Carbohydrate Addiction: How Birdseeds and refined sugars may alter Brain Chemistry

Carbohydrate Addiction:
How Birdseeds and refined sugars may alter Brain Chemistry

In the previous article I eluded to the fact that high-carb diets can disrupt our brain chemistry. This will be the subject of this article.
In the practical guide to Paleo I distinguished which foods are high in carbohydrates.
I also stated that some high-carb foods may be consumed in moderation (like fruits, nuts, starchy vegetables/roots, dark chocolate and red wine) and that others should be avoided altogether. These foods to avoid include ground-up birdseeds (wheat and other grains in the form of breads, pasta, cake, cookies and similar processed foods), sugar water (soda’s/sugary beverages), candy and rice. In this article I will focus on one of the reasons (among other reasons) why these foods should be avoided. In this text I will cover the neurological part of the story. I will explain how high-carb processed foods mess with the way our brain functions and results in an impaired emotional state (how we feel), as well as a numbed motivation in striving after worthwhile goals in life.

Personally, I like to feel Joyous for no reason and be excited to take action towards my aspirations when I wake up in the morning. This is how I felt when I was a kid, but for some reason, this zest for life left me as I grew older. I didn’t know why it happened, but it did and it also happened to most of the other people around me, so I figured that it was just a normal part of growing up. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Recent research has shown that brain chemistry is influenced by food intake and that it is possible that certain foods (high in carbohydrates) can be addicting. Let us start by investigating the:

Components of addiction

Avena, Rada and Hoebel (2008) describe four components to addiction:
Bingeing, withdrawal symptoms, craving and cross-sensitization.
Bingeing means that an animal will consume excessively large amounts of the object of addiction. Withdrawal includes symptoms of anxiety and depression. Craving indicates an intense desire for the object of addiction when it is not available. Cross-sensitization is when an animal is becoming more prone to use other addictive substances as a result of being addicted to one particular thing (an animal addicted to sugar will also show signs of being more prone to other addictive substances like drugs).
If these four components are present, we can speak of addiction. Furthermore, addiction rests on a lack of conscious control by an individual. It relies on the impulsivity to indulge in the object of addiction.

In everyday language, it means: “I do it because it makes me feel good.”

People engage in addictive behaviour because it boosts their emotional state in the short-term, while it has negative effects in the long-term. Let’s explore how this works in the brain. First (1) I shall cover the most important brain system that is involved in addiction, then (2) I shall go into how brain processes are influenced by high-carb foods (and other addictive substances and behaviours) and after that (3) I shall elaborate on what real-world implications these have for us as human beings.
 

The Endogenous Reward System

There is a set of brain structures that are believed to be operating in concert in assessing the probability of rewards and punishments in any given situation (Boksem & Tops, 2008). This set of brain structures is referred to as the Endogenous Reward System and it consists of midbrain Dopamine neurons, the Orbitofrontal Cortex, the Basolateral Amygdala, the Insula, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, the Nucleus Accumbens Septi and the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA). This reward system makes evaluations about the expected rewards and costs of engaging in a particular behaviour and motivates the individual into action if the outcome of these evaluations is considered to be valuable.

In other words, the system weighs the likelihood of reward against the energetic costs of engaging in the behaviour and if the rewards outweigh the costs, the person will act out the behaviour. The chemical that operates within this system is the neurotransmitter Dopamine. Dopaminergic reactions between brain cells (neurons) are what motivate us into action and steer us in the direction of outcomes that will be rewarding for us.
According to Jeanette Norden PhD (2007): “This is the system that allows us to tap into the Joy of life and allows us to engage in the world.”

The Reward System is what modulates our motivation levels to engage in life’s activities. When it functions optimally, it steers us into the direction of things we value and Dopamine (probably in concert with opioid systems and other neurotransmitters like Norepinephrine) is what drives our motivation to fuel our actions to go after what we want and value.
However, it is possible for this system to be disrupted by substances and behaviours that influence Dopamine release in these brain structures.
Science has revealed that all addictive substances involve projections from the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) to the Nucleus Accumbens Septi (Nacc) (Norden, 2007) in the Reward System. Avena, Rada and Hoebel (2008) have found that sugar does just that and thus, is a candidate for an addictive substance.

High-carb foods may release excessive amountsof neurotransmitter in the brain

Like I stated, the Reward System steers us in the direction of things we value.
Food is a pretty important thing for humans, so it should come to no surprise that Dopamine pathways in the brain are influenced by food.

Back in Paleo/Primal human’s time, carbohydrates were very scarce in the foods humans found while hunting and foraging. Fruits (high-carb food) were seasonal and mostly available in summer. Root starches (high-carb food) were hard to eat as you have to boil them first. Honey (high-carb food) was only reserved for those brave enough to mess with beehives (and lucky enough to find them). The staple foods consisted of meat, fish, fowl and eggs which are high in fat and protein. Vegetables contain little to moderate amounts of carbohydrates. Agriculture was not invented yet and Coke and Pepsi were not around either. Carbohydrates were a lot scarcer as compared to the present day. As a result of this, our Reward System notified us whenever we found high-carb foods like fruits and honey and urged us to indulge in them. Better to consume all fruits in summer as they will not be available in winter. Our ancestors simply did not have the same access to high-carb foods that we have today.

The research of Avena et al. (2008) may give us an indication of what happens to an animal’s brain chemistry when it is fed man-made foods high in carbohydrates. In most of these experiments, rats were divided in four groups: (1) rats that had intermittent access to sugar and chow (regular rat feed), (2) rats that had unlimited access to sugar and chow, (3) rats that had intermittent access to chow and (4) rats that had unlimited access to chow. The intermittent access groups were deprived of food for 12 hours, whereas the unlimited access groups had food available continually. Rats in the first group were found to binge more (Avena and Hoebel, unpublished) than rats in the second group.

Also, rats in the first group showed more signs of withdrawal symptoms:

These sugar dependent rats show signs of anxiety and depression.

Additionally, research also supported the other two components of addiction (craving and cross-sensitization) (Avena et.al., 2008). These findings suggest sugar to be a potentially addictive substance for rats, especially under conditions of food deprivation. Also, alterations in brain chemistry (involving Dopamine, Opioids and Acetylcholine) similar to those in drug addiction are found in rats that are addicted to sugar.

One limitation of these experiments is that they are done with rats. A rat’s natural diet is very different from a human’s diet. In fact, when investigating the rat diet, we find that the term ‘birdseeds’ is quite incomplete, RODENTS EAT IT TOO. A rat is quite a diverse eater; they are omnivores and can eat pretty much any type of food.
Second, the substance that was used consisted of either glucose or sucrose (which breaks down into one fructose and one glucose molecule) provided in a liquid to the rats. This makes the used substance likened to a soda/sugary beverage, a liquid with a concentrated dose of just carbohydrates. I don’t want to implicate that which has not been proven yet, so there may be a possibility that these findings cannot be generalised to humans and not be generalised to all high-carb foods.
However, these findings do raise some very interesting questions that are worth investigating. What if a high-carb diet DOES alter our brain chemistry? I know I’m not going to sit around for the research to roll in and confirm these ideas that I have EXPERIENCED to be true. Why not do a n=1 experiment and see what happens when you cut way back on high-carb foods? It certainly is an area worth investigating.

“But wait a minute, I’m not addicted!”

If we look at the components of addiction and at most peoples eating style, it becomes quite clear that most of us don’t qualify as being addicted to sugar. However, that does not necessarily mean that we are free from the detrimental effects that high-carb eating may bring. Just because we are not hospitalized and ‘out-of-control’ addicts does not imply that we do not have any of these addiction symptoms (although in milder forms). Aside from that, it’s kind of hard to tell whether we are addicted to high-carb or not, as people have constant access to high-carb foods. The only way to find out whether you have withdrawal symptoms is to limit high-carb foods for a while.

When I started eating less high-carb foods when transitioning into the Native Human Eating Style (Paleo/Primal), I found that I was HIGHLY dependent and addicted to carbohydrates. I found that at first my motivation and mood levels dropped significantly when ditching grains and refined sugars. This was not because of the new foods I started eating, but because I stopped eating the addictive substances that are high-carb foods. It was an insane emotional crash that took a couple months to recover from. You can read my journey about it here. Fortunately, my brain chemistry restored itself and (because I had studied the neurology of all this) I intuited what was going on with me and I managed to pull thru the emotional and energetic low and stick to eating flawless Paleo/Primal. It wasn’t easy and my family and friends thought I was fucking crazy for persisting with it.

 

Dopamine Receptor Balance

I have not gotten into the specifics of how our brain chemistry is altered by sugar (and other addictive substances and behaviours) yet, so I will proceed in explaining what happens in our brains during the addiction process. Let’s start with the basics of neurotransmission in the brain.


Activity and connections between neurons (brain cells) are made by means of neurotransmission. Neurons have axons that they use to connect with other neurons. This axon (which sort of looks like a tail or tentacle) connects with another neuron and between these two neurons a space (called a cleft or synapse) is created. If the axon of the first neuron gives a positive electrical signal (called an action potential), amounts of neurotransmitter are released into the cleft/synapse.

