You’ve decided to try your hand at becoming a Green Beret. You’re likely aware that this job application (SFAS) is highly selective, and will therefore require sacrifice, discipline, extreme levels of focus, and consistency. Although there are outliers who can roll out of bed and pass selection without giving it much thought, these individuals are extremely rare. For most people, going “all in” is required to provide yourself any chance at being successful.
But something I’ve observed amongst selection hopefuls is that their version of “all in” is lacking some key details. Most people are aware that they need to train hard. Many end up purchasing programs or hiring a coach in order to ensure they’re training for the right things, at the right intensity, and with the right volume.
Furthermore, most people are aware that recovery is important in order to continue making progress on a high workload training plan. But “recovery” is such an incomplete, under appreciated concept. It’s also a topic riddled with misinformation, which often results in majoring in the minors and forgetting about the biggest needle movers.
I’ve decided to write this series of articles to help narrow your focus down to the biggest priorities in regards to recovery and to provide actionable tactics you can implement into your daily life in order to ensure you’re sufficiently recovering from your training.
In other words - you probably already know that sleep and nutrition are important. But knowing this fact is only part of the equation. What habits can you employ in order to ensure your sleep and nutrition are on point? There are four simple daily habits that when implemented, will pay dividends in not only your performance and recovery, but also your mood, energy levels throughout the day, ability to focus, and overall well being.
Because each one requires nuance, I’ve decided to break them down into individual articles. In this article, part 1, I will discuss the four most important factors in optimal recovery from training, as well as how to implement the first habit, journaling, into your daily routine.
I understand that journaling doesn’t sound like it needs much explanation, and I also understand that it may sound a bit soft or weak (I used to think this too). But as you’ll learn in this article, its benefits are profound.
Before we hop in, I want to define what I’m referring to hereafter when I discuss “recovery”. Many people forget or are unaware there's a difference between recovery and adaptation. When you train, you experience a transient loss in performance.
Let's take a look at an intentionally rudimentary (for simplicities' sake) example: if you were to run 5 miles as hard as you can in the morning, then try to do the same thing again at noon, you’d be slower (if you’re not, your morning run wasn’t, in fact, all out).
This performance loss is a result of fatigue (a simple, blanket term with many intricacies that I'll omit from this particular article), which is an inherent aspect of effective training. Recovery, which occurs while we’re not training, is the concept of getting back to baseline. So if you were to run the same 5 miles as soon as you're back to baseline, theoretically, you can expect to finish it in about the same time.
Adaptation, however, occurs after you’ve recovered and surpassed your previous baseline. This concept is known as supercompensation. This is key, because if you’re only ever training as soon as you’re recovered, you’ll likely end up frustrated due to lack of meaningful progress. This is why your next training session should occur after you’ve adapted.
A full explanation of this concept would require a separate in depth article, but In an effort to make the information herein more digestible, just note that when I refer to recovery throughout the rest of this series, I’m referring to recovery + adaptation.
What’s Important for Recovery?
When many people envision recovery from training, the following often comes to mind: cold water therapy, sauna, Theraguns, Normatec pants, active recovery sessions, massage, cryotherapy, red light therapy, supplements, PEDs, and a plethora of additional recovery tools circulating the market today.
These methods are appealing because it's human nature to gravitate towards that which requires minimal effort and sacrifice (aka hacks), and although they're not completely useless, all of them combined pale in comparison to the big 4.
As is the case with most things in life that make the biggest impact, the big 4 actually do require effort, discipline, sacrifice, and as we'll discuss in this series, habits. To optimize recovery, the following 4 things need to be in place:
-A sound training program
-Sleep (quality AND quantity)
-Nutrition (macronutrients, calories, micronutrients, hydration)
The first one (training program) is often overlooked, and doing so has the potential to be a critical error. You can’t out-sleep terrible training. You can’t out-eat terrible training. You can’t out-meditate excessive training-induced stress. Put simply, if you’re doing more than you can recover from, you’ll struggle.
