*** You’re fat and you know it! Now I’m going to tell you something you don’t already know.
You think you already know why you’re fat but you don’t. You think it’s because you just don’t have enough time and motivation to exercise. You think it’s because you love food and don’t quite have enough willpower to cut back sufficiently. You don’t have a clue!
The real reason you’re gaining weight is going to shock you: it’s because you have the mind of a well-trained athlete. Don’t laugh quite yet. Have you ever noticed how fast athletes gain weight when they retire from the competition? It’s freakish. The same reason that athletes are good at sports later causes them to bloat — they have especially “trainable” subconscious minds. If you understand the mechanism then you can learn to control your weight without diet, suffering, or an inhuman exercise schedule.
*** Weight Loss and Your Athletic Mind
Before I continue, I should say that it is true: the immediate cause of weight gain is what you eat and how you live. I’m not preaching any pseudo-science here. However, controlling what you eat and how you live is elusively difficult and I will show you why. If you think you can change your behavior pattern with sheer willpower — then you just haven’t really tried yet.
Sure, you and I pride ourselves on being rational adults, in control of our choices and our destiny. But that’s just a load of crap. In truth, we rarely ever do anything that brings us discomfort in the short run. Do you think otherwise? Go take a straight-cold shower just to prove who is in control. Go without solid food for two days. It won’t hurt you, but it will make your body angry. And the fact of the matter is that we are usually slaves to response patterns established by our bodies. Sorry but it’s true.
*** The Key to Controlling your Body is to Control Your Mind
Training your body is all about training your mind. We’re not talking calculus here, we’re talking about your subconscious mind — where deep emotions, established patterns, habits, and instant responses live. You are a trinity of sorts, 1) a lazy body, 2) a clever and fickle conscious mind, and 3) a lumbering but steady subconscious that does most of the work around here.
You probably know already that the subconscious mind provides emotional responses to reinforce “good” behavior (like eating pizza) — but what you might not know is that the subconscious is also responsible for all athletic abilities. Even simple stuff like walking or typing is a constant interaction of conscious commands and unconscious responses. For example, when you learn to shoot a basketball, what you are actually doing is using the conscious mind to burn in a pattern that develops into a subconscious skill-set. When you’ve truly mastered a move, you “no longer have to think about it”. If you’re still thinking about the mechanics of a dance step — it’s a sign that you have not “learned it” yet. That is, your subconscious cannot yet take over. Once you have “learned” the skill, your conscious mind need only call out the command and the subconscious does the action.
To better understand your psychology, let’s liken your mind to a couple of animals: imagine a Chimp riding on the back of an Elephant. The subconscious mind is like a slow dumb strong elephant while your conscious mind is like the clever fast chimp.
Chimp (conscious mind)
Thinks he’s in control
Slow learner with a vast memory
Awesome reflexes (ok so the metaphor isn’t perfect)
Usually in control
*** The Willpower Myth
The nice thing about this little metaphor is that it allows me to point out the absurdity of the whole concept of “willpower” in the sense of the conscious mind overwhelming the subconscious with a show of brute force. Seriously, just imagine the chimp wrestling the elephant. Where’s the “brute force” of the chimp? The elephant’s just going to sit on him and the game is over. That, by the way, is exactly where every diet ends when supported by willpower alone. The subconscious is a powerful part of your mind. You can control it through persuasion but not with brute force.
*** The Elephant, the Stick, and the String
In Indonesia, elephants are used in construction work because they are so powerful and yet obedient. All-day long the elephant moves hundreds of tons of stone and wood and at night he is taken to his bed of straw and tied up. Do you know how big the rope is required to hold an elephant? It’s just a little string tied to a stick driven into the ground.
You see, when the elephant was very young, he was tied with the same stick and string — and he was too little to pull free. For the rest of his life, he remembers this and never questions the superior strength of the little stick and string. Think about it.
What are you really capable of? To be blunt, you have no idea. Your limitations are defined by childhood experience — and bear no relation to your adult capabilities. Like the elephant, you are emotionally tethered by childhood ideas. Most of your adult personality is just a protective cage built by a scared child. What would you give to have the power to redefine yourself?
Now for the good news: you’re not just an elephant, you’re also part chimp! That could have sounded better but never mind. Your mind has a small, clever, conscious aspect that gives you the ability to reprogram your entire mind. That’s right, your conscious mind (the chimp) has the ability to completely re-write and take control of your entire mental reality.
