Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Post 52: The Importance of Being Lazy


Hi guys,

This week I’m following up on a promise from the 30 Day Cowlean Challenge. Part of the challenge was to find out what people were interested in, then expand on the smaller posts, roughly doubling them in size, and fleshing out any of the little ideas I mentioned. Sounds quite lazy right? (hawhawhaw - C)

One of the most popular posts was about the importance of being lazy, where I explained that it is actually a part of the advanced mindset (one of the key themes of today is the distinction between beginners and intermediate/advanced practitioners and how they should “use laziness”).

Laziness is not just a pure negative that will hurt your results. In fact, seen through the lense I’ll present today, it’s part of the solution. Now obviously this comes with a disclaimer: too much laziness is a bad thing and stops you from taking action. When you hear the word lazy you immediately imagine some slob, reclining on their sofa while they flick from channel to channel all the while shovelling sugary sweets into their greedy gobs. Not so today...

To see laziness in a positive light we are going to need to reframe it. In truth, it’s the acceptance that there is a cost associated with action. For beginners, they just need to get stuck in so the best advice is “do everything you can and become totally absorbed”; the “eat this one food for a flat stomach” garbage is exactly that. You’ll (correctly) see the kitchen sink method in the elimination phase at the beginning of any anti-inflammatory diet, where fasting and an exercise regime might be introduced as well. There might also see the introduction of spiritual practices, or intense note taking and statistic collection. The aim is effectively: throw everything you’ve got at the problem and let the newbie’s enthusiasm carry the day. Something in there is definitely going to work, they’re going to like it, and results will emerge.  

However, for intermediate through advanced practitioners, optimisation becomes the name of the game. There are negatives as well as positives o account for. Do you need three sessions of weights a week plus HIIT or is that too much? If you don’t see a cost in your actions, and follow the “more is always more” mantra, then you’re not going to be maximising efficiency and finding the best way to achieve your results. It can be tough to start this journey because the people who are doling out the advice have already gone through their own journeys. For them, minor tweaks really do lead to major differences, but for the beginner the kitchen sink approach is appropriate.


Many a beginner has tried to take this...

That little exercise analogy segues nicely into a discussion of anabolism and catabolism i.e. rest and recovery. When you’re in the gym, you’re breaking your muscles down so that in future they are bigger and stronger. As any good bodybuilder will tell you, the three keys behind building muscle is lift, eat, and rest.

If you’re not lazy then you’re not going to rest enough, which is where the growth happens. This is as true for your health journey as a whole as it is for just building muscle. In the past, I would feel guilty for eating some “non-compliant” food, having a non-stellar weigh-in, or missing a workout. Over time, you start to feel an undertone of guilt when you’re not working towards your goals, and this is not helped by the myriad social media posts with messages such as “the only bad workout is one you missed”. Again, these messages are designed for people who are just starting out and need encouragement.

Without getting your rest you’re also going to do damage to your health, especially your hormonal health, from being in long term caloric deficits. This is thinking behind “cheat days”. In the long run burning the candles at both ends leads to failure. Just take a look at the people who starve themselves and fall off the wagon, then regain the weight and then some!

Sometimes I’ll stay in bed all day, being incredibly lazy, before eating indulgent food (although as you read in my Challenge post on treats, it’s not the usual pizza and beer - C). This is all part of the psychological reset which gives you perspective before diving back in, but let’s revisit that disclaimer again. This is not good advice for beginners. You need a period of immersion before you actually understand what is the optimum setup for you.

The last topic I touched on in my 30 Day post was evaluation. This was one of the overarching topics of the series: the benefits of introspection. Being able to analyse the effect of your efforts is key when leaving the beginner stage, and therefore key for the optimisation required for the intermediate. When you pause and do the things that make you feel guilty, that’s when you can take a step back and evaluate how far you’ve come.

Paradoxically, your results give you the right to be lazy, and in being lazy, you are able to appreciate your results. In this period, you can fine tune your efforts: thus success begets success.

If you choose to have a lazy day, eat bad food, or skip a workout, then you’re going to feel it the next day. It’s important to have these now and again, not just because you eat indulgent food which gives you an enormous short term boost of pleasure, but because it stops the prospect of “the stick” (of carrot and the stick fame ;) - C), from receding into the past. Your moment of laziness provides the carrot in two ways: it reminds you that the new changes you’ve made make you feel better, and there is the reward of the indulgence itself.





