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Health Optimization | Small Victories - Series

Aim for Small Victories

Contributor Bio

Alex Tarnava is the CEO of Drink HRW, and the primary inventor of the open-cup hydrogen tablets. Alex runs the clinical outreach program for our company, working with over a dozen universities coordinating research. Alex has also published research of his own. You can find it on his ResearchGate. Additionally, he has been interviewed for many prominent publications, such as Entrepreneur and Forbes, and on many popular Podcasts. You can find all of his interviews and articles on his media page.

Aim for Small Victories

Progress is Key, Whether It’s For Your Health or the Pursuit of Knowledge

I’ve ruminated about this topic for years, perhaps a decade. The very framework of this blog has sat in a folder on my desktop with hundreds of words of musings and bullet points since the very week I decided to start a blog to put my thoughts on paper. I’ve put it aside, slowly adding thoughts over time, thinking the nature of the article wasn’t urgent. I have months of articles pre-written, with over six months worth with frameworks built, and new ideas coming all of the time. Why should I rush this one?

My marketing team has poked fun at me about this blog topic and a couple dozen others as having nothing to do with hydrogen water and having no benefit in selling hydrogen tablets. First off, I have a hard time doing anything for more than a year or two in which I have no passion. I am doing this, as in pursuing hydrogen water, as it is a passion. If I can only work towards the sale of hydrogen tablets, I risk losing my passion. I didn’t really know how I was going to make money off hydrogen water, but I felt compelled to do it. I left a far more profitable business that no longer gave me the drive to get out of bed to pursue it and found a way. Perhaps writing articles like this will eventually come to fruition as well, or perhaps they will just aid in my positive outlook towards my life and how I’ve structured it. Seven and a half years ago I quoted this and try to live my business life along these lines:

When ones principles trump self preservation, those with the intelligence to understand the importance of principles will undoubtedly find alternate routes to survive and eventually succeed.” 

As I write this, I am sitting on my couch at well below 100%, with a hard root beer, bag of chips, hot sauce and ranch dip beside me. As I started to dig into my not sufficiently enough premeditated slovenly feast, I began questioning my decision making leading to the purchases. I’ve been quite dedicated to my health in 2019, having lost 30 lbs to date. I’ve increased my time off work, gotten into nature more frequently, started reading for pleasure again, and taken up extended fasting. I’ve also significantly cleaned up my diet. Why the digression?

The circumstances of my last six weeks, particularly the last two, led to all sorts of runaway train effects on my health and justifications for why they couldn’t be avoided. Six weeks ago, I had shoulder surgery and have not been able to properly exercise since. Significantly reduced ability to exercise is what led to my initial weight gain (~175 lbs training 6-8 hours a day, to a peak of 265 lbs this past January). In the last two weeks, I spent four days in Las Vegas, which was largely a party with poor food choices, hosted a bachelor party (as the best man), attended a celebration of life/funeral, and last night, a wedding.

Today is Canada Day, and it is quite easy to partake in some drinks and junk, and justify it as a holiday. If I don’t take action now, it will only get worse. This coming weekend is my Dad’s birthday. The following weekend is the wedding where I am the best man. The week after that we (Drink HRW) are main sponsors in The Fourth Period Classic Golf Tournament. It quickly goes down the rabbit hole, as the following week, I am away on business, my spouse is graduating from her teaching program at UBC so there will be celebrations, I am travelling to my hometown to see family and friends, and then will be on a business trip/vacation mix for the last half of August. If I do not take account of my situation now the results could be catastrophic.

This is the exact type of danger that many of us to succumb to. When we aim to simply maintain and “life” happens, we are able to justify maintaining the new baseline that has happened due to “understandable circumstances.” Moreover, as our baseline falls, our subjective excitement towards any improvement falls with it. This makes it easier and easier to justify descent, and harder and harder to motivate ourselves towards improvement. According to Facebook I first quoted something along the lines of my thoughts on this article in January of 2012:

The philosophy behind 'maintaining' when regarding a current situation whether it be your business, health, fitness, or relationships is inherently flawed. Similar to how we are unable to stop crime, as we are forced to react to what has already occurred, maintaining suggests fixing things which have already broken. On top of that, what was acceptable or even outstanding at one point will soon begin to lose its novelty and luster. The only true way to maintain your current level of satisfaction in any facet of your life is to grow and build. Attempting to maintain truly is a quick and effective route headed towards disappointment and deterioration”

We Fear Loss More Than We Value Gain

The average person is far more emotionally motivated to protect what they have than pursue what they could have. For most, the prospect of having someone come and take $100 out of their account, or wallet, is far more emotionally distressful than allowing themselves to lose $1,000 that was theirs for the taking, losing the funds by inaction. The same goes for our health.

As we start to lose pieces of our health, we enter emotional distress. We continue to identify ourselves as who we “were”, not who we currently “are”. This makes perceived small victories meaningless, as it is an effort to be less than what we believe ourselves to be. We have not reconciled ourselves with a persistent but false self-assessment. Of course, we know intellectually what our situation is, but emotionally we have had to justify our circumstance.

Many will inevitably cope with their new reality by leveraging a victim role. This allows them to turn their obstacles into their identity. It will also cause a compulsion to let others know about said victim identity, solidifying the narrative, and making it harder and harder to overcome. While it is not an excuse per say, as the reasoning is often quite valid and understandable, functionally it becomes an excuse. When I used to train commission sales reps, we had a saying, there are only two “E’s”, excuses or enthusiasm. This is true to an extent, in some aspects of life, but I am hesitant to insult and alienate those suffering real and tangible deficits by telling them they just need to shed the excuses. Our health is our existence, it is what is most important to our very basic evolutionary programming, losing it or watching it slip away does not come without mental health side effects. I am slowly beginning to hold the position that poor health is as much a mental health issue as it is a physical one.

Resistance to “Trying”

As we let our situation become our identity, it becomes harder and harder to attempt to change ourselves. The justification “I would be healthy and fit if only…” loses its luster if attempts are made and dramatic improvements are not observed. Publicly trying and failing risks losing credibility to the friends and family members we believe we have sold on why we cannot pursue health. The fear of judgement and the potential for derision and even ostracism are foundational fears that hit our very basic evolutionary desires, fears that at one time could have meant the end to our survival and/or reproductive capabilities in early tribal humanity.

This is compounded by the health and fitness industry, which is ironically named as for the most part commercial representations of healthy and fit are neither, shoving down photos of aesthetically pleasing models with no body fat as the ideal of fitness and health. We have models with no body fat and on dangerous drugs to promote weight loss or muscle gain. Body builders who cannot lightly jog for a few minutes or even do 10 push-ups without reaching exhaustion, and models, male and female, having their photos adjusted, make up contouring applied to their face and body to give the illusion they are thinner, and marketed to the masses.

Waist circumference is not a direct indicator of metabolic health. Many who are lean are metabolically unhealthy, and some who are obese have great metabolic health. As I have previously mentioned in interviews, at my worst of 265 lbs, I was in the healthy or even ideal level for all markers of metabolic fitness, including fasting blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides and had a resting heart rate in the high 40s (at 235 lbs, it is now around 41-43). Dr. Rhonda Patrick and Dr. Elissa Epel, co-author of “the Telomere Effect” with Nobel Laureate Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, talk about this at the ~49 minute mark in their conversation here. This is important to consider as you will start improving your health, protecting your health span and maximizing your longevity, far before you obtain a body that others may comment on.

It is important not to allow the comments of others to impede on your own progress. Vicious peer attacks that dissuade those making an effort from continuing to try are abhorrent, but unavoidable. No one should be made to feel ashamed of their efforts as inconsequential or laughable. We all must start with small victories, and interestingly the healthier we get the smaller the victories end up becoming. They just happen to be compounding.

While those who know me well may call “bullshit” on me for this, for this particular scenario I find many group activities, such as crossfit and martial arts to be very supportive. Not for myself, but what I have witnessed with others. My personality finds overwhelming acceptance and structured group activities to be a bit unnerving and uncomfortable. I am inherently an introvert, but also because I carry a bit of guilt over not dedicating enough time to every other friend, family member, and ongoing project I’ve emotionally or intellectually committed to and find rejecting the sincere invitations to be difficult, contributing to further guilt.

Despite my self-determined ostracism from group activities, I watched for years the benefits others experienced in these communities. Those who were at a low, unhealthy and needing support, welcomed in as family, coached and encouraged. I saw many unhealthy and desperate have their lives transformed. I am not going to sit here and recommend any one activity as the be all end all of fitness, but I will say if you need support, are feeling attacked by friends and families, and want to change your situation- many clubs, group fitness activities, team sports, and gyms will create a culture in which you are rewarded and encouraged to succeed.

Small Victories, in Context

Compromised health is often a result of years, or even decades of deterioration. We cannot expect to resolve our issues in weeks, or even months. Health is a lifelong pursuit. Our success in health, business and even the pursuit of knowledge is based on momentum. If you imagine a round boulder, on a flat surface, the initial force required to move it may still be tremendous. Once it starts moving, the momentum from the movement contributes to its own inertia, and the boulder is a runaway force.

As we overcome obstacles and build our own momentum the challenges which at one point seemed insurmountable become inconsequential. An old talk from Tony Robbins I quite enjoy revolves around challenges and our sphere of comfort. We tend to shy away from challenges outside our comfort zone, as we do not know how to overcome them. Once we break through and overcome a challenge, our comfort zone has increased. Similar challenges can now be tackled. Our health, and the challenges in which we need to overcome to preserve and improve upon it, is an ever-changing sphere. It is our duty to pursue small victories, to seek to overcome the challenges in which we are faced. I know that I have not always been able to tackle this alone, and do not expect anyone else to either.

While it is not finalized, and the intro article hasn’t been finished, I have committed to starting new ongoing series on aiding in health. These articles will focus on small victories to improve activity, diet, and mental health. While hydrogen water may be the first small victory you pursue to get on track, we prefer it to be the icing on the metaphorical cake, the extra precaution after other small victories have led to the best chance at preserving health and fitness, circumstances allowable. Stay tuned, as always, we will be back with more.


  • Alex Tarnava

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Ray Gebauer

    Excellent article. I especially like what you said, “I am slowly beginning to hold the position that poor health is as much a mental health issue as it is a physical one.”

    Great insight and well said. Thank you!

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