Browse Tag: psychology

DOPAMINE, SEROTONIN, AND HOW WE BECOME ADDICTS

your brain on dopamine and serotonin

[ ADDICTION NATION ]

Why are we so extreme?

Why do we either under-do something or we overdo it completely? Why do we work out too much and too hard or choose not to exercise at all? Why do we say we are going to make a whole bunch of change all at once or none at all?

For many of us, it is tough to find the middle ground (this isn’t just limited to health and fitness), and for a lot of us, these addictions can ruin certain aspects of our lives.

We are out of balance so-to-speak.

More specifically, it is our brains that are.

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS

The balance I am talking about is a chemical one, and the chemicals I refer to are called neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters communicate information throughout our brain and body.  They relay signals between nerve cells, called neurons. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest.  They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.

There are many different neurotransmitters, but there are  two that I will discuss which have a heavy influence on how we become addicted to things and which impact our behavior greatly.

 Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become Addicts

Dopamine is our main focus neurotransmitter. As I’ve already discussed here, it is responsible for our drive or desire to acquire – be that food, sex, an achievement, or a drug. When you drink coffee or receive a text message, dopamine is being released. It tends to make people more talkative and excitable, which often leaves them wanting more. With dopamine and high dopamine individuals, desire begets desire.

Serotonin is our well-being neurotransmitter. It is the chemical that allows us to be content and happy. It seems to help keep our moods under control by helping with sleep, calming anxiety, and relieving depression. With serotonin and high serotonin individuals, satisfaction begets satisfaction.

An easy way to think of the relationship between dopamine and serotonin is to think of 2 glasses of milk. In total, the 2 glasses of milk make up 100 units of liquid, with each glass half-filled at 50 units each.

 Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become Addicts

Because there is only 100 units total, in order to increase one glass we must “borrow” from the other.

So in order to increase the units in the dopamine milk glass, we have to take some from serotonin glass. And in order to feel  more “well being” ( more serotonin), we take some from the “drive and acquire” glass (less dopamine).

When we are living a healthy, balanced life, both these glasses sit at about 50 units each (40 / 60 is still pretty good). But the more imbalanced these glasses become , 30/70 or worse, the more likely this translates to imbalance in our life and is a recipe for addiction.

 

RECIPES FOR ADDICTION

In total, there are 3 major imbalances that can cause someone to become addicted. They are high dopamine/low serotonin, low dopamine/high serotonin, and low dopamine/low serotonin (all the milk has been drank!).

In my experience, 1/3 to half the people I’ve met in my life have a noticeable imbalance. Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself below. I’m the first one.

DOPAMINE DOMINANCE

Because serotonin levels are low, we are not happy. We are not content. Instead of feeling proud of our accomplishments, all we can think about is what we haven’t accomplished. When these levels are low, we can see problems with our life everywhere. Being naturally high in dopamine, we seek to escape these painful problems and increase the pleasure in our life.

So if we don’t like what we see in front of the mirror?  We eat.  Or we shop. Or we say we are going to change ourselves, and we start a new diet.

The result?  Food’s pleasure effect is fleeting. We must continue to eat to delay the withdrawal. Shopping’s pleasure effect is fleeting as well. We must continue to spend to delay the withdrawal. And the diet and motivation to change? It goes out the window. Dopamine doesn’t have time to wait for results. It demands results now! Or perhaps though, we stick with the diet and lose weight.  We will still never truly be satisfied with the results because the finish line will just stretch that much further.

 Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become Addicts

The bottom line is when dopamine is high and serotonin is low, we will always feel that urge to try to get the carrot.

We think to ourselves: “If I lose 50 lbs, I’ll be happyorIf I have a million dollars, I’ll be happy“  orIf such and such wasn’t such an ass, I would be happy

After we lose the 50 lbs, we say “If I get rid of these stretch marks, then I’ll be truly happy“.  After we have the money, we then want more to stay happy.  Once someone is done being an “ass”, we simply place a new expectation on them that they have to fulfill to keep us happy.

The target (of happiness)  is always moving. As a result, we cannot hit it.

NOTE: OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is characterized as having brain levels that are high in dopamine and low in serotonin. Symptoms of this include perfectionism (once again, you can never get the carrot) and a total lack of flexibility (it’s your way or the highway).

SEROTONIN DOMINANCE

Because dopamine levels are low,  the ability to focus and organize is almost non-existent. We no longer have that “drive” so lack of energy is a common symptom here.

A person with low dopamine levels will also have low pre-frontal cortex activation. Areas like decision making, impulse control, learning from past mistakes, and monitoring oneself will be severely lacking.

aslide24 Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become Addicts

It is because of this mental deficit, they we will be more inclined to make rash decisions without thinking of consequences. Not only that, to self medicate, they will naturally drift towards stimulants. Stimulants like coffee and adderall will increase the levels of dopamine in the brain helping restore dopamine-serotonin balance.