On the other side of the cleft/synapse, the other neuron has neurotransmitter receptors to which the neurotransmitters can bind. This binding process stimulates electrical activity in the second neuron, and might further facilitate an action potential in the next string of neurons. After the binding process, some of the neurotransmitter goes back into the axon of the first neuron (this process is called re-uptake) and others are broken down in the cleft/synapse.

Now, that’s a lot of neurological terms (if you’re new to brain chemistry), so I want to focus on three of these, namely:

  • (A) the amount of neurotransmitter present in the axon of the first (pre-synaptic) neuron
  • (B) the amount of neurotransmitter present in the cleft and
  • (C) the sensitivity of the neurotransmitter receptors of the second (post-synaptic) neuron.

A healthy neurotransmitter receptor balance is when the brain has adequate amounts of neurotransmitter reserves (A) and receptors are sensitive (C) enough to natural amounts of neurotransmitter that are being released into the cleft (B) under normal everyday circumstances. When there is a healthy neurotransmitter receptor balance (among other things), an animal will feel good and be motivated to engage actively in life.

 

Overstimulation leads to neurotransmitter deficiencies

In the addiction process, something happens to the neurotransmitter receptor balance. Addictive substances and behaviours release high concentrations of Dopamine within the Reward System. For a short time period, amounts of Dopamine in the clefts (B) are elevated. The person experiences this as an emotional high or a feeling of euphoria (Norden, 2007). This emotional high is followed by a low, because the high doses of Dopamine deplete the amount of neurotransmitter present in the axons of the pre-synaptic neurons (A).
In other words, addictive substances and behaviours deplete neurotransmitter reserves by releasing a large dose of them in a short period of time. As a result of this, during the period following the emotional high, less Dopamine will be released during natural everyday activity. Also, there are more long-term effects of these excessive high doses of Dopamine that are released into the synaptic cleft (B). During the emotional high, post-synaptic Dopamine receptors (C) have a lot of neurotransmitter binding to them. In reaction to this, post-synaptic neurons will down-regulate the amount of receptors, as well as the sensitivity (C) of those receptors (Norden, 2007). This is how a tolerance is built up to an addictive substance. “Tolerance is a gradual decrease in responsiveness, such that more of the substance is needed to produce the same effect.” (McSweeney et al., 2005, as described in Avena et. al., 2008).

In other words, you need more of the object of addiction to achieve the same emotional high as the initial hit. This increases craving, which leads to more bingeing and keeps the addiction in place. In the meantime, Dopamine receptors get more and more desensitized and the neurotransmitter receptor balance gets worse and worse. In emotional experience, you grow more and more numb and you become less and less motivated and excited by life.

 

Restoring receptor sensitivity & natural neurotransmitter reserves

The only way to restore healthy neurotransmitter receptor balance is to quit the addiction and to endure the emotional low of withdrawal symptoms. After a while (couple weeks or months, depending on the severity of the neurotransmitter receptor imbalance), receptor sensitivity and neurotransmitter reserve restore themselves. This is not a pleasurable experience and a lot of people relapse back into addiction because they can’t stand the emotional low (plus, they also need to deal with other responsibilities and people in life). Everyone likes to be around a fun, joyous and excited person, not someone in an emotional low, which makes it more difficult for a person to quit. In the end, when a healthy neurotransmitter receptor balance restores itself, it’s totally worth it though, as stable energy levels, positive emotionality and motivation will eventually re-emerge. When natural Dopamine levels and receptor sensitivity are back, motivation to engage in the world is back as well.

 

Motivation is Healthy Wanting: a Functional Reward System

But that’s not the end of it, as it turns out there are more brain chemicals that may be effected by high sugar intake. In neuropsychology, a distinction is made between ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’ of an acquired reward. Dopamine covers the wanting part (the pursuit of a reward & what sets us in motion to go after what we want), but Opioids and GABA/benzodiazepine systems are found to be associated with ‘liking’ (Berridge, 1996), the experience of attainment and the pleasure of consuming the reward.

Enjoyment is Healthy Liking

How come people in today’s society are so dissatisfied with what they have, even though they have more luxuries than ever before?
Here’s your answer. Enjoyment and Appreciation of goods has little to do with what you’ve got materially and EVERYTHING to do with healthy and functional brain chemistry.
Neurological systems like the Reward System and the Opioid System (as well as the Locus-Coruleus Norepinephrine System and other neurotransmitters like Serotonin, etc.) are quite complex and interact with each other in our brains and create our experience of life. Obviously, it isn’t as simple to say things like: Dopamine is the brain chemical for motivation, Opioids are for pleasure/pain, Serotonin is for our moods, and Norepinephrine is for arousal. These systems all interact with each other and it’s all about what behavioural tendencies are observed to be correlated with activity and deficiencies in certain neurotransmitters.
In spite of the complexity, I intuit there is much value in understanding the processes I’ve described above and trying out new things and seeing how they affect your experience of life. See if you can identify a couple of addictions you might have, make a conscious choice to quit that addictive substance or behaviour for a prolonged time period, and then see what happens. You may end up with an improved quality of life.
To conclude this article I will state the following:

A distinction can be made between two ways to live life:

You can either actively explore, try lots of different things and
find out what works by first-hand experience.

OR

You can wait for 100% proven scientific findings
to arrive until you try something new.

I love science and I am very thankful for the kind of new findings that Avena, Rada and Hoebel (2008) (and many other great scientists in other fields) have brought to the table. However, it is a fact that science has so much more to uncover and that there are things in life that science may not even be able to investigate. I know I cannot let science be my sole guide for action, as I would be missing out on so many possibilities and opportunities that might enhance the quality of my life. The Native Human Eating Style (paleo/primal) was one such thing and I’m glad I applied it in my life.

Peace,
Edje Noh

Reference List

Avena, N.M., Rada, P. & Hoebel, B.G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 32(1): 20–39.

Berridge, K.C. (1996). Food reward: brain substrates of wanting and liking. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 20 (1):1-25.

Boksem, M.A.S. & Tops, M. (2008). Mental Fatigue: costs and benefits. Brain Research Reviews, 59, 125-139.

Colantuoni, C., Rada, P., McCarthy, J., Patten, C., Avena, N.M., Chadeayne, A. & Hoebel B.G. (2002). Evidence that intermittent, excessive sugar intake causes endogenous opioid dependence. Obesity Research 10 (6): 478-88.

Norden, J. (2007). Understanding the Brain, TTC Video.

 

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Utilize Everything, Take Risk, Don’t Settle, Practice over Perfection & Words of Thanks

Principle:
Utilize Everything & Take more Risk

In changing behaviour, there will be an element of uncertainty and challenge involved in going outside of the ranges of how I normally act (my comfort zone/safe haven). This visceral feeling of tension that I experience when doing something new or challenging can be framed by my mind in different ways.
My mind creates the context for this physical sensation by labelling and interpreting it in a certain way. For instance, some people get excited when they experience this feeling of tension whereas other people may become very self-conscious and anxious; it’s all in how they relate to their sensations.
For example, I used to resist these sensations and get nervous just prior to doing a presentation before a group of people, whereas nowadays I just let those feelings come over me and use them to become more grounded, focused and present to the moment. These sensations come up for a reason, and if I don’t resist them, they can be utilized in ways to assist me.
It’s kind of like that old-school game Tetris; the key to success lies in utilizing the blocks that I am being presented with. It’s the same in Life; I focus on finding a way to leverage and utilize everything that shows up.

When I relate to tension and uncertainty in such a way that challenging my limits is experienced as exciting, I can start taking more risks in Life. Bringing down stress levels and completion helps to achieve this and will help me to get reacquainted with my need for exploration. After I restore this natural sense of adventure (that is intact in the young child) I will be able to relate to taking risk as fun and exciting.

Parents, peers and caretakers sometimes like to downplay the need for exploration in children (which is definitely a form of abuse in my opinion) and to act more ‘safe’ and ‘careful’.

People teach their children:
“Don’t expect too much, don’t set your standards too high. Don’t aim high, because you will be disappointed when you fail. Just settle for this low-risk Life like everyone else and you will do just fine, as you will grow to love the boring easiness and comfort of it.”

Why the fuck would I be disappointed if I give my all and fail?
I can feel good about myself for putting it all on the table, trying something new and going at it with full conviction.

“It’s not the victory that defines the man, it’s the fight.”
~ Pook ~

The real issue here is that same uncertainty of cognitive dissonance I wrote about in the section on goal-setting. Human beings have an innate tendency to not want to waste time and energy in vain, as this lowers our chances for survival.
People do not want to end up investing a whole lot of effort into a new behaviour, only to have it not result in anything of value.
If I engage in a new activity and invest energy into it, I want to have something to show for it. This is called outcome-attachment; I am invested in the results of my actions.
The challenge for human beings has always been to become ‘free of the fruits of our labour’. The only way to live this wisdom is to override this innate tendency and just laugh at myself whenever I do something that doesn’t yield me any positive results.
The only thing to take away from a failed action (investment of time/energy) is to frame it as an opportunity to become more indifferent to failure and to stop taking myself and ‘looking good’ so damn seriously.

