Anthony Mychal header image

Anthony Mychal

Anthony Mychal is former skinny-fat dude on a philosophical-physical pilgrimage: flipping and freestyle acrobatics, flexing and physique training, thinking about and tinkering with physical freedom
≡ Menu

Uncategorized

Why gravity (not milk) makes strong bones

gundam1

An astronaut was rocketed into space. He was twenty years old. He stayed there for ten years. His shuttle is now re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

Before he began orbiting the Earth, he was a typical human being. He could run, jump, throw, and move marvelously through Earthly space-time.

But now?

He’s being carted off the space shuttle in a wheel chair.

His twenty-year old marvelous moving self has fizzled. He’s now Gertrude incarnate…and he’s only thirty years old.

You were twenty years old when the astronaut went into space. But you stayed on Earth for the past ten years. You’re thirty now, too.

You don’t need no stinkin’ wheelchair.

 

What’s the deal?

  • Human, in space, ten years, can’t move.
  • Human, on Earth, ten years, can move.

When you don’t overcome gravity, you lose the ability to overcome gravity. So you, as a human being living on Earth, can overcome gravity precisely because you are a human being living on Earth forced to regularly overcoming gravity.

I’ll let that sentence sink in for a moment…

Gertrude. Gertrude has no reason to move. She gets her meals delivered to her bedside. She has become a slug. Slowly oozing across her bed to find the remote is the extent of her physical activity.

She stopped sifting through Earthly space-time…just like the astronaut.

Your body is reading the matrix of the environment. Epigenetics 101.

Cutting through Earth’s space-time sends a love note to your body:

Dear Self,

There is this thing called gravity. It’s kind of rough on me. I’m out here moving around and it’s throwing me against the ground.

So here’s the deal…

As long as I’m out here being an idiot (jumping, running, frolicking, humping my neighbor in secrecy), I need you to keep my bones sturdy. I need you to keep my muscles up to snuff. I need you to keep my joints greased.

I’m sure you get the idea.

Thanks.

xoxo,

(other) Self

And then your body reads the note and makes choices based on best biological fitness interests.

(Consider: there’s more than one factor influencing the decision making process. You can tell your body it needs strong bones, muscles, and all that jazz, and your body might fully agree…but if you aren’t giving your body the materials to support the maintenance and upgrades, well…)

Gertrude isn’t sending the love note. She’s not powering through the fabric of Earthly space-time.

One pretty reliable constant within the ether of biological fitness: don’t be wasteful.

Bones are stronger than steel. It takes a lot of energy to keep those guys strong. Same goes for muscle. Same goes for…

If you don’t NEED strong bones, then, by golly, you won’t have very strong bones. Why would your body waste precious resources on steel strong bones when it can survive just fine with wimpy waffle bones?

It’s like paying a mortgage a beach house…that you NEVER use.

It’s stupid.

Now, some humans pay the mortgage on unused properties…because us humans have some stupid quirks. Luckily our body, System 1, is a little more rational.

Consider all the situations where your body no longer overcomes gravity. Imagine living in space. Or imagine lying in bed. Or keeping your forearm in a cast.

What happens?

You lose strength. You lose muscle mass. You lose bone density.

Your body recreates itself to match the demand of use…within reason.

(And you thought milk made bones stronger. Shame on you.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

If the human body is so smart, why doesn’t it just keep building stronger bones and bigger muscles over time? Why aren’t humans turning Super Saiyan after walking around the high school track?

Isn’t that “sifting through gravity” Mr. McSmart Pants?

Good question.

Here’s the answer:

The adaptations you’re able to gain within the confines of gravity are bottle necked.

And, to understand why, you have do some homework: revisit antifragility.

Your homework will pay off next letter.

 

Meet Gertrude

Octopus(GrandmaHakkake)1

Gertrude is my lovely 98 year old grandma that will eventually pancake into explosion.

But Gertrude is alive…for now.

I’m telling you about Gertrude because she’s an important character in my mental model to explain training methods (namely barbell and bodyweight training) and their effects (on physique and performance).

Fasten your seat belts. I don’t know where we will end up, but I know where we will start.

Here:

Think of the human being that you are at this exact moment in time. You can wiggle your toes. You can hop, jump, and skip. You can run. You can throw a ball. You can pick your nose. You can hump…things.

