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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Video contains strong language and may not be safe for your work place.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
thinking about the topic of advising an entire population on how to eat:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Body fat is stored energy and the process of storing it when we eat too much and burning it when consumption drops below the levels needed for maintenance represents livings beings best efforts at dealing with periodic food scarcity.
This is the first installment of a post that talks about the new Canada’s Food Guide, its history, and some interesting facts about human beings that make us resistant to the efforts of the government to nudge our eating habits in a more positive direction.
A few months ago the government released the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide. This is something that they do every decade or so with the goal of helping to further educate the public about what they should and should not be eating. It’s the government so it’s important to take their advice with a grain of salt because, in spite of their best intentions, they have a country to run so there is a big disincentive to making a very specific claim about the healthfulness or its direct opposite about any particular product given their reliance on the tax revenue generated by Canadian businesses – it would be very unwise to state that “meat is bad for people and should be avoided” even if it is true, which it isn’t, because the meat industry in Canada is huge. This means that the guide is going to be a combination of facts, some speculation based on science and marketing based on the needs of special interest groups and industry lobbyists.
When we look at the first version of the food guide – the Official Food Rules released in 1942 – we notice a single serving of potatoes per day as the recommendation as was a serving of whole grain products along with 4-6 slices of Canada Approved Bread. Milk was recommended for everyone with children drinking twice as much. It appears below:
These are the health protective foods. Be sure to eat them every day in at least these amounts (use more if you can).
MILK- Adults- 1/2 pint. Children- more than 1 pint. And some cheese as available. FRUITS- One serving of tomatoes daily, or of a citrus fruit, or of tomato or citrus fruit juices, and one serving of other fruits, fresh, canned or dried. VEGETABLES- (In addition to potatoes of which you need one serving daily) – Two servings daily of vegetables, preferably leafy green or yellow and frequently raw. CEREALS AND BREADS- one serving of a whole grain cereal and four to six slices of Canada Approved Bread, brown or white. MEAT, FISH, etc. – One serving a day of meat, fish, or meat substitutes. Liver, heart or kidney once a week. EGGS- at least 3 or 4 eggs weekly
Eat these foods first, then add these and other foods you wish.
Some source of vitamin D such as fish liver oils, is essential for children, and may be advisable for adults.
important to keep in mind that this was released during the WW2 and while food
scarcity wasn’t necessarily a problem in Canada, it was not a time of plenty
for most Canadians and the primary reason why organ meat was recommended. Plus,
it was also 70 years ago meaning that the availability of particular types of
foods was seasonal. Canada is large and it has definite seasons meaning that
very little grows in most of the country for 6 months of the year. The robust
transportation systems we enjoy presently did not exist meaning that fresh or
fresh-ish vegetables from South America or California were simply not
available. Flash frozen or canned vegetables were about the only types of
garden vegetables that would be available for a large portion of the year.
supply chain was very different and much of what we presently have access to
did not exist. Sugar was glucose from tropical sources and not sucrose, which
is a combination of glucose and fructose, which is primarily sourced from corn.
And it was very expensive so it wasn’t used very much. Boxed cereals and boxed
anything were not as abundantly available as they are now and the chemical
industry, while it did exist, was not such an integral part of what we consider
the food industry. It was a simpler time, with fewer choices and with local
foods contributing to the overwhelming majority of what was available to buy.
not good or bad, just different. The eating habits of people had less to do
with food preferences and more to do with what was actually there to be eaten.
People would go hungry because of a lack of availability and would find that
what they ate would be more connected to the time of year or the seasons than
Guide was the government’s effort to ensure that the people would receive
adequate nutrition, and it didn’t have a lot to do with big business because
big business wasn’t really a thing that had much of a foot hold in the food
supply chain. Potatoes were recommended because they store well, so Canada had
a lot of them. They didn’t grow nearly as much corn or grain as they do now and
many of the things that flour allows us to make spoil very quickly without the
chemical preservatives that presently exist, so these things would only be made
years and decades that followed the introduction of the Food Guide, things
changed dramatically. Spoilage stopped being a concern, food processing allowed
for the creation of things that would last for months or years, and the things
that human beings find palatable or irresistible, became cheaper to grow and
manufacture. Food science became a thing and the chemical industry contributed
their part to the creation of low cost, low nutrient, high energy foods that
have an extended shelf life and trigger all of the reward centers of the brain
that were historically only stimulated with rare, hard to find and scarce food.
For example, ripe fruit and honey were available seasonally and then not at
all. Food science put an end to this scarcity meaning sweet high calorie food
stuffs were available year round.
choice and preferences took over. We no longer needed to be content with simply
satisfying hunger, we could now begin to focus on satisfying a craving for a
particular thing. The canned apples or peach jam were replaces as the winter
time source of sweetness with things like boxed cookies, candy, or low cost
chocolate. Say what you like about the health effects of eating too much fruit,
or its relatively low nutritional content, but when given a choice between
preserved fruit or modern candy, our species will get more nutrition and less
energy out of things that grow than things that are manufactured. Again, this
is not good or bad, it is just a thing that is true. Small amounts of
manufactured and boxed candy is fine for healthy people, it just isn’t as
beneficial as a similar amount of grown food.
reasons for this are very straight forward. In order to put something in a box
for consumption at some point in the future it cannot spoil and it cannot
change form. Spoilage is prevented by adding things that prevent it or by
removing the things that cause it meaning that preservatives are added or
minerals are removed which result in novel combinations of chemicals that have
never existed in nature before, let alone been consumed as food by anyone.
These products maintain their form though the creative use of stabilizing
agents that were discovered by the chemical industry. The traditional oils that
were used to make things like bread and cookies were replaced with chemically
altered oils that are solid at room temperature meaning the bread and cookies
look and taste the same for months. These solid oils or fats are man-made
creations and completely new to human beings – we have no evolutionary history with
them meaning we have no idea how they will impact our bodies or what role they
will play in gene expression.
case, this is bad, and for a few different reasons. The first is that adding
hydrogen molecules to fat to make it more stable is, in essence, the creation
of a new chemical. While it is safe to say that swallowing an individual
hydrogen molecule or a few thousand of them along with each mouthful of food
will be harmless to human beings, when these molecules are joined to other
molecules to form a solid, they are no longer the same thing. Hydrogen is an
element and an important gas that becomes a solid at -260 degrees C.
combined with other elements, it will help the resulting compound to form a
solid at higher temperatures. Our species and anything that is alive on the
planet now, only has an evolutionary history with hydrogen containing solids
that exist in nature and only in the amounts that occur in nature. The
manufacturing of trans-fats to create more stable oils artificially manipulates
the ratio of their availability and it makes it available in a way that does
not exist in nature – dairy and meat does have some trans-fat, but it also has
other things that manufactured trans-fat does not, things that might work
synergistically with the trans-fat to reduce or eliminate its harmful effects.
