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  • Writer's pictureMichael Pietrzak

4 Foundational Habits to Build Your Life

Great habits can revolutionize your life, just like bad ones can destroy you (no exaggeration!) But are some habits more fundamental than others? Of course! I call these "Foundational Habits" because other habits are built on top of them. For me, there are four.

In this podcast, which I recorded with Ryan Cote over at the Morning Upgrade, I'll tell you about the 4 Foundational Habits, plus share my #1 personal development tip. Enjoy!

*** Podcast Transcript Follows ***

Announcer: Welcome to the Morning Upgrade Podcast with Ryan Cote where we feature casual conversations with entrepreneurs about personal development and growth.

Ryan Cote: Hey everyone. This is Ryan Cote with the Morning Upgrade Podcast. And today I am very excited to be speaking with Mike Pietrzak. Hey Mike.

Mike Pietrzak: Hey Ryan, how are you? Very excited to be here.

Ryan Cote: Yeah, I'm excited to be talking with you. So, let's start off by you telling everyone what you do and what your interests are.

Mike Pietrzak: Great. So I'm one of these lucky people that have what they call a portfolio career, so I have a bunch of hats I wear. I'm a writer; this is my calling. I also have an entrepreneurial streak. I started a business called So You Want to Write?, which trains writers, and I'm a coach. I deal with mindset and habits, helping people get to their best life. I also teach a couple of college courses, and I'm a dad and I'm a husband, so many hats going on these days.

Ryan Cote: What made you get into coaching?

Mike Pietrzak: You know what? I had been working with my own coaches, people that coached me for years and with therapists as well. And I just loved the way that you could sit in the room with somebody and talk about things and they give you exercises, and it leads to an amazingly improved life over time when you put in the work.

So, I decided for whatever reason to try my hand at it. I saw, "Okay, I could do this." And I found out that I had this skill for it, that I actually collected a lot of great tools over the years. So I started giving those to people and working with them, and I've been doing that since 2017.

Ryan Cote: Excellent. What are your interests? What do you enjoy doing?

Mike Pietrzak: Besides all of the stuff I'm doing for work, which is, you know, most of my life, I just love spending time with my daughter and my wife. We go for hikes in the woods, by the river, we've got some great trails here. I play some guitar. I love my computer games and always have; you know, I'm just a big kid at heart.

And I love helping people, you know, I was told at a young age that "you're destined for life of service" and I love that, and so I've been serving people ever since.

Ryan Cote: In terms of your coaching, I like you mentioned mindset and habits. Obviously, this is personal development podcast, so I definitely want to dive into those two things. Why don't we start off by you talking about any habits that you think are worth sharing that everyone should try to incorporate into their daily routine?

Mike Pietrzak: Yeah. Well, okay, great. So, I always talk about foundational habits. You know, there are many, many habits you could adopt, but I think there are, for me, at least four key foundational habits that you can build on top of.

And so, the first one for me is, is mindfulness, which scares some people because it's associated with meditation, which I do every morning for the last 20 years. But it just really means paying attention and training yourself to be more present, more aware of what's going on because we often get stuck in the past, which can lead to depression.

We get stuck in the future, which creates anxiety, and we miss our present life, which is the only life we have. So, mindfulness is one of those keys that improve all areas for life and you can work on that with meditation... there are other exercises.

A second one foundational habit for me is journaling. You know, and I'm biased. I'm a writer, but I think there's incredible value in writing every day, preferably with pen and paper, because it activates a different region of your brain, and journaling just helps you to process what's going on in your life, organize your thoughts.

And the one great thing is if you write the same thing over and over and over, you can't help but change it. If you've got a problem and you're writing it out every day; you're going to change it.

Third habit for me is walking or in a larger sense, exercise. Walking is, you know, they say the writer's best friend. It's just a great way to kind of organize your thoughts. And I mean, get out there without your phone, without listening to a podcast, just get out and walk, even for 10 minutes a day can really reset you and help your brain to provide like solutions to problems. And, you know, just in a larger sense, exercise is great for your health. It's going to provide you more vitality and energy.

The last thing, the last habit that's foundational for me is solitude. And this is really not valued much in our society, in the West here usually, but I think it's critical. And when you can take time away from the noise; you have a competitive advantage against a lot of people. You get to know yourself better and start to like yourself better. So meditation, journaling, walking, and solitude, those are the four main things for me.

Ryan Cote: Solitude is an interesting answer. So, what does that look like for you? Are you literally no phone, no book just by yourself, just sitting and thinking?

Mike Pietrzak: Yeah, pretty much you've got it. It looks like a lot of getting out into nature. We're lucky where we live there's all kinds of conservation areas and river trails and you know, it might be just being on the bike or it might be walking.

Driving alone is an amazing solitude practice, you know, sometimes with music sometimes without; sometimes it's just putting on the headphones; if I can't get out, headphones and music or just quiet.