TL;DR: you can move yourself, you have a certain degree of physical capacity.

Now think of Gertrude.

Gertrude lives in a nursing home. She’s 98 years old. She’s not one of the elderly anomalies with a Master Roshi disguised power, doing the splits, owning the shuffle board competition in the rec center.

MasterRoshiSB

Gertrude can wiggle her toes. That’s about all she can do. She uses a walker to move from place to place.

Unlike your vim filled bones, Gertrude’s bones are fragile.

If you decided to hump your neighbor in a fit of adulterous rage, you’d be able to jump out of the bedroom window that’s five feet from the ground (when you’re co-offender’s husband [wife?] got home) and run away.

If Gertrude flung herself from window ledge five foot high, a clean up crew would have to squeegee her guts off the concrete patio slab.

Point made: there’s a HUGE difference between you and Gertrude.

Now…

Imagine if we shuttled ‘ol Gertrude into the vacuum of space. Would she still need a walker?

Suddenly the difference between your parkourin’ behind and Gertrude’s non-existent behind isn’t so huge.

Gertrude has an enemy on Earth that doesn’t exist in space:

Gravity.

Earth’s gravity is under appreciated because it’s a constant medium crashing atop your body. Just like water to a fish.

It’s best to imagine Earth and gravity as something real instead of invisible space. So imagine floating above the surface of the earth. Weightless. Now imagine strings poking out of Earth’s surface. Those strings insert into every one of your joints, like a reverse marionette. Then, pending the level of gravity, the strings pull downward.

Gravity glues us to the floor in the vertical direction.

You are always sifting through this medium…unless you’re Gertrude. She can’t sift very well, so she just erodes away in bed. She lost the ability to overcome the downward pull of the gravitational strings.

But you? You can still overcome the pull a bunch of different ways.

Gertrude blames the natural aging process for her decline. Most Americans would.

“I’m just getting old,” she says. “Look around me. Everyone my age is like this.”

Age plays a role. Humans are finite creatures, after all. But there’s more to Gertrude’s woes than age.

And as whackadoodle as it sounds, understanding Gertrude’s physical decline is the key to unlocking an understanding of most physical inclines.

This is our “launch pad” for next letter.

(In air quotations for secretsz reasons!!?)

I use these instead of steroids

vitruvian-man-970x450_17749

Mental models are my steroids.

The mistakes? The reasons people struggle with fitness more than they should? All circles us towards the importance of mental models.

And the sad part?

Those fighting to fix the mistakes, fighting to reclaim their bodies…

The last thing they look to fix is their mental models.

Let’s not be lemmings.

What are mental models?

In Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, Peter Bevelin writes…

A model is an idea that helps us better understand how the world works. Models illustrate consequences and answer questions like “why” and “how”.

Models help us avoid problems. Assume that we are told that the earth consists of infinite resources. By knowing the idea about limits, we know the statement is false. Someone gives us an investment proposal about a project that contradicts the laws of physics. How much misery can be avoided by staying away from whatever doesn’t make scientific sense?

Mental models are the lens through which you see the world. They are a trampoline for expectations. They are a launch pad for your approach towards building habits needed in order to solve a problem.

Here’s an example:

  • Lens A = you can easily build ten pounds of muscle in one month.
  • Lens B = you can expect to build around ten pounds of muscle in one year.

Not terribly dissimilar. But Person A will go about business a lot differently than Person B.

Maybe Person B stops benching that random Tuesday when his shoulder tightens up because he knows it’s about consistency over the long run. Maybe Person A keeps benching that same Tuesday and ends up with a partially torn pec.

Maybe Person A gets frustrated and disheartened when he looks in the mirror and doesn’t see amazing progress. He then questions his eating and his training. He loses faith in what he’s doing. He’s lost. But Person B has faith it’ll all work out, so he sticks to his guns.

All speculation, of course. Not saying one is right, and the other is wrong. In the example above, Person B might slack off and not try hard.

The point: imagine how the lens changes attitude, motivation, mindset, feelings, et cetera…

Would you buy invisibility pills?

There are a few different waves to surf on the ocean physical fitness until you reach the shore. This first = the mainstream sludge wave.

People that use the Shake Weight, people buy diet pills, people that do P90X…

…they have a mental model of human adaptation that allows them to believe:

  • Giving a cylindrical metal device a hand jibber will make them ripped.
  • Swallowing a pill will incinerate fat regardless of what else they slide down the gullet.
  • Jumping around like an idiot for zillions of repetitions (despite being sedentary for years) will somehow not lead to chronic lower body pain.