The fact is that we KNOW the impact of too much trans-fat on human health, it
second reason why adding hydrogen molecules to fat to create a more stable fat
can be bad is because of how it will impact the brain. Fat is high energy
(calorie) so our species has developed a taste for it because any members of
our species that were motivated to eat it would seek it out and consume it
whenever they could. This would mean they were consuming more energy than they
were burning, and would lead to weight gain in terms of increased body fat.
This extra body fat would be used when food was scarce giving these individuals
a better chance of surviving a famine. Over time this survival advantage would
be passed onto the following generations resulting in the tendency for human
beings to find eating fat to be rewarding. By the same token and method, we
also find eating sweet things to be rewarding and in a way that is proportional
to the level of sweetness. When paired together, sweet things that are high in
fat are almost completely irresistible to human beings. We learn very quickly
that high fat sweet things give us a reward and we begin to seek out and
consume these things. Sweet and fat have existed for as long as there have been
people, but the combination of them, or the ease of access to things that
contain a combination of them, is much more recent. Manufacture fats ensured
that the food industry could supply these types of foods, in a stable form that
will not spoil, in a constant and uninterrupted supply.
scientists have used our genes against us and created a food that we are almost
powerless to say no to. Factor in the health damage that the manufacture fat
causes to us and the size of the problem becomes evident. Narrative speaking,
we are programmed to seek out and over eat the very things that will, in the
long term, destroy our health and hurt our well-being.
sake of keeping this on track and because it isn’t entirely clear that GMOs and
fertilizers are harmful to us, or as harmful as overeating trans-fat and
sucrose, I’m going to return to the topic of the most recent version of the
Canada Food Guide after stating that today, thanks to technology and the development
associated with corporations and capitalism, we have access to an abundance of
food, and year round access to almost everything that we are able to eat.
Seasonal eating is no longer a thing that we have to stick to. While local
foods will be cheaper at certain parts of the year, these food will be
available year round if we have the money to buy them. This means that a lack
of availability can no longer be cited as the reason why someone does not
follow the Canada Food Guide – a lack of money to buy imported fruits and
vegetables remains a reason but, as I will outline, it isn’t a valid reason for
most of Canada’s population that live in larger and more populated areas.
change with the most recent version of the Guide is the elimination of a recommended
number of servings. The previous version still provided a number of servings of
each of the 4 food groups broken down by sex and age and it seemed to be geared
towards getting adequate nutrition and adequate energy. Be aware, these two
things are not the same. Nutrition is the vitamins, minerals and protein a food
provides while energy is the stuff that the body will metabolize as fuel to
power all of the physiological processes required to sustain life. For example,
the body needs a certain amount of vitamin B12 to function optimally and it
will get most of this vitamin from the meat you eat. Without the B12, things
begin to breakdown and the body will start to direct any available B12 to the
most critical processes. This means that a deficiency in a vitamin leads to
reduced functioning of specific processes and not a global failure; this is a
very good survival approach and is one that is used by most living things
because it sustains life giving the organism the opportunity to seek out and
consume the missing molecules. Your hair may fall out or your digestive system
may become less effective, but you are still able to think and move – to hunt –
and find some meat to replenish the B12 levels.
different from nutrition because it is the fuel for the metabolism. You need to
consume energy fairly consistently to keep things going. When your food does
not provide sufficient energy, your metabolic rate will begin to slow down and
certain physiologically processes will begin to go off line. Non-essential
processes will be first to drop off, things like hair and nail growth, followed
by muscle repair and replacement of dead cells. Given long enough, the body
will begin to consume its own tissues for energy – wasting diseases like AIDS
and various late stage cancers are examples of this. However, unlike disease,
if someone finds and starts to eat food, the body will start-up these processes
and attempt to repair whatever damage was done and take care of whatever needs
to be taken care of.
is stored energy and the process of storing it when we eat too much and burning
it when consumption drops below the levels needed for maintenance represents
livings beings best efforts at dealing with periodic food scarcity. You can be
sure that within the genetic material of all people are combinations of DNA
that code for this process and, as a result of the natural selective breeding
that periodic famines caused, all of us are exceptionally good at storing body
fat. Our potential ancestors who did not have the good genes for storing body
fat died off during times of food scarcity leaving nothing but people who were
uniquely coded to store fat.
distinction between nutrition and energy is important because allows for a
clear understand for the existence of malnourished people who are obese. The
opposite can also be true although much less common given the huge difference
between energy and vitamin requirements; one group of people who have a tendency
towards adequate nourishment but insufficient energy consumption are those who
are trying to extend their life through intense calorie reduction. This group
eats large amounts of garden vegetables while refraining from foods that
contain carbohydrate, fat and excessive protein. They will still desire to eat
more as they will be hungry, they will just choose to not eat and, over time,
learn to ignore food cravings and become accustomed to being hungry.
everyone else hunger serves to motivate us to eat and it does not necessarily
reflect our actual needs. It serves our survival needs.
about it this way: our genes have coded over-eating into our operating system
because historically, those who over ate survived to reproduce. This means that
we are coded to do the very thing that causes an increase in body fat. This
tendency manifest itself in many different ways, or exists for a few different
reasons, one of which is a latency between the time when we have eaten enough
in terms of food volume and when the stomach sends the signals telling the
brain that it is adequately filled. Rough estimates put this latency period at
between 10 and 15 minutes; the exact length of time is less important than
understanding the consequences to this phenomenon. The outcome is that we
continue to eat past the point at which we should stop if replenishing our
energy was our actual goal. This only makes sense IF overeating was in fact the
goal for human beings.
powerful mechanism, one that I have already mentioned above, has to do with
motivation. Human beings will have a tendency to do things that they find
rewarding, and we find eating sweet or fat foods rewarding and find eating
things that are a combination of sweet & fat to be incredibly rewarding.
