My Grandpa was a Portuguese immigrant, he could build a house without a plan, everything from carpentry to plumbing, flooring to bike tune-ups (every spring), he did it all. He loved us (the grandchildren) and when I picture him now it is sitting in a metal foldout beach chair, short sleeve dress shirt unbuttoned, a sun hat and a bbq full or sardines. Love you, grandpa.
Recently, I was lucky enough to sit down with my Dad and uncles, a couple glasses of wine later and the stories from their childhood started flowing. The kind of stories that come from being an immigrant family, unwilling to pay for anything. From homemade Montreal expo hats to glued and screwed together hockey sticks I was in tears unable to breathe from laughter. They talked about early morning wake-ups, the result of being out drinking the night before or sorting nails only to started again after he dumped the bucket over. My Grandfather was loving but as my Dad so accurately put it “one tough hombre”, something you don’t see as a grandchild (you have a common enemy after all, parents).
My grandpa had a rule that we have heard about for as long as I can remember, a form of discipline that governed the actions of my Dad and uncles but never us, thankfully. If they did something as kids that Grandpa took issue with the ‘1 now, 3 later’ law was enacted and the accused, usually my Dad by the sounds of it, had to make a decision. Would you prefer to take out smack with the wooden spoon now or 3 later as punishment for the crime? What would you decide? The ‘one now’ is a guarantee, a foregone conclusion, the blood is boiling and the retribution will be swift. But ‘three later’? That’s the real gamble, you run the risk of receiving triple the punishment but you also have a chance of mercy, maybe you didn’t really deserve the punishment. Is it worth the risk? What would you pick? One now or three later?
What’s amazing about this rule, and something I only recently understood is that our whole life is a one now or three later question. A man with no formal education, who started working for a piping company at 13 years old distilled our decisions in life into a five-word sentence. Nowhere is this more relevant than the health and wellness field, an area of our life that is decided exclusively by our own decisions. Our work, school, projects are susceptible to the opinions of others, and your direction and experience can be altered by others opinions and views. Submitted a paper? A teacher decides the value and that reflects on you. Propose a new development at work? A supervisor decides the merit and your progression. In both these examples you have the ability to put your best foot forward and that aids in the desired result but ultimately you have to conform to their decision within the organization.
In contrast, our health and wellness is the direct result of our everyday choices. “We are what we do repeatedly. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle.
We are faced with thousands of decisions every day and we get to decide if we want ‘one now or three later’, this holds true for training, nutrition, sleep, and recovery.
Training is perhaps the easiest example to illustrate, we understand the need for sacrifice through our athletes. Pre-game shows are filled with music scores to stars working themselves to exhaustion inside the gym, sweat pours down their face, their body shakes with exertion. We know that they have chosen one now, the physical pain is well worth it to avoid the three later, the emotional pain that accompanies underperforming. Everyone that has ever tried and failed (which is likely everyone reading this) understands the intense agony that swiftly follows. But, you’re not a professional athlete and this doesn’t apply to you?
Not exactly, the goal of any training program is injury prevention, to keep you in the game of life when everything else is trying to take you out. Grinding out those extra 3 reps can be agony, your muscles screaming for relief and it feels as if you’ve been set on fire. You pay your one now to avoid tearing your knee playing soccer with your kids, the 20 extra seconds of misery far outweighs the 9 months of rehab, time spent on the operating table and missed moments.
Nutrition is no different, what we put in our body controls what we get out of it. This phenomenon occurs acutely and chronically, both are dangerous.
Alcohol, the cause of, and the answer to, all of life’s problems (Matt Groening).
We love to go out for drinks with friends, a bottle of wine at night or bucket of beer on a hot day it is always time well spent. Sometimes the night takes a turn, conversations become deeper, laughter echoes louder, corks pop and caps hiss. The temptation to continue forces us to make a decision. How many more glasses will I have? Will it become an unhindered slide into impaired debauchery or will we sacrifice the feeling of uninhibited euphoria (one now) to avoid the much worse…hangover (three later). But that is no longer in our mind, we are focused instead on the fun we are having, the memories we are sharing unconcerned with the physical changes occurring within the body. Then, the next morning shows up and we wake up to a pounding headache, dehydrated, disrupted liver function and a general feeling of uselessness hovering over our head all day. The three later is a 24-hour period of pain and personal disgust, much worse than keeping the cork in that last bottle of wine. (Full disclosure, we’ll happily pick three later provided the situation justifies it.)
As uncomfortable as a hangover can be it is nothing compared to the chronic dysfunction that occurs if you decide to continually choose short-term pleasure in your diet. We would love to eat a pizza hamburger with a milkshake and fries every night. The sugar, salt, and fat take our taste buds hostage and release pleasure sensors in the brain with every bite. We know it’s not healthy and sustainable but it’s often hard to give it up in favor of a big bowl of greens, (we actually love greens) the requirement for one now. If we decide that we are not interested in the greens and instead shove nutrient barren food into our mouth night after night, it will eventually catch up to us. The three later will present itself in the form of diabetes, jaundice, heart disease, stroke, or tooth decay. Passing up on the burger for a big ass Kale salad doesn’t seem that bad after all.
Our health requires a one now philosophy, in an era full of information and access it is reckless and selfish to disregard our health in favor of gluttony and laziness. Yes, training can be uncomfortable and it may be tastier to eat a piece of cake than a piece of fruit but that is nothing compared to time spent in recovery and discomfort, the missed moments with friends and family. Pay up front, always.