People with this nature will seem to keep making the same mistakes in their life unless their imbalance is corrected.

 Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become Addicts

Self medication gone wrong?

NOTE: ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is characterized as having brain levels that are low in dopamine and high in serotonin. Many people who have ADD are labeled as dreamers, goof-offs, slackers, troublemakers,  and they are generally “bad” students.

DEFICIENCY IN DOPAMINE AND SEROTONIN

When you abuse drugs too long and don’t provide the necessary nutrients and recovery to let your neurotransmitters build up, a deficiency occurs.

A naturally dopamine dominant person could burn through all his or her dopamine reserves simply by engaging in a lot of dopamine activities ( exciting/stressful events) over an extended period of time.

You can only rely on 4 hours sleep, a diet of sugar, and 10 cups of coffee a day for so long until you crash and the depression hits.

When you do hit this bottom – a brain state of low dopamine and low serotonin – there will be no significant drivers in your life nor will there be any happiness.

 Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become AddictsWhat’s the use? We all die anyway.”

We can still experience reward (such as the “high” of junk food) but it will be extremely fleeting. Since we are depressed, we will not care of its ill effects so it will be a “no holds bar” whenever we consume it.

 Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become Addicts

NOTE: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is characterized as having brain levels of both low dopamine and serotonin. Many war vets, after returning home from a high stress atmosphere (burning out their dopamine reserves), develop PTSD.

 

THE CURE(S)

All 3 of these brain profiles can be recipes for addiction and if you have erratic exercise and eating behavior, it could mean one of these is behind it.

While we are not in control of our default brain profile, we become in control once we are armed with the knowledge to do something about it.

What we get addicted to and if we choose to exhibit extreme, sometimes dangerous behavior — that’s up to us now.

If you are dopamine dominant, you need to increase your serotonin. If you are serotonin dominant, you need to increase your dopamine. And if you are deficient in both (or on your way there), you need to give your body what it needs: proper nutrition and rest.

 

ACTION PLAN

High Dopamine/Low serotonin High serotonin/Low dopamine Low in both
Smart diet Smart diet Smart diet
Early morning sunlight Stimulants such as coffee and adderall Sleep/rest
Exercise! Exercise! Exercise (low intensity)
Supplementation: 5-htp, L-tryptophan, or St. Johns Wort Supplementation: L-tyrosine and/or DLPA <– Both
Abstain from drugs
* By no means is this list comprehensive. Just meant to get you moving in the right direction.

 

Some Thoughts:

– Adopt a smart diet

  • Moderately high in protein and healthy fat/ low in sugars
  • Keep alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs in check
  • Supplement with fish oil, antioxidants, and a multivitamin.

– Exercise: Double edged sword. Too much and too hard will burn through both reserves: Dopamine and Serotonin.

– As I discussed in my last post, exercise is what balances me out (increases serotonin). If I do too much, however, I can burn through my dopamine. And if I do this enough, serotonin becomes zapped. This is commonly referred to as overtraining and one of the main symptoms is depression.

– For the chronically depressed individual, it’s imperative to stay away from stimulants, emotional conflict, and burning the midnight oil to allow your supply of neurotransmitters to build up.

– Antidepressants, by increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain, will make you happy. It will also kill your libido (craving for sex) by way of decreasing dopamine.

– To build your neurotransmitters up, consume the building blocks (precursors).

  • L-tryptophan –> 5-HTP –> Serotonin
  • L-Phenylalanine –> L-tyrosine –> L-dopa –> Dopamine

Note: On top of the precursors, vitamins such as the B’s and C will be needed to facilitate the creation.

Note #2: If it starts with L, it is an amino acid. And if its an amino acid, it’s in meat.

– Think of your body as car. Dopamine is the gas and the peddle, while serotonin is the brakes. When you have low dopamine, you can’t go very fast or very far before you need to stop to fuel up again. People come to think of you as a lazy driver. When the dopamine is high, however, you can go very fast and have enough gas to last awhile but if your brakes are shot (low serotonin), you can’t slow down. Your life becomes a scene from Speed and the only way you can stop is for the gas (dopamine) to run out or for you to crash. Usually, its the same thing.

– It really is a balancing act. Being dominant in either neurotransmitter can lead to draining your reserves, and thus, depression.

 

CONCLUSION

Back to the glasses of milk:

 Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become Addicts

The more we fill up the dopamine glass, the more we will think we NEED stuff to be happy. And the more we fill up our serotonin glass, the more we will be satisfied with what we have.

It doesn’t matter if you are the richest man in the world, dopamine will drive you to become richer. And it doesn’t matter if your health is in the toilet, serotonin will teach you to be complacent with it.

