Pick Your Pieces - Chapter 6
An easy exercise routine that you enjoy doing is infinitely better than a hard exercise routine that you hate. The reason is simple: The routine you enjoy will get you off your butt for a lifetime, while the one you hate is unlikely to last more than a few months.
Exercise strengthens both the body and the mind. It activates the good genes and downregulates the bad. For most of us, exercise provides the surest path to greater health, happiness, and longevity.
When most people decide to get fit, they make the mistake of pushing themselves way too hard. It’s unfortunate, but understandable. The enormous value and relative ease of establishing general fitness is rarely spoken of these days. Instead, fitness culture only seems to recognize the value of achieving specialized or competitive-level fitness. Again, this is a shame because the majority of health and quality-of-life benefits occur when a person moves from being “unfit” to just plain “fit.”
No, the average fit person won’t be running a five-minute mile or deadlifting 700 pounds; that requires specialized/competitive-level fitness. Instead, they’ll be more like a healthy 18-year-old. They’ll possess good general mobility. If they want, they’ll be able to run a mile in 10 or 12 minutes without feeling like they’re going to die. They’ll be able to deadlift or squat most or all of their bodyweight without hurting themselves. Their body composition will stop moving in the wrong direction and begin moving in the right direction. And if all that’s not enough, the positive effects on their mood, hormones, immune system, energy levels, metabolism, mental clarity, and general health will provide the greatest benefits of all.
People who establish an enjoyable exercise routine, a routine they actually look forward to, instinctively stop worrying about how many calories they’re burning. They’re too busy focusing on (and experiencing) the cascade of mental and physical health benefits that exercise creates, benefits that build and persist long after a 20- or 30-minute session ends. And here’s the best part of all: It’s possible to establish and maintain general fitness into our 80s and beyond with a tiny fraction of the effort that specialized/competitive-level fitness requires.
The young tend to view exercise as a path to social and sexual status. (That’s where I started.) Hopefully, as they age, they’ll realize that there are more rewarding primary objectives to aim for. The drive can shift to something healthier, like physical, mental, and even spiritual health. Each of these provide major benefits, and the social and sexual benefits of being fit and healthy (if the mind is still concerned with such things) will still be there.
Super-human feats of strength and ability are impressive, but they’re not necessary for living an extraordinary, physically unrestricted life. For this, general fitness is all we need. People in their 80s have managed to achieve it, and people in their 100s have managed to maintain it. So, if it isn’t already, why not add taking care of yourself to the list of things you enjoy doing?
Is there such a thing as spiritually motivated fitness? Yes, I think so. I would define it this way: not driven by a desire to gain power over others (via your physical appeal or physical ability) and not driven by a desire to be seen as superior to others. Instead, spiritually motivated fitness is guided by a deep appreciation and respect for your body and mind. As levels of development are achieved, the psychological reward is a profound and sometimes overwhelming sense of gratitude for the amount of progress that’s possible.
A common goal of exercise is to improve ourselves physically, maybe lose some fat, gain some muscle and endurance. But we can use exercise to improve ourselves in more powerful ways. We can turn workouts into a form of physical meditation. It only requires that we shift our focus a bit during exercise toward building mental clarity, or tearing down useless thoughts, or strengthening our capacity for gratitude and spiritual health. The new gains are awesome, and you’ll still acquire the others (less fat, more muscle, better endurance) in the process.
Fitness gratitude versus vanity:
A person looks in the mirror, realizes their exercise has paid off, and they feel a deep sense of gratitude for what they’ve been able to accomplish. Another person looks in the mirror, realizes their exercise has paid off, and they feel a sense of power and superiority over others. The former has set his or herself up for a lifetime of rewards. The latter has set his or herself up for suffering. (When confronted with anyone who looks better, they will feel uncomfortable. That feeling will intensify as the decades pass and the mirror becomes less kind.)
What is “never-enough fitness”? Imagine the following:
Bob is a healthy, adventurous 21-year-old man when his boat sinks off the coast of a deserted island. He’s able to swim to safety, and the island has plenty of fresh water, but there isn’t any food. When rescuers finally locate Bob, two months have passed and he is clinging to life, severely malnourished, little more than skin and bones. If you were in charge of nursing Bob back to health, which of the following two prescriptions would you choose?
RX 1: Give Bob the nutrition he needs to restore his body weight and his former excellent health.
RX 2: Same as prescription 1 except for the following: Once Bob has fully regained his weight and his health, tell him that he must never stop gaining weight. Explain that if he isn’t gaining weight, he’s moving in the wrong direction (back toward starvation and malnutrition). Make sure he understands that no matter how many pounds he packs on, he must strive to continue gaining, forever.
