In this podcast, I chat with Menno Henselmans all about the science of self-control and willpower.
Menno just released a book called The Science of Self-Control, which is an evidence-based look at willpower and how to be more productive. This isn’t your typical self-help book either, filled with anecdote and fluff. It’s more like a textbook in the sense that it references over 500 scientific papers while giving you practical tips on boosting your self-control.
Menno’s book will help anyone understand what self-control is, and how you can boost yours so that you can better stick to a diet, work smarter (not harder), and simply put, be better.
In this interview, Menno and I discuss the two-system theory of self-control, the causes of willpower depletion, simple tips to boost your focus (including taking imaginary breaks!), and a whole lot more, only scratching the surface of what’s in his book.
Menno has been a repeat guest on my podcast, but in case you’re not familiar with him, he’s a former business consultant turned international public speaker, educator, writer, published scientist, and physique coach who’s passionate about helping serious athletes attain their ideal physiques. He’s also on the Scientific Advisory Board of my sports nutrition company, Legion.
So if you want to learn about the science of self-control and how we can use scientific research to boost our willpower and be more productive, check out this interview!
Lastly, if you want to support the show, please drop a quick review of it over on iTunes. It really helps!
6:26 – What inspired you to write The Science of Self-Control?
11:17 – What is 2 system theory and why is it important to understanding self-control?
23:38 – Practical tips for improving self-control.
28:11 – What are evidence-based ways to get through boredom?
35:48 – How do you structure your day?
48:14 – The best length for a nap.
50:22 – The power of imaginary breaks.
Mentioned on the Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Howdy duty friends. I’m Mike Matthews. This is muscle for life. Thanks for joining me today. And before we get started, please take a moment to subscribe to the show in whatever app you are listening to this in, because one it’ll help you not miss any new episodes. And two it’ll help me because it increases the rankings of the show in the various charts.
Alrighty. So this episode is all about the science of self. And willpower. And in it, I talk with my buddy minnow Selman, who has just released a book called the science of self control, which is an in depth evidence based look at willpower at self-control and how to improve those things to be more productive or to be better at accomplishing the things we want to accomplish.
So for those of us who are very work oriented then we are going to think of that as productivity, but the information that minnow shares in this episode and in the book can apply to the pursuit of any goal, any objective, really in any aspect of our lives and something I appreciate about meno and his work in this book is it’s not your typical self-help book.
And the reason I say that is. I used to read self-help books semi-regularly. I used to keep them in my genre rotation that I would read according to, but I stopped more or less together. I will read the occasional self-help book here or there. If it comes highly recommended from someone who has similar tastes or sensibilities, I guess as me.
But the main reasons I stopped reading self-help books generally are one. They are often full of a lot of filler. A lot of anecdotes, many self-help books are like half filler, at least meaning you could just get rid of half of those books because you have not made a single highlight in any of the filler or any of the anecdotes.
And you would just get to whatever the books have to offer. That is actually valuable, faster. And then two, I stopped reading them because they just started to feel very derivative. I was coming across the same ideas again and again, just expressed a little bit differently or organized a little bit differently.
And so I found that I wasn’t making many highlights at all throughout these books. And it just felt like a waste of time. Now, if you are on the same page horror as me there, then you are going to be pleasantly surprised by this conversation. And by minnow’s book, this is more like a textbook.
It references over 500 scientific papers, but it is also very practical. It is not merely an academic exercise. Meno wanted to write this for layman. He did not wanna write this for scientists. He wanted anybody to be able to read this and understand it. And two, he wanted something that people could immediately put into use again and again, he wanted people to be able to read one chapter and implement the big idea right away.
And he did a great job. And so in this episode, meno is going to share all kinds of cool and useful information from the book. And if you like this interview, you are certainly going to like the book. So I’d recommend picking it up. And in case you’re not familiar with meno, he has been a repeat guest on my podcast.
Somebody I always enjoy speaking with, and he is a former business consultant turned international public speaker, educator writer, publish. Exercise scientist and physique coach, who is passionate about helping serious athletes attain their ideal physiques. And he’s also on the scientific advisory board of my sports nutrition company Legion.
Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my V I P one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and all circumstances, lose fat build muscle and get into the best shape of their life faster than they ever thought possible.
And we can do the same for you. We make getting fitter, leaner, and stronger paint by numbers, simple by carefully managing every aspect of your training and your diet for you. Basically, we take out all of the guesswork. So all you have to do is follow the plan and watch your body change day after day, week after week and month after.
What’s more, we’ve found that people are often missing just one or two crucial pieces of the puzzle. And I’d bet a shiny shackle. It’s the same with you. You’re probably doing a lot of things, but dollars to donuts. There’s something you’re not doing correctly or at all. That’s giving you the most grief, maybe it’s your calories or your macros.
Maybe it’s your exercise selection. Maybe it’s your food choices. Maybe you’re not progressively overloading your muscles or maybe it’s something else and whatever it is, here’s, what’s important. Once you identify those one or two things you’re missing. Once you figure it out, that’s when everything finally clicks, that’s when you start making serious progress.
And that’s exactly what we do for our clients. To learn more head over to www.buy legion.com. That’s by legion.com/. VI I P and schedule your free consultation call, which by the way, is not a high pressure sales call. It’s really just a discovery call where we get to know you better and see if you’re a good fit for the service.
And if you’re not, for any reason, we will be able to share resources, that’ll point you in the right direction. So again, if you appreciate my work and if you want to see more of it, and if you also want to finally stop spinning your wheels and make more progress in the next few months than you did in the last few years, check out my VIP coaching [email protected] legion.com/vip.
Hey meno. Thanks for taking the time to come back on my podcast. I’m looking forward to. My pleasure. So this is gonna be about a topic that you have spent a lot of time with as of as of late, because you just published a new book. And before we get into interesting and useful information that most of it’s probably in the book, but I was curious what inspired you to write this book and you can also just quickly tell people, of course what the title of the book is and why they should go check it out.
