With the holiday season upon us, family dinners, never-ending temptations, samples at Costco, cookies, turkey, cheesy potatoes, and a glass of wine or two, it is no wonder that most people pack on the pounds at the end of the year.
Most of us blame our “falling off the diet train” as an issue of willpower. I want to discuss the concept of willpower—what it is, and what it’s not—and what it means for gaining muscle. During a time of change, or tackling a new goal, we tend to attribute our successes and setbacks to “willpower.”
Read my full article on Breaking Muscle by clicking HERE.
In my last blog we looked at what will-power is and what it isn’t. We learned that will-power is not a moral trait that some are lucky enough to be born while the rest of us are just out of luck. We learned that will-power exists in biological structures we all possess and that we can do things that strengthen those structures so that when we need strong will-power, it is at our ready.
This is Fantastic News!
In that blog I also covered two amazing strategies that will most definitely strengthen will-power when put into practice on a regular basis:
1) Meditation and
2) Remembering to slow your breathing down to 4-6 breaths a minute in the face of a will-power threat.
I hope that you had a chance to give one or both a try and that you are noticing some benefits already! Personally, I love both of these practices and I regularly recommend them to my clients because they improve other equally important aspects of well-being including sleep quality, mood, lower levels of anxiety, increased self-awareness, and reduced irritability.
BREAKING NEWS: “Buy One Get MORE FREE” Sale on Will Power
According to research into will-power, an interesting phenomenon happens when people are asked to make one change in their lives: They begin making other changes in areas that require will-power without being asked to and seemingly with ease! One change in particular has been shown to create this surge of will-power for other goals and it is EXERCISE.
In one study that demonstrated the beneficial impact of exercise on will-power, participants who were not exercisers to begin with were given free gym memberships and encouraged to use it as much as they wanted to. They were also asked to keep track of other aspects of their life involving will-power including what they were eating, how much they were spending, their temper, their consumption of substances such as caffeine and nicotine, etc. The study found that people who used the gym the most, that is three times per week, as opposed to those who used it just once per week were reporting amazing changes in other areas that require will-power, even though they had not been asked to make any other changes.
In her book, The Will Power Instinct, Dr. McGonigal provides a physiological explanation for this phenomenon. She explains that the brain experiences exercise as a kind of stress. The brain adapts to the stress by increasing certain chemicals and this in turn improves the metabolism of the brain. In other words, when you ask the body to do something that is hard, the adaptation process changes your brain for the better. Neuroscientists find increased gray matter (brain cells) and increased white matter (protective insulation for brain cells) in exercisers, most especially in the areas of their prefrontal cortex where will-power is housed. So, if you have been debating whether or not to reach out to Antonella and have her amazing help in making exercise a part your life, let this motivate you to do so!
Quick Tip: If you want to double up on the beneficial impact of exercise, do it outside! Dr. Qing Li in his book, Forest Bathing, explains that spending time in nature improves mood, reduces stress, increases energy, improves memory and problem-solving capabilities, improves optimism, increases immune function, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep, among other beneficial outcomes!
Along with Dr. McGonigal’s explanation, I believe there is a psychological reason why making one change can empower us into making others:
We get a serious boost in self-efficacy when we watch ourselves persisting towards our goals, no matter the challenges.
We are always watching ourselves and what we observe can have a powerful impact on how we feel about ourselves. Watching yourself persevere through a difficult workout, watching yourself getting out of a cozy bed in order to get to an early morning workout, watching yourself saying no to that second slice of pie will rewire and re-write how you define yourself.
You stop thinking of yourself as some who can’t and start seeing yourself as someone who CAN!
With this new self-image in mind, we approach other problems in our lives with a sense of belief in ourselves as people who can overcome anything.
To quicken the self-learning process and to amplify the power of re-writing your self-definition from someone who can’t to someone who can, I suggest taking a few minutes towards the end of your day to review your day with a journal. I call this a time to “connect the dots” between our actions and what they say about who we are and our values. You see, there is actually a plethora of evidence scattered throughout our day of our self-efficacy, our capabilities, our resourcefulness, our strengths and talents, our courage and determination, our compassion and kindness. But, when we don’t pause to deliberately notice, record and savour these experiences, so many of our best moments get lost in the busyness and noise of the day or tend to be drowned out by the negative aspects of our day. This is due to something called the Negativity Bias of the mind.
My suggestions for journaling include:
Start by calming your mind and body:
With your journal ready, start at the top of your day and look for one or more of the following:
Next, savour one or two of these moments from your day:
Now, connect the dots between these experiences and see yourself accurately as someone who can!
I would also recommend that in your journal you periodically record and update two other important aspects of Self:
This increases our awareness of who we are and what is important to us. But why is this important? When we are in the midst of a will power crisis, we want to immediately bring to bear our values and our goals to empower us to deal victoriously with that crisis! So keep a full bank account of information to strengthen your motivations and keep you strong.
(McGonigal, K. (2012). The willpower instinct: How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it. New York: Avery.)
(Qing, L. (2018). Forest Bathing. New York: Viking.)
BEHOLD!!! My lack of acting talent.
Seriously though, recently I have been getting really frustrated with “fitness/diet” motivational posters. Now I know I know, these are supposed to light a fire under your butt, and I completely understand that, BUT there is a trend among them that I don’t like – they are extreme.
Moderation is hardly a sexy way of motivating someone, but the extreme polarizing type of “ONE MORE REP DAMNIT I DON’T CARE IF YOU BREAK YOUR ARMS!!!” only works for a small amount of the population AND is not a fantastic strategy long term. The majority of people who are fit and are already consistent with pursuing their goals have a developed system of habit building and self-motivating skills that work for them most of the time. If anything, if they are overly sore or potentially about to get injured, they need to be talked OUT of going for a workout. And the people who are struggling to get started get bombarded with this message that if you are not a health food fitness nut who is ready to destroy themselves at the gym in a pool of sweat while crying and eating lettuce, there is no hope... which, believe me, is complete BS.
You don’t NEED to take drastic measures to see drastic results. Patience, consistency and sustainability will get you there! Your life is not a training montage. You will NOT “get fit” in a week or 4 weeks or 8... or 12. You will not form lifelong habits on a whim because you saw some girl with abs do box jumps. Training and pushing like a maniac for a short period of time might seem exciting, but it is not a reasonable strategy for lifelong success. If you are constantly struggling to get motivated, looking at “SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP” posters is not going to be an effective solution. You need to dig deeper and figure out what will work for you in the long run. Because sustainability is sexy.
How many times were you trying to get someone to do something for you but you just knew the two of you were not on the same page?
Miscommunication happens ALL the time. Sometimes it's no big deal... when I was a FOB kid, my English was passable but there were plenty of words and expressions I didn't know. It led to situations like this:
Kid: Hey wanna hear a funny joke?
Me: ... ok
Kid: When is a door not a door?
Kid: When it's ajar ahahhhaha
Me: ... ... (not knowing the word ajar) oookay.
See to me he could have just as easily said "a fork" and it would have been equally not funny.
Later on, miscommunication is a big culprit in relationships. How many arguments start because two people have different viewpoints on the same issue? Or you're doing your best to *calmly* explain why you're upset, and you can tell... it's just not registering.
Where am I going with this rant... well if there's people "not getting you" when you can use actual language to convey your meaning... don't be surprised when you have miscommunications with your body.
you start thinking...
"I'm doing everything RIGHT, why is ___ not happening"
"I'm training so hard, why am I not getting stronger?"
"My body is stupid"
"My body CLEARLY hates me"
"Maybe there's something wrong with me."
Yep, there is a small possibility that systemically your body might have a deficiency of some kind. You can always get some blood work and testing done to rule that out. Chances are that your body isn't inherently flawed - it's that the two of you are just not on the same page.
Your body and you have a relationship. Unlike relationships with people, you know your body wants to work in the best possible way to keep you alive and well. It's evolutionarily built to survive, adapt and progress. Unfortunately, unlike with people you can't directly "tell it" what you want it to do.
So if you and your body can't "talk things out", how do you get the responses that you want? You need to be sending clear consistent signals. You need to engage in trial and error and observe what works and what doesn't. Don't be surprised when something you really think *should* work doesn't... and when something you think is a weird idea suddenly gives you improvement. Most importantly, you need to be patient to find out exactly what works for you.