Can we agree that Bob does not need to follow prescription 2 in order to recover and maintain the good health he formerly enjoyed? If so, let’s substitute Bob’s “compromised health caused by lack of food” for something way more common in today’s society: compromised health caused by lack of exercise.
Suddenly we realize that many exercise experts promote something very similar to prescription 2. That is, no matter how much progress you make it’s never enough. You must push harder today so you can push harder tomorrow, so you can push harder next month and the month after—forever. The idea of simply reaching a healthy level of fitness (unspecialized/not competitive) and then maintaining that level of fitness is nowhere to be found.
Granted, if somebody competes professionally or their livelihood depends on 10-plus hours of weekly exercise, then the never-enough mindset makes sense. Or, if somebody has simply decided they want to swim 25 miles, run 100 miles, bike 400 miles, or deadlift a car “because they can,” that’s fine too. But these are people who’ve chosen to be specialists, and, like any specialist, their life will largely revolve around the thing they specialize in. They’re definitely experts, but they’re not where beginners should go for advice.
Beginners will do much better with a slow and comfortable introduction to exercise. Just enough to get the blood flowing and the mood elevated. Just enough to make them look forward to the next scheduled workout. This is how they’ll determine which type of exercise they like. This is how they’ll develop the habit and desire. From there, they can ramp things up to whatever level of intensity and fitness that fits their goals.
Crappy food, crappy drinks, crappy thoughts, and crappy habits accelerate biological aging. Healthy food, healthy drinks, healthy thoughts and habits reverse and/or slow biological aging. So, here’s the question: Would you rather experience the age-related damage of an unhealthy 70-year-old when you’re 50, or would you prefer to express the vitality of a healthy 50-year-old when you’re 70? And if you’re already biologically older than your chronological age, would you rather be biologically younger and healthier five years from now? If you’re breathing and willing to improve, it’s not too late.
What level of strength, mobility, balance, and energy are required to live a normal, unrestricted life? A healthy, untrained 18-year-old provides a good model. They can work, play, and socialize without limits. They have the energy and ability to walk their dog, ride their bike, or go skiing. They can dance if they want to dance, go for a hike, or a stroll on the beach. They don’t dread walking up or down stairs, let alone walking across a parking lot or simply getting out of a chair. That level of 18-year-old general fitness can be maintained into your 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond (see George Jedenoff). Why not add those decades to your quality-of-life span?
I’ve optimized diet, exercise, and lifestyle to avoid using doctors and drugs. I’ve seen what happens when people choose the opposite approach (when they use doctors and drugs to avoid addressing their diet, exercise, and lifestyle). I’ve yet to see the latter approach end well.
View your body as a very generous friend that has provided you a place to live.
General Reminders and Observations
Reject the obvious lie that confidence is derived from the praise of others. To the greatest extent possible, prevent yourself from needing them to approve of your beliefs and behavior. Instead, consult your conscience. Develop intellectually honest standards, and work faithfully to achieve and improve them. This inevitably leads to something far greater than external approval, the courage of your convictions.
People who want to think less of you will find and accept any reason to do so. Let them. Unless you’ve openly wished or done them harm, the problem isn’t with you.
If you’ve spent years identifying with a particular reaction, you might not notice the triggered state of mind until after it has run its course. That’s why, to get better at reprogramming, it’s necessary to pay closer attention to your thoughts, emotions, and impulses. By doing this, you’ll get progressively better at observing/noticing when an unwanted program has been activated. That’s step one.
Step two can also be challenging at first. The moment you detect an undesirable reaction, create distance between YOU (the conscious observer) and the program that’s creating the unwanted narrative and reaction. One easy way to create this distance is to simply reply to the programmed response the same way you’d reply to a separate person. You might say: “I’ve been responding that way for a long time now, and I'm tired of it. I’m looking for better options.” Or, maybe a more direct, less-polite reply is more your speed (use your imagination). Regardless of the reply you choose, it prevents you from fully embracing and identifying with the program. As you get better at seeing and disrupting it, you’ll get better at cutting the flow of energy it needs to survive.
If nothing else, acknowledging a weakness helps to keep it in check. It creates a conflict, an inner awareness that “I should choose differently,” or at least “I should exercise some restraint.” However, sometimes people choose to embrace one of their weaknesses. They justify it. They exaggerate its value and ignore or minimize its costs. They incorporate it into part of their accepted identity. From that point forward, the weakness can only grow. And as it grows, its capacity to cause harm (emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually) grows with it.
You can easily have diametrically opposed circuits within the same brain. Once you realize this, the absurdity of identifying with unhealthy circuits becomes clear. Also, the solution reveals itself: Strengthen the circuits you want; weaken and eliminate the ones that you don’t.
