The Ladder of Prioritization: How to Focus on What’s Important

Ladder of PrioritizationIn War of Art, author Steven Pressfield introduces the Principle of Priority. He says:

“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.”

But how do we determine that difference? How do we know what’s important? When it comes to building a better body, how exactly do we know what to focus on? Where is our precious time best allocated? Where should our priorities lie?

In truth, our priorities determine our behaviors. They determine our decisions and, ultimately, the actions we take.

If our priorities are non-existent, then it becomes difficult to know what to focus our efforts on. If our priorities are not in line, then poor decisions will only lead us to the wrong place faster.

Getting our priorities straight is an essential step to achieving better health and a better body (not to mention a more productive life). In this post, my goal is to show you a very simple framework that can help you re-shape your perspective on priorities.

Let’s dig in.

The Ladder of Prioritization

Not too long ago, I was listening to an interesting interview between Sean Croxton from Underground Wellness and the legendary Paul Chek. The topic was all about restoring our natural, biological instincts – our natural drives and urges – within the paleolithic lifestyle.

“First and foremost, I teach all my students and clients that living what I call the Paleo lifestyle is essentially a process of restoring and following our natural instincts above and beyond our intellects.” – Paul Chek

Our intellects, as Chek mentions, are really just a collection of ‘largely prefabricated ideas’. What we know (and largely believe) is based on what and who we listen to (queue in main stream media sources). We’ve gone away from listening to our natural instincts and closer to having others drive our decisions. Hint: your priorities should be based on what your body is telling you, not these so-called “health professionals”.

In an effort to better understand how this ties to prioritization, I’d like you to do the following:

Think about all the essential things we can’t live without. I’m not talking about your iPhone or vanilla scented hand cream. I’m talking about things that you literally can’t live without. Like air. Or water. Things that you need to survive another day (or a few days). Things that we more than likely take for granted.

Next, put these items in order from those that you can live the least amount of time without to the most amount of time.

Confused? Don’t worry. I’ve done it for you. Here’s your list:

1. Oxygen

When was the last time you thought about your breathing? We forget that oxygen is a vital nutrient that we can’t live without. In fact, the average human body cannot survive more than 2-3 minutes without a fresh supply of oxygen. 

“Look how many people are reading all these diet books that donʼt even know how to breathe right. And diet is very secondary to breathing. You can go a without food for a couple of weeks but youʼve got about three minutes without oxygen before your brain starts to die.” -Paul Chek

So proper breathing becomes very important.

2. Water

Water is essential for survival. It’s in our blood, carrying nutrients and the aforementioned oxygen to cells while flushing wastes out of the body. It’s essential for life. You cannot survive more than 3-5 days without fresh water. 

“As Dr. Batmanghelidj shows in his book Your Bodyʼs Many Cries For Water, even at 1% dehydration of the central nervous system can cause psychological disorders. Thatʼs a very minor amount of dehydration of the central nervous system. Lots of peopleʼs health problems and joint problems could easily be addressed just by drinking water.” – Paul Chek

So hydration moves up the list of importance.

3. Sleep

Sleep is a little more complicated because the importance/reason for sleep is still very unclear. As to how long we can go without sleep, one article makes mention of a 17-year-old high school student who, in 1965, set a world-record at a science fair when he went 264 hours (11 days) without sleep. Other normal research subjects have remained awake for eight to 10 days in carefully monitored experiments.

“It is within our natural drive, for example, to rise with the sun and set with the sun. We did that for 99.9% of human evolution, we are all locked into those natural earthly cycles but people now wake up exhausted and they start their day drinking coffee because they think because they read an article somewhere that says coffee or green tea has antioxidants so they can drink as much as they want of it.

Then they stay up late at night watching their favorite soap operas or whatever but they cant figure out why they have chronic fatigue, their adrenals are burned out and their sex drive is gone to the point where they have to use bottles of pills to have sex. If we look at what commonly ails people, we can see that they are out of touch with these natural biological rhythms.” – Paul Chek

The truth is, we don’t need anecdotes, numbers or research studies to tell us how important sleep is. Go a few days without it and suddenly putting your head on a pillow becomes the only thing on your mind. Without sufficient sleep, all other ‘health efforts’ are rendered useless.

Now good quality sleep becomes important.

4. Food

Food, as we know, is vital for survival and optimal function. But, depending on numerous factors, a healthy human body can survive anywhere from 4-8 weeks without food (in the presence of water, of course).

So (quality) food, as we already know, becomes important.

5. Movement

Last but not least we have movement. Good ol’ exercise.

Thanks to popular media, many of us are under the impression that exercise is king – that it’s the most important element of a healthy lifestyle. But it’s not. You can live without it. You can do without movement far longer than any of the elements above. Even worse, exercise, to a certain degree, can work against you. It can make you fat. Who would’ve thought? But many of us prioritize it above hydration or good sleep.

By putting those items in order of importance, I hope you can see how priorities can suddenly shift. All of these elements are essential for better health and a better body, but how are they prioritized in your life?

We spend so much time focusing on movement that we forget about breathing properly; about supplying our cells with enough fresh oxygen to optimally function.

We spend so much time thinking about our next meal (or not) that we forget to get a good night of rest; or we forget to hydrate properly.

We spend so much time listening to what others say is right that we forget to listen to what our own bodies are telling us.

“What weʼre suffering from is death by intellectualism. Stop juggling ideas because as long as youʼre doing what other people told you to do, you are not paying attention to what your body actually needs.” – Paul Chek

These shifts in perspective are important in understanding how to prioritize the things that are important – the things that actually make a difference.

Note: if you’d like to learn more about regaining touch with our instincts, I highly recommend you check out Paul Chek’s book How to Eat, Move and Be Health!. As well, if you’re interested in learning how to prioritize things in your life more effectively, I recommend you check out Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (particularly Habit 3).

Your turn:

What is your biggest priority this year? What’s at the top of your list? Leave your answer in the comments below. Looking forward to reading your responses!

#Srdjan [Image Source]

Eric - January 8, 2014

Great post, Srdj. My biggest priority this year is to consistently do the things I know I must do to be the best athlete I can be. I need to develop the best body I can to stay injury free and perform at maximum capacity.

    Test - January 9, 2014

    Eric, how does this priority change your behaviors/decision making?

Ine - January 8, 2014

My biggest priority is getting healthy again – I have a thyroid condition which makes getting a good night sleep, working out and healthy eating a real challenge. Healthy eating, since I can hardly loose weight and am often starving myself and depriving me of nutritious meals. I grow my own vegetables and fruits and cook mainly organic wholefood meals for my family … I’dd wish I could enjoy a meal without guilt and I wish I would have energy and stamina again, and my God, do I wish I could mannage to sleep more then 3 hours a day (not that I do not go to bed, I just wake up after an hour and a half most of the times, …) …. So priority number one: Finding out what to incorporate/ exclude in order to enhance my condition and to get healthy(ier) again …


    Test - January 9, 2014

    That’s a great priority Ine. What’s your strategy for tackling it?

Lynnell Madson - January 8, 2014

Thanks for a very thought provoking post. My biggest obstacle is consistency. Keep doing, keep going, keep moving, and fueling on the track that I have outlined for myself. Every shiney thing doesn’t distract me but I love learning, hence the variety and changing things seems like so much fun!

    Test - January 9, 2014

    Consistency (perseverance in general) is immensely important. Just keep going and things will happen. Thanks for the comment Lynnell.

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