Monday, June 15, 2009


For the whole of human history, physical activity occurred unconsciously and incidentally for most people. Traditionally, at a society wide level, people have not had to actively think about ‘adding exercise into their lives’ until the last 30 or 40 years. As a society wide situation, this is a new phenomenon!

Oh sure, there have always been people that wanted to be athletes or have thought about the benefits of being physically active. The roman poet Juvenal coined the famous phrase healthy mind, healthy body over 2000 years ago, the Greeks had the Olympic games, the Romans also had Roman Army training, and various royals throughout the 18th and 19th centuries have had fitness trainers and associated health assistants.
But not everybody wants to join the army or be a Greek athlete, and the vast majority of people who have inhabited the earth over the past few thousand years have grown up being active as part of their daily lives, having to work on the land, walk to the shops, hand wash their clothing and materials, cut their own firewood, physically move files around the office or stack shelves and so on and so forth.
For many centuries obesity was not a major problem in western society. But in the past 100 years the world has changed dramatically. Firstly, with the industrial revolution, automated mass manufacture has drastically changed the way many people work and move. The rise of the motor car and the changes in urban design to accommodate this has changed the way people travel and move.
More recently with the technological revolution, the development of the computer has drastically changed the way people interact and move around at work, globalisation of the working environment and growth of the ‘working family’ also means that many more people now work full time in paid employment, again drastically changing many different social dynamics.

Old office vs New office
Obesity has been on the rise! Not because of discriminatory accusations like ‘fat people are lazy!’ or because of ‘genetic dispositions’. Obesity is on the rise because western society has changed dramatically over the past 50 years!
For his song ‘Burn to Shine’, the folk singer Ben Harper wrote the lyrics:
Funny things you learn from your mama,
like the way to throw your head back when your swallowing pills
Funny things you learn from your papa
like when you’re talking you just can’t keep your hands still
But that was now and this is then, It never lasts for long
How I miss the good old days; but I’m so glad they’re gone

If you do want to change your change your lifestyle, want to add more physical activity into your week and are trying to figure out why you may have had trouble trying in the past, I think its important to firstly realise that some of the things you learnt to do at a younger age, that may have served you well then, might now be out of date. The world is changing. Thomas Edison once said famously ‘its not the strongest of the species that survives, but the one most able to adapt to new environments’.

You may have learnt certain beliefs or behaviours regarding exercise from your parents or as a child at school or for one of many different reasons. There was probably a good reason for learning them at the time, although you may not remember it now. But its important to realise that what ever the reason was, it is now in the past. It is gone and all that is left is a learnt pattern of behaviour. And if you learnt one behaviour, its entirely possible that you can learn new behaviours too...we’ll explore more that a bit later on.

Its important to realise that you are not alone – many people are attempting to change their lifestyles across the whole of western society, including many incredibly intelligent, high achieving and resourceful people! It is also important to realise that you are not lazy and you do not ‘deserve to be obese’. Instead I would like to simply suggest that you have not yet found....
Some people who have been stuck with old unwanted habits or behaviours for a long time start to believe that they have no control over their emotions or actions. Certain behaviours become so habitual that they believe their mind is like a bouncer who has put them on the black list. As a result they have no control, and are prevented them from getting what they want.
Fortunately a researcher by the name of Dr Libit, did an experiment based around free will & free want. His research is famous and looks at the relationship between our thoughts and our resulting actions. In short he proved that when we think about taking an action, after 0.3 of a second there is a desire to move but it is the mind that decides in the final 0.2 of a second whether or not it will.
This moment in time is what he refers to as VETO POWER. The desire to move does not determine that you have to move – your mind decides whether to listen and act. What he showed scientifically was that everybody has the Free Will to ultimately choose their own destiny. We have no power over the thoughts that enter our mind (the initial short term messages our brain sends out) but we do have veto power about what we do or don’t act on.

Dr Jeffrey Schwartz is another scientist, a neuropsychiatric specialist who has done extensive research into how the mind influences the brain. His research is also very interesting and was into having awareness about awareness. For most of us we don’t stop to think how we are thinking but it is this very action that will enhance our ability to engage in new ways of thinking, which will allow us to attempt new behaviours and as a result change our lifestyles.

The act of wilfully reframing a situation or ‘imagining an alternative outcome’ completely changes the way our brain responds to external stimulus. His research follows on from Libit to show that if we want to change habits and change the way we think, by using the power of our imagination in the right way, we can decrease our connection to the negative emotion we feel around a situation and increase our cognition or connection with our preferred alternative action. He showed that when you repeatedly think of a situation in the same way, you strengthen the neurological pathways favouring that pattern of thought. This is kind of like wearing a new path through long grass. Each time you walk through the path it becomes more accessable, and easier to come back to next time.


But conversely, he showed that when you learn to think about an old situation in a new way, you utilise entirely different neural pathways in a different part of your brain (the cerebral cortex as opposed to the emotional ‘limbic’ centre. Because the cerebral cortex is partially separate from the limbic system, using this style of thinking actually decreases the amount of emotional stimulation. Its is possible to pay attention to an old situation in a new way to separate from the old emotional attachment.

To find oout how to make sustainable lifestyle change or enhance performance as an executive visit

No comments: