10 Lessons From Wellness Experts Rich Roll and Brad Stulberg That Will Make You a Better Human

There’s no denying that wellness has become a hot topic these days.

It seems like everywhere you look, self-proclaimed wellness gurus are sharing tips, tricks, and hacks for improving your physical and mental well-being.

Rich Roll and Brad Stulberg aren’t like that.

In fact, as you’ll soon discover, the whole idea of “hacking” your way to health runs counter to what they’re all about.

For Rich, becoming a “wellness pontificator at large,” as he calls it, happened by accident. There was no grand design or master plan. Instead, after struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and working in an unfulfilling job (re: corporate lawyer) that left him mentally and physically distressed, Rich realized he needed to make a change.

So, Rich adopted a plant-based diet and started doing ultra-endurance races, and eventually he wrote about a book about it: Finding Ultra.

Brad, on the other hand, took a different route. After working at an international consulting firm right out of college and completely burning out, he decide to go to graduate school and study public health. Brad was interested in learning how people could achieve peak performance in a sustainable way.

And that eventually led Brad to Rich’s book, Finding Ultra, and the rest is history. After Brad interviewed Rich for an article he was writing (more on that in a bit), the two became fast friends, and together they’ve been on a mission to promote wellness.

So of course, we were beyond pumped to have both Rich and Brad on our Seeking Wisdom podcast to share their life lessons with us. You can listen to the full interview right here:

In a hurry? I’ve pulled out 10 of the biggest takeaways from our interview with Rich and Brad that you can read below:

1) “Look at passion not just as this wonderful gift, but as a potential curse.” -Brad Stulberg

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As I mentioned above, Rich and Brad’s friendship started with an interview for an article Brad was writing. It was an article about passion, and having read Finding Ultra, he knew that Rich would be the perfect person to talk to.

Here, I’ll let Brad explain:

So I read Rich’s book, Finding Ultra, right when it came out, and that was a time in my life when I was getting into endurance sports, and it was also fresh off the burnout experience at McKinsey…I haven’t struggled with a substance addiction, but I have struggled with obsessive thought patterns and things that could be called addictions, just not the substances. So the book really just hit a chord with me, and I started to follow Rich. I started to read his blog, the podcast, and he was just someone who I really looked up to.

Fast forward a few years when I started writing about this stuff. One of my first features for Outside Magazine was on passion, and looking at passion not just as this wonderful gift, but as a potential curse if you don’t know how to control it. So I just emailed Rich and thought he’d be a great interview for it, introduced myself, and we did the interview, and then we got to talking after and hit it off. And we’ve been in touch since then.

From Rich’s perspective, he was impressed that Brad had such an “intellectual and nuanced take on a challenging subject matter.”

Because for many folks, following a passion seems only like a positive thing. But in reality, if you let a passion consume too much of your life, there can be negative consequences. Or, as Brad put it, passion can be “a potential curse if you don’t know how to control it.”

2) “The internet, with its access to every bit of knowledge that we would ever want or need, has fueled an undercurrent of interest in how we can better take care of ourselves.” -Rich Roll

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One of the questions we asked Rich during the interview: Why do you think wellness has become such a hot topic?

As you can see from the quote above, the internet has had a lot do with it. But, as Rich explained, there are several other factors at play as well:

Subject matters related to wellness, fitness, well-being, mindfulness, meditation, even minimalism, all of these lifestyle ideas are very much part of the zeitgeist discussion at the moment. And as for why that is, I think it’s a function of a number of things. I think it’s a function of Millennials coming of age who were raised on the internet, and who have a different perspective on seeking purpose and meaning through their careers, where there’s a priority and a premium placed on enjoying what you do, on giving back, on taking care of oneself that perhaps was less important among my generation, being a Gen X’er.

And then with the Gen X’ers, who are coming into their 40s and their 50s, and trying to figure out how to extend their life and be fulfilled and engaged in their careers in a way that perhaps their parents weren’t, I think begs the question of wellness and how to take care of oneself, as opposed to just settling into the La-Z-Boy chair for 20 years of reruns. And I think on top of that, the internet, with its access to every bit of knowledge that we would ever want or need, has fueled an undercurrent of interest in how we can better take care of ourselves.

