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What I learned: Lifestyle Challenge Week 2

We are nearing the end of my gym’s Lifestyle Challenge Week 2, and I am reflecting a day early because I have not exactly given up, but I realized I am not really motivated to make change in each of the Lifestyle areas and I need to stop and figure out why.

After 2 weeks of focusing on Nutrition, Hydration, Training, Mobility and Lifestyle changes such as device usage and sitting, I realized a couple things. First of all, trying to make change stick in 5 different areas, every day, is too much.

I read Switch by Chip and Dan Heath this summer, and it is all about why getting people and organizations to change is so difficult. Changing behavior is compared to The Happiness Hypothesis, author’s example of having a rider try to change the direction of an elephant.

Haidt says that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.”

(Excerpt From: Chip Heath and Dan Heath. “Switch.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/hsw_y.l)

So although I understand the importance of improving my nutrition before and after workouts, and the importance  of increasing my hydration throughout the day, each of these challenges appeal to my “rider” only. The point system had the potential to motivate my elephant-or competitive/emotional side, but the points don’t really matter. I gave up keeping track of points on Day 9. The number of points I earn or don’t earn are irrelevant. Without an emotional reason to change, at the end of a long day, my elephant won. Every time.

When I began to look at each of the challenges individually, I began to see what was happening. After reading a couple of timely posts about the importance of proper nutrition and eating enough calories to fuel your body and brain, and realizing my weekend eating habits were poor (this week was essentially a three day weekend due to a holiday on Monday), Tuesday began what was to be a pretty low energy level week. I was hungry often, I didn’t sleep well for a couple nights, I didn’t hydrate well, I was stressed at work, and I ended up sick by Thursday. By Friday I realized I had not been eating enough. What I didn’t realize until today was that proper or improper nutrition can set the stage for a good day and week or not. It also has serious consequences for willpower and self-control.

According to research, self control is an exhaustable resource. Thinking before you speak, decision making throughout the day, avoiding temptation, trying to stick to too many goals, are exhausting. At the end of the day, you have nothing left to help exercise will power.

In the book Willpower by Baumeister and Tierney, they  refer to a 2011 psychology study by professor Todd Heatherton  that showed will power “depletion” causes the brain to react just as it does in hypoglycemia-low blood sugar. Brain activity shifts control from the “rider” to the “elephant.” In other words, the emotional brain takes over. The same thing happens when we have low blood sugar. It is a vicious cycle.

In essence,…the less blood sugar we have in our system, the worse we are at exhibiting self-control.”

My insight gained was that I need to FOCUS on 1 goal for Week 3-NUTRITION. I cannot begin to think about extra training, mobility, and lifestyle changes if I am hungry. I started tracking my food today with My Fitnesspal, and will try to have a better plan going into next week. I realized I need a Plan B for days that are stressful and for when my routine is disrupted. I need to eat even if I do not feel hungry. The effects of stress and nutrition-good and bad-are cumulative.

I am pretty sure if I make nutrition my 1 focus this week, the rest of my goals will fall into place.



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