And it doesn’t take very long for us to figure out what we like and then to go
after consuming it. Once we have uncovered it, we will over eat it at any
opportunity and will often find ourselves continuing to eat it will after any
reasonable amount of calories have been consumed. Some of us will, in fact,
ignore the body’s “I am full” signal and continue to eat, and eat, and eat.
makes sense given the relative scarcity of sweet and fat things in our
ancestral past. It was better to gorge when the opportunity presented itself
because it would usually only happen during the harvest season when fruit would
fully ripen and when animals had enjoyed an abundance of food throughout the
summer. Remember, all mammals have a significant amount of their genes in
common, so they share the mechanism of storing body fat through over eating
with us. Animals have more body fat at the end of fall / beginning of winter
than they do at any other time, so they will contain more of the stuff we have
learned to crave at this time of year. Coupled with an abundance of ripe fruit,
we are going to be highly motivated to eat as much as we possibly can and to
overeat, during harvest feasts. This allowed our ancestors to store the maximum
amount of energy in the shortest period of time, which helped them get through
the winter when food was scarce.
this worked perfectly, as evident by our species survival. Historically, we
were able to get through the tough time because we over ate during the good
times. Those who didn’t over eat, didn’t survive long enough to pass along
their genes. While we rarely sat down to eating massive amounts of highly
nutritious food, we were probably adequately nourished because the large
amounts of higher energy food we did eat contained enough vitamins, minerals
and protein for our bodies to function effectively. And it is worth considering
the slow burn that nutrient deficiencies have on our ability to function,
particularly when compared to the rapid onset of the negative consequences
associated with a deficiency in energy consumption.
it works too well and it is now a major problem for modern people simply
because we are running the identical code that we were 15000 years ago before
farming of any type afforded us the freedoms associated with the elimination of
moment to consider what life would have been like before farming. We would
exist in small groups and would have to follow the food. We’d eat as much as we
could whenever we could, and then go periods of time when there wasn’t enough
to eat. We’d live off of our body fat and we wandered around looking for
animals to hunt and collecting whatever plant stuff we could that would provide
us with anything useful. Life would be hard, a lot of our energy would go
towards generating heat to maintain an appropriate body temperature and most of
the rest would go toward finding our next meal. There would be very little
specialization of labor because there wouldn’t be enough food to free some-up anyone
from having to hunt or gather. There would be constant hunger separated by the
occasional moments of gorging.
world were this was the norm, the ability to store energy when possible and the
motivation to do the very thing that was needed to create a caloric surplus
that storing energy required were essential.
forward to 1942 when the first Canada Food Guide known as the Official Food
Rules came out. Sure, we were running the same code that had us seek out and
overeat high calorie foods and to overeat whatever food we had available, but
we were not living in an environment of abundance. While it wasn’t necessarily
a place of constant scarcity, given that farming existed and we had learned how
to preserve enough things to make them available during the winter when nothing
grew, it was not a place where there was unlimited food available to everyone.
The more affluent did have improved access and they had higher body fat levels
as a result, but in general, people looked more or less the same as they had
for thousands of years; although there is some evidence to suggest that we were
slightly taller and slightly bigger in terms of muscle and bone structure.
Obesity was a very, very rare thing and being undernourished in terms of a
deficiency of vitamins or minerals was more of a problem.
enough energy to go around but there would be seasonal droughts in terms of
nutrients. This was not great, but it was a much smaller problem than having
your population starving. So the government set out to solve this smaller
problem and created the Official Food Rules in an effort to combat it.
look again at these rules and notice how little food is actually being
recommended in terms of servings, the language “when available” with reference
to cheese and “at least these amounts” and the second last line “eat these
foods first, then add these and other foods you wish.”
life time, I do not recall there ever bring a shortage of cheese, it has ALWAYS
been available as far as I can tell. Regardless, they wanted to make sure
everyone got enough calcium and believed that dairy was the best source of it.
Next, they believed that if you were able to consume ONLY the outlined food
that you would receive adequate nutrition in terms of vitamin and minerals.
Finally, you had free range over what you ate AFTER you consumed the outlined
food. You were fine to eat other things, like cookies or chocolate, and
probably beer, but to do so only after you had eaten the other prescribed
items. They are not limiting what you eat, they are saying eat at least these
things before you eat other stuff. This form of languaging paints a picture
that, as they viewed it at the time, did not include a significant number of
people who were eating way too much. Obesity statistics are hard to find for
this period of time and, while not statistically sound to say this, the lack of
easily available statistics coupled with the available statistics of ~10% 1970,
it is probably safe to conclude that obesity wasn’t much of a consideration let
alone a problem.
The guide continued along in this fashion for about 3 decades until the 1977 Canada’s Food Guide when it began to take on a more graphical / metaphoric form. There are a few reasons why a flat text list of rules was no longer deemed sufficient enough to capture and maintain the attention of the population, like the availability of colour television, leading to a need to make things entertaining. The colour wheel that featured a smiling sun that was licking its lips is more playful and has pictures of specific food items of each type or category. It is easier to look at and is presented as two sided with more specific textual information on the back.
The name and number of recommended servings per day for two of the categories changed between the 1982 Canada’s Food Guide and the 1992 Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. “Breads and cereals” was changed to “grain products” and the recommended servings increased from 4-5 to 5-12 as “fruits and vegetables” was changed to “vegetables and fruit” and the number of servings increased from 4-5 to 5-10. These changes reflect an increase in the availability of both grain and fruit along with a refocus on the importance of getting enough vitamins and minerals as indicated by the re-ordering of vegetables before fruits.