3) “While it definitely seems like wellness is having a moment, there’s still a lot of noise you have to get through in order to find the signal.” -Brad Stulberg

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Of course, just because wellness as a topic has been growing in popularity, that doesn’t mean you should believe everything you here — especially when it comes to quick fixes.

To quote Brad:

While it definitely seems like wellness is having a moment, there’s still a lot of noise you have to get through in order to find the signal. I know that was something we briefly discussed the last time I was on the show, but “something for nothing” never gets old. And I think that for every one good podcast or really good book with insights that will work, there are 10, to 50, to 100 “hack your way to growth,” “wear this magnetic bracelet,” or “wear this thing on your head and your brain will improve.”

The truth is a lot of people want wellness, but it’s really not about a quick fix. It’s about a lifestyle, and it’s tough, especially if you’re not coming from a place of wellness.

4) “It’s not about trends, and hacks, and looking for the latest and the greatest, it’s about acclimating your life to the fundamentals.” -Rich Roll

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With so much misinformation about wellness out there, we wanted to know: How do you separate the signal from the noise? How do you know whose advice you can trust?

Here’s Rich’s take on it:

As I kind of mature through this, I have begun listening to fewer and fewer people and have put myself on more of an information diet, at least in respect to wellness and fitness. I have a few trusted sources that work very well for me, and I rely on them and lean on them. And those are people I have personal relationships with.

In terms of the content I consume, echoing what Brad said, there is so much noise out there, I think you have to really finely attune your antenna and your radar to see the showboating and carnival-barker, snake-oil salesmen coming down the pipe from a million miles away. And I think if you’re paying attention, it’s pretty easy to spot. You can see the signs and the marketing lingo and all of the trappings that surround this stuff and the way that the content is delivered, and I just tune all of that stuff out. I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff.

A lot of the people I trust and rely on are people that I’ve had as guests on my podcast, a variety of doctors and nutritionists that I trust and who I think walk with quite a bit of integrity. I have a coach for my fitness and athletic endeavors and I trust him implicitly, and that’s a relationship that dates back basically a decade at this point.

I think a kind of marching order that perhaps could be a takeaway for your listeners is, despite the fact that it’s good to be experimenting on yourself and finding what works for you, it’s not about trends, and hacks, and looking for the latest and the greatest, it’s about acclimating your life to the fundamentals. And if you want to play around with a few hacks and things like that, you have to consider them cherries on top of the sundae, but fundamentally the principles of living a healthy, fit life are pretty basic, and they don’t go out of style.

To clarify, Rich doesn’t want to come across as sounding “anti-science” or “anti-new developments.” It’s just that buying into the latest fads can distract you from the fundamentals.

Here’s an example he gave:

If you think the solution to what ails you is to get your microbiome tested and then learn all about what’s wrong with your microbiome, that’s helpful. That’s great. But also at some level, it’s kind of a distraction. It’s like, oh, here’s a thing that I can buy, and here’s a thing that I can do, and I can immerse myself in this little journey with this thing. Meanwhile, I’m eating at McDonalds and I’m staying up till two in the morning and watching Dancing with the Stars reruns or whatever.

I think you have to fundamentally have your priorities in check about the basic aspects of what it is to live well, which is basically to eat right, move your body, get good sleep, stay hydrated — things that haven’t changed in hundreds of years.

5) “I think a lot of people are suffering with mental health issues that come from a degradation of community, and that’s the gift and the curse of being so easily connected.” -Brad Stulberg

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Brad reinforced a lot of what Rich was saying about the importance of getting the fundamentals nailed down first when it comes to wellness.

And while people often point to exercising and eating right as being the core components of achieving wellness, there’s more to it than that.

As Brad explained:

There’s a very popular study from the ‘60s that found that it’s really five basic behaviors that can add up to 10 to 20 years to your life. And it’s: 1) Don’t smoke. And if you do smoke, get help quitting. 2) Like Rich said, move. 3) Keep your BMI under thirty, which means don’t become obese. That goes with moving. 4) Don’t overdrink. So for men that’s two drinks a day, for women it’s one drink a day. 5) And then stay connected, and have a sense of belonging.