Overbearing, dismissive, and condescending. These are traits of unhealthy people who are only interested in proving that they’re right and you’re wrong, regardless of whether or not it’s true. They have a right to be this way. You have a right to not waste your time arguing with them.
Never give something too much power over you. If you notice that you already have, challenge the exaggerated significance you’ve assigned, and begin taking your power back.
Why would you want to forgive a person who lied about you, betrayed you, ripped you off, or worse? Answer: to protect yourself from additional harm. If that answer doesn’t make sense, it’s because you haven’t yet realized the cost of harboring and continually producing stressful/negative energy. You haven’t calculated the cost of keeping that ugliness alive in your head. In this context, forgiveness doesn’t mean “pretend nothing happened” or “pretend what they did is OK.” Rather, it means “I’m not going to use what happened as an excuse to poison myself with negative energy; I’m not giving them that level of power over me.” Sure, it’s easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort. Find a way.
Sometimes you’ll consciously observe: “My mind is offering negative narratives that can only lead to an unhealthy response.” That’s good. You’ll probably avoid an unwanted reaction. Other times, you might realize that you’ve already slipped into an unhealthy response. In that case, you can probably minimize the intensity and duration of the episode. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll be so taken in that you won’t even realize what has happened until after the negative state has passed. In that case, the only thing to do is acknowledge that it happened, figure out how to make it less likely in the future, and avoid adding harm by beating yourself up for being human.
Ego/identity emerges from the acquired circuits in your mind, circuits that automatically respond without conscious thought. To the extent the circuits are healthy, they’ll give rise to things like gratitude, patience, humility, honesty, and self-control. To the extent they’re unhealthy, they’ll give rise to ingratitude, impatience, arrogance, dishonesty, and craving. For better or worse, each circuit affects the ongoing development of your ego/identity. Without conscious intervention, the stronger circuits will govern trajectory.
It’s easy to recognize a weed in the garden as something that needs “pulled,” but a mental weed can manipulate you into thinking it’s your friend. It can manipulate you into thinking it’s who you are. When a mental weed hijacks your consciousness, you see the world through its eyes. You feel what it feels; you want what it wants. You don’t realize that it’s nothing but a giant weed that took root in the garden of your mind. It only survives and grows because you haven’t pulled it, and because you continue to feed it.
An email exchange with a friend:
He wrote: “Think positive thoughts about yourself. Nice advice. But that’s not a valid psychological theory.”
My reply: “Sure, but ‘think negative thoughts about yourself’ isn’t terribly valid either.”
He wrote: “I know three people with low self-esteem. Each of them is tremendously caring, hard-working people...One of them is a genius, and his academic prowess is hard to deny. He still disparages himself in other ways. And all three of them have trouble setting boundaries where others can harm them. The opposite anecdote is that criminal sociopaths (such as serial killers) seem to have lots of self-esteem. Gang members seem to get increased self-esteem from belonging to the gang.”
My reply: “Sounds like you’re saying, ‘People who have a low opinion of themselves tend to be better humans than people who have a high opinion of themselves.’ This touches on the healthy versus unhealthy ego stuff that I started to talk about when we were playing pool. If I feel good about myself because I’ve destroyed a self-destructive impulse to ingest alcohol, it’s not the same as if I feel good about myself because I’m good at conning old people out of their life’s savings. You can feel good about yourself for good reasons, or you can feel good about yourself for bad reasons. (It’s not that high self-esteem is inherently good or bad.) However, I do believe that those who choose bad reasons to feel good about themselves (conning/harming others) only secure superficial and fleeting ‘confidence.’ A far cry from the real thing.”
It’s worth noting that this works both ways. You can feel bad about yourself for good or for bad reasons too. As an example, when I was a liar, druggy, and thief (10 years old to 15 years old), I felt bad about myself for a good reason. The pain was justified, and it eventually led to improvements in how I thought and behaved. My reward for making the improvements was greater self-esteem. And why not? I believe that’s a natural and healthy process. Notice that the source of self-esteem has nothing to do with how I compare to other people, nor does it have anything to do with me seeking power over other people. Rather, it’s based entirely on gaining power over myself and improving how I compared to my former self. I’d improved, in an area within my control, in line with my conscience.
When you soften your judgement of others (when you stop poisoning yourself with self-righteous, hateful energy), it benefits you more than them.
Hypnotic susceptibility varies from person to person, but people who are easily hypnotized share a common characteristic: They are willing to surrender control of their mind to the hypnotist. As a result, they’re far more likely to do what they’re told. If the hypnotist says, “When I click my fingers, you’ll be a duck,” it won’t be long before you see them waddling around on the floor, quacking like a duck and flapping their non-existent wings.