Obviously, rather then try to dominate in either arena (high dope or high serotonin), it would be wise to even it out. When we become balanced, not only do we keep our drive, but we can be happy about what we have as well.

To me, that is Health.  icon smile Dopamine, Serotonin, and How We Become Addicts

—-

PS – The science above is how I understand it. I’ve had OCD-like behavior since my teens so I spent a lot of time reading up on it (this combined with introvertism and being primarily left brained has created what I call The Perfect Storm). What has made the greatest impact on changing my behavior has not been drugs, but Awareness. Being aware of the silly things I am doing (like the inflexibility that my mind produces) has allowed me to become more flexible. I still have lapses almost daily but such is life. On top of just observing my behavior ( “Why do I want to do xyz?”), what has made the biggest difference has been introspection, meditation, and surrounding myself with positive people, thoughts, and environment. Even the smallest things, like listening to stimulating techno music can rile up my mind (exciting/stress = increase dopamine) so I now I just reserve them for times when they are useful (like workouts). I have enough excitement in my brain, what I found is I need more chill stuff in my environment. Others will be the exact opposite. In the end, you got to find what works for you.

DO WE REALLY NEED MORE DISCIPLINE?

self discipline

I know all the right things to do . . . diet, exercise, etc. . . I just lack the discipline to do everything I should on a daily basis. Any suggestions?”

In one area or another, we have all felt like this.

We have all been disappointed with our efforts to “change”.

And most of us have then blamed it on our lack of discipline or will-power.

Self-Discipline, more or less, amounts to this:

Doing things we know we should do (but don’t really want to do).

Do we really need more of this? I don’t think so.

I think we just need to start finding reasons and ways to actually want to do them.

Here are 2 questions to ask yourself to get you started in the right direction.

WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?

I think there are 2 camps when it comes to this answer.

  • Camp 1 does it for others. They do it to please and to gain recognition. They do it, in large part, because that’s what they should do (or at least that’s what others keep telling us). The goal of getting healthy or fit, for them, is a means to “stay in the spotlight” or at the very least, to become accepted.
  • Camp 2 does it for themselves. They do it for the love and do not second guess their passions. They do it because they realize how limiting their unhealth is or can be. The goal of getting healthier, both in mind and body, is so they are better able to give their gift.

Let’s be honest, we all have been part of both camps.

We all have done things for other people. So how did that go? For myself, I quit football. I quit the military. And I quit a host of other things that I couldn’t find a real purpose in.

Camp 2 has been a totally different story.  I couldn’t quit writing, training, and helping others it if I wanted to.

Funny how that works.

Before someone can venture into camp 2, however, and use the pursuit of health and fitness as a means to give your gift / love, they have to get real on what the end goal is ( ie, what’s your purpose?).

“I want to get healthier / more fit because _____”

The answer will decide whether you are able to stick with your new behaviors or not.

HOW ARE YOU DOING IT?

Even if you have an awesome “Why”, you can still sabotage your “discipline” by making things tougher than they should be. Here are a couple of suggestions to help with that:

1. Make it fun

Boring exercise doesn’t last. Neither does eating flavorless food. If we want to make this a long-term thing, we have to find ways to make it fun and engaging. For this, find people, gyms, workouts, games/sports, food, recipes, etc. – that are all fun! It takes experimentation and seeing what is out there, but this is more than necessary.

2. Start small

Like I talked about in Advice For Resolutioners, chewing off more than you can swallow only makes you choke. Don’t try to change more than 1 thing at a time (I recommend establishing the exercise habit first) and don’t do something that is scary and extremely uncomfortable to you (go slow, take your time, and just do enough to be moving towards your goal).

3. Do it early in the day

In the morning is when we have the most will-power. If you are really finding it hard to “stick” a new behavior, make it priority #1. This may mean waking up earlier so you can do it before work, but if the “Why” is there, you’ll do it. .

4. Get enough sleep

Without proper sleep, anything becomes hard.  Don’t let this be your limiting factor. Shoot for 8 a night on average.

5. Harness the power of belief

As humans, we are our own self-fulfilling prophecies. Little placebos if you will. What holds more weight than some science, facts, or these words on this screen, is your belief in them. Think you lack discipline?Your future will show it. Believe in yourself and your abilities. You will, no doubt, become your thoughts.

do we really need more self discipline?

ARE YOU GOING TO DO IT?

Once you have the WHY and the HOW, nothing will be stopping you.

And with those, you will literally feel compelled to do it.

No self-discipline required…

THE TRUTH ABOUT DEPRESSION

Depression.

Sadness.

Unhappiness.

Whatever you want to call it, this “down” state of mind is something that we all dread and hope to avoid.

Oddly, however, it’s often something that most of us recognize as one of the greatest drivers of our lives.