I remember this guide very well. It came out the year I graduated high school and it was what was in use when I took a nutrition class at university. It was also what was around when I first got exposed to the Atkins diet – an extremely low carbohydrate eating approach that causes people to enter a state called Ketosis meaning they are burning fat for energy vs. sugar. According to the recommendation in 1992 Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, it would be impossible for someone get into ketosis if they followed it, even if they only consumed the lowest number of recommended grain servings. We were taught, and I believed, that ketosis was a dangerous state to be in and that it should be avoided at all costs. What wasn’t clear to me at the time was that ketosis was a completely natural state to get into and it was, in fact, the very state that we used to go into every time our food supply was reduced and we began to burn body fat for energy.
it worth, 5 servings of grain is a considerable amount of carbohydrate, while
12 servings is a massive amount and much more than most people should be
consuming. According to the guide, one serving is 30 grams of cereal which has
an average of 20 grams of carbohydrate, or 80 calories. This means that they
recommend people eat between 100 and 240 grams of carbohydrate per day or 400
to 960 calories of carbs per day. Eating this amount of well above the
threshold for ketosis. While ketosis is not the only way people will burn body
fat, it is the most effective way, and the way in which our ancestors would
have gone about it given that is what happens when the food supply is
there had been a trend of an increased number of servings of grain products in
the newer versions of the guides, 1992 marks a huge increase from a max of 5 to
a max of 12, while offering very little in terms of justification for eating
more or less of them other than suggesting that teenagers should eat more while
adults should eat somewhere in the middle.
significance of this is very important and it has had a big impact on the
number of people who are considered obese in the country. The early guides
offered minimums and a suggestion that you could eat more AFTER you ate all of
the recommended food, the 1992 guide gives vague advice and doesn’t explain the
consequences of eating too many serving. This is a problem because there was no
longer any food scarcity. There was an abundance of food, particularly grain
products, which are high energy, and a massive selection of refined or
processed grain products, which have a lower amount of fiber and therefore a
higher percentage of calories that the body will metabolize for energy. Without
clear instructions, with a higher recommended number of servings and a lack of
food scarcity, people would just eat more because the guide said that they
could or should.
The brains response and adaptation to death is logarithmic and not linear. Most of what it has to deal with occurs very early on, then there is a very rapid drop off. However, it has a non convergent property meaning that your life will never meet back up with the normal that once was. It will be new and it will be fine, but never again will it be the same.
Seven years ago I wrote the post Almost 6 Months Later which contained some thoughts about the things that had happened in the six months following my fathers death. I believed that at that point I had moved most of the way through the grief process. 90 months later, I am certain that the process doesn’t ever have an end point. Instead, we get better at dealing with it as life moves on and our brain adjusts to create a new normal.
I am not sad and I do not believe that this is a pessimistic view. The fact is that we never stop developing and adapting to the stimulation we bring into our brains, so there is no reason to believe that adjusting to the death of a loved one ever stops. Our brains grow from the beginning of life and probably continue to grow for a few minutes after we take our last breath. They are complex organic computers that spawn and prune connections between billions of neurons to form long term memories and create processes that allow it to handle the world more effectively the next time the world brings it the same type of stimulation. They are never still and the only time they ever go dark is when we die.
In the original post, I spoke about someone who I met whose father had been given the diagnosis of a very slowly developing cancer. She was upset and having a tough time processing the news while her dad was very matter of fact about it. He was well into his eighties and didn’t really care all that much. He was old, had lived a complete life, and since he wasn’t actually running out of runway, he didn’t think it was worth the energy to worry about or to consider the diagnosis. He felt that there was as good a chance that old age would take care of things before the cancer did and since he wasn’t worrying about old age, it didn’t make any sense to deal with the fact that the doctor had told him that he had cancer.
A year later, Heather’s father was diagnosed with a few different types of cancer – no one was sure where the original tumor had been, but it had metastasized to the point that it was in his bones, throat, and possibly his brain. They said possibly because while he did have a brain tumor, it didn’t seem to grow at all between the scans; unlike the other tumors that ate his spine and began to close over his throat. Unlike my dad, who stood to gain very little from treatment, her dad was able to under go radiation and chemotherapy. The radiation worked wonders on his throat, opening it up again and allowing him to eat and drink anything he wanted, which he did. The chemo was less well tolerated, and he stopped it a few weeks in because of the side effects. After the tumors, the skin is the next place to begin to show the side effects of the chemicals – most of the chemotherapy medication that has traditionally been used in treating cancer works by killing tissue. It is reasonably specific in so far as it will primarily target the type of cell that makes-up the tumor, but it is not perfect and is not isolated to JUST the tumor cells. With chemotherapy there will be collateral damage and with him it began to take a toll on the skin of his lips and neck. Given that he was never going to be cured, he made the decision to stop the treatment and put an end to these awful side effects. He was close to seventy and had more or less made his peace with the life he had lived. He died the following July.
While at the time of my dads death, I was unable to find anything good about it; the possible exception being that since his GBM wasn’t painful, he got to enjoy the final 6 weeks of life as much as anyone can enjoy any six week period. The post I wrote six month later, I made mention to feeling useful to my friend because of what I had just experienced. With the sad news about Heather’s dad, I was able to be even more useful. This was a good thing, and it did, in a way, give my dads death a little more meaning or value. It wasn’t that I knew what Heather, her sister, and the rest of the family were going through, I didn’t, I couldn’t possibly know what their experience was like. But I did have experience with the process. So while I lacked the specific knowledge of what they were going through, she had someone to talk to about the feelings she was having and the thoughts that were popping into her mind with someone who was a little further along in the grieving process. I was able to talk to the very odd sensations and feelings that accompany your loved one seeming to improve with whatever treatment they receive and how there are feelings of disbelief that there is actually something wrong.
This is like an emotional time bomb that makes normal living close to impossible. No matter how good you feel, there’s a monkey on your back that at some point in the future something very crappy is going to happen. When you feel bad about what is going on, there is the thought that you need to cheer-up and enjoy your remaining time together. No matter what you are feeling, a thought pops into mind to tell you that you should feel something else. It’s a destabilizing experience, as though you are gas lighting yourself, and over time you begin to not trust how you feel or to simply allow yourself to experience whatever is occurring from moment to moment from any place other than the certain future when your loved one has died.
Her dad, just like mine, did his best to address this thing by encouraging his children and the rest of the family to go about their life’s as well as they could. There wasn’t any point in cycling on the future because it was going to happen when it was time. Until then it was just something to deal with later. On his advice, Heather and I took a trip to Mexico, our first big trip together. I don’t recall any specific moments of overwhelming sadness and the trip was a lot of fun.
Years later, Heather and I both have moments when we think about our dads. Speaking to my moments, I don’t get sad anymore, although there can be times when I wake-up feeling stunned that my dad is gone. These I know are just the emotional chemicals that my brain has released in response to some mental process that my brain has drawn a connection between and thoughts about my dad not being there. There have been a number of times in my past when I had these feelings, and they seemed to link-up to conscious thoughts relating to something that always was but was now no longer. Adjusting to dramatic change is tough and the brain isn’t very good at doing it all at once. It needs a lot of time and stimulation to eventually land in a place that doesn’t feel painful or register as loss, but is just a feeling of “offness.”