Ryan Cote: That's interesting. With being present... the mindfulness, sorry, I was drawing a blank on that word. With the mindfulness; that resonates with me because I am trying to make it a habit of being present and more just like recognizing moments where I'm grateful for what's happening or even if it's just... like, we moved. And we live right by the school where my oldest daughter goes.

And so I walk her in the morning and then pick her up at lunch. And I've had a couple moments catching myself in a good way where I was just like appreciating what was around me, like the trees and just like the scenery and stuff like that, so I'm trying to make a habit of that.

Mike Pietrzak: That's such an important part of life is to enjoy those little things around you. You know, it's great to have these successes, make a bunch of money, you know, and get a promotion, do great things for the world, but there's a lot of happiness right in front of our noses, which is just in seeing the clouds and enjoying the forest and noticing some pattern on our window.

I'll tell you, when I was the most happiest in my life, or at least recently. I had this nine to five job and I'd get off the subway and had a 10 minute walk to work from there. And I remember being like mid-February here in Canada, frigid cold, -10 probably. And you're freezing, but you get to just look around, it's still, it's quiet and it's beautiful.

And I've listened to a lot of great, great audiobooks at that time, do a lot of mantras, but I was just so content with life and I think it was because of those 10 minutes walking to work every day; just being present and focused and nothing spinning in my mind.

Ryan Cote: Yeah. I think that's a huge takeaway for everyone listening, just to try to remember to stop and look around and see what you have and see what you're doing and try not to get too absorbed into daily busy-ness.

Mike Pietrzak: And you mentioned, just to jump in again, you mentioned gratitude. I think it's almost another side of the coin on being present. Gratitude is just being thankful for what you have. And people wonder, okay, how do I cultivate this?

It's simple. You just take 30 seconds in your morning to list all the things you're thankful for. You know, whether you're religious or not just say, thank you for what I have. I am thankful and I feel it. And really, when you feel it, you can become more present in the moment, which leads to happiness and contentment.

Ryan Cote: Yeah. Someone asked me the other day, if they could just do one thing as part of the morning routine, what would they do, what I'd recommend, and I say gratitude because it's something that...

Mike Pietrzak: That's powerful.

Ryan Cote: A hundred percent.

Mike Pietrzak: I love how Tony Robbins says that when you're—and this is so true—when you're feeling gratitude, it's impossible to feel anxiety, fear, negativity, any of those negative emotions because gratitude will fill up the space in your, in your mind and your heart. And there's no more room for the negative stuff. So if you can spend more time in gratitude, you spend less time than the other negative stuff.

Ryan Cote: Yeah. A hundred percent agree. So let's talk about your morning routine, Mike, what does that look like?

Mike Pietrzak: So, I want to preface this by saying I was never a morning person until recently. I was someone who in my twenties would take any opportunity to sleep until noon or later even. But I guess, you know, in my thirties, I started to really see the value in getting up before everyone now.

And by the way, another caveat, I'm a dad now. I know you're a dad too and you realize what it's like to have small children. That can really mess up your morning routine. No problem, I roll with it. I try to squeeze in as many of these processes as I can, or these practices.

So for me, it starts with number one thing, I'm drinking half a lemon's juice. And the reason for that is, you know, overnight your liver is kind of processing toxins and the garbage in your body; lemon juice will help you get that out and become more alkaline, so that's an easy thing you can do.

Then I do some morning reps, which is, you know, as little as 10 pushups or 10 air squats; that'll get your body going, get certain chemicals in your brain flowing to wake you up.

And I always, always do 10 minutes of meditation. This is such an important foundational skill. It sets you up for the rest of the day. Brings you peace brings you focus, brings you clarity, you're better with relationships; you're better with your business.

And I noticed when I don't do it for too many days in a row, I suffer, so I've made this a mandatory one. Again, this is like a buffet I choose from every day. I don't always get through everything. You know, Tony Robbins has a priming exercise. You can Google that for anyone listening wants to know what that is. It takes 30 seconds.

Then I into my gratitude practice, you know, I'm talking about what I'm thankful for. I visualize the life I want, whether that's becoming the top coach in my niche, or building the top writer training company, or the house that we're going to buy next.

I recently added bulletproof coffee to my routine, which is MCT oil and grass fed butter and coffee. It's a major shot of energy and focus, which means I can even skip breakfast sometimes and take advantage of intermittent fasting. And usually I drink that while I'm journaling. And all this takes me maybe 30 minutes.

Then I write for a couple hours in the morning and then I exercise and then I shower around lunch and it's into the more managerial tasks.

Ryan Cote: There's a lot of overlap for what I do. Like the lemon water I do as well. I don't visualize, that's interesting. I should try that.

Mike Pietrzak: I added that recently because I keep hearing from many, many personal development greats that this is, you know, in some ways is the most important habit. Because when you can clearly see your destination or your goal, it's much easier to get there.

