Three Pillars of Fitness: Part 1

This is part one of a four part blog post on my overarching theory of everything.

Here it goes!

There are three pillars of fitness. Each pillar is distinct, but they interact. A weakness in one can (and probably will) infect the others over time.

In this post, I will generally describe the three pillars approach. In the next three posts, I’ll go into each pillar separately.

The Three Pillars

The Psychological;
The Physical; and
The Habitual

  1. “The Psychological” refers to your existing mental framework with regards to food, movement, body image, and self-esteem in general. When you don’t identify as a member of a certain group (in this case, “fit people”), you are far less likely to take actions consistent with belonging to that group.
  2. “The Physical”  refers to forces that are generally either outside of your conscious control, or at the very least which exist at the periphery of your conscious control. These include “mechanical” or “chemical” forces that keep you heavy – anything from hormones, metabolic state, genetic predispositions, state of your microbiome, etc. For most people, physical barriers can be easily corrected. This will put you in optimal state to achieve a healthy weight.
  3. “The Habitual” refers to your automatic or “default” behaviors. This is the most important pillar of all, and also the toughest to fix. But have faith!! Science has given us proven methods to replace bad habits with more constructive behaviors. Even in the absence of willpower.

The Purpose of this Framework

There is no objective truth to this particular framework. Rather, the three pillar approach is meant as an aid – to help you identify specific problems, so that you can work specifically on those problems, rather than wasting your time on problems you don’t have.

Within each of the three pillars, you can look for research based methods to take the exact steps you need to address your particular issues.

This framework recognizes that there is NO one size fits all approach to maintaining a healthy weight. That’s because people’s pillars are not weak in the same places.

An Illustration

If you’re overweight – consider:
how did you become overweight in the first place?

  • Were you overweight as child? If so, you likely have barriers in all three pillars.
    • Psychological – It’s likely that your own mental representation of yourself does not include thinness. It just isn’t who you are. Because you don’t see yourself as a “fit person” your brain is making thousands of subconscious choices each day that are different than the choices that a person who sees themselves as fit would make.
    • Physical – You likely have physical dependencies on certain foods or feeding behaviors, which go above and beyond mere habits. These may be largely the result of metabolic syndrome, or the beginnings or it.
    • Habitual – Whatever habits that led you to become overweight at such a young age are deeply engrained. You haven’t successfully replaced your default behavior to more closely resemble that of a fit person.
  • Did you become overweight simply from bad habits? On the other hand – you might have acquired bad habits with age. In this case, you may STILL have problems in each pillar but those problems are different. Some examples include:
    • Psychological
      • Maybe your framework around food is perfectly healthy -you’ve just fallen on bad habits. In this case, addressing the habits will be sufficient to address your fitness problems. Or maybe those bad habits are beginning to affect your self-esteem. A third possibility is that you were never psychologically healthy to begin with, but only now are the results catching up with you.
      • In the second two cases, you need to deal with your mental framework in order to achieve lasting results.
    • Physical
      • Maybe you have physical dependencies on food, and maybe you don’t.
      • If you’ve been eating poorly, it’s likely that a host of changes in your body have occurred – to your hormones, in your blood, and to your gut flora. These physical changes may make it more difficult for your to lose weight.
    • Habitual
      • You could have fine psychological and physical health, and yet still become unfit over time. Poor habits tend to accumulate.
      • Luckily, this is an area rife with hacks and psychological tricks to improve your outcomes.

The Fix

Luckily, each of these pillars can be strengthened.

In terms of ease of change I’d rank them as follows (from easiest to toughest).
1.  Physical
2. Psychological
3. Habitual

You also DON’T need three PERFECT pillars to achieve results. You simply need to begin making improvements where they are most needed.  Where you make improvements will depend not only on the severity of the problem, but also on the importance of the pillar.

In terms of importance, I’d rank them as follows (from most important to least important).

  1. Habitual
  2. Physical
  3. Psychological

The cool thing is this. Just as problems in one pillar can begin to affect the integrity of the others, so can solutions for one pillar improve the health of the others.

In Part Two of this post I will discuss the Psychological Pillar, including concrete tactics you can use to create healthier mental associations with food and movement.

unspecified-7

 

Temptation Bundling

Woman exercising on treadmill in gym

 

In yesterday’s post, I posed a challenge for those who struggle to find gym motivation.

I  love psychology. And I believe that pairing gym visits with a particularly engaging story can help you not only find the motivation you need to show up, but also cause you to associate more positive feelings with the gym in the future.

The challenge is a form of “Temptation Bundling.”

Willpower is Half Motivation

Willpower isn’t just willpower. Really, it’s a combined term for two aspects of a human trait:
1. The strength of a desire; and
2. The willingness and ability to actually perform a concrete action in furtherance of that desire

If you know absolutely nothing about math, but know that you’ll get $500 if you learn Trig by next year, you might learn it.

