“Everyone is different so what works for me may not work for others”, Steven Herron of Herron Evolved Performance Apparel and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Everyone is different so what works for me may not work for others. It is best to try a variety of methods to see what works for you. I replace bad habits with good ones. Wearing the bike helmet replaced not wearing one. Believe it or not, I used to smoke. Yes, a person whose […]

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Everyone is different so what works for me may not work for others. It is best to try a variety of methods to see what works for you. I replace bad habits with good ones. Wearing the bike helmet replaced not wearing one. Believe it or not, I used to smoke. Yes, a person whose father died from lung cancer had a smoking habit. Once exercising became a habit I did not want to smoke. I haven’t touched a cigarette nor wanted one in 40 years.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Herron.

Steven Herron is the founder of Herron Performance Apparel — limited edition athletic apparel that is ethically sourced, manufactured and shipped according to the strictest industry guidelines. Herron Apparel is committed to reuse and reduce by producing the highest quality performance apparel from recycled and low-impact fabrics.

Steven’s expertise comes from being an endurance athlete for nearly 25 years (Ironman®, 3 X Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, Team USA member at the World Long Distance Duathlon Championship), a Registered Yoga Teacher — 500 by the Yoga Alliance since 2010, certified Schwinn Indoor Bike Instructor, and Group Exercise Instructor II for 13 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was always athletic and participated in Optimist Little League and Pee Wee Football starting at age 9. I enjoyed the competition and pushing myself. I continued playing football through high school and was awarded All-State by the Associated Press Sports Writers, selected as a member of the All-Star Team by the Dayton Journal-Herald, All-League by the coaches of Southwest Conference, and All-District.

A defining moment happened outside of sports, however, when my father had a heart attack. I was 12 years old. He recovered only to be diagnosed with lung cancer three months later. He died within nine months of his diagnosis. He was 51 years old. I learned later that his father died at 48, and his grandfather died at 50. Even at my young age, I was aware that longevity was not in my favor. I am now almost 61.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

There are too many people to name them all. Some were the older guys on the teams I played for. Others were professionals, mostly football, like Jack Lambert, the Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We had a lot in common. But the one man who does stand out is Walt Sanford. He was my Little League baseball team coach and, later, my Pee Wee football team. He saw something in me. I was big for my age and a bit clumsy. Because of that, I lacked self-confidence. He made me believe in myself. On the field, I was in command but still felt awkward outside of athletics.

Later in life, much later, Marlene Walker, a female aerobics and group fitness instructor, whom I greatly admired for her athletic ability, positive attitude, and generosity, suggested I compete in a triathlon that was happening in a few months. I scoffed at her and said, “I could never do a triathlon.” I finished that race and have been competing ever since.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

As I mentioned earlier, Marlene Walker suggested I do a triathlon. Another important person was Diane Haupt, who is an amazing athlete and person. She is a physical therapist whom I met at a race. She has tremendous natural talent and has many awards along with being an Ironman Kona finisher multiple times, but you would never know it when speaking with her. She rarely mentions her own achievements. I learned about her accomplishments from other people. I aspire to have her level of humility.

I was training for Ironman USA. Diane was my coach. She scheduled a ride with several other athletes who were much more accomplished than me with several of them being professionals. All of them typically win their divisions. At the end of the ride, Diane said, “you could be one of them.” It wasn’t until several hours later that I realized what she left out of that statement. She meant that I had the physical abilities but lacked the discipline and commitment to reach that level.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I love sharing the mistakes I have made, there are plenty to save other people from doing the same things! I signed up for a ‘Mud Run” (thanks again to Marlene!) This was before the explosion in Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). It was on the US Navy Amphibious Base, Norfolk, Virginia. That’s where the East Coast SEAL Teams are based. The SEALs helped design the course. I didn’t want to ruin a good pair of running socks, so I decided to run in my shoes without socks. BIG MISTAKE. I assumed, which is something you should NEVER do for a course you haven’t run before, that it was mostly mud. It wasn’t. It was sand. Lots of sand. Deep sand. I began to feel a blister on my right foot at mile two of the eight-mile race. After the race I discovered I had worn all of the skin off of the inside of my arch. There was a four-inch by one-inch hole where you could see the fascia covering the bones of my foot. I ran a half marathon two weeks later too!

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

It is one I tell to people all of the time. Racing is easy. Training is hard. And it applies to general health and wellness too. Getting up, going to the gym, and working out is tough, especially to do it consistently, which is what it takes to achieve your goals, whether that is to grab a spot on the podium at a 5K run or watch the numbers come down on the scale. It is the same with a career. There will be a multitude of difficult, thankless, and often tedious tasks to perform every day. Success will come, but only if you work for it.

