So for now, I will isolate eating and conversation and have them separately. This will allow me to recognise any stressful thoughts that arise in interactions which would normally lead me to overeat for comfort.
For now, that’s what I’m going to do.
So for now, I will isolate eating and conversation and have them separately. This will allow me to recognise any stressful thoughts that arise in interactions which would normally lead me to overeat for comfort.
For now, that’s what I’m going to do.
There is a type of habit called a ‘cornerstone habit’. It is the habit that in addition to its own effect leads to the adoption of other seemingly unrelated habits. Cornerstone habits, just like all habits, can be beneficial or detrimental. The main difference is that a cornerstone habit is 100 times more beneficial or detrimental than a regular habit.
Mindful eating is turning out to be one of the most beneficial cornerstone habits I have ever adopted in my life.
It has been 3 weeks of eating without any distraction. And in addition to the greater pleasure I now derive from food (much less food too), I have also begun noticing interesting changes in my psyche that are quite profound.
In the past, I did not pay much attention to my physical sensations or emotional state, most likely because I could simply soothe myself with the mindless ‘food + entertainment’ combo without really paying attention to what’s wrong. Now that I am fully present when I eat, I notice my physical and emotional state while I am eating, listen to my thoughts and observe my cravings.
Sometimes I do not give in to those cravings, sometimes I do. I have noticed that if I let myself get very hungry and/or sleep-deprived, it is much MUCH harder to not give in to cravings, even when I am mindful. This made me pay more attention to my sleep patterns and eating protein when hungry.
Still, even when I do give in and have my treats, I get satisfied (or disillusioned, if I expect to feel emotionally better) faster and with much less food because I am paying attention to the experience.
Because of that…
2. I am much better at handling negative emotions and being alone with my thoughts.
Whereas in the past I would have been eating + watching a mindless show for awhile before realising that I must be anxious or sad, now I realise it sooner and have been finding alternative – and far more effective – ways of dealing with these emotions and thoughts. For example, journaling, walking in nature or just outside, doing a kettlebell workout, cleaning, meditation and even getting some work done which I might have been avoiding.
In the past, it would be very difficult for me to switch off the YouTube talk or an audiobook and experience silence, both inner and outer. But now that I have been eating in complete silence for 3 weeks, I realized that I have been missing out before. The variety of sensations, the peace of focusing on just one thing, and the amount of unexpected creative ideas and profound realizations that come floating into my mind are incredible. This focus on experience and allowing the thoughts to wander as they will, seem to help me be less anxious, and resolve conflicts much faster when in the past I would avoid them by escaping into my food+media cave.
3. I have been making better choices in other areas of life, like financial spending, because I have realised how much being mindful affects my choices for the better.
I realised that shopping and listening to an audiobook leads to impulsive buys. So my finances have been better.
4. I know my taste better and buy more delicious and less disappointing foods.
One of the reasons mindless eating actually worked for me (or supposedly worked) was to help me choke down ‘healthy’ food that I made myself eat because health is really important to me. So I would mindlessly eat bland boring ‘healthy’ food and then mindlessly eat ‘fun’ food. I could eat literally anything to the tune of a fascinating YouTube discussion, an audiobook or a movie.
Since I separated food and entertainment, I became very aware of how bland, boring and unappealing many of my meals were and I couldn’t choke them down anymore. So I began exploring what I actually like, and surprisingly, there are many healthy foods I absolutely love eating. For example, microgreen salads with tomatoes, seeds and roasted chickpeas dressed with olive oil and apple cider vinegar – can’t get enough of them! Raw coconut – yum! Slow-cooked lamb hearts dipped into wasabi horseradish – I’m in heaven!
5. I hardly ever crave junk food anymore.
Since I now enjoy my regular meals immensely, I don’t seem to feel as much need for ‘party food’. In fact, I have been really astonished at how much my desire for unhealthy junk food reduced. I still have ‘a party in the mouth’ on a weekly basis when I go to a restaurant for my Deep and Meaningful Conversation meetup. But it has been really interesting to notice what treat foods I actually like when I am not distracted by entertainment. Most of all I like ice cream or greek yoghurt with berries, especially when combined with a warm slice of chocolate brownie on the side. But even in that, I noticed a strong preference to the quality of ingredients whereas in the past I would have just gobbled any old junky sugar fix.
