Managing Life Well.
Part I: Finding the RPM Gauge for Your Life


Every modern day car has one that is obvious to see and easy to read — every modern day parent has one that unfortunately, is difficult to see and even harder to read: An RPM gauge.

It is the dial on your dashboard that you see hitting the redline as you hammer your minivan towards the grocery store parking lot when you have exactly T-minus 11 minutes to buy one week’s worth of dinner, five days’ worth of lunches, two lbs. of diapers; and some tooth paste and floss in case you’re actually granted the luxury of flossing your teeth sometime this month.

Thankfully, you don’t need a mechanic’s license to understand the purpose of the RPM gauge. It tells you when your engine is revving too high.

Each of us has an RPM gauge in our lives, as well.


Papa Alpha Mini Van Racing 2It tells you when your life engine is revving too high. The problem is, unlike the redlined dial on the dashboard of your car, life’s RPM gauge is not so obvious to read. But it is critical to learn how to see it to ensure your engine of life runs most optimally.

That is to say, in order for you to be the best version of you — the version of you that feels whole in many areas of your life, not just one or two.  The version of you that is content, grateful, joyous, inspired and encouraged. The version that both loves and likes your spouse, that both loves and enjoys your children. The version that is happy with the physical activities your body can do, the mental places your mind can go to and the social and solo actives you can explore and thrive in. The version of you that is equal parts content and motivated for more greatness. That version, needs your engine to run at the optimal level, and at a sustainable level. Your life’s RPM gauge speaks to you directly and lets you know when you’re running sub-optimally.

Before we dive into figuring out what your RPM gauge for life is, and how to read it, let’s look a few key points about the gauge itself.

  • It has less to do with speed and much more to do with effort. You can be going very fast while still keeping your RPM low; and conversely, you can be going very slow, yet still have your RPM too high.
  • Different engines reach the redline at different RPMs. A diesel truck redlines at a much lower RPM than a Formula 1 race car.
  • The RPM gauge serves a fundamental purpose to the operation of the engine. The redline ain’t there for decorations. It’s talking to you and telling you to change something. You may need to change gears. You may need to get rid of old oil for new. You may need a major tune-up.

Three Key Factors in Managing Life Well

These three components to the RPM gauge are critical to managing life well:

1. Speed is not the only dial you need to read.

Do not let busyness and productivity be the only guide you rely on. It may be an accurate reflection of how hard your engine is working but it may not be. If all things in your life are running smoothly, on all cylinders so to speak, you may be able to hold a very high rate of speed (i.e. productivity) while still maintaining a low RPM. Think of the times in your life when most things were going well (and let’s hope that there is a period of time that you can think of — if not, keep reading and let’s work on that). For example, relationships in your life were in a good place; you were enjoying your chosen vocation and passionate about your work or hobbies; you were stimulated socially and cerebrally; physically active; and you still had free time available in your schedule to enjoy some leisure time. It’s quite likely that you were getting a lot done in a week, without feeling overwhelmed by it.  That is to say, your speed was high, your RPM was low.

The inverse is equally true. Consider a time when things weren’t running so smoothly. A relationship gone bad; a toxic atmosphere at work; a physical injury that sidelined you. During those periods, it’s likely that normal day-to-day activities seemed harder and more difficult. Your speed was slower, yet your RPM was higher.

Papa Alpha RPM Gauge2. Different Engines Have Different Thresholds.

Not only do different engines have different thresholds, but the same engine, under different conditions, can also have varying thresholds. The very same principle is true for us, as  human beings — and in particular as parents. What may have been a benign event for you as a 20- year old single person, may elicit an entirely different response as a sleep deprived 40-year old.  And likewise, what your mom or dad friend’s seem “okay to handle” may not be true for you.

Rather than being discouraged by that, take solace in the notion that a) what those people say they can handle may not actually be true (it’s all too often human nature to present better than we actually are — and parenting is no exception to this); and b) someone else’s threshold should not be the standard for yourself. The diesel truck engine should not be comparing itself to the Formula 1 car and vice versa. The Formula 1 vehicle is great for the track, and the truck is great off the road. They’re both valuable but they have different RPM gauges and they only run, at their best, when they read their own gauge, not others. This is the social version of keeping up with the Joneses. Not from a material standpoint, but with respect to threshold in life. Don’t fall prey to it.

3. Read the Redline and Listen to its Commands. It’s Trying to Help You.

Finally, it’s critical to understand why the redline is there. It’s telling you to make a change. Your engine’s not running at the optimal level — and much more importantly — this level is not sustainable. Change or implode.

