Rich Roll

Rich Roll was having a heart attack on his staircase. He was fat. He hated his work. He was unhappy.

A few years later he ran, swam, biked, 703 miles in seven days when he was 45 years old.

When he was 40 he had a job he was unhappy at but he was still trying to live the American dream: the two cars, the beautiful family, partnership at a law firm.

“I thought I was having a heart attack on the staircase,” he said. “I was 50 pounds overweight. I was working 80 hours a week. I wasn’t happy. I was going to die.”

That moment on the staircase was one of three or four turning points in Rich Roll’s life that forced him to say: “I have a small window to change for the better.” And then he did it.

But what’s interesting to me is that Rich Roll is an addict. I’m an addict. Many people I know are addicts. Many addictions are bad for you. When I was younger I was addicted to just about everything that could possibly be harmful to me.

Rich Roll, when he was 31 years old and a high-priced lawyer, had to check himself into a 100 day rehab after he was drunk-driving the wrong way down a one way street.

While in rehab he noticed something interesting. “At first it felt really horrible, and then it felt better.”

When he was 40, he wasn’t drinking but he threw those obsessions into his NEXT unhealthy addiction.

“I was living on the window diet” – if you can drive up to a window and order the food then that’s what he would eat. Like three Wendy’s cheeseburgers.

He threw himself into the lifestyle of top lawyer, 80 hours a week, eat whatever you can. But that moment on the stairs made him realize, with heart disease in his family, that he was at risk.

So he started a seven day cleanse. All juices.

“In the first three days I felt horrible, but I knew from my experience in rehab that it would get a lot better”.

And it did. At the end of the juicing he felt incredibly energetic and cleansed.

This was his third addiction. Gradually he went from juicing to a “junk vegetarian” style (pizza, etc) to real plant-based vegan lifestyle.

“I had so much energy I couldn’t stop moving. Even sitting at rest I couldn’t stop tapping my leg.”

So one day he went for a run. He ran 24 miles. His biggest run prior that was 8 miles!

And that was 22 years earlier. Sorry, Rich, if I’m getting the numbers slightly wrong.

After that he realized this was some latent ability that was coming out so he started to train.

He trained every day. He started running in “Iron Man” competitions. Then the competitions got more and more intense until he did his 700 mile Hawaii run. 5 Irons Mans in 7 days.

This was his fourth addiction.

He was named one of the 50 fittest men in the world.

But he was still a lawyer part-time and training part-time.

He wrote a book about his lifestyle. … He started giving talks for free. Going to conferences.

Spreading the world on this healthy lifestyle that had changed his life, invigorated his relationships, and catapulted him to being one of the healthiest people in the world.

This was his fifth addiction. He couldn’t stop spreading the word about what was happening to him.

“It was hard at first,” he said. “I wasn’t getting paid and I was traveling everywhere.” Gradually he started making a living at his new career and he gave up his job as a lawyer.

His book “Plantpower” is about to come out, describing his lifestyle even more.

Rich and I are one year apart in age. I can’t even run down the block although I try to live a healthy lifestyle.
People always demonize addiction. It’s bad! Don’t be an addict!

But there are positive addictions.

“Well-being” is being addicted to three things: Competence, Positive relationships, Autonomy. And maybe one more thing: Growth every day in all three of those areas.

If you do those things, I can tell you you will feel well-being today, no matter what else is going on in your life.

The first few days or weeks or months are really hard and then as Rich says, “suddenly it gets better.”

When I was talking to Rich for an upcoming podcast, he would use the same language often when describing a bad addiction and a positive addiction.

  • “I noticed I had to change”
  • “it was hard at first to get over it but I knew it would get better”
  • it was all-consuming for him and obviously, negative or positive, he loved the lifestyle
  • his family and friends were super-supportive and those were the people who gravitated towards.
  • When he went from negative to positive in his life he also suddenly went from AMBITION to MEANING.

There’s a lot of great books recently about habits and developing positive habits. A positive habit might be: brush your teeth twice a day. make your bed in the morning.

What’s the difference between a habit and an addiction? I think there is a gray area here but roughly – a habit you can control. An addiction feels out of your control.

I bet that if Rich didn’t exercise for a week he would feel physically ill. I bet exercising and health are addictions for him.

What happened to Rich Roll?

He told me that during his time in rehab, someone asked him, “are you a human being having a spiritual experience or a spiritual being having a human experience”.

He said the question threw him off. He had never even thought in those terms before.

It was always the straight line: school, law school, lawyer, partner, family, two car garage, retirement.

What does that question even mean?

The truth is: it doesn’t have to mean anything. It just has to make you think. It has to give you a little bump off the straight line.

To tear you apart a little inside so you realize there’s a world outside the one you’ve been living in.

I try to turn on my inner addict every day. I look at what I’m doing and I try to be competent, have good relationships, and the freedom to do what I want. Or grow towards those things.

Maybe it means meet new people. Or be creative in some way. Or try to get better at something. Or start saying “No” more to the people who are trying to direct my life in ways good for them but not for me.

If I do that, I know I will get excited and my inner addict will turn on. And everyone’s inner addict is different. I will NEVER run 100 miles. Or even one mile.

But every six months my life has changed almost 100% as a result.

It’s a gradual process. You can’t be a “positive addict” overnight.

But when you “invest in yourself” as Rich told me he started doing, the universe conspires to help you find the right answers to questions that have no meaning.

I’m an addict and proud of it.