9 Factors into 4 Keys to Living Better

2009 saw the launch of Whole 9 and first iteration of Whole 9 Factors for improving health and wellbeing. Today, I’m introducing my 4 Keys to living better.

I’ve spent the last 8 years looking for ways to simplify these 9 Factors you may recognize:

  1. Food
  2. Sleep
  3. Movement
  4. Fun & Play
  5. Stress Management
  6. Socialisation
  7. Natural Environments
  8. Personal Growth
  9. Temperance

In the four years since their last update, I’ve been further expanding, refining, and evolving my thoughts on what makes up the most basic and fundamental aspects of health. The 9 Factors were good, and if you addressed them all, you’re likely in a pretty good spot as far as your health was concerned.  

But there were always questions like why 9 and not 10? Why not remove the one nobody understands and add 4 more in its place?

What the hell is temperance anyway?

Less is More

In his book, Essentialism, author Greg McKeown talks about our “undisciplined pursuit of more” — getting ourselves caught in the trap of forever chasing more; of pursuing breadth over depth. It’s not enough to just improve our diet by eating better quality food, for example, but rather we have to eat low carb, then push that to keto diets, add some intermittent fasting, extending the hours and days which we fast.

Ironically, when it comes to food, our “undisciplined pursuit of more” becomes more ways not to eat, often resulting in less nourishment.

If two sessions of high-intensity training are good, then more must be, well, better! Suddenly, two CrossFit classes per week becomes two per day, 6 days per week. What began as a high-intensity approach to training rapidly becomes a high-frequency, “chronic cardio” approach, with our “undisciplined pursuit of more” resulting in less intense training in order to meet the demands of the more frequent sessions.

We have sacrificed the depth (intensity) for breadth (frequency), and wonder why we often stall in our progress.

As I saw time and again with the 9 Factors, by the time people had found more ways to eat less of the recommended food (while simultaneously finding more ways to circumvent the rules of Whole30), and found more ways to exercise more (even though the specific factor was movement, not exercise per se), there was little energy left over for the remaining factors.

Can I just add another WOD as my ‘Fun & Play?’

Minimalism, essentialism, simplification, less being more — call it what you will, but my goal over recent years has been to strip back the original 9 Factors into 4 Keys to living better with the aim of exploring each in more depth.

Here they are. 

4 Keys to Living Better

  1. Sleep
  2. Eat
  3. Move
  4. Connect

You’ll notice it doesn’t start with food anymore.

It starts with Sleep.

If you need “Stress Management” (Whole 9 factor #5), then you will likely need to be eating more nourishing food, be moving in ways which reduce rather than add to your total stress, you will need to prioritize your sleep, and perhaps most importantly, you will need to make changes with how you connect with the people and places which give the highest feelings of calmness, fulfillment, and emotional support (and maybe face up to those connections which add to your stress).

The way you Eat, Move and Connect will determine how you Sleep — the part of our lives that literally sets the rhythm (circadian) for everything else.

If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, you’ll start your day tired and stressed. That sends you looking for cheap rewards like too much sugar and caffeine in your diet. Your movement sessions will be strained and less productive. And by the time you take care of all of that you won’t have any energy left to connect with the people you love. So you’ll just check social media and expose yourself to blue light — inhibiting melatonin release and leading to a late night.

More poor sleep. More stress. More difficulty eating, moving and connecting.

And the cycle continues.

I want to help you find a healthy cycle through understanding the depth of each of the 4 Keys to living better and how they work together.

I’ll explore Sleep and the others in detail over the next few months.

I would love it if you joined me.

Sign up for my newsletter to get introduced to the first Key — Sleep.

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  • Konrad

    This is good 🙂

  • Michael Garrison

    Love this and agree 100%

  • Leni Brass

    This comes at a great time. Thanks for keeping me on your list, Dallas. Looking forward to checking this out

  • Lacey

    Perfect timing! I can tend to get overly fanatical about things, as you mentioned! Then I got injured and was out, and then a family vacation and then my daughter in hospital with pneumonia, and then me with pneumonia! It’s been 7 weeks of very little movement and some new bad habits born from “resting.” I need to start over—so this is great!

  • Janell Blose


  • Anne Munroe

    Love this also. Thanks!