I remember a couple of months ago my friend Cait and I were shopping for icecream. She bought high-quality gourmet icecream which cost twice the price of my giant budget box of icecream. At my incredulity with her willingness to spend more for less, she said that when the ice cream quality is good, you don’t need much quantity to satisfy you. I know that concept and I can apply it to other things, but not to ice cream. Ice cream was absolutely about quantity for me! Until now. It seems I am now experiencing viscerally what she means and really enjoying better quality icecream in much smaller but oh-so-delightful amounts.
6. It is getting much much easier to eat – and do other things – mindfully.
Whereas in the first week of this new resolution it was really tough to force myself to sit down for a meal without listening to something, now it is much easier. The other day, I was on autopilot listening to a YouTube talk when I sat down for a meal. Upon eating my first morsel, I realised something didn’t feel right – I did not feel connected to my food, I actually couldn’t taste it properly! Immediately I noticed that I was still listening to the talk, whipped off the headset, removed the phone and returned to my – much more satisfying – eating experience.
That was a huge revelation. I can’t believe how much sensation and enjoyment I was missing out on all these years.
Not only that, but I now enjoy washing the dishes and cooking mindfully. I find it easier to recognize when I need to turn off an audiobook and process my thoughts on the subject, or on an unrelated issue. I think all of that is to do with an awareness that I can not only handle the stream of my own thoughts and emotions in the silence of everyday living, but that mindfully experiencing those seemingly mundane realities actually reveals the meaning and profundity of life.
7. I have been feeling more grateful and positive too. About everything.
Since eating mindfully makes me sit and appreciate food, I realised that when I take time to appreciate things in my life, I am happier, more content and more productive.
What a hell of a cornerstone habit, huh!
Who knew that when you begin to eat mindfully – i.e. not combine food with entertainment or any other activity – you would eat so much less.
Also, since the ‘food + entertainment combo’ is no longer an available comfort, I am finding myself less comfortable and entertained, and at a loss as to how to escape my troubles, who knew right?
It is fascinating how ‘food + entertainment combo’ pathway used to be activated for several purposes, it was a fast, cheap and easy go-to solution for troubles. Escape from thoughts, emotions, and reality was the most utilized purpose of this habit chain.
For example, I would complete a couple of hours of video editing work which can be really draining, not least because it is stationary. I would feel this desire to reward myself, and my mind would be most likely to demand some yummy food and visual entertainment in the form of an episode of Big Bang Theory or another easy-to-process and mentally undemanding entertainment. But the activity must be combined with food to be truly compelling, because, as I found out when it isn’t combined with mindless chewing and swallowing, the appeal of the entertainment wears thin much quicker, and it is much easier to pull myself away from it. In fact, I can hardly handle more than 15 minutes of watching Big Bang Theory unless I am either doing something else (training, eating) or trying desperately to escape my thoughts.
The difference of this approach is that before I would forbid both yummy food and entertainment, together. And after a few days/weeks of holding out, I would break and binge on both, thus reinforcing the habit. If I allow this combination ‘in moderation’, I seem to start small but slide into debauchery fairly rapidly.
But separating them seems to break their spell, without depriving me of the pleasure from any of the elements. I still watch Big Bang Theory sometimes (it is so much less appealing when not combined with other activities!), and I still have yummy food sometimes. But – and this has been an incredible revelation – they are so much less uncontrollably appealing by themselves than they are together! I seem to stay mindful when consuming them separately, and it is easier to stop when I’ve had enough, but when they are combined, they create this pleasurable hypnotically addictive haze in which the mind just switches off and the perception of reality alters to all being well and all troubles being forgotten. The problem is that the mind doesn’t want to leave that haze and also, it is enfeebled by the experience – it is less able to cope with life’s knocks.