Menno: It’s the science of self control. It’s the title of the book. And I go into productivity management. So how to be more productive, how to stick to your diet, how to make working out less effortful and how to motivate yourself. Those are the quite literally the chapters chapter division of the book, along with some chapters on general introduction on psychology and what willpower is.
And that’s the overarching theme of the book willpower, which is something that I think is very interesting and intersects on a lot of these topics that we talk about a lot. Working out diet adherence, productivity’s always been something that I find very important because I try to be as productive as possible.
I think my big part of my life philosophy is to be as productive and as happy as possible. And these are topics that did not lend themselves very well to write about on social media, because you need that introduction on what willpower is and some general backgrounds before you can really, give some soundbite advice.
So in this book I go all in and basically everything that I’ve wanted to say about these topics for the past, at least three years, cuz it took me about three years to write this. I just put all of that in and you’ll see the information then Steve of the book is really high, which is how I prefer it.
There’s not that much fluff unless I think it’s like a really funny story or so.
Mike: Yeah, that’s how I like to approach writing as well. I’m at the end of what really is gonna be a fourth edition of my flagship books for men and women, bigger leaner, stronger and thin lean are stronger. And a big part of the process.
It’s been a rewrite from scratch as it is with every edition. I go into it thinking that it’s gonna be not superficial, but something in between cosmetic and like open heart surgery. And it usually tends to be closer to the ladder. But a big a big part of that process is looking at which information I can exclude, based on the ongoing feedback that I’m getting and based on the questions that I’m getting and based on the, how the meta changes in health and fitness, what stuff is not as important anymore.
The fundamentals are the fundamentals, but the, but there are quite a few. More negotiable aspects of all of this, that , that are worth including in the book. And yeah, so I’m always trying to pack more information into it trying to make it palatable, make it entertaining, make some jokes here and there share some interesting stories.
But I personally do not like books and you’ll find this a lot in the self-help self development space where I don’t spend much time anymore. Where half of a book is just anecdotes that yeah, some of them are interesting. Some of them are not interesting. It’s just mostly filler though. And where you really could summarize a whole chapter, you just read 30, 40 pages and you could summarize it in one or two paragraphs.
That to me, that’s just not my kind of book. I like what you’re talking about, where it takes longer to get through and you have more highlights, but you also now have a lot more value as people like to say, you. . Yeah, I think you
Menno: struck a good balance also with your book especially beginner book.
I really liked and dividing it into beginner into intermediates because I think a lot of beginner books, they make the mistake or a lot of people in general make the mistake of having sort of one Magnum Opus, which is, a great sort of, but it doesn’t really help beginners. I find because they just get overwhelmed with information it’s just far too much.
Like they just need, like a cheat sheet of start here and then more advanced individuals. They don’t really care about all the standard stuff. So they would like to breeze through that a bit
Mike: faster. Exactly. I’ve found that this isn’t just in fitness, but in many disciplines, a lot of experts, they forget what it was like to be a beginner and that’s easy to do if you only run in the more advanced circles.
And so maybe I’ve had the advantage of continuing to interact with new people, answering emails every day, answering social media questions every day. So it has reminded me just where people start. And I was once one of those people, myself and I had a lot of questions at that time that now of course would seem in, in some cases nonsensical, but they weren’t because I wasn’t stupid.
They weren’t stupid questions. They were just ignorant. I just didn’t know. . Yeah, definitely. But let’s segue into some of the information that that you cover in your book. I came up with some questions about things that were just interesting to me, and I think a lot of people listening will, will find them interesting as well.
Can you tell us about the two system theory and why it’s UN why it’s important to understanding self-control? Yeah. Two system
Menno: theory is a concept that has gained a lot of popularity in psychology in the last years. I think Daniel Kaman can be attributed rightly as the the source for most of this popularization.
And Jonathan hate. I mentioned both in the book Daniel Kaman says system one system two, which is also the parlance that’s used in a lot of psychology fields. Jonathan hate uses the metaphor of system, one being an elephant and system two being the writer. And I combined. Systems. And I talk about the emotional elephant and the rational rider, and it sounds a little bit childish almost, I think, but it actually makes a lot of sense.
If you look at how the brain is structured and operates you can literally see in the brain that you the what’s called the reptile brain, which is the brain stem and the more primitive parts. And then on top of that, you have the paleo mammalian brain, and that’s basically system one.
It’s where emotional processing takes place and intuitive reasoning. It’s fast, it’s very efficient, but it doesn’t understand long term consequences, investment strategies, logic, math, it’s gonna do those things. So it’s very. How most mammals operate like a smart mammal. And then on top of that, you have to prefrontal cortex, which is system two.
The rational part is the rational rider. And it’s literally like a rational rider shitting on top of this emotional elephants. This is the part of our brain that has evolved pretty much to counterbalance the flaws in the more intuitive system. And it’s, it has serial processing. It’s slow, it’s effortful.
This is the part of our brain that we associate with our consciousness with you. If you think of how you are, then you’re talking about this part of your brain, which actually there is a lot going on in the brain, vast majority of what goes on in your brain that we’re not aware of. And this is the part of our brain that basically steers the rest in the right direction, because usually it does a pretty fine job.
If you look at animals in nature, they’re getting by they’re surviving reproducing, but as humans, we can take things to the next level and make things a lot more rational.
Mike: Like you said, I think one of the obstacles, and this is me just speaking more empirically in my own experiences and just having interact with a lot of people and particularly running businesses and working with a lot of people over the years there, there seems to be that point of it takes effort to engage in that long term, thinking to override emotional impulses, where many people seem to get tripped up.
You may be able to say a lot of it is just laziness. I know that may sound bad. I’m not saying everybody is, but there’s certainly in all of us. There’s that, that drive to minimize effort. And if that becomes, if the volume is too high on that, then that causes many problems in life.
