travel bodyweight workouts

Working out is a no-brainer for me. It’s like choosing pie over cake. Another no-brainer. But it’s been so long since I last talked about my fitness on my blog that some of you wondered if I even still worked out at all.

In the words of a true 90s kid: Uh-duh.

I still bust my ass, and I have gym selfies here and new personal records there on my social media to prove it. I guess I just assumed you’d assume that I’d be Hulk-smashing it in the weight room whether I talked about it or not. So, it’s not really a question of whether I work out–the answer will always be “yes”–it’s a matter of how. This post is about that “how” and my experiences with fitness while traveling in other countries.

The “how” aspect has been at the mercy of my travels and my available resources. In Japan, I previously talked about doing the whole bodyweight program thing (with great results), but all in all, I’ve had to learn to be flexible, keep an open mind to changing goals, and be okay with just being okay. Although admittedly this “being okay” hippie-dippie attitude has threatened to blow up my plans to work out or eat sensibly a bit more than I care to admit.

Look, I’m not perfect either, but what has helped me is knowing that amid all of this flux and food that is too cute to eat the workouts give me a little sense of familiarity and home. It’s comforting to me that workouts are one of the few things in my routine that stays the same no matter where in the world I am, even if I’m technically working out in different environments.

Do You Even Lift, Hong Kong?

After having done bodyweight stuff for months, I wondered how my strength matched up against weights. By the time I’d arrived in Hong Kong, I was itching to get back into a gym on the regular. So, I used the amazing power of money to finagle a 3-month membership into a gym that was very, very close to where I was staying.

Previously in Japan, I had shied away from gym memberships because they were uber expensive. Yet the amount I paid for the Hong Kong gym actually wasn’t far off from what the local Japanese gyms wanted, but the biggest selling point was simply me knowing the language enough to make sure I wasn’t bound to crappy gym contracts or something.

Praise Keanu Reeves, the gym had everything I needed too. Thanks to my bodyweight program, I didn’t feel like I’d lost much strength either. If I had, the numbers very quickly went back up anyway.

My good friend and mentor JC Deen put me on a 5-day-a-week strength training program, which I shared on Lifehacker here. I never spent more than an hour in the gym. The workouts were fast and efficient. In addition to lifting, I walked a ton. You sort of have to if you want to get anywhere.

Who’s got dat cheesiness and has a regular gym again? THAT WEIRD CHINESE GIRL IN THE MIRROR. Gains train, all aboard! These gains were mad expensive tho… #fitngeeky #fitngeekyHK #gym #byemoney #fitness #travel #nomadlife

A photo posted by Stephanie Lee (@superlee7) on 

And so I trained five days a week for three months without really having specific numbers or a goal in mind, or even tracking my eating. To be honest, I didn’t care. I was just ecstatic to be lifting again and feeling like I could really make some notable strength progress again.

It was awesome. Except for the part where I felt like people got really judgey and came up to me only to say things like, “How much bigger are you going to get?” and “Wow, you’re so strong! Aren’t you worried that guys aren’t going to like you?” and other general mockery bullshit.

At least with the evolving lifting culture in the US, a girl like me lifting weights with good technique and a decent amount of weight seems a tad less novel than, say, a tap dancing polar bear with a top hat (and more like this exercising dog). In Hong Kong, I might as well have been She-Hulk rampaging through the gym and slapping everyone across the face. ‘Cause that was the expression some people wore.

Thankfully, aside from the glances and stares, people generally left me alone. The non-assholes who did talk to me ended up being bodybuilders (one of whom was a girl that was pretty stoked to have met me, too) and powerlifters. I asked the bodybuilders what their diet looked like since Hong Kong was just carbs, carbs, and more carbs on carbs (not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, but reducing fat intake is the biggest challenge).

The bodybuilders told me they generally just ate rice, noodles, chicken breast (typical), vegetables, and fish. That sounded similar to most of my own meals: Rice, lots of noodle soups, veggies, dragon fruit, and roasted meats (with the skin removed).

I took advantage of the ample carbs in the hopes that they’d give me more energy in the gym to go heavier and slowly build more strength and muscle. It was also just a good opportunity to eat the things I wanted to within reason–all under the banner of fitness and gains! Admittedly, I didn’t closely track my measurements and strength numbers. I just focused on consistently getting a good workout and training my mind to push past the points where I started to feel lazy or comfortable.

Results After Three Months of Lifting

The results? Rawrsome numbers and progress that I’m dang proud of:

  • I hit an all-time squat PR of 205 pounds. If I had a belt and a spotter, I would’ve tried going for 225. Still, at 205, that means my squat went up by 35 pounds in three months!
  • Other leg exercises like walking lunges, Romanian deadlifts, and split squats are all at least 5-10 pounds higher than before.
  • A 5-pound increase in dumbbell bicep curls. I now curl with 20-pound dumbbells. Bro. In the squat rack.
  • Incline chest presses with 40 pounds for 8-10 reps when I couldn’t hit the 8th rep with 35 before.

My last squat session in Hong Kong and hit a PR. Going back to Japan in a couple days and may not have a gym again. Back to a bodyweight program? Maybe, we shall see! #fitngeeky #fitness #fitnessnomad #squats #strongwomen

A video posted by Stephanie Lee (@superlee7) on 

Hey, thanks for the new bests, carbs!

Those are just off the top of my head. Overall, I’m stoked to share with you that I’m still doing what I can to make progress. Not everything is all rosy though: I gained a bit of body fat in the process (overall 4 pounds since November). Not a shocker considering how lax I was,  even though I typically stick to a relatively healthy diet; I just supplement it with snacks and Asian desserts…

I’m still secretly hoping my weight gain is magically all muscle.

