Resilience is not about eliminating stress, but finding the right dose and matching it with the right recovery. It’s in this balance, in this harmony, that we perform at our best in every aspect of our lives. In this episode, Dr. Erik Korem, the founder of AIM7, delves into the topic of achieving resilience. He framed stress as the gas and brake in a car, where we constantly toggle between the two. The key to resilience is to find the right dose of stress and match it up with the right dose of recovery. Dr. Korem introduces the five pillars that lead to adaptability and provides research-backed advice on how to achieve them. He emphasized that stress is only a problem when it exceeds our capacity to adapt to it. When we adapt in an optimal way, we achieve harmony in the relationship between our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Dr. Korem also shares how improving in this aspect is key to excelling in different parts of life, including personal or work relationships and physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing. Tune in to learn how to achieve harmony and resilience in your life.
- 01:19 – Resilience: Talking Tee for the Day
- 07:23 – The Five Pillars to Adaptability
- 23:05 – Why We Need Sleep More Than Anything
- 36:51 – Establishing Good Rituals
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Finding Harmony: The Key To Resilience With Dr. Erik Korem
I am stoked for our guest. He is Dr. Erik Korem, a high-performance thought leader who introduced athletic tracking technologies to collegiate and professional football. He’s worked with the National Football League, Power Five, NCAA programs, Gold Medal Olympians, Nike, and the US Department of Defense. He holds a Doctorate in Exercise Science. He is an expert in sleep and stress resilience and is also the Founder of AIM7. He’s also the CEO of that company. We’re going to talk a little bit about that particular tracking technology a little later in the episode. For now, sit back and enjoy.
Erik, you have a powerful bio. It’s impressive. It was a goal of mine to get you on the show because I listened to you on a podcast of another dude. I dig this guy, Dr. Nick Morgan. I know Nick. He’s a good man. I’ve been on his show. He has been on our show. I heard you there. I said to my wife, “We got to get this guy.”
I’m excited to be here. This is going to be a lot of fun. I love the topic that you’re discussing and the theme of what you’re chasing after or this idea of what your shirt says, “Resilience.”
I’m wearing this resilience t-shirt. It’s my talking tee for the day. You have to imagine it. It’s a black t-shirt that says, “Resilience.” Even from my imagination, it’s not too difficult. Here’s my first question for you. With an impressive history that you’ve got, those are the things that you want people to know about you. It makes sense for people to know those things about you. What’s one thing that’s not a part of that standard intro or bio that you would love for people to know? What’s one thing that would be good for them to know about you?
I’ve been married for fourteen years. I have three wonderful boys. Hopefully, the crowning achievement of my life will be pouring into them and being a good husband and father above anything else. At the end of the day, that is the most important thing because, in the world that I lived in for a long time in elite sport, I saw a lot of people chase trophies only to be left unfulfilled with a family that didn’t love them, or there was a lot of bitterness because dad prioritized work and winning the championship at the end of the season over ever seeing his kids. That stuck with me. You can be excellent and still be a good human being.
Those things are not mutually exclusive or they don’t have to be. That couldn’t have dropped in any deeper for me. I’m a daddy. Above all else, I say I’m a daddy. I’m a husband. We have 4 kids, 3 girls, and 1 boy. The crowning achievement is being a good father and a good husband. There are other things that we’re interested in. There are other things we have been spending our time doing. We’re going to talk about some of those but that would be more than enough. There are people out there who probably have had messed up childhoods. Their childhood wasn’t perfect.
There are people out there who don’t have kids and don’t have any desire to have kids. I hope you’re not getting turned off at the start of this. You don’t have to be one. I don’t think a good life has to be being a parent or being a partner even. I do think that the connections that we form in our lives are the most important things in the end. It’s the people that we have known, the people that we have been around, and how we have been our best in some respects with those people. That doesn’t have to be family. It doesn’t have to be blood. It doesn’t have to be kids. It has to be somebody.
We will talk about resilience later. One of the things the scientific literature is very clear on is living in isolation is detrimental to that. Fostering healthy relationships and living in a community will help you thrive. Whatever that is for you or whatever that close network is, loving and serving others, being a good friend, and being a good support network could extend in that direction.Living in isolation is detrimental to resilience. Fostering healthy relationships and living in a community will help you thrive. Click To Tweet
What I’m going to mention isn’t our research but we have been looking at it in a little bit of a different way. It’s something called weak-tie connections. Are you familiar with that term?
Weak-tie connections are something that was discovered in the early ‘70s in regard to innovation, how innovations occur, and how unique changes in systems occur. What the study showed was people randomly in the workplace, that’s the context, or in any collaborative environment where people who don’t typically work together and maybe don’t even know each other by name or don’t know much about each other have a collision of sorts.
They run into each other in the break room or wherever. It could be somebody from HR and somebody from marketing or somebody from accounting that never runs into somebody from research and development. All of a sudden, they have a conversation about whatever. It could be the weather, their kids, politics, or anything. I’ll call it random but I don’t believe in randomness. That collision of sorts produces a new insight and a new mindset. Something happens that led to innovation.
