Changing Habits: 7 Lessons From Ultra Athlete Rich Roll

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rich Roll, an ultra-endurance athlete named one of the 25 fittest men in the world by Men's Fitness magazine. I interviewed him for my Sticky Habits Course.

Rich's story is fascinating and inspiring. He wasn't always an ultra-endurance athlete and for most of his life would not have been on the list of the top million fittest men. He was a slightly overweight attorney who had an addiction to drugs and alcohol. As he says in his profile on his website, it was “an addiction that led him astray for the next decade, alienating friends, colleagues and family, landing him in jails, institutions and ultimately rehab at age 31.”

His real life epiphany occurred on the eve of his 40th birthday when he was climbing a flight of stairs. Nearly 50 pounds overweight, Rich buckled over in pain, sure he was going to have a heart attack. The very next day he completely overhauled his life. He became a dedicated vegan, started running and swimming, and began a quest to participate in the Ultraman competition.

As his profile describes, “Two years later, 50 pounds lighter, and fueled by nothing but plants, he surprised the triathlon & ultra communities by not only becoming the first vegan to complete the 320-mile über-endurance event, but by finishing in the top 10 males (3rd fastest American) with the 2nd fastest swim split — all despite having never previously completed even a half-ironman distance triathlon.”

Since then Rich has accomplished many amazing feats including completing the Epic5 Challenge – an odyssey that entailed completing 5 ironman-distance triathlons on 5 islands of Hawaii in under a week. He's also the author the bestselling book Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself, and founder of the wildly popular Rich Roll Podcast, which persistently is on the iTunes top-10 lists. He's also a motivational speaker, husband, father of four, and inspiration to people worldwide as an example of courageous and healthy living.

During my interview with Rich, I asked him how regular people, who will likely never become ultra-endurance athletes, can change their lives by adopting some of his healthy habits.

Here are Rich Roll's suggestions for changing habits in your life:

Get active and set a goal

Remaining sedentary can kill you. At the least it will greatly undermine your quality of life, your health, your self-esteem, and even your relationships. Don't wait until you are 50 pounds (or more) overweight, or you collapse while climbing a flight of stairs. Don't wait for a dramatic reminder from your body that you need to get moving. Don't put it off because you are young and think you don't need exercise.

Make a commitment to the habit of exercise, set a goal for what you want to achieve, and then get started. Start small with a few minutes a day, every single day, and then slowly work up to your optimum exercise time.

Reframe your thoughts on age

Rich didn't begin a serious exercise program as an adult until he was 40-years-old. Into his mid-forties, he was (and still is) competing in some of the most rigorous athletic competitions in the world. He didn't change his diet until mid-life. He began the practice of yoga and meditation later in life. You are never too old to create positive, new habits. You are never too old to embrace a healthy lifestyle. Don't use age as an excuse to hang on to the status quo.

Stretch yourself

Most of us are capable of doing far more than we initially believe. I'm sure it never crossed Rich Roll's mind at age 39 that in just a few years, he'd be named one of the fittest men in the world. He wouldn't have thought it possible that he could finish one marathon, let alone compete in the Epic 5 Challenge. He began by pushing himself to do just a bit more than he thought he could. He set a goal for himself, and worked toward it — going a bit farther each day. It's those stretches that afford the most growth.

Eat a plant-based diet

Whether or not you support the idea of being a vegan or vegetarian, there's plenty of research that proves the value of a diet rich in vegetables and fruits. Rich strongly believes animal protein is not necessary and can even be harmful. But if meat is part of your diet, consider cutting back on the amount of meat you eat, and increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

Cut out processed foods and high sugar foods. Provide your body with the kind of nutrition it needs to operate at a high level, both mentally and physically.

According to Rich in an interview with the site Mind, Body, Green, after he began a vegan diet, “within the next 7-10 days I experienced a tremendous surge in my energy levels. It was as if I never realized I could feel this good. I started working out again, mostly because I needed an outlet for all this new found energy.”

Meditate regularly

Meditation is a daily practice for Rich, as it keeps his mind clear and his life centered and balanced. He believes it is part of a holistic lifestyle that impacts all other areas of your life. Rich even considers his athletic training (when he runs for long distances) an active meditation. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress, improve your overall health, enhance creativity, and lower blood pressure.

Creating the habit of meditation is one of the most universally positive habits you can undertake. You can read more about beginning a meditation practice here. 

rich yogaPractice yoga

As with meditation, yoga is a mindfulness practice Rich recommends for life balance and health. He met his wife, who is a yoga teacher, in a yoga class, and he's been hooked on both yoga and his wife ever since! He believes everyone should practice yoga, especially active athletes.

Says Rich, “In my opinion, EVERY athlete – irrespective of sport or discipline – has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice. I’d go so far as to say that if you’re not practicing yoga, you’re competing at a disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance peak performance.”

Yoga improves strength, balance, flexibility, and mental control. Rich believes the habit of yoga will “improve your ability to quell, quiet and control the impulses of the mind – to clean mental house, center focus and promote serenity by silencing the endless and seemingly unmanageable mental chatter that invades our daily experience and undermines the expression of our ‘best self' within.”

Live authentically

Rich believes a healthy lifestyle isn't just about exercise and healthy eating. You must be true to who you are, and in order to do that, you need to begin a journey of finding that out. For Rich, his journey toward regaining his health and becoming an ultra athlete was part of a bigger spiritual journey of letting go of past demons, fears, and insecurities, and learning to channel any negative energy into positive, life-affirming choices and actions.

Find out what's most important for your life. What are your core values? How do you want to live? Who do you want to be? Once you find out, or at least suspect, begin making changes to align your life with that.

Rich Roll is an inspirational example of someone who has overcome his limitations and fears, adopted new, healthy habits, and challenged himself to live to his fullest potential. He continues on a journey of self-discovery and learning, even as he teaches others the lessons of transformational living.

Want to learn more about the skills of creating new habits for life?

Learn the scientifically-tested methods for incorporating positive new behaviors and replacing old, negative habits with The Sticky Habits Course. The course opens on Monday, August 4. Get on the wait list to receive early notification.

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  • Jill

    Very inspiring story! Years ago I read a magazine article that challenged me on physical fitness, comparing the fact that we don’t ask ourselves if we FEEL like brushing our teeth daily and so we shouldn’t ask ourselves if we FEEL like exercising. Just do it…it’s good for you…plus you’ll get a kick of endorphins and you will feel more alive.

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