Tag Archives: motivation

Mind Article : Fitness and Kindness

I think the two really are like chalk and cheese. Fitness and kindness are quite different things. But are they ? Recently i was listening to a French Monk (Matthieu Ricard) talk about happiness. He was talking about basic philosophies of happiness or well being, it seems no one wakes up thinking they want to suffer the whole day. Consciously or not, whatever we hope and dream its related to a profound desire for happiness. There is incredible diversity in happiness, fleeting or vague and each of us to define it in our own terms. But if its something to determine our destiny and what we feel , then we need to know what it is, when we seek it we want to know we are running to it.

Matthieu Ricard, philosopher on the state of happiness.

Is happiness pleasure ? Pleasure depends on an object, its very fleeting and it always diminishes in value, i mean its fun if you do it once, exhilarating, and a cheeseburger or chocolate cake would seem to be less pleasurable as time passes. So as much as we think that junk food makes us fat, it stems from an innate desire to be happy but this happiness is short lived and expensive. Conversely, a fit body would only be as beautiful until we begin to point out flaws no matter how perfect it would be. We need a deeper sense of fulfilment than just looking good and being fit, we need to push boundaries and be better versions of ourselves in mind and body.

I think that happiness is a deep sense of fulfilment, called Eudemonia. A sense of well being, a sense of kindness. Matthieu Richard says the mind translates things into pleasure or pain, and we would do well to train it. Because if we do not build the inner conditions, no matter what your outer conditions are, you would not be happy. We have heard of people who have auxiliary happiness but their mind is unable to translate this happiness to them, they have the nicest house or best spouse and children and health but they are not happy. They are successful but not flourishing. If you give them paradise, they would probably find a way out of it because they cant translate this paradise into happiness.

I feel happiness is a sense of calmness, a way to transform our mind, a way to change the destructive emotions into constructive ones. We need to proceed with positive emotions, finding inner freedom, exercising loving kindness towards hatred. Finding a general cure for our problems inwards. If we spend a large portion of our lives to study and exercise to get successful and fit, then maybe we should take more care of what matters even more, the way our mind functions.  A way is by being completely open and kind towards ourselves and others. By making someone happy without recognition, having a sense of integration with our deep nature.

Being aware, or in Buddhism, being “mindful” or in a state of “mindfulness”. Being more cognitive, and understanding of our own emotions is important, because if we could not identify our emotions, then what different are we from a stone. When we look around we see people obsessed with how their body looks or performs, if you can lift 100 kg and if I lift 110kg I am stronger than you therefore I am better. If I win, you lose, if i can’t hit my goals i lose.

You life is a miracle. Why not make the best use of it ?

We must be aware of such destructive thoughts and emotions that seek to break our calm, telling us we are “less than” and giving us a lot of pressure, allowing us only meagre happiness when we achieve our goals, we must be kinder to ourselves. We should proceed in life with mindfulness with a kind of happiness and sense of duty with deeper sense of happiness in who we, what we are becoming and where we are moving towards, that is the only thing that can sustain and withstand the hardships and adversities in life, having a stronger frame of mind.

What I am saying is that we should look at our rules and make things kinder for ourselves, we never lose per se, but we do become less calm and confident and when we are not mindful. Goals push us, but only in being better people and not just being better at things. Maybe the reason why you run is fighting a battle with yourself, putting pain and discomfort on the line, pushing boundaries, for YOURSELF. You are not lesser off by not having the dream and athletic body you prefer, but rather you would be poorer off if you gave up being a better person because it was hard to achieve.

In the end, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about reaching your limits. Being kind to yourself, playing for the ultimate victory, the victory over yourself, becoming the best version of yourself. Being the kindest, calmest, most confident and ultimately the happiest version of yourself.

Mind Article – Willpower Part III


A Note to Self would help

Environmental MotivationThis doesn’t involve Greenpeace , but it’s an essential part of motivation. We have talked about motivation from two sources one is using the source within you and the other is using help from other people around you. The third would be using things around you to help motivate the change.

Ever wondered why the greatest athletes admit that when they were young they used to have an idol or a poster to look at every day?  That’s expert motivation using the things around them, directly linking long term goals to the short term by having an objective (a very tangible one that they can see and identify). It’s a daily reminder of what they want to achieve, it’s something that they look at everyday while paddling that extra mile, forcing in that extra repetition and bringing their bodies to new (and often uncomfortable) zones.

