“Humans are creatures of habit and routines and patterns”, Tim Jones of Precision Nutrition and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Every day thousands of tiny decisions add up and suck energy, so we want to try to alleviate these through predefined frameworks and systems so you have more attention and mental energy available for what you are passionate about. This leads to better output. As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits […]

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Every day thousands of tiny decisions add up and suck energy, so we want to try to alleviate these through predefined frameworks and systems so you have more attention and mental energy available for what you are passionate about. This leads to better output.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Jones, CEO of Precision Nutrition.

Tim Jones joined Precision Nutrition as Chief Executive Officer in 2013, bringing years of operational and marketing leadership and a strong background in sales, product and business development and marketing to the company. A highly skilled facilitator, critical thinker and team leader, Tim helps Precision Nutrition find the best pathways to success. Prior to Precision Nutrition, Tim held leadership positions at some of the world’s leading brands, hospitals and educational institutions.


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 born the son of an immigrant from Trinidad (very poor) who came supported by missionaries when he was 20, did not finish high school and ended up as electrical technologist for GM and a white mother from the Maritimes in Canada who went on to run her own insurance office. As a child I had tubes in my ears and needed speech therapy. I was also diagnosed with ADHD, which is something I still cope with today.

I am proud to be the first person in my family (both mom and dad’s side) to go to University. Especially after I unexpectedly had my first child at 20 in my first year of University. Even so, I managed to play University football, work 3 jobs, attend University and raise a son with my wife, who also attended University and worked, as well.

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

I wanted to be a teacher, I completed my teaching degree after my undergrad. And I taught for the latter part of a school year (after graduation) in one of the toughest elementary schools in London, Ontario.

However, when I was doing my practical teaching experience requirement (during my teaching degree) I had a very life-altering experience. My supervising teacher learned that I was planning to coach high school hockey. There was a work to rule action being executed by the teaching union. My supervising teacher was a union leader and did not appreciate my desire to coach and berated me in front of the entire health and fitness department.

I did not respond at the moment, but spoke with him one-on-one. To his credit, after he learned that I was a father and why I was interested in coaching (because I got in a lot of trouble in school and without sports, I would not have gone on to University), he apologized for his behaviour. However, when I asked him this question directly,

“Mr X, what I am hearing is that regardless of my personal values and intentions, the union will only see that I support side A or B.”

He replied (and I remember this as clear as day), “I am sorry son, that is just the way it is.”

I am fiercely independent and grew up with strong values and I immediately made the choice that I would not have a career in teaching. Once I was finished with my teaching contract I started to look for careers where I could use my health, science, teaching, and business training.

I turned to a University of Western Ontario football alumnus (Mike Kirkely) who pointed me in the direction of the healthcare industry as a way to capitalize on my education, skills, and experience. Mike took me under his wing and made finding a job into a full-time job. He gave me projects, made me practice networking and had me do multiple mock interviews. I was so prepared that I had 4 job offers in a month.

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?

Unfortunately, it is very hard to name just one. My success is not my own. I have had numerous formal and informal mentors who have coached me throughout my life. My teachers, my sports coaches, my managers, my colleagues, my friends, my wife, and my family have all had a significant impact on my success. There are a million stories where these individuals inspired me, corrected me and guided me to where I am today.

I do feel compelled to share this story. In January this year, my baby sister, Sarah (39, married, two children), was tragically killed in a car accident. When I think about a person that set an example for me and encouraged me to be who I am today, I want to talk about how Sarah impacted my success.

Here is a specific example, during the midst of the pandemic and the BlackLivesMatter movement, I received this note from Sarah.

“Hey, talked to Tammy (my wife) today and she said you’ve had a hard time lately — and, of course you have! Sorry for not reaching out sooner to check in on you. I never think of you in emotional need, but I should’ve where it concerns this topic. Happy to chat if you want or need to.”

The help Sarah provided me could be described in this way, many people talk about the notion of servant leadership, but I am unsure how many people truly live it. Sarah continually set an example for me on how to show up for other people in a way that was about them, what they need and how I could support them — servant leadership.

When I was younger, while I valued being transparent with others, I did not take into account how my transparency would be received. Even though my intentions were in the interests of the other person, my approach lacked empathy and understanding.

I recall having conversations with Sarah, where she subtly asked me if I was aware of how I came across when being so honest. She did not correct me but set an example for how I could better serve those around me. Recently, a friend wrote this about her.

“That was what Sarah did… and that is how our impact will be remembered in the end. People say this all the time, people aren’t going to remember how good you are at your job, how you stayed up late answering every email… they’ll remember how you made them feel. That’s the thing that really matters.”