But I think this is one of them in that I, I can. So I recently read a book called the sixth thinking hats. Have you heard about that book? No, I haven’t. It’s one I’d recommend to every. Listening it’s it’s I probably considered a bit of a classic at this point Edward DeBono, and he talks about different modes of thinking, and he uses this analogy of different hats.
If you are engaging in green hat thinking that’s creative, outside of the box, lateral thinking, if you’re engaging in yellow hat thinking that’s positive assessment, you’re looking for benefits, you’re looking why an idea could work why we should pursue it. If it’s black hat thinking you’re looking at caution and what are potential obstacles, what could go wrong here?
And so what seems to be a common pattern is starting with emotion. And so this is this kind of reptilian brain that is impelling us to, to do something or we just feel an urge to do something. So that’s, that would be red hat thinking to use that analogy. And then. There is maybe a little bit of yellow hat, a little bit of, okay.
I feel a desire to do this, and maybe I’ve already even decided this is what I’m going to do. And I don’t want to exert the effort to think about this much further. I’m just gonna find a couple of reasons, a couple of good potential outcomes, and then I’m just gonna go straight to doing it. And again, I, of course I’ve experienced that.
I’m sure you’ve experienced that and something that I’ve just tried to consciously work on and particularly in business, because there are real, tangible outcomes and consequences. If you make bad decisions where again, you just go with your impulses and then invest a bunch of time and a bunch of money into something.
And it flops that is, it can be painful. And particularly in the realm of business, but I’ve. Also tried to make it a habit elsewhere to, I wouldn’t say slow down, but make sure that I am putting in the effort to engage both systems of thinking because the quick efficient system that just works on automatic, but it seems like the other one, it takes some effort to engage it.
What are your thoughts on that?
Menno: Yeah, definitely. That’s big central parts of understanding self-control is for one, the tenant that humans are fundamentally effort. Basically. Yeah, we are inherently lazy and evolutionarily speaking. That makes sense. Like why would we ever invest effort in something that we can do more easily or do something that we don’t strictly need to do?
Like evolutionarily speaking, we did not evolve to go to the gym. We were just active because we needed food to survive. So we have these drives to do things, but they were mostly out of necessity and that makes things a lot easier. And these days we live in a society where food is supplied to us in abundance with far higher energy densities than previous.
And we are locked up in cubicles trying to be productive for eight hours a day. And we have to force ourselves to go to the gym rather than be forced to hunt, to stay physically active. So self-control is much more important. These days than it used to be. And you actually see that people that have better self control, they consistently they do better in school.
They get better careers. They do better on basically anything they’re happier. So that is, I think, why it’s such a central important concept. And you can think of self-control theory, as you said, as it’s something that’s effortful and you can think of it as system two overriding system one, and that’s that overriding process that’s difficult.
And you can actually see in the brain that this triggers negative emotion in general, cognitive conflict or cognitive dissonance. Some if when two things in the brain are not perfectly aligned with each other in general, this creates a sensation of unpleasantness. So we also see that self-control failures more likely when we do difficult tasks as compared to simple tasks, because the cognitive conflict in our brain is greater.
When we try something to process something that’s difficult. That’s in fact, the essence of something being difficult, causing cognitive conflict. And that’s also why we laugh at a joke and we experience a sensation of pleasure when we get the joke, because we, a joke usually creates this cognitive conflict.
And then when we get it, this triggers a moment of relief and that’s, it’s part of the reason actually we have
Mike: humor. Absolutely. And to that point, that’s one reason why I read books on a I have two different rotations of genres. I have some personal genres that I’m interested in work related, and I just flip flop between them, but in my kind of get smarter, get better bucket I’ll read books like this six thinking hats.
That’s why I read that. I guess you could call it a self-help book. That’s the kind of, self-help that an example of a self-help book that I like very practical no longer than it needed to be and has stood the test of time. It’s been used primarily in a business setting, but it’s gained a lot of acceptance elsewhere.
And with that book though, I’m just looking to improve my ability to think critically, to make good decisions and to override my lizard brain, so to speak. And so that’s just in my standard kind of rotation and I think I’ve gotten good enough. Add it to, achieve some level of success in business and otherwise in life, but I can always get better and there are always much higher levels to, to strive toward and to achieve.
And I think a big part of that is being able to make really good decisions. And one thing I’ve noticed is as I’ve gotten better at that I get more payoff for the effort that it takes. And I could imagine if I were not good at it at all, if I think back when I was younger and I was certainly worse at it, I was again, good enough to get to where I’ve gotten.
But I was not, I was worse at it then than I am now. And it took more effort at that time to make good decisions and the decisions themselves. Not as good as if I were to be able to go back with what I know now and where I’m at now. And so just I, I don’t know if you, how much of that type of stuff you get into in the book, but that’s one of those critical thinking and decision making, I think is one of those meta skills along with probably communication the ability to communicate, which I may rank as number one.
But those are two, I think, majorly important meta skills for being able to get along in the world and achieve
Menno: goals. Yeah that’s exactly the approach I took with my book. And that’s also actually, the subtitle is 50 free tips to stick to your diet yada. So I really focus on some theory and then put it into a very practical tip.
So the book is actually divided into 50 free, broad tips that are shop divided into SubT tips to make sure that. You actually have very concrete, actionable steps to take, like how to structure a to-do list, how to structure a grocery list, what kind of apps I recommend for productivity. So it’s very concrete.
And I think what you’re saying about cell books or what I’m reading between the lines is I actually did test most self-help books. Yeah. And I thought it was a, almost an insult when Amazon, you have to categorize your book and you’re like, I don’t know where else to put it. Yeah. It’s yeah.
It’s self-help. I think it’s main category now is applied psychology. And there, it actually ranked 15, it peaked at 15 in the world. On day or two after lunch, which I thought was really cool. Yeah. That’s fine. Puts it up with Jordan Peterson and the like but yeah that’s really that you can also read that in all the reviews.
