How To Fall In Love Again – Repost

Be recklessly open about who you are and what you want out of life. This stuff needs to be shared or else it won’t come true. A common goal empowers the relationship to become more purposeful and progressive. Even if they don’t directly participate, having them on your side will go a long way in helping you be more successful.

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NOTE – this is a carbon copy of the June 8, 2011 post with a very similar title How To Fall In Love Again. It is not a post revisited and, as such, it does not contain any new content. It is getting posted again because it now has the audio to accompany it.

1) Give in and accept that your ex partners are always going to have some power / influence over you and your thinking. Take the necessary steps to stop that influence from derailing your forward progress. The best approach here is to just not talk to them for a while and then slowly phase them back into your life if you are able to keep their influence in-check. If you can’t do this, don’t worry, most people can’t. They are your ex for a reason, usually because their and / or your influence did not move you both towards mutual happiness.

2) Accept that your past demons are going to have an influence on your present thinking and actions. Question things that disrupt the flow of the relationship or your partners life. Talk to your partner about these things. They aren’t likely to go away so acknowledging and working through them is a lot more effective and intimate than trying to ignore them. There is nothing wrong with your past and your future can be different. Embrace it and love the life you have lived because it has taken you to your new love. Once you know the life you have lived, you’ll be better equipped to deal with your present life because you’ll accept that there are patterns in your behavior.

3) Take the time to watch the way your partner moves, talks to people, and engages the world. Learn to notice the way they are. Look at their hands, their arms, their face. Try to notice all of their features and the way their mouth moves and eyes squint when they smile deeply. Feel the excitement build as your look at them. Learn to associate that excitement with the essence of them. Say to yourself and to them what it is that is beautiful about them. Create a linguistic understanding of who they are, not just a visual understanding. Take the time to touch them, particularly their face, neck and hands. Hold them close, feel their heat and energy against and within your body. Learn to identify the way they feel next to you. Massage them, rub their backs, find out where they are ticklish. Create a tactile understanding of who they are. Listen to their voice, the sound of their breathing, the sound of their foot steps when they are walking. Hear the way they move objects in the kitchen, the shower, the sound of the cutlery when they are eating a steak dinner. Create an auditory understanding of who they are. Smell them. Smell their clothes, their hair, their skin. Condition your nose to identify them by their smell or things that smell like they do. You are to immerse yourself in their essence and notice them, not just the things they do, but the way they are when no one is watching. If you love them, you will take the time to stop and notice all that there is to love about them.

4) Do things together that you would do on your own, but keep doing these things on your own some of the time. Sharing passions will helps to bring two people closer but you must maintain your independence with a part of them in order for you to hold onto your identify. Your partner is attracted to you because of who you are, this will go away when you combine everything and you stop being yourself.

5) Be recklessly open about who you are and what you want out of life. This stuff needs to be shared or else it won’t come true. A common goal empowers the relationship to become more purposeful and progressive. Even if they don’t directly participate, having them on your side will go a long way in helping you be more successful.

6) Challenge them and allow them to challenge you on your choices, motives and decisions. Therapy is a great tool, so a loving relationship will also contain a certain level of therapy-like behaviors. The objective here is allow your partner to empty of whatever is on their mind from the day, to have their feelings massaged out about the things that are troubling, and to basically be given a chance to talk things out and feel better. The hard part is not taking what you hear personally or injecting your opinion or solution into the conversation. You love them, but they need to suffer their own issues alone. Your role is to listen without hearing and ask questions that allow them to feel whatever it is they can’t get rid of.

7) Accept that you will never know how they truly feel about anything and, as such, you MUST remain open to the fact that their world is not the same as yours. Take the steps needed to NOT force your views upon them and to not allow them to force theirs on to you. Agree to disagree and accept compromise with both winning vs. you losing. If you can’t do this, and your new partner needs to maintain their identity, you MUST release them from whatever it is you’re a building because it isn’t a partnership.

So, these are 7 things that will help you create a climate that is conducive to the creation and expression of compassionate and intimate love. But when it comes right down to it, these are actions one would take when they are trying to figure out, as quickly as they can, IF they are with someone who is worth giving-up being alone for. Step 3 will also serve as the most powerful diagnostic tool you can get access to without going to school to learn how to identify motives based on the analysis of behavior – when you know how someone maintains eye contact during a conversation, you’ll know when they aren’t holding it the way they normally do and be able to ask quickly “what is going on?” These things change when a relationship shifts from being something good to something that is in trouble.

Victim Language Is A Tool, Not A Symptom Of A Problem

Basically we’re trying to get them to reach a point were they see the situation as ridiculous and of their own making. They need to see it as ridiculous because intelligent people are not capable of continuing to exist in that type of situation. They need to see it as their own making because this allows them to keep the momentum and see that they have had the power and been using it the entire time.

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In the self-help / personal development world the idea of victim language is floated. Predatory listening techniques are used by many practitioners to identify and point out when someone’s language indicates that they are viewing themselves as having been victimized in a specific situation or life in general. On the surface of it, it does make a lot of sense to draw ones attention to the moments when their choice of language indicates a world view has them being powerless. This flows from the fact that those who have the power to control their life have the opportunity to influence their future.

These conversation are only superficially helpful because they lack the insight to actually empower the individual. But they feel like something very real to both parties. The instructor / coach feels good, given that they were successful at identifying a pattern of speech that they have been trainer to flag given that the human brain is programmed to release reward chemicals with every successful match. The participant / client feel good because they now have an answer to the question “why is my life like this?” KNOWING the answer to that type of question is rewarding because it closes an open loop that was syphoning off mental energy that results from uncertainty. In terms of a transaction, it is win:win. Both parties feel good and get sufficient value from it.

But it isn’t very helpful in terms of empowering either party.

I’m going to cast aside the instructor, they aren’t asking for help, and instead focus on the client / participant.

Their language is fine. It’s powerful and clearly communicates a world view. This world view is almost completely correct. When they say that they didn’t get the promotion because their boss doesn’t like them they are correct. When they say they can’t lose weight because chips and candy too good to refuse they are correct. No matter what they say, there is an abundance of truth in it. There’s no point in lying and telling them that they are wrong. They are in fact the victim.

This begs the question, if they are victim, who then is victimizing them?

Well, it’s their language, so they are. And this is the power of it. It is only through seeing themselves as the cause of everyting in their life that they will ever gain the ability to control this power and begin to use it to create the life that they want.

This is where I part ways with the coaches / instructors. The thrust of their approach is to tell their clients to stop using victim language and start using more powerful statements as though they are the cause of their own life. The problem I see with this is that their victim world view has a lot of momentum. This inertia will keep things going in that direction for a while making immediate / instantaneous change nearly impossible. To do the opposite, they will first have to come to a complete stop before starting to move in the other direction. Doing this requires a lot of attention and energy, which is unreasonable given the unproven nature of the technology their coach is asking them to trust.

Instead, we use the inertia to reduce the energy requirements needed to help them become the cause of their own life.