That’s what coined the term weak-tie connections. How we have been using it and where we have been studying or sharing some of our studies with folks has been around the idea of what you said on how important it is, especially during the pandemic, to our resilience that our weak-tie connections to other people are strengthened.
By that, it’s the person you get your coffee from, the person that you used to run into at the dry cleaner, or any little conversation that you might have with a total stranger even in the supermarket where you could see their face. Back before this thing happened, you could see their face, their smile, their grimace, or whatever it might be. I want to ask you. In your work, how important have you seen the connection component to be to performance and resilience over time?
Here’s one of the things that I look into a lot in the research. I’ll take a step back. In my career in sports working with elite athletes, we noticed that the best athletes in the world, no matter what the sport was, were highly adaptable to physical and psychological stress. This could be in an elite environment. It’s the top-notch player versus even the first-string player that’s playing or working with an Olympic gold medalist for somebody that was a world-class sprinter but they weren’t the lead champion.
What we noticed is they could handle a tremendous amount of stress. Biologically, they could adapt very quickly. Stress is one input. The brain and body do not differentiate between physical and mental stress. It’s one signal. It has one global response. You turn on different systems. Those systems switch on or switch off. If they don’t switch off, that’s when bad things happen.
We started looking at what drives adaptability because the world is changing. If you don’t change it, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. Resilience is truly adapting to your surroundings. To become a more adaptable human being, there are five pillars that lead to adaptability. I’m going to zero in on these community relationships when we’re talking about it. There’s sleep, exercise, mental fitness, and nutrition in fostering healthy relationships.
There was a paper that I found by the British Psychological Society that was pointing out how greater social connectedness during the pandemic period lockdown was associated with less worry and fatigue as well as lower perceived levels of stress. What they found was by staying connected in times of stress, you create a buffer against poor mental and physical health outcomes, which enables you to adapt to new and changing circumstances.
If you think about it in a realistic sense, when you are engaged with somebody, you can share that burden and that load. There was a paper that came out from the University of Kansas. This was super interesting. It demonstrates that one meaningful conversation per day boosts your mood, lowers your stress, and enhances social connectedness.
What’s a meaningful conversation? It’s catching up, joking around, listening to someone, offering a sincere compliment, showing care, and valuing someone’s opinion. They have the power to change your literal health and wellness. Doing this once a day was the minimum threshold. The more frequently this occurred, the better. Here’s the kicker. Face-to-face communication was significantly more effective than electronic forms. DMS and texts did not count.
You have to engage with another human being. If you noticed, most of these meaningful conversations involve you listening or absorbing something and taking it. You know the difference between, “We’re talking here,” and, “I’m waiting to talk.” It’s not an engagement. It’s a one-way street. A meaningful conversation is something that has a little bit of depth. This adds to resilience. There was another paper I found. Are you familiar with the terms allostasis or allostatic load?
I’ve heard them. I wouldn’t pass an exam if you asked me to define it.
Our view of stress started changing. Hans Selye had this thing called the General Adaptation syndrome. Hans Selye was a Hungarian endocrinologist. He set the foundation for our understanding of stress. What they found was that when you gave rats in a lab a noxious agent, there was this general pattern of reactivity that occurs. Their body went into this alarm stage where their sympathetic nervous system ramped up. Their HPA axis ramped up. Their cortisol increased. Their body is mobilizing resources to deal with this threat.
There was this resistance phase. The body seems to be going back to normal. It’s getting back to homeostasis but if the stimulant persists for a very long period and exceeds the organism’s capacity to adapt, that’s when the organism would die. We found this general pattern in humans. All biological organisms react the same.
Bruce McEwen who’s a giant in the field of neuroendocrinology came up with these terms allostasis and allostatic load. Allostasis is what your body wants. It is trying to achieve stability through change. It’s the brain and the body adjusting its internal environment to reach homeostasis. Whenever something happens like a physical stressor or a psychological stressor, the body is going to react and then it’s going to try to get back to allostasis.
I prefer the term homeostasis much more than balance. There’s a huge issue in terms of the language that people use to describe the state that they want to get into, meaning where they would define happiness, contentment, peace, or whatever it might be. They call it work-life balance.
It doesn’t exist.
If you think of it as balanced, think about what balance looks like if you’re on a tightrope or wherever else. It’s fleeting. It’s temporary but homeostasis is a state that is achievable and that can be sustained. That’s different.
Your body is always adjusting. It’s micro-adjustments. What you don’t want is massive perturbations. You go out for a walk. Guess what that is?
Except that’s not the world we live in. Massive perturbation is the world we live in.
That’s what I’m telling you. You can create a system that can adapt to more stress at less cost.
I wrote a book called Change Proof because we live in a world of massive perturbation. I love that term. Typically, I only used it when it came to facilitating training and things like that. I’m happy you brought that up. Change is everywhere. People are dealing with unexpected change, uncertainty, and ambiguity on a daily basis. I want to dig into how it is. I didn’t expect that we would take this particular attack but I’m happy we are. Is there a way for people to create homeostasis in the midst of that massive, constant, and continuous stress and change?