And so, this is as easy as like just picturing, what am I doing in one year from now or five years from now? What am I doing today? If I can visualize what I'm doing with my day, then you can recruit your subconscious to start working on that and make it reality because your brain hates a conflict. So if you can visualize the life you want and it's in conflict with where you are now, your brain is going to work hard to resolve that conflict.

Ryan Cote: I guess the closest I get to that is I've got this goal sheet that I read in the morning. It's my affirmations. It's the things that I'm proud of. And it's things I want to achieve. Not just achieve, but like relationships and stuff like that. And then I've got a dream board, which is the basic collection of images, the vision board, whatever you want to call it.

Mike Pietrzak: That's a form of visualization, absolutely.

Ryan Cote: It just helps make it more real, I suppose. Let's talk about... I like to take these conversations into an entrepreneurial route as well because that's what I am is what my interests are. So your business, your coaching business, what have you had the most success with in terms of growing your business?

Mike Pietrzak: So as I was telling you before we started, I focus mainly on mindset because I think that's where the biggest change and growth comes from. So it's the 80/20 rule; 80% mindset for me and 20% habits, which is, you know, habits are also extremely important.

But without the mindset, you're not going to be able to make those habits solid, but I'll give you two answers here. So, what have I had most success with? High level, it's building a community and do this in a human way. Building a community, it means really just talking to someone, a client like they're a friend. I don't call my writer clients "Clients", I call them writers because we're both writers; we're peers.

And if you can put people in a room and now it's a virtual room, and get them feeling like a part of something; that's really powerful. Those people that feel like they're connected to a larger enterprise, they're going to buy something usually.

And then, I guess the more specific tool that I've had success with is email marketing. I love email marketing. The stats, the research shows that it's the most successful marketing tool after word of mouth. And so, I've consciously become, I think, quite good at email marketing.

And that's simply just getting people onto your email list and sending them useful content, which has a PS that says, "Hey, buy this thing, it would be helpful for you," but really, starting with service and growing that email list.

Ryan Cote: Yeah, with email marketing, what's key, it's an asset that you own. If you build up your community on Facebook, well, that's good. You don't really, if you're building on a foundation you don't technically own.

Mike Pietrzak: Yeah. I say this to people too. It's, you know, I don't love Facebook and Twitter. I mean, I have a social media coordinator to do this for me, but I know that they could change the algorithm at any moment and I don't get to speak to my audience anymore. So there's a danger in relying solely on social media, which is why I've chosen email marketing as my focus.

Ryan Cote: Yeah, super smart. So Mike, I've got one more question for you then I'd like to wrap up with how you're telling everyone how they can connect with you if they want to learn more about you and your coaching business.

So, I like to ask my guests their number one personal development tip. I know you deal a lot with mindset and habits, so go whatever direction you want, but what's your number one... If you can only give a person one personal development tip to follow what would it be?

Mike Pietrzak: Yeah, that's a good one. I mean, personal development's a huge, massive pool. I mean, it's like a $10 billion industry now. But for me, the number one thing I would suggest is key piece of wisdom from the Stoics. It's: focus on what you can control and ignore the rest.

This is for me, has been a revolutionary approach to life. Focusing on what you can control means focusing on your thoughts, your words, your actions, your habits; those are the only things that are really truly in your control.

What other people think, your reputation, how much money you're getting, how many sales you make; those are really outside of your control. Your control is in the domain of, really, it's your mindset.

And so if you put the bulk of your focus on your thoughts, actions, and habits; that's where you're going to see the most change in your life, and you ignore what other people think.

Ryan Cote: Great advice. Have you read the Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday?

Mike Pietrzak: Yeah. Actually, I went through that process, I guess, it was last year along with the journal. I did the journaling as well, so it took me a few extra months to get it done, but that was super helpful.

And yeah, they actually have a daily email as well to go along with that I subscribed to for a couple of years. And yeah, just brilliant, brilliant wisdom, that was one of the only newsletters I was subscribing to for a while.

Ryan Cote: That's very helpful. I have to check that out. Well, thanks Mike. I really enjoyed this. It was great talking with you. What's the best website or best way people can connect with you if they want to learn more.

Mike Pietrzak: Well, thank you, Ryan, this was fun. And I'd love for people to come find me as you said at my website, which is and the last name is spelled P I E T R Z A K.

I also want to make an offer that if people want to do some coaching with me, I'll do an hour with you for free. We can accomplish a lot in that time. So visit my website, go to the bottom of the page and hit free consultation. And I'd love to chat with you.

Ryan Cote: Awesome. Thanks for making that offer. And we'll link everything up in the show notes page. I appreciate it.

Mike Pietrzak: Thanks Ryan.

Ryan Cote: Take care.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Morning Upgrade Podcast. Please subscribe and review, and don't forget to visit us at for more content.

Ready to use habits instead of letting them use you? Book a free 1-hr coaching deep dive with me.

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