Basically we’re trying to get them to reach a point were they see the situation as ridiculous and of their own making. They need to see it as ridiculous because intelligent people are not capable of continuing to exist in that type of situation. They need to see it as their own making because this allows them to keep the momentum and see that they have had the power and been using it the entire time.

Here is how:

A) Get them to restate the victim statement.

B) Nod your head if face to face or give an ambiguous verbal agreement if remote

C) Repeat it back to them and get their confirmation that the statement is correct.

D) Ask them “so what?”

E) Listen to their answer and ask them “what then?”

F) Go back to c and repeat as many times as needed to get to some ridiculous place.

A helps you to calibrate your understanding with their world view. B allows them to be correct and it sustains the momentum of their world view. C give you the opportunity to show that you have listened and heard, and get clarification if it is needed. D forces them to look inside and spend more time thinking about their victimization. It also gets them to consider the consequences of the situation they are in. E projects them into the future. F begins the process again with a new starting point that is at some point in the future.

One of the characteristics of people who view themselves as victims is that they rarely spend much time thinking about the long term ramifications of the situation. People either tell them that they need to do something different or they simply agree with them that they are victims. These amount to “I’m solving your problem” or “shut up, I don’t want to listen to you”. The third option is to assume that they are the experts of their own life and to genuinely be curious about how they think the situation will play out. Keep digging in and uncovering whatever lies below the surface. And then go deeper and see what’s below that. At some point it will become ridiculous and they’ll see that they have create the world they presently live in. Once they get here, applaud them for the power they have in making the world the way they did and invite them to consider what it is that they really want to use that power for.

Keep in mind that anyone who has done the dialectic about their challenges has already drawn the conclusion that THEY have caused the world to be the way it is and that they alone have victimized their own life.

It will take a little practice and role playing to get the conversational flow down, but you’ll be surprised at just how quickly you’ll get good at helping them see their role as victim and villain. You’ll also be shocked to notice the lack of introspection or how little actual though they have put into understanding the situation. Generally speaking, once someone has seen that they are the victim they stop thinking about it and start repeating and refining the victim script. It usually doesn’t have a second act, and if it does, rarely a third. By the forth cycle through their house of cards has collapsed.

This approach has the possibility of being effective, more than the traditional approaches of agreeing that someone has been victimized by others, which gives them a pass because it externalizes the source of the problems meaning that they do not have the capability to fix the situation, or pointing out their use of victim language and coaching them to substitute these patterns for more empowering one, which continues the externalization of the source of them being wrong, simply because it makes them responsible for drawing any judgments about who is the cause of the events that are happening in their own life, and the deep dive in terms of the possible future outcomes forces them to make huge generalizations in order to support or validate their assumptions which they will easily perceive as being incorrect.

The key to this approach is that they get to maintain ownership of everything, which is valuable in two ways. The first is that by seeing oneself as the cause of an outcome, they automatically accept responsibility for being the cause of an alternative outcome. The second reason has to do with the cognitive bias called the fundamental attribution error, which holds that a person is going to view their own actions in situational terms and the actions of other people in characterological terms. This tendency results in a reduction of solution option sets when a person views other people as being the cause of an outcome because they view the other persons actions as being a consequence of their lack of abilities or an abundance of malice. But when they view themselves as being the cause, they immediately see the situation as having played a causal role and can easily be moved towards generating solutions that are solely based on changing it. They have the capacity to do this so there is a much better chance of them surfacing a solution that they are willing to implement.

This is a version of a double bind – something that leads a person to two mutually exclusive outcomes – although the ridiculous nature of the final outcome does serve to dissipate the emotional distress. Narratively, when done effectively, the person has to choose between being correct, but unintelligent and locked into a life time of suffering, or having been the cause of their situation and holding the power to do something about it. While the second option is less palatable in so far as it requires that they put the effort into making their own life better, it is usually much more appealing to anyone who is actually open to change than admitting to another human being that they are willing to continue to do the very thing that is causing their life to be crappy enough to ask you for help in fixing.

My favoring of this approach stems from the fact that I have never seen someone respond well to being told that they are being victimized by an external entity. The usual outcome of this is a state of learned helplessness that serves only to inhibit action. The other option is only marginally more effective at engendering a sense of personal power. But even when doing this, it tends to take a very long time because they need to mindfully create a new process of guarding their “I am” statements, which is a valuable skill on its own, but for our purposes, serves as an intermediary step. When quick change is desired or needed, a more direct attack of the problem makes more sense than learning how to do something that will stop them from doing the thing that is causing the undesired outcome.

Most people have a conditioned threshold level of effort that they are willing to spend in order to move past a negative experience. Since those with a high threshold tend to be the very people who fix or create the life they want to live, coaches and trainers will never find themselves having to help simplify the approach for these clients because the client will simply do whatever work is needed to implement and execute the perfect solution. For everyone else, their desired outcome is more often achieved through methods that rely on the expenditure of the least amount of effort.

To this end, forcing their brain into a double bind-like choice between having to reconcile the continuation of making stupid choices or choosing to see themselves as having been the one who made those choices and therefore is free to put in the work to make different ones, has only one possible outcome when dealing with someone who is actually willing to change. They see themselves as the cause, they accept that they have made the decision on some level to view themselves as the victim, and they put in the marginal amount of effort that is required to do something else.

NOTE: those who are unwilling to change will be easy to identify because they will ask other people to explain what is going on, they will not take the time and put in the effort to answer the “so what” questions, they will have reasons that they believe for why they are actually the victim of the actions of an external player, and they will be more than willing to endure the negative side of the double bind – there will be no cognitive dissonance associated with existing in a world that has them act in a way that will prevent them from getting what they claim they want. My advice is to exit yourself from the life of these people. Do NOT take them on as clients and do not believe a word they say when it comes to their belief that they know you will be able to help them. You cannot help them because they do not want help, they want someone to do the work for them. This makes it unworkable because people fix their own lives by taking the actions that move their life towards the things that will make it better and away from the things that are making it worse. Anyone who shifts the responsibility of any aspect of this onto another person is not ready for change and is very likely looking for someone else to blame when things do not go well.

The final part of all of this has to do with the fact that being a victim of the actions of other people is not the same thing as being the victim of your own actions. Not all victims are the same, although everyone is, to some degree, a victim of their own decision making or their unwillingness to make a decision.

This is where the power comes from. At some level, each one of us could have done something different and if we had, we would have experienced a different outcome. Even when we truly are the victims and suffer at the hands of another person, we could have done something different at some point along the way and there is a very good chance that we could have changed course when we realized that things were starting to go badly. This is why the cycling through the questions is so important. The client will need to realize a few things before they will gain access to a different and more deliberate future.

At some point along the way, when they realized that things were starting to go or were actually bad, they did not act. This was their decision and even if another person victimized them afterward, it was only because the client made the decision to remain in that position. Yes, the other person is responsible for their action, but this does not relinquish the client from their own responsibility in the situation. They contributed to the situation that the other person took advantage of.