Although the other three components are non-negotiables, it all starts with ensuring your training includes appropriate volume, frequency, intensity, exercise selection and exercise execution.
There are countless selection prep programs out there. Some are great, some are decent, some are downright ugly. The problem with for-the-masses programs is just that, they’re for the masses. Even if it’s a well written, educated program, it’s impossible that it’ll be right for everyone. Yes, this includes my SFAS program.
If you don’t want to hire a coach to help you prepare, it’s crucial for you to listen to your body and make necessary adjustments along the way in order to keep progressing and remain injury free. As a simple rule, if you’re getting better week to week, there’s no need to change anything. Keep staying the course.
Your programming should also be flexible based on the remaining 3 variables. For example, if you typically get 8 hours of sleep but life/work obligations dictate that you can only get 6 hours, trying to "power through" without changing anything in your program is a fool's errand.
As you read the remainder of this article, just keep in mind that the big 4 exist on a continuum. They all reflect one another. If your lifestyle is non-conducive to sufficient recovery, your program needs to change. If your program changes, your lifestyle needs to change. There’s no perfect formula, and you don’t need to search for one. But it's still a noteworthy concept to understand.
The remainder of the articles will highlight habits you can implement to enhance the 3 remaining needle movers. But I won’t just tell you to make sure you’re sleeping well, eating well, and managing stress - you already know this. I’ll instead provide you with high ROI habits to put into action in order to ensure you’re optimizing for recovery.
Let’s start with every Type-A’s favorite - journaling.
Up until about 2 years ago, when I’d think about journaling, my mind would automatically picture starting a journal entry with “dear diary”. It’s really difficult to convince a hard-charging, success oriented individual to conceptualize journaling.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. There are a multitude of different ways to journal, but at minimum, I like to keep an evening journal routine and a pre-bed (also evening) journal routine. For simplicity’s sake, I call them the PM1 and PM2 journal entry (but you can call them whatever you’d like).
A great day tomorrow starts today. Waking up without a plan is a great way to spend your entire morning (and in most cases, your entire day) in a reactive state, rather than a proactive state. Instead of "life happening to you", you should be aiming to cultivate the ability to determine what happens in your life.
The PM1 entry is the best way to ensure you're taking the reins - and it takes 10 minutes or less.
Here's how I do it: At the end of each work day, I open up my journal (or notebook - if you want to call it that instead) to a blank page and make 4 quadrants. The quadrants have the following information
- Reflection (daily wins/sustains - ALWAYS start with this)
- Improvement (what can I do better tomorrow?)
- Planning (biggest tasks for next day and when/how they’ll get done)
- “Housekeeping” (other tasks that need to get done, not necessarily urgent or highly important, but better on paper than in your head - I typically write these out throughout the day as they come up)
Here’s an example from a PM1 entry last week (made on Saturday going into a Sunday, which is my most demanding work day of the week):
Quadrant 1: Wins (there’s no limit here, but I recommend at least 3)
- Updated TrainHeroic program for next week
- Updated (3 clients’) programs for next block
- Wrote x 90 minutes
- Made/posted 2 IG posts
Quadrant 2: Improves
- Delay social media longer (went on 90 min post waking up - 3+ hours tomorrow)
- Stop trying to do more than 1 task at once
- No dessert (poor sleep last night)
Quadrant 3: Planning
- 0430-0600 build new program/guide
- 0600-0830 create IG content for next 3 days
- Ensure incoming client assessments/onboard packet are complete
- 1330-1700 client call marathon
Quadrant 4: Housekeeping (again, not all of these need to occur tomorrow - if it does, I add an asterisk)
- Order electrolytes, theanine, magnesium*
- Respond to emails
- Check VA packet
- Bathe stinky dogs
- Cancel insurance
- Pick up groceries (coffee, fruit, bagels/bread, eggs, egg whites, milk, yogurt, beef)
I want to emphasize that yours does not need to look just like this. Your daily life, goals, and obligations are likely quite different than mine, so you can construct yours however you want and include different things. The biggest takeaway is that it should be concise and straight to the point.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can do a lot more in one day than we actually can. Having unfinished to-do lists will often cause anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. Make sure you’re only including urgent things in your planning portion.
