Part 1 by Andy Stanley

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