By cycling through the questions until a ridiculous end point is reached, the double bind is created that will cause the client to consider the fact that there is something very silly about how the whole thing is going to pan out assuming the present situation remains as it is. This will force them to reconcile the fact that they KNOW the future before it happens and are therefore choosing to let this happen by choosing to do nothing about it. If they do not like how things are right now and they really do not like how things will become if they continue along on the same course, they will obviously need to do something different or else they are completely responsible for the outcome. No one else in the situation will bare any responsibility for what happens.

Notice how, at no point in this, are they being told that they are wrong. They are not being judged by you (the trainer / coach) in anyway, which will put some distance between them and the notion of external victimization. They are being moved to the point of making their own decisions and value judgments about what is going on and are completely free to accept everything as fine and allow it to continue. If the concept of victimization exists at all, it will only be in terms of their own actions and decisions leading them to a predetermined or predicted outcome. No one else will hold any responsibility in it and if they view the possible outcome as bad or undesirable, they are free to do something different to change it.

The benefit to this approach stems from the fact that self-discovery and independent learning play a disproportionately large role in terms of shaping future actions than anything that was taught or learned via a proxy. Understanding is the much younger sibling to realization, so someone who realizes that they have made the decisions that led them to this moment in time is at a distinct advantage over someone who understands this concept. The truth of the matter is that most people will resist and do the opposite of what they are told, so the actions of a well-intentioned coach who bypasses self-discovery in favor of telling the client what is going on will statistically do more harm than good.

Not everyone wants the things that they say they want, so it’s also very important to take the time to allow the person to make this call on their own. The only way this can happen is when there is full disclosure. By helping the client surface the most likely outcome if they continue their course of action, you are helping to free them from the future, if that is what they want, or to become content with their future, if it is what they choose. Again, we are not in a position to say anything about right and wrong, nor are we qualified to make the call on what is appropriate or inappropriate for their future. It is their life and they are the experts of it. Our job is to help them gain clarity on what is going on, why it is happening, who is causing it to happen, and what the future outcomes will be if they continue to operate in the same way. If they still want help after everything has been uncovered, our job is to help them figure out what they want and to help them determine a path that they will take towards it.

Victim language is important only in so far as it helps them to see who the actual villain is, themselves, and to realize that it has been their own decisions that have caused the outcomes that they do not like. It is only when someone accepts that they are both victim and villain in their own life that they will be able to see themselves as being the cause of whatever eventual future they live into. Leverage this view of victim-hood to help them gain the power of becoming a benevolent villain in their own life.

Miner Joke From Chernobyl – Knowing How Things Are

Egalitarian democracies that are a mix of capitalism and socialism do tend to lead to better outcomes, but they are not without their shortcoming. No matter what approach is implemented, governing large numbers of people is not easy and there is a near 100% chance that 100% of the population will not like something about how things are structured.

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Video contains strong language and may not be safe for your work place.

Exert From Chernobyl Episode 3 – Meeting The Miners

Chernobyl, the 5 part mini series about the 1986 nuclear disaster, is fantastic! While it does not reflect reality completely, they took some liberties with the facts to help tell the story, it has been widely praised. It is very entertaining, it does a good job explaining what happened and why, and it is a revealing look inside the USSR and how their system of government contributed to the cause and severity of the accident.

The best scene in my opinion was the one captured in the video clip above. This was our first introduction to the miners who were called upon to dig a tunnel under the reactor core to allow for a cooling system to be installed. The concern was that the overheating nuclear fuel would melt its way into the ground water, causing massive pollution and spreading the radioactivity for hundreds of miles. This would have made the clean-up impossible and it would have rendered a considerable amount of land uninhabitable for generations.

In this situation, the miners have the power and they know it. There is almost nothing that the system can do to compel them to dig the tunnel. Whereas force and fear are used to control most of the other characters, this group of people is immune to threats and this scene illustrates this fact perfectly. They only agree to do the risky work because of the consequences that would result from the core melting into the aquifer.

What captured my attention most of all is the joke that the foreman tells at the beginning of the clip – it’s worth watching the clip for the joke if nothing else.

“What’s as big as a house, burns 20 liters of fuel every hour, puts out a shit-load of smoke and noise, and cuts an apple into three pieces? A Soviet machine made to cut apples into four pieces!”

Glukhov in Chernobyl Mini Series

When I heard it the first time, I laughed, hit rewind and watched it again. I laughed again, and I laugh every time I hear it. The thing is though, it isn’t really a joke. While it may not be a statement of fact, there is no evidence that such a machine ever existed, it is only funny because it captures something that could very easily have been true and is therefore kind of pathetic.

This is not a political post, I really don’t care to talk about my views on politics because they are irrelevant. Individual people have a specific set of needs that are shared across the species and once met, they have their own unique set of wants that they will pursue. Egalitarian democracies that are a mix of capitalism and socialism do tend to lead to better outcomes, but they are not without their shortcomings. No matter what approach is implemented, governing large numbers of people is not easy and there is a near 100% chance that 100% of the population will not like something about how things are structured. The best we can hope for is that people are able to feel secure and work to earn enough money to meet their needs and pursue some of their wants. But some people will accumulate more while others will accumulate nothing and live a much harder life.

The joke is great because it is being told by a man who knows what the system is all about and is fearless in calling it out. The machine, which was designed to serve a useless and unnecessary function, doesn’t even do that correctly. It is dirty and wasteful and does a pointless task badly.

Of course, this is not to suggest that everything the USSR made was useless or pointless. Some of the technologies that they produced were first class and well ahead of their western counter parts. Nor is it suggesting that the people were incapable or unintelligent. They are just people and were more or less identical to people from anywhere on the planet. The fact is that more than two hundred thousand people were involved in the clean-up of Chernobyl indicating that, as people go, they had a strong moral compass and were willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of all people.

The joke is just pointing out that the system was not very good at determining what was needed or delivering it. Even if you know nothing about the history of the USSR, when you watch the mini series these facts will become very clear. When the safety of a population depends upon apples being cut into four pieces, relying on a Soviet machine may not be the best course of action, and particularly when the system punishes anyone who says that the machine is cutting an apple into three pieces.

The best interpretation of the joke that I read was that the apple cutting machine is a metaphor for the USSR, in that it is big, inefficient and doesn’t really do what it is supposed to do. Taken this way, the joke is a criticism of socialism / communism and ultimately of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels notion that their theory of government didn’t do what it was designed to do, and what it did do was done poorly. This interpretation does not seem like a stretch as I sit in front of a computer typing this, but in the context of the show it didn’t jump out at me. Glukhov, the miner who makes the joke, does seem like someone who is capable of thinking that way, but he’s making the joke in front of his team of miners so it isn’t actually clear that his audience would make the connection or understand it as to be a criticism of socialist and communist governing philosophy.

Which may be the point of the joke. On the simple level, the Soviet system tended to produce some pointless and inefficient machines that didn’t do what they were supposed to do and on the deeper level, maybe the system did this because that was the outcome of the system working perfectly.