And you know it’s interesting because if I do an inventory of my own life, I don’t always shoot five for five. I work from home. Sometimes I feel lonely, so these things sound really easy, but they can be pretty hard to do…I just think the drum that still needs to be beat is around nailing the basics, because enough people don’t nail the basics.

One thing that can get in the way of nailing the basics? The internet.

So why is wellness having a moment? I think a lot of people are suffering with mental health issues that come from a degradation of community, and that’s the gift and the curse of being so easily connected. Because now we can talk online or via email instead of what was once an in-person interaction. I haven’t tested this, and I haven’t seen science, but I wonder if that’s not at play too.

6) “Spend less time trying to grow what you’re doing, and spend more time serving the people who are already interested in what you’re doing.” -Rich Roll

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In the second half of the interview, we talked to Rich and Brad about how they think about marketing, and how important it’s been to their success.

Here’s what RIch had to say:

I have no marketing background whatsoever. I will say in all fairness, when Finding Ultra came out in 2012, nobody really knew who I was, outside of this insular world of triathlons. There were a couple media pieces about me, but there was no mainstream awareness. And so I realized and understood that if I didn’t put everything I had into pushing this book out into the world that it would just come and go and I would be forced to go back and continue to practice law, which was something I very much did not want to do.

I made it my mission, basically my full-time job, of trying to birth this book into the world, and making spreadsheets of everyone I could contact, and I’d do an interview with anyone who would talk to me, and just turn over every rock in order to get it out there. It’s not like it was a New York Times best-selling book. It wasn’t. It was a slow burn of developing awareness. But I learned a lot about how to launch a product, and I made a lot of mistakes.

And ultimately, the podcast Rich created was just an opportunity to continue the conversation he had started with his book. It wasn’t part of some master plan.

As Rich explained:

I didn’t whiteboard, “This is what I’m going to do and this is the next chapter of my thing.” It was just turning a microphone on and saying: This is fun. Maybe I’ll do a couple of these episodes. I had no idea it would turn into this thing. And in terms of how it’s been marketed, my marching order is create great content, and I share it on my social media sites. But beyond that, I don’t do anything else.

Just create something great, and take care of the people who are already tuning into your wavelength, and make sure that they’re happy. Spend less time trying to grow what you’re doing, and spend more time serving the people who are already interested in what you’re doing. And trust that overtime, if you’re consistent, and you continue to deliver on the promise of great content, that the audience will develop.

7) “I think the word ‘authentic’ is getting bastardized, and it’s been so co-opted that it almost feels like a nasty word now. Because it’s a word, it’s an idea, it’s an ethos that brands are trying to manufacture.” -Rich Roll

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One word that came up when talking to Rich was “authentic,” because the way he does marketing and the way he promotes his work just really feels…well…authentic.

Take this quote, for example:

I think perhaps I could be larger or doing more if I understood marketing better, but I feel good about the fact that I’m not out there trying to trick people or create clickbait headlines, or do lame giveaways to try to entice people to subscribe to something that otherwise they might not be interested in. And just focusing on: How can I have the most amazing conversation with this person? And then present it in an artistic or aesthetically pleasing way.

But as it turns out, Rich is not a fan of the word “authentic,” even though authenticity is at the core of what he does.

Here, I’ll let him explain:

I think the word “authentic” is getting bastardized, and it’s been so co-opted that it almost feels like a nasty word now. Because it’s a word, it’s an idea, it’s an ethos that brands are trying to manufacture. And something that’s truly authentic cannot be manufactured by its very definition.

So authenticity is very important to what I do, but not because I’m putting energy into trying to create authenticity. I’m trying to actually avoid being distracted by externalities that would drive my content and what I’m doing away from just being what is fundamentally consistent with my personality.

8) “I don’t really think of anything I do as marketing. It’s just having these interesting conversations with people, writing about them, and then doing what I can to share those ideas.” -Brad Stulberg

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When we asked Brad about marketing, his viewpoints echoed what Rich said: The best marketing, as it turns out, shouldn’t feel like marketing at all. It shouldn’t be manufactured, but instead it should be a reflection of who you are.