Of course, this is nothing new. Several pleasurable things combined together are more potently pleasurable than each of the things experienced separately. Even in eating, when many different tasty foods are combined in one meal, we are more likely to overeat all of them than if we were just eating one – think ice cream with crunchy chocolate chips with cake and berries versus ice cream by itself. No wonder then that if we combine icecream with a movie, we’ll consume more ice cream, and want to watch more movies.
How can this be used for good? And should it be? For example, I have lately been exercising at the same time as watching a TV show, to induce myself to do something after hours of video editing. Never in the past 18 years of regular daily exercise have I done this. What I noticed after pairing exercise up with entertainment is a decrease in mindful engagement during my exercise sessions. I was enjoying the exercise less and also enjoying the entertainment less, but put together there was an appealing pleasantly numbing mindlessness, another escape.
Cooking is something I dislike but can tolerate when listening to an educational talk or an audiobook. However, listening to audiobooks while cooking inevitably leads to listening while eating, which leads to mindless eating.
Conclusions so far:
The mind is uneasy being with itself. It is trying to find a source of mindless escape. There are some underlying stressful thoughts that the mind is trying to escape from without processing them.
What works for the thoughts? Journalling, the Work of Byron Katie, walking.
What works to discharge the restless energy? Creative work, training.
So far, the combination of mindful creative work, mindful leisure (reading, watching interesting videos, listening to talks etc), mindful eating, mindful exercise and mindful awareness (writing, meditation) seem to produce the most peaceful state of mind. However, it is not easy.
What is easy seems to be not so good for the peace of mind.
The choice between what is good and what is easy seems to be an actual choice! And the mind is tempted towards what’s easy. The easy solution seems to often not bring about a good long term outcome. Is this the epitome of religious notion of ‘Sin’ and ‘Temptation’?
And is this the reason so many people nowadays are experiencing the consequences of the ‘seven deadly sins’? Obesity, depression, anxiety – they could all be attributed to choosing an easy path of gluttony, covetousness, mindlessness…
Well, religion has got to be good for something. It doesn’t seem necessary to come to the above conclusions, but it lends them a sort of romantic spiritual feel that many people would find appealing.
We’ll see what the next few weeks bring.
Over and out
Kat Tabakova, 13th Jan, 2020
Impatience killed as many resolutions as procrastination killed dreams.
Why do we entertain this notion, often presented in movies, that someone who is good at something was exceptional at it from the beginning? We know it is not true! But we still watch the drivel, like the new Star Wars movie, where a girl picks up the lightsaber for the first time and is immediately amazing at it, beating seasoned warriors. Who is this delusional fantasy serving? Not us, that’s for sure. Maybe thinking that talent is inborn lets us off the hook and allows us to stay in our comfort zone… But that’s a recipe for the gradual death of spirit!
I have recently found out that my temperament, in order to reach its highest potential has to experience many failures. Not to fail sometimes, which is good for everyone, but to have a failure for breakfast every day. The only teeny tiny problem with that is I am absolutely terrified of failure.
I have no phobias. Or rather, I am scared of plenty of things, but the fear is what makes it exciting for me.
Heights? Definitely scary and thrilling, but that’s the idea!
Bugs? Yep, I scream, but I also pick them up, and even eat them. That’s the idea!
Needles? That’s a big one. But when I have to do it, I grit my teeth and do it. I can pierce my own skin or have a doctor do it. I still faint reliably during blood tests even when I’m lying down, especially if the nurse is unskilled and can’t find my vein (once a nurse hit the nerve in my arm instead, which created a massive swelling and a lot of bleeding. I fainted of course. And threw up all over her floor).
Even death. One day, I will not be here. Used to terrify me. Now? I realised that I wasn’t here for billions of years, I think I can handle not being here again.
But failure… Failure is somehow a level above everything. To fail publicly, to give it your all and fail, or worse, to come second place. To demonstrate that you are not, after all, as smart, as strong, as excellent, as you and everybody thought. That brings the worst possible potential outcome – rejection.