After watching the series and taking some time to think about it, a few things become clear. The first is that the world is very complicated and it is very difficult to do things well, let alone perfectly. The second is that when something needs to function perfectly, like a nuclear reactor, there is no room for fear in speaking-up, the silencing of dissenting opinions or the creation of alternative facts. The final thing is about power and who ends-up being on the clean-up crew. Generally speaking, and this applies to the entire planet, those who have enough power to screw things up tend not to have the willingness or ability to fix them when they go bad.

Soon Certain and Salient – The Science and My Experience

This is athletes and is not most people. The results are a function of “athlete” as a verb as opposed to a noun. Most people will act like an athlete from time to time insofar as they can be very driven and work very hard, but an athlete is single-minded about what it is they want to achieve and they are single-minded about the willingness to do whatever it takes to move forward and achieve the goal.

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A few weeks ago I was talking to an old co-worker friend from the fitness industry. We were just spit balling back and forth about who the best clients were to get. When I asked him what exactly he meant by the best clients, is it the ones who get the best results, is it the ones who are the most fun to train, is it the ones that are the easiest to train? He replied with “that is a good question, what I’m really asking is your opinion and your experience with clients who get the best results for who they are, and you know right off the get-go that it is going to be an easy experience for both people.” So for the trainer is it going to be fairly straight forward and for them as the client it is going to be very simple. It is going to be hard work, without a doubt, but it is going to be simple hard work. They are going to do what they have to do, they are going to do it as well as they can, and they are going to do it exactly as it is outlined.

Fundamentally, this is the type of question that I love answering because it draws on a lot of my experience in terms of the work that I have done in a variety of different fields along with my academic background in psychology. At its core is the question “why do people do the things that they do?”

Now we know an awful lot about how the brain works, both in terms of the physiological things that occur, and in the fifty thousand foot view of what goes on in the brain and the way people think – so the neuroscience along with the psychology. There is a boundary separating these two things. The neuroscience deals with things on a cellular level while the psychology deals with more of a narrative understanding of what goes on. Regardless of the differences, a lot is known about both things.

There is not much difference between human beings. Genetically, we are all very close to identical and the physiological processes that run under the surface are exactly the same for all people. We are coded in more or less the same way, by and large we all have the same parts of the brain and they all work in exactly the same way. And it is that way with most mammals and most living things. Neurons work the same way, more or less. So given that there is so much similarity in terms of the neuroscience, on the cellular level, why are there different outcomes for different people? Why is it not the same outcome?

That is where the psychology comes in to play. And that is ultimately the question my friend was asking. Who are your favorite clients to work with from the point of view of the ones you know are going to do well, will follow instructions and just be really easy to work with? Well, as the conversation evolved he asked if my experience backed up what I know about psychology. And that is a fair question because my experience NEEDS to back it up because if experience does not back-up what you know about a science, your experience is wrong or the science is wrong, or you have done something new that was not previously known. But one would imagine, that with enough time, over the twenty years I have been working in the industry, I would have found my way into the mean in that the average experience that I have had with people would reflect the average person.

This is more or less been what I have discovered. Some people do not get very good results. They do not get any worse, but they never move toward their goal. The stated goal of losing a few pounds or gaining some muscle, or whatever the goal is that the person decides they want, I know that there will be some people who never move towards it. They will never get worse, which is a version of improvement given that decay is the natural processes as we get older, so that is good. But when they are not moving towards their goal and improving, they are not really getting what they want.

Then there are other clients who get average results, and finally there are the outliers on the other end, those who achieve their potential in the scientifically determined length of time – there is an optimal level of progress and there are a few clients who will hit this. This is ultimately what he was getting at. When someone sits down in front of me for the consultation, and they say “hey, I need your help in doing this thing,” who do I know is going to get the results, and what makes me sure they will? And what then does the science say about these people?

Well, I will work backwards. What does the science say about people who get results? Basically it says that the people who do this collection of things for this time duration at this frequency and for this period of time (in terms of weeks or months or years), will cause physiological changes to their body that are the reflection of the physiological stimulation and the nutritional intervention. So those who get results do those specific things as prescribed and they get these specific and predictable results. For example, they do this program four times a week, every week for three months while adjusting their diet in these ways and they will gain 5 pounds of muscle and drop 5 percent in body fat.

So if that is on the surface, do X, Y and Z in this way and get this outcome, why is it that some people choose to do X, Y and Z exactly as prescribed while others will not do it as prescribed? What is the difference between these people, and the individuals who find themselves in other groups?

The science and a lot of the research that they have done with people reveals that it all comes down to consequences. On first pass, this may seem silly because consequences are punishments and punishments are about reducing particular behavioral patterns or actions. Compare this to reward, which is about increasing behavioral patterns or actions that someone takes, which is ultimately what personal trainers are asking their clients to do.

Think back onto Pavlov’s dogs that salivated at the sound of the bell when they had learned that food was given right after the bell rang. They would start to get excited when they heard the bell because they learned that the bell meant food. The outcome to this was that the dogs began to display a behavior that was not related to the bell simply because they had been reward in the past and had conditioned the reward to the sound of the bell.

On the other side of it is punishment. Whenever a physical or psychological punishment is administered to a creature in close proximity to a particular action or behavior, the frequency of them displaying that action or behavior will be reduced and overtime it will be eliminated. Now the issue with punishment is that it is not very specific meaning that whatever action the nervous system of the animal determined was what led to the punishment will get suppressed. It is not a clearly defined or a concise understanding of what exactly caused the punishment. This means that any of the behaviors that occurred in close temporal proximity to the punishment might end-up being suppressed. This leads to a situation that allows for very little testing or refinement of the connection – since the punishment MIGHT have been caused by any one of these five actions, repeating one of them MIGHT lead to a punishment so it is best to not repeat ANY of them.

This is the opposite of rewards. Rewards tend to be much more specific because there is no risk associated with testing any of the potential actions. The animal is hell-bent on finding out what exactly it has to do in order to get more rewards and it very quickly tracks down that it was this particular behavior.

What does this have to do with success with personal training clients? It has to do with the fact that consequences have a much bigger role in determining who is going to be successful. Human beings are not like any other creature. We get to enjoy things that do not happen, we get to enjoy the benefits and cost of things that are just a matter of perception, so things that we imagine and that never occur. And while any other animal will learn to avoid doing the things that cause them harm or ill-health, a human being will continue to do them.

To this later point, alcohol is good. You should never ever feed alcohol to a dog, it is not fair as it cannot consent to drink. You should not do it. But whenever they have done it they have found that the dog will drink, it will suffer hangover like effects and it will never go near alcohol again. In fact, the dog will become conditioned to avoid alcohol through single-trial learning. When it comes to alcohol, it does not like it, it hates the feeling and it knows alcohol will cause the feeling so it does not touch it ever again. Human beings will continue to do things that cause pain or that simply do not work for them over and over again in spite of the fact that they causes problems. Consequences do not mean the same thing to human beings as they do to dogs. There is a one-to-one cause and effect relationship with the dog while the consequences with human beings are impacted by a perceptual relationship. This means that the cause and effect relationship manufactured by the human could connect absolutely anything to anything else.

