Monthly Archive: November 2015

Something Better than Willpower

Better Than Willpower

There are three requirements that you need to take charge of your health:

  1. The Right Mindset
  2. Correct Knowledge
  3. An Appropriate Plan

This post briefly covers the first requirement (mindset). We can break things down further into three more criteria:

  1. The Right Mindset
    1. Desire to Learn and Take Action
    2. Willingness to Start Today
    3. Willpower

Assuming you’ve got the desire to learn, and assuming that you’re not a procrastinator, you then just need to stay consistent with your healthy habits.

Of course that’s not so simple. Many people start eating better, and train regularly, only to be sidetracked soon after because “excuses” get in the way. Or they lack the willpower to stick with their habits.

Is willpower really the issue?

Willpower is usually associated with the ability to “say no”. You lack willpower if you can’t say no to that alcoholic drink or extra dessert. Conversely, it can be associated with the ability to “say yes”. You lack willpower if you can’t finish that workout even though it’s late at night.

Better Than Willpower

Willpower is tough because we have to often force ourselves to make the harder choices.

And the easier choices are soooo tempting!

If you’re having a hard time, realize that there’s nothing wrong with you — our brains are wired to desire instant gratification. Really desire it…

When we know we can get rewarded, our brains create a kind of “reward circuit”, by releasing a chemical called dopamine — the neurotransmitter that controls our pleasure centres. Dopamine makes us not only see the reward, but causes us to take action to get it. Not only is it hard to resist the temptation, the surge of dopamine to the brain will cause you to want to repeat the experience (i.e. you’ll crave even more pizza).

It’s a difficult trap to escape from. Dopamine is more than just a simple chemical messenger; it actually tells us what’s important to survive.

And tells us that those things are important to have right now. Immediately.

Real rewards, of course, are more long term. They’re the rewards that bring deeper meaning to our lives.

So part of the key in succeeding is to distinguish between the short-term, often addicting rewards and true rewards that are more fulfilling.

How do we do that, especially when our brains are trying to foil us?

By taking a second to recognize what’s going on, acknowledging the temptation, and by reducing stress.

Anything that causes stress (the daily grind, lack of sleep, relationship stress, work stress, etc.) drains our willpower.

The antidote is to relax.

Better Than Willpower

Take the dog for a walk. Do some stretching or yoga. Get outside if you can. Take a break from social media.

As you relax, think about your future (aka real) rewards. What is it that you truly want? You’ll be less likely to discount future benefits in favour of immediate gratification if you know you’re in for the long haul.

Remember why you’re doing the tough stuff — why you’re training, why you’re watching what you eat, etc. Going over your ‘whys’ is a great strategy, as is thinking about the future and where you’ll be.

The bottom line is this. Don’t always suppress negative thoughts and temptations and think ‘willpower’. Relax and breathe. Recognize your cravings and accept them for what they are, but then wait before acting.

Chances are, you’ll get past them.

Optimal Aging: Exercise and Roller Coasters

Optimal Aging

Ever wonder why kids can go on thrill rides and not get sick? It’s true that children and adults view roller coasters and other amusement park rides differently, the former as pleasure, the latter often as pure torture.

Even babies enjoy being thrown in the air. It’s almost like they enjoy the thrill of the unexpected.

In contrast, we adults like to experience things that are more predictable. We stop playing and substitute random movements for safe ones — and our senses dull with age as a result. Roller coasters get replaced by cruise ships vacations…

As our senses and movement capacities decline, we end up with a limited range of capabilities. Older people can stand, sit, walk, and maybe get down on the floor to pick something up if hard pressed. That’s not a huge variety of skills.

Don’t let it happen. For optimal aging, you want to have an exercise repertoire with dozens of moves, maybe even hundreds. You want to move effortlessly, and be accustomed to manipulating your body throughout space. You want to:

  • Get confident in your physical abilities
  • Raise the quality of your life
  • Look better and move better
  • Have more energy
  • Discover more about yourself
  • And generally, become harder to kill

How? The answer is simple.

Stop acting your age.

Here’s a throwdown challenge for you:

See if you can copy every move that a small child makes for thirty minutes.

Can you do it?

Once you’ve done a few summersaults, built a fort out of a cardboard box (and fit inside it), crawled under the bed, rolled down a hill and kicked a soccer ball around, you’ll likely end up completely exhausted.

But it’s exactly these types of spatial movements that train the vestibular canal and allow us to tolerate those ‘head over heels’ amusement park rides. It’s a “use it or lose it” type of thing. Your goal may not be to ride the scariest roller coaster in the world, but you should want to be able to move freely and without discomfort.

Increase your movement capacity, each and every day. And whether you’re around a toddler or a five-year old, I dare you to mimic them for 30 minutes.

I can practically guarantee that you’ll be significantly challenged.