I am grateful to my parents for so many things. But it is unfair to expect our parents to be perfect, and some things we must learn by ourselves, when we grow up and after we leave the nest. I was not raised in a family that tolerated second place or encouraged failing forward. Only full victory and excellence were celebrated. Even if I brought home an A+ from school, mom would immediately ask ‘did anybody else get that mark?’. If anyone did, my mark did not count. Don’t even mention a B, that was worth a punishment or at the very least a telling off. If I got a good grade at a subject I liked, that didn’t count either.
I still remember an ice-skating race I entered at age 9. I stumbled and fell over right at the start of the race. I got back up and skated so fast that I still took second place. I felt really proud. But that race was never mentioned. I had to be the BEST. At everything. All the time. Otherwise, I did not matter. At least that is what my childish mind thought. I am absolutely certain that my parents did not intend this to be the story in my head. They were infinitely supportive of me. But this was simply the only way they knew how to support and motivate.
Needless to say, I quickly became terrified of failing, coming second best. And eventually, I did what any smart kid would do. I stopped trying. I slowly gave up on most subjects, started getting lower and lower grades, until I was just average. Because if I am mediocre, any small improvement is a celebration, but if I am smart, then nothing is good enough and it’s a constant battle to stay on top. It was an insane waste of potential.
In my 30s I read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. And everything flipped in my head. I realised how my whole life I have been playing it safe. Only doing things I was either already good at or things I was better than most at. And I was comfortable. And scared.
But what I didn’t realise was this existence was killing my soul. I don’t believe in the soul, but avoiding failure was definitely killing something inside. It manifested in all sorts of things. Disordered eating, overspending, commitment phobia in relationships…
Only at 35 years old did I find out after a psychological assessment that high quantities of failure are not only important for me but absolutely vital. No wonder, despite being one of the strongest women in the world, I often felt like the weakest. Because, while improving in all the areas I felt comfortable in, I did not build strength where it counted most.
As soon as I began embracing failure in 2019, I realised that even though it is absolutely poop-your-pants terrifying, and involves the conquering of many inner demons, it can actually be even more exhilarating than all the other fears I like to overcome – heights, insects, death, needles, public speaking etc.
The keys seem to be:
a) To divorce failure from rejection.
As a kid, failure or coming second-best meant rejection. That rejection is inside my head. It is a conditioned response. But the most important truth I learned from reading Brene Brown, Mark Manson, Jordan Peterson, Aziz Gazipura, Byron Katie, Carol Dweck and others, is this: only I can reject myself. Nobody else. And so it is only I who can accept myself, nobody else.
So, as long as I stay with myself through every small and epic fail, cheer myself on through every roadblock, comfort myself when I feel like the world’s biggest doofus, dust myself off every time I fall off the horse, and never ever give up on the journey, failure is just another big adventure.
b) To keep on keeping on aka to act
Make it a practice and a habit. There is a great book called The Practicing Mind. This is a theory I have based on some things I have achieved so far. Habitual 20 minutes of daily exercise made me one of the strongest women in Australasia. Habitual daily reading in English made me good at English as my third language, same thing about Hebrew. Coaching thousands of hours of movement made me a good coach of movement. So will practising going after things and persevering if success does not happen right away will eventually make it a habit. And, as I found out recently, what gives my life meaning is the sense of adventure. Victory and defeat are but necessary companions on the way.
I am still scared. But now it’s a thrill, like being a kid again and walking that high water pipe on a bet, knees shaking and all.
This is one of those types of knowledge.
And finally, some people want to be an adult but to retain the childish freedoms. This means they might want to not do much productive work but still get paid a decent income, have food, shelter, entertainment, education for their children etc. That’s called communism. I escaped that. The trade-off here, unfortunately, is the same as what the child and the pet have. If somebody – an owner, a parent or a government – is providing for you, that entity will want to control your freedom, either openly or covertly. And the more you depend on it for survival, the more it will be incentivized to control you. This applies to all ‘free’ services, like YouTube and Facebook too. It always amuses me when people become indignant when they realise that Facebook is ‘manipulating’ them, addicting them, putting up ads, and in other ways tries to subtly influence their behaviour. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
NOTE: this is a loooong post, and a little meandering, so proceed at your own peril.