As much as I hope, wish, and click my heels together, it’s not. Here are some photos that are almost six months apart:

Early November 2015 (Just starting my bodyweight program)

Mid-March 2016 (My bangs are shorter but my hair is in a ponytail here…and after Hong Kong)

There’s some body fat gain (barely noticeable with a quick and casual glance), but that’s to be expected when I’m not revolving my entire life around lifting and eating exclusively to look a certain way. And I definitely enjoyed myself in Hong Kong. During my stay, I also discovered that I’d actually picked up some bad eating habits from living with my cousin. It really is true that both the people and your immediate food environment (unhealthy snacks lying around, junk food within arm’s reach, etc.) can totally take your otherwise normally good eating habits and take a steaming dump on them.

The other thing I realized was that I used my heavy strength training as license to eat more carbs and extra calories, thinking that they’d all go to muscle and better performance in the gym. I wasn’t completely wrong; they did. I got stronger, but I also (inevitably) got a bit…more to love.

It was a mind trap to think that way (and is actually a really common bias called the licensing effect, where people would give themselves permission to do something “bad” after doing something “good”). Now that I’m more aware of this, I can make somewhat better decisions moving forward, like having only one slice of cheesecake instead of two (just kidding….maybe half).

It’s a Constant Push(-ups) and Pull(-ups)

Now that I’m once again in Japan, I’m falling back on my bodyweight (probably a new program though) and once-a-week gym routine.

A part of me is a little bummed that switching back to a bodyweight program means I won’t be able to squat 225 anytime soon, but if my past experience has taught me anything, I have no reason to be concerned. The plan from hereon is to stop the weight gain, or else all the clothes I brought with me are just gonna explode right off my biceps and thighs (if only).

To start, I need to get a better handle on my sleep and stress because they were so out of whack  in Hong Kong. Getting those first under control should make a big impact. Rather than track my eating again, I’m just cutting out the unnecessary snacking and eating only when I actually feel hungry. This is not a new or novel strategy, of course, but I’ve always had this terrible habit of continuing eating and looking for snacks, even after I’d literally just eaten.

That’s a thing that happens to all of us, right? Right??

Anyway, Japan, here’s to making sure I can still squat 225 in another couple of months and letting me eat all the ramen…for gains.

–Stephanie

the fuck yes mentality for health

Despite the title of this post and the number of times I use the word hereafter, I don’t especially like saying (or even writing) the word fuck.

And by the way, since you’ve already clicked on this post and have read this much, you’re okay with profanity. It’s all for a purpose anyway…I swear (see what I did there?!).

F-bombs that leave my own mouth just feel a little odd. In the nanoseconds between the sound ffff forming on my lips and escaping them thereafter, I sense the tiniest but ever-so-present flutter of guilt, the kind that a daring kid who knows she’s done something mischievous might feel. It might seem like I have a potty mouth to some, but for the most part, I truly avoid dropping fucks unless I feel fucking strongly about something.

You can assume, then, that when I say “Fuck Yes!” with the same enthusiasm as Homer Simpson saying to a pink sprinkled donut, “Ohhhhhh!” it means I’m putting all my eggs in one basket; hitting 90 miles per hour when the speed limit is 60, betting all my money on black, and generally having zero doubt that I am viscerally stoked for that which I just said “Fuck Yes!” to.

In most cases, “that” refers to something I really, really want to eat or really, really want to buy. If I don’t say “Fuck Yes!” to that double bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter shake, or to that limited edition Evangelion model kit, then I do not pass go or collect $200 dollars; I ignore it and move onto the next thing at which I may have a chance to scream “Fuck Yes!” –perhaps at some ramen with double order of pork and egg. As a result, I’ve been able to make better food choices (most of the time) and save money in the process by not spending frivolously on snacks and crap that I don’t want to eat that badly.

This is the premise behind the rule of “Fuck Yes!” It’s helped me draw boundaries on what’s important to me and what’s not, and allowed me to turn down things that I’ve felt only lukewarm about. In other words, it’s a way to empower the decisions that would (at least within my limited foresight) be good for me.

I do have to admit that I’m not cool enough to have come up with this idea on my own. I first learned about a similar iteration through Mark Manson who apparently had heard about it from Derek Sivers. Both of these brilliant writers applied it to other aspects of life: in business and relationships; but I’ve repurposed it to be a counter maneuver against our greatest common enemy: temptations.

WTF Is the Point?

Most of us recognize on some level that exercising is good for us, but when it’s go-time we get stuck in our own butt imprint on the couch and flip a bird to the idea of sweat and physical effort. And most of us know it would be best to put aside a portion of our paycheck to slowly save up for that dream New Zealand trip, but we end up getting pulled in by giant HOT, HOT, HOT! SALE signs.

Why are our actions so often inconsistent with what we know we should do?

I’m not going to pretend to be a well-studied behavioral scientist by hitting you over the head with a bunch of esoteric terms, but the short of it is that we’re human and we’re all fundamentally alike. As humans, we sometimes want things we didn’t even know we wanted, or we think we know what we want but really don’t. At least not without some context.

Let’s say one morning you go into a Starbucks with the intention of getting a cup of coffee. While standing in line, your eyes hover over that brilliantly designed and well-placed display case of goodies–and wham!–that pumpkin cream cheese muffin suddenly looks sooooo sexy, and you determine that it would look even sexier…in your mouth.

It’s not like you’d planned this out though. The insatiable itch-like feeling most of us recognize as a craving just hit you like Cupid’s arrow, but instead of looking at the barista with googley eyes you’re lusting after a lumpy, slightly burnt pumpkin cream cheese muffin. This is what smarter people than I refer to as temptations.

What’s more: We’re inherently really bad at predicting how we will act in the face of temptation, or dealing with the temptation once it hits. That means we tend to easily choose the things that give us immediate reward or gratification. Case in point: that pumpkin cream cheese muffin will taste damn good for like 20 seconds; a chill evening on the couch with Netflix is the clear winner over a slog in the gym; the 2-for-1 taco specials…you’re getting TWO tacos for the price of ONE–how can you lose?! Et cetera, et cetera.

In all cases, it’s the result of some internal fistacuffs between our own self-controland temptations, the latter of which can be further influenced by oh-so-many other factors (environment and smells, to name a few) and almost always wins. In fact, temptations are pretty big jerks that constantly bully and rob us of our lunch money (a.k.a. our long-term goals).

It doesn’t matter how noble these goals are, like saving up for retirement, or how they may benefit us, such as working out four days a week, the fact remains that repeatedly giving into temptations is a source of our misery (“Why can’t I keep myself from eating the whole box of donuts?! I’m so weak.” Cue the tears and guilt). It’s why some of us have a hard time saving money, seem to have no control when dessert and 25-cent Wing Wednesday night roll around, and generally spend or eat needlessly.

So, unless we take deliberate measures to make progress toward these goals–any goal–we’ll continue to get side-tracked, procrastinate, and get impatient that good things aren’t immediately happening.

The good news is that self-control can be learned and improved, like a skill.

Enter the rule of “Fuck Yes!”

You Gonna Eat That?

Over the years, I’ve developed some pretty impressive iron will, through a combination of conscious practice and a few perspective shifts. You can now put a plate of cookies in front of me–but joke’s on you, I hate cookies. If you try again and tempt me with, say, a glazed donut from Stan’s Bakery in Santa Clara,  I can resist eating it completely if I want to…but after a bit of self-talk, dilated pupils, and a few skipped heart beats, of course. (I’m still a donut-loving human, after all.)

Why not just eat the damn donut, you ask? Because remember: I didn’t say “Fuck Yes!” to it.

The rule of “Fuck Yes!” has helped me rule the temptations that used to rule me.  While I apply this mostly to my food and “treat yo’self” choices and what I buy, which helps to put my food choices and spending under control, I’ve seen success in some (not all) instances where I had trouble deciding what I needed to do or whether to date someone as well–but those are a wee-bit more complicated.

In my mind, this is effective because I believe in a difference between eating something (and by extension, buying something to eat or whatever) just for the sake of giving into that moment’s temptation, and eating something because I really know I will really fucking enjoy it. I know the “risks” involved in eating the food (discomfort, guilt, pressure, and so on) and weigh them against the reward (how much I’ll enjoy it).

When temptations, cravings, and “hot” desires, start to creep on me, the rule of “Fuck Yes!” acts as a buffer to make me stand back and ask myself questions, like: “Is this really what you need at this very moment–not because it’s a distraction, you’re bored, or an excuse to procrastinate? Knowing yourself, is the pleasure as much as you think you’ll get from eating or buying this? Will this in some way help you toward what you really want or want to accomplish?”

If it’s a “Fuck Yes!” to those questions (doesn’t have to be all), it’s time to rock.

The rule of “Fuck Yes!” has allowed me to place greater value on myself and my decisions, and develop a greater appreciation for the many things that I now choose to do, eat, buy, love, or whatever. It also helps to know what you deeply desire and value in the first place–not the superficial stuff, like “I want to lose 5 pounds” but more like “I really want to feel confident.” It can be tricky to figure out, but I’ve found that oftentimes what I seek or desire is somewhere in my grumbling tummy or cold, icy heart, and the enthusiasm of a “Fuck Yes!” helps bring whatever it is out of me.

All in all, it’s not by any means a perfect system, but it’s certainly helped me in staying on track with goals–whether they’re related to choosing healthier choices, saving money, and generally making decisions that also make me happy.

So, how do you apply the rule of “Fuck Yes!”? Quite simply:

  • Practice interjecting when you’re about to make an impulsive decision. Don’t ignore this voice. Ask yourself something like, “Is this something that I would still want and make me happy 15 minutes from now? An hour from now?”
  • Be compassionate. Don’t ask questions that belittle or berate yourself. It might work for some people, but I believe it to be counterproductive.
  • Be honest. Ask honest, revealing questions. Obviously, you can fudge the questions you ask yourself to make you be in favor of everything, but you’re only cheating yourself by doing this.
  • Really mean it when you say “Fuck Yes!” to something. If you pass by an ice cream shop and that pistachio ice cream looks really damn good, make sure you know you’re going to enjoy the hell out of it and move on. No regret, guilt-tripping, or wishy-washy bullshit.

Try it out, but don’t expect to be perfect. Things like self-control and being able to pull back to question your intentions take a lot of practice. Just continue to work on it, and in time, you too can be able to shout “Fuck Yes!” over a menu item at a restaurant.

–Stephanie

wow moments

These days, my internal gauge of what’s “normal” or everyday is no longer…well, normal. I’m in a foreign place, where everything is fascinating and new and wonderful and seen through my rose-colored American tourist lens. As a result, I tend to reach for meaning in anything and everything, for better or worse.

For example, I’m in Japan during cherry blossom (or sakura in Japanese) season now. I’d see falling sakura petals or just a bunch of them on the ground, and I’d think about the fragility of life juxtaposed against the beauty of nature; and how life is like those pink petals: so beautiful and admired by many. Once fallen and lying on the ground, it’s going to be stepped on, or worse, forgotten and its existence ignored.

Yup. All that just from tiny pink petals. Seriously, it gets all Willy Wonka-ish up in my noggin’…and I swear I am completely sober.

It’s not all cray, though, because one of those brain vomits helped me come to a conclusion about significant moments I’m gonna call whooshes.

Whooshes are those transformative life moments and decisions that slowly shape you personally or professionally (or both!), but you don’t easily notice them because the things that somehow lead up to whooshes are actually very ordinary and unimpressive.

Let’s take a weight loss goal, for example. I’ve always said that taking your healthy habits one day at a time, patiently, and consistently is ultimately what matters.

Unfortunately, healthy habits are boring. Skipping out on Wing Wednesday night so you can wake up with your dignity doesn’t seem sexy (at the time). It doesn’t help that the process can be so turtle-like and make you feel as if your efforts are constantly in vain. But stick with it long enough and– whoosh!–the scale, mirror, or your improved energy and well-being affirm that what you’ve been doing was right all along.

I suspect it’s because when we hope for something or work toward goals, we often have lofty ideals about what the end product might look like based on what we’ve watched in movies, read in books, or seen on Facebook. The in-between stuff? That’s often less interesting. And I don’t know about you, but I expect these things–big or small–to be presented to me in super obvious ways to let me know I’ve reached an imaginary finish line, or that something rad happened. Like having nonstop Michael Bay explosions going off in the background.

Sitting here on this train now that’s headed to an area north of Tokyo, I’ve learned that there are no Michael Bay explosions (thankfully?) or anyone popping out of a corner with jazz hands, announcing that you’ve grown or you’ve changed or you’re a winner!

Like I said, the path to whooshes isn’t totally obvious and more often than not, we don’t know it’s not, yet we still expect it to be and then lose sight when the whoosh isn’t happening fast enough. And that’s what I’m getting at. We’ll inch toward longer term goals in the tiniest and most subtle ways. We’re not quite sure if it’s even the “right thing” to do, or if anything is happening at all until one day–whoosh!–you take a step back and notice something has changed in dramatic ways.

It wasn’t magic. The corollary is that whooshes don’t automatically happen. You still have to take constant action and make decisions that get you somewhere. What’s more, sometimes when you’re working toward a specific goal, you can get myopic and even miss the whooshes happening in other areas of your life.

This relates to an experience of mine from just a couple months ago. I got really down because I felt I hadn’t accomplished much since my professional life had taken on this nomadic, entrepreneurial form. Make no mistake, I fucking love what I do. I was damn grateful then to say that I had very stable clients/gigs, and I sure as hell am damn grateful now to say the same.

Things is, before I boarded the plane in Los Angeles bound for my new life seven months ago, I had a different idea of what “success” looked like. At the time, it was only a vague idea: maybe a CEO of some startup; maybe a Japanese husband named Gundam; or maybe the final answer to life. Clearly, it was a grand vision, and I thought I was ready to work for it. Deep down inside though, alongside the Chipotle I ate an hour earlier, I was probably just hoping for that Michael Bay explosion to indicate I was doing the right thing with my career.

And with that, I became obsessed with the idea that my only measure of progress and growth would be something big and crazy happening in my business. Maybe a FitnGeeky kozie or Stephanie Lee statue or something (kidding…maybe). I’ve talked about some of the initial challenges I faced from building my business and traveling, and even now, I’m still finding my most productive groove.

In the process, my YouTube stuff fell off, which I thought was a “failure” on my part. My FOMO made me agonize over the long hours I often spent hunched over my laptop when a new country, new adventures, and new experiences awaited.

I didn’t realize it then, but after reflecting on it now, the time I freed up with cutting down YouTube and spending a lot of time initially allowed me to blog a bit more (follow my Travel stuff here!) and also pursue fantastic opportunities to further my own skill set with very smart folks (sorry for the vagueness, but you can get an idea of whom I work with here).  Whooshes! 

Then, I grew in ways I never planned for or expected. This nomad life set up afforded me many whooshes in my personal life. In Hong Kong, I got to spend a lot of time with my once estranged siblings and family in ways I wouldn’t have been able to if I’d just visited for a week or two. It all seemed so insignificant and innocent at first: eating dinner together, buying bakery bread to share, and being a nice daughter and taking my mom to Singapore. Months later–whoosh!–I’ve leveled up my personal life. I’m far closer to my family than I ever have been in my entire life.

Ordinary moments, like sharing a beer with my mom even though she never drinks, playing with my three-year-old niece, talking more with my sister when she was down, and realizing the things I can slowly work and improve on, led to amazing whooshes that I almost ignored and overlooked due to my tunnel vision.

Whooshes.

They’ll happen unexpectedly, and they’re easy to miss.

I’ve learned that the moments leading up to whooshes will never be obvious, like a neatly wrapped pretty package and tied with a big, bright red bow. But sure enough, many of them will somehow lead to whooshes. Keep working, and they’ll happen gradually in bits and pieces and in such subtle, unassuming ways. At the same time, don’t bother trying to figure out what will lead to whooshes because it’s kind of like trying to follow your own stream of piss in a category 5 hurricane: stop to blink and you’ll never see it again.

So, maybe don’t blink…and definitely don’t try to pee in a hurricane.

–Stephanie

why no changes or goal this year

This time last year I took part in a sort of ritual that changed my life.

Don’t worry, it didn’t involve any pictures of Keanu Reeves and chanting, hanging goat entrails around my neck, or anything like that–I save those fun times for Friday nights.

On January 2015, I became one of a dozen or so Bodybuilding.com employees who would publicly share their 12-week “transformation” journey to–as per the company’s motto–“become my best self.” In less vague terms, that meant I’d commit to a personal fitness goal and put the highs and lows of my 12-week journey on blast via YouTube and social media, reality TV-style (minus the drama and gym, tan, laundry).

You can read a recap of my experiences by clicking here and another take on my friend JC’s site here.

Now a year later, a couple of people have asked whether I would enter this year’s contest. If so, I’d actually be eligible for a cut of the prize money this time–a whopping $250K!–which I wasn’t before because I was an employee or whatever. Truth be told: the fantasy of throwing fistfuls of cash into the air like they do in rap music videos is appealing.

But my answer is no. I didn’t sign up. Not even “for hell of it.”

U Mad, Bro?

It’s not a gesture of defiance or stubbornness. It’s a matter of having different priorities and perspective. This year, I’m in a different place, both literally and figuratively. Let’s be clear: this is not me saying that I think I’m too good for the contest or I don’t need a fitness goal ever. Obviously not the case!

At this juncture in my life, while I float from one place to another with little stability and structure, I figured the crazy amount of energy that would pour into “transforming” my body is better spent on adjusting to my environment changes, making new experiences around the world, and doing the things that I want to do, rather than what I feel I have to do (which would be the case if I’d joined the contest, even if it’s just “for fun”).

To that end, I refused to explicitly set any goals that involve changing my body this year. Like I said, I don’t want to waste the energy on it, but most of all, I don’t feel like I need to.

For one thing, a specific fitness goal with a specific timeline in mind–such as losing 10 pounds in 12 weeks (which is at least reasonable, by the way)–demands a butt ton of energy in the stealthiest ways, because it’s not simply a matter of eating less and moving more (though sometimes it can be made more manageable with the right environment, support, and resources).

In reality, “eat less, move more” is one hell of a useless, overused, and insensitive aphorism. (My Lifehacker colleague wrote a great article on it.) It is an oversimplification of weight loss. It’s almost criminal how it overlooks individual ability and all the “in-between” little things someone has to do on a consistent basis to get into shape. I’ve observed hundreds of transformations and know that, based also on my own experiences, there’s more to it than that.

Think about all things you have to spend your time and energy on:

  • Track your food to make sure you are eating enough but ideally still making progress.
  • Plan your daily and weekly meals, but if you didn’t know how to do this step before, that’s a whole other process to learn.
  • Shop for groceries and wrestle with what to buy and what to leave on the shelf when impulse strikes.
  • Cook these healthy meals, which is another process in itself. (Those groceries ain’t gonna cook themselves.)
  • Make many, many decisions with your limited supply of willpower and energyaround food and lifestyle.

Not to mention the other stuff like going to the gym, working out, making sure you sleep, and so on. Every. single. week.

These still don’t touch all the head games like: Why is the scale not moving? Why isn’t anything working? Are my jeans not fitting because I am gaining too much booty muscle or…? What’s the point of continuing if I already had that piece of chocolate cake–I’m already a failure? When is the next season of Game of Thrones?

And it goes on.

Neurotic? It is, without a doubt Neurosis and mood swings are more common than you think when you’re (intentionally) eating fewer calories to sustain a calorie deficit–which is the super sexy secret to slowly losing weight over time–and when you have expectations to meet (my downfall).

During the contest last year, dropping my body fat to get leaner became my all-consuming, singular focus in that moment. Every ounce of energy–from my eating behaviors right down to sleeping–revolved around forcing that change. I was like a robot with only one feature, except a lot bitchier and sometimes wittier…

As you can hopefully now understand, I don’t want to use my energy for that. I now believe there’s a time in a person’s life and place when having these goals is good (last year was that time and place for me), and when it can be a detriment to life.

Content But Not Complacent

This doesn’t mean I’ve forsaken all of my fitness goals,  don’t do any of those things anymore, or that I’m training without purpose. I still do all of the things I listed, but without the unhealthy rigidity and unbending focus a physique-related goal would impose. I know many people thrive on that energy, and that’s fine. That was me, too! Nowadays I try to think of what I do in the following way:

  • I stick with my current 5-day-a-week lifting program to try to get stronger than I was the previous weeks every week.
  • I eat what I think are good dietary choices to power my training and give me the energy and health I need for other things.
  • I indulge just enough to feed my soul (and donut cravings).
  • I strive to live as healthfully as I can without being obsessed, and to be content but not complacent.

I believe there’s a difference in being content and being complacent. Complacency is a state of “Yeah, I guess…” and inaction, whereas I’m content that I can strive to work on the things I can control and accept the things I cannot.

I’m content with the fact that lifting weights and eating well allow me to use the squatty potty in Asia like a boss, haul my giant 50 pound+ luggage through crowded streets, subways, and trains of Tokyo, and be physically and mentally strong enough to serve the needs in my current life.

To be a little existential…I’m already therespecifically, the place where I thought I needed to be this time last year. (Whoa, Steph, step away from the bottle…)

This all might sound noble of me to just say, but my current perspective and silly ramblings are, of course, only possible after having experienced the struggles, the highs, the lows, and the breakthrough moments throughout last year’s contest and the many months thereafter. In actuality, they have all helped shape how I approach fitness content and my own “fit life” today. So, I have “no ragrets,” as this guy’s tattoo-gone-wrong says.

But also I’ve had the clearer realization–one that isn’t novel or new, just a long time in coming–that being involved in fitness is not meant to be a means to an end; it’s a process with many forms of growth (physical, mental, emotional, etc.) that should stay with you way past 12 weeks or 24 weeks or whatever. It certainly has for me.

As I mentioned in JC’s article, I’ve thoroughly pounded the “process” itself into my way of life that I can’t imagine a day passing by without doing what I think is right to help me in mind and body. It would be like waking up one day and deciding not to breathe…or giving up Sriracha. I will say this: if the musclez peep out as a side effect of a consistent process, I’m not one to shy away from flexing them proudly.

So, unless I’m doing some kind of competition or guaranteed oodles of money, I’m content with not staking so much of my life energies on any ideal physique.

If you’ve entered the contest or are taking up fitness for whatever reason–be it money, dissatisfaction, declining health, a fun challenge, or whatever–I hope you remember to look at the big picture; to look past your expectations at 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and beyond, and to take your lessons and then learn to be content (not complacent).

Once you have that view, it changes everything.

–Stephanie

how i work while traveling

Five months ago, I packed up one giant suitcase, my laptop, a protein shaker, and portable workout equipment, and took off to Japan. The plan was that I’d wander around Japan, visit my family in Hong Kong, and be back in the States by January, February at the latest. Well, it’s March now and I’ve just mapped out the next couple of months:

  • March 12 – May 10: Back to Japan
  • May 10 – mid-June: South Korea
  • Mid-June – July-ish: Singapore
  • Beyond… ???

The schedule above is still tentative (at the time of this writing) and doesn’t even include possibly shorter trips to places like Taipei or Bali, but all in all, it looks like I won’t be returning for a while.

Okay, I heard you thinking: “Farewell, poor savings.” or “Is she the Nigerian princeI’ve been hearing from all these years??”

Actually, my current lifestyle is funded by my own writing and consulting business which allows me to work from anywhere as long as I have an internet connection and able, money-making fingers. I’m beyond thankful I manage to make a respectable living while traveling, albeit my process could probably be better and more efficient. It has certainly had its rough beginnings and is still very much a work-in-progress.

You may sneer, “Must be nice.”

Listen, the Stephasaurus still gots to eat and earn that dough like most.  There are great upsides and challenges just the same–albeit some different, unorthodox ones.

The First-World Challenges of Work-Travel

The good of work-travel: The freedom is awesome, and I get to stay long-term in countries that I’d only once dreamed about visiting.

As a VICE headline put it: “Living as a ‘digital nomad’ is like one super long vacation.” It sort of feels that way, sure, but work and travel are more like oil and water: You can blend the two together, but they’ll never quite neatly mix.

The sort-of bad of work-travel: Aside from the occasional overwhelming homesickness, this whole thing is a challenge to my discipline and work productivity. I don’t get *as much* work done as I think I could. I constantly have an itch to explore and play hookey because, hell, I’M IN ANOTHER COUNTRY.

When I first started being a nomad, I thought I was justified in slacking off and deserving rest–an anime binge here and Netflix marathons there–because who really cares? But I was only lying to myself and growing more anxious. There’s no joy in “vacationing” and “unplugging” if I’m anxious about (not) working!

Overall, it’s an exasperating push-and-pull between needing to get work done and scratching that wanderlust-induced itch but also sometimes just chilling without feeling obligated to travel or explore. Some would call this, hm, what is the word–balance.

So, I had to build a system of habits, mind tricks, and processes to find this “balance” and be able to have occasional shenanigans along the way.

And even though the backdrop to this post is a lifestyle that doesn’t apply to most people, the main ideas and the tips I’ll share with you are still applicable in any instance where you a) work, b) travel and kinda need to work, c) want to be a productivity ninja.

The Most Important Idea About Balancing Work-Travel

In this world, there are only three scarce resources that truly matter on a day-to-day basis: time, money, and energy.

I like to focus on energy, particularly mental energy, because I believe it underpins time and money. For without mental energy, you can’t make the decisions to prioritize where to spend your time and money, or put forth the effort, or willpower, to act on them. Think of it as a willpower meter that depletes every time you make a decision, similar to a magic meter in role-playing games.

We think we can push through things if we just grit our teeth, but in reality, there’s only so much awesome we can work with in an entire day. At least before we give in to our most primal impulses to binge on junk, go on Visa-inspired sprees, put off important tasks, or veg and do nothing at all. And understanding how mental energy works, its limits, and the things that hurt or help it all relates back to traveling.

‘Twas my office for a bit… #fitngeeky #nomadlife #singapore #travel

A photo posted by Stephanie Lee (@superlee7) on 

If you think about it, its whole premise is entangled in a series of decisions under the guise of fun and relaxation: Which new thing should I go see today and post on Instagram? What shall I discover? Should I try a new restaurant or stick with that great corner shop? What did this person just say to me [in another language]? Is this guy intentionally ripping me off?

It’s all pretty draining.

The biggest energy sucks I’ve found are from figuring out the logistics in the day-to-day, like whether a coffee shop has WiFi, or if I’m on the right train; or if I’m lost, figuring out how to un-fuck myself (and this goes double when I have to think in another language). It hit me then that having constants in my life–things that I know will be there and would not change, like an office or desk to go to, meals that I can rely on, foods I know I will find at the market, and so on–means I waste less mental energy.