Allow me to hop off my high horse. I wanted one of those blue ab wheel contraptions SO BAD when I was a kid. I wanted it to melt the fat off my belly. (I got one. It didn’t work.)

1281716

It’s easy to hate people that continue to make absolutely terrible fitness products. But you know what? Kudos to them. To all of them. They’re able to spray paint turds gold and make millions of dollars.

Instead of hating those people, rabblerabblerablerabble, I have a better idea: create and teach practical mental models that make, oh, I don’t know, 89% of what mainstream fitness is all about completely unbelievable. Something better served for Land of Oz. Or Willy Wonka.

Why doesn’t anyone sell invisibility pills? Because the mental model most people have doesn’t allow them to be so gullible.

It’s like that.

When you have a certain mental model of the body, a lot things become invisibility pills.

Why mental models are steroids

Mental models help for issues beyond the more, ehhhhh…remedial. If the first wave is mainstream muck, the second wave is nerd brain, AKA: information overload.

I’m pretty sure this is where you’re at. You probably know strength training is a really good idea. You probably know squats and bodyweight exercises are a really good idea.

But what about the specific exercises? The sets? The reps? The program? The nutrient timing? I WANT IT TO BE PERFECT. ALL. PERFECT.

Mental models are my steroid because they eliminate uncertainty that tends to derail my stupid philosophical overthinking brain — the part that makes me overthink and under do.

But once you have a mental model that matches your method, it’s game over. It’s clear what needs done. All that’s left is the doing.

Unfortunately, most people in the same situation seek method after method without thinking about a mental model. Which is a never ending loop.

In other words, if one diet pill doesn’t work…

  • New method seeker: Sooo, what about that other pill?
  • New model seeker: Golly, this pill didn’t work. I wonder if pills work at all?

Philosophical junk to gloss over

The philosophical question: how in the world have we become so dissonant with how our own bodies operate? How is our brain so clocked out when it comes to knowing its own body?

The sad part: we don’t come equipped with mental models. There is no human instruction booklet.

We formulate mental models based on what we see. Repetition increases affirmation. You wouldn’t buy levitation pills. You have no empirical evidence of humans being able to float.

But you DO have empirical evidence of fat loss, muscle building, and physical change. Problem being the observations aren’t REALLY immediate. The best way to create an accurate mental model of those that transform is to live with the person undergoing change. You can see what they do day in and day out (how they eat, live, train).

Unfortunately, we’re left with before and after pictures…which make things seem instantaneous — something that works against us when setting up expectations (which accompanies any good model).

It’s easy to create models of gravity. Everything you throw falls to the ground. It’s easy to create models of danger. Put your hand into a fire, it burns. It’s easy when feedback is immediate.

But you don’t lift weights once and two seconds later transform.

Of course, this is just philosophical drivel. Perhaps it’s best to just say: for whatever reason, the popular model model(s) of the body are broken. Or were never even fixed to begin with.

Let me show you my models…

Time for the big reveal: here is my mental model of physical fitness!

Just kidding.

A comprehensive mental model that explain every facet of fitness is kind of like a physicist’s unified field theory. It’s what I’ve been seeking for a long time, but I’ve come up empty handed.

So, instead, my mental models are fractured…yet have crossover.

If you’ve been following along, I’ve spewed a few ideas out there as a philosophical foundation. Epigenetics. Biological fitness. These are models I’ll reference over and over.

But now I want to move into the models that are a little more applicable…

  • Strength, muscle mass, performance – all exist under one model
  • Body composition – one model
  • Skinny-fat syndrome – one model
  • Skill training (tricking) – one model

And I’m asking you to bare with me. The things that vomit onto this screen aren’t always connected in my head. I go on tangents when I feel something might be mildly useful. The idea of creating simple and easy to digest models is the goal, but it might not spat out that way at first.

My big goal is to look at the scrap heap that’s left after I’m all said and done and polish it into something better. Writing things helps me better understand them myself. Buckle your seat belt.

BUT KNOW THIS…

Why mental models myths

Mental models only need to do the job at hand: explain something in a way that allows you to function in the universe. They aren’t for explaining things down to exact scientific detail.