We can always make structural change to the things around us to better help us achieve our goals (even though we are not elite athletes). Making a gym more accessible in your daily walk home helps, or making a healthy breakfast in advance for next morning and planning your meals helps in a weight loss goal. (Conversely, it is also true that putting an ice cream shop at the end route of a jog isn’t a very good idea). Adding small changes to our environment could help our behavior, imagine the incremental compounded effect of everyday constant reminders, these have a surprising effect on our choices and the things we do. Repeat something often enough and the brain would think its possible.

Reminders tell us two things, one is to FOCUS and two is that it’s POSSIBLE. It’s very easy to make that small change in our environment, posters, buying lots of workout wear, even bringing a gym bag to work act as an environmental reminder to keep to your goals. Changes like parking a few blocks away from work and forcing yourself to walk, or having just enough money to take the bus a few stops short of your home would make sure that you don’t skive on the everyday calorie burn and keep to your goals. Adding motivational quotes or having a role model or reminding yourself of stories of people who achieved fitness greatness or just plain greatness would help redraw your boundaries of what you think is possible.

Verdict – When the kids were put in an environment which extols the virtues of self control by having a lot of poster reminders, (about not eating the marshmallows and that they would get more when they resisted for 15 mins ) ALL the kids were able ward off the candy demons of temptations more effectively.

Very often our mind is forgetful, we might intellectually know what to do, but if we do not have constant reminders to make it difficult for us to change, we will often revert back to our old habits (cause we will start finding excuses like blaming our willpower). Make it such that it would be difficult to not change, if you are a chain smoker throw away all your cigarettes and install smoke detectors in your house WITH carpets. If you eat too much, have only enough money in your wallet for your salad and a bus ticket or car ride that stops short of your destination by a mile or two. If you drink too much, ask your friends for friendly photo reminders of yourself while you were drunk and dressed in your Tinkerbelle costume with shaving cream all over your face to put at your desk.

Conclusion – The Three Drivers

Change is a hard task, if it took you many years to get to the state you are now at, it will take a greater effort to change it. Many times we fall to the “willpower fallacy”. That when we fail we attribute it to low willpower and if we manage to succeed we attribute it to kickass willpower. But it’s far from the truth and a huge fallacy.

We succeed in many things because we are motivated and unknown to us, we actually employ the above three principles in play more often than not. Imagine something you are really good at, you didn’t get good at it just by chance, probably there’s someone in your life who taught you and encouraged you (social aspect), then you got better and you develop competency to continue getting better (personal aspect) you start adjusting your lifestyle and the buy things around you that complement (posters, equipment, ect) your competency or even go for courses (structural aspect).

To focus on willpower is to divert your attention from the drivers that are essential to success (personal, social and structural).  We need to give credit to these drivers more because intelligently employing them would make sure that we succeed, while attributing things to willpower (and lack thereof), robs us of our ability to control these drivers. Attributing things due to lack of willpower creates a haven for excuses (i am not good or my willpower is not strong enough).

Unlike willpower, these drivers are completely within our control (locus of control). To succeed in change, all we have to do is decide, and then use these drivers to make sure that our change is sustained. Change isn’t difficult , but sustained change is, and to make a change for life, we need to recognize the drivers and make them stronger. The thing is that we need to be intelligent and we need to work hard to bring all these driver together (personal , social and structural) to help us.

You wouldn’t lift a heavy stone far just by yourself, instead its most effective if you get more people in the job and work together. Likewise drivers would bring us further by working in unison, we could always start a gym program by getting the right personal motivation, get friends to join in and get work things into our life that facilitate this change like dedicating lunch hour solely to gym and a sandwich. All these are doable, it’s just our approach and belief that we can do it that needs tweaking. Stop using weak willpower as an excuse to achieve your goals, it only robs you of your potential, and gives you a perfect excuse for remaining as you are. Throw away the crutch of weak willpower and embrace the fact that you are in charge and that you are in the drivers seat controlling these three powerful drivers that you can use to your advantage just by changing your approach and making efforts to make each work for you instead of against you. Know that a man is great not because of who he is but what he can make himself to be.

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Mind Article – Willpower Part II

"Life is going to knock you down, fromtime to time, just like a good boxer. The difference in success and failure in life is whether or not you get up or stay down and it's a choice. Choose to get up and fight on."