They’re saying like, this is actually practical advice. It’s funny. The first few reviews are something where people say I would never buy a self-help book normally, but this one I liked
Mike: and yeah, that’s a good compliment. That’s the compliment that I would want to get. Definitely. I guess I, I have very different it’s called the little black book of workout motivation and it’s just a collection of essays broadly categorized and something I just did for fun.
And you could say self-help, but as has a bit of a combination of some historical anecdotes that I found interesting and scientific anecdotes and scientific research on motivation and self-control and willpower, and then as well as just some kind of inspirational essays, at least me attempting to be inspirational, having fun with it more, just purely creative type of work.
But I’ve also received reviews like that and just feedback like that, where people say, I normally don’t read books like these, but I really liked yours. And so that’s a nice compliment. Let’s get into. Practical tips for for improving self-control in particular. And you may wanna define self-control for people because they may be wondering, or, I know when I was researching for little black book SelfControl versus willpower, are these the same thing?
Menno: Yeah. May people use them as the same thing? I think broadly speaking, you can say that they’re both fall into the category of system two, trying to overrule system one. I think that’s the best way to think about it. More generally, you can say that self-control failure is a shift in intentional resources.
I think that’s really good to, to understand a lot of people, these words like ego depletion, which is used for state of having poor willpower by bio research. I think that’s not a very useful way to think about it and task fatigue is okay. It suggests more that for one that the fatigue is task specific, which is something that’s very true and found in a lot of research.
But I think the best way to understand it is it’s almost like bored. It’s a shift in intentional research when the brain is what you’re currently doing, you’re currently doing some half to activity. Cuz if you’re doing a want to activity, you almost never experience self-control failure and your brain shifts the attention from the half to activity.
It’s trying to find, wants to activities, which result in higher immediate ratification. That’s what happens. And that’s also what you always see that you’re doing something that is not, it’s more an investment activity. It’s something you have to do or something that you think is good for you in the future.
And then what your brain ends up doing. What you end up procrastinating on is things that give more immediate relief like food or sex and research also finds that a dollar sign Facebook popups, those things become very salient because they basically result in this instant high stimulation, as opposed to, doing your taxes or resisting
I, I can relate to that. Just working on the fourth edition of these books that I’m wrapping up because so I, I did the third editions of those books, and then I rolled into a book that I’m doing with Simon and Schuster called muscle for life coming out next year. And it’s for specifically for men and women primarily for people let’s say 30 to 40 and beyond.
And for people who are very new to strength, training and flexible dieting who have never. Never maybe lifted a weight in their life and maybe, have a 65 year old guy who’s overweight or woman who’s overweight. They’ve never done any sort of strength training. Maybe they did a little bit of sports or cardio at some point they’re very outta shape.
Now it, I wouldn’t necessarily start them with, I wouldn’t put that guy on bigger than or stronger. For example, I wouldn’t necessarily tell that guy. Yeah. Let’s just start deadlift and squatting heavy weight. I would like to be able to work them up to it. So with that book though, a lot of the material, it’s not the same, but it’s very similar because now I do have to teach the basics.
Of course, and then the programming’s different. But that was a matter of taking a lot of material that. I’ve at this point between my books and I’ve, I don’t know. I have probably over myself over a million words, at least probably 1.5 million words of free material over at Legion athletics on my blog.
So I’ve written about, just about anything that somebody knew needs to know. So I had to take that material and repurpose it for this new book and repackage it and then get through that and, whatever nine drafts going back and forth with editors, which is great. That’s what it takes to create a good book and then roll right into this fourth edition, which is now taking it all again and ingesting it and then ma ha making sure it comes out differently.
And so I’ve been working it feels like I’ve been working on the same project for shit, dude, I don’t. Three years now, straight going over the same material again and again like I’m a, like a, I’m a photographer and I’ve been retouching the same image for three years straight 19 different ways.
and yeah, so I was I’m not an easily demotivated person, but I was a little bit surprised. I was very, I got very bored and I would find myself mentally wanting to flip off to other things. And sometimes I would do it and I’d be like, whatever, it’s, I’ve been, grinding at this thing for 45 minutes.
I’m just gonna take a break I guess, and just do something else because this is very unpleasant. And so I can sympathize with anybody who is who runs into that. What are some. Evidence based and some effective ways to get through that because sometimes, was trying in my case to convince my like, okay, I know why I’m doing this.
Like the long term. I stand by that it’s time well spent. The opportunity cost of my time has gone up as I’ve done more things. And there certainly are other things that I could be doing that would provide a more immediate payoff for Legion, for example, but I’m not doing those things because I do believe in the long term strategic value of overhauling these books yet again, and that kept me going, and that’s why I got through it, but it didn’t give me much of an emotional boost.
It just kept me, I just knew that there was no way I’m quitting on this, but I’m really not enjoying.
Menno: yeah, you actually already touched on what one of, I think the most effective strategies in terms of organizing your day and that’s to take more breaks, this is very counter intuitive, but I think big part of the book is the central theme that people have this disciplinary approach.
Like you don’t sleep, which I think is the most stupid advice ever for productivity. You just work for eight plus hours a day. The most productive people on the planet are the people that work. I don’t work 40 hours. I don’t work 60 hours. I work 80 hours and actually there’s been good research on this, especially in England and on fork motor company during the the industrial revolution where they had 80 hour work weeks.
And they find consistently that if you go from 80 to 60 hours and from 60 to 40, there is an increase in productivity. It’s not even the same. There is actually an increase in productivity when they work half the hours.
Mike: And what were the proposed reasons for that? It’s that
Menno: people cannot work for eight hours day.
What you generally find is that if you look at military research and neuropsychology on ultras of alertness and this idea that your attention shifts, eventually at some point, if you’re doing unrewarding work, you find that about 90 minute bouts. That’s also what research on Ericson on elite performers the best people in the world, professors, elite, violinists, chess players.