They’re kind of like myths. Mythology uses stories to create models. Don’t fly too close to the sun, Icarus. You might melt your wings. Of course, no one has wax wings. But that’s not the point. The point is the moral. The lesson. The model.

maxresdefault (1)

For a different, yet practical example…

Most people have a model of fat loss that goes like this: restrict your calories. But say Joe adopts a model that tells him to put something colorful on every plate.

Joe follows through and starts eating more vegetables and berries. In turn, he eats less starch. Lo and behold, Joe loses fat.

Joe’s model and conclusion may not be 100% scientific (eating the rainbow helps you lose fat), but it works for him because with that particular lens his behaviors and habits changed exactly how they needed to change.

…which is to say, the best mental models are probably going to change. And the best mental models will be a little personal.

  • To some, my mental models may be “intellectual wankery.”
  • To some, my mental model may be exactly what they’ve been looking for.

I’ll let you be the judge.

Now it’s time for me to decide which model to start with.

Hmm…

 

P.S. In the meantime, think about your own mental models. One of the biggest mental model flubs I see: motivation. Most people think motivation exists in the heavens and strikes a lucky few. And, in turn, they are left forever waiting for the lighting bolt.

P.P.S. The lightning bolt doesn’t strike you. Fly into the sky and jump into the electricity yourself.

Common mistakes made with stimulation, supply, and soul (and the monster in the closet)

The rabbit hole of environment is a lot juicier than people first realize. It’s 24/7. Your body is not compartmentalizing its hours into domains.

You’re on. All the time. Hence the tangent last letter.

Now we can move onto common mistakes and screw ups.

Your body is a wizard. It’ll do what it’s triggered to do (via information from the environment) without your conscious awareness if serves biological fitness interests.

  • Environment -> Information -> Trigger

Good information pulls the trigger. Bad information doesn’t. And bad information comes from the environment, which is to say: stimulation, supply, or soul.

Stimulation, supply, and soul change your signaling.

Mistakes are manifold, but I’ll compartmentalize as best as possible.

1. You send the wrong information.

People stop at red lights. Something in the environment (red light) relays information (red means stop) and pulls a trigger (stop).

Sending the wrong information is like putting a green light where there should be a red light. You change stimulation, soul, or supply…but the signal doesn’t do what’s intended.

Extreme examples:

  • Eating a lot of high energy food in order to lose fat.
  • Being sedentary in order to become more mobile.
  • Distance running in order to build muscle.

These are doofus examples, for the most part. But that’s only because I peeled the flesh from how they appear in the real world.

Jim wants to lose fat. He hears about the paleo diet and decides to scavenge on nuts and seeds. All day. Little does Jim know, nuts and seeds are high in energy per their volume. IE: Jim wants to lose fat, but he’s eating a lot of high energy food.

It’s not about what System 2 (you) THINKS is happening. Jim thinks he’s sending a certain message (lose fat!) by going paleo and shoving ten pounds of nuts and seeds down his face.

It’s about the information System 1 is ACTUALLY getting. Jim is actually shoving mounds of energy (gain weight!) down his throat.

majin buu eating

2. You send noise.

If you see a flare in the air, someone wants their position known. Signals are clear. Or, I should say, signals should be clear.

But maybe you’re stranded in a field of cows. Lost. You have no flare. Instead, you decide to moo like a cow in an attempt to have your position known. You’re trying real hard to send information, but, in the end, it’s just noise.

Noise is tricky because something is happening. You’re still making a sound when you moo like a cow. You’re working hard. Trying.

Noise is similar to sending the WRONG information, but here’s the difference: misinformation accomplishes SOMETHING (just not what was intended), where as noise does just about nothing.

Distance running to build muscle is misinformation. But distance running can improve your cardiorespiratory system, lymphatic system, help with mood, help with recovery, help with fat loss, etc…

jimmy-fallon-dwayne-johnson-shake-weight-funy

But the Shake Weight is noise. Lifting a five pound dumbbells for 1000 reps with an intent to build muscle is noise.

Noise is perhaps better described as junk. There is junk food. There is junk movement.

Junk is better avoided.

3. You send conflicting information

You can do everything right and still end up with a little wrong.

You build a red stop light when you want to stop…but you only flick the red light on for two seconds every day. At all other hours, the light is green.

