Fitness is 10% How-To, and 90% Behavior Change. Here’s Why…

There are gyms, workouts, at home training programs, fitness studios, online nutrition diets. Programs for everything and anything fitness related. It’s everywhere all the time at the click of a mouse, on TV, or your neighbors garage gym. With all this information available, it begs the question, why isn’t the whole world healthy? I mean, if all we needed was the right program, then we should all be super fit and healthy, right??

The reason is all programs require one thing— behavior change. All the programs in the world can’t make you actually do them. You have to make you do them. And changing our behavior is a hard thing to do. As most of us know.

Have your favorite food in the house and see how long you can go without eating it. Tell yourself you’re going to get to bed on time and then start doing it. Get to the gym three days a week. Do those home workouts. Live a healthy lifestyle. Go on. Do it! 

Is me yelling at you helping?? Lol most likely not.

So what’s going on here? Why is it we all have to work so hard on changing our behavior? How come we can’t just decide what to improve, and then do it? 

It’s because our consciousness and our bodies are two different things. They are not one and the same. Wait, what?? You mean I’m not my body?? No. You are the thing that lives in your body… ponder that for a moment. 

Let me introduce a thought to you and see if it brings some clarity. Have you ever heard of the “elephant and the rider” analogy? I got this concept from a book called The Happiness Hypothesis years ago, and it helped me greatly. 

The Rider and Elephant Analogy 

Picture a big elephant. Now picture a rider on the back of that big elephant. Do you see them? They are both looking at you. The Rider is waving. He’s a nice man. When push comes to shove though, who do you think is really in charge in this situation?? Yeah, it ain’t that little dude on the back of that 15,000 pound elephant. I mean, who’s riding who??

The elephant represents your body. And your emotions. And the millions of years of procedural knowledge and automatic behaviors that every body that existed before you had—continually shaped into it over time. You inherited it all in your body. All the emotions and driving forces that enabled success for the humans, and elephants, that came before you are in there. All the stuff needed to ensure that three things would happen—don’t die; eat; procreate. It’s all in your body now, a million times over. And it worked really well. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.

Now picture the rider on the elephant. That guy waving. That’s your consciousness. That’s your self-awareness. That’s your attention at any given moment. That’s you… You are not the same thing, the elephant and the rider. There are two different things there. One is the body. One is your consciousness (you). And when that damn elephant wants to go to the water hole and get some water, if you aren’t paying attention, it’s going. And if that elephant gets scared by a lion, you really aren’t going to stop it from reacting. It’s going to do what it knows it needs to do. Unless you are really trained on how to handle that situation, like a Navy Seal is trained to stay calm staring down the barrel of a gun, you won’t be able to stop the elephant. 

Keep It Simple

Now thank god living a healthy lifestyle is not as stressful as staring down the barrel of a gun. Saying no to less healthy foods, or yes to more healthy foods, or getting to the gym may cause some stress, but it’s a small amount relatively speaking. With some practice, you can begin to guide your body with all its emotions and hard-wired desires in the direction you want it to go. You can begin to shape it to your own desires: fitter, leaner, and healthier. Or whatever you feel has value. 

So how do you do this? How do you get that elephant to do what you want it to do? I recommend keeping it simple. Start with something that is not that difficult, that would be an improvement. Too many people try and go gangbusters and change way too much, way too fast. This is silly. Don’t try and face off with a lion. Start with something less stressful. Get your body to eat heather foods instead of fast food. Get it to go to the gym instead of home sitting on the couch. Or start with something even simpler, like getting chicken on your pizza instead or pepperoni. Make it a simple “this or that” decision. I like to call these “crossroads” decisions because one takes you one way, and the other another.

You won’t be perfect. So if you make the less desirable decision, forgive yourself. You’ll get another crack at it tomorrow. Days repeat. The game restarts. And you get another attempt. 

The most important thing is to realize that you can’t really change an elephant. But you can guide it. In my estimation, it’s better to work on behavior improvement, not change. You are guiding your body in the direction you want it to go, with simple, yet improved decisions. Not drastic, stressful changes. It’s moving in the right direction that is important, not how fast you are going. 

For a healthier future through personal responsibility,

Dennis Fenrich

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