One of the world’s most influential coaches in fitness and sports, Joe Holder has built his reputation on helping his clients achieve long-lasting, holistic, health. His coaching goes well beyond ‘fitness’ in the traditional sense. Holder regularly delves into the importance of mental and emotional wellbeing on both his Instagram and in his columns for the likes of GQ.
He is a marathon runner, a Nike Master Trainer and the founder of Ocho System — an innovative platform he developed while recovering from a major college football injury, that lays out the eight most fundamental areas of wellness (and helps its users feel empowered to take control of their health). A voracious reader and researcher, who perpetually remains at the forefront of trends in the wider wellbeing space, Holder is a true pioneer, who is deeply passionate about helping others to reach their full potential. Here, we draw on his expertise to answer our burning questions around how to be healthy, how to implement good habits, and ultimately, how to have fun while doing it.
What are the biggest misconceptions you come across in your line of work?
Common things I notice often stem from the thought that everything has to be perfect. That’s not really how the body works nor will it ever be (no matter how much work you do). Everything doesn’t have to be perfect for you to take care of yourself. The other thing I notice is that a lot of people think that health and fitness is just about working out, which is a huge misconception and is not really the right approach for improving long term health. You have to consider so many components: your work, your love life, your financial situation, your diet. So really, I think one of the biggest misconceptions is how siloed this space is, and thinking about health and fitness as just workouts. You’re not going to overcome your issues just by working out.
How does Ocho System help to remedy those misconceptions?
The Ocho System helps because it looks at it all from a holistic perspective. Not in some esoteric ‘woo woo’ way but simply in a way that helps to create an amoeba-like structure that focuses on eight key areas. So you have your physical health (diet and fitness), but then the emotional side. What are your relationships like? Do you have a spiritual component to that?
Then the mental side. How are you making yourself a little bit tougher? And then things like finances. Are you taking care of your money? Then things like your intellectual pursuits, and your social relationships. Is the environment around you helping you achieve your best results? And so on and so forth. I think if we focus on those areas and apply a more dynamic, integrated wellness strategy in those areas, that is what creates health. Everybody focuses on the gym, but that alone is not going to lead the revolution.
What is something you want people to really understand about how to unlock their potential?
Unlocking potential is just about starting, doing something every day. Stop thinking about some far off goal. But also, take some time to figure out what ‘unlocking your potential’ even means for you and then do small things every day that lead to that. Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s being consistent. And then reviewing your progress at the end of the day to understand what worked, what didn’t work and then trying again tomorrow.
What are the most significant changes you have noticed in the health and wellbeing realm recently? (The good and the bad.)
Some good things about the industry is the fact that it is finally focusing on the importance of recovery, and it is taking a more holistic approach. It isn’t so much a ‘one size fits all’ dynamic anymore. And there’s been an increase in education. Consumers seem to understand that products won’t save them unless they actually know how to use them. The bad is that it’s still a little bit siloed off and product-focused. I also don’t think there has been a deep enough look at men’s wellness. There’s also still no centralised body in health and wellness really. So a lot of things out there are people trying to sell you something. And I don’t think brands are doing enough to open source, or offer access to health and wellness that really elevates the consciousness of the consumer.
“Unlocking potential is just about starting, doing something every day. Stop thinking about some far off goal. But also, take some time to figure out what ‘unlocking your potential’ even means.”
For so long, we have had diet culture push different ideas of eating onto us. What would you say to people looking to navigate away from our culture of deprivation and towards implementing a ‘healthy’ diet in a meaningful, sustainable, enjoyable way?
I would say that diet is about education. So you really have to think about that. Everybody pushes diet culture because there has been no base level education around food. So if somebody wants to approach their diet in a more well-rounded way, step one would be to learn. Go and take a quick class in whatever — biology, health, nutrition (you could do it online, it could be free) — so that you actually understand what a macronutrient is, what a micronutrient is, what a phytonutrient is. If you allow somebody else to always tell you these terms, instead of understanding them, you’re going to be lost.
Step two, is to approach it from a way that you know works for you, right. So maybe go to the doctor, get a blood test, get some base tests done, or just do an elimination diet and pay attention. Pay attention to how food makes you feel, pay attention to what is good for you or what might not be good for you. And don’t stress too much. Because when you eat whole foods, your body typically doesn’t even get all the calories, so don’t even think about it from a calorie-counting approach. So step one, get educated. Step two, use your body and intuition as your test. And then step three, figure out what works for you and your goals and also what you like.