Here’s this week’s takeaways:
  1. Beginners haven’t earned the right to be lazy, it is a luxury for the intermediates and the advanced practitioners.
  2. If you are beyond the beginner stage, allow yourself to be lazy sometimes, it gives you perspective and a chance to fine tune
  3. Taking a break is key for growth, in a literal and figurative way

Until next time,

Cowlean

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Post 51: Get Back in the Pen!


Hi guys,

This post is all about going against the grain (in a different way this time - C). What happens when you don’t follow the herd? Commonly, people will try to make you feel bad for it, whether it’s overtly or covertly.

As I did last week, I want to begin with a personal story so allow me to wax lyrical for a moment. Recently, I was describing my blog and my own weight-loss journey to a new acquaintance and when the word “paleo” came up it was met with a roar of mocking laughter. Then when the phrase “gluten-free” came up: another one. This was followed by the comment: “I didn’t think people like you actually existed!”.

Let’s read into that for a second and recognise the frame that pushed behind those words: “you’re a fool, everyone knows it’s eat less, exercise more, blah, blah blah…”.

What’s overlooked from their perspective is that I practice what I preach; my statements are backed by my own results and my own lying eyes. The funny thing is that comments like these are usually prefaced with “I might need your services!”. It’s the classic first hand vs second hand experience problem.

Over your own journey you are bound to meet these people. People who will desperately try and throw a spanner in the works, for a number of reasons. Today I want to explore where this comes from and why people do it, and give you some methods to overcome these tests.

Because that’s what they really are: tests. The person is pushing at your castle walls to see whether they’re made of stone and are sturdy, or made of hay and will fall at the first hurdle. You can see then that the worst thing to do would be to apologise, backtrack, and try to excuse yourself.

I’ve spoken about becoming a one-man-brand before. At that point, you really know your stuff and other people trust your actions. They may not follow suit, but they know that their attempts to drag you back into the pen will fail. Are you simply going to give up on your efforts and shuffle back to the herd with your tail between your legs, or do you have the balls to flip a middle finger to those who would rather that you failed?

Here’s the bright side, however, and focus on this. People don’t give tests hoping that you fail; they want you to pass! Why would your friends/family want you to back down therefore reducing their respect for you in the long term, just for the short term validating ego boost of winning an argument?


So far in this post I’ve spoken about “the pen”, which represents the status quo and a rejection of experimentation as morally bad.

Once you’ve differentiated yourself, you’re sub-communicating that someone else, or another group of people, must be wrong. It’s essential that everyone believes themselves to be rational and reasonable, otherwise you would be considered insane (and if you were insane and considered yourself insane, that would be a very sane thing to do… - C).

So when people attack you, or try to shame you, they’re selfishly telling you to “get back in the pen so I don’t feel scared that I’m wrong”.

Not only are they feeling scared that they may be wrong, they feel threatened by the possible guilt that their own family and friends suffered when there was an effective alternative. They’re terrified that they didn’t do everything they could of to help those people, which makes them appear uncaring to themselves. Often times when someone verbally attacks someone else it is actually because they are attacking the dark place inside themselves which they wish was not there.


So to tie everything up in a neat little package: it’s an intense and reactive defense mechanism which is apparent in the “woe-is-me” mindset.

The attacker’s logical world must remain as it was, because if something stirred then it would break the illusion that they have no control over their problems. If that happened, they would cease to be reasonable and rational. They would have a solvable problem which they chose not to solve, thus leaving money on the table. As I said above, these comments usually come from an internal inadequacy and a feeling of hopelessness.

So how do we deal with these comments? First, I should say, when someone makes a comment that you don’t like, it’s not an opportunity to counter-attack. Even if you’re articulate and cutting, you’ve still fallen into their frame by reacting. Furthermore, trying to convince them otherwise is counter-productive; the only person who can convince someone of something is themselves. Obviously, forcefully exposing your friends and family’s weaknesses is not a good way to maintain strong relationships.