I am a bit unusual in that I do nearly all of my training and working out by myself. It is much easier if you have another person or a group to train with. Another tip is to make it fun. I do fun things in every class I instruct or teach. I once got a salsa lesson in the middle of an indoor cycle class!

As for advice, a person should know who they are. Athletes tend to identify themselves with their sport. People in business do that same thing. You are not what you do, whether it is a sport or a business. Knowing who you are outside of what you do is critically important for living with contentment. I do distinguish between contentment and happiness. They are different. Many people strive to be happy when they should be looking to be content. I learned that from Viktor Frankl.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are three I mention quite a bit. ‘Becoming an Ironman : First Encounters with the Ultimate Endurance Event, by Kara Douglass Thom. Each chapter is an account of someone’s first Ironman race. Many are funny, while others cause joyous tears, such as Dick Hoyt’s story. I raced with Dick Hoyt at Timberman Half Ironman in 2005. That was before I read the book or knew much about him.

Another book is, ‘Body, Mind, and Sport — The Mind-Body Guide to Lifelong Health, Fitness, and Your Personal Best,’ by John Douillard. I was given this book by one of my yoga students. This book is about connecting your mind to your body. We do the opposite in fact. We wear earbuds, read magazines, or even watch movies while working out. You will experience significant improvement once you allow your mind to ‘listen’ to your body.

The third one is Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.” It is a historical account of perseverance, fortitude, and dealing with adversity. We all face that in life. It’s a great guidebook on how to manage challenges.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.” Marshal Ferdinand Foch said this during the First Battle of the Marne where he defeated the Germans in WWI. I rely on this quote to carry me through challenging times whether it is a difficult swim workout, a really tough race, or facing obstacles in business. It rallies me spiritually, emotionally, and physically to overcome whatever it is I am going through at the time.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am in the process of launching a conscious fashion brand for endurance athletes. Everyday is a learning experience. It is a conscious fashion brand due to our strict requirements for low environmental impact and social compliance. Our factory partners must-have, and adhere to, sustainability policies and the protection of their workers while paying above industry-standard wages. I just returned from a trip to a factory in El Salvador for example. They pay great wages, do not employ underage workers, allow free association among the workers. They built a medical facility and a school that anyone in the community can use and attend for free.

I want people to have and wear good quality clothing made responsibly so they feel good about wearing it. My apparel helps the Earth and improves the lives of the people, making them and the communities where they live.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

A great example for how a habit benefits you is wearing a bicycle helmet. The rules governing triathlon require the athlete to have a helmet on, with chin strap fastened, before taking the bike off the rack. I rarely wore a helmet before I started competing in triathlons. Now, I never touch my bike without my helmet on and fastened. It has saved my life more than once. I was hit by a car while on a training ride. I would be dead or severely impaired if I hadn’t been wearing my helmet. Another time, during a race, I accidentally went off of the road pavement. When I tried to get back on the road, the edge of the pavement caught my wheel and I fell so hard on my left side that my helmet cracked into two pieces. Imagine what would have happened to my head if I had not been wearing a helmet.

Good habits, like brushing your teeth, allow you to get benefits without any extra thought. They are automatic. Putting on a seat belt in a car is another example. And now, wearing a mask in public should be a habit. It protects others from potential harm. To maintain a healthy weight, it is good to develop a habit to stop eating while you still feel a little hungry. It takes longer for you to feel full than when you have actually eaten enough.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Completing a task before I start another one is a habit I had to force on myself. I used to have several unfinished tasks going on at the same time. I didn’t complete a lot of them. Now, I complete the task before starting a new one. I get a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction and reduced stress because I feel like I am making progress and not getting overwhelmed.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

Everyone is different so what works for me may not work for others. It is best to try a variety of methods to see what works for you. I replace bad habits with good ones. Wearing the bike helmet replaced not wearing one. Believe it or not, I used to smoke. Yes, a person whose father died from lung cancer had a smoking habit. Once exercising became a habit I did not want to smoke. I haven’t touched a cigarette nor wanted one in 40 years.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Wellness: Breathing. It is funny. We are born knowing how to breathe, but as we age we train ourselves how not to breath. Watch a baby in a deep sleep. Notice how deeply she inhales. Deep breathing reduces stress. I use this technique when driving in Atlanta’s notoriously bad traffic. It instantly relaxes me.

Performance: We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare yet many of us, especially endurance athletes, forget the moral the moment we start something. You don’t have to ‘red line’ it every time you do something…and you are setting yourself up for problems if you do. If you’re an athlete you are going to lose performance and risk injury. If you red line all of the time at work, people won’t want to work with you and you are going to suffer fatigue and burnout.

Focus: Keep a schedule and employ the two previous methods to maintain focus. I like to take breaks every 20 minutes or so to allow my mind to wander. It is impossible to maintain a high level of focus for long periods of time. If you have a long term goal — completing a marathon, for example — develop a training schedule that allows you to focus on that goal while you are training (and read Body, MInd, and Sport to help you with that focus.)