He studied a lot of those people that have become the best in the world at what they do. And he finds that they generally actually don’t work more than people that are less successful, but they work more deliberately and they take more breaks. So rather than ending up in a situation, which is what often happens is that you’re forced to take a break.
You want to take a break before that happens. So you want to be very, you want to do very deliberate, mindful work, but you’re really focused and honed. I dunno if you’ve seen a movie, the social network, they have this party house, this sort of frat house, where everyone is where they have coders. And it’s actually how Facebook started.
And you have these very high level coders that are supposedly the best tech guys that are there, but they work in these very intense work outs whenever they want. And then they take lots of breaks and they’re feels like they’re almost partying half the time which is true. But when they’re working, they’re really productive and they do that a couple times a day.
And there’s actually a very cool research on office workers, which finds that the average office worker is actually productive for less than three hours a day out of their eight HR Workday. And if you look at what other things they spend their time. You can really see what any office worker can tell you is true.
Going to the coffee machine, chatting with coworkers, all of this standard stuff. And my personal favorite finding 20% of office workers spend a considerable amount of time regularly looking for other jobs at their job. Yep. And any office worker, like I said, can attest that this is really true and it is just an inhumane way to work.
You can just put someone on a cubicle and say, oh look, eight hours. You’re gonna be productive. And it might work to some extent for factory work. Although, like I said, even then we see that 40 hours is really the productive max sense. We haven’t really properly investigated what happens if you do less. I think actually you’d find that at a minimum, people could do the same amount of work and far less time, but the general theme is definitely that you people need to work a bit more deliberately, but they need to take far more breaks to avoid this state.
Ego depletion that you’re really sapped and you’re forced to take a very long break. If you don’t get out of that, your productivity level just sinks to almost nothing like almost everyone can attest to this, that at some point, if you’re in the officer or trying to write, if you have writer’s block and you’re just force yourself to sit and keep writing, you can spend the rest of the day writing one page or what you could do instead is take a break, go see a movie, or watch an episode of your favorite series or something.
Then get back, maybe do a workout in between. There are lots of in the book, I discuss a list of effective break options with exercise scoring really well, pretty much every criteria. And then you come back and you have another productive. And if you do that say four times a day, then you are a really productive in.
Mike: like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my V I P one-on-one coaching service because my team and I have helped people of all ages and circumstances, lose fat, build muscle and get into the best shape of their life faster than they ever thought possible. And we can do the same for you.
I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly what I do. It’s exactly how I structure my day. Start out with I like to read first thing in the morning, so I’ll spend about an hour reading and then. Get to work and there’ll be naturally little breaks here and there I’ll run out of water. Go get some water, go to the bathroom, but it’s pretty much just work.
I’m not taking any extended breaks. And then around 12 or one, I go to the gym. So that’s my first kind of longer break is, go do my strength training. Come back, eat some food. Do another stretch of several hours with little breaks here and there. And then I’ll do 30 minutes of cardio. And so it’s another little exercise break.
Now. Usually I’m doing something productive during that. I’m not watching a TV show just because I do try to get the most out of my time. So I usually have calls every day work related calls. So I’ll save those for when I’m on for when I’m on the bike. Or if I don’t have any calls, I will either read, continue to read or I’ll listen to something and it’s gonna be something educational, something I wanna know about, but then I’ll, so I’ll do my cardio then usually it’s dinner.
And then I’ll have one more, one to maybe between one and two hours, most days a little bit more work. And I save though my lower. Call like I’m gonna do my writing and the work that really requires thinking is gonna be done first thing in the day, or at least earlier in the day. And then at the end of the day, I have more just routine stuff, answering emails processing vocabulary.
So I do flashcards every day in the gym to build my vocabulary. I grab words from the stuff I read that I like. And I also then try to work them into my writing. So I’ll do my little processing to continue to build up my deck. I’ll do takeaways from books that I read at night, because again, it doesn’t require any thinking.
Really. It’s just if software one day will be able to do it, but for now I have to do it kind of thing. How about you? How do you like to structure your. Yeah, that’s very
Menno: much in line with the general template. I outline in the book, especially based on Ericson’s research, doing your most creative and most intellectually demanding work in the mornings.
That in almost all successful writers and professors, and that’s also in line with the bio rhythm of cognitive functioning, which basically sees that maybe there may some boot up time in the morning, but it reaches a peak pretty fast in the day. And after that, it’s pretty much just downhill unless you’re doing power napping or something.
So there are some people who say, oh I’m actually a most productive at night. My experience is that those people simply don’t have their Biore check. So their day is simply structured. And it just takes a long time for them to boot, which in itself is a massive loss of productivity.
I’ve been in that exact same situation before, like I’ve known 24, I had sleeping problems. It was traditional night but now I’m still, I implemented all of this this advice myself, and I’m way more productive. So I think that’s a big one. And some other things I touched on in the book is that auditory presentation.
Stimuli and resulting lower task fatigue. So it’s good to have your interviews and your podcasts, especially group meetings, which have a social element because that’s inherently stimulating for humans do that later in the day. And there are some other tip and but yeah, the general advice to most productive creative work in the mornings, like finishing up work, you do that when you’re already a bit fatigued, auditory stimuli more later in the day taking breaks in between.
And I’ve actually found that based on this setup, because I’ve tried setups like this over the past years a lot. And during the writing of the book, I experimented with taking even more breaks and that’s been really successful. So these days actually I’ve intentionally picked up playing chess. And I now place chess matches, which lasts about 20 minutes.
It’s called rapid chess in between workouts. And I found that also significantly improves my productivity while also getting to do something. I find fun. Actually. I used to play chess at national level as a
Mike: kid. And how often are you taking breaks? A lot.
Menno: I’d say at least every 90 minutes and later in the day, it might even be more sometimes it’s literally 20 minutes break, 20 minutes, like one chess match, 20 minutes work, one chess match, 20 minutes work.