Next I should point out that I didn’t personally come up with these two methods, but they are tried and tested, and incredibly useful.

The first is to simply be non-reactive; it’s as simple as a shrug of the shoulders combined with “I suppose so”. You acknowledge the person’s distaste, but convey a tone which says “but I refuse to go on using the frame you’ve presented”. If you’re going to discuss things, it should be from a place of neutrality. Don’t feel like you have to justify yourself to anyone. As always, let your results do the talking for you. If you start to qualify then you’re immediately falling into their trap and implying that what you’re doing is wrong.

Agree and amplify is the second method, and involves taking their suggestion to a ridiculous level. It reframes their comment as silly: a ridiculous statement/question deserves a ridiculous answer! I admit, it could come across as mean-spirited and sarcastic, so make sure you combine it with a cheeky grin so you’re not being a complete arse. You might say something like “you’re absolutely right. I live in a field, and smoke weed all day! I’m the typical hippy!”. Use this tactic sparingly.


Here’s this week’s takeaways;
  1. Mainly be non-reactive but sprinkle in some agree and amplify
  2. After the fact, try and work out where people are coming from; see it from their point of view as well. As annoying as it may be, you might have been obnoxious yourself.
  3. On the whole, stick to your guns and make reasoned choices. If it doesn’t go well, have the humility to say that you were wrong.

Until next time,
Cowlean

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Post 50: What Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen


Hi guys,

The inspiration for this week’s post was forced upon one me a few nights ago. Rumblings in a not so far off place startled me; no, not from the recesses of my deep, dark mind, but my neighbour’s bedroom. While it would certainly be interesting to start this topic off with a tall story of hanky-panky, and the accompanying unspoken yet heavily implied high-fives the next day, the truth was much more mundane: their snoring woke me up. No big deal? Everyone snores now and then, and waking up for a few minutes then going back to sleep won’t hurt you right?. At this point you’re probably thinking: snoring can’t be seen, and you would be correct! But this is just the hook I’m throwing out to reel you in...




Now, this happens often enough that I’ve procured a handy set of earplugs and an eye cover (ironically, the brand is bedtime bliss… - C) which tide me over and allow my beauty sleep (as if I need one! - C). Without these handy tools, I’d be royally screwed, and to be honest sleep is one of the things I am most sensitive to. I can eat badly by my own standards for a day or two and feel subpar, or even a week and feel pretty bad, but after one night’s bad sleep my vitality goes down the pan. I’d be royally screwed because once I hear that awful roar, I can’t unhear it. A peaceful slumber would be beyond me and be replaced with a constant up and down battle to re-enter REM sleep’s warm embrace.

The big question is: why does it bother me so much? And I mean “so much” as in beyond the fact that I was woken up and had my sleep affected. It bothers me so much because there’s a problem that the person has done nothing to solve (and unwittingly triggered my saviour complex aka an enormous ego which obviously knows best! -C) . What’s the cause of the snoring? Is it smoking, drinking, being overweight, etc? Fair enough if it’s hereditary, but wouldn’t that mean the problem would always have been there? I doubt it’s the latter. I’m time and again forced into the realisation that most people prefer to suffer.

And that’s exactly why this post is titled in such a manner. Once you’re aware of something, it becomes very hard to ignore it, especially when you look at yourself and say “well I’d just do X,Y,Z and the problem would be solved”, which leads to irritation where you can’t do anything to solve it. Once you start to lose weight, you judge what everyone else is doing and can start to diagnose their problems. The truth is that if they had the same drive and resources as you, they probably would have solved their issue already.

So when you see that someone has actively chosen not to deal with their problem, and have accepted their woe as “just another part of life”, then you can’t help but feel contempt (especially when you acknowledge that down the road, you are the insurer of their bad decisions). I hold the people who diagnose and attempt to address their own problems in the highest regard. Success in their efforts is not a prerequisite; the attempt is what counts.


If you’re someone who can just look over it, then great, although the person suffering will try and milk you for pity so that they can feed off the attention. My tried and tested tactic is just to ignore them: non-reactivity is key. I’ve also created a win-win environment for myself by seeing the situation this way: either they ask for help and you participate in their results and their happiness, or they continue with their “woe is me” mindset and you have one more person to look good in comparison to. Try and cut these people out of your life as much as possible. I’m betting that even as you read this, certain people come to mind who you would love to help but they are constantly self-sabotaging. Deep down you know they have to go, whether it’s now or further down the line. That includes anything you consume (even this blog! - C).