Of course, I have done a lot of stuff in the meantime that has had a big impact on how I approach the experience of being alive. There is no doubt in my mind that how I handled my father’s death served as another example of how some of my ways of operating were not helpful or were contributing to the level of difficulty I was having living from day to day. I accept this, and realize that dealing with death is not something that we are taught or that most people have much experience with. Improvements in healthcare, food availability, sanitation, safety regulations, and vaccinations have boosted life expectancy, meaning that the initial experience with the death of a loved one do not occur until much later in life. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is great that people are living longer. Being alive is at least something, so the fact that more than twenty years have been added to the average life span in North America means twenty more years of that something. But on the other hand, it means that, statistically speaking, the first exposure to the death of a loved one is going to occur twenty years later than it would have before.
The significance of this delay is best understood when considering the compounding effect of experience over time. Someone who has been writing for twenty years is going to be much better at it than someone who has been writing for five years. In the case of physically writing, the fifteen extra years will give them much better physical control over their hand and finger movements, allowing them to become an expert in terms of handwriting. In the case of writing words that capture ideas, those extra years of practice will mean that the brain will have adapted more completely to whatever the mental stimulation that brings those ideas to consciousness and then to paper represented. This is much more to the point. The grief process is long, possible permanent, and it does represent one of the more significant things that a human being will have to deal with.
Death is real, it’s a thing that happens, but it is less significant than the experience of grief would have you believe. My view of it has changed over time, as I mature and my brain works its way through the grief processes that have been triggered in my life. When you are in it, it feels awful. You are almost incapable of thinking about it in real terms, and will instead deal with the abstract aspects of it. This is not good or bad, it’s just what happens with most people. But it is not a pure reflection of reality.
Consider it from a materialistic point of view. People are bags of molecules but a “person” is a rich narrative understanding that is a collection of things. My dad married my mom and they had two children. This is a biological thing and it can be measured. But the relationship that I had with him cannot be so easily understood. He did do a lot of stuff to change the physical environment that I lived in – he worked to make money so that we had food, shelter and clothing – he took physical actions in the world to make sure that the family was safe, secure and mostly free of worry, and he talked to me to teach me things and to alter some of my decisions or actions – the ideas that he had were captured by the air flow that left his lungs and passed over his vocal chords allowing these ideas to be generated in my head when that air vibrated my eardrums, creating the electrical activity that my brain converted into the understanding of the words from which the ideas were created. That is no small feat. Make no mistake about it, my dad did a lot for me and he did almost all of it through the same methods that human beings have been using throughout their entire history.
My present understanding has nothing to do with trying to diminish anything about the important role he played and that all parents and caregivers play. But when you detach from the whole thing and break it down into the material or objective reality, it all becomes so much less than the story we are living when we are gripped tightly by the hand of grief.
When my dad died, I lost my father, yes, but he had already completed 98 percent of the “father” things that he had the potential and willingness to do. From this point of view, his death makes almost no difference to my playing the role of “son.” The role I get to play is not the same as it would have been had he not died in 2012, but that doesn’t actually mean anything. Only one thing happens, so there is only an alternative experience or outcome when we take the time to think about it. Any notion about what it would have been like if he had continued to live for another twenty years is immaterial. It can only exist as a thought and even then, it can only exist in the brain of the person who is thinking it. This is vastly different from the 98 percent of the things that he did that contributed to his playing the role of father. Some physical matter was impacted by those actions and that makes these actions real and of material consequence.
Sure, we can make an argument that, by him dying, he was no longer able to take action and that therefore is a material difference. This is true, but we’d be hard pressed to say with complete certainty what those actions were. Okay, I have every reason to believe the family would have continued to enjoy Sunday dinners, so his passing very likely marked the end of them; or at least him eating dinner with us. But the truth is that this is only the most probable outcome. Something else could have happened that put an end to the Sunday dinners. We’ll never know, and that is the point of it. While someone is alive, we can say with certainty the material impact that their actions have on the world – what molecules they put in motion, which ones they stopped moving or prevented from moving, and which ones they impacted to change their direction and velocity. When they are dead, or did not exist, we can only engage in a game of speculation about how they would have impacted the physical universe.
The initial phases of grief are awful, not because the person is dead and they are no longer impacting the physical world in a way that make their loved ones feel good which is perceived as bad. The intensity of the early part of the grief process is magnitudes larger than that. The reason, I believe, why it starts off at such a high level is because their death is interpreted as the loss of EVERY SINGLE possible impact they could have had on the physical world. It has very little or nothing to do with the present moment. The genesis of the feelings is an unconscious and automatic loop that has the brain cycling on all of the future possibilities that are now off the table. This happens fairly quickly, and unless the person has the ability to clear negative emotion faster than the brain creates it, they can find themselves getting overwhelmed.
The feelings the person is having are real. The chemicals that cause the body to experience the emotion can be measured and the increased brain activity in the areas that are responsible for processing negative emotion can be observed with an fMRI machine. BUT since these changes will not occur in the bodies of people who did not know the deceased person, their cause is purely perceptual and the result of specific mental activity in the brain of the bereaved. So while death is real, and the emotional response to a death of a loved one is real, this response does not have a direct physical cause. It is an abstract interpretative reaction that is triggered in the brains of almost all human beings and many animals. It is a part of the genetic code that evolved over millions of years and is a deeply seeded part of our operating system.
Now given that it is a natural and genetically coded process, we are innately equipped to handle it. It is a mechanism that evolved because it improved our fitness in terms of survival and reproductive success. This is the problem we are running into now, because as life expectancy grows, the necessary experiences that trigger and shape gene expression are delayed. This delay is at least twenty years – given that life expectancy has grown by this amount over the last century – but it is almost certainly longer. Regardless of the time frame, every previous generation of human beings lived much shorter lives and had to deal with infant mortality rates that were in the double digits. This means that exposure to the early death of a loved one was a way of life not so long ago, and it was a fact of life for every ancestor (prehuman) in our evolutionary past; even if they were not capable of relating to someone as a “loved one” many of their species died young ensuring that those who survived long enough to reproduce had figured out how to get back on their feet again.