“You don’t surrender to your dreams…”

…and have an anxious need to achieve them, or else I’m a total loser. I do what the fuck I want (in terms of the current goals that I have), I act to the best of my ability (given the current resources that I have available), I enjoy the ride as much as possible and see how it all turns out later when I reflect.
If I fail, I’m still a hero by my own standards as I’m playing an authentic game that is in alignment with how I want to live Life and my current understandings. I don’t win if I play and succeed at the society game that the masses are adhering to. That is me settling for something someone else decided for me.

“You surrender the one thing you’ll never have: Control.”
~ Dan Millman ~ 

I can’t control outcomes, so I let go. My only concern is whether I live in alignment with what I want and my current understandings, that’s the real win. I change my behaviour based upon what I want in Life (my goals) and upon the development of my understandings of Life, not necessarily upon societal standards or feedback from other people (unless someone influences my goals and understandings).

My ego is always concerned with looking good so it will want to win and succeed at my goals. It will readily sacrifice what I really want in exchange for looking good. It would rather have me succeeding at society standard goals then deal with a possibility of failing at my own. Therefore, I try to keep that ego in check to the best of my ability and focus on bringing my actions and practices in alignment with my own goals (what I want) and understandings, and not live a fake Life.

Principle: Don’t settle
(give up on what you want) 

“My quest for Greatness; slowly giving
way to this Life of mediocrity.”

~ Vegeta ~

Sustainable long-term results are usually a result of sustained effort and investment of effort on a new (set of) behaviour(s). As human beings have this tendency to be attached to outcome and want results as fast as possible (instant gratification), it is possible that I will give up on my goals when I don’t achieve what I want. Research shows that human beings will stop attempting an action when they meet with repeated failure, as they learn that trying is futile.

This phenomenon is called learned helplessness, as people learn from repeated failed attempts that they are unable (and thus, helpless) to be successful in what they’ve set out to do. The reasoning goes like this: Try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, and they eventually conclude: “I can’t do this is. This isn’t possible.”

In reality, it may perhaps be the case that the thing actually was possible, but that I was simply using a strategy that didn’t work. Or perhaps, positive results were just around the corner, but I just didn’t persist long enough.

To stay out of this learned helplessness trap, I am very hesitant in stating what I believe to be possible or impossible. Sure I take the likelihood and chances for possibility into consideration when I decide on what activities to put my time and energy into; but I will not so readily exclude something from being possible.

Also, excluding something from my mental map of what’s possible will also ensure that I will not realize it for myself.

I don’t like settling for less than what I want. It is a hallmark of healthy self-esteem to want to grow and enjoy new valuable experiences. I deserve what I want (as long as what I want is an authentic goal, not a superficial ego craving that comes from a sense of self-deficiency), so I never settle. I will not give up on my dreams. When someone says I can’t do or have something I truly deep down want, I discard what they are saying.
I don’t judge them for it; it’s just their doubt and positive intention to not see me disappointed. I can relate; my mind has its times of doubt as well.

Disappointment is just me finding an opportunity to feel bad when I confuse a desire with a need. When a need is not met, I feel bad, as I need it to feel good. I don’t need to have my other goals and desires met to feel good. In fact, working towards my desires and the anticipation that comes with the realization of them is actually what makes me feel great.
It’s the journey that gets me excited, the realization of my desires and the attainment of my goals are just the icing on the cake. Sure a celebration ceremony is loads of fun, but the actual game is where the real fun is at.

Once you truly understand this, you’ll find that after you realize one of your desires, you want to quickly set new ones as desires and goals give your Life the excitement, fun and an adventurous quality that people who live in settling for mediocrity don’t get to experience.

I don’t resign to how Life is; I declare how it’s going to be.
Accept reality as it is now? Yes.
Resign myself to it for Life? No.

Life and identity are dynamic, everything changes all the time.
A step in the direction that I want is just a Self-Change Project away. The first step is to take brutally honest look at how Life is and how-I-am-being as-of-now. When I have a clear sense of what I’m dealing with, I can set a direction for what I want to turn my Life into. I can declare what results I will create for myself and start designing and implementing new practices that will facilitate the realization of those goals.
In this way, I will operate from a ‘World-meets-word fit’ way of using language.

“Reality is catching up with me, taking my
inner child I’m fighting for custody.”
~ Kanye West ~


Principle:

Practice, not Perfection

Finally, I’d like to conclude this book by re-establishing the focus on Practice, taking action and implementing new behaviours in Life. Very little of this stuff will be of any value, unless applied in the real world. Sure, some of my behaviour will be altered by certain insights during reading that change the context of how I see Life.
However, for the bulk of changing behaviour I will have to rely on taking that .1% of conscious influence that I have on my actions.

It’s most strategic to apply this small portion of deliberate willpower on creating new practices and implementing these in my Life by means of Self-Change Projects.
I don’t want to get caught up with searching for the perfect set of theories, ideologies or practices before starting to take action in Self-Change. I start with basic stuff in areas that I know I can improve upon and don’t deceive myself in the fact that I’m not in control of my behaviour at times. I am brutally honest and real about where I am as-of-now, but I am also authentic in where I want go and what my goals are.
I just take that .1% of influence and invest it wisely.
I suggest you do the same.

Thanks for reading,
Edward Spruit Msc.

~

~

~

This concludes:

‘Identity is Dynamic:

 

The Workings of the Self-schema

&

Daily Practices for Self-Change

 

Creating changes in behaviour that stick!’

 ~

First published at:

http://www.identityisdynamic.com

Copyright © Edward Spruit, All Rights Reserved, 2012.
No part of this book may be directly reproduced without consent from the author,
unless quoted or paraphrased.

~

Words of Thanks

The author would like to thank the following people for their influence
on me and/or the creation of this book:

My parents and family, Werner Erhard, Arian Kloot, Tim Veldhuis, Tom Hulscher,
Rick van Tol, Koen Somers, Robin van Weert, Jeroen van het Hof, Gabor Mate,
Viktor Frankl, John Bradshaw, Robert Sapolsky, Eben Pagan, Brian Tracy, Napoleon Hill, Jay-z, Kanye West, Danny Way, Typhoon, Alan Watts, Carl Sagan, David Hawkins, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Byron Katie, Lao-Tsu, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Owen Cook,
Alex Treasure, Guy Sengstock, Mark Sisson, Gary Taubes, J. Stanton, Doug McGuff,
Peter Joseph, Ziva Kunda, Richard de Mulder, Dr. Dimitri van der Linden, Rick Hart, Douwe Tiemersma, Ken Blanchard, Brad Blanton, Martin Seligman, Robert Glover,
David Deida, Pharrel Williams, Guy Ritchie, Ayn Rand, Chuck Palahniuk, Pook,
David Shade, Kari Granger, Michael Jensen, Steve Zaffron, Kelly Starrett, Mark Rippetoe, Matt Kroczaleski, Jim Rohn, Anthony Robbins, Daniel Goleman, Dan Millman,
Miguel Ruiz and anyone I happened to forget.

~

The Identity is Dynamic Online Book Series is over for now. I will keep dropping new articles on this website on a regular basis. Cheers for now…

~

Subscribe to Identity is Dynamic if you would like to receive free updates on the online book series. Fill out your name and emailadress below to receive updates and new free articles in your mailbox:

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Investigating and Rewriting the Self-schema, Identifying my Values, Goal-Setting and Creating a Vision for the Future

Practice: Investigating and
Rewriting the Self-schema

In Part III, I suggested an action exercise on writing out what is currently in your Self-schema. Writing out the content of my Self-schema makes me aware of what kind of a person I consider myself to be and by examining what’s in there, I can also derive implications for how I conduct my Life and why I can’t act in certain ways. Also, I can see which concepts and beliefs in my Self-schema are beneficial and helpful and which ones may work in a limiting way. The possibilities for self-limiting beliefs are pretty much endless, so the best approach is to simply investigate my self-schema to see whether or not there are any beliefs in there that are limiting in the way I am living my Life.

After taking an inventory of my Self-schema I can set some goals for how I want to make any changes to it. What kind of changes that may involve is up to each individual, it’s the freedom to set a new direction for how I want to be.

You may have noticed that during this book I didn’t really give you much content that you could fill your self-schema with. You may have expected that kind of information (especially in Part III, since it covered the self-schema specifically). The reason being is that this isn’t a book about telling you what to do.
I trust that you can fill out your self-schema yourself. It is not up to me to tell you what your Life should be about. That would be pretty lame. What your Life is about is your own freedom to choose. Fill the self-schema with what you want to fill it with, not with what other people want you to fill it with.

I can re-write a new Self-schema in the same way that I wrote down the current one. I will not become that new person over-night, but I can make specific long-term goals, action practices and put those in my Self-Change Projects. By repeated exposure to new concepts, making plans for implementation and doing new behaviours, how I am being as a person will change over time.

Practice:
Identifying your Values

As content for new internally based concepts for my Self-schema, I can identify my values. My values are the things that I find most important in Life and that to which I’m willing to dedicate my time and invest my energy in. It’s a list of concepts that I want to live in alignment with. Identifying and writing down my values is a step in rewriting my Self-schema and making it more internally based. I like to write down my values and list them in order or priority and review them on a regular basis (as I may want to switch things up as I learn more, have new experiences, gain different perspectives, etc.).