The science basically says that someone who shows up for consultation saying “I want to get better at X,” knowing exactly what they are seeking, is highly motivated, and they know exactly why they are doing it, will tend to get the results they are looking for. A perfect example of this class is an athlete. Athletes know exactly why they are doing what it is they are doing and are moving towards a goal. I am not going to say that they are pleasure-seeking but they are looking for something that they view as positive. They want to achieve the highest level of performance so they can increase the likelihood that they are going to win during competition. This is one group who, if they show-up in front of you, assuming you know the science to support optimal human performance and write and administer the program effectively, WILL hit their potential because they will follow the program almost perfectly. These people are seeking something. There is a huge reward in front of them and that is what they are moving towards.

This is athletes and is not most people. The results are a function of “athlete” as a verb as opposed to a noun. Most people will act like an athlete from time to time insofar as they can be very driven and work very hard, but an athlete is single-minded about what it is they want to achieve and they are single-minded about the willingness to do whatever it takes to move forward and achieve the goal.

Most people, in general, are moving away from something they do not like, which is not pleasure seeking. Human beings operate from a pain avoidance point of view when it comes to altering their physical health. The reason is fairly straight-forward, it is hard work. The easiest thing to do is nothing. Change is not doing nothing. Doing nothing is doing what we have automated, living the life that we are currently living. If we want to change our life this means we have to do something other than what is automatic, which is going to require effort. Since we know it requires effort there is a disincentive to doing it if for no other reason than this extra effort (but there are other reason too). Human beings do not really operate from the point of view of spending effort unless we absolutely need to. So we will spend energy to get pleasure, the athlete, and when it comes to everyone else who connects with a personal trainer, they will spend energy to avoid pain. This is the reason why we know someone is going to get great results when they show-up to a personal trainer with a clear idea of what it is they do not want. They are the ones who are more than likely going to do everything that is asked of them. The motivational currency of the non-athlete are consequences.

The science basically says when dealing with consequences, the consequences need to be soon, they need to be certain, and they need to be salient. If a consequence has, in the mind of the potential client, these three properties, they are going to agree to training and they are going to commit to doing what you asked them to do as hard as they can. They are going to do what it is needed to move themselves away from the consequences that are soon, certain, and salient. If the consequences do not possess one of those properties, there is a much lower likelihood of compliance to the requests that will be outlined in the program.

The “soon” is fairly straightforward. The consequence needs to be something that occurs in the very near future and the closer to now it will occur the better. Far away things may as well not be things at all because the brain really does not process things that are distant. Things that actually exist in the here and now or have greater immediacy are going to get a lot more effort and action taken towards their resolution or prevention.

Certain means the outcome needs to be inevitable and there is no possibility of an alternative outcome that is more pleasant or favorable. The reason for this is a cognitive bias called “the optimistic bias” which has a person believed the best case scenario in a situation when there are two alternatives presented. They are going to believe the best case and assume that is the one that will happen and move forward accordingly. This will happen even if there is only a 1% chance of the best case and a 99% chance of the negative or the worst case scenario. The optimistic bias has a person choose a 1% chance over a 99% chance. This defies logic but so do human beings. We are not logical operators so it is not surprising that we would do something that does not make a lot of logical sense. An inevitable consequence or one that is viewed as near certainty is going to be given a lot more weight than something that is viewed merely as a possibility.

Salience has to do with ones ability to visualize, imagine, consider, and bring to mind what the consequences are and what the ramifications will be upon their life. The more clearly a person is able to perceive the future outcome, the greater the level of salience and the more clearly their perception will be of the negative. This is very important because things that are hard to imagine may as well not be imagined at all. Something that is very clear to see, is very simple to imagine and a brain will work with it to a much larger degree. The specific reasons for this have to do with the amount of stimulation that an idea generates. Imagine you are looking at something very clearly and you are noticing everything about it. This is a huge stream of sensory data coming into your brain that it has to process and make sense of. The same thing is true with something that is very salient. You are able to imagine it clearly, able to feel the way it feels, see, hear and get a real sense of the negative outcome and this will generate a massive amount of data that your brain is going to process and operate on.

The more we pay attention to something and the higher our concentration is on what we are thinking about, the greater the cognitive ripple triggered by this stimulation. This larger amount of data will have a much larger impact on our mental processes. Anything that is salient, is clear, is easy to visualize, is easy to understand and experience will have a bigger wave of impact on the brain meaning that more of the will process it.

The end result? A much better understanding of the negative outcome will lead to much better change. This is what the science says, as long as the consequences are soon, certain, and salient, a human being is not going to have any difficulty dealing with them. They are going to treat it as important, pay their respect and take the action that is required in order to address it. However, if a consequence does not have all three of these, or is missing two of them, a person is not going to do anything about it.

Now how does this line-up with my experience? Well, it aligns perfectly.

There are three prospective clients that will show up in front of me and I will know with certainty that they will buy training and get great value out of it by following the instructions and working hard to get the results they are seeking. In each of these three cases, they match on all three of soon, certain and salient. These three types of prospects are illness, recently dumped or single, and mothers of multiple children.

This begs the question, how are the variables of soon, certain and salient present in each of these groups?

Well if you think about illness, which is illness in the person themselves or the illness of someone they care about, it is very salient. If it is in themselves, the doctor has told them that they need to do something about their blood sugar, the extra body fat, or their blood pressure, or else they are going to die or they are going to get sick. Having the experience of the doctor telling them that sickness is inevitable unless they change course makes it very clear to them. The certainty is a doctor saying to them their blood pressure is 180 over 147, which is elevated. So unless there is a good reason for it and there tends not to be a very good reason for that, it is unhealthy and is causing a lot of unnecessary stress on the blood vessels and particularly on the brain. A blood pressure like that for a sustained period of time is setting oneself up for a stroke, a brain aneurysm or any number of really devastating neurological consequences. By ignoring high blood pressure, it is only a matter of time before an artery in your brain is going to explode, and when it bleeds out, it will cause severe intellectual mental impairments and it could actually kill you.

While we do not have any real concept of what it means to be not alive, because we have always been alive, we have an idea and a very negative sense of what it is like to be dead, and of what it would be like to be intellectually impaired because of a neurological trauma that was avoidable. A cancer diagnosis or a heart attack in a loved one has the same sort of quality. We see someone we care about who is sick, which makes for a very salient experience.

The certainty and soon is the doctor telling us that we are sick or destined for a health crisis when they show us a blood test that indicates an LDL level that is very high. These are understood by proxy if we see someone who is sick because this is a clear indication that it is really happening RIGHT NOW. That is a benefit, if you will, of illness. People see the consequences and they match all three of soon, certain and salient.