  • Lori Dodde

    “They way you Eat, Move and Connect will determine how you Sleep — the part of our lives that literally sets the rhythm (circadian) for everything else.” This statement in the above article ‘screamed’ at me. If there is ONE important thing (there were many more!) that I took away from my first Whole30 experience, it was that I never understood how vitally sleep affected every other part of my life. Seems elementary, but the circadian rhythm is not the subject of much of our early learning at home, in science class or even in our adult life. It is so very basic–and to actually FEEL the fuel I was ingesting (in the form of healthy, pure, unadulterated food) affect so directly my ability to get restful productive sleep was magic! Suddenly every other aspect of my life began to change–my mood, my confidence, my relationships with co-workers, parents at school and family and friends, my stress level, my desire/ability to control alcohol use, actually craving just taking a brisk walk every day. Thanks for all of your research and for telling us about it in a very readable, understandable way.

  • Dana

    Excited to follow along. Thanks for your hard work Dallas.

  • Kellie Cowles

    Priorities distilled down to their essence. I so love where you’re going with this and look forward to the coming exploration of depth versus breadth.

  • Cindy Larson-Timmons

    Sleep is healing for us all! Thank you!

  • Geoff

    Love this! 4 > 9

    • Elle

      Good one Geoff

  • Taylor

    Can’t wait to follow along on this journey to discovering more about the 4 keys!

  • Rick Fage

    I loved the 4 simple things that make our life the way it should be. Please keep me on your email list.

  • Sonya

    Since sleeping is last on my list😳 makes alot of sense!

  • Jan

    As a menopausal or possibly post-menopausal woman

  • Stacey B

    Thank you! So timely. I look forward to following this series of posts.

  • Sandra Coats

    I love the simplicity. I struggle with an all or nothing mentality so these 4 factors seem to be a framework for balance in my life. Thanks for your work and I’m looking forward to the journey

  • Angela Scampone

    Very interesting

  • April

    Love it – was just thinking today about how I used to get SO caught up in “challenges” and it seems to be so popular nowadays to push yourself for 30 days or 6 weeks to do all of the things and I’m tired of that. We need to simplify things. I look forward to reading more!

  • Jan

    As a menopausal woman, sleep is severely challenged. Some writers suggest hormone replacement therapy, and I have been using bio-identicals for about 8 years. At first the progesterone afforded me about 6 good hours of sleep but now that is broken into two hour segments at best. I’m not expecting medical advice, but what are your findings or where should I look for info in the area of sleep for the wisened woman?

  • Kristin L Daley

    As a behavioral sleep specialist, I am very pleased to see that it starts with sleep 🙂

  • Diane Bonorchis

    I absolutely love this approach! Whole30 has been such an amazing adventure for me and I so look forward to learning more. It has been an amazing journey of introspection and leaning about me and my body! You are both to be commended for the fantastic work!

  • Kristen

    Just today I was meditating about simplifying this whole approach to health and well-being. Why-So that I can LIVE more fully and simply. I also wanted thoughts about food (what to eat, not eat) to take up much less air space in my head. Please continue to share.

    Thank you.

  • Martina

    Couldn’t agree more with this article. Since I started to pay more attention to get at least 7 hours sleep, I have more energy, my mood is better, I’m not stressed, I react calmly to stressfull situations at home and at work. And I’m in better shape with less hours spent in the gym. I’ll definitively follow your research. Thank you.

  • Elaine Hannah

    Back to basics and simply so true. And the one thing I don’t do enough? Sleep……

  • Joanna

    Nice. Thanks.

  • Yvonne Castle

    I am happy to be on your email list as these essentials have always been high priority for me, but now that I am looking for more minimizing in many ways, I look forward to your opinion and insights.

  • Lindy Lyles

    I am SO glad that you have explored and experienced this and are going to share your recommendations. Much of what you say resonates positively with me.

  • Jac

    Definitely looking forward to reading more about the 4 keys. Listening to your podcast with Pillar has been so eye-opening for me, and has shifted the way I approach my own wellness, and how I approach the subject of “health” with my fellow humans. Love this and excited for more!

  • Helga

    Makes so much sense! thanks for sharing

  • Stephanie Lennon

    Oh my gosh, you’re singing my song! Though a believer in whole clean eating (and a W30 vet), I also have concluded that it actually does start not with food but with sleep 🙂 Looking forward to reading more!!!

  • Kathy

    This looks amazing; and coming into my life when I am receptive to the teaching. I am midway into my 2nd Whole30 and so ready for simplifying. Thank you!

  • Beth

    So timely for me. Looking forward to where you are going with this!

