“Take breaks”, Chris McMahon and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Take breaks. The quality of the work does go down the longer you work without taking breaks. I am sure you have noticed mistakes happen more if you have been working nonstop. The more time you spend fixing errors, the less productive you become. As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits […]

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Take breaks. The quality of the work does go down the longer you work without taking breaks. I am sure you have noticed mistakes happen more if you have been working nonstop. The more time you spend fixing errors, the less productive you become.

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

Chris is a type 1 diabetic, husband, and father who fell into health and fitness a little over a decade ago.

In that time, he coached business executives, marathon runners, and busy parents to lose weight, build strength, and move pain-free without spending hours in the gym.

Chris believes health and fitness don’t need to be confusing and that the moment you are in is where change can begin.

Chris holds the following certifications: NCSF-CPT, Precision Nutrition Level 2 Coach, RYS Yoga 200 Hour, Certified in Applied Functional Science, Functional Range Condition Movement Specialist

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! I was born in Bogata, Columbia, and was adopted by my parents at six months old. I was raised in a small town, Stony Point, NY, and I credit my parents with laying the foundation for who I am today.

My mother worked as a data analyst for a company that was a two-hour drive from our home. She would leave before sunrise and return home after sunset.

My father worked for the transportation department for New York City and worked all hours of the night.

Both would come home exhausted at the end of their day, but they still made time to foster my creativity.

Their habits allowed me to have a variety of opportunities, from different sports teams to performing in musicals. The family was their guiding principle in every decision they made, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

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

I do not consider myself an athlete by any means, and for most of my childhood into my early adult life, I avoided exercising.

I was blessed with a fast metabolism and therefore ate when I wanted, but it came at a cost. On my tenth birthday, I started to deal with a terrible stomach ache that lasted for a few months. By June of that year, my parents and the doctors were at a loss.

In a final attempt to solve my stomach issues, my father suggested having me tested for diabetes. My pediatrician almost chuckled when the test was brought up — after all, I was a healthy ten-year-old boy who was skinny, active (to some degree) and didn’t display any of the common symptoms.

My father persisted, and by the end of the day, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. My pancreas no longer produced insulin, and my blood sugar was spiking daily. Stomach aches, frequent urination, and napping during the day were all clear signs that were overlooked.

Since being diagnosed over 20 years ago, I have witnessed the landscape of diabetic research shift, and it has been amazing to be a part of it.

When I entered the Health and Fitness industry, it was purely a survival job. Slowly but surely, I began to realize my passion for change and personal development was laid when I became a diabetic.

My day is full of many small habits that I have enacted to change my nutrition choices, and they have allowed me to manage my Type 1 Diabetes.

Witnessing the power of small change inspired me to dive headfirst into behavior change and the current coaching business I own.

I help busy men and women lose weight, move pain-free, and gain strength without spending hours in the gym. All of this is possible by focusing on small, deliberate changes that they follow every day.

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?

Gosh! I have been lucky enough to have a reliable support system in my life. If I had to pick one person, it would be my wife, Maria. We first met when we were 17 years old but started dating during our senior year of college at New York University.

In the last decade, I can’t begin to count the number of times she helped me clear through all the clutter in my mind. Perhaps one of the most memorable times was when I left my job to start my coaching business.

I was nervous and not sure if I was making the right decision. Maria looked me in the eye and told me that she wholeheartedly believed in me and that there was no other option. She has always encouraged me to lean into the moments of discomfort and pursue what isn’t easy.

Two things on my desk keep me motivated: a picture of Maria walking with our dog on our favorite trail and a Post-It note she wrote me saying WE. BELIEVE. IN. YOU.

It is the only reminder I need to keep pushing forward.

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?

Hmm, an interesting mistake that occurred would have to be the FIRST personal training session I ever conducted.

I was hired as a trainer right out of college, even though I had no experience at all. Within my first week, I booked my first training session.

The most I knew about training was what I had learned from Men’s Health; therefore, I FELT under-prepared. This person was paying for me to train him — to shape him — to take him one step closer toward his goals.

I can remember asking all the more experienced trainers for advice and watching each of them smile at me. It was a look of “ah, he has no idea what he is doing, how cute.”

My session was at 6 AM, and I made sure to be there promptly at 5:30 AM. I gathered the equipment we would need- battle ropes and a med ball. He arrived promptly at six, and we got to work.