This is why I'm a fan of 21-Day challenges, 6 weeks at the most for a
"trial period" to evaluate progress.
Try something for 21 Days to see how your body responds, if you're uncertain, try 6 weeks. Evaluate progress - and I don't just mean *weigh yourself*, that gives you very little information. Try to evaluate fat loss and muscle-gain, evaluate how you feel, how's your training going? Is your strength improving? Are you getting more definition, did you lose definition? Treat each segment as a learning experience to figure out what works and what doesn't. It can come down to really small tweaks and details!
For example, I like intermittent fasting. The whole "6-small-meals-a-day" makes me hungry ALL the time. When researching intermittent fasting, a popular schedule is 8 hours fed/16 hours fasted. I tried that persistently and had mixed results - some days I felt great, others, completely freaking terrible. Training became erratic. I tried eating more food in the feeding window... no change. I tried eating less... no change. I extended my feeding hours to 9 fed/15 fasted instead of 8/16... BOOM. Energy levels were fantastic and hunger was under control.
So experiment away! Learn to talk to your body! Communicate! And don't jump onto popular ideas and gimmicks just because they're popular. Eat with a purpose, train with a purpose, and use common sense.
It's Friday the 13th... tun dun dun.
I actually LOVE the number 13. It is a VERY lucky number for me! For example:
The day I found out I got an amazing scholarship from TD - Apr. 13
The day I found out I got into Mac Health Sci - May 13
Day I found out I got into Dental School - Apr 13
My first license plates - 139 and 283
The one and only time I won $2000 at a casino at a 2-cent slot machine - Nov 13.
My mom though is a bit superstitious when it comes to my lucky 13. My very first license plate had 139 in it. So 13 and a total sum of 13 from 1+3+9. This was making my mom a bit anxious so she went with me to the DMV to order a new one. It arrived for pickup...the letters were different, but the numbers yet again - 139. Haha what a crazy coincidence! Then we get a second car... I order a second license plate... 283, sums to 13 again. I love coincidences that work out in my favour!!!
There are actually tons more... and I know what you're thinking... you're surrounded by the number because you pay attention to it so you notice it. "Selective coincidence." And that's completely true, but it doesn't mean I'm not allowed to rock it. I love having a lucky charm (and I have more of them than just my lucky 13)
Finding something that is your lucky charm will turn things in your favour.
Remember in Harry Potter, when he has Felix Felicis? The liquid luck potion? And it's totally amazing because he can feel when good opportunities arise and knows exactly how to take advantage of them?
Too bad we can't do that in real life... but what I LOVE about this part of the book is when Harry placebos Ron into thinking he took the potion as well. And Ron kicks some serious butt during their Quidditch tournament going by his own pure talent. Placebo lucky charm for the win!! Having a lucky charm works! Even if it's only because it gives you that little bit of self esteem, that extra bit of courage to try something new or a way to manage your anxiety and put yourself in a more positive mood!! I have pre-competition and pre-race rituals that I always follow! Doing so puts me in the right mindset. And it's not so much about trying to get illusion of control of a situation where you have less control, but about feeling anchored during an uncertain time.
My reference is not just HP... studies show that having a lucky charm DOES increase your chance of success! There's a pretty good read here, but there are dozens more studies examining the psychology behind luck and risk
So find a lucky charm!
Here's a list of some common ones, but I recommend you find your own. The sillier and more unique, the better.
1. Lucky Cricket! Like in Mulan... but real ones are nowhere near as cute so... I wouldn't do this unless it's a toy
2. The Nazar... if you go to Greece or Turkey these things are EVERYWHERE. Especially jewelry. Easy to wear... but they scare me a bit.
3. Horseshoes! A bit cliché, but the shape is so great and works with anything:
4. Lucky Penny! Canada's phased the penny out... where is your luck now, penny. Also if you were to find money to pick up I hope it's more than a lucky penny.
5. Hamsa - tell the evil eye to talk to the hand
6. Four-leaf clover. To me less a sign of good luck and more of a "it's St. Patty's Day and everyone is getting loaded!"
7. 7! Lucky 7 is all over the place. Many religions and cultures embrace it.