  • Gina

    Exactly the advise I needed.

  • Michelle

    Makes perfect sense and I agree 100%. I like how these areas can mean different things for all of us.

  • Ani

    Awesome! Thanks you Dallas!

  • Kathy

    Wow this is EXACTLY what I’ve been going through: “It’s not enough to just improve our diet by eating better quality food, for example, but rather we have to eat low carb, then push that to keto diets, add some intermittent fasting, extending the hours and days which we fast.”

  • Leah

    This comes at a great time for me—I feel like hibernating in the fall and have not been getting as much sleep as I need or sound sleep. Excited to hear more about sleep.

  • Cheri Fether/Leclerc

    Very good, sent this to my son…who has to stay up “early” to watch these podcasts daily! He then sleeps all day, and gets up to rushing, eating in a hurry, being late,
    In other words creating his own stress mess. I sent this to him, hoping he will listen to something this simple, and coming from someone else!
    As far as me, think I have three, but need to work on movement, been bedridden due to TMI, but hemerrhoid banding, with C issues. I think I am starting to walk on my tredmill again, and take one day at a time.
    I hope a lot of people read this, so much outer clutter can be removed that is unnecessary!
    Just sit back and enjoy that old movie, turn your phone off, you have no control over the government, basically be selfish for your health, and cut all things that you can feel in your gut, you are not even a grain of sand to the world, but you are to your loved ones, and family. Follow the KISS method: Keep It Simple Stupid
    Thank u for the breakdown! Very good, put it on the front page of every paper!
    Cheri Leclerc

  • Daria Tansey

    Thanks for keeping me on your email list. I look forward to learning more about how to provide myself with a healthier life.

  • Marc

    Congras Dallas – KIS is a great formula! Thanks for your work and sharing.

  • Denise

    Thank you Dallas – Lack of sleep is my kryptonite – it affects everything about my life. So looking forward to coming on this journey with you.

  • Diane White

    Sgn me up for your newsletter

  • MaryRita Chimovitz

    Love the simplicity in your words and the feeling of being connected to a calm way of living.

  • Abbey

    I’ve been following since the whole30 was a downloadable PDF, then on social media through the changes and updates and “split” of the program. I appreciate the work you do and the way you word your thoughts through the living experiment podcast and your posts. It’s fascinating to watch your interests grow and change and hear your self reflections (as an outsider looking in, getting glimpses of your life.) as someone who doesn’t watch much tv or many movies, you’re kind of the “celebrity” I follow 🙂 keep up the valuable work.

  • Melissa Blynn

    I’m only 36 and people make fun of how I sleep 9-10 hours a night.

    It’s the best thing I’ve done for my mind body and spirit!

  • Dan Marks

    Thank you! Reading this made my day, I love the minimalist approach! I truly look forward to learning more in future emails!! Thank you for the great work you do, and keep up the great content on the podcasts!

  • Diane

    Well I know what NOT sleeping for 16 years (RN night shift) has done to me! Wrecked and ready… bring it on!

  • anna piramide

    Thanks so much! This can be a fresh start as I plan my LIFE in general.

  • Gail Brown

    In our crazy, “do more” world, it’s nice to know that less is okay. I’ve been working towards less for the past year. I appreciate your thinking on the subject.

  • Jeannie Cooper

    Love this!. I too have been “working” toward less, and yes that is in itself an oxymoron…and it’s hard to let go of more is better. Signed up. Thanks, Dallas
    Have followed you for some time and am glad you are back to sharing. Though I do not expect you will remember, I introduced myself to you at a conference in Portland OR when I was going through my MS in Nutrition and Functional Medicine. It was a 5 day conference on Nutrition that was one of my required classes. Looking forward to more!

  • Leslie Dorsey

    People think I’m crazy when I say I need 8 hours of sleep or I’m worthless the entire day. Thanks for the validation and simplification. I like the less is more theory.

  • BethA

    Love this and look forward to hearing more!

  • Zoe

    Interesting, I am comparing with Rangan Chatterjee’s Four Pillars of Good Health – the same except that his version has “Relax” rather than “Connect”. I think of “Relax” as a reference to mindful activity. I wonder if it could be covered by “Connect” – connecting not just to others, but to the present and our own experience in the moment.

    The other interesting comparison is yoga and its multiple aspects (limbs, branches), which include the idea of service or contribution (karma yoga). Again, this could be one of the ways we need to ‘Connect’.

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