And this insight is amongst the biggest contributors to my success. Thank you, Sarah.

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?

Like many leaders, I’ve made poor hiring decisions. I like to think I get it right more often than not and my track record would suggest that I have, but I have most definitely made mistakes.

The most difficult hiring mistakes I’ve made were when the individual was talented but wasn’t the right fit for our culture. An individual was recommended to us who appeared to meet our requirements. Specifically, they had the talent and the experience we thought we needed. And there was time pressure associated with this potential hire because they had some other offers on the table.

Unfortunately, we ended up skipping many steps and team interviews in our hiring process. And only two of us (against the better judgement of a third) hired the individual. Needless to say, it did not work out. After a year, we had to transition the individual out of the company at a significant cost both financially and organizationally.

This experience was painfully eye-opening for me. I had to come to terms with the stories I told myself about being a leader and needing to make assumptions in order to balance priorities. That story was just not true. It was more of a reflection that I am the type of person who believes I can do everything. Since I believed that I ended up making assumptions that led to fast-tracking the processes necessary to make a great hiring decision.

Today, I now have two individuals that help me check my assumptions before making any decisions. This might sound arduous, but it happens fast and is more about making me aware that I could be making incorrect assumptions vs the assumption itself. It is really a method to actively turn on my mental awareness… to think about how I am thinking. This has benefited me in every aspect of my life.

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?

Like many, I read a lot. I’ve read many of the top “business” books, but there is one less known book that had a significant impact on my focus as a business leader.

The book is called, “Understanding Michael Porter.”

It resonated with me so much because it gave me the words to describe a principle I strongly believed in but did not have the words to describe. This principle is the notion of competition in business, not being about beating others in the same game, but instead about creating and offering value that is unique for your customers.

The biggest mistake that we can make is competing to be the best, going down the same path as everybody and somehow thinking you can get better results.”

When you compete to be different, you play a different game where you get to make the rules, you get to define what is important and only you are considered capable of doing it. For example, at Precision Nutrition we do not play the meal planning game, we play the change psychology game with an emphasis on a combination of nutrition, movement, sleep and stress management. While that may not sound like a big difference, I’d ask you how many people think about how their sleep behaviours affect their nutrition behaviours vs how many people ask about carbohydrates? That is an overly simple example, but I do think it is illustrative of the depth of our insights. We have translated these insights into the leading Certification program in our industry. Customers come to us because only we have the ability to offer an education program that teaches them how to use Precision Nutrition’s unique insights to meaningful help people adopt healthy behaviours.

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

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” — T.S. Eliot

This resonates with me because I want to push boundaries, build new things, truly make a difference. This quote is my personal reminder to stay true to who I am, irrespective of the daily pushes and pulls in life that lead us to act out of sync with our core characteristics.

While that may come across as trite, I truly believe our life circumstances (need, wants, desires) and even our achievements can lead us away from the things deep inside that drive us to make an impact in this world. We all need a reminder of that from time to time.

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?

  • Humans are creatures of habit and routines and patterns. We are what we practice. If you don’t have systems, you lack direction. This leads to less focus and chaotic decision making.
  • Repeatable actions don’t have a lot of cognitive demand, so we want to try to reduce decisions through repetition.
  • Every day thousands of tiny decisions add up and suck energy, so we want to try to alleviate these through predefined frameworks and systems so you have more attention and mental energy available for what you are passionate about. This leads to better output.

I’d also like to challenge the notion of “good habits.” The term, “good habits, is interesting because the phrase is unconsciously associated with being morally good, but a set of good habits does not make one morally a good person. The term “effective” habits may be more appropriate because habits should not be connected to definitions of “good” based on cultural norms.

For example, I personally used a practice from the Precision Nutrition coaching curriculum called, “Notice and Name.” We have a process to help all team members to identify their Unique Abilities (UAs). These are tasks that individuals do well and are passionate about. We then try to allocate non Unique Ability tasks for one person to another person who has a Unique Ability in doing those tasks.

For example, when I went through the UAs exercise at Precision Nutrition in 2015, I noticed that while I could reasonably manage projects well, it took a lot of energy from me. I had a colleague with a PhD in analytics who identified project management as Unique Ability. After this exercise, she started to support me in managing projects to the point where I had minimal involvement with maximum impact. This opened up my time to use my Unique Abilities and she absolutely loved and excelled at the new work. She was better than I could have ever been.

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

Habits reduce friction in my life and free my mind to focus on the most important problems and opportunities facing me at any given moment.

Habits also build through compound interest. Exercising today is good, but moving my body every day has had a cumulative effect of excellent health today and will have a further cumulative effect when I can continue to surf 20 years from now. Healthy habits are a form of insurance so I can do what I want in the future.

Most people might know the importance of sleep and stress management, but I support this understanding by taking a series of actions in my daily sleep routine. It starts at 10:00 pm, I turn off all electronics and put my phone in another room to charge overnight. I take time to read or do some breathing work prior to bedtime depending on how active my mind is. To be honest, it took me some time to develop this routine through trial and error and consistent practice, but it has paid off with more creativity, better critical thinking and improved decision making.

As you might expect, I am pretty aware of what I eat and try to move my body every day (some call this exercise). Throughout each day, I ensure I eat lots of quality foods, including fruits and vegetables and a good amount of protein. I am constantly drinking water or tea. And I do not shy away from the occasional piece of dark chocolate.

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

Let’s start with stopping bad habits.

First, I think we need to stop calling them bad habits. We need to understand what helpful job so-called bad habits are doing. They are likely solving a problem of some kind. There are multiple systems operating in the brain that organize our behaviour. Part of the brain is focused on long-term planning (e.g. I want this in a year) and another on the short-term (e.g. survival, gratification, alleviating pain). These systems can be in conflict with one another. Engaging in a bad habit may be a result of trying to alleviate pain or to seek gratification. Can we say that is bad? We need to understand what the bad habit is doing or what it is helping with and find a replacement for it.

There are multiple layers to truly address bad habits. The Precision Nutrition Certification program teaches coaches how to work through each of these layers to help clients make progress.

  • Layer 1: adjust the environment, if you have a problem with drinking too much red wine at home, avoid bringing red wine to your house.
  • Layer 2: work to understand your values and your whys (e.g. I want to eat better because…) to increase your desire to change.
  • Layer 3: determine what are the biological attachments or drives that I am attempting to meet with this habit (e.g. I scroll too much on Facebook because I am lonely, I need to deal with loneliness, not simply cancel my Facebook account) then work to address the key need. Support from another is very useful here.

It is much more than just simply stopping a bad habit. The “just stop the bad habit” approach does not solve the fundamental problem of what the habit is helping with. You can stop scrolling on Facebook for 4 hours, but then you are left with 4 hours of dealing with the stress and anxiety of loneliness and have no coping mechanism. That just does not work. You need to address each of the layers above. The support of a coach trained in these methods can help you do that.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Seeking support from your friends and family (e.g. if you want to go for a regular walk, set a regular time with friends or colleagues to keep you accountable).
  • Let your family know (e.g. if you are going to practice eating whole foods, you will want to let those affected or those who can help you know).
  • Shrink the habit to the smallest possible action and do it consistently (e.g. if you want to improve how you eat, add vegetables to only one meal a day, every day until you no longer think about it).
  • Record your progress, we have trouble with this in North America, but highlighting your progress (vs failures) triggers all kinds of positive chemicals in the brain. You have to teach your brain to reward the behaviours you want or the person you want to be.
  • Leave yourself a note (e.g. post-it notes are great prompts or reminders).
  • Plan proactively (e.g. if you want to improve your sleep, but you are travelling into a different timezone in a week, you may want to practice something different until you have an opportunity to practice consistently for a period of time or plan around your obstacles rather than reacting in real-time).
  • Connect your habit to something you are already doing (e.g. pour yourself a glass of water before every meeting).
  • Remember “progress, not perfection,” small things done consistently lead to big results.

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

Standard

  • [Idea] Improving your eating habits
  • Eat more raw fruits and veggies [Practice]
  • Be aware that even individuals who eat more healthy can rely too much on processed pre-fabbed foods (e.g. healthy bars and protein powders).

Advanced

  • Get beyond exercise to movement [Idea]
  • Movement “snacks” during the day e.g. trigger workouts [Practice]
  • Try to move in ways that are varied throughout the day (e.g. 10 min over a day vs one big workout).
  • The body does not want 10 hours of work and a 1-hour workout, it wants to move through the day.
  • You can also try changing the movements (e.g. riding a stationary bike is the same movement over and over, activities with crouching, carrying pushing, reaching all move the body in different ways).