Finding Your Life’s RPM Gauge

So, what are some RPM gauges in life, and how do you know when you’re redlining?

It’s taken me a while to really figure mine out and distill it down, but I’ve realized that for me it isn’t fatigue, loss of motivation, or even stress.

My RPM gauge redlines when I find myself changing from gracious to pugnacious. 

When I walk into a room like Bodacious the Bull walks into an arena, I know I’m redlining. It’s just not who I normally am…and that is telling me something.


papa alpha bull


Normally, I consistently idle at a content spot. I’m very intense, to be sure. But I’m a happy-intense-guy — not an angry-intense-guy (there’s a significant difference), except when I’m redlining. When my RPM gauge hits the redline, I find myself getting toxic. I think toxic things and I want to say toxic words.

When I’m standing in line waiting for a coffee and the person in front of me is a 108-year old man who wants to pay for his coffee with a combination of coins from countries that no longer exist and buttons from sweaters he no longer wears, I sense my vitriol rise, and toxic, impatient anger, setting in. Instead of being amused and cheered by the comical scene in front of me — or better yet, reflecting in the extra 90 seconds I had to spend in line that day, I get pugnasty instead.


Pugnasty Paul - Papa Alpha Before I understood that I had my own RPM gauge in life, I used to stay at that redline point far too long.

In fact, my remedy for it, would be to push further into it.

“Pugnasty Paul” would stick around far too long, looking for fights. The net result was often much less than ideal. Understanding what my redline is and being able to read it, has really helped me adjust to it much sooner and more efficiently.

Other people’s redlines may be much different and perhaps more objective:

Missing your favourite yoga class three weeks in a row may be a sign that you’re redlining and not setting aside the requisite “me” time you need to run optimally.

Recognizing that you’ve gone weeks without laughter;

A loss of intimacy with your lover;

Being short tempered with your children;

It can be as serious as a noticeable reduction in your drive and will to succeed; or as seemingly benign as noticing that that it’s been six  weeks since you actually just sat down for a night to veg out, watching your favourite show.

Regardless of what your RPM gauge is, the message is always the same: You’re not the best version of you; your engine is redlining — make a change.

Two more things before I wrap this bad boy up:

On a very personal note, I wrote this article this month at a time when I was redlining beyond belief. A short while ago, I received a less than ideal health diagnosis about someone I love dearly. I proceeded to bottle-up my emotions deep in the belly of the beast. Rather than processing them, I avoided them.

Sadly, they didn’t go away. Burying myself in busyness and business, led to great productivity in my life, but my soul was becoming an increasingly tortured one. And to my shame, I didn’t instantly follow the very advice I’m advocating in this article (I know, I know, awful — but hey, sometimes even accountants let their books get unbalanced!) I saw my RPM redline, but I didn’t immediately make the changes that were necessary to lower them. That decision had consequences. The manifestation of mismanaging my redline only caused more damage to my engine. They began to make their way into my work life and my personal life. Even my Sun-seeking activities became Kryptonic. Thankfully, I eventually owned-up, and read my gauge and made the necessary changes.

Papa Alpha - start your engineFinal point. You’ll read this article today and a plethora of others as well. That’s great. I’m glad you’ve chosen to read this one amidst the host of others.

And I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. “Damn, this article is good. Insightful and humorous. Wow. And this author, actually is so bull-necked.” Thank you. I appreciate the kind words. But that’s not what I actually want you to think (I mean, I’m not troubled by you thinking that)…but it will be disappointing to me if you only read this article, rather than actually taking something from it.

Think about it this way:  you’ve already spent the time to read this, so get a reward for it. Challenge yourself today to actually think about, and find your RPM gauge. It’s worth the effort.  Start your engines.
























Written by: Paul Attia

11 Comments Added

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  1. AD July 26, 2016 | Reply

    Your insights and reflections continues to challenge, amuse and inspire me. Thanks for sharing!

    • Paul Attia July 26, 2016 | Reply

      Thank you. I am happy to hear that you were both challenged and amused.

  2. Lucas July 27, 2016 | Reply

    Your blog makes me stop to think. Think about being a better person. Better father. Better partner. I don’t feel that often, and I find it very valuable. I don’t do it often enough! It’s also inspiring to know that others seem to (often) go through the same things I am or that I am not alone facing some of these personal ‘challenges’. It gives me strength and hope that “better” is actually achievable, not just something philosophically worth trying for. If others are doing it, why not me! Good job Paul… keep it up.