In the meantime, while you’re building up the courage to cut away negative influences, do whatever you can for yourself: stop consuming the media that makes you despair and minimise the possible impact that other people’s bad choices can have on you. Take my noisy neighbours: I could have done nothing and shot them the ol’ stink eye every time I saw them. Instead I’ve taken action to minimise the negative externalities.

To anyone who’ll tell you you’re selfish, remember that in your life you are number one, and everyone else is the supporting actor to the movie written, directed and starring you (not that kind of movie! ;) - C).

This week’s takeaways:
  1. If something’s bothering you, do the most you can yourself to get rid of the negative externalities they’re creating.
  2. Build up the courage to cut ties with the negative influences in your life; stick to your guns and if they want to be part of your life they’ll change.
  3. Don’t allow other people’s “woe is me” mindset to affect you by ignoring them; their actions feed off of your attention.

And there you have it, post 50. If you liked this post, leave a comment down below. If you hated it, leave a comment down below. If you felt indifferent, leave a comment down below. If someone else’s comment offends you in some way, comment and start a flame war. Basically, just comment.

Until next time,
Cowlean

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Post 49: 30 Day Challenge Review


Hi guys,

As most of you reading this are aware, I recently enjoyed (mostly enjoyed, sometimes endured - C) a 30 day blogging challenge. The aim: to write and release at least 250 words a day on any topic I wanted. On top of that, I had to track my calories and weight and tell everyone what they were each day. Since I couldn’t hold back and knew people were watching, it had the knock-on effect of pushing me to clean up my diet. What had drifted back to roughly 70% good 30% bad, went to 90:10. That’s the spot I like to aim for.  

Just over 30 days later (I was late on a couple of posts, even the best of us slip up after all), it was complete. That was over 11,500 words: the length of a dissertation, most of which was written off of the top of my head. As a collected work, it’s actually bigger than my Master’s thesis, and shows you what you might have stored up inside your noggin. I deserve a pat on the back from me to me.



Summing up what happened


Like I said earlier, the whole thing made me pay a lot of attention to what I was eating. Something I kept returning to was the theme of accountability and how it helps you out with these things. I felt its effects strongly. I am certainly a lot healthier now, and am making better choices. That was mainly because there was no longer any anonymity to bad decisions.

I’m also feeling more energetic, and in touch with my health. One of the things that happens when you “eat clean” is that you’re much more sensitive to change. You notice when something takes you from feeling good to bad. This ties into the interplay of low hanging fruit and dieting: when you start out you make the easier changes which interestingly have the biggest effects. Small changes have small effects, but once you’re further down the path you dial everything else in and it feels like they have a much larger impact.

However, the health, weight, and calories aspects were all playing second fiddle to the blogging itself. I found it surprisingly easy to put together each day’s post as most of the words just spilled out of my mind, onto the screen. Some days it took more work to think of a topic, and churn the words out, but those were few and far between. The overarching lesson here is that if you’re trying to do something each day, just starting in some very small way helps a tonne. Often times I would sit down with my laptop and think it would be a churn-day, whereas the words flowed effortlessly.

Have a look at the classic graph of how to achieve flow. Often times the difficulty just clicked and I was happy to type away for much more than the 250 words I prescribed myself. In fact, had I only written 250 words a day, I would have only written 2/3s of what I did.



Summing up my ideas


The 30 days also gave me a great opportunity to experience a personal journey; one where I crystallised my own ideas and started to figure out what I wanted to discuss in the future. I loved talking about the psychology behind weight loss. Once I had the topic, I was completely fine just to run with it and bring something to the table which someone else might not be able to.

I love the science and the internal mechanisms behind the effects of different foods, but there are smarter guys out there who are also putting that content out. I still want to talk about the processes, because I think it’s important to back up action X with reason Y, but now I want to focus on bringing something that you definitely won’t find anywhere else: myself.

Rather than setting out to write a post to convince you why you should do something because of reasons A,B and C, I want to present new viewpoints and approach weight loss from what some people might call an inner game perspective.

Summing up 30 day challenges


You see a lot of these around ranging from intense exercise plans to detoxes to sex challenges (just check out that google images screenshot! - C); some I believe are genuinely helpful while others are scams. The unfortunate truths are:

  1. There is no get rich quick system out there that doesn’t require hard work. It might be simple, but it will still require dedication. You’ll have to pick yourself back up time and again.
  2. If you don’t carry on after the 30 days are up, all the positives will melt away.
  3. Current consensus is that it takes 66 days for something to become a habit, but that’s not as appetising as 30 days. It’s easy to imagine the marketing: solve all your problems in just one month!

I’ve done 100 day challenges before and that’s where I think the gold lies. On Day 26 I discussed my influencers and the simple “100 Day Gong” process which comes from Carl Totton and the “What’s This Tao All About?” podcast. The idea is that you set a list of things you have to do each day, and if you don’t complete all of them you have to restart the 100 days. Once you realise that starting again is much more annoying than just doing it, you make sure you crank out those few tasks each day.

On Day 23 I talked about mindful eating and recording what you were having; have a look there for some inspiration for things to put in your own Gong. Make the tasks easy to fulfil and specific, and then build over time. Make the next gong more difficult and work your way up.



Summing up calories and weight

Since this is a blog chiefly concerned with health, I couldn’t leave without talking about one of my biggest bugbears: calories.

People hear weight loss and they think calories restriction. The truth is that it’s much more important what you eat rather than how much.

My results were far from linear, and this is shown in my absolutely beautiful chart made on Google Sheets. You can see that around day 10, the relationship went the opposite way to what we would expect, but then on day 19 my calories and weight tracked each other closely. (Perhaps you should go back and read what happened on those days? Hmmm? - C)

And since I’m a fan of numbers and analysis, I did a simple regression of my weight on calories consumed. The relationship was barely positive, and showed that 100 extra calories each day would only lead to 0.02lbs of weight gain. The R-squared, an indicator of how well the variables explain the variation in each other, was close to 0.

To translate the above, as far as my results were concerned, weight and calories are unrelated. Although take that with a pinch of salt, that’s a short term relationship.  

That’s where my thoughts stand at this moment: yes, over time if you eat a load of calories then you will gain weight; but in the short and medium term is is much more effective to focus on the what rather than the how much.






Summing this post up

So that’s my 30 day challenge in review. This weeks takeaways are:
  1. Try a 30 day challenge, but seriously consider extending it at the end of the 30 days; up to 100 days if possible.
  2. In future, I’ll be talking a lot more about the “inner game” of weight loss and how to navigate the whole thing psychologically
  3. Calories and weight, in the short term, are not as strongly related as you think. Always focus on quality rather than quantity.

Until next time,
Cowlean

Friday, 21 April 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Thirty: 5 Things I Learned



Hi guys,


Weigh-in: 205 lbs
Calories: 2800

So that’s it. 30 days of me droning on is over and I shall no longer be boring into your eyehols on a daily basis. In Post 49, I’m going to be going deeper into what I found out over the time, but here’s a quick summary of what I’ve learned.


1- 30 days is longer than you think. You’re not at your peak motivation every day; sometimes you’re just plain busy. By being accountable (to your friends, to yourself, to the public, etc.) you’re forced to keep churning it out.


2- Have an explicit plan. Know exactly what it is you want to achieve and don’t get waylaid. I set out wanting to write 250 words a day, and stuck to my promise.


3- Have some backups. Prepare what you can in advance. So in my case, what I should have done is written two or three back-up posts which I could release on days I was in a hurry. If you were doing a 30 challenge involving food, you could prepare some meals and freeze them in case you were strapped for time.


4- I know my strengths. I love talking about science and the mechanisms behind what happens when we eat certain foods, but I’m also fascinated by psychology. Having lost the weight myself, I can understand what people are thinking and how to angle a new way of eating to be the most effective.


5- I know what interests you! As well as being a chance for me to express my thoughts, I’ve also been performing some sneaky market research! In future, I’ll take the most popular daily blogs and turn them into full posts.


So there you go. 30 days have come and gone.


Until next time,
Cowlean