12 Rules to Optimize Your Health for a 21st Century Mindset

Comfort and convenience has made it more difficult than ever to be mentally and physically healthy.

Recently, I noticed I had a bad habit of pulling out my phone every time I used the bathroom. It was automatic. I’d head to the urinal, aim, and scroll. After nearly dropping my phone into the bowl one day, I decided that this habit was a problem.

So, I made a rule: No looking at my phone while in the bathroom.

Recently, I noticed I had a bad habit of pulling out my phone every time I used the bathroom. It was automatic. I’d head to the urinal, aim, and scroll. After nearly dropping my phone into the bowl one day, I decided that this habit was a problem.

So, I made a rule: No looking at my phone while in the bathroom.

It’s easier said than done. Whenever I take a break, I’m magnetically drawn to the phone, but I use this as a cue to take deep diaphragmatic breaths instead. It is self-denial that always hurts for a split second.

In my impulsive, almost ravenous state, this new rule seems arbitrary and meaningless. My emotions beg for the phone. But, being the stubborn cuss that I am, I do the breathing and gradually feel sanity being restored.

Suddenly, the part of myself that wanted to scroll so badly seems like another person.

Our Culture Compels Us to Indulge

The modern environment is full of strong temptations and movement-reducing comforts.

These always feel good in the moment, but the collective effect of building society around comfort and convenience has made it more difficult than ever to be mentally or physically healthy. Both our impulses and our culture compel us to indulge.

But, what feels good now leaves us achy, tired, and riddled by malaise later.

This is why there has been a strong counter-movement based on setting intentional limits and designing your environment to promote better actions.

None of this is new. Nearly every culture has had some system to teach people these lessons.

In chapter four of his phenomenal book, The Paleo Manifesto, John Durant argues that the Law of Moses helped Jewish people thrive and survive in a time when mysterious diseases routinely ravaged other cultures.

In addition to The 10 Commandments, the Jewish tradition established 248 do’s and 365 don’ts, which governed their community norms. Many of these focused on health and hygiene.

As Durant writes:

“Taken as a whole, the knowledge of hygiene contained in the Mosaic Law is nothing short of stunning. It correctly identifies the main sources of infection as vermin, insects, corpses, bodily fluids, food (especially meat), sexual behaviors, sick people, and other contaminated people or things. It implies that the underlying source of infection is usually invisible and can spread by the slightest physical contact while considering the different physical properties of solids, liquids, and gases, the passage of time; open and closed spaces; and different material types. And it provides effective methods of disinfection, such as hand washing, bathing, sterilization by fire, boiling, soap, quarantine, hair removal, and even nail care.”

While many Jewish traditions may be antiquated health precautions in light of our current technology and knowledge, these laws were revolutionary in their own time.

Rules to Optimize Your Health

We now live in a very different world, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need our own set of laws. On the contrary, now more than ever, we need rules if we want to thrive. So, I’ve come up with a list of my own.

Feel free to take what seems most necessary and ignore what doesn’t.

Rules number one and two may not be for you if you already have an exercise ritual that you love, but rules three through twelve are likely to be useful for everyone. They are practical, and we’d all be a lot better off if they became cultural norms.

And now, without further ado, here are the twelve rules to optimize your health in the 21st Century.

1. Wake to Movement

You’ve been lying down for hours. Shift the trajectory of your day by always waking to some gentle movement—just a few minutes will do the trick.

Some options:

At IHD, Justin Lind and I created the 30 x 30 Thirty-day habit program, which starts with 5-10 minutes of exercise each day.

2. Do a Mini-Cindy Five Times Per Day

Plan five specific points throughout the day to do a Mini-Cindy, which consists of:

You’ll need a pullup bar available. For example, you can hang one over your office door. Or, you can substitute five Y, T, W’s for the pullups. This is based on the same concept that I’ve advocated with my 5-Alarm Workout Plan. I recommend looking at your workday and figuring out five specific times.

For example:

  • 8:30 am—Right before leaving for your workday
  • 10:30 am
  • 12:00 pm
  • 1:30 pm
  • 3:00 pm

Each round will only take a minute or so, and it will improve your focus and productivity.

But don’t expect to do it on your own. Instead, set the alarm so there is a consistent cue. You could also make it a rule that you have to do a Cindy round every time you go to the bathroom.

Other bathroom break options include:

Easier Option:

Advanced Option:

5 Pullups

Super Advanced Option:

1 L-Press (on parallels) to Handstand
5 Pullups

Creative Option:

  • Keep kettlebells on hand and make a weekly plan so you are hitting different exercises each day. You may find that this allows you to get rid of your structured workout time.
  • Just add some time for cardio once or twice a week and gut checks every other weekend, and you’ll be a fitness dynamo.

3. The Eat and Walk

Take a short walk after every meal. Walking aids digestion, and most of us do not get enough fresh air and sunshine.