In the end it doesn't matter, you're just rocking your personal placebo.
So for today's message of the day...
Embrace your lucky charm placebo! If you have one... LOVE it. If you don't... you can always think of one, next time you set a PB... or something extraordinary happens... find an object that you associate with that. And milk it for all it's psychologically worth!
This is my personal list of philosophies to live by when doing the whole "fitness thing". I suggest everyone think of at least five guidelines for their personal "pirate code of fitness". It is so easy to get caught up in all the misinformation, the hype, your personal goals, team goals, etc. and the jumble this whole quest creates in trying to live your life on top of it.
1. Break the rules
Question all the standard "get healthy" rules you see on the news, in the media, hear from a friend-of-a-friend or from "tight-shirt-ripped-guy at the gym". Question everything. Even beautifully published research articles. The best research can have various forms of bias, specific selection criteria that might not apply to you, a million variables you have not considered, not to mention just because something worked for someone else, does not mean it will work for you. Be a critical thinker. Become your own research subject. Try something as a "6-week challenge", record results! Track progress! Did it work? Why/why not? Make sure you find something sustainable. If it's not a lifestyle you can maintain forever, you're setting yourself up for failure. Self-experiment! Not losing weight with 6 meals/day? Try Intermittent Fasting. 5:2 Fasting program interferes with your training? Try Leangains. Think women are supposed to lift light? Lift HEAVY!! The only way to find out is to try.
2. The Quest for health should ENRICH your life not CONSUME it
I am very guilty of this one. Ironically, this whole health thing can become very addictive and emotionally unhealthy extremely quickly. At first you're that person who is improving their lifestyle, making healthy choices and feeling more energetic. Fast forward six months and you're leaning over a food scale, rationing out PB2 like it's cocaine. You refuse to go out with friends because you're afraid the macros are not listed correctly at the restaurant, you are bringing a Tupperware container with your own meal to a family dinner and you yell at your husband from taking a bite out of your "perfectly measured meal"... "THE DAY IS RUINED!!!". It is A LOT easier to get to this place than you think. Once you start REALLY paying attention to what you eat, it is VERY COMMON to develop a degree of food anxiety. I will publish more articles on how to overcome this, but the easiest thing to do is avoid it in the first place. It is a VERY slippery slope.
3. If you can't beat it, cheat it.
There are reasons why we fall into old habits - most of the time it's because they are simply more fun. With food it tends to be certain flavours/types we enjoy. Learn to love smart substitutions. Find good quality ones! Make your own! Find something you love even more than the original! Cheat the system and just find healthier things you like MORE. Ones that you would have even if you could have anything you wanted. And every once in a while indulge in what you used to enjoy! A snickers bar won't kill you. Have one and move on... instead of refusing it over and over again, reminiscing about its glory... and then eating the whole box of them and half the grocery store.
4. Love your food!
I love food. I want to talk about it, learn about the ingredients, their properties, preparations, how people around the world prepare it, etc. Most people are not overweight because they "love food", ironically it's because they don't love it enough! They follow the same habits, have the same donuts and their daily food selection is repetitive. It is just a more calorie dense repetitive. Learn about food! Learn to make it! There is a whole delicious universe of flavour waiting for you outside your pre-packaged crackers! People like to ask me "what is your cheat meal when you can 'eat whatever you want'". I already eat what I want! I tailor my cooking to my favourite meal.
5. Love your training
Don't grudgingly try to drag your butt to the gym when you get a sudden motivation to 'get in shape'. The honeymoon period when you feel good about yourself will wear off, you'll feel like you "did enough" and your
motivation will dwindle. Find an activity you LOVE. Find something that you want to do for the sake of doing it! There are so many sports and events you can participate in! Don't train as a part of "my new resolution", train because when you're upset or tired the thought of doing that activity lifts your spirits.
6. Find a crew!
Find a buddy, find a team, find a trainer, find anyone! Meet new people! Use your training to find motivated like-minded people to keep yourself accountable. Use this quest to meet new people and expand your social circle instead of isolating yourself in it.