Your body. Your Mind. Your life. It's time to level up!

My readers and students know I'm deeply committed to understanding the mastery process and helping people leverage it to accomplish great things. As part of my own learning process, I ask acknowledged masters not just what they do for a living, but why they do it, and how they've been changed by the process. Their answers are interesting and inspiring, and they often provide impactful lessons for others on a growth trajectory.

So it makes a lot of sense to interview my friend of several decades, the extremely fit Don E. Prior III. About eight years ago Don, who has always been highly focused and motivated, transformed himself physically, losing 60 pounds in 6 months and becoming an inspirational role model for many people in both our lives.

Don owns Network Services Group, an IT company he built from the ground up to a million dollar company. Together, we also own Michigan SEO Group, where we help great businesses get the word out about what they do and become even more successful than they already are. As much as I'm grateful for the fact that we've built a successful business together, I'm equally stoked about the atmosphere we create at work – an energetic, high performance environment where we take a genuine interest in the physical health, mental health, and life trajectory of the people who work with us.

Readers of this interview will be able to understand some of what makes Don so inspirational to be around as they come along on his journey and what he's learned along the way.

Don Prior: Before and After

The Questions

Don, we've known each other since the early 1990's, if I remember correctly. We've trained in martial arts together, worked out in many of the same gyms, and spent a lot of time and money getting coached in high performance and success. We wrote a book together, and we built a pretty incredible business. We could probably spend a week revisiting all that stuff, and there would be a thousand lessons to learn from all the journeys, but today I want to talk about a topic that's been on both our minds a lot lately. 

That topic is your physical transformation from a relatively healthy, fit guy who trained intensely in the martial arts, but who – and I don't know exactly how to express this, but here goes – never quite found the keys to the kind of extreme fitness that you possess today. 

Can you set the stage for our readers a bit here? How did you get to where you were in the years and months before your dramatic transformation? What kinds of working out were you doing, what were you eating, and what experiences do you think gave you the mindset that got you there (yourself before the transformation), but didn't get you here (you, post transformation)?

When I was in my late 20's and early 30's, I was able to get myself in pretty good shape, largely by not having anything better to do with my time than to workout and do martial arts 3-5 hours per day.  But as you get older, you get more responsibilities, and things start to change.  I started my own business and got married.  I was still doing martial arts regularly, but was spending more time teaching, and less time doing.  That's all great stuff, and definitely worthwhile, but all of that stuff took up more of my time, and I was no longer working out hard for 3-5 hours per day.  Add to that the fact that I was also getting older.  Slower metabolism.  Body less forgiving and slower to recover from injuries.

But the biggest thing was that I didn't have an active plan in place for my fitness and nutrition.  Sure, in the back of my mind I kind of knew I should probably be doing something with that, but I didn't really give it much thought or actually do much of anything about it.

So what happened to finally get you moving – very rapidly – toward personal transformation? Did you just BOOM! wake up one day and realize something had to change, was it a gradual process, did some intervening event or person bring about a change?

The weight kind of built up slowly, so you don't really notice it as it's happening.  But overtime you start noticing that the pictures of you sitting around the pool aren't looking very flattering, and the next time you buy pants you have to go a size or two up.

But the biggest wake up call for me was when I went to the doctor for a physical.  My blood work came back and he said that he was concerned with a few things.  My cholesterol and cardio risk factors were way up, and I was starting to pack on some weight.  He said if I didn't make a change, I'd probably be on lipitor and other drugs.  Yikes!

He told me that if I exercised for 45-60 minutes, 4-5 times per week and started eating healthier (less fried food, fats, and red meat, and more vegetables) that I might be able to turn it around.

I knew I had to do something, so I figured "I got this" and went out and bought some running shoes and an elliptical machine.  I started working out 4-5 times per week, just as the doctor prescribed.  I'd alternate between doing the eliptical and going outside for a run.  I'd also mix in sets of pushups, situps, and pullups. 

I also started trying to make healthier choices with what I was eating.  Again, just like the doctor said, I was eating less fried foods and red meat, and more vegetables.

I thought I was doing a good job - just as the doctor ordered.  The problem was, it didn't work!  Maybe I was getting a little fitter, but I wasn't getting any thinner, and my blood work wasn't getting any better.

So, having come to the realization that something had to change, what were the elements of action that actually made the difference for you? How did you actually go from somewhat unfit to very, very fit?

The first change I made was going from no real plan or action in terms of exercise and nutrition, to trying to do what the doctor ordered.  I figured, "It's not rocket science - I got this."  The problem was it didn't work.  

What really changed things for me was reaching out and getting some help.  I got a trainer - you introduced me to him, Skip Bunton at Bodyspecs - who showed me what I really needed to do, and it was a lot different than what I had been trying to do myself.

By happy accident, I also wound up seeing a nutritionist right around the same time.  She needed a new website, and in order to build it, I needed to learn more about what she did, so we did a trade.    

The combination of regular training, doing the right things, and getting my diet and nutrition dialed in was like magic.  I dropped 60lbs in a year.  Most of it within 6 months.

Can you talk more about that process? I mean, sure you were working out in new ways, and you had made some simple but critical dietary changes. How did the process look not only in the first six months, but over time ... say, the first year or two?

It really boils down to four things.  First, you need to workout consistently.  Second, you need to do a variety of things.  You can't just do the same things over and over, or your body will get used to it and you'll plateau.  Third, you need to bring the intensity.  The results you'll get correspond directly to the effort you put in.  Fourth, and probably the most important if you are trying to lose weight, is that you need to pay attention to what you are putting in your mouth, and start making smart choices.

Everything shifted for me when I made working out and nutrition a priority.  I upped my workout schedule to 6 times per week.  Consistently.  Instead of slogging away for an hour on a treadmill or elliptical I did shorter, but more intense circuit training in addition to a couple of longer runs. 

I started paying attention to what went in my mouth, and before eating something I would start asking myself, "is there a healthier option available?"  I had to put in some time learning what those healthier options were.  Before I met with the nutritionist, I thought that eating a salad would be healthier.  The problem is, a lot of salads have more calories than a cheeseburger and fries, so you need to learn what to lookout for.  Calories are important, but not all calories are created equal!

You and I have talked a lot about other changes that have showed up as a result of your transformation. Can you talk about those changes ... what's changed? How did you recognize the connection between certain actions and certain mindsets? Are there things you've learned over the long term that may be different or distinct from the things you learned in the immediate transformation process?

For me, everything changed.  I lost 60lbs in a year.  I went from wearing size 38 pants to size 32.  When I went back for a checkup, my doctor couldn't believe what he saw.  My blood work was all perfect - no more problems with cholesterol or worries about cardio risk factor.  People stopped asking me where the Chinese buffet was and started asking me "what do you do to work on your abs?"  

People looked at me differently, and I looked at myself differently.  Before I made these changes I was starting to think "I'm getting too old for this" and was getting resigned to being old, tired, and fat.  But one I started consistently doing the right things, the results appeared like magic.  And once you see that, it makes you feel like you can do anything, and that carries over into other areas of your life.

Even better, I had more energy and wasn't tired and sore all of the time.  When I look back now, it's not surprising that I was tired and sore all of the time.  I was carrying around an extra 60lbs with me all day long - of course I was sore  Try putting on a weighted vest and carrying that around with you all day and you'll be sore too!

As a guy who's done a lot of stuff right, did you ever struggle with taking advice from others in this realm? If so, why do you think that was? If not, what made it possible for you set aside pride or ego – if that's what it was – to be able to take advice from outside experts?

Yes, absolutely.

One problem was that I thought it was easy and I could do it myself.  Hey, sometimes you can figure stuff out on your own, but if you really want to get something right, then it's probably going to workout better if you find someone who has already achieved success in that arena, and start listening to what they have to say.  Success leaves clues!

The other problem was that I had preconceptions about what it would be like if I did get help. I thought that only rich people had personal trainers.  That they'd have me doing a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't like and that it would suck.  I thought that a nutritionist would have me starving myself and foraging for twigs and berries.  

Nothing could've been further from the truth.  Don't let your own preconceptions get in the way of getting help and achieving success.  There are good people out there and they can help - you just have to get out of your own way.

Everybody who knows you, including me, says you're one of the most focused people they've met. You're able to decide on a course of action and stick to it almost religiously over the long term. Were you born that way, or did it evolve? If it evolved, can you see what life events or thinking gave rise to it?

I've seen this formula play out several times over my life.  I've seen it with martial arts, with what I've learned and done with technology, business, and fitness.  Consistent effort, performed over time, coupled with the right knowledge, efficiency, and approach is the formula for success.  

One concept that I've learned is having a list of non-negotiables.  There's stuff.  There's important stuff.  And there's non-negotiable stuff.  Stuff happens or it doesn't.  Important stuff happens more often than not.  Non-negotiable stuff happens no matter what.  No matter what else - this happens.

Figure out what's most important to you and put it on your non-negotiable list.  Everything else can go on the other two.  For me, working out goes on my non-negotiable list, as my health and energy drive everything else that's important to me.

How about some words or caution? What are some mistakes you see people making, in fitness, in their thinking, in their approach to life, that you think might not be serving them well?

I give props to anyone who shows up at the gym and puts in the effort.  The problem is that showing up is only half the battle.  You have to also do the right things, or your results will suffer.  But a lot of people show up and just don't get anything done.  Sure, they are doing something, but they are either not doing the right things, or they are mailing it in (the intensity isn't there).  

I see too many people thinking that the elliptical machine, curls, and sit-ups are the answer.  They're not.  This is the 21st century and there are more efficient ways to work out and get results.  All it takes is 20-30 minutes per day.  Bring the intensity, do a variety of things, and do it consistently and the results will follow.

One more question for today. What does the world need more of in the spheres you inhabit? In other words, for people who want to thrive in fitness, in mindset, in business, in life ... what should they be looking for from your point of view, as far as ways to serve the world with distinction and greatness? 

It all starts with getting your mind right.  I see too many people who think that exercise or going to the gym is a punishment, or something that must be endured.  If you go into something with a piss poor attitude, you are going to walk out with piss poor results.  You have to bring the joy.  Make it the best 30-60 minutes of your day.  This is an opportunity where you get to work on yourself and forget about everything else.  And it's not selfish - it's necessary.  You need your health, and the people in your life need your energy.  You aren't doing anyone any favors by showing up overweight, unhealthy, sore, and with no energy.  You should be doing everything possible to set yourself up for success.

I say get your mind right, get your body right, and get your life right.  It's time to level up!

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