My point is that it’s a fallacy to misunderstand that nature has endowed some with more willpower than others, and by virtue of their willpower (or Grit, Tenacity, Heart or anything you might call it), they succeed in life because of it. Those who withstood temptation and worked harder showed innately more strength of character and therefore more Willpower. We tend to give credit or take blame for the mystifying attribute of Willpower, when we fall to temptation or get into bad habits and fail to make a change in life, and when we suceed, we credit this as “willpower” (ohmmmm).

But what exactly is willpower ? We heard of it, we admire it, but we dont really know what it is or how quantify or measure it in people. Like how we can resist temptations of one kind but not another (We can have great willpower in resisting ice cream but fall prey to chocolates), so does that mean we have greater willpower or lesser willpower overall ?


A resistance to marshmallows determine your future ?

Five decades ago, a psychologist (who became legendary due to his findings) demonstrated that kids (who loved marshmallows alot) who could sit down with a marshmallow in front of them and not eat it for a full fifteen minutes (and were rewarded with another few marshmallows) did better in almost every area of life than the more impulsive kids who ate the marshmallow in the blink of an eye right away – in spite of the fact that they were all instructed to wait. As Walter followed his test subjects for the next 20 years, he learnt that children who learned how to delay gratification (and exercise willpower) scored better in school , earned more, were promoted more, had better relationships and were happier. This showed that the ability to delay gratification (willpower) is a big deal.

So what conclusion can you come up with the study? Definitely that marshmallow-munchers who showed willpower succeeded more and they were endowed with the magic dust that allows them to be great, that’s all. (Of course not !). But it does seem to point to the conclusion that some people are innately stronger (You can’t blame your mum for that).

But it isn’t so. Another study tried to replicate this. This time it had more variables, and the test was held in a similar way, this time it had more a couple of skills they learnt (from distraction techniques, to having positive peer influence). And the end result was that all of the kids were able to resist eating the choclate for 15 minutes. “Willpower” as i said was not a mystifying attribute, its a mix of motivation as well as technique. Its learnable and with the right approach we can apply the same principles to anything in life, we just have to identify the drivers.  And heres a summary of whats useful we could all take away.

Personal Motivation – That’s a no brainer, if you can connect with your goal at crucial moments (when you really want to eat the marshmallow, you think of few which you can get later). You will tend to put things in focus and do the right thing. The thing is crucial moments, and that this has to be a strong motivation, and not just a “you should not eat the marshmallow, try not to eat ok ?”. Same thing with your workout goals, if you can imagine how you would feel in front of an aspirator thinking you have 5 days to live, you would jog and throw away that cigarette. If you can imagine how a loved one saw your pasty white whale of a body and retched, you would also probably realize that you do need to exercise (like now!).  These motivations don’t hit out at you all the time, but you do need something to battle the crucial moments when you just want to snooze and sit back in front of the TV with a nice cool drink. The keywords (lets revise… ) are “crucial” moments and “powerful” motivations.

Verdict : Our junior sweet eaters were able to ward off temptation more easily by reminding themselves of things they could do until the fifteen minutes are up. With a magazine or a toy, they could easily distract themselves. While others were taught to draw in their mind the fulfilment of eating more marshmallows instead of one every time they get a twinge. As a result 100% of the kids were able to ward off eating the marshmallows. Its not a display of willpower but a refining of thought processes, our mind thinks short term so in a sense we have to bring the long term goal closer to us by keeping it in sight, or we could find a distraction that would allow us to avoid the crucial moments of temptation. Temptation isn’t an endless barrage of waves, but rather a single a quickly occurring feeling, so once we develop a plan to negate that feeling, we obtain mastery over the temptation over that crucial moment. (That is the power therein) to submit temptation with a good game-plan at the right moment when it strikes.

Social Motivation Its cliché, bird of a feather flock together, but do you also know that if you want to be of a certain feather you should also flock with birds whose feathers you want (Mind boggling). But yup, social motivation is what drives alot of our actions, ever heard of the proverb, the apple never falls far from the apple tree? To a certain extent, the people we are with and the people around us show us what’s possible. In psychology its what’s called social proof, when we are faced with uncertain environments or situations, it’s common to do what the people around us do.