Maybe a more concise way to phrase this would be to suggest that only recently and only within our species, that death has become increasingly more abstract as our direct exposure to it has been delayed for decades. The positive is that we are living longer, the negative is that for many of us, our first exposure to it comes well after our brains have fully developed. While this may seem like a bonus it isn’t because children and adults do not process stimulation and information in the same way. The prefrontal cortex of a child is much less well developed than that of an adult meaning the younger a person is, the lower their capacity for thinking about the future and for generating timelines. As a consequence, children do not have the same grief experience as adults.
So returning to the compounding effect of experience over time comment, it’s very easy to imagine a child 2000 years ago having their first experience with death and grief at age 10. It means something to them, but it cannot mean the same thing as it does to their 30 year old father because they do not have the same hardware. However, the child has the experience and the process runs its course. Meaning that, over time, their brain processes and reprocesses it, and as their brain fully matures, they have been working through the experience for 10 or more years. And they have probably had other death experiences that influence and play their part on the grief process. By the time they are 30, they will have a level of resilience that is the result of wisdom and NOT the result of willpower or wishful thinking. They know it sucks but they know that in time they will feel better because they will have gone through it a few times and have become aware and desensitized to it.
Even when their brain is fully formed and capable of peak levels of abstract thought, their life experience will have populated their long term memory with sensory information that reflects the truth about death. When compared to their contemporary counterparts, their reactions will not be the same in terms of magnitude and may actually differ completely in terms of content.
My first exposure with the death of a loved one was when I was 21. There is no comparing this to the second experience I had almost 20 years later. Yes, there was sadness and a sense of despair, but there was also a wisdom of knowing that I didn’t need to think about it all of the time and that I was actually free to NOT think about it if I didn’t want to. The first month was tough the second time round, but things were only as bad as they could be for a couple of weeks, and even then this was only when I thought about it; or when I was not able to NOT think about it.
And that is really the value of what I went through. I knew what it was all about in terms of the human experience of grief and its innate emotional experience. It’s intense and rough at the beginning as the brain works its way through the list of EVERYTHING that is lost, but then it calms down and starts to get a grip. Over the weeks and months it narrows its assessment to what might have been lost and focuses on what was actually lost. What begins as thousands becomes 4 or 5 things that you can honestly say are gone because you know you would have done them. For example, I miss talking to my dad about things. He was curious and kind, and he had a lot of life experience that helped to provide perspective about what those things actually meant or what they meant 20 years ago when they happened, and 40 years ago when they happened. I miss his laugh, not because it was a particularly good one, although it was, but because when you hear someone laughing like that, you know with absolute certainty that they are in the moment and it is a great moment to be in. And I kind of would have like for him to meet Heather because she’s awesome and he was awesome and I think they would have become good friends. But none of that stuff is worth crying about and even if it does make me sad from time to time, it does not make me death date +2 days sad.
Which is the point of all of it. Had I known what I would miss and be sad about and focused only on that stuff, I would have had a much easier time with it and would have been a lot more use to my mother, brother and sister in-law, and whoever else was negatively impacted by his passing. But technological progress has liberated us from having to have the experiences that make human beings effective grievers. We have the genes to make us good at it, we just don’t have the experiences to bring about their expression.
At this point in my life I do not think much about the future deaths of the people that I love. It is something that I am capable of doing but choose not to because it makes me feel lousy. I know I will be subjected to grief again unless I’m the first one to go, so I’ll deal with it when it comes along. What I do know is that most of what the older people say about death and how to navigate through the first couple of months after the loss of a loved one is solid advice. Look after your health as well as you can. Do your best to stay nourished. Take the time to do the things that you know work for you. Put in the effort to reestablish your sleep schedule as soon as you can. And go easy on yourself, no matter how you feel. It is fine to not think about it, just as it is fine to take some time to bawl your eyes out. Over time, you will feel better and adjust. The brains response and adaptation to death is logarithmic and not linear. Most of what it has to deal with occurs very early on, then there is a very rapid drop off. However, it has a non convergent property meaning that your life will never meet back up with the normal that once was. It will be new and it will be fine, but never again will it be the same.
The kitten jumped up on to the porch, ate a little and didn’t run away when my mom picked up the bowl can put it down inside the room. It followed, and when reached the bowl it sat down and began to eat. All good, and this was the moment it would become a pet. It had walked past my mom to reach the food, ignoring her and me. As it ate mindlessly my mom made eye contact with me right before she gently closed the door. And that was it, the kitten was domesticated…. And it was for about 5 seconds.
About twelve years ago, I went over to my parents house to visit them. I said hi to my mom when I got to their house. She was hanging out in the back yard, something that she did a lot during the summer, gardening and trying to feed the various animals that happened to come around during the warmer months. She replied and then refocused her attention on what seemed to be four or five kittens that were milling around.
I went into the living room, sat down beside my dad, and started talking with him. After the usual how are you doings and small talk we got round to taking about the kittens. He was a little bothered by them and wasn’t getting any of the same joy that my mom was. His concern was not about now, they were fine and my mom was doing a good job feeding them. Their mother was always close by and it was a healthy family for all intents and purposed. The litter had remained the same size from the first sighting a few months before meaning that there was plenty of food and sufficient shelter to stop predators from getting at them.
My dad was concerned about the winter because it can be brutally cold and domestic short hair tabby cats are not very well equipped to deal with sustained below zero temperatures. Nature is indifferent and cruel, so whatever has food and shelter will live and whatever is lacking either will die. He wasn’t much of an animal lover, but he didn’t dislike or hate them either. He was more of an animal tolerater, accepting that they are living being and there their experience of life has many of the same characteristic as the life experiences that human being have to deal with. Whatever else they may go through, it was clear to him that they experienced moments of contentment or satisfaction and the counter part experience of pain and the need for something.
There were five kittens, he knew this because my mom had named them. And to him, these were going to be the best moments in the lives of four of them. From this moment forward, their lives would only ever be this good, or worse. The remaining one would make it though the winter and live to enjoy this peak experience next year.
“Son, it’s a lot of suffering that doesn’t need to happen.”
This was a stinging contrast to the joy I noticed with my mom a few minutes before. There didn’t seem to be any connection to the sight of the playing kittens and the conjured image of frozen kitten corpses that winter would inevitably cause. I started to feel a little sick about it.
“We’re going to trap them and bring them to the humane society. They are taking the food that your mom is giving them, so they’ll find their way into the cages.”