The housekeeping tasks may be urgent or non urgent. The identifying theme is that these tasks don't require much bandwidth or focus, nor will they result in catastrophe if not completed. If it helps, you can even write out your housekeeping tasks separately on a different page, in a different notebook, or on your computer so you’re not getting distracted or overwhelmed by them.
I have a planning limit of 5 tasks, but I’m almost always able to limit it to 3, sometimes even 2, and occasionally 1 (exceptions include client call days). I find that my best mental health days are the ones I only have 1-2 things in my planning section. This takes some practice, and you may find it difficult to trim the fat at first, but it gets easier with practice.
Following my PM1 entry, I close my laptop for the day and am done working. This is a crucial action for me, as it signals the transition between work mode and life (husband, dog dad, dinner cooker etc.) mode. Obviously, my job is probably different from your job - I work from home and am my own boss.
You may be doing this journal entry while still at work. But the “laptop close” action doesn’t need to be taken literally. If you’re not working on a laptop all day, you can come up with another term for it if you’d like. Either way, it’s important to have some type of ritual that separates your work day from the remainder of your evening.
The PM2 journal is equally, and for some people, even more important. This is where you transfer your thoughts to paper. The amygdala is a small almond shaped section of your brain that is linked to thinking and decision making. When it’s overstimulated, symptoms of anxiety often ensue. Our thoughts tend to accumulate throughout the day, or even over multiple days, but because we're typically focused on daily tasks rather than just sitting quietly without any distractions, the evening time prior to bed is when these thoughts often become problematic.
Research shows that there’s a very simple, yet profound solution to this, and I’ve experienced it myself. Think of your amygdala in the evening as a cluttered work desk. You’re going to be able to think more clearly and focus better when your work desk isn’t littered with piles of paper, random notes, half-drunk coffee mugs, trash from snacks, etc.
So if you want to dial in and get some quality work done, you clear your desk of all of these distractions. In the evening before bed, you want to be able to quiet your mind and actually get some sleep (so you can recover). So instead of just letting these thoughts brew and create anxiety as you try to wind down for the day, put them on paper.
Write down anything you’re thinking about that you'd rather not be thinking about. It doesn’t matter how seemingly meaningless it is. If it’s in your head, write it down. Then, look at your list and mark which ones you have any control over. These will usually already be written in your PM1 entry (if they’re not, it’s a good cue to add them).
But in most cases, you’ll likely find that most of what you’re worried about are things over which you have no control. To take it a step further, you can also write down or picture the absolute worst possible outcome of each thought on your list. This step is optional, but it can help you gain perspective on just how non-threatening (or downright irrational) many of your thoughts are.
I often look at my PM2 journal entry from the night before and chuckle at some of the things that were stressing me out. Unless it’s something super urgent that you completely blew off that day (in which case, it should be written in your "Improve" quadrant from PM1 already), chances are it can wait till tomorrow. And there’s a 100% chance that dwelling on it at 9PM while trying to go to sleep is not going to change the situation. What it will likely do is detract from your sleep quality and duration.
Some people enjoy journaling in the morning as well. I’ll briefly touch on AM journaling in part 3, but the PM1 and PM2 journals are a must if you want to sleep well and wake up ready to crush your next day. If this article doesn't have you convinced that journaling is a good idea, I challenge you to just try it out for at least 10 days.
It may not “click” at first. You may not completely transform your ability to sleep (and thus recover) right off the bat. Like anything, it takes some practice and getting used to. But what gets measured gets managed. And if you’re waking up every day without a plan, you’re planning to fail.
If you’re never giving yourself credit for daily wins, you’ll find it difficult to cultivate a winning mindset. This can all be achieved by simply taking 10 minutes (or even less) each evening and putting pen to paper.
In part 2, I’ll discuss a game changing habit that should occur just prior to your PM2 journal entry - the night alarm.