Rule three is an easy solution. It also doubles as a great mental reset when you throw on an audible book or podcast.

4. The Last Spot

Always park in the farthest available spot. Exceptions are permissible when you are traveling with others. My wife would not be happy if I did this with her.

Prioritize marital harmony.

5. Five Flights or Less

Are there stairs? Are you going five flights or less? If yes, then take the stairs.

6. The DIY

If you have a task that you know how to do but requires muscle, like moving or mowing the lawn, you must do it. You can undoubtedly enlist friends and family on moves, but you were made for this. Rise to the occasion.

7. If It Didn’t Exist in the Time of Moses, It’s a Treat

The majority of foods consumed today are chemistry projects engineered to manipulate our taste buds in a way that would be impossible with whole foods.

People love to nit-pick terms like whole foods or processed foods.

The best designation might be John Durant’s: “Industrial foods.”

Industrial foods are foods that have come about since the industrial revolution. They are, generally, less nutritious, more likely to induce over-eating, and more calorie-dense.

As best as possible, move towards making it a rule to eliminate industrial foods from your typical day and try to limit them to a couple of pre-planned treats or meals per week.

8. Embrace the Benefits of Fasting

Until very recently, all humans would have gone through moderately frequent periods of hunger and food scarcity.

Our biology is built on this expectation. Post-agricultural religions found value in these periods and regimented them with a calendar of fasts and feasts. Some fasts only restricted certain foods, like meat, while others, like Ramadan, restricted eating altogether for a specified duration.

These fasts have been familiar to almost every religion, even Protestant sects, until very recently. For example, the 1928 version of The Anglican/Episcopal Book of Common Prayer called on fasting during Lent Fridays and before feasts, just like the traditional Catholic fast.

Likewise, the Mormon tradition dictated that adherents fasted for a full day on the first Sunday of every month.

More recently, the health world has begun to embrace the benefits of fasting again.

  • Some argue that it is only helpful because it limits lifetime calories.
  • Others maintain that fasting can help purge cancerous cells and promote greater longevity.
  • At the very least, it provides a necessary mindset shift for a world of over-consumption.
  • The willpower training element alone makes it worthwhile.

I recommend an intermittent fast of 16-20 hours at least one day per week, a monthly 24 hour fast, and (if you’re up to it), a yearly 48-72 hour fast, like the bi-annual fast Justin Lind and I do with our IHD members.

9. A Pre-meal Prayer

I’ve had a gratitude practice off and on for years. It works. But I often stop because I’m busy, and I prioritize other self-development practices. Then it occurred to me that most religions have brilliantly embedded gratitude into their adherents’ daily lives with the expectation of a pre-meal prayer.

You don’t have to be religious to see the benefit. Stop before each meal and take a moment to note some events from the day for which you are grateful.

Bonus points if you add three long, slow breaths.

This stimulates the vagus nerve, which helps shift you from a sympathetic (stressed) to a parasympathetic (relaxed) state where you will eat slower, eat less, and break down nutrients better.

10. Be Less Accessible

Countless times now, I’ve had athletes walk up to me after a workout and unconsciously grab their phones. Dozens of message alerts pop up. Most people today are pulled and prodded by a constant succession of message dings. Work emails interrupt dinner, and friendly texts and social media alerts interrupt our workflow all day.

Each comes with the illusion of urgency, but with few exceptions, this is not the case.

You can train people to expect whatever messaging norms you set for yourself. I recommend:

  • Not checking work emails in the evening after work (if possible, take work email off your phone)
  • Putting your phone on airplane mode and in a drawer while working—If you want to be accessible to certain people, let them know that you do.
  • But, of course, they can still call you on your work phone or through FaceTime (with or without video).

11. Preserve the Bedroom

Don’t charge your phone in your bedroom or look at screens (TV or phone) while in bed.

The blue light from screens throws off your circadian rhythms. Ideally, you’d never look at the phone in bed so that your mind associates your bed with sleep.

Not having a phone in the bedroom is also a great way to prevent yourself from looking at your phone upon waking. The best way to own the day is to acknowledge the morning. Random phone checks have a way of co-opting our time and emotions.

12. No Phone Zones

In addition to bedtime, commit to no phone use:

  • At dinner
  • While driving
  • At social gatherings (except as necessary for coordinating events)
  • Oh, and don’t pee and scroll

I’m cutting myself off here, but I could easily add 100 do’s and don’ts for thriving in the 21st Century.

Now more than ever, we need rules for ourselves. Some may seem excessive, but it’s relative to what is considered normal today. We’d all be better off if these became everyday practices.

For example, in the 1800s, it was customary to drink alcohol from sun-up to sun-down. Today we know better.

If you’re interested in joining a group committed to exploring personal development practices, check out Justin Lind and my IHD Membership group.

We’ve planned our bi-annual fast and personal inventory this July.