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

I am still learning these myself!

Mindfulness was getting a lot of attention a few years ago but it seems to have been pushed aside when, during a pandemic for example, it is most needed. Being mindful about your behavior and noting what is good for you and what is bad for you is a good place to start. So many of us operate on automatic. We eat a piece of candy because it is in the dish not because we are hungry or particularly want it. Yet those pieces of candy add calories. And they add up quickly!

Thinking critically is part of being mindful in my opinion. And it is another skill that is needed in these times. Much of people’s stress is caused by the avalanche of information, real or fake, available. Thinking critically about the headline or story you read will easily reveal what is worth reading and what should be tossed aside.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Listen to your body. The human body is a marvel. It communicates with us very efficiently as to its needs. We have lost the ability to hear what it is saying, though. Turn off the radio, the television, your streaming music service, and listen to your body. Reconnect your body to your mind.

I developed an erratic heartbeat. It got so bad it caused me to pass out before I went to the doctor. An echocardiogram determined that what I had was not pathological (meaning it wouldn’t kill me), but no one knew what was causing it. I discovered it was the job I had at the time. It was a very stressful environment. I wasn’t listening to my body. It was telling me that the job was not good for me. It took over 18 months after quitting the job for the symptoms to completely disappear.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Drills. Drills. Drills. One reason the United States military personnel are among the best in the world is they are constantly training and doing drills. The moment a situation develops, the soldier reacts according to the training. That is what you want a habit to do. You wake up in the morning, practice yoga or do some form of exercise even if it is a walk around your neighborhood. You do it so often that you cannot imagine not doing it.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Number one is exercise. Exercise improves aerobic performance. In layman’s terms, that means your heart and lungs operate at a higher level and more efficiently. The benefit of that is more oxygen-rich blood gets to the brain. Oxygen improves clarity and brain function. An increased level of calm is a secondary benefit of exercise. Your muscles want to work. They are like children. They will bother you until you do something with them. Exercise calms your muscles, allowing you to concentrate better.

Reduce the number of items on your to-do list. A few years ago, I read an article that stated you should only have five things on your daily to-do list. I started doing that and have experienced less stress and more ability to focus because of it. I get satisfaction from completing my tasks for the day instead of going to bed feeling like I failed.

Sleep. It is nearly impossible to focus when you are sleep deprived. Your mind is dull. And most people do not get enough sleep.

Breathe deeply and with intention. Deep breathing has long been known to increase the ability to focus. It is why breathing is an integral part of yoga.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

For exercise, it is essential to make it a priority. Put exercise on your schedule, and do not let anything stop you from doing it. It helps if you can get a partner to have the same commitment to exercise. The more you do it; the more your body craves it. It will soon become almost as automatic as breathing.

Eliminate multitasking. Studies show that humans are not good at multitasking. Reduce your task list to only five items. Complete each item before moving to the next one. And force yourself only to use email, chat, or text messages at specific times during the day.

Practice yoga, it will provide you with many of the benefits mentioned here. Most Westerners (i. Americans) think of yoga as exercise; however exercise is a benefit of yoga. Yoga is yoga. Once you get into a regular practice, you will discover what that means. Yoga incorporates exercise, breathing, and singular focus. By practicing yoga, a person will reach higher and higher levels of focus.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

This is precisely the goal John Douilard started to achieve before writing Mind, Body, and Sport. It is also referred to as being in the Zone. Douilard wanted to know if it was possible to train an athlete, or anyone, to be in the Zone on command, like when it was needed during a competition. It was the genesis of Sports Psychology. Douilard discovered, though, while it was impossible to be in the Zone on command, it was possible to train to be in Zone, or close to it, all of the time. It all starts with breathing. The US Navy SEALs call it tactical breathing. The ancient Indian Vedic culture called it Ujjayi pranayama. The breathing slows down the world and allows for more concentration and more mental clarity.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am attempting to do that with my apparel brand by making people be more conscious of their buying decisions. I call it ‘conscious consumerism.’ Far too often, our purchases are driven by the lowest price. There are consequences from every purchase we make. Children are forced to work in dangerous factories 12 or more hours a day and often without compensation — oppressed populations working like slaves to make inexpensive shirts and shoes. Waterways polluted with toxins are a severe problem in many parts of the world so that consumers can have cheap apparel. That has to stop. It stops when consumers are educated and conscious (you could also say mindful) when making purchases.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Sir Richard Branson would be one, although I have many. He has accomplished so much and seems to embody one of my favorite mantras, ‘improvise and overcome.’

How can our readers further follow your work online? My blog is updated weekly on herronapparel.com and you can follow @herronapparel on IG

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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