by: Yuri Elkaim

3 Keys to Creating the Perfect Day - Craig Ballantyne

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The Perfect Day Formula

The guest I am interviewing today is someone who has inspired me to become a lot more structured in with my morning routine. Actually, my entire day.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but for years, my goal was to get up at five in the morning. I had an ambition with this goal, a vision that would come and go.

I would go for a couple weeks of waking up at five in the morning and then I would sleep in until 7 o’clock or 7:30, and I would wake up, thinking, “Oh my God, I just missed out on this magic time.” I would always have this internal battle. 

My guest today helped me with this tremendously. This is actually pretty funny: before I introduce who he is, I should note we actually lived down the hall from each other in a condominium building in Toronto several years ago. 

He’s one of the forefathers of online fitness. He has moved over into personal development and business and he’s done a lot of amazing things. It’s just funny how we lived down the hall from each other for about two years. 

Now, it comes full circle. With a lot of his guidance and teachings, I was able to make 5 a.m. a much more regular practice in my life, one of my healthy habits. 

His name is Craig Ballantyne.

I’ll give you his official bio here: 

Craig is a fitness and personal-development guru from Toronto, Canada. He’s the author of The Perfect Day Formula: How to Own the Day and Control Your Life. He’s been a contributor to Men’s Health magazine since 2000, and his articles have also appeared in Women’s Health, Oxygen, GQ, Maxim, National Geographic, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle and Fitness Hers.

In 2001, he created the popular home-workout program Turbulence Training, and in 2013, he created the Six Minutes to Skinny body-weight-and-exercise weight-loss system and the Metabolic Kickstarter follow-along exercise videos. 

He’s also the founder of the certified Turbulence Training program, certifying trainers from all corners of the globe, and he hosts an annual Turbulence Training summit every year for fitness experts to become better trainers and get more clients into their boot camps so they can make more money and live the perfect life. 

Craig’s online success has led him to create books and a coaching program to show other gurus how to take their ideas and help thousands of people. Without any further ado, let’s bring Craig into the hot seat. If you want to learn more about The Perfect Day Formula, you can go to YuriElkaim.com/PerfectDay.

Yuri: Craig, I’m excited to have you here. You’re working on some pretty awesome stuff, and you’ve come out with a new book called The Perfect Day Formula, which is a culmination of what you’ve been about since I’ve known you.  And that is, helping people become better versions of themselves and making the most of every single day, so they can live amazing lives. This book is tremendous. 

I would love to talk about this book in a way that serves people as actionable advice and tips, which you’re always great at giving.

Let’s start off with what The Perfect Day Formula. How does somebody improve their life using this?

Craig: If the listeners know my background, they know I’m a health-and-fitness guy, but this is not a health-and-fitness book per se. It’s all about transforming your life in any way possible. The rules and sections we have in the book can help you get out of debt or find the love of your life or lose weight.

There are three sections, and it’s based on Stoic philosophy, an ancient philosophical method. I quote one particular philosopher a lot in the book, Epictetus. He, in one of his lessons, taught that there are three rules, the 3-C formula:

  1. Control what you can,
  2. Cope with what you can’t,
  3. Concentrate on what counts. 

That’s the formula I built the book around. I applied each one of those Cs to different parts of the day. You control your morning; you cope with the chaos of the afternoon; and then you concentrate on what counts in the evening. 

You’re a really great example of this, Yuri, in how you’ve built your life and business to have time with your family and to get a lot done. 

The book is about controlling your day so that you can make progress in whatever area of life you need to.

The Paradoxical Relationship Between Structure and Freedom

Yuri: Thank you for putting this together. It’s something that I think by having three kids, I’m kind of forced to have a perfect day formula. When I didn’t have kids, I would just take my time and had ten hours a day to do stuff.

Now the clock is ticking. They’ve got a couple hours at school, I’ve got a couple hours to myself, and there’s no messing around. 

One of the things you talked about in the book, which I know you’ve talked about for a long time is this whole notion that I completely agree with and live my life by, too, which is: structure leads to freedom. It sounds completely paradoxical, but can you talk about this?

Craig: It is paradoxical. A lot of people don’t understand it. There’s a really great quote from an author named Paulo Coelho, who wrote The Alchemist. He said,

“Structure and freedom are not mutually exclusive. Without structure, you actually descend into chaos.”

What people need to do is have more structure in their day so that they get all that work done. 

Like you said, when you’re a parent, you’ve got to go home, and you have a whole bunch of stuff to do at home in addition to wanting to have time with your children. And you want to be present for and enjoy them..

When you’re at work, you need to be focused on what matters, and you need to be planned in advance so that you start the day right and don’t get sucked in to the temptations of surfing the Internet or reading something that’s not related to the business at hand. 

That’s really what matters here. We want people to get the most out of life.

If you have a more structured approach to your work, your day, your health, your fitness and taking care of yourself, you’re going to get much more out of life than if you were just spontaneity-ruled and kind of went from one thing to the next. You’d actually find yourself spinning your wheels and struggling quite a bit.

What we find is, when people apply this system, they can really break out of ruts, whether it’s weight loss or some other personal change they want to make.

Yuri: And you’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs who, I would assume, because they’re pretty much very identical, freedom is a big core value for most entrepreneurs. 

Have you come up against entrepreneurs and coaching clients who have been like, “The reason I want to have this business and do this is to have more freedom,” and there’s this internal battle going on inside their mind, where it’s like, “I want freedom, but now I’m supposed to have structure, which is the complete opposite of freedom”?

How do you get somebody to wrap their head around the idea that structure equals freedom?

Craig: I think whenever you get into a conversation with somebody, even if they have the opposite approach to life in most ways, they eventually realize that they do have a lot of structure in their day.

If they say, “I don’t want to have to go into an office. I’d rather spend four hours at Starbucks,” that’s fine. You have structure there and, really, your office is in Starbucks. 

That’s fine if you want to do things that way, but you’re still very structured.

Everybody knows that they have a certain time of day where they can get a lot of work done. And most people plan their days around that. A lot of other people who are really into the freedom lifestyle, then they might plan their days first around, say, surfing or something, but then they know that later on in the day, they’re going to get their work done. 

The system is based on getting up earlier and doing things in the morning, but you can even reengineer it for night owls.

One of our friends, Joel Marion, who’s a very successful individual, but he’s also a very well-known night owl. He shifts all of this thinking to working from basically 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., which is the opposite of me. It works for him because it’s all structured. 

Even most people who think they’re not structured and they are very laid back or type B, they do have a lot more structure in their lives than they think. It might just be nontraditional, but, still, if you just broke down how they’re able to succeed, it really comes down to having certain systems in place.

Zeroing In On What Really Counts in Your Life

Yuri: That’s a good distinction for sure. You mentioned something a couple moments ago about focusing on what counts. This is huge because you can wake up earlier or stay up late, whatever is best for you, but if you’re just focusing on wasting time on menial tasks, it’s not really going to get you any further forward.

How do you figure out what really counts? How do you determine this is priority number one, this is the second most important thing? How do you do that?

Craig: That’s a great question. What we do is walk people through creating their vision, which is the third section of the book. It’s really about knowing where you want to be three or five years from now and being very clear and concise about it, very, very specific. 

A couple years ago, when you and I lived in that same building – I guess you and Amy were thinking about, “Hey, we want to live in the country with a young family,” and that was your vision, and you started working toward that.

And then you were able to do that, and now you’re able to move back into the city. 

But you had a very, very clear picture, and if that was a clear picture in your mind, then all these opportunities that come your way – Do you want to go to this seminar? Do you want to take this vacation? Do you want to do this or that? – each one of those becomes easy to say yes or no to once you have a really strong idea of where you want to be.

I use this extreme example a lot. Somebody wants to get married and have a strong family, and then their old college friends come along and say, “Hey, let’s go to Puerto Rico on this bachelor or bachelorette party.” You know that there are going to be a lot of people up to no good on that trip and you’re in a serious relationship. As a result, you’ll probably pass on it if your vision is strong enough to keep you focused on the task at hand. 

We go through a lot of questions about what really matters to you in terms of your health; what matters to you in terms of your family; what matters to you in terms of the experiences you want to have in life. What is the number one priority in your business or career? What do you want to achieve? 

When you think about it in future terms, then you’re able to set a system in place for your present-day life that will get you closer to that and will help you eliminate those things that can take you into those time-wasting rabbit holes. It really is about sitting down and thinking. 

