#107 Rich Roll

Rich Roll (@RichRoll) joined James Altucher to talk about running, addiction, and what you do when you get more energy than you’ve ever had in your life. Roll has a new book out The Plantpower Way and tells James that a lot of the interview was a similar story to his other book Finding Ultra.

When it comes to the fitness guests, I’m always a bit skeptical because they seem so sure of themselves and their systems. The it worked for me, it’ll work for you attitude was present at least in part with Dave Asprey (episode #68) and Dan Buettner (episode #105). Roll has a lot less of it, telling James, “we all have different ways we choose ourselves, and we all have different ways to express ourselves athletically.” It echoes what Brad Feld (episode #91) told James – experiment with what works for you.

Roll got to his place of athletic expression the hard way. In his late twenties and early thirties he was an addict. Addicted to drugs, alcohol, and – it sounds like – work. It was a gradual build up, Roll tells Jams, “suddenly you find yourself living someone else’s life, how do you break free from that?” Roll had what past guests Wayne Dyer calls and inciting incident – a night in jail. After a DUI and facing up to his boss at work, Roll entered a rehabilitation program and got clean. “It was my best thinking that got me institutionalized” and maybe that best thinking wasn’t really best. Rehab gave Roll a chance to pause his life and take the ten-thousand foot view.

After rehab, Roll attempted to repair the damage he had done, professionally. He tells James that he adopted a “window diet,” where you pull up to a drive-thru window and they hand you food. At thirty-five – an age James says, “where people feel it’s often too late for them” – Roll started over. One night, after a long day of work and his stomach full of fast food hamburgers, Roll got winded walking up the stairs. This moment of clarity, it turns out, was a blessing. “If you’re lucky enough to have a moment like that in your life, and you can make the decision, you change your life.” So he did.

But it was hard. “It didn’t seem responsible,” Roll says, to begin his push to get healthy. It’s hard to be selfish, but sometimes that’s the best thing we can be. Scott Adams (episode #47) wrote that “If you do selfishness right, you automatically become a net benefit to society.” Gretchen Rubin (episode #97) told James to seek happiness because, “happier people are more altruistic” and “when we’re unhappy we tend to get defensive and isolated and pre-occupied with our own situation.” Roll says that his wife “was a rock” during all this, and it’s further evidence on the importance of picking a great spouse. Brian Koppelman (episode #98) said it was the best decisions of his life. Even in the podcasts with Claudia it sounds like a spouse on the same wavelengths is incredibly valuable. It reminded me of the example Aaran Brabham used when he told James what he wanted in a spouse, some to “climb” with him. Brabham said that he envisioned marriage like a pair of climbers going up a mountain. Sometimes one was higher and the other was supporting them, sometimes the roles were reversed.

Roll’s wife suggested he try a juice cleanse. He was skeptical. “I didn’t really understand it, but I was willing to try something different to say to myself, you know, what I’m doing is not working, here’s something I can do.”

As Roll began to switch to a healthier lifestyle (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually) he drew on his experiences with removing drugs from his life. There is “a little discomfort, but after a few weeks, the feelings dissipate, that’s been my experience with drugs and alcohol and that’s been my experience with food.” Roll advises James.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJames notes in the interview that it’s often hard to choose to do this because supermarkets themselves aren’t set up for this. It’s an astute observation that I wished the pair had dived into more. Habits, routines, and the path of least resistance work powerfully on us. In his book, Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink notes that there are hidden persuaders all around us; from the size of the package to the name of the food, it’s tangled web we have to navigate. Wansink provides a great roadmap for avoiding these traps.

At this point in the path of “one of the 25 healthiest men alive” Roll is attempting a “junk food vegetarian diet.” He tells James that you can be vegetarian and still have Pizza Hut and Oreos. Don’t fall into the vegan = good trap, Roll says, instead, find something with true health benefits. Austin Kleon (episode #19) told James that “we’re big fans of the overnight success story” and “it’s a really good marketing myth.” Roll brings this up tangentially in his interview, telling James that a good cleanse needs to include nutrients, not just lemon water and cayenne.

As his diet got healthier, Roll says that he got more energy. “My body was vibrating” he tells James and he used this to “join my kids at their energy level.” One morning during this transformation Roll tells James that he just felt great. “Either I had unlocked this dormant gene, or something about this plant based living was agreeing with me in a way that I had not foreseen.”  Rich Roll had found a secret.

Peter Thiel (episode #43) told James that we need to look for secrets, “if you believe there are secrets to find, then you will work at them and be someone who finds them.” Roll never would have found that a vegetarian, highly active lifestyle was something that worked for him unless he was willing to look for things that might work for him. To try new things. To question his best thinking so far. To experiment.

Roll wanted to test what he was doing and began looking for a race. He found an ultra Ironman and finagled his way in. He hired a coach. He got serious. During this transformation he kept his day job, taking conference calls while on his bike.

As he engaged in more athletic adventures, Roll tells James that he began speaking to anyone that would have him. Jon Acuff (episode #106) did the same thing, taking vacation days to speak while working his main gig. Soon, Roll had a book deal and small advance. He went on the road to promote his book. Wayne Dyer told James a great story about his own decision to go on the road to promote his book. Dyer called so many media outlets to try and get on to promote his book that they began telling him, “if you call again the answer is no this time and forever.” So, Dyer tells James, he had to go to plan B. There’s another way to reach everyone, it’s a little more tedious but also a little more fun. Go to them. Dyer packed up his car with books and began a tour across the country. Roll experienced the same effect in the digital age, though going across the country just meant doing it digitally with a lot more Skype calls.

Now though, Roll has established a better routine. He tells James that most mornings begin with a smoothie (improvised with whatever is in the fridge) and he heads out the door to exercise. He also takes his workout stuff with him and “if I have a free hour I’ll get in a run.” That small line seems like nothing, but it’s everything. Roll fills the grout time of his life with the thing he’s trying to do. Stephen King suggests this too. King writes that if you want to be a writer, you need to do two things above all others, write a lot and read a lot.

“I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction…I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.”

Roll says that it’s not that hard to live a vegetarian life, “no one cares” about your eating habits he tells James.  Roll says that he sometimes had to go to meals with clients and, “I’d eat before going to dinner so I’m not starving and I’m not tempted to make a bad choice.” Preemptive planning like this is a big part of what got Chris Hadfield to the space station. In his book Hadfield writes that on one of his early flights he didn’t have anything to do during one part of the mission. Hadfield came up with his own list of things todo and writes that “having a plan of action, even really mundane action, was a huge benefit in terms of adaptations to a radically new environment.” For Roll is was planning what to eat, for Hadfield it was knowing what to do in space. When we don’t have these plans, we look for the path of least resistance and sometimes that path leads where we may not want. Like Rich Roll has found out.

Thanks for reading.  If you want to connect, let’s, @mikedariano.

And the final note with these health and wellness guests, do try it for yourself and take notes. I was actually so taken up by this interview I made a green smoothie to drink while writing this post. The best wisdom I can include here is the idea from Nassim Taleb, time is the best filter we have. Time is what separates good ideas from bad ones and does so almost perfectly.

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