Stuff like bad relationships, working jobs we hate, and making stupid decisions teach us how to make the future ones better (or at least help us persevere) and, all-in-all, it is this unhappiness that gets us on a better track in life.

But… sometimes the future doesn’t get better. And sometimes the depression doesn’t leave.

Why this is, of course, is different for everyone.

I believe for the majority of us, however, it is because we seldom or no longer process our feelings and thoughts.

If we did, we would  be able to hear what is really being said.

But because we are too busy (or maybe we just never learned how), these unchecked thoughts are driving us to feel emotions (that we probably don’t want to feel) and to do things (that we probably don’t want to do).

A TRUTH

We all have to something we have to say and give to the world. When we keep it in, however, it slowly dies.

Deep down, the core of our being wants to keep it alive. So instead, it makes us depressed in hopes that we will change our ways.

So this is where the solution to our pain and sadness lies.

With giving.

When we focus on giving to others, we forget ourselves.

This is exactly what we need.

Before we can fully give to the world, however, we have to figure out what our core wants us to give. Trying to be something (or give something) that is not aligned with our core is futile and will be short-lived at best.

Here are 3 steps to help you with that discovery:

STEP #1 : LISTEN

Pay attention to the stream of thoughts and feelings that are coming out of your head. Don’t run or hide through various activities or substances. Instead, go find solitude. Bring a pen and notebook and track the flow.

Like I said in You vs. Your Mind, our mind says some crazy stuff. This isn’t necessarily us but a huge conglomeration of our past  (ie, our culture, our media, our parents, our religion, etc.).

There will be assumptions (that have never been tested) as well as beliefs (that are untestable).

Let them all out.

This is something we all need to do once in a while. We all need to take inventory on what is running us and understand the beliefs and feelings that are behind our depression.

If writing is not your thing, draw them or do a video log. Capture the emotions however you can.

STEP #2: ASK QUESTIONS

With time, you should have a good idea of your inner dialogue. With this you can start questioning your beliefs and why you want this or that or feel like you should do ___ .

How far you want to go down the rabbit hole  is up to you. Generally, after 5 Whys, we will be at our destination.

Before we jump to conclusions on why we are sad, I can already tell you this: We are not depressed because we are poor or that we are overweight (and to suddenly get rich and fit would only be a temporary fix).

I am not saying those things don’t matter (as having a well-functioning brain can certainly lead to better well-being), I am just saying they don’t matter as much we think.

We already have what we need to be happy (food, shelter, safety) so we definitely do not need anything more.

What we need is to get lost (in laughter, in love, in positivity, in giving ourselves to the world).

So the main question(s) we should ask are not “Why am I sad?” or “How can I be happier?”, but instead ones that are a bit more refined: “What can I offer to the world?” and “What is my purpose/gift?”

With this, we can take the focus off ourselves again, forget the mind, and truly get lost.

Some other questions that might help:

  • What did you want to be as child?
  • What is your personality best suited for in communicating/giving to people? (introverted vs extroverted)
  • Is there anything you would do for free?

STEP #3: TAKE ACTION

So you think you have your purpose/gift?

Pursue it.

You will find almost immediately that it’s not exactly your purpose. You will, no doubt, probably be in the ballpark.

Finding our purpose is a refining process and is full of trial and error.

I’ve heard it before be compared to the layers of onion. The more you peel off and deeper you go, the more it will leave you full (filled).

So once you have a [vague] idea of what it is, figure out what step 1 is and go from there.  With a thousand or so steps, you will be well into the onion.

In the end…

There are a ton of other things that contribute to happiness and beating depression (such as exercise and sunshine).

Without a purpose, however, we will sink (even with them).

Without giving what we must give and saying what we must say, we will always have those days where we feel without hope.

And like I mentioned above, the solution to this shouldn’t be about putting more focus on ourselves, but less.

Where should the focus go?  To what we can give others of course.

That’s the Truth.

Note: This “giving” … this should be something that we actually want to give (ie, it shouldn’t be forced). We all have something that we are good at, like doing, and can benefit others. Find it – Refine it – And Give. I just gave you this post, and I couldn’t care less how you use it. That’s a real Gift. Thanks for reading.

TRAIN YOUR BRAIN, FIGHT THE PAIN

how to train your brain to fight pain

[TAKING BACK YOUR MIND]

Initially, we don’t want pain.

When we are first starting out in this game, the cultivation of the habit requires us that we make it easy and comfortable and do-able (take note Resolutioners). We don’t want our brain to get freaked out and run away so we keep pain to a minimal.

Eventually, however, we will need more. Past a certain  level of experience, we must learn how to make our sessions better (i.e. a higher quality). Often, this entails learning how to push through pain (the good kind of course) and going toe-to-toe with the naysayers in our head.