We’re on the same wavelength. We want to get to homeostasis. We have to understand that we’re going to constantly bring in these inputs. Physical and psychological stress is coming. The idea that you can manage stress is a fallacy. You can’t manage the stock market. You can’t manage how people are going to react to things that you say. You can’t manage if you pull out in the intersection, and somebody hits your car but what you can do is build the capacity to adapt to more stress with less cost.
The second part of what McEwen did is he said, “Stress comes with a cost. It’s called allostatic load. There’s a term for this in the scientific literature.” When you have physical or psychological stress, there’s a load that comes with it. The problem isn’t stress. Stress is the gateway to growth. It’s the only way you get better at anything. You’re a fit guy. I can see it. If you want to get fit, you have to train your body. Guess what that is?
If you were to look at all of the things that happen when you work out, it’s a massive stress. You have oxidative stress, tissue damage, and all sorts of things that are going on protein disruption, creating kinases, and increasing all this stuff but that is the gateway to growth. If you want to learn a new skill, you have to deliberately engage in the difficult task of learning, which comes with agitation and a sympathetic nervous system increase.
You’re breaking down muscles. It’s your cognitive breakdown. All of those things which are involved in your relationship to stress happen when you engage with stress. You’re not living in a cave trying to avoid all stress. There’s growth that occurs from that but the issue is not the stress itself as so many people think.
Acute stress isn’t the problem. It’s when it exceeds your capacity to adapt to it. That is when you have physical and mental health issues. I call it the low-grade fever of stress. You have these long chronic stressors that are lingering. They compound. It eventually exceeds your capacity. What do you need to do? I like to think of it as a gas tank. Your capacity to adapt to stress is like a gas tank. You have a limited capacity. You can increase that capacity so that when you have these perturbations or these big spikes, it doesn’t cost you as much. It’s smaller.
Every day, you wake up with a certain amount of gas in the tank. That can be referred to as biological readiness. Certain things can add or take away from that. If you get great sleep, you’re adding to the tank. If you work out in a way that matched the type of stress, that’s great. Let’s say you have kids and you’re up all night, you have a work project, or you had to pull an all-nighter. You’re drawing from the tank. The key thing is to engage in consistent behaviors that build more capacity. Understand where you are in that readiness spectrum and then deliberately engage with stress in a way that you can continue to increase your capacity. There are five pillars that I mentioned earlier.
This is the reason why I wanted Erik on the show. It was to talk about this exact thing. I remember when you got into this a little bit with Dr. Morgan. The capacity piece is amazing. It overlays quite well with the throughline of our discussions about this, which is that stress is not the thing that’s the issue. It’s not the thing that causes the disease or even the death. It’s a lack of recovery from the stress, which begs the question. How do you return to equilibrium? How do you get yourself back to homeostasis? What are the rituals for recovery that are required to bring that about more quickly?
You nailed it. The recovery is what leads to the adaptation. Adaptation or growth is the right dose of stress with the right dose of rest. I started with athletes, “How do I make more athletes more adaptable?” I was like, “How do I make human beings more adaptable?” As an aside, I was like, “I want to study something fundamental. What are the things that you have to have to live? Food, water, and sleep. If you don’t have sleep, you die. I wonder how sleep impacts our ability to adapt to stress.”
We directly measured how sleep impacted the brain or the central nervous system. The brain is the master organ. There’s some complexity to this but it was cool. We could measure how much sleep impacted your ability to adapt to more physical and psychological stress. Sleep is the number one recovery tool. There’s a lot of stuff out there about sleep. I’ll give you three highlights and then three behaviors. Sleep does several things. One, it helps with the restoration of your immune system.
Here’s something interesting. The stress response is necessary. For you to get up and walk, you need the stress. You’re turning on these little systems. At nighttime, you need to turn these down. When you go to sleep, there are the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. You can think of those as the gas pedal and the brake. The sympathetic puts down the gas pedal and releases different catecholamines, which increases your level of alertness.
The parasympathetic system is the braking system. That’s where you want to spend more of your time. You don’t want to be stuck with the gas pedal down. There’s this thing called HPA access. One of the glucocorticoids that are released is cortisol. Cortisol is not a bad thing. You want a massive spike in cortisol in the morning because it makes you alert but when it’s chronically elevated, it’s bad.
When you go to sleep at night, these systems are turned down. Cortisol goes down. Your immune system is ramped up. This is when your immune system creates long-term immunological memory. It’s fighting invaders. It’s creating this memory. The next time it sees it, it can deal with it. In addition, your tissues are restored. A growth hormone is released during the early phases of sleep, which helps with tissue regeneration. For males, testosterone is released later in the night. Most of your testosterone is released during sleep. One week of sleep deprivation to five hours or less will age you more than a decade in testosterone loss because your testosterone decreases about 1% to 2% per year.
There are a lot of amazing things that happen during sleep in regard to regeneration. You put in the work during the day. Your body and brain regenerate at night. The second thing is detoxification. The rest of your body has this thing called the lymphatic system. It’s this drainage system. Your brain doesn’t have that. Years ago, we discovered something called the glymphatic system. It has these little perivascular pathways. When you sleep, metabolic waste products are filtered out. Some of these proteins like amyloid beta are highly correlated to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The only time the glymphatic system is active is during sleep.