Listing my values in a hierarchy of priority makes it easier to make decisions in Life. When I know what I value (find more important), it’s easier to choose what kind of activities to spend more time on and invest more energy into.
As an example, here are my current values:

  1. Health
  2. Learning
  3. Authenticity
  4. Integrity
  5. Strength
  6. Humour
  7. Presence
  8. Goals
  9. Flexibility
  10. Sexuality
  11. Creativity
  12. Optimism

It’s important to understand that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ values and that they will probably change over time depending on the phase and context of my Life. This is perfectly fine, a list of values is merely a set of concepts that gives clarity and direction, and it’s not to be followed rigidly and in a dogmatic fashion.
As it’s part of my identity, I let it be dynamic.


Practice:
Written Vision,
Daily Goals and Excitement

“Those who envision the future as based on
the past are condemned to repeat it.”
~ Werner Erhard ~

At the end of Part III I wrote about a Future-schema in addition to the Self-schema. Creating an idea and vision for where I want to go, how I want to be and what I want to realize will help direct my behaviour in the direction of making all of that real. In order to create this, I have to know what I want.
An externally based Self usually takes on the attitude of ‘what do I happen to get’, while an internally based Self asks the question: What do I want to create?
Without a clear idea of where to go and what the end goal is, I will be like a traveller who just wanders around in a random direction stumbling upon whatever places I happen to arrive at. Sure, exploring Life like this can be fun, but it can also result in me ending up in a place I don’t actually like. Therefore, asking the question: “What do I want?” and writing down the answers in terms of goals on a regular basis is a good practice.

Creating a vision for the future implies investing time and effort into thinking ahead. Setting goals and working towards realizing them is challenging and requires effort.
If by default I’m already challenged by Life (by unprocessed hurts, addictions, unhealthy lifestyle, dysfunctional relationships, structural stress, etc.), there is no way I am motivated to set additional goals in my Life. I may desire and hope for a better future, but I simply won’t have the necessary energy resources available to go make it real, so I just hope that it will happen by itself someday.
Also, in goal-setting and pursuing their attainment, there is always a sense of uncertainty (cognitive dissonance) about whether or not I will be able to realize them. As I am never totally sure if a goal is possible to achieve, there is an element of doubt about potentially wasting my time in investing energy into a goal.

This sense of uncertainty is inevitable, as a goal is always something that is not real yet; so I never know for sure whether or not I will be successful. To counter this uncertainty for a bit, the advice is usually to set goals that I believe to be realistic and attainable and to increase the difficulty of goals as I build on small successes.
Furthermore, goals work best when they are:

  • Written down
  • Positive (I want X, not I don’t want Y)
  • Stated as a present outcome (I have X, not I will have X)
  • Highly Specific (provides clarity)
  • Created along with implementation intentions (creating action practices that will realize the goal)
  • Personal (I will create X, not someone else)
  • Measurable (creating a bench-mark so I can determine when I’ve achieved the goal)
  • Attainable and Realistic


People often have this issue when writing out their goals, especially regarding themselves. They say: “But this isn’t true.” And the thing is: Off course it isn’t.
What do you think a goal is? It’s having a vision or cognitive representation of something that is not true yet, that does not exist yet. If it would be true, it wouldn’t be a goal, it would be a fact. Let’s say I have an affirmation that says: “I’m confident.” While in reality, for the most part of your Life I’ve been feeling insecure. And then I say: “That’s a lie, it’s not true. That’s not who I am.” Off course it’s not true. If it were true I wouldn’t need a goal. The point is that I start consciously choosing new things into my identity that have not been true up until this point; that I base my beliefs about who I am (how-I-am-being) based upon how I want to be and where I want to go, instead of based upon past behaviour and projections of other people.

“When I began to change guys would say to me shit like
‘you’re trying to be something that you’re not’.
What the fuck? That’s the idea.
The interesting thing is; if they met the new me it would be
a lot cooler than meeting the old me.”
~ Alex Treasure ~

Most people want a higher quality of Life, but not all people invest equal resources into clearly defining and pursuing it. I used to think this was because some people are more ambitious and conscientious than others. This belief was appealing to my ego, but lately my perspective has become that it has more to do with the capacity for challenge that I have written about thru-out this book.

Everyone wants to present a strong image and not be perceived as a weakling.
This tendency potentially leads me to avoid vulnerability (authenticity), hide my weaknesses and even deny hurts to myself for the sake of ‘positivity’. Yet, I don’t understand why I keep doing shit to get me out of pain that won’t help me in the long-term. I’ve hammered this point to death in this book, but I think it’s truly that important to address. Without proper completion of past hurt, my main drive will always be to get out of pain, rather than to jive off of positive emotionality in my endeavours in Self-Change.

Under healthy circumstances, there is an excitement that comes with living towards the realization of something you’re stoked about. There is fun to be had in looking forward and working towards something valuable and worthwhile. In the process of creating what I want, I see the new reality taking shape bit by bit; kind of like a sculptor chipping away at a piece of marble. Gradual progress, small successes and step-by-step improvements motivate to keep me going.
The vital thing to realize is that the ENJOYMENT OF THIS PROCESS is contingent upon me being complete. If there is unresolved hurt and uncompleted past in me, it will be more difficult for me to enjoy this, as my (subconscious) focus is geared towards getting me out of pain, which will naturally lead to compulsive addictions, co-dependency, rigid & narrow thought/action ranges (Part II), self-limiting beliefs and the whole instant-gratification bandwagon I wrote about in Part III.
Hence the focus on completion and taking care of my basic fundamental needs first. Tackle those basics first and get them working properly, then move onto bigger challenges.

The next and final book piece drops Friday February 24th provides a few
more principles about taking risk, settling, perfection and practice

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Establishing Healthy Boundaries, Emotional Completion, Diagnosing Addictions and Removing Lifestyle Stressors

Socio-emotional Needs

In addition to the basic human needs for air, light, water, food, sleep, strength and mobility, we also have social and emotional needs. As social animals, we have a need for social acceptance and we like to relate, be heard and be seen by our peers.

In our emotional needs, we simply like to feel good and be able to manage our own stress levels. In order to meet these needs in a quality way, I can create practices for improving social interaction, as well as long-term (not necessarily short-term) emotional health and effective stress management. Below follow a couple tools that convert the ideas in earlier parts of this book into do-able action strategies for practice.

Practice:
Establish Healthy
Personal Boundaries

In order to have a solid sense of I (or self), I must be able to establish and demarcate what includes the self and where that border stops. I must be able to draw a line where ‘me’ stops and where the ‘other’ begins. This idea doesn’t really apply to the physical world of knowing where my body begins and ends, but more to social concepts that I described in the third part of this book. For example, having the Self-schema filled out with external concepts is a asking for trouble as it bases my identity on things outside of me.
In this way, my boundary is expanded to something beyond me. As I pointed out, things that are external to me are more prone to change as they are not within my boundary of control. Therefore, it is wiser to base the Self-schema on internally based concepts that are within my boundaries of control. By basing my Self-schema on internally based concepts I can avoid the tension of cognitive dissonance and the uncertainty that ever-changing external conditions will bring.

For expressing emotions between me and another person, I do not accept negative bullshit thrown my way, plus I also do not aim my negative emotions at other people.
For positive emotions, I share them with the people I want to share them with and I’m open to positive feedback from others.

In trying to get what I want, I don’t get into covert contracts (Robert Glover, 2003); in the sense that I act nice to a person in the hopes they’ll be nice to me in return.

“Just ask, man.”
~ Fight Club ~

This is actually quite a strange phenomenon that human beings get into when they become a ‘good boy/girl’ that likes for ‘mommy and daddy society’ to take care of their needs.
I may try to be an obedient, nice citizen and then hope that I will be rewarded for all my ‘good’ behaviour. Asking for something wouldn’t be polite, as it would entail that I am taking a pro-active step in taking responsibility for getting my own needs met. That would certainly be out-of-line as I have delegated those responsibilities to the societal system.

Establishing healthy personal boundaries also includes keeping my own needs within my boundary, which is the equivalent of saying that I view my own needs as my own concern and responsibility. I don’t expect other people to meet my needs. I don’t necessarily expect another person to come in and solve my problems. I don’t expect someone else to make me happy in Life. It’s my own responsibility to make all those things happen for me.

This doesn’t mean I refuse other people’s assistance. In fact, asking for help when I need it is a pro-active behaviour. I can always ask, but I don’t expect anyone to say ‘Yes’ and get upset when they don’t. That’s their own choice, and leaving them free to say ‘No’ is a sign that I am not invested in their responses to me (my personal boundary has not included their behaviour as something to identify with). My happiness or unhappiness is not dependent on how someone reacts to me.

It is easy to see how this tendency to meet my emotional needs (to feel good) by external means is the core characteristic that underlies all addictions.

Practice: Diagnosing my addictions &
kicking them
to the motherfucking curb

Addiction is a compulsive seeking out of an external object (be it a drug, substance, activity, behaviour, stimulant or person) that will make me feel better (mood alter) in the short-term. Like I listed in Part II, there is wide variety of addictions that differ in severity and in how the underlying addiction process expresses itself. The underlying patterns are always the same.
The goal is to mood alter; to feel better in the short-term. It is an emotionally driven craving to get out of pain. It involves overconsumption of the craved object of the addiction, which leads to a temporary elevated emotional state (mood). This elevated emotional state depletes neurotransmitter reserves and desensitizes neurotransmitter receptors over time. This makes the overall default baseline emotional state be even lower than before, which makes the craving for another hit (emotional high) even more intense. This is how I get hooked on an addictive substance or behaviour. It’s easy to see which people are most prone to addiction; it are those people with the lowest baseline emotional state. According to Gabor Mate (2009), these are the people that received very little love, attention and nurturing in childhood and have seen a lot of abuse/trauma.
However, he also suggests that almost all people have mild forms of addiction.
In my view, any person with unresolved hurts from the past and impaired emotional health will have some behaviour or substances they indulge in in order to short-term mood alter. Being honest in identifying these addictions and making a plan to ‘kick them to the motherfucking curb’ (technical term) can really improve long-term emotional health and also free up time to engage in more productive behaviour. Here are some practical action steps I can engage in to rid myself of any addictions that I may have:

    • Read and understand the underlying addiction process that’s behind all addictions
  • Ask the question: “What things do I do in the short-term to make me feel better, which have negative long-term consequences in my Life?
  • Write out all of my addictions
  • Quit doing the behaviours, one by one, putting them into practices for Self-Change Projects

Additional guidelines:

  • I lead with the rational (logical) part of my brain, not the emotional parts as it will want me to feel good and hence, short-term mood alter.
  • Expect the emotional low, just sit thru it and know that it will get better in time.
    The low is inevitable so I just accept it. I expect that my mind will try to trick me and persuade me into doing the addictive behaviour again, so I don’t act out everything my mind says I should do.
  • I don’t beat myself up if I give in and relapse, but I just take it as feedback of how out of control I sometimes may be. I let it humble me and I just surrender to the fact I’m not always in control. Then I re-focus and re-commit to the practice once more.
  • I look to the long-term progress, not the short-term.
    I look at how far I’ve come and give myself props for that.
  • Get creative: I will find any means possible that will help me to quit.
  • Replace the old behaviour with a new productive one; it’s easier to not relapse when I’m busy working on something productive and beneficial to my Life.

Practice:
Emotional Completion

There is a reason that I mood alter with addictions. It’s because I can’t stand the pain I’m in. I want some relief from the hurt, so I grab something external to me that will make me feel better in the short-term. The real thing that needs to be addressed is the unprocessed hurts and uncompleted past that is still living on in me. Very few people are willing to delve into this and do the real yoga of this stuff, although numbers are increasing.
It’s the kind of shit I hope no one would ever find out about me. It’s tough, confrontational and forces me to be brutally honest with myself and be with experiences of pain that my mind has worked so hard to repress.

“But it’s good to sweat. There are vaults in your
nervous system, where you store whatever
pain, stress and bad memories you have.
My theory is to fight fire with fire.
You have to dive back into that trauma, go back and
do the same tricks that hurt you, in the same place.
If you don’t process it out, those traumas will find
homes in your body, hold you back.”
~ Danny Way ~

It’s a good practice to get reacquainted with the full spectrum of my experience. If there is any lingering unresolved hurt inside of me, I can get back in touch with the experience of it and then follow it down into completion in whatever way I see fit as a way of processing it. I find this works best by sharing the experiences with another person that I can trust to not judge me for any of it. There isn’t a real concrete set of action steps in this as the process is different for each person and each experience. The most important thing is that I don’t turn the experience of pain into intellectual/conceptual ideas about how I’m a sad, little person, now permanently inflicted by the past abuse/trauma.
I don’t turn it into suffering by abstracting the experience I have. I stay with the experience and follow it down into completion. That’s as much as I can say about it, as any more conceptual talk of this would only serve to put the reader further into thinking about it with their mind. You can trust your intuition on this one.

Practice:
Eliminating Lifestyle Stressors

In addition to the stressors I covered in the previous Practices (crap food, shallow breathing, poor quality sleep, improper exercise, haters, addictions and unresolved hurt), there may be other forms of stress in my Life that are robbing me of energy.

Maybe I spend too much time sitting, perhaps the air-conditioning in my house is poor, or it could be that my mind is talking too much bullshit to me. It’s a good practice to simply observe whenever things add to additional stress in my Life.
As all stress adds to the weight I’m carrying and influences the capacity for challenge that I have, it’s valuable to eliminate any unnecessary sources of stress in Life. By avoiding these stressors, I can take on more challenges in Life.

To turn this into a practice I simply have to take on the lens of looking thru the world in terms of stressors and whether or not certain stressors are beneficial or detrimental to the long-term quality of my Life. Not all stressors are negative; for instance, a solid high intensity work-out will help me get stronger (if I also provide the conditions of rest (recovery) and healthy nutrition). A traumatic experience can often be utilized into strength if processed and completed properly. As Napoleon Hill states:

“Every adversity brings with it the seed of an
equivalent advantage or greater benefit.”

It isn’t a black-and-white dichotomy of stress is bad and eliminating stressors is good.
The art is in creating a Life style in which I utilize challenging (stressing) myself so that I achieve my goals and get stronger and in which I avoid stressors that impair my health and make me weaker in the long-term.

The next book piece drops at Wednesday 22th and covers various Practices
concerning the Self-schema, values and goal-setting

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Getting my Needs met in a Quality manner & Suggestions for Practice

Principle: Getting my needs met

Human beings have a variety of needs, the most basic of which concern those that directly concern our survival. Oxygen (air), sleep and water are the most important and immediate, whereas light, food (energy and nutrition) and mobility (body movement) trail closely behind. Most of us manage to survive and meet these basic needs, but in order to thrive it is vital to meet these needs in a quality way. I can find out which behaviours will result in me fulfilling these needs in a high quality manner and then proceed in turning each of these new behaviours into action practices for Self-Change Projects.

In order for this book to be concise, I will not go into great depths in describing these practices, but just cover the basic outlines and most important elements of them.


Nutrition / Food: Stop the Carb Craze

A human body needs food for two main purposes: for energy (fuel for our bodily processes) and for nutrition (vitamins, minerals and essential building blocks for the body). To meet these two needs of my body I focus on eating the food that provides the most efficient energy and is the most nutritionally dense (packed with vitamins, minerals and essential building blocks). Energy metabolism in the cells of my body is most efficient when the hormones for energy regulation in my body are working appropriately.
The hormones that regulate energy (sources, i.e. glucose and free fatty acids) metabolism and storage in my body are Insulin and Glucagon.
Eating large amounts of carbohydrate in my diet will disrupt the optimal functioning of Insulin and Glucagon and will result in inefficient energy metabolism. I have outlined how this process happens in two other posts on Fats and Carbohydrates.

The modern diet that most people eat in western society contains excessive amounts of (refined) carbohydrates and is nutritionally poor (low in vitamins, minerals, essential building blocks). This is due to newly introduced processed foods (bread, pasta, soda, cookies, dressing, rapeseed oil, chips) that human beings never ate in the wild, as well as agricultural malpractices of destroying fertile soil, using chemical fertilizers, genetic engineering, putting animals in small cages (feedlots), feeding them crap food and putting them on antibiotics.

Native human beings ate mostly wild animals (meat, fish, fowl, eggs) and vegetation, and sometimes fruits, nuts and roots.

These foods are more nutritionally dense and optimize the hormonal functioning of Insulin and Glucagon (and hence, our energy metabolism). I outlined these eating guidelines in an article on the Native Human Eating Style. The most commonly used term for this way of eating is Paleo and its gaining more popularity across the globe via the internet as more and more people are using it to restore the optimal functioning of energy metabolism, lose excess fat stores, gain lean muscle mass, heal inflammation and even recover from Multiple Sclerosis.

But don’t take my word for it. Get informed, do the research, read, explore, investigate and TRY IT OUT for an extended period of time. You can’t trust companies, governmental guidelines and your own taste buds for what’s good food. Food companies want to make the most money by making as cheap food products as possible. This means exploiting animals, soil and ultimately the customer by sacrificing health in the process.

Social Hierarchy and Food in today’s society

Back in the early days when people lived in tribes and hunted and foraged their foods, the most dominant males got the best pieces of meat from any hunted animal, while the worst pieces were left for those lower in the social hierarchy and the dogs. This food distribution would only reinforce the current social hierarchy, the dominant high-rank guys got stronger than those lower in the hierarchy as their bodies received better nutrition.

In today’s society, the lower rungs of society are advised to eat ground-up birdseeds, fruits and vegetables from poor soil and meagre pieces of sick and weak animals. And then they wonder why they get weak, sick, fat and/or stressed out. Then the masses visit a physician in the hopes that the doctor will solve their problems. The pharmaceutical industry then exploits it’s customers by selling them drugs that only treat the symptoms of disease and have a host of unpleasant side-effects. This way, pharmaceutical companies can make mad cash. The last thing they want is for people to heal themselves and become healthy.

