Would you prefer to listen to this blog? If so, click here.
For every hundred people who try to take control of their health, ninety-nine will eventually fail. You could substitute ‘control of their health’ with ‘control of their finances,’ ‘control of their professional success,’ or ‘control of their destiny’ and get the same dismal result.
Why is it so tricky to attain goals- in health or otherwise- that we genuinely want to achieve?
The answer is ‘friction.’
Here’s a fact about human beings: we evolved to be highly efficient. When there isn’t critical work to do, we rest. When we consume energy we don’t need; we store it. When we have muscles we don’t use; we lose them. When we have neurons we don’t fire; they atrophy.
Efficiency is an excellent strategy for survival during scarcity, a threat for most of our existence. The historic danger of famine is why these processes remain fundamental to human beings. But now, as modern human beings, there is a price we are paying, and that price is skyrocketing obesity.
It is easier to rest than it is to work, and it is more compelling to eat than it is to skip a meal. You’re not lazy. You’re not gluttonous. You’re doing what human beings are supposed to do when you overeat and watch four hours of Netflix.
The normality of our unhealthy behaviours isn’t an excuse to be overweight. Still, it does explain our difficulties and separates them from character and choice-making, which can be helpful.
So what can you do about this ‘primal paradox’? You must step into the fire and be willing to take the path of greatest resistance every single day. Your body doesn’t want to build muscle. Greater mass = greater energy needs. Your body doesn’t want to lose fat. More fat = longer survival when there isn’t any food around. Your body doesn’t want to exercise. Needless exercise pushes you one step closer to starvation.
Of course, you and I know that starvation in modern times is a nearly impossible feat for the majority of the world’s population. But your primal mind and body don’t know that and likely won’t catch on for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years.
The key to thriving in your long-term health is doing the difficult things every day. Can you eat less when there is an unlimited amount of food around? Can you go for a walk instead of sitting on the couch? Putting yourself in a position to push through the friction of your deeper nature by accessing your higher brain is the only problem worth solving.
It is the complex problem of fitness. How do you make the positive long-term choice in the face of so much short-term pleasure and stimulation?
In simple terms, you need to remind yourself of the cost of your actions without rationalization or justification. You know when you’re making poor food choices. You know when you’re overeating, drinking too much, and missing exercise for bullshit reasons. But your mind is cleaver and wants you to take the path of least resistance. When you’re about to go one drink over the line, your mind will say, ‘hey, it’s been a tough week, and you never get to see this group of friends. Have another!’ When you’re supposed to wake up and exercise, your mind will say, ‘hey, you need your sleep. Sleeping longer is probably going to do more for your health than exercising today. Stay in the warm, cozy bed.’
Overcoming your primal drivers- and the rationalizations and justifications that we’ve adapted- is a skill you need to build. The less you say ‘no’ to your inner neanderthal, the harder it becomes to say no in the future. The more you say ‘no’ and access your higher brain, the easier it becomes to make the hard decision the next day.
We make the mistake of believing healthy choice-making is a matter of character or willpower. It’s not. It’s a matter of knowing your weaknesses, living in reality, and building the skill of working against your most profound driving forces while managing a negative mindset every time it doesn’t go perfectly. Because it NEVER goes perfectly.
This is where readers look for five bullets or rapid tactics to make these critical changes in mindset. I’m sorry, but they don’t exist. The good news is that you don’t need them. You have never needed them. You know what you have to do to see long-term success. You’ve just been burying the reality of your actions behind the smoke-and-mirrors of rationalization, justification, denial, and excuse-making. You’ve been doing it for so long that you’ve become disconnected from your higher-self.
Each day, with each meal, and with every choice, take pause and ask yourself if the action you’re about to take will lead to the goal you are aiming to achieve. As soon as you ask the question, be on the lookout for the justifications that protect your primal drivers. See them for the distraction that they are, and aim to make the right decision.
Perhaps, this week, you can make the right decision one in ten times. Maybe next week you can up that to two good choices out of ten. By the end of the year, perhaps you’re up to nine out of ten healthy decisions in the face of the easy road. At that time, progress becomes easy and permanent.
You may be thinking to yourself right now, ‘that seems like a lot of work. I don’t know if I feel like committing my mental energy to a practice that I won’t reap the rewards of for a year.’ That is your primal brain emerging again. The part of you that keeps you fat, weak, and unsuccessful.
Next year will come whether you choose to change your approach or not, so what version of yourself do you want to be 365 days from now? Fitter, happier, and in greater self-control? Or fatter, sicker, and on the way to an early grave? The choice is yours. And yes, it is a matter of choosing.