Basically, I’m saying traveling is like a zombie that will eat your brain energy.

Things got better once I started figuring out how to automate mundane stuff to the best of my ability (like cooking in bulk again and eating breakfast and lunch at home) and generally establishing as many constants as possible. I got more work done, I was more organized, and I had more time to have fun without worrying.

The Rules, Habits, and Carbs

Realizing that willpower is a limited (yet adaptable) resource is a powerful way to know how to Tetris your priorities. I prioritize ruthlessly and shunt the actions, decisions, and efforts of my day to give my willpower the best fighting chance to dominate before it gets KOed.

I already shared some of my ”productivity hacks” and favorite gear on Lifehacker, but here are some more detailed strategies that can help you get more work done and gain more free time as well:

SINGLE-TASK TO THE MAX

I used to work on a little bit of everything throughout the day, but the quality ended up being piss-poor and I had to put in extra time to fix it. It was a vicious cycle that kept me on a work treadmill.

In order for me to have time off for things I want to do, I work in “batches.” Inevitably, it means I’ll have days where I work a ton, but then I get ahead and can take a breather for days to do whatever, and repeat.

Batch work is the idea of grouping “like” things together. The like things could be actual writing, researching, editing, responding to comments and emails, checking social media and email (usually at night for me, when Stateside folks are awake), scheduling posts and things all at once, and anything that wouldn’t require you to totally switch mental gears. So, I’ll dedicate a chunk of time to doing all of the researching or all of the writing.

In my case, I’ll take it an extra step and batch my writing for different purposes and outlets. Let’s say, I’m writing articles for Lifehacker. I’ll dedicate that time to only writing articles for Lifehacker. Essentially, this is a way for me to get a bunch of work done now so I can be lazy and dick around later.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY

We’re in the 21st century so most of us need to act like it, including myself. I don’t utilize and streamline everything with tech as much as I could, but the few tools I do use serve me well.

Built-in scheduling tools in my blog, on YouTube, on Lifehacker’s infrastructure, and things like Buffer and TweetDeck help me load up and shotgun a bunch of stuff out into the wild so I don’t have to worry about them for days, or if I’m diligent enough, a week at a time.

I use Evernote for organizing my notes, thoughts, and to-do lists, which I can access at any time on any of my devices. If I’m having trouble being focusing and getting into productivity mode, I would use something like Tomato Timer to start the avalanche, so to speak.

DO IMPORTANT WORK IN THE MORNING

My willpower meter is topped off in the mornings, so I dedicate them to what I think are the most important tasks. (Of course, I have breakfast and coffee first.) Usually, this is writing an article, planning content or new posts, or helping a client become awesome-r.

With big-ticket items out of the way early on, I have time later in the day to squander my remaining mental energy on exploring.

FRONT-LOAD WORK EARLY IN THE WEEK

Following the idea of doing a bunch of work in the mornings, I also work my heaviest days between Sunday and Wednesdays, and start to taper off from there. It allows me to avoid getting overly stressed out from constantly racing to reach deadlines.

EAT REGULAR MEALS

I never put off a meal because low blood sugar is terrible for making decisions (plus, you don’t want to see me hangry). Indeed, a study on willpower in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that even small decisions could suck up your brain’s glucose and hurt your self-control.

Since I’m in Asia, I make it a point to fit plenty of carbs in my diet for a couple of reasons: They’re plentiful, easy to acquire, and seem to help me focus. Especially when I find myself struggling work-wise, a carb-y snack like dragon fruit or grapes helps me re-focus.

Late lunch before I work on this week’s big article for @lifehacker and a new one for @greatist. Feeding my gains with curry and channeling creativity from @smallandround to power my brainstorm process. #fitngeeky #food #writing #nomadlife #lifesnapshot

A photo posted by Stephanie Lee (@superlee7) on 

And as I mentioned in the Lifehacker article, eating is a great way for me to take a meaningful break from a long day of work.

KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY

I have no problems leaving in the middle of a project or article (sometimes mid-sentence) because I’ve learned to recognize when I’ve hit my limit, and writing and re-writing gibberish in that state only waste my time and prevent me from doing something else.

Oftentimes this is useful anyway because I’d return to it and pick it up again as if I never struggled in the first place.

ELIMINATE RUTHLESSLY

Creating the to-do list makes us feel good, whether any progress was made or not. And if something is easy, like making a sandwich, we might race to get it done just so it’s crossed off–and hark, productivity, bitches! There’s a term that describes those who hastily get things done only to feel productive and feel that rush of crossing something off a to-do list.

They’re called “precrastinators”, the opposite of procrastinators.

I used to be a precrastinator, and as a result, I spent too much time on things that didn’t matter. Confoundingly, I’d even be grumpy some days for not checking enough off my to-do list. Was the to-do list working for me, or was I in fact working for the to-do list? I was a sucker. I had to become callous and be able to say “no” to certain tasks.

The tricks are in recognizing that not everything is a big deal, knowing the limits of what you can do, and deciding what’s worth your attention at that point in time and what isn’t.

If something truly can wait, this is a good time to be procrastinating.

“THE TWO-MINUTE RULE”

I cribbed this one from the great James Clear. Basically, if you want to build a new habit or do something, figure out the related thing that takes you only two minutes to do. Want to eat healthier? Eat a piece of fruit that takes two minutes, he says as an example.

While I think there are a lot of missing steps in-between, the general idea is sound. If you’re struggling with a big task, do the small things first to get started, and soon you might feel inspired to get more stuff done. If I’m having trouble prying myself from work to go to the gym or head out the door, I’ll take two minutes to change into workout or street clothes. Then if I’m already in “workout” or “going out” mode, then the following steps become easier.

A “SAY YES!” DAY

And finally, no matter what, I have a day (usually Saturday) where I will not work and agree to do stuff I normally say “no” to the rest of the week.

Establishing a Home Base

I suppose this all begs the question of “Am I really traveling and exploring a city or country to its fullest when I’m working so much?” I struggle with this question still and a part of my brain constantly tugs at me saying, “To what end are you working? You’re missing out!” It’s a delicate balance between understanding that this is my unconventional job but also needing to please my wanderlust and FOMO.

I compromise by having extended stays in places and trying to establish a home base, a constant.

For example, in the past five months I’ve only really been in Japan and Hong Kong, with a small trip to Singapore in-between. In both Japan and Hong Kong, I established a home base so that I can feel somewhat anchored. I’ve determined that it’s more cost-effective to stay at least a month in places, making it feel as though I have normal monthly expenditures and earnings.

This way I also have the freedom and time to soak in the country–sometimes through the eyes of a wannabe local.

I wouldn’t say my process is perfect and I learn a little bit more every single day. One area where multitasking has been helpful is that I’d sometimes bring my laptop around with me when I explore. If I find a nice spot to set up camp–a peaceful park bench or a coffee shop–I’ll work a bit. After all, I just need my laptop and a comfortable seat. While I do require an internet connection,  I can get a lot of work done on plain ol’ Microsoft Word, or on my new favorite writer, OmmWriter.

In some ways, I guess working and traveling do kind of work!

Throughout all of this, I constantly ask myself if this is something I want to do long-term. I still don’t know the answer, and I’ll likely have another post when I do. For now, the best I can hope for is to…enjoy and live in the mome–Blagh! Barf, so cheesy.

digital nomad life irrational fears

Before my plane finally landed in Los Angeles, it had been nine months since I saw many of my friends and family; or slept in my own bed; or got to eat ah-maaazing peanut butter; or got to choose from different clothes that weren’t from a suitcase; or got to truly communicate my thoughts and feelings without them being relentlessly wrung through different language and cultural filters. 

I even joked to some friends that I’d actually been pregnant the entire time. (I wasn’t.) To me, the nine months whizzed by like a Tokyo bullet train. It wasn’t just fast; it blurred. Apparently, some friends and family felt the same way, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

While I’m glad to be back in California now (except for the traffic. Fuck the traffic), the days and weeks leading up to my return left me feeling…anxious and a little reluctant to be going back. Or rather, I was afraid to come home to America. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out what it was, and now, I’ve only just begun to understand how that fear festered. 

Realizing that I was returning to my home base, I was just afraid of settling into normalcy, I think. To me, it would’ve signaled the demise of my “nomading”, when in actuality, I could still pick up and go. I mean, I still want to. No, wait, I plan to

Will I be able to do it forever? Probably not.

But the way I see it, now’s the time to be taking advantage of this lifestyle while my parents are still independent and I don’t have any other roots. 

People always tell me “I’m living the life,” and I can’t lie: without a doubt, I am. After all, I was able to spend a long time in many of the countries I’d always dreamed of visiting since I was a kid. I got on Japanese national television. I watched jiggly man breasts collide with glorious machismo at a sumo wrestling match. I grew closer to my niece and other extended family, all of whom I wouldn’t have been able to see if it weren’t for my newfound freedom.

I’m not done either. I’m back briefly to recoup and re-strategize a bit before I head out on my “next adventure”–wherever that may take me. 

Sadly, that’s the sort of stuff people only want to hear about. The good stuff. The stuff of motivational posters and Tony Robbins speeches. I’ve come to find that no one necessarily wants to peek behind the Instagram photos and Facebook updates, or hear about the sacrifices that were (and constantly have to be) made. I no longer encourage people to try to do this themselves. It’s not for everyone because there are definitely ups and downs to organizing your life around temporary housing, flights, and proximity to Wi-Fi. 

Plus, other than a fair number of treasured memories with friends, family, and acquaintances, I spent most of the time by myself. Nomad life is lonely. Sure, sometimes you meet people and bond over mutual traveling circumstances, but still…it’s isolating and alienating. And unpredictable. And filled with uncertainty.

Even little things, like if I had to get work done in a new area, I would have to hunt down a coffee shop. I’d wonder: Would it have an outlet for me to charge my laptop? Would they let me stay a while? Is there a limit to the Wi-Fi? All first-world problems, I know, but that’s the thing: There’s a whole host of different kinds of barriers, ones that can, admittedly, sometimes nullify the immense gratitude I have for my circumstances. 

Back in sunny California, home is bittersweet. It’s predictable and comforting, like slipping your feet into your favorite fuzzy slippers after a long day.

Yet the judgments inevitably come. The questions. The envy. The jealousy. I see and deal with them frequently. I fear them. What do I say to “I’m so jealous!”? How can I relate again without coming off as an uber-pretentious millenial d-bag? I don’t have the answers right now. 

I will say that being in different countries where nobody cared or knew exactly who I was liberated me from the existential panty-twists of Who am I? What’s my purpose? Is this really what I want? What do people think of me?

It’s almost been a whole year since doing this whole nomad thing, and so far, it’s done me a lot of good (with sacrifices). So, one thing’s for sure: No one can say I never got anywhere.