As Brad explained:

It starts with a good product. And the only thing that I would add to what Rich said is that I don’t think that marketing is separate from the core of what I do.  t’s just all what I do. So when I’m on Twitter, I do my best to compose really high-quality tweets, I often use that actually as a testing ground for sentences that will appear in articles and books.

So there’s a trap of thinking of marketing as separate from the work, or a skill to optimize. And there are people who are marketers first. I just think of myself as a writer and someone who’s privileged to play in this world of ideas. And every time I offer an idea, that is my marketing, but that’s also the core of what I’m doing.

In marketing lingo, maybe it’s called “content marketing.” But again, I don’t ever use the word marketing. I don’t really think of anything I do as marketing. It’s just having these interesting conversations with people, writing about them, and then doing what I can to share those ideas.

9) “When my wife comes home from work, I put my phone in the other room, and it stays there until the morning.” -Brad Stulberg

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To close out our interview with Brad and Rich, we asked them about their morning and evening routines.

For Brad, his mornings start at 5:30am with a pot of coffee and doing deep focus work (usually writing and/or editing). Then it’s onto 20 minutes of mediation, and then 90 minutes of exercise (generally running, or sometimes running and resistance training).

When it comes to his evening routine, the part that stood out was how much of an effort he makes to disconnect from his work. As he explained:

Something I’ve just started doing over the past month or two months is when my wife comes home from work (I work from home, she doesn’t), I put my phone in the other room, and it stays there until the morning. And that’s really been the only routine. Other than that, things just kind of play out as they go. But I really try to disconnect. That tends to be around 7pm through the next morning.

This is actually a topic I’ve discussed with David Cancel offline. I feel that anxiety still. And I have to sit with that urge to check my phone. And often I realize the anxiety is just there because I’m just so habitually used to checking it. It’s not like I’m anxious because I’m waiting for an email, or like there’s something important happening in my life. It’s just that I’ve become so used to scrolling and checking that it feels like if I don’t there’s this emptiness where I just have to sit with myself. And as uncomfortable as that is, I think it’s pretty important to be OK with that.

10) “There’s nothing super exotic about my evening routine, except for the fact that I do sleep in a tent. I’ve been sleeping in a tent on the roof of my house for a little over a year at this point.” -Rich Roll

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For Rich, who has four kids, his morning routine varies day to day, but he always tries to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep. It doesn’t always happen, but for him sleep is critical, even if that means sleeping in till 7am or 730am some mornings.

But the most intriguing part of Rich’s routine is how he gets that sleep…

So in terms of the evening, if I have my way, I’m in bed by 9 o’clock. And I will end the day with putting my phone away an hour or two before lights out, then I’ll have some magnesium tea before I go to bed, which helps me calm down and settle myself. So it’s pretty basic. There’s nothing super exotic about my evening routine, except for the fact that I do sleep in a tent. I’ve been sleeping in a tent on the roof of my house for a little over a year at this point. And it’s a longer discussion as to the “why?”, but I really do struggle with sleeping soundly.

We have a flat roof at our house, and in the summer months we’d sleep outside with my kids, and I would just wake up feeling amazing. I would sleep so much better in the cool, dry air than I do indoors with air conditioning or heat. And so that was kind of the original impetus. Because my wife likes the room warm, and I like it cold, and it was putting tension in our relationship. So either she wouldn’t sleep great, or I wouldn’t sleep great, and I was like, f*ck it. I’m getting a tent.

So I started sleeping in a tent, and she’s like, “Alright knock yourself out.” And the quality of my sleep was 10x immediately. And I’ve just never looked back from that. And you know, I don’t sleep in it every night, but I would say nine out of ten nights I sleep in a tent, and it really has enhanced the quality of my sleep. I like sleeping in the cold air. And on top of that, it’s kind of a cool, stoic practice. It reminds me that I don’t need that much. If everything when to sh*t and went away, and all I had was sleeping bag and a tent, I would be OK. Because I have a lot right now, and I have a great life, and I’m choosing to sleep in a tent. So it’s kind of an interesting experiment in non-attachment that I’ve been enjoying.

Want to hear more lessons from wellness experts Rich Roll and Brad Stulberg?

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