‘What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
If you grew up in the 1990s, you might remember this chewing gum with a cartoon inside, called Love Is.
I used to collect those cartoons, even though at the time my English was too rudimentary to understand what the words actually meant, I still enjoyed trying to divine the meaning of the words through the pictures.
Now, those cartoons are one person’s definitions of love, they sparked a question in me: what IS love?
Because love was a very confusing thing to me.
My parents loved me, and they beat me up often. They loved each other, yet they called each other nasty names, cheated on each other and disrespected each other.
My mom loved us so she compared us to other kids and to each other constantly, shaming us into trying harder.
I was told that boys would pick on you and yank on your hair if they like you.
I was told that if a man beats you up or rages in jealousy, it means he loves you.
I was told that if I love somebody I will do what they ask me to do, that I will be anything they want me to be, do anything to make them happy and never make them sad.
I was told by my favourite rock ballads that ‘love hurts’, ‘love bites’, that when a man loves a woman he ‘can’t keep his mind on nothing else’ and ‘if she’s bad, he can’t see it’.
I saw parents show their love by giving their children everything they ask for: candy, toys, money; sparing them from any effort and any discomfort. I saw parents turn their children into obese, lazy, obnoxious, spineless little monsters in the name of love.
Parents say they do it because of love when they help children cheat on their homework or when they do battle against the teacher who rightly disciplined their child. It’s all done in the name of love when they step in and do the task ‘for’ the child rather than let the child fight his own battles and learn his own lessons…
I am sure that we all have had mixed messages about love, and a lot of them when we were young and sponge-like. When we were absorbing more than analysing. A cornucopia of beliefs about love, from which we try to piece our own.
If we do not regularly sift through those unconscious beliefs, reality checking them one by one, then we’ll keep on living them out. As my favourite coach Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach School likes to say ‘an unmanaged mind is like a child with a knife. It is a danger to itself and others’.
Because if we follow the above beliefs, then the acts of drug addiction, shopaholism, masochism, overeating, binge drinking and anything else – can all be acts of self-love.
Many years ago, when I left home at 15 years old, I decided that love means different things to different people. So instead of going by the professed feelings of love, I decided to go by the people’s actions. And if to them love meant violence or abuse, I will acknowledge the love, but I will not take any of their violence.
What I didn’t realise was that even though I left home, my beliefs, emotions and habitual actions came with me, and my unexamined mind kept faithfully applying its ‘factory settings’. It wasn’t a lack of self-love that had me overeating junk food until I had to throw up. It wasn’t lack of self love that had me overexercising until my adrenal glands carked it, staying up too late watching movies resulting in sleep deprivation, impulsive spending that sunk me into debt, biting my nails until my fingers bled, indulging in distractions, procrastinating from what needs to be done, thereby wasting my time and stealing my own life, avoiding the necessary discomfort thereby stealing my own dreams.
It was not the lack of love, it was the lack of skill.
The Adult Chair
One of my favourite psychologists, Michelle Chalfant, talks about ‘the adult chair’. It’s a great concept that describes the three mental positions that we operate out of, each one imbued with certain beliefs. There are the child chair, the adolescent chair and the adult chair. The idea is to operate out of the adult chair as much as possible while acknowledging the child and adolescent. Acknowledging and acting on are two different things.
The above realisations meant that I had to learn how to love skillfully, like an adult.
Is it love when you compare yourself, then beat yourself up for not being good enough, then escape from yourself into food, drink and empty entertainment? Perhaps, to your inner child, it is the only ‘love’ she has ever known.
Is it love when you let yourself avoid discomfort or fear and doubt that comes with chasing your goals, the discomfort of the hard slog that comes with the commitment to your dreams. Is it love when you let yourself procrastinate, distract, avoid and waste your life? To your inner adolescent, it might be the only ‘love’ she knows.
When belief becomes entrenched, it becomes an emotion. Because it’s faster acting and requires less thought, yet has more drive.