So get versed in recipes, cooking, that type of thing. It’s often called intuitive eating, but you can’t have intuition or what we call ‘unconscious competence’, without building on the other stages of competence first. You have to go from being consciously incompetent, which is ‘I know that there are things I don’t know’, to learning, to trying and possibly failing, to learning more and climbing up again. And then you can move forward in a joyful way that isn’t overwhelming.
What are the daily practices you never skip?
I never skip the basic things like hydrating, moving my body, having a simple gratitude practice, and trying to stay off my phone for the first hour of the day. I don’t think it needs to be complicated.
What are the most underrated, simple health tools that people should be thinking about every day?
The simplest tools include using your phone less, trying to increase your activity (this doesn’t have to be formalised workouts, it can be any movement), eat food that nourishes your body and remember to prioritise sleep. Don’t procrastinate at night, make sure you’re doing what you need to do to get your sleep — it’s honestly super key. Win the morning and win the night. I talk about that a lot, especially how to improve sleep. Get sunlight, reduce your stress levels, if you’re able to, make sure you have a wind down routine. Good sleep goes a long way. It’s one of those foundational practices that should never be overlooked.
What are some easy things people can do to shift their mindset from something that might be holding them back to something that pushes them forward?
That’s a personal question. I don’t know, honestly, everybody has their own demons but I think it helps to remind yourself that you are an imperfect human and you’re trying to do a little bit better. I think once you’re able to get away from the expectation of perfection, and stop ruminating on the past, you can focus on what needs to be done now to naturally move you forward. It’s like running. You’re falling forward consistently in a way that’s beneficial just because you can get into a groove. So, you know, shift your mindset into a growth mindset, and do some mental contrasting. Think about the things that you might run into on the way to your goals and pre-empt how you might overcome them. Have a gratitude practice. Honestly it’s simple, basic things but we just don’t do them enough.
Any words or mottos that you live by?
‘Another day, another chance.’ Every day I wake up it’s another chance to do something. Simple and plain. Another one is ‘if it is to be, it is up to me.’ Yes I have people that I can lean on to help me get things done. But at the end of the day, it starts and ends with me. So I accept that charge and I push myself forward accordingly.
What keeps you motivated?
I don’t know what keeps me motivated. I don’t believe in motivation. I don’t really need that. I mean, of course, I have these brief moments where I find something to read and it keeps me going, or I see interesting work that somebody is doing, or I make up challenges for myself to be able to get things done. But the concept of ‘motivation’ is overrated, right? You just have to have a game plan. Some days you’re motivated, others you’re not. I just think I have a good plan, and I know I just have to figure it out. I don’t want to work for anybody and I don’t want to work in the traditional sense. I know that I want to live this life on my terms. What keeps me motivated is that I have the chance to be able to figure it out. So I do.
We’re coming into summer here in New Zealand. What are the key things we should be thinking about as far as fitness and wellbeing ahead of the warm season?
If you want to make changes in a new year, come up with a game plan and follow it. That’s the easiest way to be able to get things done. And have some accountability partners around you but create a schedule. School only works if it’s on a schedule. Going into the new year, don’t be discouraged by the thought that you can’t get it done. You have the ability to. It’s just that you might not have the structure around you that will help you.
So embark on some trial and error. Build the structure, stick to it and give yourself four weeks. If after four weeks it’s not working and you want to quit, please do. But I guarantee you that if you have a good plan, after four weeks you will see progress. So stick to it. Check in with yourself, keep pushing and believe that you can do it.
What have you been learning about or reading or researching recently that has fascinated you?
At this moment, I’m trying to tear down the concept of Cartesian Dualism and the separation of the mind and body. I’ve been looking into the innate knowledge of the body (as opposed to our tendency to adopt a more cerebral focus) and the importance of listening to the feedback my body gives me when things get hard or when anxiety pops up. Trying to work through those things via the body instead of the mind.
What does the upcoming year look like for you and for Ocho System? What will you be focusing and working on?
The Ocho System is a design philosophy so I’m essentially trying to build out what I like to call a ‘sovereign state.’ I’m focused on building infrastructure for participation by those who actually want to get healthier and to learn. My focus is on bringing things into ‘real life’, the digital into the physical sphere. So whether that’s holding exercise nights with the Young Brain Trust, whether that’s Plant Based Gang, it’s all about building out those structures to help the people who use them flourish and to help individuals find community.