Contrarian

– Build deeper strong relationships [Idea]

  • Engaging in the practice of prioritizing relationships. People tend to believe relationships just happen and they don’t. Try to schedule 5 min a day to connect with someone in your life (e.g. send a video or a quick message to deepen or cement a connection). [Practice]
  • Try to make someone feel valued (e.g. appreciation, validation and recognition all makes people feel special, makes them feel secure and expresses your gratitude). Make some feel good, makes you feel good about yourself and provides confidence to help you adopt healthier behaviors.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Standard

  • Take time to actually schedule recovery into your day. The higher or more intense you go, the lower you need to go. [Idea]
  • Committing time to bodywork, foam rolling, ice baths, stretching, etc. [Practice]
  • Get enough sleep and high-quality nutrients. [Practice]
  • Tuning in to your body signals, when you feel tired you need to rest. Powering through will do more damage than good.

Advanced

  • Getting clarity on tradeoffs. Execs and entrepreneurs tend to think they can perform on all fronts. However, the more elite you want your performance to be the more you have to give up. It is nearly impossible to be a great parent/spouse/daughter/son, physically fit, an outstanding leader and an available friend all at the same time. We can’t put A+ everywhere. [Idea]
  • You can manage this by using a tournament of priorities to determine what matters most to you at this moment. With this exercise, you create a bracketed tournament where your tasks have to compete for your precious time and energy. [Practice]
  • As a daily ritual, you start your day by identifying only 3 things that you will do or pay attention to. [Practice]
  • Accepting tradeoffs and knowing you will feel grief is ok, the right decision does not always feel good, it actually can be deeply painful.

Contrarian

  • Working in seasons, not all year long (periodize your efforts). This is a common practice in the fitness world but applies to work as well. [Idea]
  • Sit down and identify the times of the week, month or year that you will operate at a 7 out of 10 (write it down). The purpose of this is to reserve your ability to operate at 10 out of 10 when you need it. This concept is not based on just hours worked, but also the intensity of the work. [Practice]
  • Sprinters do not run 100M dashes every day, nor do they run at 100% every time they practice. The same goes for cognitive efforts. The brain is an organ inside our physical body and requires similar treatment to our other organs.
  • Job number one is not only excellence, but also making sure people stay in the game. This requires managing your life to avoid burnout.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each. Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Standard

  • Daily distraction audit, determine in advance what can/will pull my attention today. [Idea]
  • Spend 5 min to reduce the probability of distractions (e.g. turn off your phone, clean your desk, do dishes, turn off Slack, etc.). [Practice]
  • These practices reduce friction and the negative impact of multitasking.

Advanced

  • Recognize focus is not random, but produced. Intentionally notice behaviours that help you focus. [Idea]
  • Create a checklist by recording the days on which you had great focus and the actions you took on those days (e.g. where were you, what did you do, when did you do it, what order was it done in, what was the environment like). [Practice]
  • Identify and reproduce the environment and behaviours that led to optimal focus (e.g. I find moving to different spaces helps me focus throughout the day).

Contrarian

  • We tend to think of focus as only mental and ignore the physical. However, if the brain does not get blood flow, it will not function. We need to incorporate our body to support focus. [Idea]
  • Doing something physically intense can earn focus (e.g. with ADHD I find 1-hour of hard exercise gives me 3–4 hours of focussed time). [Practice]

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?

I think this would be better stated as how might we increase our probability of achieving a state of flow. It is like trying to design for love or trying to be more funny. I am not sure we can make it happen directly, but we can create the conditions that increase the probability of it happening.

Here are some conditions I’ve found helpful.

  • Doing work that one is:
  • uniquely qualified and competent to do
  • deeply curious about
  • feels valued for
  • finds meaning in
  • Set a significant amount of time aside well in advance to avoid pressure and disconnect from all distractions (e.g. turn off all connections or devices).
  • Prepare in advance by ensuring you are well-rested and well-nourished.
  • Consider listening to music without words to find a consistent rhythm. Sometimes I will play the same song for an hour. I think music is very personal and may not be a part of the recipe for everyone.
  • Consider either exercise or mindful breathing in preparation for your work. This is very unique to the individual and should be tested.

I recommend experimenting with the above recommendations to see what increases your probability of getting into a flow state. I think it is important to note that flow is the heart (passion/purpose) invested with mental and physical activity. Paying attention to how you are engaging each of these in a way that is unique to you is key to understanding what will work for you.

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.

This is an easy one. Everyone should have a coach. Coaching is not just for athletes and executives. Our lives would be much better if we had access to someone we respect, who cared about our progress and had the skills to help us achieve something meaningful. That achievement could be physical, social, emotional, cultural…it really doesn’t matter, what matters is that my movement would be about making sure everyone in the world had access to a coach.

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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