This made me feel a little better. I have no idea what their future would be like when they ended up in a shelter, they were, after all, feral cats. Their parents were feral and with the exception of their minor contact with my mom, they regarded human beings with near absolute suspicion and kept their distance. Cats are killing machines that are simply not acting on this killer instinct when they pretend to be tame while playing the role of “pet.” But when they do not learn these domesticated behaviors when they are young, it is probably not going to happen. Of the five kittens, only one of them had journeyed close enough to my mom for her to gently touch it. The rest of them acted like wild cats and made sure to keep enough distance to book it if they needed to.
“She thinks she can tame them, and that might make them more adoptable.” This was said with a level of optimism that was eclipsed by the near certainty that he would soon be taking my mom to the emergency room to get stitched-up and rabies shots after the kittens made it clear that they belonged to no one and that they would let her continue to feed them so long as she stayed far enough away.
We chatted about work, news and the usual subject before I went out to see my mom and find out about her plan.
I found her in the mud room. It’s a small room, with three doors. There is a door into the kitchen, which I closed behind me. The other two doors lead outside. The one leading to the front yard was closed, while the one leading to a small porch with four or five steps to the back was open. I glanced out and saw my mom with a bowl of soft cat food that she was placing down on the ground near where I could see five kittens and a fully grown cat. As the kittens would come close to the bowl, my mom would pick it up, move closer to the steps and put it down again. We made eye contact and I understood what she was doing. Saying nothing, I continued to watch and she moved the bowl 6 or 7 more times, slowly making her way onto the porch.
“I only need one, the rest will follow.”
I instantly had her shared vision. The animal shelter has a lot more success finding homes for friendly lovable animal. By getting one to warm-up to her, the rest would follow and when they ended up at the shelter they would be adopted out to good homes and enjoy an easy life. Very simple, both a good idea and a solid plan to make sure my dads concerns would be addressed.
One of the kittens was more curious and risk taking than the rest. They were the target for the initial domestication and would then relate the message to the rest of them that it was all good.
The kitten jumped up on to the porch, ate a little and didn’t run away when my mom picked up the bowl can put it down inside the room. It followed, and when reached the bowl it sat down and began to eat. All good, and this was the moment it would become a pet. It had walked past my mom to reach the food, ignoring her and me. As it ate mindlessly my mom made eye contact with me right before she gently closed the door. And that was it, the kitten was domesticated. This was evident from the fact that it just kept eating. This was going to be so much easier than anticipated.
And it was domesticated for about 5 seconds. At this point we learned a very valuable lesson about wild animals that you would think two adults wouldn’t have to learn.
The kitten looked at me, then back towards my mom. This was the instant it became obvious that it did not share the same assessment of the situation as doctor Dolittle and her idiot son. It wasn’t a pet. The wildness switch in its brain had not been switched to off. In fact, it had suddenly been dialed-up as it realized that it could no longer see the outside let alone leave at will. It started running, but with no where to go it started running faster. This didn’t open any doors, although it did open my moms eyes. It wasn’t just the metaphoric eye opening that marks the obliteration of a piece ignorance, it was the actual physical eye opening that marks an unconscious need to bring in more sensory information because what was coming in is not sufficient to make sense of what was going on.
The kitten was now running as fast as it could, but with nowhere to go, it is running everywhere, all at once. It isn’t paying a moment of heed to me or my mom other than the brief moments when it is running over us as it does laps of the small room. Faster and faster, going higher and higher up the walls as it tries to spin its way towards freedom. Maybe it saw the light from the windows as the way out, maybe it is the inertia and centrifugal force, whatever the reason, the kitten was running along the walls about two or three feet off of the floor as though it has never been taught to obey the laws of gravity.
For what seemed like minutes it ran and I stood there slack jawed and dumb. When my eyes met my moms again there was a series of thoughts exchanged in the silent and certain way only a mother can relate to her child. In order they were “what the fuck,” then “this is not how it works,” leading to “this might be how it works,” to “this is how it works,” closing in on “how do we stop this,” ending with “the door caused this, maybe the door can stop it.”
The door opens and the kitten launches itself out like a bullet, flying over the porch and the steps before touching down on the grass on its way past its siblings and out of sight. It’s moving so fast that the other kittens move in slow motion as they react to the blur it leave as shots past them. Whatever had been going though their heads about where it had gone was quickly answered with “past us” in hurry. It was the bravest one so its sudden reappearance was the spark that lite a fire of absolute terror that seemed to explode the back yard into a chaotic frenzy of supercritical “save yourself” panic.
Then it was over. The back yard was empty. Everything was silent. The moment of insane action had faded into this short-lived one of complete calm and near serenity. As the seconds passed, it became obvious to my mom and me that something was going to need to be said because we had both witnessed something for the first time in our lives that had never been imagined by either one of us. No, not two grown adults doing something remarkably stupid with an absolutely predictable outcome. Well, not just that. We had also witnessed in a matter of seconds how cats work, how nature works, and how domestication does NOT work.
I cannot remember who spoke first or what exactly was said but I do remember my brain flashing back to the “as God is my witness….” scene of the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP in Cincinnati when Arthur Carlson they gave out turkeys.
My dad had heard the noise and came out to see what was going on and when we explained what we had learned he just kind of nodded and went back to the living room to watch TV. I didn’t stay for dinner, and left a few minutes later a changed man. No matter what else has happened in my life since then, any time I see a stray cat and feel the need to pet it, I always make sure to never stand between it and its fasted path to safety. The only thing that saved my mom and me from getting viciously attacked was the kittens relatively young age. It had not yet figured out just how useful its claws and teeth were at prompting other creatures to stay away and to never corner it. It had been, up until that point, successful at running away without having to attack, which was the only reason why my mom and I did not have to go to the hospital. That was it. It was dumb luck which, when accompanying dumb action, is the only way things will work out okay.
A few weeks later the kittens and their mother were trapped and brought to the humane society.
In the spring of the following year, my mom stopped feeding the animals in the back yard. It was a pretty brutal and long winter that year. This, when paired with the experience that triggered her to realize that wild kittens are wild animals, gave her the insight that in the long run it was better for everything if there wasn’t any easy to get food. It meant fewer wild animals that she was powerless to domesticate.
Oh, wait a minute, there is a chocolate pie. It is right there for your present self to enjoy. For YOU to enjoy. Future self does not need to know about it. You can just have a slice and never speak a word of it, to them, to anyone. It will be like it never happened. Except if it does happen it DID happen.
It is probably going to happen to you. You are a healthy eater, you like yourself enough to do the things that your future self will be grateful you did. Heck, you LOVE your future self and are really looking forward to meeting them. For them you would do almost anything. They do not exist yet, but you are willing to do almost anything to make sure they have the best life possible. Good for you! They will thank you for it.
Oh, wait a minute, there is a chocolate pie. It is right there for present self to enjoy. For YOU to enjoy. Future self does not need to know about it. You can just have a slice and never speak a word of it, to them, to anyone. It will be like it never happened. Except if it does happen it DID happen.
Saying no all the time can be tough. It is possible and there will be a time in the future when you are glad you did. But life is not necessarily all about the future. The present moment, now, is actually a lot more real than the future. There are a lot of things to be said about getting the most out of each moment and sometimes that means saying yes to something that is a small speed bump in your journey.
You should give yourself permission to say yes to the things you like but that hurt your progress so long as you are not addicted to them and so long as they do not trigger an all or nothing type of event. Alcoholics are best to always say no to that first drink. X smokers are always better served to never take another puff. People on a massive weight loss journey are best to stick with the program until they achieve their predetermined celebration milestones. If this is not you, if you are a healthy eater who avoids sugar and baked desserts and do not have any celebrations lined-up, saying yes to the chocolate pie occasionally is not a big deal and, if done with planning, can have a very small impact on your progress.
Pay your bill BEFORE you eat. If you are going to enjoy an occasional 750 calorie dessert, create the 750 calorie deficit before you get stuck in.
If you are going to eat it on Sunday, in the 4 or 5 days before, eat 125 calories less than what you normally would or burn off an extra 125 calories with exercise. So long as doing this does not drop your calories below 1200-1400 on any of these days, it will be a wash and everything will work itself out by Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week.
Better than the lay away approach is to burn the calories as close to before the meal as possible. An intense work out primes the body to shuttle the calories into the cells that need them for recovery before moving them into fat cells for storage. If you have depleted 500 calories of muscle glycogen just before you eat a piece chocolate pie, many of the sugar calories you consume will be help replenish this energy. The sugar will spike your insulin which will also help with protein synthesis further aiding recovery and possibly help you gain some lean muscle. From time to time it is fine to look at food as molecules void of any context, provided you have done the work right before the use the molecules as you would if they were just individual ingredients.
Chocolate pie is NOT the same thing as coco, glucose, fructose, saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and water. The ingredients interact with each other to do things that the individual ingredients would not do on their own. Glucose and fat consumed together create a massive release of reward chemical that glucose or fat on their own do not. The whole is great than the sum of its parts. But occasionally and when done mindfully these treat experiences can promote a great sense of well-being with very little or no negative impact on future you. Just make sure you pay the bill before eating.
Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work.
When it comes to personal training and basically any type of training, there are two type of clients, those who do what they are told and everyone else. Those who do the work are generally self-motivated. They may not know exactly why they are doing what they do, but when pressed on it they can come-up with a good reason, or two, or more. Intuitively they understand that they must pay the metaphoric bill before they eat the metaphoric meal – the bill is the work and every decision that moves them forward while the meal is the results they are seeking. For me, these clients are moderately interesting to work with and most of the joy comes from the validation that my methods and programs work and from the empathetic joy of seeing someone work hard, get what they earn, and feel good about it. I enjoy the conversations as well because these types of people have a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.
Everyone else acts like training is a meal at a fine dining restaurant. It’s an experience to have and the bill will be paid at the end after they know that the experience was worth it. These people are a lot more work. There is a different problem to be solved and I may not know the answer because they don’t know the question. They don’t necessarily do what is being asked of them because they don’t really know why they are in front of me, asking for my help, on a journey that they may not even have started. It’s messy with a much lower success rate. The best case is that they actually start the journey and figure out why it is important OR that a light gets shined on the life they are living, the future that this will create for them, and a sense of peace about both.
The truth is that it is much more important to me that they find out what their goals actually are and not important at all that they achieve a goal that was never theirs in the first place.
I like my life and I believe everyone else should like their life too. If I can be of service and guide / help them automate the making of the life of their dreams then all the better. Sometimes they are already living the life of their dreams and just have never taken the time to notice it. They may not realize what is involved with chasing down a goal and that the actualization of the goal can be rather unfulfilling. After you reach your goal you are still you. You may be a leaner, more muscular, faster you, but at the end of the day, you remain you.
I used to believe that everyone should work out and improve their health. This is something that I no longer believe. I know everyone will benefit from moderate exercise, improved nutrition, reduced stress, and a more mindful approach to life, but that doesn’t mean everyone should go after these benefits. Sometimes these benefits actually make people miserable. Having single digit body fat is hard work and requires a lot of sacrifice. Once you achieve it, it requires continuous effort to maintain because it is a possession of sorts. It is now YOURS to lose, and this knowledge can generate a considerable amount of negative mental energy. And regardless of what you do, if you live long enough, you WILL lose it. Everything that arises will pass away, your discipline, your 6 pack abs, your youth, even your earthly existence.
A quick conversation can unpacked that a person just want to feel happier with who they are, the solution for which is meditation. After a few months of twice a day practice is all that is needed for the laws of nature to reveal themselves, and equanimous acceptance is bound to follow.
An effective consultation can reveal that the goal is simply to feel better. The prescription here is simple, improve posture through the use of structural balance movements, core and breath training. When we automate standing up straight when your head back and breathing deeply into our belly our psychological mind set shifts towards confidence, security, and contentment. The experience of pain is reduced and we feel and act more capable.
Cultivating and maintaining mindfulness is very easy and will add tremendous value to your life because of the compounding effect of experience over time. Improving and maintaining posture and appropriate breathing requires 5 minutes a day of work and offers similar compounding lifelong benefits. These things are easy, and anyone can achieve them. And if they are actually what the person is seeking, it is better for everyone in the long run to just go straight for them.
I am not suggesting that someone should not work out to improve their health. They should, most people should, but it is even better if the person actually wants to do it. There is no downside when someone works hard to get what they want AND need. The same cannot be said when someone gets what they need but do not want. Needs and wants are not the same and when they are not aligned who are we to decide what another person needs?
I find this approach helpful when it comes to training and coaching. Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work. Anything other than this is an indication that they do not really know what they want or that they have not taken the time to get clear on why they want it. A simpler solution likely exists for them, one that has them invest a lot less time and allows them to go directly to what they want.