Call this conflicting information. It’s what makes the rabbit hole of environment so important—you have to appreciate your body being receptive 24/7.

So let’s say you want to do the splits.

You work on your flexibility and mobility almost every day. You do (hopefully) active mobility exercises to compliment any passive stretching you’re doing.

You’re doing everything right…

…but you’re only stretching for a grand total of thirty seconds every day. And at all other hours, you’re sitting in a chair.

So what this means, info:

  • For thirty seconds, you’re telling your body the split position is important and having mobility in that position is a good idea.
  • For one-thousand four-hundred and ten seconds, you’re telling your body the split position isn’t important. And you’re telling your body the opposite of the split position is important.

Now…

I could go on here. I could make up some other situations and rattle off a bunch of other mistakes. Like, for instance, expecting your body to deliver top quality information on first attempt(s).

Enter: comedian. You can’t just get up on stage and talk. Well, I guess, you COULD…but you’d fail at producing any sort of meaningful response.

You have to craft jokes. You have to master timing. You have to arrange everything so the information is perfectly timed, perfectly delivered.

922f12cd66dffe2c3e71a56cd6022f294e8ba707223cdf47f45a1af66f08e385

But focusing on these individual (and loosely defined) hiccups flies us over the real monster in the closet:

In this letter, I wrote:

I mean, just tell me the sets, reps, exercises, blah, blah blah…my body is a wizard, right? I don’t need to know the why, my body has my own why. Why are you still typing? You’re wasting my time. JUST TELL ME HOW TO SEND MY BODY INFORMATION THAT’LL PULL MY TRIGGERS. 

Which makes 100% total sense if you read the entire letter. (You don’t need to know how it all works because System 1 takes care of business without System 2 having to talk your body through the process.) It also makes you hate me because I’ve done nothing but dance around the simple information sending trigger pulling prescription to this point.

Unfortunately, being trigger happy backfires. In other words, I’m not dancing around the prescription to upset you, I’m dancing because, in the long run, it’s going to help you. Immensely. Here’s why…

Your name is Anthony and you decide to put your hand atop a scolding hot stove burner. (Note: this was young Anthony. Three or four year old Anthony. Anthony doesn’t remember this. His parents, however, do. Very much so.)

Blah blah blah, environment (hot stove), information (thishurtsmyfleshisfallingoffomg), trigger (move).

After your System 1 takes care of business, System 2 does a little association. I touched the fire stuff and it hurt real bad…don’t do that again.

The feedback from the environment-information was instantaneous.

Now think of training and eating. Anthony wants to get jacked, so he starts lifting weights. He starts eating more vegetables and nutrient plentiful foods. More lean proteins.

But it’s not like the moment Anthony swallows vegetables his throat starts to singe. Anthony doesn’t wake up the day after his first training session and look like a professional bodybuilder.

And this changes everything.

I want you to think about why.

Until next time.

Domain dependence and the 4 S’s of environment

Thematrixincode99

I’m going to dissect the two biggest reasons people screw up the recipe mentioned last letter:

  • ENVIRONMENT >>
  • INFORMATION >>
  • TRIGGERS CHANGE (THAT THE BODY CAN CONCEPTUALIZE AS BENEFICIAL FROM A BIOLOGICAL FITNESS STANDPOINT)

Things we dream of having as an aerohead, like a low body fat percentage, the perfect amount of muscle, relative strength, athleticism, power, the ability to crochet afghans, kittens, and slippers…

…come from convincing our bodies that having them, building them, <whatevering> them are in their best biological interest.

Let’s mosey on.

Where do most people screw up?

Not exactly Mr. Secret here, as there are only, like, two ingredients to the recipe.

Environment. Uhh. Information. Uhhh. That’s it.

Environment sends the information, so let’s talk about the environment.

What the heck does “environment” even mean? When I think of the word “environment,” I think of dusty polluted cities. But environment is SO MUCH more.

I used to fiend on Higher Faster Sports. Kelly Baggett once wrote about the 3 S’s of muscle building: stimulate, supply, and signal.

The idea most people have of “environment” as it relates to training is similar to the 3 S’s.

Stimulation is your training. This is hitting the gym and lifting weights, which sends a love note to your body.

Dear System 1,

These muscles? These bones? Tendons? The rest of the connective tissue? Nervous system? Et cetera…

I’m sure you get the point. I need those things to be better. See? I’m using them! They’re important!