The second group, the recently dumped, is a weird one but it is absolutely true when someone becomes single, if they have not made the decision themselves, once they get past the grief associated with losing the relationship, they move towards a three to nine month period of getting revenge on their partner. They do not actually want their partner to suffer physically but that they want to send them a message that they screwed up dumping them, so they get after a physical transformation and taking care of the things that they put on the back burner. They take care of their health and they take care of their fitness. Maybe it is weight loss, maybe it is gaining strength to become more mobile and active in order to do things they have never done. Whatever it is, they do these so that at some point in the future they will be able to say to their ex-partner “yeah I’m doing all that stuff now, I look great, and it wasn’t me it was you. You broke up with me and now my life is so much better. You were the liability.”

Sure, this is a story that people are telling themselves, but since there is nothing at all wrong with getting into better shape, I am not going to tell them that they might want to go to therapy to understand the role they played in the demise of their relationship. With people, and particularly people who come looking for personal training advice, they do the work, they spend the time needed to figure themselves out and then come to realize that “yeah I played a role in the breakup. I was not being the best person I could be, I was not playing all out in the relationship and while I do not appreciate the fact that the relationship ended I do sort of understand that it was not working for me therefore could not possibly have been working for them.” But when it comes to those realizations, even when they arrive after spending six to nine months improving their health and fitness, it is all good. They will have a better life, they will be happier, they will be moving themselves forward and while they may not necessarily live longer they are going to enjoy a better health span and that is a big deal. While maybe it was not an absolutely necessary journey, they have done themselves and their future selves a huge favor by improving their health.

So how do the soon, certain, and salient apply here? Soon, the consequences are actually occurring. The person has been made single and is already living in the consequences. Certain, well it is the same thing, the thing has already happened and they are already living it. Whatever that is, they are right in the thick of it because they got dumped. Salient, the same thing as well, there is nothing as clear as living an experience.

The third group is mothers of multiple children. This one is tricky and it took me a little while to figure out but really when it comes down to it, the soon, certain and salient are all exactly the same thing as the recently dumped group.

I do not know what it is like to be a mother but a lot of the mothers I have worked with have all explained it in the same way: you would do anything to improve the quality and life experience of your child knowing that your child has no awareness of what you are doing, have done or will do. They do not say that it is thankless, but they do say the child is completely oblivious to the fact that you have done anything. All they know is that they had a need and Mommy took care of it and that is the end of it.

With one child the mother is going to be able to get back to life much sooner than when she has two or three children. Children are spaced out over particular length of time and while there is no set length of time required for the mind of a mother to determine that it is time to get back to doing stuff for themselves, they are going to hit that point later if they have more children. A person could spend ten years with their primary role being mother, looking after all of the needs of the child, making sure the child is not hungry or suffering in any way that they are able to help the child avoid. Ten years to live for something other than yourself is a very long time.

The soon, certain and salient in this case? The funny thing about this group is that these things are in the past. The person has lived the soon, it is not that the consequences are going to happen in the future, it is that they are happening and they have been happening. The certain, they have lived it. Salient, the same thing, they have lived it; it is very similar to the experience of being dumped in that it is not a thing that needs to be imagined about what might happen in the future, it is a thing that has been happening for a period of time.

If a mother shows up saying “you know, I’ve decided that I want to get some training,” a switch has flipped in their head because they have come to make the decision that they are going to be investing in themselves for the first time in a very long time. There is an opportunity cost associated with doing it – the opportunity cost is taking time away from their children, which has been their focus for the last decade – so they do not end up sitting across from a trainer, asking for help with improving their fitness unless they have actually done the benefit cost analysis. They are willing to say the opportunity cost of continuing to ignore their future is too great so therefore they have to do something. They know what they are sacrificing – time with their children – so they are going to make the most of their time by following every instruction and by trying as hard as they can while they are working out before returning to their role of mother, which remains the main focus of their life.

The beauty about this group in particular is that they are there for themselves in the moment, and in the future. The recently dumped the people are excited but they are there for themselves in the future – the moment they get to show off to their ex. The same applies to their illness group, they are there to avoid something awful in the future. The mother group is there to create something good in the present moment and something in the future or to avoid something awful in the future. They are going to be fully present in the present moment because they need to spend time investing in themselves.

This is how my experience has lined up with the science. When the consequences have the property of being soon, certain and salient, action is much more likely than when they are far away, hard to imagine or unlikely. When the consequence have either occurred in the past, are currently occurring or are about to happen in the near future, there is a very good chance that a person will get great results because they are going to follow the advice that is given. Since professional personal trainers only dispense advice that is scientifically valid, it is very easy to come up with the prescription that helps these people. Do this set of things in this way for this length of time with this frequency over time and you will get these results, and that is really all there is to it. Anyone else who shows up and is sitting in front of you but is there having no relationship to the consequences – there is no soon, certain and salient in what they are talking about – the chances of success are much lower.

Now there are other people who will get great results. Maybe they love working out or maybe they are really powerful at working hard to achieve a future benefit or to avoid a future cost that is not very well defined in their mind. I have worked with people who are not athletes and do not belong to one of the three groups outlined above and who do not have a clear and vibrant picture of the consequences, but who get after it like there is nothing else in their life that is more important. However, the possibility of someone doing the necessary work without the soon, certain and salient being checked off is dramatically lower.

After thinking about it for a few moments, my friends experience did support what I was saying.

Now the objective of this post is to explain that whenever you are doing a consultation or just having a conversation with someone, I do not think it is wise for you to try and point out the consequences of their actions and the inevitable future that they are moving into order to trigger an emotional response and to then capture them in a training program. There is nothing wrong with telling them the truth and helping them see that the destination if they continue down the path they are on is not a very great place to be. That is a fine thing to do, just so long as you do not immediately capture them in a training program for that reason. They will need to spend some time with the information that has been revealed in order for their brain to fully reorganize and understand that “oh my God I’m actually cruising towards bad health and an eventual health crisis, and I should probably do something to make sure that it doesn’t go down like that.”

Triggering these thoughts and emotions in someone and then selling to them without giving them the time to process and integrate that information, can only lead to someone dealing with the consequences of a rash decision as opposed to anything else. Whenever you are having a conversation with someone who is sitting in front of you, unless they are spontaneously hitting on the three soon, certain, and salient in terms of the consequences, or they are an athlete, do not try to trigger the negatives about what could happen if they stay the course and do not try to trigger the positives of what could happen if they change course. Simply talk with them and try to figure out why they decided to have a conversation with you. If they are able to come up with the reasons why they are there and you are not able to convince yourself that these reason are not really something that they spent much time thinking about or that they are not ready to deal with, they are probably ready for training so sell it to them. But if they do not have a clear reason why they are there or a soon, certain or salient in terms of the consequences of them continuing to live the life the way they are living it, it behooves you to just have a conversation to help them figure out the reason why they are there. If they do not know and you still sell to them that then becomes the thing that was done to them.

You will have manipulated them into buying something they did not want.

But on the other hand if you help them unpack exactly why they are there and really help them dig in on their motivations and all of the other things, and they are crystal clear that “yes this is what I want and I want it for these reasons,” sell them the training because they are not going to be upset at you for it. They are going to thank you for it because you will be aligned with them as a partner and help them move towards their goals.

When someone comes and sits down in front of me and says “hey I am looking for your help,” and I am able to track in and find out the soon, certain and salient in terms of the consequences they are hoping to avoid, or if the person is an athlete, or if they are a member of one of the three groups – someone who has seen or is experiencing illness, someone who is recently single, or a mother who has decided to focus some of her time on herself for a change – it is a sure thing. It is not going to be easy money, it is going to be work but they are going to more than willing to put the effort in and the partnership is going to be a win-win.

The “New” Canada’s Food Guide – A Brief History and What Is Missing – Part Two

It is not the sweetness that we find rewarding, it is the reward chemicals that we find rewarding and we learn that sweet things cause a release of these reward chemicals. The same applies to things that are high in fat and sugar. While these foods serve a survival function given that they promote body fat storage, this is not the reason why we eat them. We seek them out because they cause a massive release of reward chemicals and not because we enjoy them directly. These reward chemicals serve as the motivation to take specific actions, actions that played a role in ensuring that our ancestors survived while those who did not seek out high calorie food did not.

This is the second part of this post. If you have not already read or listened to The “New” Canada’s Food Guide – A Brief History and What Is Missing Part One, check it out as this one is simply a continuation of that post

Author Reading Blog Post

The next version of the guide was released in 2007 as Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide and it did contain most of the information that wasn’t included in the 1992 guide. The number of servings of grain products was reduced in general. However, the guide serving recommendations are broken-out by age and gender. This change gave the guide more prescriptive power that reflected the specific and changing needs of each gender throughout the course of their life. In general, males burn more calories and, as a result, their need for vitamins and minerals is slightly higher.

This guide is also more detailed, 6 pages vs. 2, and includes a lot more online features. It is clear that it is an attempt to create something that is more useful and that will appeal to a much wider audience. It includes more information about exercise, both in terms of frequency and intensity, along with the potential outcomes you might experience as a result of engaging in an exercise program.

The 2007 guide represents the first real steps towards “mindful” eating. For example, it invites people to limit certain foods that are high calories, sugar and fat, along with limiting trans-fat. It asks people to “read the label” in order to become aware of what is in the food they are selecting to eat. While these are important steps in the right direction, they are too late for a lot of people given the poor advice that was provided 15 years before. People had free reign for a decade and a half to eat too many servings of grain products and would now find themselves in a less than ideal place as a result of it. Worse still would be the lasting consequence on any of the children who had been subjected to this bad advice – primarily higher levels of body fat and the deeply stored incorrect wisdom inside their brain caused by 15 years of conditioning.

Here’s the problem, while human beings are genetically coded to find certain things rewarding, they are born without any knowledge of just what there things are. Over time they learn how to trigger the reward chemicals and with enough practice and exposure they will develop the exact behaviors needed to release these chemicals. However, if they never get exposed to the things that cause the release or if their exposure is limited or conditional, they will never cultivate the level of refinement that is required to develop compulsive overeating.

It important to step out of this conversation at this point to consider why human beings find sweet things to be enjoyable and why they find fat and sweet combination irresistible. At first thought the answer seems obvious, we like sweet things because they are sweet and we seek out and over-eat food that are high in fat and sugar because they are high in calories. But these explanation are not accurate, or at least, they are incomplete. We enjoy sweet things because our brains release reward chemicals in response to consuming them and with enough practice, we learn that we will release reward chemicals in response to eating sweet things. It is not the sweetness that we find rewarding, it is the reward chemicals that we find rewarding and we learn that sweet things cause a release of these reward chemicals. The same applies to things that are high in fat and sugar. While these foods serve a survival function given that they promote body fat storage, this is not the reason why we eat them. We seek them out because they cause a massive release of reward chemicals and not because we enjoy them directly. These reward chemicals serve as the motivation to take specific actions, actions that played a role in ensuring that our ancestors survived while those who did not seek out high calorie food did not.

Let this sink in.

Now consider the fact that drugs like cocaine and amphetamine do exactly the same thing. When we consume these types of drugs, our brain responds by releasing the same reward chemicals that are released when we eat sugar and sugar and fat combinations.

Now we move on to the 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide. This version is very different from any that came before it in that it makes no recommendation about number of servings. It is, in fact, a guide in the purest sense of the word. While each of the previous versions doled out recommendation about how much food a person should eat, 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruit in the 1992 guide for example, this version does not. The quantities approach that was taken by all that came before has been replaced with a qualitative method that satisfies a need to educate. For this reason it is better and worse.

It continues to build upon the mindful eating approach that was launched in 2007 and encourages people to prepare more of the meals and to eat with other people more often. It invites people to consider the experience of eating in terms of pace, fullness of flavors, smells, and textures, the amount of chewing a food requires, and their motivation or reasons for eating, etc. All are important considerations in generating any level of awareness about ones eating habits and behavior. However it doesn’t ask people to reflect on how the food made them feel, which is arguably the most important aspect of mindful eating. For example, if someone eats 4 cookies after eating a large dinner and upon reflection realizes that they were not actually hungry for the cookies and did not find eating them to be satiating, it may raise the questions about the function of the cookies and the person’s relationship with ending a meal with something that is excessively sweet. Once asked, it isn’t a very big step from there to realizing that a lot of their food choices have nothing to do with immediate necessity and everything to do with preparing for a time when the food supply is cut off.

The guide is better and worse for the same reason. It’s better because it tells people how to eat and how to approach their food and worse because it doesn’t tell them what or how much of it to eat. It starts off with the assumption that people will do the right thing if they know what that is, and then sets off to tell them what the right thing is. While this is a noble goal, it is based on a mostly false assumption. Most people already have a very good idea what they should and shouldn’t be eating. Almost everyone knows that vegetables are better for you than cookies or chips will choose the cookies or chips over the vegetables. Sure, there are some outlier who do not know the difference between these types of food and will, upon receiving the education that the 2019 guide offers, stop eating cookies and chips and start eating vegetables, and there are people who choose to eat more vegetables while avoiding the other things, but most people are not outliers. Most people have a very good idea and still choose to eat too much of the things they shouldn’t and not enough of the things they should. The guide does not address the fact that knowledge is not sufficient because gaining it does not consistently or predictably change behavior.

The 2019 guide is a step in the right direction in terms of shifting the focus onto food as a thing that is more than just a source of nutrition and energy. The efforts to point out that it is also a source of many different experiences is helpful. While this has always been the case, it didn’t really need to be said before because people spend more time preparing food and eating meals with other people. 50 years ago, a nightly family meal was the norm, with the adults preparing it and the children cleaning up afterwards. Going out for a meal was rare because it was expensive and there wasn’t as much money being earned. Adequate amounts of high quality and highly nutritious food were available. These foods were effectively straight from the farm to the store and did not go through much processing. Things spoiled quickly so people bought only as much as they needed and they had relationships with the people who sold them the food. There was a community aspect to the entire food chain because things were smaller in scale with many local suppliers.

