Trying to get in shape is an emotional affair. Consider the strength of these feelings:
I describe this as a “hot” approach to fitness.
It’s all about your successes or failures as a person.
It’s exhausting and often painful.
But there’s another way. You can cool things off by making a few simple changes to your mindset. You’ll get better results with less emotional wear and tear. Let’s learn how!
Mental Shift 1. FORGIVE EVOLUTION (Be kind to your inner-caveperson!)
You’re sitting at a table with a plate of cookies on it. Your eyes keep getting drawn to the cookies. You deny the urge to have one, because you’re trying to stay trim. But something inside you keeps directing your attention to the treats, and after a few minutes you find yourself with cookie crumbs on your shirt, feeling guilty and mad at yourself.
This didn’t happen because you’re a bad, weak, undisciplined loser. It’s actually the opposite. It happened because you’re a very good homo sapiens, whose ancestors survived floods, famines, and freezing nights in the wild. If any of your ancestors was presented with the opportunity for a huge plate of free sugars and fats, they would have been fools to pass it up. In fact, not taking advantage of an easy energy source would have been the dangerous, life-threatening choice.
All of those traits are still alive within you. You just happen to live in the 21st century. Do you know how a fly will bump into a window over and over again? The fly’s biology hasn’t adapted to the existence of clear glass. It’s just flying towards the light like its ancestors have done for millenia. We’re in the same position. Our bodies have no idea that there are things like food scientists, cookie factories, delivery trucks, and convenience stores. When you struggle with eating right and exercising, it’s ALWAYS because your body is being a great homo sapiens and taking care of you the best way it knows how.
This is where your opportunity comes to cool things off. You’re just a human who had the strange fortune to be born in the modern world. In most ways this is an awesome stroke of luck. You get neat things like antibiotics, double-glazed windows, and jacuzzis.
But for all these advantages, modern life comes with the burden that you have to defuse your short term survival instinct in favor of your long term health. This doesn’t have to be a “hot” experience. It can go something like this:
You’ll be amazed at how effective this kind of level-headed self-talk defuses the situation. It’s not your will vs. the forces of temptation anymore, it’s just you feeling an instinct, understanding where it comes from, and overruling it in your own best interest. Nice and cool. When you look at your desires through an evolutionary lens, you stop being so hard on yourself. Your ancestors would be proud.
Mental Shift 2: ENERGY NOT CALORIES (Electrons aren’t naughty!)
When we’re in “hot” mode, we start to divide the world of food into “healthy, clean, good” foods and “naughty, rich, bad” foods. A basket of french fries isn’t just batter and potatoes, it’s a sinful indulgence. A fresh salad with balsamic isn’t just leaves and vinegar, it’s a light, pure food that makes you a good person.
A much “cooler” of viewing food is to transcend the idea of good guys and bad guys, and start seeing things through the matrix of energy.
The basket of french fries is buzzing with energy. It has lots of oil, which is composed of long lipid chains which are packed with potential energy. That oil is covering cooked potatoes which are made of chains of carbon with hydrogen offshoots. These carbon hydrogen chains are full of potential chemical energy. The fries might as well be glowing, there’s so much energy to be had there!
The salad, on the other hand, has barely any energy at all. The leaves are 98% water and fiber, neither of which breaks down into anything combustible, and the balsamic vinegar is just acetic acid, which your body produces plenty of on its own, and has no energetic use.
If you really want to go for it, you can mentally zoom all the way down to the atomic level. The french fries and salad are made of exactly the same stuff (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen), it’s just that the french fries have their molecules arranged in such a way that there’s a lot of potential energy to be pulled out. Kind of like the difference between a stack of blocks stacked high in a tower vs. being scattered on the floor.
From this perspective, the fries aren’t “bad” and the salad isn’t “good”, they’re just two options which have different energetic densities. No moral judgment required. Maybe you ran a marathon this morning. You burned through a ton of energy. The fries would be a good choice in that case. The smart choice for good recovery in fact!
But maybe you just sat and typed on your computer all morning. You hardly used any energy at all. In this case, the fries will introduce an energy surplus in your body. You’ll then either need to exercise it away, or let your body pack up that energy into fat cells distributed across your frame. In this case, the salad will match your energetic needs much better, and not leave you in energy-debt for the rest of the day.
Of course as you make this choice your caveperson brain will be telling you to go for the fries no matter what. That’s when step 1, forgiving evolution comes into play.
You don’t have to know about chemistry for this to work. Simply sub in the word “energy” for “Calories” when thinking about which foods too eat. There’s a big hot and cold difference between saying “I can’t eat that, it has way too many Calories,” compared with “I’m not going to eat that, it has too much energetic density for my needs today.”
Mental Shift 3: INFORMATION NOT EXERCISE
With a hot, emotional mentality, your exercise tasks can quickly feel like chores. You’d much rather hang out and finish a show you’re into, but you have to peel yourself off the sofa to go to cardio or a workout. What a drag.
In time you can even get into an adversarial relationship with your exercise. You forget that it’s there to help you be your best, and it becomes an enemy that you have to slay each day, or skip and then feel guilty about.
Thankfully, there’s another way! A way that keeps you cool as a cucumber. Just as we swapped “energy” for “Calories”, swap “information” for “exercise”.
In high level physics, you’ll hear experts talk about the universe not as matter or energy, but as information. Anything that exists contains information. For example, here’s a single period:
. ← there it is!
That period tells you a lot of information. It tells you that particular pixel space on your screen is active. It tells you about the long chain of 0’s and 1’s that instruct the computer to display that dot there, not 1 cm to the left, and not the color red but black. Again, you could zoom in all the way to your device’s microchips and find the very electrons which must be moving to make that period appear there, and differentiate them from the electrons that put a period at the end of this sentence.
At its heart, information is binary. There’s either something there, or there’s something not there. Stack up enough no’s and yes’s (0’s and 1’s) and you get a supercomputer, a sports car, or a supernova. It’s all just the consequence of different pieces of information bumping into each other.
Your body is made up of trillions of cells, none of which know they’re a cell, know that they’re in your body, or even know what their purpose is. They simply react to the information that’s fed to them, like the period being told to appear on the screen by electrons deep in a microchip.
When you exercise, you’re putting a lot of 1’s where there used to be 0’s. A leg muscle that wasn’t doing much now has to flex, push, and lift against gravity. Muscle tissue is being doused with a hormone-sugar cocktail which lights up the ATP production cycle and begins breaking apart atoms to make energy.
You could sit on the sofa and think about exercising, but you wouldn’t be bringing all that information to your muscles, and so nothing would change. The only way to inform your blind, dumb cells to start shaping up is to put the new information in the system, by lacing up your shoes and getting moving.
If there were ANY other way to get this information to your cells, trust us, we would do it. But we’re stuck with the old fashioned way. A healthy body has to be given the information that lets it be healthy, and that means at least 30 minutes of movement a day. If you have a hot, love/hate relationship with exercise, think about chilling it out with some information theory instead.
“I have to workout now, ugh.” vs. “It’s the time of the day I give my body the information it needs to be fit and strong.”
Use these fresh, scientifically accurate mental perspectives to take out the heat and approach your wellness with a cool, calm mind. You'll get better results without less drama, and have more mental energy to spend on the other important things in your life.
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder