In the pursuit of bettering one’s self from a physical standpoint, there are so many options available today. There is no “one size fits all” approach to fitness nor has there ever been. I’ve met people from all walks of life in peak physical condition; some of them do insane amounts of running, swimming, and biking in training for grueling competitive events like the Ironman, some do no cardio at all. Some people love the thrill of getting a new max weight as they bench press or squat, and others strictly stick by body weight exercises like pull ups, push ups, planks, and dips. Some do a full body routine 2-3 days a week and aren’t in the gym otherwise, some believe in no days off. Really, it boils down to a combination of what works for you as you get to know how your body responds, and what you personally enjoy enough to stick with in the long haul. To paraphrase something I once heard The Ultimate Warrior say in one of his epic Youtube rants after you read all the methods and rules and ideas of any self-help book or a lecture, it always boils down to one basic principle…do the fuckin’ work! There’s no shortcut or replacement for hard work, but even the most self-disciplined among us need a way to keep ourselves on track and accountable…and that’s where E.A.R.N. comes in.

What is E.A.R.N.?  Well, if you know me, I’m somebody who is constantly listening to interviews with people that inspire and motivate me, on Youtube and on various podcasts. One of these people is Frank Zane. Zane is much more than a three-time Mr. Olympia and legend in the world of bodybuilding, and it’s something that’s apparent when you hear him speak. He’s a renaissance man of sorts always pushing the envelope in new ventures, with a unique view on bettering one’s self utilizing a series of tools like positive mantras, meditation, and visualization. Anyone still motivated to explore new ground in their life at the age of 76 deserves high praise as far as I’m concerned. A couple of years back Zane was the subject of an excellent interview with Mathew Park where he discussed various concepts that make up his philosophy, and one of those concepts that made an impact on me was his E.A.R.N. regimen. The acronym stands for Exercise, Attitude, Recovery, Nutrition. The way it works is that at the end of each day, you grade yourself on a scale in each category. It’s so simple, but it’s brilliant. I truly would agree with him that these four categories make up the entirety of successful physical health (and even mental health) regimen. If your fitness regimen, mindset, sleep, and eating are on point, there is no other option than to be successful. Let’s dive into each of these categories.

Fitness is the most self-explanatory of the four. I grade every category each day on my calendar on a scale of 0-5. What does a 5 in Fitness look like? To me, one example is setting a personal best. You out-did your max bench press? whether it’s by 5 lbs or 40 lbs, that’s a perfect day in my book. A 0, that’s when you don’t get any exercise in at all. To me, some 0 days are okay, and I encourage them. Some days you need those days off to assist your body in recovery, but we’ll get to that in a couple of paragraphs.

Attitude. A great quote from Pirates of the Caribbean sums up this category for me, “the problem is not the problem, the problem is your attitude about the problem.” Every one of us deals with struggles and aggravation on a daily basis, whether it’s work, family, or monetarily related. Sometimes someone just acts like a jerk and it ruins your mentality. Don’t allow that. Do not allow factors outside of your control to have an impact on your attitude for the day. This category just like all the others is entirely reliant on your own actions. Whether you have the greatest day in the world or it feels like you just can’t get a break, if you can keep a positive attitude and stay optimistic and focused on your goals, that’s a 5 to me. This category is so essential. A bad attitude can lead you to sabotage everything you’re working towards, so remember why you started. The incentive to score high in the category every day will help you in not allowing others to steal your joy.

Recovery. I think pride keeps many of us, especially goal-oriented people, in having an adequate recovery. Let’s get into what I mean. There are people who have no issue sleeping all day and having no motivation in life. You’re reading this, you believe in self-help, so chances are this isn’t you. The most motivated among us often have the #NoDaysOff mentality, and for many of us, myself included, you’ll learn this is unrealistic. If you’re pushing yourself to the max in your workouts seven days a week, keeping on top of your other goals and responsibilities like work, friends, and family, and getting very little sleep, for the majority of us, you’re gonna burn out, or worse, get injured. Allow yourself however many hours a night of sleep that you’ve determined your body runs optimally on. “But I don’t have time.” You do. You do because when your body is running optimally on the necessary hours of sleep, you’re going to function at a higher level and bang out your work quickly & effectively instead of dozing off or half-assing your workouts. Also, it works hand in hand with other categories. If you’re getting strenuous workouts in, your sleep will be better. Yin and Yang. There are also some great supplements that can assist in recovery, I’d highly recommend ZMA. Also, allow yourself a recovery day, maybe two or three. What’s a recovery day? It could mean getting a deep tissue massage, it could mean doing yoga that day. I’ve found yoga to be very effective in this category. To me, yoga is more about recovery than exercise. Most of us spend 5 minutes or so stretching before we exercise…if that. Take a yoga class and you’ll be stretching yourself out for a full hour. Your lifting bros may break your balls but your body is going to thank you. If you’re looking to gain muscle or lose fat, chances are, a regimen of strictly yoga won’t cut it. What it will do though, is help your flexibility and prevent injury. That stuff is necessary, so don’t feel guilty if you take a recovery day even if it just means staying in, skipping the gym, watching a movie, and you score a 0 in Fitness.

For me, Nutrition has become a more clear cut category than it was. It’s because I’ve become someone who tracks my macro-nutrients. This is a whole other subject some of you may need to research, but MyFitnessPal is great with this in making sure you get the proper amount of calories a day for your goal, and the proper percentages of protein, carbs, and fats. This is something I experiment with and change accordingly with my goals. If you’re like me, you get the simplicity of it. Did I reach my daily protein goal, eat mainly whole foods over supplements and processed junk, and stay within my range of calories for the day? Then that’s a 5. Maybe you’re not there yet, and that’s okay. Maybe a 5 for you is that you didn’t indulge in any sugary drinks or deserts for the day. Just be honest with yourself, because you’re the only person you’ll be cheating when you don’t put in the work.

If you hold yourself accountable in these 4 essential categories and adjust accordingly, you will succeed. Let me conclude with another quote that’s a favorite of mine from the greatest icon of martial arts Bruce Lee, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.” Some of the things I said in this article may not apply to you. Some of it just doesn’t work for what you’re looking to achieve possibly, and that’s okay. If anything I wrote resounded with you, I’m happy to hear it. Take it, incorporate it into your regimen, and crush your goals each and every day. E.A.R.N. it and be the best version of you!