But at that point I’ve found that you don’t really get more productive from it, but you do get just to do more fun stuff. And it just a nicer way to do your day while your productivity in the end is about
Mike: unchanged. And that point of doing fun things is something that I’m acutely aware of. I’m aware of its absence in my in my life.
And I haven’t looked into research on it because it’s probably one of those things that we just don’t need science to, to tell us is important, but I’m sure there, there is quite a bit of research and I’ve noticed that when all I do is focus on work and these days, some of the work that I do is fun.
I like doing stuff like this. I like writing, but a lot of the stuff I do is not fun. I’m not complaining, but it’s not fun. Like I don’t look forward to a lot of the rigmarole that goes into running a business, for example. And even though it’s not just me, there’s what 45 or 50 of us now.
And I have a lot of good people and a lot of the work is delegated, but still, yeah, it’s like
Menno: exercise. It’s. Not fun, but it is fulfilling.
Mike: Yeah. I actually I like exercise more than some of the work, the stuff that I have to do, but yes. It’s not to that point though. Correct?
Sometimes you just go and you gotta grind through a workout, but you always are happy that you did work out. So similarly, all the work is it’s not so loathsome that I dread having to do it, but it’s not fun. It’s good. Like when it’s done, I’m glad I did it, but I did not have fun doing it.
And so I tend to get into that mode. I think over much like where I don’t do anything. That’s fun for long periods and I’m not joking. Just working seven days a week and really not taking time a little bit of time here and there to something with my kids. And there’s satisfaction in that, but it’s different.
It’s I guess that would be it that’s the only silver lining is like spending some time with our wife doing something with my kids. And I’ve found that it probably, it just comes back to this point you were making about hours worked and I’m gonna finish my fun point. And then, and it segues into that.
That by not having any fun, really. I don’t have anything at least just fun to look forward to. I find that it probably, it just generally sours my mood and I’m just more annoying to be around, like for my wife and for my kids. And I wonder how it may affect my productivity.
But to that point of should I just be constraining myself to 30 hours per week or 40 hours per week? My, my thought on, on, cause I’m familiar with that research is I understand if we’re talking about averages, but by my standards. And this is just my experience working with a lot of people and knowing a lot of people I would say that many people are.
Nearly as productive as they could be. They, they’re definitely, they’re not really stretching to try to be maximally productive. What I see more often is they’re trying to do just enough work to maybe keep their job or just enough work to not feel terrible about themselves. So they can spend as much time.
As they can doing stuff, that’s quote unquote fun. And so I have very much the opposite perspective and kind of philosophy, and that’s a bit of my personality, but also because of where I’m at in my life and my strategic goals, I think are, look again, looking at long term planning. I think it’s appropriate right now to do what I’m doing and I’m open to that changing later for very specific reasons.
And I would say that, and I’m curious as to your take on all this and also your personal experience for me. I would say that I probably have maybe let’s. Four to six is a stretch. So let’s say about four or five hours of high quality deep work in me per day, where I really have to focus writing strategic thinking, recording podcasts, something like this is a bit more, like you said, there’s a social element to it.
So it’s more stimulating, but if I’m monologing on something, that’s a bit more draining than having a conversation with a friend or someone I like. And so let’s say I have four or five max, six hours of good deep work in me. If I push beyond that, I can continue making progress, but I can see that the quality has declined or it takes more effort and more time to produce the same type of quality work.
And, but then outside of that I have no problems stretching that work time, several more hours, if it is answering emails and J just stuff that it you just have to go through the motions. You pull the levers and you push the buttons and. I can say with certainty that when I’m putting in 60 to 80 hours a week, of course it’s not 60, 80 hours of on the ball, no breaks, no distractions.
But it’s not. It’s not half, it’s not the effectiveness of that time is not cutting half. And so I’ve been rambling. I don’t wanna hijack the conversation. So I, I wanna turn the ball over, turn the mic over to you here and hear your thoughts on those things. Cuz I know you’re you do a lot of the same type of work as I do.
Menno: So yeah, I’m very much the same way. I think I’m personality wise very much the same. I also come from a family that’s they raised me with traditional Protestant values. So I’m very much into, hard work don’t complain and just, being productive. I feel, I literally feel guilty when same even now.
Same. I still have that. I know. When I’m doing a chess match. I literally like afterwards I have some guilt, but now that’s finally dissipating cuz I’ve actually, I’ve monitored. Like I’ve for example, locked number of emails that I answer and actually see like it’s going up or at least saying the same.
Mike: do you have to wonder though that like how, if you were to stop playing chess and you were to just answer more emails, the emails would, they would go up,
Menno: right? No. So that’s exactly what I used to do. Okay. And I’ve had exactly that setup before where you’re just working and you, and also feels like I’m definitely not slacking off, but there are a lot of times when, you’re just not focused anymore.
Mike: Yeah. And yeah, something you said for
Menno: that, even that you can really see that if you get that focus
Mike: back where now your email responses are taking 25% longer, which is insidious, cuz you don’t really notice it, but
Menno: yeah, exactly. And maybe you end up taking one or two breaks more than before, and sometimes you do get distracted by other things which end up taking a little bit longer than you thought.
So I’ve just I’ve just done the numbers basically. And can really see at least for myself and based on research that you can at least keep productivity the same and often increase it when you’re going from crazy hours. Now, I would say that we probably have higher numbers of hours, cuz we’re really passionate at what we do.
We have this internal drive and that on one end is a curse in the sense that we’re not naturally inclined to take breaks, but a lot of people may be too inclined to take breaks, but they don’t do it strateg. And that’s the problem. Like they’re not efficient about it. They take their breaks too late and they’re not taking sufficiently rewarding breaks because going to the coffee machine, having a boring conversation with your coworker, Hey, how are you?
