Our brains are amazing tools. The human capacity to learn, create, and synthesize is a marvel, and those abilities have led to the wonderful innovations that make modern living possible. At the same time, however, our programming—the way we think and the way we see the world—can work against our health.
Typically, this is a product of survival mechanisms that made sense when we had to hunt and gather but make less sense when we have grocery stores and desk jobs. At the same time, we have a new set of learned behaviors that come from habits of modern convenience and the many influences that compete for our attention each day.
Our brains often hide our true potential and our true capability.
The idea of our true capability is a topic that I covered in my new book, and it became the subject of a recent blog post. The summary of those insights is this: Your opinion of yourself has very little to do with what you can actually accomplish. You don’t need to have some grandiose perception of yourself to do great things. In reality, your true potential is probably greater than you think, and the sooner you can disconnect your self-esteem from that ability, the sooner you can start realizing that potential.
Early in 2016, I wrote about a study that found that people who weigh more perceive distances as being farther away than people who are at a healthy weight. Essentially an increase in difficulty quickly shaded perception, and this force was so powerful that people who put on heavy backpacks perceived hills as being more steep.
This is your brain working against you! When things get difficult, your perception of yourself and of the challenges you face—as skewed as those perceptions might be—can make accomplishing your goal seem much harder than it really is.
Instead of letting some bad programming dictate what you achieve, try these strategies:
- Do a little bit extra for your workout each day. By a little bit, I mean things as small as adding another 100 steps or an extra repetition on a lift. Nothing extreme. This extra movement adds up overtime to burn thousands of calories a year.
- Keep a journal of your health progress so that you have a record of what you’ve accomplished. When you look at your workout from last week and see that you lifted a certain amount of weight, that can trigger your brain to think “I did this already so I can do it again,” which is a better mindset to have than “Oh boy those weights look heavy.”
- Lean on a health expert. Having a health coach and/or a personal trainer in your corner gives you a more objective perspective on what you can accomplish. The right person helping you means encouragement when you need it, a realistic assessment of what you can achieve on any given day, and a kick in the pants when you start getting down on yourself. The key here is to find someone with experience coaching people through the same kind of journey you’re on!
- Carefully listen to your body. Your body will tell you that you’re tired and that lifting a heavy weight burns, but you also need to learn when to push and when to stop. Ramping up your exercise in the way I suggest in Dr. A’s Habits of Health means adding activity slowly, giving your body time to adjust and giving you time to learn what signals are signs that you are getting a good workout in. If you can’t catch your breath, experience sharp pain, or feel nauseas, you should stop. Pushing yourself to improve does not mean hurting yourself in the process!
- Talk to your physician. If you are changing the status quo of your activity levels, you should talk to your physician about your medical history first. Everyone is different, and you should talk to an expert about your goals and your concerns so that your push to be healthier is a long term step forward.
I hope this helps! See you in the gym!