I use the analogy of being outside of yourself and objectively watching a movie about your life. When we watch others do things, we can say, “That doesn’t make sense that you’re doing that if your goal is XYZ,” but we don’t do that very well for ourselves, so that’s why we have to look objectively at ourselves, as if we were watching ourselves in a TV show or a movie and judging our behaviors that way. Then we can align our goals with our actions.

How to Set Better Priorities

Yuri: Sure. I want to go a little bit deeper on this because I think this is something a lot of people struggle with in terms of setting key priorities. 

Let’s use two examples. You have an entrepreneur who wants to build his business and make X number of dollars and help X number of people. He’s focused on a priority of, let’s say, launching a product. Now he’s like, “What do I spend my time on? Is it the sales copy or creating a product? Or is it coming up with a hook or reaching out to joint venture partners?” 

Let’s look at that and then let’s look at an example of maybe somebody who wants to lose weight and he understands that in order to lose 20 pounds, he’s got to exercise more. Now he’s spending all his time doing cardio instead of maybe a smarter way of exercising. 

Have you found a smarter way for people – once they have that vision of what they want to do – to identify the ONE BIG THING they can do to help them get to that goal?

Craig: A lot of people are making the mistake of being influenced by all the shiny objects that come their way in life. When people are trying to get traffic to their website or to get people into their store, they hear about all sorts of things.

Do you have YouTube videos? Do you have a podcast? Do you have articles on your blog? Do you have advertisements here, there? Are you on Instagram? 

What people need to do is apply that same sort of visioning to their business and identify: here’s what we’re good at; here’s what we want to accomplish; here’s our skill set; here are the resources we can leverage; and here’s the limited amount of time we have in order to accomplish these goals. 

Then it’s the old Warren Buffet trick of listing the top 25 things you want to do and then cutting the bottom 20 and never thinking about them again. It really comes down to just focusing. 

You hear it all the time from Dan Sullivan: Focus on your unique ability. Or focus on your 5 percent, the stuff that only you can do really well. 

Everybody will have a different way of building that business. You just have to have the strength and courage to say, “You know, it’s really great that my friend John, he’s this YouTube guy, gets tons of video views and all that, but that’s not how we’re going to run our business; that’s not going to bring us the right customers. I don’t have the resources for that; I don’t have the energy for that. That’s not my thing. Here’s my thing and we focus on it.”

It all comes back to the focus and what works for you.

Again, it’s objectively looking at: here’s what’s working for you now; here’s what we know works from other experts; here’s what’s working for other people, but we’re not going to do some of these things; we’re only going to do the stuff that really moves us ahead.

And then switching over to the weight loss, it’s the same sort of system. It’s taking a look at what you’ve done in the past, what has worked for you, what you can stick to. One of the things I believe about weight loss is that almost every diet will work; it really depends on your schedule and personality. 

If someone is really, really busy during the day, then an intermittent-fasting type diet program will actually be quite good for them. In my fitness business, we’ve had people who worked 12-hour shifts, clients of ours – police officers, nurses – who just love intermittent fasting because it removes all the thinking from, “I’ve got to eat a meal at this hour and then three hours and then I’ve got to clean up all this stuff.”

Now you’ve just really freed them with the intermittent fasting approach. We have a lot of people who love that. 

And then there are other people who might work in an office and are really type A and they love that they’re going to eat a meal every three hours. It comes back to what works for the individual; what their personality is like; what their experience is with this type of approach; whether it’s diet or exercise.

And then taking a good, objective look on what has worked, where you want to get to; and then using a little bit of outside expertise and advice and figuring out the best approach for them. 

The 5 Pillars of Transformation

Yuri: That’s a really good filtering mechanism. For everyone listening to this, I hope you guys rewind that because I think there are some really great nuggets in there from a man who’s done it himself and helped countless other people do it as well. 

You talk about five pillars of personal transformation. Can you walk us through what those five pillars are?

Craig: This is one of my favorite parts of the book. I actually learned this from all of my before-and-after transformation-contest winners. 

I realized that when somebody won a contest, if I went through and read their essay a couple times, they always seemed to have these five things in place. And then you read the second- or third-place person and they’re missing one. And then you check in on somebody who dropped out after a couple weeks in the contest, and you realize they were missing three or four of these pillars. 

The 5 pillars are:

  1. better planning and preparation,
  2. professional accountability, and that’s a coach or mentor,
  3. positive social support, which I refer to as the cheerleaders in your life,
  4. a meaningful incentive, and it has to be meaningful to you; it can’t be some type of incentive post by somebody else or society; it has to be meaningful to you; otherwise, you won’t take action on it, and
  5. a big deadline. 

That’s why you see so many great results in 12-week transformations or something like P90X, where it’s a 90-day program. People can always see the light at the end of the tunnel or the finish line, knowing that, yeah, I’m going to get through these first couple weeks on momentum, then the middle is going to be the toughest, but as soon as I get halfway through, I’ll be able to say I’m halfway through, and I can realize I’m on the homestretch.

Then in those final weeks or challenge, whatever it is you’re going through with that deadline really close, then you just really accelerate your results. It’s like that last mile of a marathon; you get that energy you thought you didn’t have anymore. 

Those are the five pillars, and they can be used for anything. If you wanted to go out there and find a beautiful wife or husband, it’d be like, “Okay, I’m going to plan and prepare where I’m going to go for my social outings. I might get a professional dating coach or someone to help be a matchmaker, who’s going to hold me accountable for going out on these dates. I’m going to get social support from friends who are always going to be positive and supporting me.” 

Meaningful incentive is pretty much internal. And then you put a deadline in place, and that will make you take action on it. It can be used for anything, from getting out of debt, finding the love of your life, or losing weight. 

Yuri: With the deadlines, how do you get people to adhere to their deadlines instead of just, “Oh, I’ll move it another thirty days”?

Craig: That’s a great question. The meaningful incentive can be both positive and negative. The meaningful incentive, let’s say for weight loss, someone might start out thinking, I’ll buy myself a new pair of jeans. That might be okay and it might get a few people to take action.

But, really, something that’s meaningful is probably going to be more like, “I want to lose twenty pounds so I can keep up with my kids and have more energy and be around for them for the rest of their lives.” That’ll really move somebody into having that meaningful incentive. 

And then you apply the deadline to it. Thirty days to lose 20 pounds is a little extreme, so let’s say 90 days. “These are the actions I have to take.” Process pools are really a great part of that, picking the right activities that line up with your goal. 

And setting a real firm deadline and perhaps having some negative aspect in there. There’s a Web site called Stikk.com. You can actually sign up there and share what your goal is and then set a payment option that you would pay. Let’s say you’re a Democrat; you would pay $500 to the Republican party if you didn’t achieve your goal by a certain time. Now that is a really great negative incentive that’s meaningful to you that helps you stick to your deadline. 

It might be using that website or it might be just betting a friend or it might be saying, “If I succeed on this goal by this deadline, we’re going to go on this vacation. If I don’t, we’re not going to go on the vacation.”

It has to be achieved. It really comes down to strong, strict deadline with a meaningful incentive, whether it’s positive or negative. 

Yuri: I think our buddy Vince Del Monte is a good example of this. He’ll often schedule photo shoots or competitions for him to really get into the best shape possible. Whether it’s a wedding or a photo shoot or anything else, sometimes it’s nice to have an external accountability to really enforce that deadline, which comes back to accountability. 

Craig: To add to that, on the business side of things, you reminded me of a great example in my life. I was taking a long time to finish off my certification program for trainers, and then one day I just decided, “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to book a conference room, book the videographer, pay them in advance, and set the date. I’m going to show up with all my material and film this thing and get it done.” 

That’s very similar to Vince’s approach of doing a photo shoot. You’ve signed up, you’ve paid, there’s no refund. You’re either going to lose all that money and effort unless you show up and get it done by the deadline.

The Unpopular Truth About Having Rules in Your Life

Yuri: Yeah, it’s like a kickstarter campaign. The final question is about rules. You have these systemized rules for your life. You talk about the importance and benefit of having rules in one’s life.

Can you talk about why we should have rules and give maybe a couple examples of your own?

Craig: Certainly. Anybody who thinks they don’t live by rules and doesn’t want to have rules, I’ll just ask you this: Do you listen to the ten commandments and kind of live your life by that? Do you also stop at red lights? If you say yes to either of those, then you have rules in your life. 

We all live by rules. What the rules do are provide boundaries. They provide that structure in our lives that give us the freedom that we want. If you imagine that there’d be no traffic lights, just imagine the chaos the world would be in. We wouldn’t have these amazing cities we live in these days. 

The rules for your life are guidelines. They guide you to making decisions easier and with less willpower. One of the examples I used in the books and I’ve used in so many articles I’ve written is: Imagine you’re at a party, a backyard barbecue, and you want to lose weight.

They’re coming around with cheeseburgers and you’re not really that hungry, but you wouldn’t mind eating a cheeseburger. And they’re pressuring you to eat the cheeseburger. 

If you don’t have a rule for dealing with that cheeseburger, you’re not going to have the willpower to overcome that situation. You’re going to lose every time.

But now imagine you were a vegetarian; that’s an easy one to get out of. “I’m a vegetarian. I have a rule that I don’t eat meat. Therefore, I’m not tempted by your cheeseburger.”

You can also apply it as, “I have a rule that I don’t eat cheeseburgers six days a week, and today is not my cheat day,” something like that. 

Or you can have other rules that will allow you to get through these situations in life, such as, “I have a rule that I don’t hit the snooze button and sleep in.” That way, you’d get up on time, the first time your alarm goes off. You internalize the fact that you’re not the type of person who sleeps in or hits the snooze button.

You’re the type of person who gets up when the alarm goes off and you start your day. Even though it’s difficult, that’s the type of person you are.

That’s what we’re using these rules for. And in the book, you see my rules, and one of them is being polite and courteous at all times, not swearing, and I’ve used these rules to change my behavior. You can do that when you have these guidelines in place.

Yuri: The name of the book is The Perfect Day Formula, and you can check it out here: YuriElkaim.com/PerfectDay

I also want to talk about you going above and beyond just the book. You put together a really helpful kit which helps people actually put this stuff into practice. I use a number of the tools in that kit on a daily basis because they’re just so convenient and helpful.

Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve included in the kit in addition to the book?

Craig: It’s comes together quite nicely. There are three workbooks in there and there are three sections in the book. The sections of the book are controlling your morning, and you have a workbook that helps you create rules for your life that help you control your morning. 

Then there’s a section that walks you through all of these questions for creating five pillars for your life around whatever your major goal is. That helps you conquer the chaos of your life and succeed and make the transformation.

The final workbook is the vision creation manual. There are dozens of questions in there that help people refine this amazing vision for their lives that’s very, very specific. 

And then there’s also a gratitude journal in there, a goal-setting poster, and a little carry-around rule card. Most people have probably heard that they should carry around their goals with them in their wallet. Now you can carry around your rules with you in your wallet, as well, because you have this little card that you can fill out there.

You also get a copy of the book. It’s a complete kit for transforming your life in any area where you need to have that big breakthrough.

Yuri: It’s great. I love the tear-away sheets. I use those every single day. I think you forgot to mention those.

Craig: The worksheets, yeah. There are a hundred worksheets in there for your days, for structuring your days, for having the brain dump, which is really, really great for busy parents, like yourself. 

I tell people that – at the end of their workday, when it’s time to go home to the family, or when it’s time leave your home office and go pick up the kids at school –  they should write out all their thoughts in the corner of the work pad and leave them there.

Leave them in your home office, and you don’t think about them when you’re with your kids at the park or when you’re driving them to and from their activities so that you really can be present with people. That brain dump really helps. 

Yuri: Yeah, it’s a great kit and the book is awesome. Guys, go to YuriElkaim.com/PerfectDay. I highly recommend you grab a copy not just of the book, but the whole kit. The kit is really, really helpful. I think you guys have done an amazing job. 

Craig, any final words of wisdom before we finish off?

Craig: Just one thing I would recommend people get is that mentor, that professional accountability. People always ask me what the difference is between professional accountability and social support, and I use the definition that the professional accountability is your coach and your social support are cheerleaders, positive people who are always going to be there. It’s the accountability to a mentor who will call you out. That’s the person you really need in your life as well. 

People who are listening to this podcast have you as a great source and a great mentor. Keep doing the stuff you’re doing, Yuri, and everyone who’s listening, make sure you stay tuned. Use Yuri either as a coach or what I call a virtual mentor, reading his books and listening to his podcasts.

Yuri: Well, thank you very much for the kind words, Craig. Likewise, thank you for all of the amazing work you’ve done over the past decade and a half to pave the way for people like myself and all sorts of other amazing people in our industry to be able to help more people. I want to thank you for that. 

I hope you guys have enjoyed this interview. Once again, if you want to learn more about The Perfect Day Formula, you can go to YuriElkaim.com/PerfectDay

Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.