On today’s podcast, I’m thrilled to interview Sarah Peck about a swim adventure that provided hundreds with drinking water, how to navigate the achievement dance, and why understanding what you’re feeling could be the key to eating well.
“Deciding is powerful. It is terrifying. It is beautiful. Kill something today. Cut it out. Drop it. Remove it. Make clarity in choosing, by saying No to the part you don’t want. Say Yes to the things you want to keep. Do something. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin now.”
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Kendra Kinnison: On today’s show, I am thrilled to have someone I’ve selfishly been looking forward to interviewing for a long time. She’s a writer, designer, entrepreneur, open water swimmer – you’ll hear a little bit about that – and, of course, urban nerd. Today I’m excited to welcome Sarah Peck to the show.
Sarah Peck: Well thanks, its great to be here! I am so glad to finally have this conversation!
KK: Yes, so thank you for making the time. I’ve got to start with the very first thing – tell us about the charity: water birthday swim.
SP: Oh yeah, this is a good story. It was about a year ago actually, I can’t believe its been a year. When my 29th birthday was coming up, I didn’t want to throw a giant party and I ended up meeting Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water at Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit. We chatted about how much clean water is needed around the world and how many diseases are caused by a lack of clean water. I made this kind of crazy bet with him. I said I was a former swimmer so “how about if I try to get 1,000 people to donate $29 for my 29th birthday. If we can do that, I’ll swim naked from Alcatraz to San Francisco.” I said it kind of half jokingly because I knew if I put something crazy out there that people would get excited and say, “Oh Sarah, you’re so crazy.” What ended up happening was that in 72 days we raised $33,000 and I had to go get on a boat without a swimsuit on and go all the way out to Alcatraz and jump off the boat wearing just my goggles and my swim cap and naked swim all the way to San Francisco!
KK: Okay, isn’t that incredibly cold, just asking?
SP: Yes, it really is. Its interesting because I realized how much these little habits kind of get into your day. I struggled that morning because I usually get up early and swim anyway. You get up and kind of do the same thing – roll out of bed, stumble to the kitchen to make coffee, pack your bag. For me I put my swimsuit on, my wetsuit on, my ride picks me up and we go to the boathouse. All of these things are done sequentially and on that day I really got stuck at the part where I had to put a swimsuit on. One of the things I have to do – its almost a trigger for my body – that’s my trigger. I didn’t know what to do! My 5am isn’t the sharpest thing in the world so I think I sat there naked in my room for like ten minutes not knowing what I was doing.
KK: That makes a lot of sense.
SP: I ended up putting my swim suit on because I was used to it and then I got out on the boat and once we got all the way out there, I took off my parka and my jacket and then I kept going. I took off my suit and then I just jumped in.
KK: Wow, I remember that. I think that’s when I learned about you, during that project. Chris Guillebeau shared your project, and I think you kind of snuck out and did the swim and didn’t tell anybody until afterwards.
SP: Yeah, that was deliberate as well. This was not a spectator’s sport. I wasn’t supposed to have naked pictures of me on the internet. I picked a couple of days based on the tides and once we raised the money, three days later we were doing it. I brought three of my girlfriends with me and they were on the boat along with my mom. I gave them each instructions to take PG photos like where you could see my bum and know I was naked but nothing else! Take photos that proved it happened. I didn’t want to advertise that it was happening because swimming is really personal to me – its something that I do just to dance across the surface of water and relax. If I have a bunch of people watching me, it starts to feel like a show and I don’t want it to be a show.
KK: Well I love how you transformed something you love and do into something that raised over $30,000 and for charity: water, that does so much good. If I remember right, supplying a school with water was about $25,000 so that’s a significant population that you were able to help with really a crazy swim.
SP: Yeah, and that’s another thing that was so important. You asked earlier was it cold – yes. It was freezing but would you be chilly for 45 minutes if it meant 1600 people could have clean water for the rest of their life? I feel like that’s a no-brainer. Sure, my toes are going to be cold, I’m going to sound like a chattering whale when I get out, but then I’ll get in a sauna, take a hot shower, drink a beer maybe!
KK: Alright so obviously with that story out of the way, anyone listening knows you have a different definition of success than perhaps Western culture tells us we ought to. So tell us about your journey in achieving a project of that nature and really all that you do and the way you’ve woven your life together where you’re able to do so many interesting things that you love.