It may not be as blatant as outright copying but we are subconsciously affected by what’s possible. If we mix around with people who overeat and idea of an active weekend is out at buffets, it’s that circle that defines our preferences, likewise when we decide to change, the become the weights that tie us down. Imagine being part of a club of overeaters and sit at the TV watching re-runs kind guys, then you decide to go for a jog every day. They would then say “Why do it? It’s hard to lose that amount of weight, be happy with your own body, just look at us, we are happy with who we are. aren’t you. Are you saying that we shouldn’t be comfortable in our own skin ? Come on have a bag of chips and throw away those jogging shoes, they look ridiculous on you.”

This is also known as resistance. All change is met with resistance, the people that we are with might have the best interest for us, and they don’t want us to get disappointed or do something very different from them so that you are out of the group. Likewise, if we find that we need change, we need to turn accomplices into friends, changing deeply entrenched habits required help, information and real support from others.

Verdict : The study shown that if the kids were together with another kid who dint flinch and grab at the marshmallow straight away, the kids had a much higher chance of resisting the immediate satisfaction of munching the marshmallow in the first available instance. Changing deeply entrenched habits require help, information and real support from others (for those who believe in toughing it out, many psychology journals time and time again state that peer pressure has much stronger impact than we think, sorry lone rangers). Fail to make it to the gym , make an appointment with a trainer or friend. Its important to use social support, its not being dependent, its being smart because collectively we have more resources and more ways to motivate than in isolation, besides ,no man is a mountain. So gang up against your problems, rightfully you need leverage against something as sinister as temptation and what better ways than having a solid support group.

One more, in Willpower Part III

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Mind Article – Willpower Part I

Imagine having a sound workout plan, a personal trainer and a great diet plan. Everything is going fine for you. And you eat your veggies and run your miles without a hitch. Then one day work gets tougher, you catch the flu, a friend visits from overseas, your second kid comes along (insert epic event here) and an hour to the gym or out running seems impossible to fit in. Gradually the weight you lose gets piled on plus more, you think its a hard uphill struggle and start getting lazy and getting back on track seems quite tough and less important that urgent things that are pressing on you. So eventually you give up, and you think that probably you didn’t have the willpower to work out or that its not your thing.

 Sounds familiar ? This is the thing that everyone faces, and it’s called giving up. We all have big dreams and aspirations when we set out in life and on fitness programs, but as we face huge obstacles and things that prevent is from achieving them, we somehow crash and burn and drop out, sometimes never trying again. Sometimes, we look down and curse at our willpower and weakness of the flesh, and at times wish we were made of tougher stuff and had more mettle in us.  This is the biggest MISTAKE.

We see willpower as an attribute, that some are born with and some do not have enough. And that it comes in finite amounts, unchangeable. That if we fail once, we would probably fail again cause we would give up again due to lack of willpower. They usually see willpower as a godly attribute, out of their reach when they do not succeed and in their grasp when they do. People with willpower tough it through tough times and temptation and those that don’t do not have enough willpower. That’s further from the truth, so far that its actually a LIE.

Let’s make a few distinctions here, willpower is not something a greater man has (though they would like to believe so as to give their ego an artificial boost) , a person isn’t more successful than you because he has greater willpower. It’s a great lie propagated by the fact that I would like to tell myself that I have more control over my desires and wishes and willpower and therefore i am greater. We attribute it to this mystifying attribute that is an admirable trait, sometimes people use it blatantly like when we say “I have more willpower than most people, therefore I am better”.

But what is willpower ? We use it alot, but do we understand it ? We seem to think that the greater man has willpower to accomplish anything and bend it to their will. However, it is scientifically proven (I will highlight more in Part II) that there’s no such thing as willpower, and that the feats of willpower that people perform are actually accomplished by correct motivation as well as a proper plan to do things.

“Mediocrity is self-inflicted. Genius is self-bestowed.” Walter Russell

Willpower is a combination of technique and motivation both of which can be learnt. Willpower is not a inborn trait that either we have and do not have, and it’s a EXCUSE to say that we fail because we do not have enough willpower. We fail because we never motivated ourselves enough and didnt have a proper plan to execute. Its easy to blame something that’s not within our reach like when we wish we were taller/better looking/ect and attribute it to genetics and something but we cant change. But alot of things can be changed and “willpower” is one of them.

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Mind Article – Purpose (What’s yours?)

A child comes up to his father and says

“Daddy, I know what I want for my birthday,”
“What do you want?” the Dad asks
“I want a briefcase,” She said, jumping up and down.
“Really?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s what I really, really, really want!”
“Why do you want a briefcase?” The Dad look puzzled
“I want to do something important with my life,” She said.
“What do you want to do?” He asked
“I don’t know yet,but having a briefcase will be a big help.”

