After I wrote The Discipline High – Part One I ended up talking to my brother about it. The discussion moved very quickly from does it exist to what it is?
Initially I had thought that I had somehow been able to create something out of nothing by fostering a positive feeling by NOT eating. It seemed a reasonable assumption because I do feel a sense of pride / accomplishment whenever I’m able to eat appropriately. The truth is, during bike season, I don’t need to be very mindful of what I eat because I’m very active – eating a box of cookies is excessive, but so is riding for 4 hours. In fact, some have said that I don’t really have a choice BUT to eat a box of cookies because I may utilize more than 2000 calories in a day in just exercise (the average 300 gram box of cookies has a little over 1200 calories). I need recovery sugar and while cookies do not supply you with dextrose or maltodextrin, the two sugars that replenish and boost muscle glycogen the most efficiently, they do contain sucrose with will help refill drained muscles and they taste pretty good. It’s a very bad idea to diet during the season because you may be denying your body the energy it needs to fully recover, which will result in an over trained state which will hurt your performance.
The discipline high only comes into play in the off season, between November and mid April because I scale back my activity dramatically. I do more resistance training to build muscle and strength, and this activity requires a lot less energy than riding; my estimate is about half the energy. Since my activity level decreases dramatically in the off season, I have to watch what I eat a lot more closely. When I mentioned this to Des, our understand about the source of the high became obvious. Why do I try to build muscle? Some of it is to help my cycling, some of it is to make moving around easier, some of it is to make my activities easier, and some of it is to have a body that looks nice. But having a strong core is very different from having a wash board stomach. A strong core allows you to drive more power to the legs by having a solid foundation from which to move so less energy is absorbed by movement of the upper body. Having a 6-pack is not necessary for this. I could have a strong core even with 20 percent body fat (many power lifters are just like this). The fact is, during the off season when weight gain can be an issue, I diet to keep the weight off and stay lean.
So my desire to have 6-pack abs is fueled by something other than athletic performance. It comes down to the motivation for wanting them and what they represent to me. First off, I have associated leanness with beauty, youth, and vitality because most lean people do have a look of vitality that is attractive and young looking. I have this association so it’s reasonable to assume that my desire to have them stems from my desire to be viewed as attractive and youthful with a lot of energy. Given that I’m pretty modest about my body, I’m not actively seeking other peoples approval or recognition for looking a particular way. But I feel that if I remain lean and well muscled, I have done everything that I can to remain attractive and young. In the event that my body ever becomes a deciding factor in anything, and I can’t ever see that happening, I have the peace of mind knowing that I have done my best. Wash board abs represent my knowledge about fitness and the human body and the level of hard work that I’m capable of. I regard them as a window into my brain and my personality and not something to be looked at as nice. I think they look good because they reveal who I am and not because they appeal to some primal urge.
What does this have to do with the discipline high? Well, I think the discipline high is just another form of delayed gratification; in this case, social recognition for achieving something that requires a lot of effort. I know that answer is a lot less appealing than my “something out of nothing” hypothesis but this explination is a lot more reasonable and I like its compatibility with evolutionary psychology. Only the social survive.