If you are playing within the realm of the mind, you will need weapons.

This post is a tribute to ours.

 

THE TOP 11 WAYS TO PERSEVERE

Fight The Pain

1. PROPERLY WARM UP

When the right muscles are working, joints are doing their job, and the brain has had a chance to prepare for the fight – exercise is made infinitely easier. Still think 5 minutes on a treadmill is a good warmup? Read this.

2. DO IT IN THE MORNING

Willpower is greatest in the morning. While not everyone will able to rock an AM session, there are still things you can do to keep this “fuel reserve” from depleting.

3. DRINK COFFEE

Caffeine not only goes well with those morning workouts, but it is tremendously helpful at blunting pain.

4. DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH MUSIC

Music that is inherently stressful (such as dubstep and rock) will help you “get up”.  Aside from that obvious reason, it is also a great way to distract yourself. This inappropriate song has distracted my “worry thoughts” long enough to break multiple personal records in olympic lifting (where the risk of dropping a weight on my head is a real concern).

5. FIND OUT WHAT’S POSSIBLE

If we do not know how others have fared with a particular workout or exercise, it’s likely that we will give in a lot sooner. Because of this, having “benchmarks” are essential and a great place to find them is on Youtube or being apart of fitness communities.

6. INVOLVE PEOPLE

Even for the non-competitive person,  adding in more eyeballs will help them to work harder. If you cannot recruit a training partner or exercise around people, your next best bet is to move online for accountability (like through coaching).

7. USE POSITIVE LANGUAGE

From a survival perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to our body to do things that we hate and that hurt us. So like I discuss in The Non-Gym Mindset, we must learn how to lie to ourselves (or at the very least, modify our language). With time, these lies turn into truths and we start to enjoy that which we used to hate. To say this is a powerful tool is an understatement.

8. OVERSHOOT THE WORKOUT

Our mind has a peculiar way of sabotaging us when we are so close to the finish line. To make sure we achieve what we want (and then some), we must aim audaciously high.

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” – Bruce Lee

9.  THINK WITH THE END IN MIND

Whether we are doing this for our self or others, thinking about what we will attain afterwards is our fuel. The more powerful reason we can create here (like becoming healthier for our kids or how we can use this to become a better person) and the more reasons we have (try combining feels, looks, and performance), the stronger this fuel will be. If you are struggling to find a good reason, this might help.

10. KEEP IT SHORT(ER)

It’s hard to be intense for long periods of time simply because of this reason: We are not meant to be. Like a car, we switch gears after a certain amount of reps or mileage. To stay in the gear that will yield the most beneficial results for us, we will want our workout to be between 20  to 45 minutes (not including warmup). If you’re looking for some examples, take a look at these.

11. USE PERSPECTIVE

If you think your exercise is painful, think back to pregnancy. If you don’t have that kind of reference, think of life in Africa. Or think of life a thousand years ago. Thought experiments such as these along us to overcome our current states because, well, we see it’s not that bad (and that we have much likely done harder things before). If that’s not enough, then let’s remember this “burning sensation” type pain goes away rather quickly (not as true for the mental variety).

 

non gym mindset Train Your Brain, Fight The Pain

That’s it.

With experience in this game (and as the habit is built), you will find that you’ll rely on these tips less and less.  Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you will experience “states of flow”  as your actions become automatic and the mind goes dark. Until then, however,  I suggest you work on what you can achieve within it (and you can start here for that).

WHY YOU’RE TOO CHEAP

Too Cheap to Buy Tickets

WE’VE BEEN LIED TO.

The biggest step is not the first step.

It’s the pre-step.

It’s all the work (physical and mental) that goes into preparing for that first step.

You want to know why many people find WAG workouts hard to stick with? The pre-step is too easy. Unlike a gym, we do have to invest resources (energy to dress nice, time to drive there, and money to pay) before our workout.

Because we do not invest, it is a lot easier to skimp on the workout once it begins or skip it entirely.

INVESTMENTS KEEP US TRUE

We do not quit on marathon mile number 25 just like we don’t “half-plate it” at a $30 chinese buffet.

No, when we invest, we go all out. We aim to get our resources worth. And the bigger our investment, the harder it can be for us to quit (even when it’s a bad thing).

Why not take advantage of this?

If we are having a tough time getting a habit to stick (and still relying on that good old “will-power”), investing may be our saving grace.

THE 3 INVESTMENTS

  1. Spend time and energy researching, planning, and learning how to accomplish goal.
  2. Spend money on our goal: Coaching, training materials and equipment, food and supplements.
  3. Spend social value by making public commitments (you don’t want to look like a flake do you?).

The only hurdle that will remain is giving yourself permission to spend on these things.

I’ve met enough people who find $40 too expensive for a piece of fitness equipment yet wouldn’t bat an eyelash spending that same amount in cigarettes or eating out for the week.

It’s not a money or time thing, it’s a priority thing. And even though we say our goal is such-an-such, we do not really give it high priority. We don’t do this because we’re scared of the failure, work, and responsibility that might come along with it.

I’ve been there. Heck, I’m still there. Knowing that I have to “pay to play”, however, allows me to make those necessary investments. From there, things seem to just take care of themselves.

The question you will have to ask yourself: “Am I moving closer to my goal?” 

If the answer is no, you may be too cheap.

Spend more.

FAT LOSS, MUSCLE GROWTH, AND THE ARCHER’S PARADOX

arrow2

FOCUS LESS

There is power in the ability to see the trees and the forest at the same time.

Archers, for example, aim slightly off the target to hit the middle (that’s the paradox).

They do this not only because the arrow bends (and throws the trajectory off slightly), but because over-focusing causes less accuracy.

When aiming for our targets, fat loss or mass gain, it’s no different. Overfocus here causes us to zoom in on only a couple of variables (be that calories or some certain “rule”) while neglecting the rest. Often, it is our health that pays the biggest price. Like I talked about in Why Chasing 6 Pack Abs May Make You Fatter, once our health goes, so does our results.

WE DON’T HAVE TO AIM AT THE CENTER

I’ve had clients lose twenty-to-thirty pounds without giving them a diet just like I, myself, have gained muscle without focusing on muscle growth.

The key is to aim slightly off to the side.

  • Instead of dieting and counting calories, eat more foods (greens, fiber) that cause you to naturally eat less.
  • Instead of adding more arm and chest exercises to build your upper body, do hormone-stimulating exercises like squats and deadlifts.
  • Instead of logging 5 hours a week on the treadmill, sleep more.

The point is that THIS is all related.

If you focus on changing one variable, you risk changing them all. If you do not know which variables these are, then failure is likely.

HOW TO USE PROCRASTINATION

using procrastination

You’re putting something off.

I don’t know what it is, but you are.

So am I.

The truth is, we all have something that we should be doing right now, but for whatever reason we aren’t. Rather than explain how to beat this procrastination, instead I want to show you how you to become better at it.

There is no sense in denying whats in our blood: We are phenomenal at delaying important action.

This quote (stolen from Jon Goodman) explains this nature well:

“Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him [to] do it.

However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”– John Perry

This last sentence (bolding is mine)  is where the gold is.

So what does this mean?

In order to do the things we have been puttin up on a pedestal, we have to make them less important. We don’t do this by simply believing they are but rather by putting more important stuff on our plate.

AIM ABOVE YOUR MARK

  • If your goal is to start working out 3 times a week, aim instead to compete in the Crossfit games.
  • If you have been putting off writing for magazines because “it’s important” (like I have), aim  instead to write a book.

Whatever it is you want to do, you have to make it seem less important (because these are the type of activities that us procrastinators like to do).

Don’t be realistic, be audacious.

This is how we use procrastination.

THE 4 KEYS TO WINNING RACES (WITHOUT RUNNING)

She was ahead of me for 99.9% of the race.

It was a 5k and despite only having one run under my belt in the past 6 months, I was sitting in second place and 1 minute behind her at the half-way point.

I am not really a competitive person but I felt the urge to win. Not because I wanted to be put up on an altar, but so I could have a platform to say this:

We don’t have to run to be a great runner.

So with that fuel,  I passed her 50 feet before the finish line.

It wasn’t a stellar time by any means (21:36), but I have done this before. I have purposely chose not to train in the conventional way and placed high in races (best time in 5k is 19 flat).

I don’t train this way to be different.

I train this way because conventional distant training will beat you up. With enough miles, running eats up your muscle and testosterone while paving the way for muscle imbalances and inflammation (from cortisol release).

For many people, running is antagonistic to their goals (of looking awesome and being strong).

Still, however, it has its place. For some, it supplies a “high” like no other, and for others, their sport or job relies on it.

This is for them.

HOW TO BECOME A GREAT RUNNER

1. THE MIND COMES FIRST

Anyone who has ever ran will know how big a part the mind plays. Usually, when people slow down (or never get going in the first place) it is the mind that fails first.

The thing is, the mind will tell us some crazy stuff in an effort to get us a quit and the only way to silence the sewage that it will be producing is to learn how to coach yourselves. This mainly entails what we should say to ourselves and how we should think about what we are experiencing. There are plenty of psychology books out there that can help you with this and I will be dropping my own flavor some time in the Fall.

2. TRAIN THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM

I said it once and I’ll say it again: We Do Not Have To Run To Get In Shape.

I’ll make it easy on you and summarize that link in one sentence: Instead of running, do other things that make breathing tougher.

For myself, this means lift heavy(ish) weight with little rest in-between and/or for high reps. The demand that this will put on our cardiovascular system will be much higher than a 1 – 3 mile run ever could produce (Don’t believe? Test it with a heart rate monitor).

Still, however, this will not be enough. For most people, they will first have to work inside-out. They will need to clean up inflammation (from a combination of sleeping more and slightly better eating) and they will to need to clear up any deficiencies. The big deficiency that will wreak havoc on our breathing (which I have personally experienced many times) is that of the magnesium deficiency (read about that here).

Other than that, if you want your system primed to go, try supplementing with caffeine/coffee. Any stimulant will activate the fight-or-flight mechanism and in doing so, open up the air passages.

One last thing, please learn how to breathe. Mouth should be wide, movement should be seen in stomach and not chest, and you should literally sound like an air machine. Below is a video of me running a hill last year with a 60 lb vest on.

 

3. DEVELOP THE POSTERIOR CHAIN

Most runners already have decent quads and calves, but their posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) tend to be lacking.

This posterior chain, when developed, is what allows us to go fast. When it’s not, however, than it can be tough to “get up and go” no matter how much juice we put in to it.

If you look at the picture at the top of this post, note the difference in our form. We were both running as fast as we can, but she is still in “quad mode”.  Her back leg is bent and there is no push from her backside. Now look at me. My back leg is almost fully extended and I am getting a huge push from the all-mighty gluteus maximus and glorious hamstrings.

This is how animals such as cheetahs and tigers cover a lot of ground in such a short amount of time and this is how we should finish races.

To be able to do this, we must make sure we are doing not only doing glute activation exercises (discussed here) but utilizing loaded squats, deadlifts, and lunges in our program as well.

4. WORK ON YOUR SPRINT FORM

Remember when I said we wouldn’t have to run?  I lied. The truth is, we have to run a little (but it’s not as far as you think).

If we can improve our 50 meter dash time, than we can improve our 1 mile (and longer) run time as well. This is because all races (yes, even marathons) have some aspect of the race that we have to (or at least should) sprint. In fact, most runs look like this: Run fast, cruise, and then ran as fast as our body allows. The shorter the race, the more we will be relying on this.

Now I am not saying we should run the whole race like a sprinter (it’s very energy costly ), but we should at least learn how. And if you are new to running, this should be your first stop.

While I am a hardly a sprint coach and would rather direct you to youtube, here are some pointers:

  • Be on the balls (the toes) of your feet and lean forward.
  • Hands should be like closed scissors.
  • The more we get pump our arms (elbow joint close to 90 degrees), the more power we can generate with our legs

When you start off, you are going to look ugly. That’s just how it is.

I see so many people refuse to sprint, not because it’s hard but more-so because they care what other people think.

If you are able to drop that thinking, with time and diligence, you’ll nail it.

HOW TO USE THIS

If your track and weight room are very close, here is what’s optimal:

  1. Drink some coffee or another pre-workout before hand.
  2. Start with dynamic warmup emphasizing skips, bounds, and form running. (15 minutes)
  3. 20-30 m acceleration starts (10 or so) and/or vertical jump maxes.
  4. Deadlifts. (5 sets of very heavy weight should work)
  5. High intensity interval training. (no more than 15 minutes)
  6. Go home, carb up (to replace lost glycogen), and maybe pop some ZMA.

When I was serious about training, this is what I did. Now it is more lax and I don’t feel the need to combine weight lifting with cardio. Whatever the case, this is how I do “the impossible” (stay strong and run long distances fast) and I do not see why it wouldn’t work for you.

SIMPLIFY (WITH THESE)

There is already enough noise, confusion, and distraction in this complex world, and I certainly do not want to add to it.

Instead, I want to help you minimize it.

When it comes to health and fitness, here are the resources that did it for me.

Maybe they can do it for you as well.

THE 4 RESOURCES

Training / Exercise / Psychology: Elliott Hulse Strength

Elliott is a holistic strongman (nuff said, right?). He believes in becoming stronger in all areas that encompass the body and mind. If you are a beginner, you will need this duality approach to avoid many dangerous paths and methods. If you are more advanced, this will be your wake up call.

  • Personal youtube channel: HERE
  • Training youtube channel: HERE

 

Nutrition / Food: 180 Degree Health

We know diets suck and we know that “gurus” are full of it, but is there any other alternative? Can we really learn how to tune into our body and trust ourselves with our own food decisions?

Yes; Matt Stone teaches us how.

Positivity / Happiness: Joe Rogan Experience Podcast

I listen to this around 2 – 3 times a week. Most often, it is when I am walking to the library or when I am doing chores. Why this podcast is amazing has less to do about what you will actually learn on it (after a while it’s just the same old topics rehashing themselves), but more about how they talk about them.

They talk with inspiration and hope and excitement. They are positive people, and with this, you cannot help but become more positive yourself. It’s infectious.

 

Taking Action: “War of Art” and “Turning Pro

These 2 books by Stephen Pressfield are not only the shortest books I ever read, but the most powerful. Some chapters are only 3-4 sentences long but boy do they get the people going!

This brevity is exactly what we need. We don’t need more words or videos or fluff – we need something that we can easily consume that will spur us into action. These books are our energy bars.

HOW TO START A YOGA PRACTICE AT HOME: THE 5 LESSONS

Yoga snuck up on me. I was a somewhat reluctant beginner 5 years ago, and it wasn’t until I started my yoga home practice that it really grabbed hold of me. I was an off and on yoga practitioner until last year, when, on a whim, I bought and read the book The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Yoga Practice  by T.D.K Desikachar.

A renowned yogi, Desikachar’s emphasis in his book is on the importance of having your own personal yoga practice. Yoga is an individual exercise, and while classes are great, it’s the time you spend on your own, listening to the needs of your body and not necessarily the instruction of a teacher in a classroom, that you really start reaping the benefits of yoga.

FIRST LESSON: IT’S A PRACTICE, NOT A POSE

One problem many people have when they begin a home practice, especially if they have not attended many classes, is what poses should I do? Start thinking outside the box of simply doing “poses” and instead, think of your personal yoga time as a holistic “practice” meant not just for your body, but for your mind, heart and soul as well.

Practice on the mat

Yoga is made up of many parts, and in a home yoga session, you can spend time on poses, of course, but also on breathing techniques (or, pranayama), imagery (during “savasana” the time typically at the end of your session when you lie flat on your back), and relaxation techniques.

Practice off the mat

Because yoga isn’t just about the physical, yoga goes beyond the mat too. It is a philosophy that can teach you how to be in harmony with yourself, your relationships, and the world around you. Many yogis study the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, an ancient text that is celebrated and whose words are practiced and are the aim of those who want to take yoga into their lives off the mat.

SECOND LESSON: IT’S YOUR PRACTICE

It’s your practice—it doesn’t belong to anyone else. Never think to yourself that you are doing things wrong. There may be a best way to do each pose, to keep from injury and to get the most benefit—you can work on each pose individually. But in the end, your practice as a whole is yours and yours alone. Perhaps if you are doing a pose that might be done in a different way that would further benefit you, the way that you are doing it now is part of your journey. Accept it as it is and keep moving forward, always aiming to learn more.

THIRD LESSON: PLAY

The greatest thing about practicing yoga at home is that you are away from all eyes, and so you will likely be less conscious of other people. Take this opportunity to experiment. If you worry that you are doing a pose “wrong,” then after your practice, look it up online and see what you can do differently to get the most benefit out of it. But be sure to thank yourself for exploring a new pose.

Playing doesn’t just mean doing new poses, though. It can also mean wiggling your legs a little when you are in a downward facing dog, or altering your breathing patterns when you go into a pose, just to see what it feels like. Never ever be afraid to play when you are practicing at home.

FOURTH LESSON: SEQUENCE

In the Heart of Yoga, Desikachar is hesitant to give any “general” or basic “routines” since he is so adamant about yoga being adapted to your body (instead of the other way around. But he does say that, if we ignore certain stipulations, we can focus “our attention to the way we can group the asanas according to the position of the body relative to the earth and to the basic movement of the spine” (p. 41, The Heart of Yoga; Desikachar). He then provides this basic grouping of asanas:

  1. Standing poses to warm up
  2. Back—exercises lying down
  3. Inverted poses (like, back bend or bridge pose)
  4. Belly—exercises lying on your belly
  5. Sitting—exercises in a seated or kneeling position
  6. Back—a rest, lying on your back (or, savasana)
  7. Breathing—breathing exercises, usually done while sitting.

FIFTH LESSON: IMAGINATION AND INTUITION

One of the things that I do when I practice at home, is, first a series of sun salutations . Then, as I move into other poses, I will generally hold each pose until another pose “appears” in my mind.

In essence, I am “seeing” myself in my mind’s eye, moving into the next pose. I generally think of this as my intuition telling me what I need to do for my body. I also believe that these “imaginings” are a response to different sensations my body is telling my mind. For instance, if my calves are particularly tight, I might “see” myself go into downward dog, and extending the heels of my feet all the way to touch the mat, stretching out those calf muscles.

MEDITATE ON THIS

Everybody is different and has different needs than the next person. When you spend the time practicing a personal yoga that will best help your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths, you will start seeing the benefits. Or, better stated in the Yoga Sutra, 1.20, “through faith, which will give sufficient energy to achieve success against all odds, direction will be maintained. The realization of the goal of Yoga is a matter of time.”