Creating Change Through The Brain
Most people step into a gym for the first time in an attempt to change something about themselves they don’t particularly like. Whether you are beginning a fitness routine for weight loss, pain loss, or simply to appease a friend, the goal is to change something significant about yourself – and change soaks up a lot of RAM in the brain. Change also means you will have to change something about yourself on the inside before the outside can change.
Unfortunately people spend so much time researching WHAT to eat and HOW to exercise and not enough time researching HOW TO THINK. A person can easily become unhealthy eating fatty and salty snacks. But the snacks aren’t the culprit. How we think about that salty snack is what gets us into trouble. Addressing the snack itself is putting a band aid on a hemorrhage. Asking someone to eat almonds instead of chips could temporarily work, but if that person is working an intense schedule full of anxiety, appetite suppression and blood sugar crashes, it’s safe to say that the easiest, tastiest and most available food item will be the snack of choice at the end of the day – that means the potato chip will slide back into the diet rather quickly.
We need to start addressing causation on a larger scale, but that starts with you. As part of a society that pumps more money into pharmaceuticals than fresh markets, it’s pretty safe to say we’re conditioned to target symptoms rather than causation, and it’s up to you to break free of that thought process.
- When we have a headache we get headache medicine. Better solution: do movement practices that relieve tension around the shoulders and neck. See video: https://youtu.be/M5jXqE9ynRQ
- When we are tired we over caffeinate. Better solution: listen to your body’s signals and rest!
- When we have a metabolic disorder we reach for pharmaceuticals. Better solution: change lifestyle choices which cause metabolic disorder.
- Some of these alternative answers might sound like obvious, sound solutions.
- So what gives?
- Why don’t we do it?
- It may not be that we lack willpower, it’s that the average person is drowning in thought bubbles and self-care, including diet is getting pushed to the back burner. Perhaps it’s less of a priority since availability of food has never been an issue for the last century (another topic). Food will always be there, but our jobs and incomes are always on the line, so they tend to take priority and soak of most of our emotional resources.
- Our willpower is also being soaked up by more sales, marketing, social and travel outlets than any humans have ever encountered. The average grocery store holds roughly 44,000 choices, one hour of TV runs dozens of commercials, and you, my friend, are being asked to buy all of it. Even a decision not to buy any of these services or goods offered is still a decision. You may encounter close to 1300 decisions in a day without even realizing it.
One of the heaviest drivers of pain, obesity and poor self esteem are poor lifestyle choices. But the over stimulative nature of modern society brings on more decision making, more choices, and thus more decision fatigue than ever before in the history of humans. Decision fatigue leads to depleted willpower, and thus leads to poorer choices, and poor choices lead to more poor choices.
Resisting Temptation is a big part of your day
Most people spend an enormous amount of energy resisting temptation. Some research indicates that working class people spend 3 to 4 hours a day resisting temptation.
Ever wonder why the candy is at the cash register?
Most people think it’s because you have to see it while you wait, but it’s really there for a much more profound reason. It’s because you are exhausted, not physically, but mentally.
Research on decision fatigue has been going on for nearly two decades. Decision fatigue describes a process of cognitive decline due to a series of mentally taxing decisions. Many things can contribute to decision fatigue, such as the amounts of decisions made in a specific time period, the emotional weight of each decision, and the individuals capacity for handling stress. Every day, each individual decision you make soaks up a relative amount of willpower. In the case of the grocery store, you have to walk through an entire maze of choices before you get to the most colorful and tempting choices of all.
Most interestingly, much of the research has shown that poorer or lower income individuals show less willpower at the cash register because each decision they make throughout the store is more mentally expensive. If you have some cushion, you may weigh the purchase of grass-fed beef vs. the cost of USDA grade beef based on cost or nutrient value alone. But a person scrounging for dollars has to weigh that seemingly simple choice against the cost, nutrient value, car maintenance, a doctor visit later in the week, and the electric bill. Every single decision has a higher energy cost, therefore, spends much more willpower per decision. Therefore people with lower incomes tend to buy more junk food.
But there is a silver lining. Your dietary habits can also improve or impair your decision making capacity. Calorie deprivation and irregular blood sugar reduces your decision making capacity, while adequate nutrition improves it.
Todd Heatherton at Dartmouth University found that people who are calorie deprived show far less willpower than those who are well fed. Once the calorie deprived individuals were fed (carb rich foods) they showed a 50% increase in willpower via grip test, but that willpower was short lived (about an hour to two hours). The groups that were fed some glucose + protein showed the longest sustained willpower of all (3-4 hours).
Tips to defend against decision fatigue:
Eat well before you go grocery shopping. Fuel your mind with protein and healthy carbs for better willpower.
Plan workouts ahead of time. Willpower is a valuable commodity during your movement practice. You should not be distracted or disengaged because your brain is multitasking during workouts.
Eliminate as many useless decisions as you can during the day – Urgent vs. important task lists are very helpful in these scenarios. See previous post: http://robbwolf.com/2016/06/22/how-to-have-a-perfect-morning/