This ability defines humans — it makes us the most flexible animals on earth and it allows us to train our minds to do amazing things. From playing concert piano to extreme sports, the vast power of the mind is tapped by this uniquely human capability.
*** Ok, so what does all this have to do with weight loss?
Remember, the elephant learns and repeats patterns of behavior that are taught to it — so the real question is “how to teach the subconscious”. Here’s the simple single trick that people need to understand. If you understand this simple principle then you can be the master of your own mind. You will also understand why our educational system doesn’t work (but that’s another article entirely).
Our subconscious mind ignores most of what we tell it because we bark at it in the wrong language. The language of the subconscious mind is EMOTION. Using the barometer of our emotions, the subconscious mind is able to determine the importance of any particular behavior. For example, say that you’re trying to learn a new skill. You’re working hard to learn but you are not enjoying the task and your emotions are saying “this sucks, I wish I were elsewhere, how much longer is this going to take?” Well, it’s going to take a lot longer because you’re broadcasting to your subconscious mind the message “ignore this activity, just move along, there’s nothing to see here.” What was your emotional state, and how easily did you learn in high school?
It may not feel like it but you’re in full control of your conscious emotions. And this is the fundamental method of programming the subconscious mind. It is, without a doubt, a form of natural hypnosis. Whereas traditional hypnosis works by moving aside the conscious mind, emotional programming works by using the conscious mind – but to the same effect.
Now for the dark side: remember how I mentioned that there are three aspects? Body, conscious and subconscious? Well, as it turns out, your body is busy programming your subconscious mind all the time. For example, you’re hungry so you bite into a slice of thick cheesy pizza — at which point your body screams out (on an emotional level) “this is good activity, very very good activity”. Food cravings are actually subconscious patterns based on years of such programming.
*** Thankfully, the mind is fully reprogrammable.
Now that you understand the basic mechanics of programming your mind, you can put it into practice right away. What you are going to do is to replace food cravings with exercise cravings. This technique is fun and very powerful because, rather than working against years of food programming, you’re going to do some mental Ju-Jitsu and simply translate an existing food craving into a desire for exercise. Magic? It’s better!
It’s quite simple: first of all, you’re going to stop eating for a while (non-sugary drinks are ok). This is not a diet plan, we’re not yet trying to lose weight. We’re just trying to stimulate a hunger response. Now, when you begin to feel the initial sense of hunger, do this:
Breathe in deeply, relax, and feel the hunger — then don’t think of food. Instead, imagine yourself doing sit-ups and absolutely loving it. That’s right, visualize yourself hungry and doing sit-ups and let a feeling of joy and satisfaction flood over you. Then return to whatever you were doing.
In a few minutes, when the next pang of hunger comes, repeat this mental exercise. Keep it up for an hour or so and then go have a light snack. While you are eating (especially while you are eating) visualize yourself doing sit-ups and loving it. Associate in your imagination hunger, food, situps, and joy.
*** Hunger, Food, Sit-ups, and Joy? He’s Crazy
Perhaps, but what you are doing is linking a desirable behavior to a very well-established response pattern. You will be amazed at how you can use this technique to stimulate a deep urge to do sit-ups. The mind is truly amazing.
By the way, after a few days go ahead and give in to the urge to do some sit-ups. As you exercise, make sure to continue the emotional feedback by “letting” yourself enjoy the exercise. If you feel yourself not enjoying the process, take control of your emotions right away or stop exercising. It’s not worth sabotaging your work to burn a few extra calories.
Don’t push your body, push your mind! Your mind is the only gymnasium that really matters. Eventually, your mind will push your body and you will be able to enjoy the process.
I remember several years ago when I first experimented with this technique. As I started craving sit-ups, I realized that doing sit-ups would physically relieve any sense of hunger for an hour or so. I thought I had stumbled upon the strangest diet plan ever, the “silly, happy, situp diet”. But really, what I had discovered was the ability to consciously sublimate deep cravings to accomplish the desired objective.
The mind is amazing but it just doesn’t come with a user’s manual. Most of the time it works pretty well on autopilot so we rarely learn to pop the hood and explore its full potential. That’s a shame because most of what we want in life — success, happiness, health, good relationships, the satisfaction of achievement — these things are all within our reach and the only thing holding us back is, you guessed it, a string and a stick.