Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The subconscious mind

Do you pay attention to what you tell yourself? Make it a point to listen to all of those thoughts, both the nagging and the fleeting, for just a few minutes. I think you'll be surprised at the things that run though your brain from one moment to the next.

Any of these sound familiar?
  • I can't. I just don't have time.
  • Ugh, I'm so fat.
  • Look at her running that 5k! I couldn't possibly accomplish that.
  • I just can't lose weight. I like food too much.
  • I hate cardio.
  • I hate running.
These are all things I've "told" myself at one point in time or another. Just automatic thoughts that pop up in my brain when I try to make a change for the better. It's like a sadistic version of Pop-Up Video running in a constant loop. Oddly, I have an easier time recognizing these defeating statements from others than I do from myself. I was talking to a friend at work who, in the space of a minute, listed a whole slew of reasons why she couldn't schedule regular workouts or plan meals ahead of time. No time before work to work out. No time after work. Impossible to eat right at work. No time to plan meals or cook ahead, I work too much. Nobody else in the house likes "healthy" food. You get the idea.

I've become aware of just how destructive statements like this are to one's workout mojo, general attitude and outlook on life. I've outlined the power of affirmations before, after reading the book Liberating Greatness. It's a great read if you're all neuroscience-nerdy and you want to get all up in your brain with a magnifying glass and explore all its various parts and their effect on your behavior.

However, if you want someone to explain - in terminology that everyone can grasp - the mind-body connection to successful fat loss, training and motivation, Tom Venuto is your guy. I approach Tom's stuff the same way I approach organized religion. I keep the stuff that aligns with my beliefs and values and discard the rest: Yes to "do unto others", no to "persecute homosexuals". Yes to "avoid processed foods", no to "do lunges until you die" (disclaimer: Tom never said that, it was purely my interpretation).

Basically, he explains it this way in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle:
You have 2 sides of your mind: the conscious, and the subconcious. The conscious mind is rational, taking in information from sensory input and analyzes it, reaching logical conclusions. (We females are exempt from this for one week per month.) The subconscious mind, Tom likens to a computer. Its reasoning is deductive in nature and all "data" that is "programmed" into the subconscious is presumed to be true. I vividly remember the poster in my 9th grade computer class (you know, the class pre-schoolers take now) - in big letters - G.I.G.O. Garbage in, garbage out.

What does this mean?

It means, simply, every time you tell yourself
  • I can't.
  • I don't have time.
  • I hate this but it's necessary.
... your subconscious mind is accepting that all as the truth, and subtlely sabotaging your efforts. You know when you get 5 minutes into your cardio routine but you're just not feelin' it? You think to yourself, "You know, I've had a tough week and I deserve a little break. I should cut this short and catch up on my DVR library." There it is.

When your alarm goes off at the ass-crack of dawn, but you shut it off, telling yourself, "I just can't get up this early." Yep.

When you bring a turkey sandwich on whole wheat to work for lunch, but everyone orders pizza, and that little voice in your head says, "This is just too hard. It's too hard to eat healthfully in this environment.", and you throw your $5 into the pizza fund? Uh-huh.

So, how does one master one's subconscious mind and stop the sabotage? The answer is elegantly simple: positive self-talk. All statements or questions must be voiced in a positive light. An ounce of negativity will ruin the whole soup.

Some of the things I say to myself while I'm driving to the gym at 5am: (yes, out loud - who's gonna hear it?)
  • I kick ass!
  • I am doing this for me.
  • I am going to feel so great after this workout!
  • I love the muscle definition I am getting back.
  • How can I get closer to my goal today?
  • How many other people actually get their asses out of bed and kick ass like I do at 5am?
While I'm working out: (I repeat these in my head. I hope. Who the hell knows what sounds really come out of me when I have my music turned up so loud?)
  • I can get one more rep in before I hit the cardio.
  • I am stronger now than I was last week.
  • What can I add to my workout to keep myself in shape for work and prevent injuries?
  • I am leaner now than I was before this workout.
  • Wow, I feel strong/great/like I could go all day/badass
I admit, it sounds new-agey. Maybe even a little flaky. You know what? I don't care. It's been proven time and again to work. Professional sports teams now hire visualization coaches for their multi-million dollar players. Would they spend that kind of bank on crap that doesn't work?

I'm not saying I'm a fucking ray of sunshine because at 4:15am when that alarm goes off, I don't spring up out of bed with a big goofy grin and cartwheel into my gym clothes. I hit snooze twice, and whine, and trudge toward the coffee maker with a scowl on my face that would send Chuck Norris running the other way with his tail tucked between his legs. Hell, just the other day I was standing there in my underwear in front of the mirror, grabbing my love handles and yelling at them: "GO away!!!!" Alas, they are still there, so, like the subconscious, love handles do not respond well to negative talk directed their way.

Perhaps I should have worded it, "I am MAKING YOU go away!" There is always room for improvement.

1 comment:

  1. ange@fatplatypus.comJanuary 27, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Gah, you have hit me to a freaking T. :cry:

    Thanks for this post. I really really need to read this every day.