David Sautter of Top Fitness Magazine: “Educating myself”

I’m helping several clients with at-home workout and nutrition guides and courses. Gyms have shut down across the country so I’m excited to work on the content that can educate people to exercise and eat well from the comfort of their home. My goal with all of the content I write is to help people […]

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I’m helping several clients with at-home workout and nutrition guides and courses. Gyms have shut down across the country so I’m excited to work on the content that can educate people to exercise and eat well from the comfort of their home. My goal with all of the content I write is to help people become healthy, strong, and happy.

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

David J. Sautter has combined a lifelong passion for writing with over a decade of experience as a NASM-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and sports-conditioning specialist. David has written hundreds of blog posts as well as dozens of e-books, training guides, and online courses covering a range of health and fitness topics. In his free time, David enjoys writing about staying fit while traveling abroad. David is currently a fitness writer for Top Fitness Magazine.

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?

Sure thing — I grew up outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents, who were my rocks and the most important people in my life. Ironically, it was their lifestyle choices of poor diet, smoking, and drinking that served as the catalyst for my interest and passion for health and fitness.

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

As a fitness copywriter, I’ve had separate inspirations for fitness and writing.

I’ve always been a writer. My grandmother read to me from the time I was born. I remember as a child, lying next to her and listening to her read Shakespeare, Wilde, and Thoreau. If it wasn’t for her reading to me and encouraging me to create my own fantastical stories, I’m not sure I would have become a writer.

On the fitness side of things, my grandparents also served as an inspiration. I saw the consequences of their poor lifestyle choices. They didn’t eat well, and they smoked since they were teenagers. Both passed in their mid-60s, which is unheard of today with all of the advancements we’ve made in nutrition and exercise science. Had they taken better care of themselves, they might still be around today. They would have watched as I built my business, lived all over the world, and purchased my first home. It’s sad to think about but it definitely serves as fuel to continue focusing on self-care.

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?

My grandmother always said, “You can be anything you want to be.” I think that she said it so much to me it was buried in my subconscious. Maybe it explains my work ethic and grit. She didn’t necessarily teach me how to be a writer, but everyone needs someone to believe in them in order to get started, despite the long road ahead. She was that positive voice that I needed whenever I had doubts.

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

The funniest mistake that I made was in the early years of the writing business. I had a client ask for an article on rock climbing workouts. In particular, they wanted me to talk about nude climbing. I’ve rock climbed but I wouldn’t say that I know all of the terms or types of climbing. So, when I heard “nude climbing,” I immediately pictured rock climbers only wearing the harness attached to the safety cable. I wrote the article, turned it in, and followed up with the client afterward.

They loved the article and the workouts, but they were thrown off by my version of “nude climbing.” They explained that nude climbing was another way to describe free soloing where you are climbing with no equipment, so if you fall, you’re in trouble.

We had a good laugh on the phone over the article, and they actually asked me to write a follow-up about niche forms of rock climbing. Guess what form of rock climbing is a real thing and growing in popularity. Nude climbing — no ropes, no gear, and no clothing.

My takeaway from that is to never be afraid to think outside the box. A client might say they want one thing but if you have an idea that you think could work better, go ahead and throw it out there. You’d be surprised what might stick. Most importantly, with over a decade of experience, I’ve found that clients are desperate to find creative people — I mean, truly creative people. They don’t want the same article or e-book that’s been written by a hundred other people. People genuinely respect, admire, and love creativity so embrace that side of yourself.

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?

Without a doubt, take calculated risks when you’re young. I’m 34 now and I took the biggest risk of my professional career at 27. This is when I quit my job with a very comfortable salary to start my own writing business. If I could do it again, I would have taken the same risk much younger, probably while in college.

I know it might not seem like it, but I promise you that it is so much easier to bounce back after a few failures when you’re young. You have that fire and drive, and you can easily dust yourself off. What’s more, if you learn important lessons from failures when you’re young, you’ll have a wealth of knowledge that can make you almost bulletproof in your 30s.