So, those old beliefs originating in the child and adolescent minds, are now living as emotions. They are desires, urges, but not (yet) actions. This is a very important thing to remember. An emotion, an impulse, a desire or an intention are not actions. And as Victor Frankel said in my favourite book “Man’s search for Meaning”, ‘between a stimulus and a response there is a space, and in that space, there is a choice’.
The stimulus: that urge to give yourself the love that you knew as a kid or adolescent, the instant-gratification and high-cost sort of love, the secretly violent, borne of expedience sort of love.
The space: pausing and sitting in the adult chair. Acknowledging the urge, the desire or the emotion. The adult does not judge, but acknowledges. Your inner child is trying to help in the ONLY way she knows how. Thank her. She’s looking out for you. Feel the feeling that is there.
The choice: Acting from the Child or Adolescent Chair means following the comfortable groove made by the thousands of thoughts and actions first laid down in your childhood. Acting from the Adult Chair means creating a new groove, building a new life, walking the new path, and loving yourself from your highest place of wisdom.
In evolutionary terms, our primal brain and our inner child, even though less wise, are much older (have been around for longer) than our prefrontal cortex and inner adult. The prefrontal cortex is a relatively recent development in evolution and the inner adult is a relatively recent development in your life.
There is a style of therapy in Japan, called Morita Therapy. It postulates that feeling emotions is a law of nature and experiencing emotions, positive or negative, is a facet of being a human being. It also states that our urges, impulses and emotions are not meant to stand in the way of purposeful action that we have committed to. Morita therapy is about taking action from your inner adult even as you allow your inner child to have its tantrum. A healthy person will allow themselves to experience all the emotions (positive, negative and in-between) as they do what they set out to do. An unhealthy person will let their emotions at the moment dictate their actions.
As my very wise friend once told me ‘I take myself to the networking event even though I would rather sit at home. I have a meltdown in the car on the way, but it doesn’t stop me going there’.
I used to wonder, what about letting loose sometimes and enjoying myself like a kid?
I think there is nothing wrong with it, but there is a lazy way to do it and a skilful way to do it.
There is a saying we have in Russia: Bear’s Favour.
A bear saw a mosquito sitting on it’s human’s nose. Instead of telling the human about the mosquito, the bear decided to swat it, to save the human the effort. Except when it swatted the mosquito, it also killed the human, being a bear and all.
The Bear’s Favour is an act done for someone with a desire to save them the effort but resulting in actual immediate or long term harm to the recipient. It’s bingeing on ice cream to distract from sadness or boredom, instead of taking the effort to go for a walk.
It’s taking the path of least resistance when the discomfort of overcoming will mean achievement of a meaningful goal.
There are childish pleasures that can be good for us but they often require some effort (going for a walk, participating in an activity, rather than sitting on the couch and eating ice cream).
Then, there is also the problem of being unable to enjoy oneself like an adult.
In his book ‘Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole’ author Benjamin R. Barber talks about the infantilization of our pleasures as adults. If we are unable to learn to enjoy ourselves in adult ways (what are those adult ways? goal achievement, meaningful adventure, relationships, community, contribution, purpose), we will go only for childhood pleasures. Since they are not inherently satisfying to the more complex adult mind, we will try to make up in quantity what we lack in quality. Except, this time when we indulge, there is no mother around to tell us ‘that’s enough’ and we literally eat/drink/shop ourselves to death and debt.
There is that un-sexy word. I used (and still am) to be a commitment-phobe, scared to be tied down to people, decisions, plans and places. And that fear of commitment kept me stuck in the child chair.
Loving yourself like an adult means being committed to doing right by yourself even after you have messed up, even when you don’t like yourself and even when others don’t like you.
In her insightful TED Talk, author Tracy Mc Millan extolls the virtues of marrying yourself and honouring that marriage above all others. It took me over 2 years of ‘dating myself’ to understand that I will not always like what I do or who I am, but once I made the commitment to loving myself for better or for worse, I must honour that commitment. That’s what love is.
And only my inner adult finds that sexy.
All self-love is not created equal.
There is a way of loving skillfully and unskillfully.
It is only when we love ourselves from our highest wisdom, from our ‘adult chair’ and from our prefrontal cortex, that we do things that are truly good for us. Loving skillfully, just like living skillfully, is willing to make an effort and experience some discomfort with a long term outcome in mind.
‘How we do anything is how we do everything’, so our ability to love ourselves skillfully will inevitably translate into our ability to love others just as skillfully.
The blog post must come to an end, but the inquiry and the practice (and the screw ups!) continue…
There’s a degree of relativity and progression in both maturity and minimalism, as in, we can be more mature in one area of life and less mature in others. Everybody’s flavor can be different and everybody is moving at a different pace. Yet in my nearly 15 years of practice, I am yet to meet a person who is struggling with their health and fitness who wouldn’t benefit from a little more maturity in that area and a little less ‘stuff’ in their heads, lives and homes.
One thing has been proven beyond reasonable doubt however, and that is increase in maturity in keystone areas of life, otherwise called ‘keystone habits’ create ripple effects into other areas of life. In other words, becoming more mature in a keystone area, you’ll eventually become more mature in other areas by osmosis.
Physical Fitness (exercise, sleep and nutrition) has been shown to be the most influential keystone area in human existence, which makes sense since it’s the primary survival mechanism in nature. If you can move and feed yourself, your brain is relatively mature. If you can’t, you’re an infant. This explains why the level of maturity around fitness so deeply affects other areas of life.
You can strengthen the maturity muscle in any area of your life through progressive learning of focus, commitment, self awareness, integrity, goal achievement (otherwise known as delayed gratification), minimalism, self control, patience, and perseverance. If you apply this in the context of physical training, you’re on your way!
Practicing these qualities through the vehicle of fitness minimalism will not only ensure success in the arena of life-long fitness, lasting body transformation, nutrition, health, life, work and relationships but develop tremendous levels of confidence and self belief, which are the necessary qualities for living life at your fullest potential.
How to practice fitness minimalism:
1. Have a long term goal, a short term goal.
2. Know your ‘why’, your ‘who’, your ‘how’ and your ‘what’. Find multifaceted motivations for achieving your goal. Yes I said motivationS. There must be many. If you are to win against the instant gratification urges and distractions that will undoubtedly come up, you need several compelling reasons to stick to your plan. Thinking that you will not come up against any distractions is failing before you even started.
3. Know yourself. While there is no substitute for self reflection, there are many resources out there to help you get started, such as ‘The 8 Colours of Fitness’ by Suzanne Brue, the MBTI personality test, Strength Finder 2.0 etc. Again, those tests aren’t definitive guides to your innermost self, however they help you begin asking the right questions. The better you know yourself, the less time you’ll waste on pursuits that just don’t work for you.
4. Set limits. Limits are the healthiest way to promote achievement, growth, creativity and getting things done. Limit the time of your workouts. Limit the amount of equipment you use. Limit the amount of exercises you do. Limit the amount of mental energy you use on training. Limit, limit, limit.
Example: all my workouts are 30 min long, and I use only kettlebells, pullup bar and rings. If I muck around, I still only do 30 minutes, whatever I can get in. I also only rotate 7 exercises in a 12-week block, about 4 exercises per workout. My plan is set for 12 weeks at a time. I get in, train, get out, with minimal thought, confusion or set up. I focus on performing my current exercises with the best technique. Every single excise is part of a bigger plan that I set at the start of the year, there is ZERO randomness. I progress very fast, and I’m really, really strong and fit by now. I’m not bragging, this is just reality. I have no injuries, ever. I go in, put in quality training and get out. Then I live my life and focus on more important things. Progress happens naturally and without my thinking about it outside of that 30 min window.
5. Go for quality. Minimalism is ALL about quality vs quantity. The only way you can set limits and still achieve anything is if you increase the quality of the workouts. Learn movement technique, learn which movements are the best for your goals, learn how to progress. Go for depth rather than breadth. This will create amazingly fast progress in a very short time. The biggest mistake people make is diffusing their focus across a million useless exercises that they do badly. There’s a huge waste of mental energy, lack of progress, waste of time, and a high risk on injury on top of it all.