This is not how it is today. My local grocery market just finished renovating the store to add 4 different meal replacement sections to the front portion of the store and these tend to be much busier than the produce section. In fact, many of the people who “shop” at the store only make use of the first 15 meters. While this initially reduced the flow of people though the rest of the store and made the check-out lines run faster, they have reduced the number of cashiers in response to the decrease flow so it now actually takes longer to checkout. It is clear that the changes have increased profits because they charge a premium on the meal replacement items and these sections are always busy; I’m sure that it is only a matter of time before they begin to remove the other sections of the store to replace them with more profitable offerings. I’m not suggesting that the food is bad, it is very tasty. They use high quality ingredients, their recipes are good and it is well prepared. But it isn’t the same experience as selecting the raw ingredients for a meal, buying them, and bringing everything home to prepare. The premiums you are paying for are the convenience of having someone else prepare the meal and the time saving the service provides. So, depending upon the value of your time, it may actually work out to be cheaper to buy it from them as opposed to taking the old-school route.

It doesn’t matter how accurate the information is in the 2019 Canada food guide, a lack of knowledge is not the reason why people choose to eat in a way that does not serve their best long term interests. This occurs because we now have the choice to eat effectively or to eat conveniently. And this brings us to the final thing that needs to be discussed.

Remember that we have the genetic programming to seek out, consume and over-eat high calorie foods in an effort to store energy. Now consider what else we might be programmed to do / not do in order to ensure that there is energy for use later. If you spend the time to consider the possible answers to this statement you’ll notice the irony. If you didn’t take the time and spend the mental effort to generate the answers, you’ve actually modeled the answer perfectly. We are genetically programmed to avoid spending energy doing things that are unnecessary. This includes but is not limited to choosing to avoid thinking about things that do not pose an immediate survival threat and to avoid doing things that will cause us to take physical and mental action whenever possible. Human beings are not lazy per say, we are just not motivated to burn off energy for no reason. When faced with the choice of taking action or not taking action, we’ll favor doing nothing, and when we are faced with two possible actions, we’ll tend to choose the one that has us spend the least amount of energy.

The narrative truth is the human beings are programmed to seek out and consume as much energy as they can and to do this as efficiently as possible with the goal of storing energy for use at some point in the future when food is not available. When we walk into a store, possibly hungry, and are faced with the choice between buying a ready-made meal or buying the items we need to make a meal at home, our programmed desire to save energy will probably kick in and have us standing in line to pick up our meal replacement, one that is larger than what we need and contains more sugar and fat than is necessary. And we’ll go home and eat the entire thing and feel good physically because our brains will release the reward chemicals that come from a good gorge.

Knowing that eating too much will make us gain weight will not change our nature because it IS out nature. Getting fat IS the goal. The genes that would have coded for a different outcome did not get passed along because those who had them died during one of the thousands of famines that hammered our ancestors throughout history.

As well intentioned as the 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide is, it cannot do very much to overcome millions of years of evolution and “selective breeding” that food scarcity shaped. At best, and it seems like it hit the mark, it can encourage people to take a moment before eating something to consider their motivations for doing what they are about to do. And to maybe, in a moment of mindfulness, make a different choice, one that will ensure a better future, even though it causes the brain to rebel and trigger the negatives emotions associated with the historic and antiquated concern about an impending famine. Will-power and mindful effort towards doing something other than the automatic, something that doesn’t feel as good, but is a step towards full nourishment and sustaining a dietary energy balance.

While it doesn’t come out right and say it, being healthy isn’t natural. It may be somewhat automatic for younger people but it is something that we grow out of as we age. What is natural for us is to sit as still as we can and stuff down our throats as much as we possibly can. This is where the guide comes-up short, and this is understandable because it’s a hard fact to wrap your head around. The fact that it doesn’t even try is what I find so problematic. When this is paired with the fact that guide has a history of offering up bad advice or stating things that are completely wrong, my skeptical nature comes out to play.

Here’s my thinking about the topic of advising an entire population on how to eat:

The Food Guide is doing its intended job at a better than average level. By knocking on the door of mindfulness, it is suggesting that there might be a lot more going on than just what we have been paying attention to.

Crappy food advice and education and going along with the demands of the food industry has created a situation in which only those with money and free time or those who do not have enough money get to remain lean and healthy looking – those with money and free time get to buy the best food and spend time working out / exercising to create a false famine while those who do not have enough money loss weight simply because they are enduring a real famine. The poor do not have a voice and are effectively ignored; which is a shame because the strategy of remaining hungry for longer periods of time is very effective. A voice is given to those in power, the very people who have both money and time, and they get to do the very things that are needed to actually be healthy. Then they get onto their high horse and judge the rest of us for being lazy, which we are, and for overeating, which we do. We are fat and unhealthy because we make bad choices while they are lean that healthy because they make good ones. Surely if we weren’t so flawed we’d say no to the junk food, yes to the vegetables and be moving around more.

But this is nonsense. We are not flawed. We are perfect. We over eat and under-move because our genes motivate us to over-eat and under-move. We don’t think much about it and when we do, we don’t really know why we ate two servings of dessert and didn’t feel like getting onto the rowing machine for a 2000m workout. The fact is eating shittie food is rewarding because our brain rewards it. Burning off extra calories isn’t immediately rewarding and it takes the body a while to learn how to notice that it can feel good. The only thing that we have going for us, when it comes to eating more healthfully and exercising an appropriate amount, is the vision to see it happen and the willpower to do it. But until we understand and realize that eating right and moving more are not a part of our code, we’ll continue to wonder what is wrong with us when we don’t find it easy to live better.

It isn’t easy because it is hard. It burns energy that our body does not want to burn, we have to eat things that offer no immediate release of reward chemicals while avoid eating the things DO cause the instant release of these chemicals. It is suffering and sacrifice and there is almost nothing we can do to have it be anything but that. However, it is only suffering and sacrifice, it is not pain or death. We go without a little reward and overtime we teach our brains how to reward other actions. Asparagus or broccoli will never cause the release of dopamine but the thoughts we have after eating them can cause the release. Walking 10000 steps in a day is not the most effective way to cause the body to release reward chemicals, but the knowing that you walked 10000 steps can become a reason for releasing them.

Mindfulness is the tool we can use to identify and understand the problem and it is the tool we will use to the quickly create the new processes that are needed to actually make living better something that feels better. With sufficient training and practice, you can teach your brain to reward the very things that right now feel like suffering and sacrifice and you can become a person who is chemically motivated to eat right and move more.

Your nature is only your nature when you allow it to remain so. When you pay attention to it and take an active role in shaping who you are, what you do and the choices you make, you will create a new nature. The old one will remain, it’s been shaped over millions of years, but there is plenty of room in your brain to create a second way of operating. It takes effort and practice, but fortunately not the millions of years that the unmoving overeating baselines took. Use your brain, pay attention, be curious and accept the cost and spend the energy, and you are bound to be successful.