Forty-five minutes later, I was stretching the client, and we were talking. He gave me some feedback on the session:

“You got me moving, you listened to my stories, and I feel good.”

I was thrilled and even more excited when he became my first long term client.

The biggest take away from that memory is that we often underestimate ourselves when we allow the fears to talk. Everyone will find moments in life that are hard, but we quickly forget that everything starts as hard. There is nothing you are now good at that wasn’t at one time hard.

Trusting in the process and asking questions along the way is great, but taking messy action is the best way to learn.

It is ten years later, and I can understand why the more experienced trainers smiled at me. They knew what I was feeling and didn’t want me to miss out on the experience.

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?

Do not fear mistakes.

I promise you that they will happen. There will be bumps in the road, and each time it happens, you will feel like the world is going to stop. I am giving you full permission to embrace that discomfort and understand that you are on the precipice of change!

Mistakes provide you with clarity, clarity of what is truly important and what decisions you can make in the future. Without errors, you would never pivot and shift.

No one wakes up feeling 100% confident in every choice they will make, but those who take action truly step into greatness.

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?

My favorite book is “The Obstacle Is The Way The Timeless Art Of Turning Trials Into Triumph,” written by Ryan Holiday.

In 2014 I moved from New York City to Los Angeles, California, to pursue an acting career. I woke up every morning feeling emotionally drained. I was training folks from 5 AM to 11 AM, going to auditions, and returning to teach from 5 PM — 9 PM. It wasn’t the life I wanted; I felt stuck and wasn’t sure what to do.

My good friend and Mentor, Ryan Hurst, founder of GMB Fitness, suggested that I read The Obstacle Is The Way.

I picked up a copy of the book and devoured it in one day. I would go on to reread it at least ten times. Ryan Holiday provided another way to look at some of the hardest moments in history through Stoic Philosophy’s lens.

If I can summarize what I learned, the moment you are in is where change can begin. There is always a choice to make, and no matter what you decide, you need to understand that the only thing within your control is your thoughts and actions.

So I could look at my job as a trainer as something that was draining me, OR I could look at it as an opportunity to fine-tune the craft of acting. Presenting myself as a confident, understanding, and patient human would carry into all areas of my life.

The time I spent on the gym floor and acting on film brought me right to where I wanted to be.

No matter the discomfort, I encourage you to lean into it and understand that you have everything you need to take you one step closer to the BIG goal you have.

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

“The Future is not the answer to your present.” — Gary John Bishop

It is so easy to become obsessed with the future; after all, you and I have been given the gift of imagination. It is easy to think that the future will hold all the answers.

Yes, I will have all the money I need.

Yes, I will buy the house and have a family.

Yes, the sky is the limit!

All of these can be hopes and dreams for the future, but they live in the future. They do not exist yet. They CAN happen without a doubt, but they aren’t the answer to how you are currently feeling.

Emotions in our head are merely thoughts, and to move forward, you must take action. Action-based habits take you one step closer to the ideal self we all chase. Yes, the future is a beautiful destination, but you can’t forget the journey that will take you there.

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

Over the last few months, I have been hard at work creating Project: Aligned & Alive — a 90-day small group coaching course designed to help busy men and women lose weight, gain strength, and move pain-free without spending hours in the gym. How do we do it? By gaining clarity on what is truly important in life and learning how to live a value-driven life.

There is accountability within-group coaching, and it is truly amazing to watch a community of like minded individuals form. I truly believe a rising tide lifts all ships and the results speak for themself.

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?

Life can be challenging, especially if you allow the moment you are in to overwhelm you. There is a spark that each of us has, and it will enable us to create goals for ourselves.

Goals are essential; however, they aren’t the answer.

A life full of goals doesn’t necessarily mean it is a fulfilling life.

Goals need action, and daily habits allow someone to go from goal setting to goal getting.

If you want to reach the goal, you have to know the checkpoints along the way — otherwise, how do you know if what you are doing is working.

The smaller the habit, the more powerful it becomes. Small habits equal consistency, and that is the secret to success.

There is a difference between saying I want to lose 10 pounds and saying here is how I will lose 10 pounds. For instance:

  • I will move my body today for twenty minutes during my lunch break.
  • I will write three things I am grateful for tonight before bed.
  • I will drink a glass of water with every meal today.

Each action takes you one step closer toward your goal of losing 10 pounds and closer to becoming the “ideal” version of yourself.

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

My life is built on habits, as a business owner, habits allow me to find consistency throughout the day. It may be hard to give in and trust in the process, but the habits you have are your insurance policy. In life, the only thing you can truly control is your actions.

Personally, these habits allow me to show-up and be fully-present every day.

  • Meditating 10 minutes every morning.
  • Reading 10 minutes every morning.
  • Journaling 5 minutes every morning

Each habit acts as a springboard for the next.

Meditation allows me to focus and be present. I want to be laser-focused on what is truly important for the day, and meditation helps to clear out all the noise and chatter that do not matter.

Knowledge is priceless, and reading spurs creativity. I prefer sticking to non-fiction and threading all my ideas together. If I find a particular passage that sparks something within me, I will try to relate to something in another book or article I read.

Journaling can be anything — a brain dump of ideas — processing something from the day before- or a series of prompts.

I write and make sure to cover two key points:

  1. What are my top 3 priorities for the day? I will never create a to-do list because that is just a laundry list of things that you cross off to feel better about your day. Having a top 3 for the day allows for deep work that takes you one step closer to your goal.
  2. Gratitude for the day. Finding gratitude in every moment allows you to live a more fulfilled life. Find appreciation for different things every day and make it as specific as possible. There is a difference between saying “I am grateful for my family” and saying, “I am grateful for sitting down and playing Heads Up with my wife and son last night. The laughter-filled me with so much joy.”

These three habits allow me to make decisions that align with my core values, which is my secret to success.

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

The easiest way to develop “good” habits is to ask yourself what the goal is. Why do you need to have this specific habit? Will it take you one step closer toward the goal?

Once you understand the why you can tackle the how, in my opinion, the secret to a successful habit is to focus on small changes. Small habits lead to small wins, and the easier it becomes to stay consistent.

On the other hand, think of doing the opposite for bad habits. Make bad habits HARD to do, and you will find it a little easier to stop what you are doing. A great example is when you find yourself hitting snooze too often and oversleeping.

Move your phone or alarm clock to the opposite side of the room. When it goes off, you will get out of bed and walk to turn it off. Therefore you are awake and can start the day because it is harder to hit the snooze button.

A small change can make a world of difference.

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.

1.) Move Your Body Every Day.

Moving your body every day has been my secret to finding clarity and avoiding aches and pains. Our bodies crave to move, and we often put pressure on ourselves to create some crazy habit of working out for 60 minutes five days a week, but the secret is to aim small.

Personally, I like to train Monday through Friday, but most of my training focuses on what I need that day. Is there a workout plan? Yes, but sometimes less is more, which allows me to show up every day.

2.) Journal Every Day.

I have been keeping a journal since middle school, and it is fantastic when I find old journals and read what I wrote at age eleven.

These days I journal differently, but the act of putting pen to paper is the same. I do it because it allows me to take the thoughts and ideas out of my mind and into action. Ideas can be for a new project I am working on that needs more fleshing out, and thoughts can be some negative thoughts I am having.

I learned a long time ago that the thoughts in our heads do more harm than good if we let them stay there. Writing them out allows you to take action, and that is how you can squash negativity or procrastination.

3.) Learn Every day.

Approaching life with a beginner’s mindset opens you up to regular growth opportunities. When we shut out other ideas or another person’s point of view, we let EGO enter the driver’s seat.

When we can let go, the creativity will flow, and living a life full of creativity and hope excites me. This act completely transformed my life and helped to pull me out of depression. Growth happens every day, and that deserves a celebration.

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

When it comes to creating habits for any area of your life, I suggest starting small. So when I look at wellness, I try to stick to the following small steps.

Schedule the exact time and place for when you will practice your habit. Every morning at 4:30 AM, I will sit down at my desk in our home office to write in my journal. What I write is based on how I am feeling that day. When in doubt, I will reach in my back pocket for a few prompts: “This needed to happen because…” Getting as specific as possible with the action you are taking helps create the habit.

No matter the day or the thoughts I have in my head, I try to end each journal session with a gratitude practice. I will write five things I am grateful for today. I always challenge myself to write something different than the day before. The more specific you can be, the better. Soon you will notice that you are moving through life looking for moments of gratitude. This act kicks your mental health up a notch and lets you see the true beauty that surrounds you every day.

When it comes to moving your body, it is essential to understand that it isn’t limited to the gym. Of course, saying at noon I will change into my gym shorts and go workout is fantastic! But, sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan, and it is important to roll with whatever comes your way. So, come to the understanding that 10 minutes is more than enough time to move your body.

Moving your body can be a set of squats, a few sun salutations, or just dancing around to your favorite song. I want you to prioritize movement because it raises your energy, and positive energy creates a ripple effect. You will get back what you give, and if you are filling the day with negativity, you should expect to get the same back. If moving for 5–10 minutes leaves your energy high, know that good is going to echo back toward you.

If you don’t know how to get started with this habit, I suggest picking the smallest thing and then scheduling it in

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

1.) Master Your Schedule.

The day holds 1,440 minutes, and it is always possible to get everything done that needs to happen today. The bottlenecks that show up tend to show up when you focus on what isn’t truly important.

When I was in my most profound state of depression, it manifested as a level of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I needed to create to-do-lists I required to complete the action of crossing things off, and if I didn’t get to something, I would spiral into thoughts of failure, taking me back on the cycle of depression and anxiety.

What helped me come out on the other side of depression was understanding my primary goal and breaking it down into small micro-actions I could take every day.

Setting time for deep uninterrupted work, having a cut off time for when work will happen, and celebrating small victories are a few examples of what mastering your schedule can give you.

2.) Don’t Forget Self-Care.

When I first entered the world of health and fitness as a personal trainer, I trained business men and women who had a 9 AM — 5 PM schedule, which meant I lived my life on a 5 AM — 9 PM schedule seven days a week.

I was training at multiple gyms and running around New York City all day! Not to mention I was squeezing in my training. Sure, I made a decent amount of money, but I was absolutely miserable and continually getting sick.

My life revolved around work, and I felt stuck; however, when I started scheduling self-care, my entire world changed. Self-care is anything that allows you to take another step closer to the “ideal” version of yourself.

I chose to take half-day Fridays and the weekend off. It was possible because I had truly mastered my schedule.

3.) Understand That Less Is More.

Less is more. I will say it one more time. Less is more.

We live in a time when spending long hours working is a badge of honor, but at what cost?

When you are consumed by work, you can not see the progress you are making OR the potential that is going untapped.

Now, I am not saying to quit your job, but I am saying to do less. To focus on what is truly important, you must check in on your values. What decisions would the “ideal” you make in all the essential areas of your life?

It is a big question; however, you will find that you don’t have to do it all to make progress.

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

I call this practice Scheduling 2.0, and it is what I encourage all of my clients to use to increase performance.

Scheduling 2.0 is made up of three parts.

  • Top Priorities
  • The Ideal Schedule
  • Adjusting Expectations.

Focus on a MAX of Top 3 priorities for the day.

You can classify them as Work, Education, Lifestyle, and they are the top 3 things that will allow you to take one step closer toward the BIG goal.

The 3 Priorities should be the only three things that you tackle for the day. That’s right, focus on the three, and anything you complete after that is gravy. Keeping it small allows you to keep it focused, and that is where the most productive work will happen.

You can then take the top 3 priorities and look at creating your Ideal schedule.

To master your schedule, you must acknowledge your WANTS and NEEDS.

Your wants make the IDEAL schedule. For example:

  • Working out at 6 AM MONDAY through FRIDAY
  • Reading ten pages in your book.
  • Journaling for five minutes
  • Meditating for ten minutes.
  • Starting the day at __ time.

The needs add shape to the IDEAL schedule. For instance:

  • Meeting at 9 AM with Client
  • Writing company email at 11 AM
  • Staff meeting/Lunch at 12 PM.

The bottlenecks that arise help you assess the IDEAL schedule. For instance:

  • Last-minute meetings scheduled.
  • The dead-line that pops up.
  • The Client message is urgent.

Highlight your schedule with the following colors to gain clarity.

Use BLUE for what you want to happen.

Use YELLOW for what needs to happen.

Use RED for what throws you for a loop.

I recommend using Google Calendar. It is easy to choose colors and to have access to the calendar across multiple devices.

If you are using a notebook or calendar, you can use red, yellow, and blue ink OR highlighters.

Using Scheduling 2.0, you will see that you have the time for what you want to do and will be crystal clear on what is truly important. In other words, you will be able to do less and get more done.

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

1.) Schedule the most challenging thing first.

If I have something hard to do and I schedule it for later in the day, most likely it will be pushed until tomorrow and the after that — you can see where this is going.

If you can schedule the most challenging thing first, you will get it done because you will not have one million other thoughts on your mind. You will have clarity, focus, and the energy to get it done.

I do not take coaching calls in the evening for this reason. If I allow myself to work later, the focus and energy from the start of the day are gone. Can I phone it in? Yes, but that is doing a disservice to my client, and my business will suffer because of it.

2.) Take breaks.

The quality of the work does go down the longer you work without taking breaks. I am sure you have noticed mistakes happen more if you have been working nonstop. The more time you spend fixing errors, the less productive you become.

I am a big fan of scheduling breaks. One method I use often is setting a timer for 25–30 minutes. That is the max amount of time I can work without becoming distracted. This is just one variation of the Pomodoro Method, which focuses on a specific task for 25 minutes and then take a short break.

When in doubt, just remind yourself: Breaks Make You Great.

3.) Focus on your breathing.

Your ability to focus is directly related to your breathing. To focus on deep work requires a clear mind, and your breathing pattern might be sending mixed signals.

Many people breathe through the mouth and take shallow breaths into the chest. As a result, the body clicks into a state of fight or flight — in other words, a form of high stress.

When you become aware of your breathing, you can easily hack yourself into a state of relaxation by slowing down your breath. A great way to do this is by practicing “Box Breathing” another common name is four-square breathing. By slowing down your inhale and exhale, the body shifts into a state of relaxation, and your ability to concentrate will skyrocket.

Box-breathing is something I started to use when I would suffer from panic attacks. It feels counterintuitive at first, but the slower you breathe, the more relaxed you become.

A state of concentration requires a state of relaxation. No clutter in your mind allows for laser beam focus on the task at hand.

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

Once again, it comes back to your schedule and the ability to prioritize the most challenging thing.

I have clients look at their schedule first thing in the morning and bullet point the top three tasks for the day. Having the priorities written down on a post-it note or in a notebook takes the guesswork out of the equation.

At the end of the workday, I have them write down the three things they hope to accomplish for the following day. This action allows for a seamless transition.

Also, you can implement habit stacking into your workflow.

When you want to perform a specific task (new habit), follow it with a familiar task (old habit). For instance, during the workday it might look like the following:

I will practice box breathing for 1 minute before answering my first email of the day.

Keep it simple and keep it small. Once you do the habit for a few weeks, then it is time to add more.

I will practice box breathing for 1 minute after my 25-minute deep work block.

If it works, keep doing it, and if it feels like too much, dial it back. Habit stacking is an excellent way to implement the new while maintaining the familiar — this aids in creating a healthy habit loop.

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?

Flow state is such an interesting topic, and in my opinion, the best way to find flow is by not chasing flow. I share the same idea when it comes to goal setting.

If you focus on finding the flow state, you will find that you plateau.

So, I like to reframe it as living a Value-Driven life. If you live a life driven by your values, your decisions will take you one step closer to the “ideal” version of yourself.

Therefore, the work you are doing is more likely to align with what truly lights a fire under you and allows you to find frequent states of 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 could inspire a movement that would bring the most good for the greatest number of people, it would be to sit and breathe for 1 minute at the start of your day. Meditation has changed my life, but I can remember how intimidated I was to get started. Sitting with your thoughts and being present doesn’t need to be overly complicated.

Setting your phone for 1 minute and focusing on your breathing is a fantastic way to ground yourself and prepare for the day you have. I find that I am most creative in the morning and sitting for 1 minute just focusing on my breath allows me to become fully present and perform deep work on whatever task is at hand.

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 🙂

Oh, what a great question. If I were lucky enough to sit down for a meal with someone, I would love for it to be with Rachel Hollis. Her work as a business owner and author is pretty darn impressive, but perhaps, what interests me most is her ability to find the balance between family and work.

I am such a detail-oriented person, and I would love to sit down with someone who has consistently inspired creativity and longevity.

My wife would also be pretty impressed if I got the chance to talk to Rachel Hollis.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am very active on social media and can be found on instagram @coach.chrismcmahon. Also, it is easy to reach me through my website

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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