Briefcase photo taken from EnWikipedia

Pandora's box or Purpose ? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of your would chuckle at this innocent conversation but the lesson behind this is that, we really do not know what we want in life. Basically we start and do things just because and really never give real thought or weight to it. This is not to say that we are frivolous with our choices, but that oftentimes we neglect to see the motivation behind our decision and our true purpose.

“But I do know my purpose !”, yet many times we often wonder why we do the things we do. Why we put up with certain things yet have very low tolerance for others? How could we at times tolerate the worst of behaviors from our bosses and yet have very poor tolerance for our family and close ones. If we really were at one with purpose I think living would be much simpler and we would subconsciously do what is right. I heard once of a very apt metaphor describing purpose (or conscience) as the thought in our head that has a very small but firm voice, but if oftentimes drowned by the loud expectations we have and false beliefs that we think other people think we think (complicated right). It’s this very small voice that gets drowned out in the hum drum of life so much so that when everything clears (which might be in a long while), it might be too late.

So why am i getting philosophical here ? Like many things in life, fitness needs a purpose. If you come to the gym with a goal to lose weight because you ate festively and gained festive weight over Christmas and the New Year (Solar and Lunar), its just going to be a goal, you might reach it or you might not, but you would definitely not stick with it, at some point of time, something important would have turned up and swept you up, and when you look back at your gym membership or your plan to exercise it might be gathering dust and you just give up.

Likewise its always a good approach to examine your purposes in getting fit, because if you dont have strong enough reasons, it would be a real waste of effort. It might be good being complimented for losing that first 5 kg but then you might put in back on as work gets hectic and as you get bored or tired or certain things require your attention that cant be put down. As in we have to evaluate, “What does being fit mean to me, how strong is the reason to being fit, compel me to wake up at 6 am in the morning and run, or drag myself after work to work out. Because when you try to wake up at 6am to run, there will be voices telling you not to, and every time they win, and every step back you take, it’s when your purpose can’t defend your actions – you WILL end up giving in. Each time a voice whispers, “Hey its too early to run, lets sleep in, we can do it the day after the next day after, when we feel up to it”.  A purpose gives you an answer to all these, and like one of my cynical literature teachers once said, “A purpose is what makes me get up in the morning and get to work, I may not like it but it gets me up”.

So what’s the purpose of being fit ? What’s your reason for getting up ? Is it just to look good and feel good or is it something deeper. It should be something deeper because once we lend meaning to it, we lend weight to it. Some women train for weddings, to look good in a gown, some guys train to look buff for that bit of admiration for a beach body. But if we look at it that way, fitness would just be like a Kleenex, once used and easily disposable.

But it’s NOT, fitness is a lifestyle, meaning it’s something sustained. It’s a habit, there’s this old proverb “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action; reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character reap a destiny”. Imagine , if somehow you could sow a thought of having a fit and healthy body, being motivated and moved to action, finally making it a habit, and building discipline and strength of character and confidence from there, which would open up to many possibilities in your life. Now that’s a compelling purpose, compared to “I just want to lose weights so my hips look smaller to fit into my jeans”.

So what’s your purpose of being fit ? Purpose is always personal, but always strong enough to sustain you so that it becomes a lifestyle. Examples of purposes include ones that stem from pain like a story I heard about a person who got stuck in a slide at a water amusement park and had to be extracted when the workers had to physically dismantle the length of tube he was in to extract him out, the pain of knowing he was obscenely overweight (it only struck him at that time – we do have great powers of self denial at times) was so stark for him that he lost 100 pounds and remained fit ever since.  Or one that stems from inspiration like someone finding meaning in his sport despite disability aptly described by the quote by Alexander De Seversky “I discovered early that the hardest thing to overcome is not a physical disability but the mental condition which it induces. The world, I found, has a way of taking a man pretty much at his own rating. If he permits his loss to make him embarrassed and apologetic, he will draw embarrassment from others. But if he gains his own respect, the respect of those around him comes easily.”

Be it for any reason , from pain, self respect, discovery, your purpose has to be personal and spell a compelling future one with better health and vitality and confidence, one which makes you wake up in the morning and one which will see you through to your goals despite of yourself because an man is always greater than he can know of himself.

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