    • Paul Attia July 27, 2016 | Reply

      Why not Me? You’ve asked the most important question of all, Lucas. And you’re completely correct, why not you? You clearly have the desire and the skill set to achieve those goals that you’ve set, of being each of the father, husband and professional, that you want to be. And you’re right you’re not alone in both your desire to do so, and the challenges you face in aiming to achieve those goals. Deliberate thoughts lead to deliberate actions, which lead to a deliberate destination. Pls keep it up!

  3. Naren July 27, 2016 | Reply


    As a long-time follower of Peter’s life and work (through his blog, twitter, and anything else I can find on him), I was delighted when you started Papa Alpha. I first came to know about you from your Primal Blueprint post a few years ago.

    While my aspirations (and circumstances to some extent) are similar to yours, my drive and intensity aren’t quite in the same league. I may not know you or Peter personally, but I hope to learn from you both, much like Ekalavya learned from Dronacharya.

    Your work helps me greatly, thank you.


    • Paul Attia July 27, 2016 | Reply

      Naren, thank you for taking the time to write. I am so glad to hear that you’ve enjoyed Peter’s work (I do too!) and that you’re delighted about the Papa Alpha blog. I am too. As your comment shows, there is a clearly a need for so many of us to aim to achieve theses goals, of having our family life and our work leave achieve optimal success, simultaneously. The world repeatedly tells us we can’t. Let’s fight back and let them know we can.

      As well, don’t undersell your intensity and drive. Yes, some are born with higher levels to be sure (and I’ve my parents repeatedly what they put in our breakfast bowls as kids to make me and Peter turn out this way — they haven’t told us yet), but the reality is this: Intensity and Drive are also daily choices. You wake up and you decide: I will pursue these goals today – and they are part of my overall goals for tomorrow. And then you just do it, one day at a time.

      Thank you for your genuine and sincere comment, Naren. We are glad to have you on board!

      • Naren July 28, 2016 | Reply


        Thank you for taking the time to respond.

        If you ever decide to let readers nominate topics for a blog post, my nomination would be for “a week/day in the life of Paul Attia”. Something along the lines of Peter’s super-hit (to his dismay) “What I actually eat..” series, but perhaps covering your diet and also fitness, family, and work/business routines.

        This may be asking for a lot, and if it can’t happen, no worries. Everything you’re giving us is already gold.

        • Naren July 28, 2016 | Reply

          Actually, I just re-visited your Mark’s Daily Apple / Primal Blueprint article and it does cover some of what I requested.

        • Paul Attia July 29, 2016 | Reply

          Thank you Naren. I appreciate your input on article ideas you’d like to read. Of course, I welcome them. My daily routine, aiming to spend quality time with each of my four kids, and my wife, along with my fitness routines, managing a business and practicing law, is certainly something I’d be happy to discuss. Like any craft, it is something that is worked on and tweaked, consistently, always aiming to secure the greatest efficiency and ROI on the most limited of all commodities: time.

          That being said, what I actually focus on much more than a routine, is a set of “Systems” : Universal principles if you will, that work across the board, in securing the best return and outcomes in various fields, such as Family, Fitness and Finance. Some of my writings here and elsewhere, will discuss those – and should there be interest, I’ll be happy to elaborate on them more.

          Thanks for the feedback, Naren.

  4. Wayne Herrmann July 27, 2016 | Reply

    Great food for thought, and more. As a active athlete & football coach for more than 20 years I have come to realize there is more to life than ME in the driver seat. The pursuit of excellence can ONLY come from God’s perfect designed purpose for you & I through “3 Dimensional life coaching-Spirit/MindBody.” Develop all three and you become COMPLETE. Stay Strong, Humble & Hungry. Now take on the day with HIM.

    • Paul Attia July 27, 2016 | Reply

      Wayne, as a former NFL player – turned successful businessman – turned successful husband – turned successful father of four — turned, phenomenal athlete post 60 — you are a living example for us all. Thank you for taking the time to write. Knowing you and your family for nearly 20 years has been inspiring to say the least. I loved your words about staying Strong, Humble and Hungry. Thank you Wayne.

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For people who want to succeed in life in their role as a spouse, as a parent, and in their career. Success in any one of those three areas is tough enough; success in two of the areas is even tougher; and success in all three feels near impossible, on most days.

All great quests, begin with great questions. Asking questions is the genesis of growth and seeking the answers is the route to it.