Good. How are you? Oh, fine weather today, right? That’s not, creativity enhancing that doesn’t replenish your willpower. You need to do something immersive, something fun, like a cold shower exercise. Video games are actually really good at this if they are timely limited, because they are so immersive watching an episode of your favorite series and research finds that it works much better if you’re watching an entertaining series of course, than if you’re watching horror or something, because you don’t exactly feel good after that.
so it’s really about being strategic, taking the rights breaks and just doing mindful work.
Mike: You mentioned naps. What are your thoughts on taking naps? And I’m sure you’ve done it. What are your experiences. I wish
Menno: I could take naps. Naps are awesome, but since I have a sleeping disorder, it’s almost impossible for me to take naps.
It would take an enormous amount of time to fall asleep, which would completely defeat the purpose of trying to replenish my productivity. So yeah, if you can take naps. That’s great. I would say though, that if you find yourself really wanting to take a lot of naps, you should consider if you’re not simply sleep deprived because the sleep is one of those things that there’s just tons of research that far beyond the point where you think it impairs productivity and wellbeing, sleep deprivation hurts.
Everything like really badly on study that came out relatively recently. About, I think two years ago now showed that the sleep depth is linearly cumulative, which means that, and that this is exactly what they studied. If you are sleeping one hour less per day for eight days, the cognitive effects are the same as missing an entire night of sleep.
Mike: You’re you’re functionally retarded and I don’t say that I’m not using that in the way you’re not supposed to. I’m saying that literally.
Menno: exactly. Yeah. You’re and you don’t notice it that’s the thing, because it creeps up on you and we only notice relative differences. So after one night of sleep deprivation, we really notice how bad it is, but it’s actually just as bad if it creeps up, you gradually, but then we don’t notice it.
So I’d say naps are great. Naps are an amazing, like a 20 to 30 minute nap. That’s also crucial, by the way, you need to take a power nap. Cause if you enter deep sleep stages, then you wake up, feeling like you’re you wake up in a foreign body on a foreign planet. You don’t know who you are, where you are, but if you take this kind of power nap and a recent study, also find by the way, that’s, if you quickly fall asleep, you can even take caffeine before the.
Fall asleep. And then the caffeine wakes you up and then your extra sort of extra productive afterwards, or in this case, the last study was about exercise performance, but it’s the same
Mike: principle. Yeah. Yeah. I’m familiar with that research in terms of nap duration. If we’re talking 20 or 30 minutes how quickly do you need to fall asleep to make that useful?
Cause in my case I sleep. Okay. Since having kids, I’m not as good of a sleeper as I was, I’ll wake up at least once every night, period, I never sleep through the night just is what it is sometimes it’s because I have to go pee. Sometimes there’s no good reason. But I can fall back asleep and that’s usually about it.
Maybe I’ll wake up one other time and fall back asleep quickly. So it’s not a big deal, but if I take a nap, what I’ve found is that it takes me probably I can fall asleep in, I’ve used a sleep tracker for a while now at night, I’ll fall asleep. If it’s a normal. 5 10, 15 minutes, max. If I’m trying to take a nap, I’m usually not tired when I’m going to take a nap.
I just if I didn’t sleep well the night before I can feel the effects, the cognitive effects. And I want to clear that, brush that away so I can continue working. That’s usually when I’ll take a nap, so it’s here and there. But I have to set a timer for an hour because it’s gonna take me probably 20 minutes or so to fall asleep.
And then I’ll fall asleep four 20 or 30 minutes and I’ll wake up before that timer. But if I were to set a timer for 20 to 30 minutes, I would end up just, I would rest, but I don’t even think I would reach light sleep.
Menno: Yeah. Yeah. That’s an issue. If you wake up naturally, that’s ideal.
If you don’t, then you need the timer and then you need to anticipate how quickly you will fall. So that’s also why I say I just can’t do it. Yeah, I can map. Yeah.
Mike: I just wanted to, I just wanted to share that because cuz I know I’ve emailed people asking about naps and you have to make sure that you do fall asleep.
, if you just get really relaxed, then maybe your limbs get a little bit tingly and you start to get that kind of heavy almost a paralytic kind of effect setting in that’s fine. But if you’re not falling asleep, you’re not gonna get much from it.
Menno: Yeah. The, and actually then it’s much better to meditate or to a funny thing.
Research actually finds that taking an imaginary break is also really effective. How does that work? Yeah, it’s basically it’s like meditation. So an imaginary break, you have to visualize yourself or something. Someone you really empathize with. I’d say just always focus on yourself, doing something really relax.
And then it’s almost like meditation in the effect that it basically clears your mental cash in to use a computer analogy. It, if you’re really focused on something that in itself does not evoke much emotion and doesn’t take much cognitive processing power, then just focusing really well on that basically clears out working memory.
and all the other things you used to think about and resets your mental state, like clearing a computer cash. So that it’s exact same mechanism of meditation. So in that sense it makes sense, but it’s funny that it works that way. Cuz you, you intuitively wouldn’t say, like the purpose of a break is to actually take a break, but just imagining a break can be equally effective because it has the same mental.
I guess you are still taking a break from understanding you correctly. You’re just not going off to do anything. You’re maybe just right. Closing your eyes and putting on a YouTube ambient track could probably help that too. And just imagining, it makes me think, oh, I’m sure you came across some of the research on sleep where I believe the two scenarios were imagining you were in a canoe like lying down in a canoe on a lake.
And you’re supposed to imagine the scene and the stars above you. And it’s very serene. And then it was it imagining if I remember correctly being enveloped in like a velvet kind of hammock of sorts? Am I, do you know what I’m talking about?
Menno: No, but funny enough in the book I used the analogy of thinking that you were on the beach.
Ah, yeah. Yeah.
Mike: It’s very similar. There was sleep research on time to fall asleep and that you can you can imagine yourself again in these very calming scenarios and that can help you fall asleep faster. yep. Yep.
Menno: In general, most research on meditation and mindfulness, like practices finds that the exact method is not so important.
Just the fact that you’re going through the same cognitive processes like meditation and imaginary break body scan methods, listening to really relaxing music or going through memories like body scan method is like just focusing intensely on all your body parts and just moving them one by one gently or just really focusing on them.
Counting sheep is like a more folk focusy kind of traditional method, but which actually is essentially meditation. Yep. Neil will have a similar effect. Yeah. Something
Mike: that helps for me is simply making sure that I have consciously relaxed. Every muscle I possibly can when I’m trying to go to sleep.
If I don’t pay attention, sometimes I’ll notice my jaw is all tense, and then consciously again, okay. Relaxing the jaw. And you can even start with your toes consciously relaxing and feeling, feeling your limbs, sinking, feeling your body sinking in the bed. It sounds silly, but there’s research on it.
And for me it’s helped me. Yeah. It’s like body scan. Yeah, exactly. SIM very similar. Yeah. So with the amount of information in the book, I haven’t read it yet. It’s on my list. That’s why I wanted to get you on the show. Talk about it. Going through the material just to put together an outline for this discussion, there’s so much in it and I’m looking forward to it because it’s totally my type of book where there’s enough theory to understand, okay, why do these things work?
And then it’s just getting to very actionable tips. And I like the way you’ve organized it. It reminds me of a marketing book I read recently called yes. It was it child Dini and others. I don’t remember who else I love Geraldine’s work. Yeah. Yeah. And you’ll
Menno: definitely find a child.
I’d say a little bit of Tim Ferris flavor, but a bit more on the heavy on the science and less on the fluff.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. And less on the pseudoscience, if we’re gonna say, like the body, I don’t even, what’s it called the 4 0 4 hour buyer. That, that, that book is absurd.
Menno: Yeah. not a
Mike: fan of that one.
I don’t even know why he did it. Actually. It doesn’t make sense to me because he had to have known that he was completely misrepresenting research. That it was just marketing puffy. Why bother? I was confused.
Menno: Yeah, that was, I did not like that one at all. I gave him a lot of credits for the four hour work week.
I, yeah, I
Mike: read, I remember reading that when I first came out and I understand why it succeeded like it did.
Menno: Yeah. That was revolutionary, especially at the time, the whole digital nomads thing. And so my book definitely has that vibe, but I think just more our style.
Mike: Totally. And why don’t you just share the title again with everybody in case they maybe didn’t catch it early.
the science of
Menno: self control. You can get it on Amazon and on my website, you can get the ebook and any formats that you would want for Kindle or PDF or whatever. And audiobook should be out by the time
Mike: this comes out. Awesome. Great. And you may want to quickly just, I think, address that it’s, unless you’ve lowered the price, it’s expensive.
If you look at it only in terms of comparing it to other, I read digitally, so Uhhuh
Menno: digitally, it’s not expensive. It’s 20 bucks. Oh, okay. But the was
Mike: it paperback? Was it more previously or did I see
Menno: that? Yes. Okay. Yes. Yeah. I set the list price for the paperback at 50, but Amazon works. It’s magic with the price.
I actually can’t set my own book prize on Amazon. So they have their algorithms, which basically gradually decrease the price.
Mike: They pay you on, they, they pay you on your list, price. It doesn’t matter what really. Yep, absolutely. That discount comes from their cut. Oh, that’s awesome.
Yep. Now if you’ve know that. Yes. Yeah. 100%. Okay. That was the case since 2012 when I published my first book. And unless it has changed recently, I’m not actually, in the kind of nuts and bolts of the book finances, but I think I would’ve heard about it from the people who take care of the business, finances and stuff.
So as of some time ago, when I was more personally involved, that’s the case. I doubt they changed
Menno: that. Oh nice. Cuz actually I changed the list price when the ebook came out from 50 to 40, because the price differences in different countries were so large that I. Changing the list price would standardize it a bit.
Cuz some people would get a, the price for Amazon is like 15 bucks lower than yep. The actual list price. But then in other countries they wouldn’t. So I thought that was unfair. Yeah. And with the Ebo coming out, I thought it
Mike: makes sense to yeah, you can’t control it. Yeah. And so if that’s still the case and I’m almost certain, it is you wanna encourage as much Amazon discounting, they’ve discounted bigger leaders stronger, which I believe is 1999.
They’ve discounted it to $9 before I’m like, sure, great. All I send emails to my list. Hey, you can get this the cheapest it’ll probably ever be. Because again they paid on the fullest price. But yeah. So anyway, it’s now a little bit more expensive than just your average book, but I think this book needs to be compared.
You have to compare like with I would not compare a book like this with a pop psychology pop. He self-help book that again is 50 to 75% filler with maybe five or 10 good ideas in the entire book there. If you look at I would compare this more to probably a textbook not to say that it’s inaccessible.
Menno: I get it because it’s scientifically referenced like in text, if you have the ebook, you can literally find the hyperlinks to last time I checked, I think it’s about 550 scientific studies that are in text referenced. So it’s literally. The quality of writing is scientific writing style, but for popular audience.
So the writing style is, as I normally write on my blog, like understandable more for lay individual, but you actually have the intact scientific references hyperlink.
Mike: That’s great. That’s great. Thanks again for taking the time to do this memo. And why don’t we just wrap up quickly with where people can find you and the rest of your work, and if there’s anything, in addition to this book, you want people to know about let’s let ’em know.
Menno: hemos.com has everything I’m on Instagram and Facebook. Probably the best way. If you’re new to my contents. And especially if you care mostly about nutrition and exercise science is to subscribe to my mailing list. Cuz then you get a free email course of my most popular contents and lots of free information.
And then like that you can consider if you want to upgrade to the book for example, and you’ll find all of that on my website.
Mike: Awesome. Love it. Always enjoy Catching up with you and hearing about the latest and greatest work you have going. Likewise, man. So I look forward to the next one. I hope you liked this episode.
I hope you found it helpful. And if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes and it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share, shoot me an email. [email protected], muscle F O R life.com. And let me know what I could do better or just what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode. And I hope to hear from you.