But if you know absolutely nothing about math, but you know that your first born will be killed if you can’t figure it out in the same time frame, the odds of you learning it are much higher.

It’s an oversimplification to chalk this all up to dopamine, but certainly it plays a role. Motivation is related to attention. And attention is related to things that matter to you. Like your first-born not being thrown into a river.

Stack the Deck in Your Favor 

Things that matter to you can improve your willpower by increasing your attention, and therefore your motivation.

So make a conscious effort to make mundane things matter more. This is how you stack the deck in your favor.

It will help you in two different ways:

[1] Activation Energy. Increased attention provides the initial interest and activation energy you need to get started and get over initial hurdles.

[2] Habit Formation  Performing any activity will begin your brain on the journey of creating a habit. Doing it in an interested state will likely make it stick better.  As they say, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Soon enough, you’ll enjoy a semi-automatic behavior, the familiarity of which will bring you comfort and joy.  You just need a little help getting there.

Use Temptation Bundling

Temptation bundling is just one hack of many that you can use to increase your motivation, and thus, your willpower. Bundle an enjoyable activity with a less enjoyable one, and keep the association strict. 

In order to do this effectively, you’ll have to know yourself.

For example, I love audiobooks, and I don’t have much of an attention span for television. I like certain shows, but I can’t focus on a show while exercising. You might experience the exact opposite.

If you LOVE a particular show, then ONLY watch that show at the gym. I personally do the same with audiobooks.

More Examples of Temptation Bundling for Fitness

  1. Make a pact with a friend you don’t see often, but whose company you thoroughly enjoy.  For the next three months, you are only going to hang out at the gym. This is you time.
  2. Listen to your favorite audiobook only while exercising.
  3. Watch your favorite TV show only while exercising.
  4. Have a small piece of chocolate every time you exercise! And at no other time.
  5. Splurge on cute gym clothes, so that whenever you are at the gym you feel like the hottest ticket
  6. If you are motivated by physical challenges, then spend the first 2 minutes of your workout racing yourself on the treadmill and try to beat your old times.

Many people do these things without even realizing. Often, these are the people who experience the most success.

If you don’t do these things naturally, then it’s very important to be concrete in your temptation bundling rule and action.

The only person you are trying to help here is yourself, and a concrete behavior is what you need to get the habit formation going.

If you have any other tips and tricks, I’d love to hear. And I’d also love to hear how any of these tips work out for you.

Happy Bundling 🙂

unspecified-7

If you love Fat Girls Fitness, subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter.
(We won’t spam you)

We’d love to hear about your progress.
Keep in touch with Fat Girls Fitness on Facebook 🙂

The Serial Challenge for Gym Haters

FullSizeRender 6.jpg
no puppy, you cannot come to the gym.

Serial.  An award winning non-fiction murder mystery podcast. It tells a gripping true story over a series of episodes. You cannot stop listening.

If you haven’t heard it yet, then I have an idea. Start listening to it.
…..But only while you’re at the gym.

This idea occurred to me while listening to another podcast. It’s an episode of Freakonomics called “When willpower isn’t enough.” On this episode, guest Katherine Milkman talked about the concept of “Temptation Bundling.” Milkman is an assistant professor Wharton School at Penn. She has done some interesting research on motivation and choices.

Ok, so maybe Temptation Bundling is obvious. But it works. You can make terrible stuff slightly less terrible by bundling it with good stuff. It’s something many of us do without even noticing.

This challenge is basically just that. But it has the additional benefit of being concrete. So you can make a commitment to simply just do it.

maxresdefault
be like Shia

The Challenge

If you don’t go to the gym because you simply hate going, then this is for you.

Don’t worry about what you do at the gym. Lift weights, do cardio, whatever. Who honestly cares?

You are more than welcome to go easy on yourself. The point is just to get moving. 

Here’s the challenge:

  1. Download the “Serial” Podcast
  2. Pick at least two specific days to go to the gym per week
  3. Spend at least one hour at the gym per visit, listening to the podcast
  4. You are NOT allowed to listen to the Podcast unless you’re at the gym
  5. The challenge is over once you finish the first season.

If, after the challenge, you still hate the gym, then no bid deal. Your challenge is complete, and you did some good for your body.

If, on the other hand, you learn to love the gym, then YAY. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of activation energy to get started. You’ll just have to try it and see 🙂

If you do this challenge, OR if you have another idea for a good podcast that might work, let me know.

Happy Gyming.

unspecified-7

If you love Fat Girls Fitness, subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter.
(We won’t spam you)

We’d love to hear about your progress.
Keep in touch with Fat Girls Fitness on Facebook 🙂