It’s like going for the cheapest lowest quality clothes and expecting them to last you for a lifetime. In Russia we have a saying: a miser pays twice.
Go for quality. Use a coach of your time is precious. If you have plenty of spare time on your hands, then spend a few month/years on research in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and exercise science. And no, I don’t consider watching YouTube videos for workout inspiration ‘research’. Whatever you do, don’t compromise on quality. The whole concept of minimalism rests on it.
6. Dial in nutrition. If you aren’t supporting your training with nutrition, it’s like pouring cheap and nasty petrol into a high quality car. Think of it this way: exercise tells your body WHAT to build, nutrition provides the building blocks for the project. If you’re trying to build a magnificent skyscraper with a glue gun and some duct tape, expect it to crumble, if it’ll stand at all. Dial in your nutrition. Use research or coach, as per above.
7. Make it ALL a habit. This one is the most important step. Habits are the ultimate energy and time savers. They free up our mental resources so we can use them in other things. If your fitness isn’t a habit, then any life challenge will extinguish it and kill your progress. Have you ever been really busy and yet you still kept on brushing teeth every morning and evening? That’s what a habit is. Until it’s that with daily exercise, there will not be any lasting success.
Making habits isn’t new. You already created many habits in your life, 70% of everything you do in a day is habitual. These habits got you to where you are now. So all you’re doing is changing a few of them.
In his great book Compound Effect, author Darren Hardy says that the compound effect of every single decision operates on you whether you like it or not. What IS in your power is to decide where to aim that effect. Your choices today play a bigger part in what you’ll be 10 years from today than you imagine.
8. Be flexible. In light of the above, you need to have a Minimum Baseline level of exercise that you will never go below. For me it’s 15-minutes per day. Walking, stretching, jumping rope, etc. I haven’t gone below this baseline in over 15 years now.
Now it’s your turn.
What is your version of fitness minimalism?
In my personal and professional experience, I have noticed that both the effects of higher quality diet on a neglected body and of low quality diet on a healthy body, are relatively slow to show.
In many ways it’s down to cellular life span.
Your body is building new cells all the time. And it’s also repairing damaged cells and killing off old cells all the time. It’s making energy and fighting illness. Building materials? The food you eat. Repairing materials? The food you eat. The efficiency of energy production processes, immune response, brain function? The food you eat. The quality of the cells that your body manufactures, its ability to repair the cells that wear out, it’s accuracy at recognising and killing off faulty cells (cancer) are directly dependent on the quality of the food you consume.
So far so good.
Cells don’t live forever. But they do live for a long time. If they’re badly made, they’ll still limp on (unless your body is healthy enough to recognise and repair/replace them). Some cells live longer, some cells live shorter lives. But all in all, it takes about 7 years for all the cells in our body to renew.
Now, some of those cells of yours were built out of high quality food, some out of low quality food. And they will hang around in your body for, on average, 3-7 years.
So, the more high quality meals vs low quality meals you have, the more high quality cells you are building for the next 7 years of your life. And vice versa.
That’s why, after eating better for only 2 months you will be feeling MARGINALLY better, but wont be feeling as good as somebody who had been doing that for 3 years. By the same token, if you’ve been feeding your body well for years and then went on 2 months of less than good quality food, you will feel MARGINALLY worse, but won’t be feeling as crappy as somebody who has been eating poorly for years.
It’s not a ‘bad diet vs good diet’ thing either. If your diet this year is a little better than last year, you’re building a generation of cells that are a little higher quality than the previous generation.
Aging and genetics does affect your cell quality, but your can’t control that. The only thing you can control is the food you eat and your lifestyle. It’s all about either doing the best with what you’ve got or squandering whatever you’ve got. That’s why you can have 70 year olds who, despite being dealt a worse genetic card, take care of themselves and end up looking and performing better than some 30 year olds who were dealt a healthy body but destroyed it.