They would rather advise people to avoid (saturated) fats and eat a heap of ground-up birdseeds (grain) that disrupts energy metabolism, evokes inflammation, damages Gastro-Intestinal tracts and produces mood swings. In the meantime, people get weaker and weaker from eating too little quality complete protein, healthy fats and organic vegetables. Following this conventional style of eating will not support me in bringing down stress levels, completing hurts and changing in a positive direction, on the contrary.
Therefore, eating habits are one of the first and most basic things to change.

The message is simple:

EAT PALEO
SUPPORT ORGANIC FARMING

Practice: Grocery Shopping

  1. Make a list of all the foods you want to eat in a week
  2. Buy those foods (from organic sources)
  3. Eat only those foods
  4. Repeat next week

What I learned is that if it ain’t in the house, I can’t eat it. Simply don’t buy any crap food and make sure to ONLY EAT things in the house. To get an idea of how to eat Paleo, make sure to stock up and eat heaps of the following staples:

  • Organic meat (favour ruminants)
  • (fatty, small) Fish
  • Organic eggs
  • Leafy Green vegetables
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, etc.)
  • Other vegetables (carrots, beets, mushrooms, leek, etc.)
  • Healthy fats (avocado, olive, coconut, organic grassbutter)

And also include some amounts of:

  • Low Glycaemic Fruits (berries, prunes, apples, kiwi, etc.)
  • Herbs and spices (basil, rosemary, mint, oregano, etc.)
  • Nuts (almonds, macadamia’s, cashews, hazels, etc.)
  • Starch (yam, sweet potato, brown rice)

To read more on Paleo nutrition, check out the section of my website on the topic or simply do some extensive research on the internet, there is plenty of valuable information out there.

Don’t half-ass this shit. Don’t cheat and give into your addictions to shit food. Don’t ‘give yourself a break’ or a ‘treat’ of high-carb crap food. “Don’t be that guy.” (Kelly Starrett, 2010). Do it well. Eat flawless Paleo. Follow it TO THE TEE. Support Organic farming by buying their products. Give your body food it was designed to thrive on. Ditch crap that isn’t helping you in the long-term. When you stick to it in the long-term you won’t need a ‘treat’ anymore, as you natural enjoyment of healthy foods will restore over time.
The idea of desensitization of neurotransmitter receptors applies to taste buds as well. At first, vegetables will taste like nothing as your taste sensitivity has deteriorated from years of high-sugar crap. After a couple months, taste comes back and you’ll enjoy foods a lot more than you used to.

Sleep, Sun, Drink and Breath Well

For my other foundational needs I just make sure that I meet those in a quality way as well. They are perhaps not as difficult to incorporate into my Life, but vital nonetheless. For sleeping I focus on sticking to the natural day/night cycle and ensure I get plenty of sleep so that I can wake up with ease in the morning. The research shows that human beings are able to function well on 5.5 hours of sleep during the night and a 30 minute nap in the afternoon. This optimizes the quality of deep sleep in the night and the quality of wakefulness during the day. Sleeping for 10 hours a day or more can lead to flat-lining of the sleep/wake cycle, which means the difference between our sleeping and waking state starts to diminish. What this means is that you’re more sleepy/drowsy during the day and you sleep less deep during the night.

On the flipside, sleeping to little can lead to sleep deprivation, which is stressful for our system. Most people find that sleeping somewhere between 6-8 hours works best for them. Turn whatever sleeping habits work for you into a practice and make sure to experiment with short naps (30-40 minutes max) and see if they work for you.

Sunlight is another need human beings have. Without the sun, there would be no Life.
So make it a practice to expose your skin and eyes to sunlight (but don’t overdo it).
Enjoy that light.

For drinking habits, stick to drinking plenty of water thru out the day. It’s okay to drink some vegetable or fruit juice (or even some wine) on rare occasions, but stick primarily to water. Get it from a pure source if you can.

Also, Breathe properly. I focus on breathing down into my belly, not just high up in the mouth, nose, throat and chest. Utilize that lung capacity. Oxygen is one of the most important needs all animals have, don’t overlook it. For practice, doing a daily breathing meditation for a few minutes is great, but this can really be done anytime I want to. Putting attention on my breath takes attention away from my mind for a while and works to relax the body and bring down stress levels.

Strength, Mobility and Cardio

As human beings, we have necessity to move around thru the physical world and favourably do so in an elegant and efficient manner. For optimal human movement I require a few bodily conditions, namely, efficient energy metabolism, ideal body composition and mobility (flexibility) of joints.

Efficient energy metabolism is mostly achieved thru eating foods that are in alignment with how our bodies work. I already covered this idea in an earlier section about Paleo eating.

Ideal body composition consists of body fat percentage and the amount of lean muscle mass someone has. Achieving ideal body composition is also mostly achieved by eating in the right way. Cutting back on high-carb foods will ensure that my body stores healthy amounts of fat for storage (instead of too much or too little). Eating plenty of quality complete protein will facilitate healthy muscular development.

A strength training practice will ensure even better muscular development.
Short sessions of heavy lifting work best to stimulate muscle building. One can see tangible results from just 50-60 minutes of strength training a week while doing large compound lifts, although I prefer a little more training.
Below is my current weekly Strength Training Practice.

Session I (60 minutes maximum):

  • Deadlifts
  • Back Squats
  • Pull-ups/Chin-ups
  • Inverse Rows
  • Overhead Press
  • Bench Press
  • Fly exercise

Session II (60 minutes maximum):

  • Leg raises
  • Abs machine
  • Push-up variations
  • Dips
  • Barbell or Dumbbell curls
  • Triceps exercise
  • Front/Side raises
  • Fly exercise

Training Guidelines:

  • I aim for 3 sets of 8 reps MAXIMUM
  • I adjust weight so that I probably won’t get to 3 sets of 8 reps (or barely)
  • If I lift 3 sets of 8 reps, I will raise the weight on the next training session
  • I lift hard on the way up (against gravity) and slow on the way down (going with gravity)
  • I focus on healthy posture and form
  • I don’t over-train muscles; I don’t exceed 60 minutes in one session; I don’t do too many sets and reps or extra exercises working the same muscle
  • I don’t focus on how much weight I’m lifting or performance, but on challenging my muscles in the appropriate way
  • I go for slow, steady and gradual progress, not instant gratification
  • I stay away from steroids, shakes and other types of ‘get-big-quick’ faggot products.

Worrying about looks and having the ‘perfect’ body is insecure, fuelled by superficial standards projected by media that want to make money by feeding into people’s insecurities. I focus on eating healthy Paleo with plenty of quality complete protein (organic meat, fish, chicken and eggs) and being a strong guy with healthy muscle development, not sculpting the ‘perfect’ body.

Joint Mobility

Healthy muscle doesn’t just mean strength; it also includes suppleness and flexibility of that muscle. Unfortunately, this isn’t an area I have a whole lot of expertise and experience in, and the fact that I’ve been quite a stiff motherfucker thru-out my Life (due to 24-years of inflammatory auto-immune gluten/lectin (birdseed) fuck-up) doesn’t really help either. None-the-less, I’m in the process of working on this area and seeing improvements.

Muscles connecting to our joints need some love and attention too. A lot of people spend more and more time sitting these days (whether it is in school, in a desk job, in a car or airplane or just at the couch at home). As it turns out, a lot of sitting shortens muscles around the hip joints and over time, it will decrease hip mobility (flexion and rotation). The more tight and out-of-shape these muscles are, the more I will assume bad posture and poor body movement. This bad posture and poor body movement will put more strain on other bones, joints and muscles in my body (my lower back and knees, for example).
Carrying excess body fat will also add to this problem.

If you don’t want a new knee or hip later on in Life, it would be wise to spend some time investigating, exploring and researching this area and turning it into a practice.
Since I am fairly green in this area, I will put in a reference on an expert on the topic:
Kelly Starrett (www.mobilitywod.com) 

Quit the Hamster Wheel

Finally, we arrive at the topic of cardiovascular exercise.
In my view, this form is exercise is over-emphasized, overrated and over-practiced.
Most people think that they can run, cycle, row, swim and/or cross-train their way into health and weight loss. If someone is overweight, the most cliché response is to:
“Eat less, exercise more.”, which is a complete load of bullshit.

As I stated earlier, fat storage is determined by high-carb load via hormones, plus age and genetics also have an influence. Some people grow fatter on a high-carb diet than do others. I never grew fat on high-carb, my body just became scrawny, inflamed and hyperactive instead (not a very chill experience).

The reality of it is that physical activity level is a correlate to our energy metabolism. I got ‘lucky’ because I had a fast metabolism, but the problem with this was that it wore me out and made me hyperactive and unable to chill out. My guess is that this wearing out would eventually force me to slow down later in Life. If our metabolism slows down (due to inefficient insulin/glucagon functioning), we have less energy and thus, are less energized to go do physically active things.
I don’t force myself on a treadmill to burn off those excess fat stores. I put the kinds of food into my body so that my body stops storing excess fat. The amount of food is irrelevant, as satiety stops me from over-eating when eating paleo.
Yes, natural paleo foods are cool like that; they nourish me, fill me up, and leave me satisfied for hours after a meal. A natural by-product is a natural tendency to be more physically active (due to efficient energy metabolism).
I will go for a walk outside, ride my bike to places, lift some barbells, skateboard, dance, do some mobility work, but not stand on a cross-trainer to burn off some calories.