SP: Sure. I love that question – what does success mean? Its so hard because when I was younger – speaking from the wise age of thirty of course. When I was younger, I think I chased achievement a lot more. Goals, check lists and boxes, accomplishments where really important to my definition of success. I don’t think that that’s bad, I think its maybe a phase you have to go through because early in life, you’re looking to define yourself and you define yourself by doing things a lot of the time. As I aged through that, success is less about the things I can write on my résumé because those are just moments of the past. To me, success is more about being present in the moment and really being in awe of the gift that is life and what you’re capable of doing with the time you have. I like goals as short-term things, they help me put together bigger bodies of work, they help me do things I think are important to the world, but spending too much time looking at the past or the future and I completely lose sight of now. When we put those blinders on and forget what it means to be here right now, we can lose a lot of opportunities for joy, wonder, and awe.
KK: I like that a lot. I like how you described your relationship with goals. I think that’s a neat perspective to have. That we use them, they’re tools, but they’re not your primary compass so to speak.
SP: Yes, that’s a great way to put it. Your compass has to be deeper. Its got to be really true to who you are – your light, your inside, and what really gets you going. Those goals are like points on a map where you wander here and there. You may say I’m working on a book proposal right now but I’m more than that.
KK: That’s a good point. I think for many of us who can relate to that achievement phase as you described it and I think that’s a really neat way to describe it too, it can be tough when those achievements run out and those external achievements just don’t come as naturally as it did in the earlier years. I think that’s neat to really emphasize the importance of digging deeper. Whats interesting is those achievements can still be there, but the meaning has to come first.
SP: Exactly. Its an interesting dance and I’m not going so far as to say you should never have achievements or never have goals, but that sometimes they are more or less important. Here comes my two sided philosopher’s headspace that I’m in but I can argue that sometimes you need achievements to discover who you really are. Sometimes when you’re searching, its best done by seeking. That’s part of the early phase I think. You don’t know what you like – you tried a job and you hated it and you have something you learned. It gives you the ability to move past these achievements and its part of living.
KK: Good point, that discovery requires that movement. We can’t figure it all out in our own heads – we have to get out and interact with the world. So tell us what a typical day in your life looks like.
SP: I was thinking about this on my run this morning actually! I have a couple different frameworks for my day. In an ideal world, 5 days a week I would get up at 6:30 and go for a run or yoga or some kind of movement for about an hour. I would drink lemon water and ginger tea and some really healthy stuff and then get back and shower and start my day around 8. Then I write in the mornings for a couple of hours and kind of hit my first slump at around 11 or 12 where I’ve been awake for 6 hours and moved my body and used my brain and all of a sudden I’m tired and need to pause. So I take a break and a lot of times I will go out to lunch with friends or catch up on phone calls or answer emails or even go upstairs and read a book and kind of clear the cache and start again. I’m going to say that was an ideal day and I honestly probably do that around 3 days a week – Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Wednesday and Friday, depending on whether or not I’ve stayed up too late, how many emails I need to answer, deadlines I’m on, I’ll push that back to a 7:30 or 8:00 start time. Those days I’ll get straight to work and do a later workout.
KK: So you still keep the core, you just may shift the order that you do them in.
SP: Yes, because I’ll be laying in bed for another hour.
KK: Interesting. So do you consider yourself more of an introvert or an extrovert – meaning do you get your energy from being around other people?
SP: I’m 100% an introvert. Well maybe not 100% but where I get my energy from is mostly being by myself, writing, going on solo runs, swimming on myself. I score slightly more introverted than extroverted. I have a good extroverted personality so my friends are constantly surprised to find out I recharge as an introvert and I describe it as needing about 8 hours a day with myself and about 4 hours a day with other people. That’s about the right ratio for me.
KK: I like that – I might even steal that!
SP: Sure! Its like a two thirds – one third kind of thing. If I spend the entire day with myself, I start to need my thoughts to bounce off someone else and go talk or hear what people are doing. If I spend more than four hours a day with other people, I am exhausted. I am getting home, I need a book, a shower, and I need to curl up under my blankets by myself.
KK: I can totally relate. There are days when my best friend is a book – completely. So you told us a little bit about your morning and health habits, but are there any other habits or routines that you use particularly as you engage in your work that you’ve learned help you get into that space to create?
SP: Yes, there are so many habits. Right now, my biggest struggle is that I’m actually in such a good habit with writing my blog and my internet work and I’m not in a good habit of writing a book or longer form work. I’ve actually got to shift these habits in order to make room for the bigger things I want to make room for in my life. We are creatures of habit because everything we do is because of some pattern we’ve laid out before. The worst thing I struggle with is when you constantly have to decide what you’re going to do, you spend most of your day deciding. You don’t spend most of your day doing. I try really hard to get my habits laid out and put in place so its really easy for me to get straight into the doing. If I go straight into a run then its 7:30 and I’m done with it. I don’t have to decide. Then I can get straight into writing. One of my big goals is getting something done by 11am – a big piece or essay done. If I do that, the rest of the day I feel better like I’ve done something and everything else on top of that is gravy.
KK: So do you take the same approach to your food? I have to ask.
SP: Oh sure! Actually, I love talking about this. I can geek out about it, I don’t write about it on my blog because I think food is one of those tricky subjects that everybody’s constitution is different and everybody’s habits are different and I don’t want something I say to be misinterpreted like I’m telling people to stop eating. Food is really interesting to me. I’ve actually lost about ten pounds over the course of a year through really interesting eating habits and I feel better than I ever have before. I feel strong, I feel light when I run, I feel really great in yoga. I don’t have as many afternoon or evening slumps like a crash from eating unhealthy food. I start the day with squeezing an entire lemon into a giant glass of water and I try to drink a liter of water in the morning. We make up and we’re dehydrated and a little acidic and we’re acidic it actually feels like hunger. Even though lemon juice is really acidic, it turns alkaline in your system and it cleans out the toxins from overnight so you can get ready for the day. Another thing I do is I try to not eat for 12 hours from 9pm to 9am or 8pm to 8am. Every day I try to have an 8 hour fast. Its actually pretty normal.
KK: That’s pretty reasonable. I’ve experimented with the 16 and I couldn’t work and do that but 12 sounds interesting.
SP: Twelve is great. I think that most people who are really tired, we need 8 or 9 hours. I think we also need 8 or 9 hours of not eating so our bodies can stop processing and just rest. I sometimes try to go 16 hours without eating and finish my meal the night before by 7 and then get up, drink my lemon water, go for a run, drink ginger water and then not eat until 10. I can’t do that every day because sometimes I’m hungry and need fuel, but maybe once or twice a week its great.
KK: Interesting. So what about lunch and dinner? Are you an eat-out kind of person, or do you have your meals pretty precisely planned?
SP: I eat gluten-free and I try to eat low-processed flour and no sugar and low glycemic index which means nothing that would spike your blood sugar like crazy. If I do eat those foods, I eat them in the evening so during my day my blood sugar is pretty regulated. So during the day I’ll have something like a salad with tomatoes, vegetables, maybe a slice of chicken, maybe an egg, maybe a hunk of cheese, maybe some nuts. That’ll be my first meal of the day. I don’t really eat carbs or breakfast food in the mornings, it doesn’t work for me. I may eat a whole avocado, a whole tomato, a salad, and an egg. Then later on during the day I start to get a little bit munchie at around 2pm so I’ll have my first snack. That’ll usually be something a little bit fat. I used to grab some potato chips or cheese and I’m trying to switch that over to cashew nuts so something that still feels creamy and delicious and fatty, but thats a little bit better for you. Dinner will range. I’ll do burritos, Asian food, sushi. This is where I lessen my guidelines because they’re not restrictions. I’m not about restrictions, I’m about nourishment. I may eat a sweet potato which is high on the glycemic index. I may crave lasagna so I’ll make a polenta or eggplant lasagna. I’ll have some warm comfort food and maybe my blood sugar will rise but its kind of okay because I’ll feel a little sleepy to get ready for the night.
KK: So you mentioned an interesting thing when you say that you’re not about restriction, you’re about nourishment and the foods that help your body feel healthy. I think that’s an awesome perspective to have. Sometimes when we talk about food, particularly as women, I know I’ve struggled with maintaining a healthy weight in the context of the stress of family and life and work and those sorts of things. It’s tempting to try the restriction route, but that’s just not lasting success.
SP: Never. Deprivation has never worked for me. It’ll last about two days and then I get angry. I’ll start swearing about it! It has to be about nourishment, love, and kindness. I have a really interesting habit or trick to it. If I start to have a craving like I really want a warm buttery cinnamon roll, I try instead of punishing myself to just ask myself what I’m really feeling. It usually may mean that I’m tired, a little sad, I’m craving comfort. Once you identify the feeling, the craving sometimes goes away. Being honest is so helpful. You can say you’re tired, stressed out, and you want it because it’ll make you feel good. You may be doing something that is going to help with the tired and the stressed out. I’m not going to attack the cinnamon roll, I’m going to talk to the tired. I’m going to enjoy the cinnamon roll and then try to get to bed an hour earlier tonight. I just want to have a better day tomorrow but right now I just want to feel a little better so I eat the cinnamon roll.
KK: That’s a great point. For me personally, that is right on target. I certainly have what I think is a comfort relationship with food in that when I’m stressed, it is what I subconsciously turn to for comfort. I wrote that question down – what am I really feeling.
SP: What is the feeling behind the feeling? Absolutely.
KK: I like that, thank you for sharing that. I think that has the potential to be really powerful and it is so simple. Simple enough that it’s actually doable.
SP: The next part too is if you make a decision, embrace yourself. Once a week I may get some sugary thing eat through a handful of gummy bears or something. If you do that, then you see where you’re at and see where its coming from. Then don’t be mean to yourself about what you’re doing. In order to adjust this, decide what you can do to adjust it. I’m not going to kill myself over eating some gummy bears. I’m going to walk to reduce my stress, I’m going to find a yoga class because it makes me feel good. I’m going to take a warm shower, and the next day I’m going to call up a friend. The next day or the day after, the need for gummy bears is really just going to disappear.
KK: I like that. Those are some great examples of some proactive, non-food ways to deal with stress. That’s really good. So are there any habits – you mentioned converting your writing from the short form to the long form – are there any habits that your working on other than that one?
SP: Yes, for a long time I struggled with whether I should write or I should run first thing in the morning. I actually got kind of paralyzed not knowing which one was better for me so I had to experiment and movement is the best thing for me first thing in the morning. So I’m trying to get back in the habit of exercising at least once if not twice a day. I’m in yoga teacher training and starting to take some dance classes and running and I’m on cloud nine. I’m the most blissful, happy person and I’m centered when I move my body. I try to do a 30 minute jog or 60 minutes including walking in the morning right after I get up and put some clothes on. Then I’m also trying to go to yoga class at least five times a week. So I go Sundays, Wednesday night, and then I go Tuesday and Thursday during lunch. I go twice on Sunday so that’s five right now and its feeling pretty good.
KK: Wow, I like how you work it around your work and you use the classes. That’s huge for me. I know if I sign up for a class, the likelihood of my attending every one is much higher than its just a self thing. If I’m accountable to be around other people, I almost never miss.
SP: Let me add something to that which is really important, habits are always formed so slowly that you almost don’t notice them. I started doing yoga five years ago and I probably spent four years going to one yoga class a week or none sometimes. Really over the last year as I started to increase my practice, I would go to one class a week and then I upped it to three classes a week and only recently did I add up to five classes a week. It took me nine months to get that practice going and I’m grateful I took the time to do that and not overhaul my body.
KK: That’s a great point. You didn’t wake up one morning and say you would go from once a week to five times a week and just force it.
SP: No, also one of the things about habits for me is making it so easy to do that its almost impossible not to go. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I go down to this office in a part of Brooklyn and the office is one and a half blocks from the yoga studio I go to. So its just part of that routine of Tuesdays and Thursdays that I get up, go down to the office, my alarm dings at 11:50 and I walk out of the office and I’m there by the 12:00 class. I go to the hour class and I’m back in the office by 1:15 or so with my takeout salad from next door. Its so easy and its part of the feeling of Tuesdays and Thursdays and its a nice break in the middle of the day. It all adds up because its easy to do.
KK: So besides making us all really jealous about New York, that was a great story! Down here in Texas where a block and a half is like three miles, I’m only slightly jealous. Well thank you so much for just sharing many of the things you’re known for and many of the areas that really you haven’t spoken about that I haven’t seen. Its neat to peel back the curtain and see inside your life and thank you for sharing that. I know I appreciate it and personally, I learned a lot. I have a whole page full of notes and I know our listeners will too. But if anyone wants to learn more about Sarah or get in contact with her, the best place is ItStartsWith.com. It has a ton of writing and some neat workshops so if you’re interested in learning more from Sarah, she’s got a way for you to do that. Sarah, thanks again, this has been a great end to my day and I’m excited to share your story with the Habit Chef audience!
SP: Thank you so much for having me, its been wonderful chatting with you.
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