We are now finding staggering relationships between the rapid rise in Alzheimer’s and dementia with the dramatic decrease in how much sleep people are getting. This is why neuroscientists now believe that when you get a great night of sleep, you feel very refreshed. Your brain is clear because if you don’t get enough sleep, your brain is full of crap. It hasn’t been able to flush that stuff out. This can be detrimental to your long-term mental health.
We have restoration of the tissues. We have detoxification. Finally, this is a bonus. Sleep is when learning and memory consolidation occurs. When you study a very difficult text or something for work, you’re trying to upskill yourself. You feel that state of agitation, “This is hard.” The neurons that were used during that learning are marked with different neuromodulators.
Tononi and Cirelli are the ones that found this. They found that when you sleep at night, those neuronal connections are strengthened and enlarged in size. Your brain is expanding and contracting when you sleep at night. Sleep is the price your brain pays for plasticity. Without sleep, you’re going to have poor tissue regeneration. Your brain is not going to be able to detoxify and restore itself. Learning and memory consolidation is going to be very poor.
The question is, “How do I sleep better?” Everybody is like, “I need to sleep more.” Thanks. I know that. My Apple Watch tells me I’m getting six hours. McEwen’s work was interesting. I read it years ago when I was doing my dissertation, and then I came back to it. I started years ago digging back into all this literature. He made a statement that was profound, “If you want to set up the human organism for resilience to stress, the number one thing that you have to do is keep the circadian clock anchored.” Circadian means about 24 hours. There are multiple different types of rhythms but your circadian clock can be entrained or synchronized by several factors.
Number one is light. Number two is food and temperature. I’ll throw exercise in there. We were not designed to live indoors. If you want to unhinge somebody psychologically and physically, disrupt their circadian rhythm. That’s why when people go into the hospital, and they’re in there for a while, they typically get worse. The fact that they come in and flip the lights on in the middle of the night and take your vitals three times a night is insane to me. It’s completely nuts. There’s no reason for it.
It’s the one thing that you need probably more than almost anything else. I’m not saying that it’s not vital to check someone’s vitals and all that stuff but we need our sleep more than anything. I don’t know if you also have heard about this but the thing that I found is the importance of early morning sunlight. There could be replacements for that but let’s say it’s good old-fashioned, “Go outside, find the sun, and look at the sun for five minutes.”
How important that is not just to wake up and activate what is your energy for the day and your ultradian rhythms but also how it is that you will sleep that night has a lot to do with how you’ve begun the day and whether you got sun early in the day. That blew me away because I was thinking to myself, “How do you set yourself up?”
What you’ve been saying leads to that conversation that people are probably already having in their heads and going, “I don’t sleep as well as I ought to. I used to sleep better.” Maybe even some people are having some real challenges either getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night, not able to get back to sleep. I’ve had trouble in all of those areas at points in my life in the past.
That’s normal to have these fluctuations. Sometimes life gets a little stressful. It’s hard to turn your brain off. As we age, there’s a natural decline in our sleep duration. I had Satchin Panda, the Head of the Salk Institute, on my podcast. He is the world’s leading expert on circadian biology. I’ve never heard some of the stuff he talked about before but one of the fundamental things that we learned in my dissertation or my doctoral work is the circadian clock drives sleep.Sometimes life gets a little stressful, and it's hard to turn your brain off. As we age, there's a natural decline in our sleep duration. Click To Tweet
There are two systems. There’s the circadian part with the light. That synchronizes what’s called the circadian pacemaker or the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which sits above the roof of your mouth. You nailed it. When you see sunlight, it gets taken in through these special receptor cells called melanopsin retinal ganglion cells. It sends a signal to this thing above your mouth called the pacemaker. That sends a signal to every cell in your body that it’s time to be alert and awake. It does that through a spike in cortisol and an increase in temperature.
That makes sense. Intuitive people get that. Nobody is going to repeat the words you said, least of all me at the moment.
Know you have this pacemaker.
You go, “I get it.” That’s how we start the day.
Start your day with the sun.
I thought, “I don’t know how many people are hip to this, or they will be more, I suppose.” This has an impact on how you will sleep that night.
It does have an impact because it does start setting up the melatonin process, which is the sleepy hormone that needs to rise.
It’s calibrating your clock. It’s telling your body there will be a period, twelve or so hours later when it’s time to go to sleep. Your body knows, “I will be sleeping.” The other piece of that light experiment or that paper that I was mentioning earlier, and I wish I knew the author of that, is if you also finish your day when the sun goes down around dusk time and if you can get out.
There are a lot of reasons for getting out in nature, walking, and breathing air. That’s a whole other conversation but relative to sleep if you can get out and see the sunset or be outside around the time that the sun goes down, looking at the sky, that will also contribute to your body’s natural ability to get you to bed and get better sleep.
The next part of this though is when the sun comes up, you go up. When the sun goes down, the lights in your house need to dim down because you could do all of that. If you have consistent light exposure at night, it’s going to suppress melatonin, and you’re not going to feel sleepy.