You’re no hamster, so stop running on a hamster wheel.

Quit the Hamster Wheel

The next book piece will drop on Monday February 20th and it will cover practices for meeting social and emotional needs

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Integrity, Self-trust, Locus of Control and Being with the Weirdness

Principle: Integrity and Self-trust

“Without integrity, nothing works.”
~ Erhard, Jensen & Zaffron, 2009 ~

According to Werner Erhard, an important aspect of integrity is keeping my word. Keeping my word means doing what I say I will. When I tell someone I will do a certain thing and then I go ahead and do that thing; that persons trust in me will grow.
My words are integer; I do what I say I will. When I don’t do what I say I will, I will lose peoples trust, simply because they find they cannot rely on me.

The same process happens in speaking to myself (thinking).
When I commit to a Self-Change Project, I’m basically saying to myself:
“I will go do this new behaviour.”

If then, I fail to execute and do what I had set out to do; I will lose trust in myself. If I keep failing at making changes (due to the fact I’m overstressed, over-challenged and make poor (non-strategic) plans for Self-Change), I will eventually lose trust (confidence) in my ability to bring about Self-Change.

With repeated failure, I may give up on trying to bring about changes in my behaviour and simply resign to the status quo (the way things are as-of-now).

With the loss of self-trust (confidence) in my own initiatives to bring about Self-Change, I may place my trust in someone else.
After all, my experience is that this Self cannot be trusted as a source for telling me how to act. Perhaps it would be better to go look outside for someone who can tell me how to act.
In some instances it may be appropriate to trust and rely on someone else; in other instances it may not.

In any endeavour there is a choice to either self-trust or rely on (trust in) someone else. In embarking on a journey to learn something new it is KEY to trust in someone else first. Surrendering to a skilled and adept teacher and trusting what he will teach you can greatly facilitate learning. It works much faster than trying to figure the skill out yourself and deal with the high level of trial-and-error that goes with having to learn something all by yourself. However, there are other instances in which not being able to self-trust can become problematic.
For one, when self-trust is lacking in just being who I am, choosing my behaviour and making choices about what I want my Life to be about. If I self-doubt in being who I am, I will look outside for other people to define me. Doubting in defining who I want to be, I’m like a leaf in the wind, bending to whatever circumstances happen to mould me in. I try to get someone else to make decisions for me, as the self cannot be trusted to make those decisions. Better to leave choices up to those who are certain about themselves.

There is a payoff for not self-trusting: I get to blame other people if things don’t go like I want them to. This relieves me off responsibility to acknowledge I’m wrong, plus to think for myself, as well as being willing to stand alone. Looking to the masses for what to believe and how to live my Life is much easier than to decide for myself. Unfortunately, without self-trust, chances are very small I’ll create the Life I want.

Therefore, it is important to start keeping my word and executing the Self-Change Projects like I plan them. This will gain me more Self-trust (confidence) and will make it more likely that I will:

Principle: Operate from an internal locus of control

 “True nobility is not being better than anyone else;
it is about being better than you used to be.”
~ Wayne Dyer ~

When I shift my locus of control to the inside, it means that I have a sense that I can exert a certain degree of control over my own behaviour. Even though the degree of conscious and deliberate control (influence) over my behaviour is very small (the .1 % I talked about in the previous part), I can ensure that more of my automated behavioural habits get influenced by my own degree of conscious willpower. The way I do this is by turning ideas and intentions for changing my behaviour into specific goals and action plans in the form of Self-Change Projects. By repeatedly installing new behaviours using deliberate control and conscious willpower, over time the automated 99.9% of my behaviour becomes more influenced by the .1% of conscious control that I do have.

Also, I can stop focusing on explaining my behaviour in terms of external conditions and start putting the emphasis on making declarations for executing new behaviours for a pre-set amount of time. In this way, I can shift my attention towards exercising conscious control in changing my behaviour, rather than remaining stuck with a set of reasons for why things are the way they are as-of-now. Like I made clear in the first part, Social Science (and observation in general) is taking an inventory of how the world is at this moment. It is in no way, shape or form an accurate reflection of what is actually possible.

When my mind comes up with explanations about why things are the way they are as-of-now and about why I can’t change, I just see it as my mind’s tendency to cling to the old, safe and familiar. I view it as my need for predictability and to feel secure. I cast aside the explanations and focus on the real issue, my sense of feeling insecure. Once I’ve handled that, I find my need to explain vanish and my mind more readily steers into the direction of making some changes.

Next, in operating from an internal locus of control, I should make myself the point of reference in seeing how well I’m doing in terms of Self-Change. I don’t investigate how well I stack up against other people, but I look at how far I’ve come. Instead of doing social comparison with other people, I do Self-comparison. If I compare myself with other people I can always find people that are better than me and feel bad about myself.
On the other hand, it’s also very easy to find people that are worse off than me to make myself feel better (and self-enhance). The reality of it is that none of this is really relevant. Real degrees of progress are illustrated when I compare my current conditions with where I used to be.

In this way, I can see how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved this far. This helps me to see that the exercise of my deliberate willpower has been paying off and motivate me to keep taking right action in the future.

Finally, with an internal locus of control, I no longer give so much significance to what other people’s opinions are. The feedback other people give me is acknowledged, listened to and taken into account, but it has minimal impact on how I feel about myself and how I choose to conduct my life. What other people say is not to be taken too seriously; especially not when it is destructive in nature. A lot of times when people be hating;
it’s just the crabs-in-the-bucket syndrome at work.

“If people can’t do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it.
If you want something, go get it. Period.”

~ The Pursuit of Happiness ~

I may have a tendency to listen to destructive criticism and try to defend myself, simply due to my need for social acceptance. However, gaining social acceptance, seeking approval and winning their favour puts me at the mercy of their opinion about me. The opinion of other people is an externally based concept, and when I let it fill in my Self-schema it will make my identity prone to cognitive dissonance. As a general rule, it’s better to let negative feedback from other people just fall by the wayside and focus on what I want to do. Like the Tao te Ching states:

“Seeking favour is degrading:
Alarming when it is gotten,
Alarming when it is lost.”

Principle: Be with the Weirdness

“A fool is probably not down very far from where you are
when you’re worried about looking like one.”
~ Werner Erhard ~

While seeking favour (as Lao-Tse stated in the Tao te Ching), looking for approval and caring about other people’s opinions, I will try my best to not come across like a fool. When I do so, I may end up sacrificing any unique and eccentric aspects of my true personality for the sake of looking good. In the process of wanting to make a favourable impression, my spontaneity and natural self-expression may be inhibited. This is no fun.


I used to be afraid that people would find out what a weird guy I was, until I realized how much I actually enjoyed being with the Weirdness. Acting a little wacky at times is a valuable aspect of being human and this quality is intact in almost all children.
Also, acting silly, fucking around and talking shit with friends is a great way to relieve stress and it just takes the heaviness and seriousness of Life off. There is a time and place for all aspects of my personality and to cut off or repress certain parts of Self is to limit my range for being and acting in the world. The thing is; it’s just one aspect of Life to just talk shit, joke around and act silly with friends. In some contexts I may act all serious and professional, yet in another I may act the fool. I don’t shy away from expressing wacky aspects of my personality, but I don’t force it either. Being with the Weirdness is not about acting like a fool just to get attention, behaving weird for the sake of it or being silly when I don’t feel like it. It’s just enjoyment of a natural side of my personality, expressing it however I want and not suppress it in order to make a good impression.

I tend to inhibit this part of me when I get too caught up with looking good, gaining favour and seeking approval when I’m unsure about whether or not I have social acceptance from people. It’s when I’m uncertain whether or not people will like and accept the Weirdness that I bring. Some people may not be cool with the Weirdness, but this is just due to the fact that they are not comfortable with their own Weirdness; i.e. too caught up with looking good, take Life too seriously, etc.

Accepting and being with the Weirdness is kind of similar to how one relates to the experience of pain, as expressing Weirdness is sometimes met with social rejection by peers. Social rejection, looking like a fool and being laughed at by other people triggers the same brain circuits (the thalamus, insular cortex and anterior cingulate cortex) as does actual physical pain. As a consequence, I may repress being with my Weirdness.

Ultimately, it all comes down to being cool with experiencing any kind of experience and not go into compulsive experience-altering behaviours as an escape.

Remember Wheatson:
“Wheatson was a poet,” Mykonos said, referring to a soldier he knew
who died in Vietnam. “He was a great man, capable of converting
the most hellish circumstances into poetry.”

“My friend,” Mykonos said to me, “this is what everyone wants, one way or another.
To see the horror of this place and not recoil, that is what it means to be a man.
To stand strong in this knowledge of love, even when everything hurts,
that is what it means to be free as a man. Wheatson was such a man.”

There are different ways one can relate to the experience of pain.
The hallmark of this is Jesus on the cross and how he chooses to bear the cross.
He can suffer thru it, or he can embrace and surrender to the current reality of pain.
It’s taking the pain like a man (or woman), instead of suffering thru it like a victim.
Viktor Frankl’s (1946) story in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is a testimony to this.
He shows how it is possible to create an empowering context while being situated in a Nazi concentration camp in a state of starvation, frost-bite and hard labour, with cruelty, whippings and death all around you. He somehow managed to remain open to the pain and not collapse into it. He truly understood that pain is inevitable, but that suffering is optional. Frankl was able to ‘create beautiful poetry out of a hellish circumstance’, by creating meaning thru wanting to share his insights and experiences in the camp, while everyone around him abandoned hope, because circumstances looked hopeless.
While almost everyone around him lived into a future of dreading the gas chamber or freezing to death, Frankl focused on enjoying an extra pea in his soup and was living into a future of writing his new book and sharing his message with the world.

 “Life is not the focus, the avoidance of pain is.”
~ Pook ~

Because of all the ‘fucked-up shit’ that may happen in Life, my mind may get primed to look out for trouble. As a consequence, my focus and attention is directed towards keeping me away from harm, being vigilant for any form of threat and ensuring my survival.
Alan Watts calls this aspect of my ego (which looks out for my security by making Life safe and predictable) a trouble-shooter or a radar that locates potential threats.
This radar (trouble-shooter) has a positive intention as it is simply geared towards making me feel safe and secure, but as I pointed out in the first two parts, it may also hinder Self-Change and impair healthy growth and development.

The default experience for human beings is to feel great about our conduct and to be wild, weird and spontaneous. This experience usually gets messed with by painful negative, scarring events, no adequate processing and completion of the hurts that trauma/abuse will bring, addictions, self-defeating mind-sets, limiting self-schemas, destructive habits, making poor (or no) decisions in Life and taking poor care of myself (not ensuring my needs are met in a quality manner).

In order to create long-term (lasting) changes in my behaviour, all of these issues need to be addressed and be turned into a practice of some sort. Meeting my own needs in these areas is essential to all facets of health (physical, emotional, mental).

Leading into this, the next book piece is on the topic of Getting my needs met
in a quality manner
and it will drop on Friday February 17th…

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Smart & Systematic Implementation: Enter the Self-Change Project

Part IV: Principles & Daily Practices for Self-Change

“Opinions are of very little value, it’s your commitments
(what you do with your opinions) that count.”
~ Wayne Dyer ~

“Your real values and your true beliefs are
communicated by your actions.”
~ Brian Tracy ~


Introduction

In the previous part I described how most of my behaviour is intuitive, automated and happens in-the-moment. Furthermore, I explained that in order to create lasting (long-term) changes in my behaviour, I have to work on the context of my Life, as well as creating new habits (consciously design new plans for practices and deliberately execute the new behaviours one day at a time until they have become automated and internalized).

In the first Part I wrote about how my tendency to explain my behaviour and my need for predictability may hold me back in seeing new possibilities for my future in the first place.
In the second Part I described how my need for exploration, adventure and novelty (embarking on journeys into new, uncharted territory) may be extinguished by past hurts (trauma/abuse), excessive stress, mood altering addictions, narrow & rigid thought/action repertoires, co-dependency and whether or not all my needs are met in a quality manner.
In the third Part I covered various concepts in social psychology and the mechanisms of how the dynamic Self-schema works. By integrating all these concepts I can alter how I am being. I can change my behaviour by applying the ideas in Self-Change Projects.
Therefore, the final Part of this book kicks off by describing what Self-Change Projects are and how to make them work in order to achieve lasting changes in behaviour.


Principle: Smart & Systematic Implementation

Enter the ‘Self-Change Project’

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
~ Dragonball Z ~

In order to change my behaviour I have to start doing something different. If I want to do something new, I have to know exactly what that new behaviour is and how I’m going to implement it. Therefore, I first set a goal and then create a specific action strategy of what, why, where, when and how I’m going to act. I create these plans in the context of what I call a ‘Self-Change Project’.

A project is a plan, proposal, scheme or undertaking that requires concerted effort. (thefreedictionary.com)

More specifically, a Self-Change Project concerns the implementation of a new behaviour that I want to turn into an automated and internalised habit. It is a conceptual area of my Life that I decided to create because I found it useful.
The conceptual area of the Self-Change Project may always be there, but the specific content of that area will differ. As soon as I internalize a new behaviour and turn it into a habit by consecutive execution (consistently acting out the new behaviour); I can choose to place a new behaviour in the Self-Change Project area. The reason for this systematic approach to changing behaviour is for the reason I already the described in the previous part, most of my behaviours are automatic, intuitive and in-the-moment. I only have a limited capacity for my attention (Kahneman, 1973) and therefore it is smarter and more strategic to focus my conscious willpower on one highly specific, written action plan for changing my behaviour.

This written plan should contain the following elements:
– Exact specifics of what the new behaviour is
– When will I do the new behaviour?
– Where will I do the new behaviour?
– For how long does the project last?
(estimate how long it will take for the behaviour to be internalized)


Furthermore, the Self-Change project has to take into account my current capacity for challenge. I have to assess whether or not it I will be able to ACTUALLY DO the new behaviour consistently and I have to be brutally honest about this.
“I think I will.” and “I hope so.” aren’t going to cut it. If I fail to implement the new behaviour, this will only build a negative reference experience for trying to bring about Self-Change. It’s wiser to start with a less challenging goal and succeed in turning the new behaviour in an automated, internalized habit, instead of trying something that is too challenging and failing.

Next, it is important to also address the why of implementing a new behaviour. Tony Robbins states that knowing exactly why you’re pursuing a new goal helps you to get motivated and gives you the necessary emotional leverage to succeed. Clearly defining all the benefits of a new behaviour and picturing the long-term positive effects of achieving a goal will provide me with the motivation necessary to exert my willpower in actually doing the new behaviour.

Finally, it is important to allow space for rest, recovery and renewal and not stress yourself out too much by putting yourself under too large amounts of challenge.
This is also why I focus on bringing down stress levels (from lifestyle factors as well as unresolved past hurt), so that I have more space and capacity for challenge available.

The key principle in creating and applying Self-Change Projects is to alternate between periods of (1) challenging myself by executing new behaviour (pushing my comfort zone) and (2) retreating back into the safe haven for rest, recovery and renewal.
In the next paragraphs follows a summary of what a Self-Change Project is and some concrete examples for how they work.

A ‘Self-Change Project’ is a period of time which I dedicate to installing a particular new habit into my Life. For this time period all my willpower and energy is focused on creating a new habit. This means I will do this behaviour NO MATTER WHAT.
I don’t care if I fail in all my other aspirations, as long as I do the action that is the goal for the current Self-Change Project, I’ve succeeded. If I attempt to implement fifteen new behaviours at the same time, it will be way too overwhelming to manage.
I will be challenging my comfort zone way too hard. It’s wiser to commit to a set number of days and focus on just implementing one new behaviour that I want to create a habit of. When this habit is fully in place, it becomes more automatic for me and I can implement something else.

It is absolutely VITAL that I will do the new behaviour consciously on all the consecutive days that I had set out to do the new behaviour. It is key not to move on too early to a new behaviour, before the one I’m working on is a firmly rooted habit in my Life.

So what does this look like in practical terms?

Let’s say I want to implement 3 new behaviours:

  • Sleeping from 10 in the evening ’till whenever I wake up for 5 out of 7 days of the week
  • Exercising 3 times a week
  • Quitting alcohol/smoking/any other addiction

The most straight-forward approach would be to just try to do all three at once, starting now. A Smart and Systematic approach would be to create Change Projects for each behaviour and implement these new behaviours one at a time and start with the next one when having succeeded at the prior ones. This challenges my comfort zone more adequately and it gives my mind clarity on what the goal context is for any Self-Change Project I’m in. I always know I can succeed, because I know that all I have to do is this one thing. Then, after I’ve consciously acted out the new behaviour for a couple weeks, it becomes a habit I don’t have to think about anymore and I can start a new Self-Change Project with another new behaviour.

I find that the length of a Self-Change Project should be anywhere between 20-60 days, depending on the difficulty and frequency (how much times a week do I plan on doing this behaviour) of the new behaviours. I suggest every person experiments with these for themselves and find out what works best for them.
Also, I find it really helps to write down the times I’ve consecutively done the behaviour and when I fail to do the new behaviour I start counting again. This way, I can track my progress and I don’t have to remember everything. Writing everything down gives clarity.

Example Self-Change Project:
Goals: Do ‘new action X’ every day for the next 21 days.
Day 1: Did ‘new action X’, 1/21.
Day 2: Did ‘new action X’, 2/21.
Day 3: Did it, 3/21.
Day 4: Did it, 4/21.
Day 5: Fell of the wagon, did not do ‘new action X’, 0/21.
Day 6: Did it, 1/21.

Then I keep going until I reach 21/21, give myself a pat on the back and start designing a new Self-Change Project.
I don’t cheat on this, for it’s only disabling the efficiency of my self-change.
This simple strategy is easy to do and very effective. When repeated attempts at changing my behaviour have failed, this may lead to learned helplessness (“I just can’t seem to change this thing no matter how hard I try.”)
When this happens, it works wonders to just lower the goal difficulty, succeed at an easy Self-Change project and steadily increase the level of challenge as my capacity for it grows.

The next book piece drops at Wednesday February 15th on the topic of Integrity, Self-Trust, Locus of Control and Being with the Weirdness

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