The brain is an amazing, mystifying organ. It controls every single thought and movement in our body. I have just completed my latest book, Rewire the Circuitry of the Brain…and Achieve Optimal Health, and the entire book is focused on the mental change required to achieve your optimal physical health goals. That's where it all starts.
Life change starts in the brain, but sometimes people try to skip that critical step and it ultimately results in failure. If you haven’t committed to “WHY” you want to change in the first place, then no permanent change will result. Defining WHY there is a need to change is the first required step towards any mental change. The WHY must be compelling enough to achieve long-term commitment or any results will be short-term only.
Mental change is hard, and it requires discipline to achieve. Most people struggle with the discipline to begin change in the first place. If they overcome the initial hurdle, they must then maintain discipline to achieve permanency. If you don't take those basic steps to define WHY before you try to get to the "how to”, you will not have a well thought out plan. This will likely result in failure.
There is a reason why 80 million people a year begin a diet and then fail to achieve permanent results. It is also the reason people buy millions of dollars of exercise equipment annually that ultimately serves as expensive clothes racks. It makes them feel good about taking some action even though the results they want are not achieved. So now they have less money and they had a “feel good” moment. I talk to people all the time who are excited to tell me, “I joined a gym”, especially in the New Year. I have learned to smile and tell them “That is great!”, even though I know 9 out of 10 will not succeed because they skipped defining their WHY. They don’t have a permanent commitment to the necessary mental change. But they feel good for a few months because they took an action. They feel like they're taking a big step toward change without knowing it will likely end in frustration.
Their brain is full of the same learned behaviors the week after they joined the gym that it was full of the week before they joined the gym. They're still likely performing the same bad habits (eating poorly and not designing an exercise program that will accomplish their goals) during that first month of excitement they were performing prior to joining the gym. Why do people do that? Why do they verbally state they want to make a change, but then not commit to the hard work of behavioral change required to achieve permanent change? Through decades of observation, starting with owning a health and fitness center right out of college, I realized the core difference in success and failure with health objectives is the mental commitment. Without a “drive”, which comes from your WHY, it is almost impossible. However, if you start with the simple fundamentals, it is totally achievable!
Back then, as a new gym owner and someone who was invested in optimizing my physical health, I was excited to share my passion with others. I had members come in with ambitious physical goals, and I was totally onboard to help them reach their goals. I could see their vision and I wanted to be a part of helping them achieve it. I poured myself into creating custom workout plans for them. They would come for two or three days and then, all of a sudden, I didn't see them again for weeks. I was genuinely concerned because I couldn't understand why they would bother to pay the money to join, come in for sessions and initial training and then just abandon the mission.
There is a reason that gyms today have their monthly payments automatically drafted out of your account! They know the statistics. A majority of people will phase out within the first six months. However, they continue to pay because it is an auto draft and they don’t see the payment going out every month. It's a smart business move. People still “feel better” because they can say, “I'm a member of the gym”. That's not achieving any change in their life except to make them “feel good”. So, what does someone need to do to change the way they think about health? I call it “rewiring the circuitry” in the brain. Picture your brain as electrical circuitry in a building. This circuitry turns on and off lights, allows multiple computer systems to function, while at the same time running all of the other building mechanicals. It's a massive system.
You actually control a great deal of how that circuitry is wired in your brain. When we start putting information into our brain at a very young age, many of us haven't really defined what our filing system looks like. We don’t have the basic knowledge to differentiate between good and bad behaviors, therefore we don’t know what information to pull from when we need a reference. We're pouring in knowledge and it's just kind of a free for all. Knowledge is registering, but it is a convoluted mess for many people, based on your environment and exposure to structured thinking. For example, if you are from a family environment where your parents help to structure your thoughts and behaviors around health or wealth optimization, then your brain is building knowledge based on their guidelines, which influences your habit formation. On the other hand, if you didn’t have that environment, you are not consciously inputting knowledge around any set parameters. Your natural DNA may be wired in a way to allow you to figure it out at some point. But the truth is most people don’t figure it out and then they struggle. The structural foundation was never established. The formative years (elementary school into high school) is when you are setting the parameters for the habits you will take into your adult life. In order to change those habits, you must take some drastic actions.
Learning to do what you need to do for your health, and not what you want to do, sounds really simple. However, when you are young, and the bad habits haven’t become visibly obvious yet, it is hard to distinguish your “need”. I started working out five days a week in my teens because I was driven to shape my body. I didn’t really understand the full benefits of the work outs to my overall physical health until later. I established a good habit of physical activity for another reason, but now that reason has continued to serve my overall physical health. I still work out five days each week to maintain a healthy body. The key is you have the ability to change the way that you think about health by grounding yourself in your WHY and developing new habits.
Your quality of life is critical to your overall life strategy. Without a healthy body, all of your other life goals suffer. I often say what good is working your entire life to achieve financial success if you don’t have the physical health to enjoy it. One without the other is a bad plan. Here's the thing, most people don't realize that discipline is learned. Let me state that one more time…discipline is learned. Many people think you are either born with discipline or you are not. You can say, “I have no discipline”, but there's no excuse for not having discipline if you want it. You can learn discipline. The military and professional sports depend on discipline, and they teach it to any new people who don’t have it. You are in control of your own brain. You control your own thoughts. You are living a life based on learned behaviors and habits. Depending on your age, you need to be realistic as you embark on behavioral change because it is likely you are rewiring decades of bad habits. If you want to change a behavior or a habit, it starts by simply deciding WHY you need to change. What is the benefit to you? And what is the cost if you don’t make the change?
Once you can answer that question, then the next step is to do it. It starts in your brain, not with a physical action. Sometimes change is more difficult simply because we don’t want to commit to the hard work. Developing discipline and rewiring the circuitry of the brain requires hard work and dedication.
Here is a fact about human beings: if we want to do something badly enough we will jump through hoops and overcome any hurdle. Everyone has their thing they love to do. It's funny how quickly you can find time for “the thing”, but you struggle to find time for physical activity. As humans, we are motivated by what we want the most because it's top of mind.
Rewiring the circuitry in your brain requires you to “want it” really badly. Once you decide, you put yourself on a path. Now that you want this thing, this thing motivates you. You have a reason for doing it. You have a reason for getting up every day or coming home from work and doing “the thing”. Whatever needs to happen in your brain to make it a priority is the key. The WHY is behind the ultimate decision.
In my latest book, I have an exercise where I ask the reader to get a sheet of paper and go find a full-length mirror. Make two columns on the sheet of paper. I want you to look at yourself objectively in the mirror. This may sound very fundamental but look at yourself starting at the top of your head. In one column, I want you to write down everything you really like about yourself physically. Everything including your hair, your ears, your eyes, the size of your eyes, the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose, your upper body, your legs, whatever it is that you really appreciate about yourself. In the second column, I want you to make a list of everything you don’t like about your physical appearance.
Maybe you like the shape of your arms but you don't like the way your calves look. I don't know what that is for you. I have my own list. Now look at the list when you get done. Add in the non-visual assets you appreciate about yourself. Mental abilities, characteristics, personality, etc. Remember, you are unique in this world. You have very clear assets in your brain that make you special. You need to acknowledge what you appreciate about yourself. Am I internally motivated? Am I externally motivated? What inside my brain is my greatest asset? We tend to only focus on our negative physical attributes without fully appreciating all of positives inside and out. What are the top three attributes that really bother you? What can you change? And why would you like to change it?
Identify three things that you can change by simply taking action. Be realistic of course! Some attributes are not changeable like our height or shoe size. Prioritize three you have the control to change. Write down on the same piece of paper your three and why you want to change each one. Now write how the change will affect your life. What action is required to make the change?
Let’s choose a common one, the shape and muscle tone in the upper arms. There are literally dozens of arm exercise programs at your fingertips online. You don't need me to tell you what to do. You simply decide how much time it is worth to you on a daily basis to make this change. Is it 10 minutes a day, 20 minutes a day, or 30 minutes a day? It does not need to consume you. What you need is continuous and consistent action that you can visibly measure in a realistic timeframe. Don’t overwhelm yourself by taking on too much. Stick to your three top physical areas.
Here is the beauty of this approach. Small wins lead to big wins. When you have a small win, you begin to understand, I can do this! You are not just taking a physical action to initiate a change. You are also rewiring your brain.
#1 - You have prioritized based on what matters to you;
#2 – You are committing to a set amount of time;
#3 – You have identified your WHY and how this change will impact your life.
You still have to make sure to do your research online from multiple reliable sources to determine what action is right for you. For example, if you know your overall body fat is high, then doing simple arm exercises for your upper arms will help to tone them, but you are going to need to take simultaneous action to lose weight. I always say a healthy appearance is a byproduct of an overall healthy body. The key is taking the first baby steps with measurable actions. This starts the process of rewiring your brain circuitry, as long as you have committed to WHY.
Whatever item you choose, the action that you take has to be appropriate. You can't be unrealistic. If you consume bags of potato chips every day or other unhealthy foods, then you have to really dig into your WHY to start shifting your behavior. This goes back to the habits we established in our youth. Those can be completely changed and replaced with new ones, as long as you choose to!
My newest book will be out before 2020 and available on my website. In the book I discuss the steps required to rewire your brain regarding how you eat, why you eat, the way you eat, and opportunities for physical exercise. Eighty percent of the way you look is dependent on what food you put in your body. I refer to food as simply fuel for the body. The fuel is required for the body to function at optimal capacity.
If you're consuming a bag of potato chips a day, it really doesn't matter what you do in the gym. You are not going to change your body. And that's why it is so important to go through the process of determining your core motivation—your WHY. If your motivation is a picture of someone else on the front cover of a magazine, then it will not last. It has to be meaningful and personal to you. For example: “I want the greatest quality of life possible for as long as possible so I can experience life with the people I love the most.” Now that’s motivation that can last!
No matter what your age is now, you can decide that at age 65 (or 75) you want to be able to go on a cruise; walk around Europe; play your favorite sport; hike; take your kids and grandkids to DisneyWorld and not need a scooter; or whatever it is that fulfills you most in life. The WHY must be compelling. It has to be meaningful. Look down the road 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. How do you want to feel when you get to that point in life when you're really supposed to be able to enjoy your life? Invest in the mental change required today! Take the baby steps to permanent and sustainable change.
Remember, YOU ARE THE C.E.O. OF YOUR OWN LIFE!