Double Down on the Fundamentals

Retired NBA player Tim Duncan was nicknamed “The Big Fundamental.” He was somewhat boring to watch play compared to his peers, but his play was so efficient and effective that he won five championships (including 3 Finals MVP awards) and will soon be in the hall of fame. He’s arguably the greatest power forward in the history of the NBA, and it’s because he mastered the fundamentals of basketball. He made good decisions, took high percentage shots (like the bank shot that he’s famous for), positioned himself well on offense and defense, and made smart passes.

I could only watch 3 of the shots in the video linked above before I got bored. But those are worth 2 points each, the same amount as exciting dunks!

The fundamentals are so important in every area because they are dependably effective. They always provide great results in the long-term. Here are the big fundamentals for living well as a human being.

The First Big Fundamental: Sleep

It doesn’t matter how much money you make, how well you eat, or anything else if you don’t get good quality sleep. Sleep is how we recharge. It affects every aspect of your mind and body. Without good sleep, you’re going to be 38% of the person you could be.

People easily forget or discount the importance of sleep because they get used to subpar living. If you’re always sleep deprived, you won’t know what it’s like to be at 100%, and might not realize what you’re missing.

Not getting enough sleep has become somewhat of a badge of honor in American society, even though it is horrible in every way. There is no upside to sleep deprivation. 

Sleep Hygiene

I’ve had acid reflux ever since I was a kid. I used to complain to my parents about a “fireball” in my throat. So yeah, that’s been fun. 

Reflux has often irritated my throat and sinuses at night and affected the quality of my sleep. To counteract that, I placed a blanket under the head of my mattress, so that it gently curves upward where my head is. Game changer. Gravity is on my side now, I have fewer sinus issues and sleep deeper, and I can feel the difference. One small change has given me significantly increased energy and well-being.

Through experimentation with strange sleep schedules (not always purposeful), I’ve also found that sleep is more effective when it’s something like 9 PM to 6 AM instead of 1 AM to 10 AM, so I’m currently on the 9 AM bedtime routine and loving it!

Because of these small changes to my sleep routine, and a newfound commitment to keeping my bedtime consistent, I’m bursting with energy compared to before, and I noticed the difference in just days, not weeks. Getting quality sleep for enough hours is absolutely amazing for your health. Do whatever you can to get your sleeping rhythm in sync. Anything that enhances your sleep is part of sleep hygiene. Here are a few examples…

  1. Reading a book until you fall asleep
  2. Limiting screen time (or blue screen light) at night
  3. Managing food/drink at night (Magnesium citrate is relaxing and great to have at night, eating big meals late is not for multiple reasons)
  4. Treating health issues that may disrupt sleep quality (my reflux example, dust mite allergies, snoring, etc.)
  5. Specializing your bedroom for only sleep and sex (having a TV in your bedroom is a horrible idea if sleep is important to you)

These ideas can improve your sleep, but you don’t have to do all or any of them. Do what works for you. I don’t follow all of these tips and I’m getting great sleep right now. I follow #4 and #5, and sometimes follow #2 and #3.

Pro tip: Sensory deprivation tanks remove my anxiety, which helps me sleep much better. Consider trying this if you have anxiety and a racing mind at night. Alternatively, some people do well with a pre-sleep bath to relax.

The Second Big Fundamental: Exercise

With everyone saying that diet is more important than exercise for everything, well, I personally find exercise more important overall for well-being. If you’re moving and exercising consistently, your body does everything better. You can feel it, too. 

My diet is pretty healthy even at its worst because I’ve changed my food preferences though habit formation. So maybe I don’t know what it’s like anymore to have a horrible diet and thus underrate its destructive power. Bottom line: Diet is important, but exercise is underrated in comparison.

Exercise and sleep are the two most powerful ways to transform the way you feel and perform. If you can get these working synergistically together, you will feel an incredible difference in your day-to-day life.

The Third Big Fundamental: Nutrition

There’s not much to say here that isn’t obvious—the food you eat is the fuel your body uses. Quality fuel means better health and more energy. Health and energy are the foundation for any action.

For all the changes you could make, it’s never a bad idea to focus on these three big ones. It’s never a bad idea to double down on the fundamentals, and make sacrifices in other areas of your life to get better sleep, get exercise, and eat well. The returns you get from taking care of yourself will spill positively into all other areas of your life.

Sleep is arguably the most important and the most neglected, which is why I put it first.

Let this be a reminder to double down on the fundamentals. Sleep, move, eat well. It’s like a Tim Duncan bank shot—it’s boring to everyone else, but it’s absolutely winning for you.

(Photo by Geoff Livingston)

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