Don’t worry about making good money when you’re younger. Instead, focus on building a foundation of something that you truly want to do. Rub shoulders and network with people who have a wealth of knowledge. Learning from experienced professionals will literally save you years of trial and error. The money will come as long as you stay dedicated to yourself and your goals.

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?

The Neverending Story has been a source of inspiration since I was a kid. Although it is a children’s book, it deals with very complex themes of discovering your bravery and integrity while triumphing over self-doubt and stepping into your true self. When I saw the movie as a child, I related with the main character: a shy bookworm who wanted to be like the adventurers that he read about in literature. Although the protagonist saw himself as a shy and weak kid, deep down, he was actually brave and strong. I’ve found parallels of discovering this inner strength throughout my life. Everything from starting my writing business to going on a solo motorcycle adventure through Vietnam. I’ve reflected on the lessons from The Neverending Story during all of the biggest moments in my life.

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

I have too many quotes to go through but the first one that comes to mind is one from Charles Bukowski. In one of his poems, there is a line that always resonates with me:

“We are here to laugh at the odds

and live our lives so well

that Death will tremble to take us.”

I think a lot of people are too scared to take a chance on themselves. There’s that fear of doing things that are “safe” and “right” but taking risks is what life is all about. The odds might seem against you but more often than not, they aren’t.

Every time I start to doubt if something will work or if something is possible — even now during times of COVID — I remember this quote and the volume of that negative voice gets turned down.

If you want to think of the long-term idea of this quote, look at it like this: If there is an afterlife, make sure you have a really good story to tell everyone.

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

I’m helping several clients with at-home workout and nutrition guides and courses. Gyms have shut down across the country so I’m excited to work on the content that can educate people to exercise and eat well from the comfort of their home. My goal with all of the content I write is to help people become healthy, strong, and happy.

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?

Good habits are essential to success. Seneca said that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” What people deem as “luck” usually has months or years of preparation and action behind it. I immediately think of when I began working with my biggest and most popular client. Had I not busted my butt to uphold professional standards within my business while educating myself year after year on new studies, new tech, and best practices, I think I would have been completely unprepared for that meeting. Instead, I was able to walk into the meeting with confidence and talk from experience.

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

They are the reason I have achieved such a high level of success. I’d say the top three habits that are at the foundation of my success, my business, and my life would be the following:

  1. Educating myself: I spend about 3% of my annual salary on books, online courses, and seminars to improve both as a fitness industry expert and as a professional copywriter.
  2. Setting goals: This is a big one, and as a personal trainer, it’s something I’ve been doing since I was 18. Setting very detailed goals with a timeline is absolutely crucial. I take this one step further and I do quarterly check-ins to update and edit my goal list.
  3. Healthy diet and exercise: I guess I’m a bit biased as a trainer and nutrition specialist, but health and fitness have been an important part of my life for a long time. I believe it’s my healthy lifestyle that fueled my physical and mental ability to build my business.

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

I find that breaking a bad habit needs to be treated as seriously as a client project. That means you need to research the best ways to break it, make preparations before you start, and know what good habit you’re going to replace it with. I believe it’s easier to replace a bad habit with a good one than to simply drop a bad habit.

Overall, make it as easy for yourself as possible. Breaking a bad habit or picking up a good one is already tough enough so why not smooth out the road as much as possible? That might mean an extra 10 minutes in the morning or night to prep for the following day, but it’ll be worth it.

I’m a fan of Stephen Covey’s book, Atomic Habits. He’s got a lot of great ideas that are backed by science on how to change habits.

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.

Meditation: If I had to recommend one thing, it’s meditation. It is a powerful tool for mental health that also helps with creativity and productivity.

Exercise: I look at exercise as active meditation. When you’re zoned in on the workout — I mean really paying attention to how your muscles are working — the world outside won’t matter. You’ll forget about the problems waiting for you outside.

Nutrition: Food is fuel and if you need to be creative every day for work, you need to feed your brain the nutrients it needs to be at the top of your game. Sure, caffeine has a time and a place, but it shouldn’t be the one thing you rely on to get things done. Start your day with lean protein (e.g., eggs), complex carbohydrates (e.g., oatmeal), and healthy fats (e.g., coconut oil in your coffee).

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

With meditation and exercise, start small. Don’t try to be a monk or a bodybuilder and spend two hours doing each one every day.

If you’ve never meditated before, just aim for five minutes. Your thoughts will race, but don’t worry if you’re doing it “right.” Just focus on the breath.

With exercise, if you’re not used to working out, find a program that’s only 20 minutes long, a third of a normal lunch break.

When it comes to nutrition, again, don’t try to be perfect with your diet right out of the gate. Focus on incorporating one or two healthy foods in place of junk foods. Maybe you eat healthily, but you skip meals all the time. Make it a point to start eating breakfast — Focus only on that habit until it’s second nature.

It’s more important to build the habit — no matter how small — and then progress instead of aiming for perfection, missing, and giving up.

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

Health Social Time: This is where a lot of freelancers struggle — I know I still do. It’s very important to spend time with a healthy and encouraging circle of friends. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of “Oh, I’ll just do one more article or one more project.” Next thing you know, your friends are saying they haven’t seen you in weeks. Work is never-ending so get outside and enjoy beers and laughs with your friends.

Recovery Time: This is the same idea as above but for your workouts and training; make sure you schedule in recovery days. The science is crystal clear about this: your body needs a break otherwise it’ll break down.

Make a Schedule: Jordan Peterson said it best, “Make a damn schedule… and stick to it.” A lot of freelancers aren’t used to making their own schedule at first because their old 9 to 5 job did it for them. Create a schedule that you actually enjoy; don’t be a bad boss or coach to yourself. If you know you thrive in work or training in the afternoon, schedule it for then. Don’t force yourself to be a morning person or a night owl if that isn’t you.

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

All of those habits revolve around making a schedule, so I’d recommend purchasing a detailed planner or a user-friendly software that lets you create days with 15 or 30-minute increments.

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

Get the phone away from you: Seriously, most people don’t realize how distracting this thing is even if no one is texting you. Just having the phone in eyesight is a temptation. I recommend giving yourself “phone time” and scheduling it in your calendar for specific hours throughout your day.

Do the most important thing as SOON as you wake up: Define your MIT the night before and when you wake up, revisit that task list, and get to it. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t check your email. Just jump into the thing that needs to get done. Your MIT should be something that’ll make the biggest impact in your day or week once it’s done.

Consider nootropics: They aren’t for everyone but I’ve found nootropics — focus supplements — to be helpful. I buy individual ingredients and take each one since most big brand supplements are underdosed. I like huperzine A, alpha GPC, lion’s mane, DMAE, and di-caffeine malate.

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

Luckily, all three of these habits can happen simultaneously. I’d recommend some nighttime preparation. Put your phone in a drawer and let it in there until after you complete your most important task for the day. Leave your task list and your nootropic supplements next to each other on your work desk. In this way, everything is in one place and easy to get to.

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?

Like most people, my Flow states come and go in waves. Historically, what has worked for me is to set the intention to work on my most important things first thing in the morning. I remind myself of these things while making that first cup of coffee. I turn my phone off, set a timer for 60 minutes, and only open the program on my computer relevant to that project. The moment you look at your phone or social media, it becomes increasingly harder to get back into Flow.

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.

If I had the proper time, financial support, and team, I would love to start an organization or movement that put qualified experts (paid or volunteer) into schools to teach young children about nutrition and exercise, especially in lower-income areas. I’d also like to partner with schools to create a more nutritious meal plan for the students and to ensure these meals available to lower-income students through various forms of grant writing and fundraising.

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 in the US, 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 🙂

I’ve got three people that I cannot choose between; they’re all tied for the top spot. Jordan Peterson, Elon Musk, and Chuck Palahniuk have all played an important role in my life at one time or another. They are all inspirational people, and it would be a genuine privilege to have a few minutes with any of them.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

To learn more about me, my business, and the services I offer, you can visit WriteFit.com. I have a travel fitness blog that teaches you how to stay fit while traveling; there are also several stories from my years living abroad. That website is FitnessWanders.com.

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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