Meaning you’re watching TV before bed. You’re on your iPad doing a crossword puzzle. I live with somebody who likes to do that crossword puzzle before bed with the iPad. That’s a big issue. It’s a message to your brain. It doesn’t know.
It’s pushing back this melatonin signal but then the other part we’re finding too is this. Have you ever been ready to go to bed, you lay down, and you’re like, “I’m going to check one more thing on my phone,” and all of a sudden, you watch something or read something that stimulates you emotionally? That is as big of a problem as you watch a few videos, and now you’re emotionally stimulated. It’s hard to wind down. You nailed it with viewing sunlight in the morning and viewing sunlight in the evening.
In my app, AIM7, we send you a notification with a timestamp with an image of the sunrise when you should go outside in the morning and 90 minutes before sunset. You’ve got to view sunlight morning and evening but then you’ve also got to start dialing it down in your house. You need to start changing your relationship with your screens if sleep is an issue because you’re going to be suppressing melatonin production. There’s still a lot to be learned about melatonin. We now know that it’s a powerful antioxidant. It’s not secreted from the pineal gland in your brain. It’s created in the mitochondria of all your cells. We do know that light can positively and negatively influence it.
Is it positive, negative, or neutral for people who take melatonin as a supplement at night to help with sleep? That could be an episode all by itself.
I’m not kidding. I recorded this thing with Satchin. It was a mind-blower. There’s still a lot to be elucidated on this subject but for the most part, we don’t know. Here’s the thing. To do the studies, you would have to be sampling melatonin from the blood at such frequent intervals. We don’t even know the moment it starts spiking and how long the tail is. This is way off track but they’re starting to think that melatonin gradually goes away in the morning. Eating too soon immediately after waking could have some negative impacts on blood sugar regulation.
They’re starting to say the whole time-restricted feeding isn’t so much for weight loss, which is where that whole thing went. We’re starting to see its impact on the circadian system. If you eat too late at night, that can significantly hamper sleep. Cutting off food 3 to 4 hours before bedtime is going to allow your heart rate to drop down. It’s going to give your digestive system a chance to break. You track and measure HRV. You’re wearing an Oura Ring.
The heart rate variability is important to how you feel when you wake up in the morning to your readiness state.
It is a direct measure of your autonomic nervous system adapting to stress. If that number is low, it means that your body is in a state of stress. It never switched off. When you eat a large meal at night, you went to bed stressed and woke up stressed. You didn’t get the recovery that you needed. You’re not recovering very well.
It’s what you said about how quickly you eat in the morning. You think about a lot of what we were brought up to think. There’s no criticism. The program we all receive is, “Breakfast is the most important meal. You should have it right away. It should be a big breakfast to start your day.” There are periods when that’s a beneficial thing, especially if you’re a school kid, and you’ve got to go the whole day without a decent meal. That’s your only one at least through the first six hours of the day but for grown adults, delaying eating is not just for intermittent fasting benefits or other things.
It has a lot to do with how those rhythms will play out and whether or not your body is in sync to be able to sleep when it’s time to sleep. Everybody wants to sleep. The issue is that people who want to sleep can’t sleep or don’t sleep as well as they want to sleep. My wife and do two things before bed. I’m a big fan of, “Is there a tool?” I’m not a huge hack guy but what’s the tool that you can apply to start to shift your well-ingrained habits even a small percentage to create a change? That’s often the way change occurs anyways in these micro steps.
At night, we will listen to a meditation before bed. We will do legs up the wall right from bed and get into an L-shape with our legs up the headboard for 5 or 10 minutes before we’re going to go to sleep because it’s an incredible way to help with insomnia from my standpoint. I’ve never had a huge battle but I’ve had trouble with it at times. It helps with anxiety. It helps to physiologically get me in a state where I’m more relaxed and ready for sleep.
As we were looking through some podcasts or meditations, wanting to try something new, they have podcasts for people that go, “Take me to bed with you,” or middle-of-the-night podcasts for people that cannot sleep. That has millions of downloads. People are having this issue more, especially given the world that we’re living in. They call it constant cognitive arousal. We are being interrupted from a concentration standpoint. From a focus standpoint, we’re being interrupted 200 to 300 times a day depending on the engagement with our devices.
In the end, it’s taking us further away from this goal of how we get back to homeostasis when perpetually, our phone is dinging and ringing, and there are lights and all kinds of other things that we’re interacting with. It’s making it more difficult to get back to that to that state of equilibrium. Do you agree with that, Erik? Is that part of what we were also dealing with in terms of how we will sleep or how we wind down at the end of the day and how much of the technology is controlling us versus the other way around?
I don’t know if you remember the exact number but thousands of times per day, people interact with their phone, touch it, and move it. Having it in your visual field can significantly hamper focus and productivity. We have a ton of inputs. At the end of the day, you want to start quieting those inputs down.
Do you stow your phone? What’s your personal ritual? When you first engage with it in the morning, is there a rule about that for you and when you last engage with it or some other technology before bed? I’m asking a personal question.
I try to be good when the alarm goes off about not starting to check emails and look through that stuff. I try to give it an hour. I like to go for a walk. My morning routine is I go for a walk and come back. I usually go out early at 5:30 in the morning and come back.
What’s bedtime for you if you’re out?
It’s 9:00 to 9:30. The latest is 10:00 but I would like to be in bed around 9:00 to 9:30 at the latest.
How old are your girls?
I have three boys. They are 11, 7, and 2 years old. I get up before they do. I go for a walk.
You get up before they do and go to sleep after they go to sleep. Is that about it?
As soon as they’re going to bed, my wife and I are going to bed. We value sleep not because of any work that I’ve done. We both like to go to bed. It takes a lot of energy as you know to be a good parent, do all the stuff, take them here, run a business, and do all this.
It’s exhausting on the best of days.
I used to never listen to anything during sleep. One of the things you want to have is a very steady sleep noise environment. You want your room to be cold, dark, and quiet like a cave. You want a constant sound or complete silence. White noise is great if you’re in a big city. I started using Endel. It’s an app that creates AI soundscapes based on your physiological metrics and circadian rhythm. I like it. I use it at night. It goes to this little wind-down sound and then turns into a white noise. It’s interesting.
Before I go to bed, the hardest thing for me and something I’m working on is going, “At a certain time at night, I’m done.” We launched our product. We got all these things going on. In the morning though, I try to give myself a buffer, “Don’t get up and look at yourself. Turn it off. Maybe look at the weather. Go out for a walk. Come back.” I take a cold shower not because of any biohacking reason. We know it ramps up your sympathetic nervous system.
It’s those adversity mimetics.
That’s not what it is for me. The reason I would do that is I like to invest in spiritual time in the morning. I noticed that I was not focusing. I was still in the process of waking up. I was like, “I’m going to go on a walk and then shock my system so that I am awake and I can focus on something important.” It’s helping my wife get the kids out the door and hopefully get some good hugs and kisses. I’m at work. When they go to school at 7:20 in the morning, I’m working. I get my best work done before noon. I love to get it in.
That’s a good ritual. For people to establish a ritual is good for them. That’s a good ritual for you. It might not be a great ritual for other folks. We had our kids out the door in that same time zone for a lot of years. We are happily empty nesters in that respect but it’s a period in your life when your schedule is governed by things that are important to you. Later on or at some other point, those things are not as relevant.
Given the diversity of the audience, I’ll say there’s some standard for me. I would call them the rules for these rituals. I call it a rule because I try not to be too absolutist but to me, this is one of those things. If I engage with my phone upon waking, I always get some smartass that will say, “That’s the thing I use for my alarm clock to wake me up.” I’m like, “There is such a thing as an alarm clock. You can get a wind-up and go old school. You don’t even need an app to go to sleep because your constant sound is the ticking of this alarm clock.”
At least ten minutes upon waking, I want the agenda at the beginning of the day of moving out of my unconscious state into a conscious waking state. All the creative juice that is available in that moment or early part of the morning is to be driven by what’s inside of me, where I’m leaning, what I’m craving, or what the universe is bringing to me as opposed to what’s on this cell phone. If I pick this up and look at texts or emails or get on social media, it’s everybody else’s agenda that I’m engaging with.
We’re going to talk about how you, as my grandmother would say, start the day on the right foot, whether it’s somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes that you don’t engage with your cell phone or maybe any other technology at that point. If you can get out, move your body, see sunlight, and be outside even for five minutes, it’s going to help with that end-of-day. You think about the booking and the ending of this thing, waking up, feeling ready for the day, and going to sleep, ready to get your most important recovery.
If resilience to change and disruption is all about how we recover from it and sleep is the number one recovery tool, then to me, if you only did one thing and said, “For the next three months, my number one focus for my well-being is that I’m going to sleep better at night so that I can perform better during the day.” If I was an Olympic athlete, that’s what I would be focused on. I sleep better so I can perform better. We would be talking about the things we have been talking about.
Sleep problems are epidemic. It is one of the five pillars. It’s one of the highest-yield behaviors that will lead to improved adaptation.
You also mentioned that you have an app. Tell us about the app. I’m fascinated by that. People will be able to get more information about the five pillars as well. Anything else you want to say about that would be perfect right at this point as we’re winding things down.
I pioneered the use of athlete wearables in American football and helped open a $1 billion market in the US. If you ever watched the Super Bowl or an NFL game and you see somebody running down the field, and it says, “They ran twenty miles an hour,” that’s the technology I brought to the US. The problem that we had though is that data without turning it into recommendations was completely useless. When we were able to turn that data into recommendations specifically for athletes to improve performance and reduce injuries, the team that I was on had almost a 90% reduction in injuries that year. We won a championship. It changed the landscape of sports, health, and wellness.
I started a company a couple of years ago called AIM7. We launched our app into what’s called private beta. We turn wearable technology data from your Apple Watch or Oura Ring into daily personalized recommendations for your mind, body, and recovery to help you look, feel, and perform better. We have systematized how to build adaptation leveraging technology. It’s no longer, “You walked 5,000 steps or slept 7 hours.” That’s worthless. What do I do to feel better and perform better? What area do I need to focus on? After seven days, we analyze all your data, and then we would be like, “This is the area you need to focus on.” We create goals for you so you can change this.
I’m wearing an Oura Ring. You noticed that earlier. I love the information that I’m getting but what you’re doing is optimizing it even further.
We make it actionable. I’ll give you an example of your body. We didn’t even get into exercise but we did the foundational research in something called fluid periodization, which means this. We can tell you the precise type, intensity, and duration of exercise that your body is able to adapt to each day. We leverage the types of things that you like to do. Let’s say you like to do the elliptical, lift weights, or do yoga. We would be like, “Your body is in this state. Why don’t you go get on the elliptical for 25 minutes in this specific heart rate zone?”
How did you know that mine is elliptical? That’s uncanny. Are you watching me?
I’m watching you all the time. Our team of scientists did the foundational research in all this. This has never been available to the public. We launched into private data. It’s AIM7.com. You can find me on Instagram @ErikKorem, LinkedIn, Twitter @ErikKorem, and then AIM7.com. If building more adaptive capacity interests you and if you use a wearable, come on. Check it out. If you put in there that you learned about me on this show, we have over 2,000 people on our waiting list ready to join. We’re letting small numbers of people in at a time. It’s a white-glove experience. You get four Zoom calls with me and my team in the first month. We will prioritize your registration.
I love that. I know our people love it as well. This is part one of a series of conversations.
Let’s do it.
Should we do that?
I’m coming back whenever you want.
I got so many questions in my head that I’m going to save them for the next go around. Let me ask you as we wrap this up something I don’t typically ask but I’m feeling the call to do it. This is super personal. How aligned are you and your wife when it comes to the kinds of rituals that we have been talking about? I say that because I know that even in my relationship, in which I’m married to my sweetheart from college, there were periods in time when I was craving more self-care. She was so sapped by what it took to be a mother because that was her 100% commitment. I was working more on the business end of it and was a full-time dad for sure but I knew I had to take care of myself.
There was a conflict there in the first 5 to 6 years of our marriage where I would sneak off to go to the gym or the pool to swim and then would feel super guilty about it. I would lie even. I would say I’m going somewhere else like, “I’m going to do the shopping for the week for us.” I would be back three hours later. It’s like, “When does shopping take three hours?”
She was a college athlete. She was way better than I was. She’s a doctor of physical therapy, specializing in women’s health and outpatient orthopedic stuff. We align on that. She knows that if I don’t exercise, I will go insane. She does jiu-jitsu. Our whole family does jiu-jitsu. She’s a brown belt. She’s very good. That’s her thing. She had shoulder surgery. When things are back in rhythm, she will go five days a week. She will teach and do it with the kids. She’s also a baseball coach.
We’re aligned on sleep and exercise. I used to feel guilty about asking, and now I say, “I want to go exercise. Is it going to work with this?” Some days, I get up early in the morning to get it done. Some days, I’ll do it at lunch. I try not to let it take away from our family time but if I don’t do that, I’m not showing up well for anybody. For the sleep stuff, we don’t watch TV very much although we did talk about a television show. We will get one episode a week or sometimes every other week because it can’t be the priority.
Something I’m maturing into is being better at finding the signals for her when she’s starting to burn out and then leaning into how I get her the rest that she needs. I need to do a better job of that. It’s something that I constantly am thinking about. I don’t want her to hit the wall. I’m an early-stage founder. I left a successful career to build something. There’s a lot of stress that goes with that. I married a wonderful person but we’re all humans. It’s top of mind. This is real-life stuff right here. I also think there can be some selfishness, not with her but if your spouse or partner is not letting you do that, that’s also a discussion to be had.
The permission is so key. Within that intimate relationship, how do you get permission? How do you give permission to do the most fundamental thing for all of us, which is to make sure that we are not just alive but that we’re in a state where we’re of value and use to others?
You and your spouse or partner need to have some serious conversations about what that looks like because if you don’t, there’s going to be friction there, and because of our lifestyles nowadays, we don’t get this through work. We used to work. Work was physical. Now, it’s more intellectual. We’re in a knowledge-worker economy. If we don’t move enough, our lives will be cut short. We have to be far more intentional about it. That takes time. Maybe there are ways you can do it together. Maybe there are ways you can make it a family thing. Our whole family does jiu-jitsu. That’s a real conversation that you need to have with your loved ones.We're in a knowledge-worker economy. If we don't move enough, our lives will be cut short. Click To Tweet
Erik, thank you for going there. I appreciate you answering that question. I’m married. Randi and I were married for a long time. We’re madly in love to this day. We have been through all the usual stuff. That’s what relationships are about. You’re going to have tough times. You’re going to have conflict. You’re going to have times when you can’t figure stuff out. We had to figure that out to see the signs. It’s less about the judgment of how they’re a good person or a bad person, or they’re patient or not patient. There are signs of depletion everywhere that we see.
We can rush to judgment even in the world we live in, which is so divisive these days. Other people are somehow wrong, bad, and different. That’s BS. Collectively, as a world, we are depleted. I love the conversation because a lot of what we’re talking about is how we fill the resilience tank or bank account back up because ultimately when you do that, you are able to be there. You are more of the person that other people can be around and want to be around and all that.
That has been a big thing in our marriage. It’s a big thing for all of us. To take care of yourself is not selfish. How do you get permission? Maybe it’s a question for another day, whether it’s at home or even in the workplace because we’ve got to know that is vital to living a full life and that we also recognize that we’ve got to take care of ourselves. I appreciate the conversation. I already can tell that you’re a good dad. All that makes the world even better than it already is. Thank you for being that.
Thank you for having me on your show.
If you’re thinking about somebody that might benefit from hearing some of this, whether it was this last little bit or it was some other part of it, we would love it as always if you share this episode. I’m not so hip on how the algorithm works. We all get it. There’s something going on there that puts these shows and other things in front of people based on how people rate them and think about them. It’s selfish or self-serving for me to ask you but I would love it if you would not only share the episode but rate the episode. If you loved it, give that five-star review.
If you didn’t, if there’s feedback, and if there are things you want to know and things you want to let me know or our team know about on how we can make things better, you go to AdamMarkel.com/podcasts and leave a comment. There’s no bot. There’s no other team member that’s assigned to respond to those kinds of things. That’s going to be me. We appreciate it. Feedback is oxygen for us. This is part one. We will see many parts of the conversation with Erik. I want to wish you all a beautiful and blessed day wherever you are in the world. I’ll say ciao.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Dr. Erik Korem. He’s got so much wisdom and intelligence to share. I loved how he framed things. We talked about how stress is in many ways the gas and the brake in a car and the idea that we’re constantly going back and forth and toggling between that gas pedal and that brake pedal. The goal here when it comes to resilience is to create the right dose of stress or have the right amount of stress match up with the right dose of recovery. That concept was very poignant. It’s the idea that stress is only a problem when it exceeds our capacity to adapt to it.
It’s this concept when we adapt in an optimal way that gas and break relationship or that parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system relationship. When those two things are in harmony, we have equilibrium. We have something that we might call balance. I reframe that as harmony. This is fundamentally important because we have to understand how to perform better in every area of our lives, whether it’s in our relationships personally and professionally or whether it’s with our physical health, mental health, emotional health, spiritual health, and all of it.
All of that is going to require that we come to grips with this idea that we’ve got to be managing our stress more effectively. That concept came through. Ultimately, while resistance can be a harmful thing, we need to have that stress. We need to have that resistance for us to grow. We look at stress often as a bad thing, yet there are some positive attributes to it, assuming that we also create a commensurate amount of recovery to match up to that.
That is where the car leaves the road. We end up in the ditch often because we have missed that one concept. We don’t have the recovery incorporated. We’re not integrating recovery and the principles of what it means to truly recover ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We don’t understand how to recalibrate, restore, renew, and regenerate our energy. It’s because we don’t put enough focus on that. We don’t obsess about the quality of our recovery. That ultimately leads us into that ditch where we are not in equilibrium and where we don’t have a homeostatic balance. That’s the place where we can improve.
I love the conversation, the wisdom, and the intelligence that Erik Korem exuded. I hope you loved it as well. If so, please share this with a friend or a family member. Feel free to leave us a comment at AdamMarkel.com. It will be me to respond. You can leave that five-star review for us as well, whether it’s with iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever the platform is that you’re currently using. What that does for us is it helps this show get in front of more people. It puts us in the way of others that could be positively impacted by it. It is self-serving for me to ask that.
At the same time, it’s the way the ripple effect works. I don’t mind asking for support. Thank you in advance for taking the time to give us that five-star rating or whatever the rating is frankly that makes sense to you. If you’ve not yet determined at this moment how resilient you are mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, all you have to do is go to ResilienceRank.com.
I promise you that about three minutes later, you will have your results in each of those four zones of resilience and on top of that, what it means and what you can do about it because ultimately, getting new awareness and creating that clarity is fundamentally important. We have to know what to do with it. What’s possible beyond awareness? Awareness is truly transformational. You go to ResilienceRank.com. Three minutes later and sixteen questions later, you’re going to get your answers and those next steps as well. Thank you for all the support. I’ll say ciao for now.
- Dr. Nick Morgan – Previous Episode
- British Psychological Society – Resilience during uncertainty? Greater social connectedness during COVID-19 lockdown is associated with reduced distress and fatigue
- Change Proof
- Salk Institute
- The BluePrint with Dr. Erik Korem Podcast
- Satchin Panda – Previous Episode on The BluePrint with Dr. Erik Korem Podcast
- Oura Ring
- @ErikKorem – Instagram
- LinkedIn – Erik Korem
- @ErikKorem – Twitter
About Dr. Erik Korem
Dr. Erik Korem is a High-Performance thought leader that introduced sports science and athlete tracking technologies to collegiate and professional (NFL) football. He has worked with the National Football League, Power-5 NCAA programs, gold-medal Olympians, Nike, and the United States Department of Defense. Erik holds a doctorate in Exercise Science with an expert in sleep and stress resilience and is the founder and CEO of AIM7.