Not surprisingly, those who are unwilling to surrender control of their mind are nearly impossible to hypnotize. They consciously resist the process of hypnosis, and, as a result, they won’t be triggered by the hypnotist’s commands. Makes sense, right? If you’re willing to be hypnotized, you’re more easily triggered and controlled. If you’re unwilling to be hypnotized, you can’t be triggered and controlled. But what happens if you consent to being hypnotized without knowing it?
If we remove the obvious “hypnotist” from the equation, things get a little more disturbing because we’re still left with the concepts of being triggered and controlled by other people. In this case, we’ll swap a hypnotist that’s barking commands for the media and its social-engineering experts. Instead of saying, “You will be a duck,” they say, “When we want you to be terrified, you will be terrified. When we want you to be outraged, you will be outraged. When we want you to feel superior or judgmental, you will obey!” To the extent we’re unaware of hypnotists using media to trigger and control us, we run the risk of unknowingly surrendering our minds to their hypnosis.
Propaganda is created to produce a hypnotic/suggestable state of mind. Its purpose is to evoke predictable emotions and a desire to obey the will of those who wrote the script. Easily falsifiable narratives and irrational/useless procedures are valuable in that they test the depth of hypnosis and obedience. It is, quite literally, a form of mind control.
School taught the rules: An authority provides the answer, the child repeats it, and that makes the child “right.” Sadly, many carry this programming into adulthood. They don’t want to think; they want to be told. Instead of questioning authority, they sneer at those who do.
Many politicians and bureaucrats hide their lust for power behind compassionate narratives. They are excellent at fooling well-meaning people. Therefore, it’s best to completely ignore the benevolent ends that they claim to pursue. Focus instead on the methods they propose. And when their methods are so poor that they require blind trust and obedience—so poor that scrutiny must be censored and punished—let there be no doubt as to what they’re really after.
They were trained and credentialed by the system. They depend on the system for their reputation, income, and retirement. Many have worked decades to squeeze their way into very thin cracks of opportunity and prestige. When they inevitably see the corruption, they have a choice: They can “do what’s right” and lose everything, or they can look the other way. They can be smeared, humiliated, and banished from the ivory tower forever, or they can parrot the official narrative and prove their loyalty. Very few will find the courage to honestly question (let alone denounce) the “consensus” that emerges under these circumstances. And that’s exactly why the system is dangerous and why nobody should thoughtlessly defer to the “experts” who are put forward to represent it.
The liars want censorship because it prevents their lies from being exposed, and the believers want censorship because it prevents their beliefs from being challenged.
Divide people into groups. Make them fear and hate the other side so much that they become psychologically incapable of honestly critiquing the actions of their own group’s leaders. That’s the trick. From that point forward, right and wrong becomes a matter of “who did it” instead of what was done. Team A will ignore the transgressions of Team A; Team B will ignore the transgressions of Team B, and the ruling class (playing one team off the other) will continue business as usual. Divide and rule. Unfortunately, it still works.
They want the masses engaged, with great passion, in activities that are politically meaningless. When that fails, they divide politically minded individuals into groups and set them against each other.
Racism, religionism, and sexism—what do they all have in common? Each provides an easy path to superior status. Practitioners simply declare that they are, and always will be, inherently superior. That’s it. From that point forward, they assume the right to disrespect and abuse their inferiors as much as they want. Pretty clever, huh? Instant, unearned, irrevocable superiority. Fortunately, racism, religionism, and sexism have declined over the past century. Unfortunately, the desire for irrevocable superiority has not.
Strength comes to us through struggle. If we want to experience the next step in human evolution, we’ll need to overcome the psychological vulnerabilities that our rulers so easily exploit.
They come into our lives, they stay as long as they can, and they give us all they’ve got to give. When it’s time for their promotion, we’ve got to accept it. We’ve got to be grateful for all that they gave us. If we focus only on wanting more, we ask for something we can never have. It’s an error, and we’ll suffer dearly for it.
If your deceased loved one could choose, would they want their memory to be a source of pain for the rest of your life, or would they be a thousand times happier to know that their memory always warms your heart and brings a smile to your face?
Some believe that their suffering proves how much they loved the one that is gone. They cannot see that pinning their misery on the dead isn’t a show of love. At best, their perspective erodes gratitude for the tremendous gift they were given. At worst, it provides an excuse to destroy themselves with despair (something their loved one would never want them to do).
Maybe the purpose of life is simple: Learn to overcome the errors that harm us and others.