It applies in life and goodness knows it applies in the activities we choose to engage in for exercise or training or physical conditioning (or whatever word you like to use).
And yet there is still that aversion to exercise. So much so that Sam has even asked whether it’s time to “ditch it.”
The Biggest Loser has a lot to do with this aversion, since it makes losing weight and getting in shape seem possible only under conditions of abuse, a punishing workout schedule, and a severely restricted diet. As this article says about the recent season involving some children:
Therefore along with being taught that obesity is treatable by means of incredible amounts of vomit-inducing exercise, severe dietary restriction, and never-ending servings of guilt and shame, the medical literature suggests viewers will also be taught that failure is an obese child’s personal choice — something that their bullies have been saying forever.
Dick Falon talks about the “myth of willpower,” that idea that if we want it badly enough and have enough willpower, we will be “successful” at achieving our weight loss and fitness goals. This makes me think of that photo I saw on Facebook yesterday of a bookstore display with a bunch of diet books, all in the “Humour” section of the store.
Only it’s not all that funny because in fact we do load shame and guilt onto people, and people load it onto themselves, when they fail to meet their weight loss and fitness goals. Where the Biggest Loser says we need to punish ourselves, these books make it soud as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. You can have the body you want in thirty days or four hours or just by cutting out wheat!
Falon says the main reason for failure is that people don’t establish a positive feedback loop. The positive feedback loop is established when the rewards of what you’re doing outweigh the pain. Willpower might get us started on a new program, but positive feedback in the form of rewards will keep us going.
This got me thinking about what would count as a sufficient reward for the postive feedback. Of course, Falon puts this in terms of results. You may need to see weight loss or longer distance or heavier weights on the barbells. But above all, you need to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t see a “return” you’re not going to stick with it. He says:
Hate running? Then don’t run. Don’t like giving up pizza? Then figure out a way to fit it into your diet. Don’t like salads? Then don’t eat them.
He argues against creating ideologies out of diet plans or workouts. If Paleo works for you, fine. But it may not work for everyone. You love running and hate swimming? Then triathlons may not be for you, but marathons could be your thing.
I like this idea of a positive feedback loop and think it is closely tied to doing what we love. It’s not only about results. I look back with sadness upon my decision in my twenties to stop swimming–something I adored–because I read in a magazine that it wouldn’t produce the requisite results (i.e. fat loss; and I’m not even sure that’s true, but that’s what I read). I blogged about that here.
Despite doing his best to promote a less painful more pleasant approach for fitness “success,” I think Falon stops short of what I’d like to see included in the positive feedback loop.
Today, my positive feedback loop has to include things like joy, strength, a sense of confidence, a real improvement in my overall feeling of well-being. These have much less to do with my body than they have to with my attitude towards my body and with the way I inhabit my body (philosophers, don’t overthink this idea of “inhabiting our bodies”).
When I approach activities that have these affects, I feel as if I am really nurturing myself. My motives change completely from “needing to whip myself into shape because I am unacceptable as I am” to “making the time to do things that give me joy.”
And why wouldn’t I want to do things like that? So today my life includes swimming and yoga, walking to work or riding my bike, running in the early morning before the sun turns my pleasant run into an agonizing quest for shade. I’m still searching around for a resistance training routine that I can live with and enjoy. I can’t even contemplate making commitments to things I despise anymore.
What does your positive feedback loop include? Do you love what you do? If not, then don’t do it.