By golly, I mean, this iron stuff can kill me! Maybe, just maybe, it’s in your best biological interest to do some upgrading.

Who knows? Next time, these fancy iron discs might crush my soul.

Love,

System 2

Supply is your eating. Another love note.

Dear System I,

Remember all that training? Remember the weight almost crushing us? Man. That was intense.

It’s probably a good idea to make yourself a little better, ‘yaknow, make it easier to handle those iron things next time around.

I know one of the ways you can do this is by building more muscle. Bigger engine, right? Like swapping out a V4 for a V8.

If this is something you’re thinking about, here are some things you’re gonna’ need for the building process.

They’ll be floating around for you. Often. Don’t be afraid to use them. I got lots in reserve. Don’t be shy. Build.

Signaling, according to Kelly, is more of an epi/genetic issue. Boys during puberty gain muscle all the while eating Pop-Tarts and sleeping two hours every night. Because, hormones.

Of the three, signaling is most powerful. If your body doesn’t signal, then neither stimulation nor supply matter. If your body DOES signal, then stimulation and supply are less crucial to nail down.

Don’t get me wrong. Almost no one scouring the Internet for fitness advice is working with on point signaling. The whole purpose of stimulation and supply is to CHANGE signaling, albeit a roundabout way.

(The more direct route to change signaling = steroids. But I have zero experience with steroids, so you’re listening to the wrong guy if this is something you’re interested in.)

So assume a sedentary goober. His signaling = store extra calories and nutrients as fat. But then you start stimulating and supplying a certain way. Then you do it more. And more. And more. You reinforce new stimulation and supply. And then signaling changes to = store extra calories and nutrients as muscle.

I mention the 3 S’s because stimulation and supply is about as deep into “environment” as we think at first. And even beyond “at first.” More like: until you read up on evolutionary biology.

Ask an obese person how to lose fat and you’ll probably get an answer along the line of, “Uhh. I have to exercise and move more. I have to eat less.”

AKA: I have to stimulate (differently) and I have to supply (differently).

Digging deeper than stimulation and supply is rarely done. But, oh, we’re digging. DIGLETT, I CHOOSE YOU!

250px-050Diglett

Stimulation and supply are important. Very important. Perhaps MOST important…in spirit. But there are more pieces to the environment-information puzzle.

Your body is digesting information from the world 24/7, not just when you’re training or when you’re eating.

So, to Kelly’s 3 S’s, I add a 4th S: soul.

Soul is the bulk of your life BEYOND training and eating, all of which silently influences signaling. How well and how much do you sleep? How often are you stressed (distress)?

(It’s SssssSsssSsssizzlin’ in here.)

Soul, perhaps said more abruptly, is the smack across the head you need in order to see yourself as, uhh, a human. Like. A complete human. Thing. Creature.

Because I’m willing to bet on something, something that’s a sign of NOT understanding what it means to be human.

I’m betting you’re suffering from domain dependence.

My favorite example of domain dependence comes from Nassim Taleb. Here’s the gist of something he said, wrapped up in my own little story.

Fred is trying to lose some fat. Fred works in an office. Fred buys a gym membership.

Fred is good about going to the gym and walking on the treadmill. Every day at 5PM he starts his one hour walk.

Good for Fred.

Errr, for now.

Because when you dig deeper into Fred’s story, you uncover something…

Fred ignores every chance in his REAL life to be active.

Fred parks close to his office, so he doesn’t have to walk. Fred takes the elevator, not the stairs. Fred even takes the escalator to the front doors of his gym.

Fred does all of these things because he sees the gym as a different domain than “real life.” He doesn’t connect the dots and think:

If I walked to and from work, that’d be twenty minutes of activity. Then if I walked to lunch, that’d be another ten. If I took the stairs both times, that’d be another ten…

He only sees himself as an “exercising” person in the gym. At all other hours, he’s dead flesh.

This is domain dependence—the idea of this and that only mattering, happening, or counting within a certain domain.

I’m in the gym. The gym is where I exercise. The gym is where I burn fat. The gym is where I build muscle. I’m THIS person in the gym…

…but I’m THAT person when I’m not in the gym. I don’t exercise when I’m not in the gym. My body doesn’t burn fat when I’m not in the gym. My body shuts off, physically, when I’m not in the gym.

Unfortunately, System 1 cares zero about your artificial domains. Zero. 

when-you-just-dont-care_o_3678075

To System 1, there’s no difference between taking the stairs at 9AM in your suit and tie on your way up to your office and taking the stairs at 5PM in your athletic, cut off shirt, and sneakers on the StairMaster inside the gym you pay $47 a month to be a member of, even though there are stairs (like, actual ones that you can walk on), ohh, I don’t know…EVERYWHERE. Easy to access. For free.

ANYWAY…

Compartmentalizing into domains affords us the freedom of ignorance to the vastness of environment.

Story time, part deux.

Sitting in front of the TV in Pittsburgh is a boy named Anthony. Anthony is brother to Antonio. Antonio lives in Mexico. They were separated at birth. Never met one another.

Anthony, being American raised, fears death. A lot. To the point of him having trouble sleeping every night when he’s a kid.

Sounds harmless. But the wonky thing about human physiology: the stress response Anthony’ll go through during these stressful times is the same stress response he’d go through as if he were being chased by a dinosaur.

This is Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers 101. Extreme psychological distress…for reasons only a stinky System 2 human can foreshadow. No zebra contemplates its own death or worries about the interest rate on a thirty year mortgage.

So Anthony is a teeming ball of distress hormones throughout his young life. Probably has anxiety. Probably takes everything (including his writing, later in life) way too seriously. Probably has trouble making decisions. Probably is a pesimmist. Probably like Dragon Ball Z. Probably’ll grow his hair long…

Antonio is a little different than Anthony. He’s not afraid of death. Mexican culture celebrates death.

Long live Día de Muertos!

(Do you realize what just happened?)

So those hundreds of stressful impressions Anthony experiences? Antonio doesn’t experience them.

So the physiology of Anthony and Antonio can spat out completely different because of cultural belief.

We’re shaped by our environment in ways we don’t even think about.

  • Why do you eat at the times you eat?
  • Why do you eat certain foods for breakfast, but not for dinner?
  • Why do you go to sleep when you go to sleep?
  • Why is some food comforting and others not?
  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Would you eat the moon if it were made of ribs?

These things aren’t written into humanity. They are learned from your environment.

Now, let’s bring it down to a smooth jazz vibe.

This all sounds pretty voodoo. I’m not saying you have to map out all 24 hours of your day or that undergoing through some distress is going to set you up the bomb.

BUT…

BUTT…

BUTTS…

These sticky matters of culture seep into the ooey gooey cream filled center of BEHAVIOR modification.

“Uhh. I have to exercise and move more. I have to eat less.”

Yes, you know what you have to do. A lot of people do. But do they ACTUALLY  DO what they know they should do?

The tough part is, of course, changing your BEHAVIORS, doing things you know you should do with consistency. Without feeling like White Goodman.

HF7Y0921_dodgeball_blu-ray

And then, of course, there is the absolutely weird world of psychological quirks that make it seem like the universe is conspiring against you.

  • If you watch the news (see depressing stuff), you’re more likely to stray from the path.
  • If you try remembering a bunch of stuff (like, say, a long telephone number), you’re more likely to eat junk food.
  • If you exercise (do something you perceive as positive), you’re more likely morally license (in other words: eat) junk food later.

And now you know why I say screwing my head on tight was just as important (if not more) than any fancy training technique I’ve come to learn. Behavior hijacking is a topic in and of itself, and I have to pull the guillotine on it for now.

Point being: your body is constantly searching for information is 24/7 and your environment plays a big role in what ends up happening. Environment isn’t just the physical space around you.

Ever see The Matrix? The falling neon green letters? It’s like that. You’re reading those neon letters around you every second of every day.

…but it’s also reflective. When you look in the mirror, you are those letters, too.

And I just realized how off topic I’ve stayed. I didn’t talk about what I was supposed to talk about.

But I’ve had enough for now.

Perhaps we’ll just label this as the first screw up: ignoring the rabbit hole of environment.

And I don’t want to leave you completely empty handed. I’ll talk about some behavioral psychology later (it’s inevitable). But if this is something you struggle with or are interested in, here’s something to chew on until I finish the next letter.

We’re all tricked by our environment. Even if we “know it” in our head, most of the time we have way too much on our mind to remember it and act on it. That’s why it’s easier to change our environment than our mind.

Dr. Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating