The Nature of Change: Part 1 “Time is Different Here"
Ben Franklin once said, “Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to these changes will determine the success in your life.”
If change is constant, then it makes sense to understand how it works. Especially if we want to change something for the better in our lives, like our fitness level or health status.
This series offers new ways of thinking to help you navigate the challenge of lifestyle change.
We experience change all the time, and most of the time it’s hard…at first.
Our comfort zones can be intoxicating.
This is because our brain creates habits, solidly wired patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors which guide us the majority of the time, without much, if any, energy and effort. Research has shown that about 95% of the decisions we make every day are habits, which means only 5% are coming from conscious thought!
As amazing as our brain is, it’s important to understand that, in an evolutionary sense, if we do a certain behavior and survive, it’s worth repeating again and again. the bar is not high for success from the brain’s perspective. This is a function of the oldest part of our brain, sometimes called the lizard brain, whose job it is to keep us alive…and this is where habits are made and stored.
This part of our brain is also the fear center – a reactionary system that’s great at saving us the energy of decision-making and survivability, but a horrible system for leading a life at the peak of our potential.
So, how can we increase our ability to change and adapt?
Step 1: The most critical insight is to fully realize the importance of learning about the nature of change and experimentation.
If a person is able to better master the skill of becoming adaptable to change, life can become much less turbulent, the sense of control or agency in your life goes up, and the sense of anxiety or fear of the unknown goes down.
The outcomes you seek for your life almost become “just a matter of time.”
Optimum wellness requires consistently changing daily behavior and building new habits.
When looking for a result that you currently don’t have, by nature you must change something.
Whether it’s health, appearance, performance, education, deep relationships, happiness…all of the most worthy pursuits in life take time, focus, consistency, and effort. This might not be a flashy headline that sells magazines, but it is the truth – and decisions based on the truth will create better outcomes in the long term.
Understanding how Time Works when Trying to Change
The concept of time is a human construct: We set up our calendars in a linear way, thinking of time as occurring in a straight line from left to right, with going backward in time being impossible.
This is a human abstraction of time. If we study nature, the thing that we came from and that we ARE, we can see clearly that time happens in cycles. It is non-linear.
Days are cycles of the earth’s movement, sun up, sundown. Ocean tides up, then down. Global weather patterns. Seasons. Photosynthesis, growth, and harvest. Sleep, dream, wake.
Lift weights -> muscle soreness -> recovery -> muscle growth.
Eat food -> digest food -> eliminate waste -> repeat.
Motivation is cyclical, up and down, high and low.
The stock market is another familiar example of where we see cyclical time.
You get the idea. Now let’s bring this from intellectual theory to the practical.
Non-Linear Time and Trying to Lose Weight.
With 80% of the country overweight or obese, this is the most practical ground level we can discuss, even if it isn’t your particular goal.
Have you ever done all the ‘right things’ with nutrition and exercise for 4 days then step on the scale on day 5 and in horror the scale shows you UP a pound? Most people get extremely frustrated and confused by this, sending them into an emotional spiral, and they spend that day in ‘screw it’ mode, going off the deep end and eating whatever they want. There’s an association, conscious or unconscious, that all your efforts weren’t worth the effort, so why bother.
This is the reason I don’t recommend weighing yourself daily unless you understand the non-linear time and your own body’s patterns.
On Day 5, after eating Twinkies and bon-bon’s to their heart’s content, they weigh themselves and they are down 3 lbs! This is non-linear time in action and no amount of wishing or expectations will change this.
A more common ending to this scenario is that the emotional blow dealt by stepping on the scale with a linear time mindset throws you back into old habits faster than Newton’s apple can fall to the ground, and you never achieve long enough consistency of the right behaviors to see any drop in weight.
This is because your metabolism works on non-linear time – the body is responding to what happened days ago, it does not follow our concept of linear time no matter how much we wished it would.
The body/mind is constantly adapting to what is and what is not in its environment, and there are thousands of regulatory processes and feedback loops happening under the hood that we know about, and more that we don’t.
If we have an expectation that our bodies will respond in a linear fashion, we are living in delusional thinking, and making decisions based on delusion is folly. This is a primary cause of the lack of ability most people have to make and sustain real change in their lifestyle to obtain long-term goals.
What you ate 4 days ago can affect your energy levels and thinking today. Whether you got enough sunlight last week can affect your mood this week. That eating/drinking binge habit with your friends on Friday night may be why Monday always feels hard to get through.
There are thousands of these processes going on all the time. As technologically advanced as we believe we are in our modern times, we don’t yet have nearly enough computer processing power to scratch the surface at predicting individual outcomes through all interconnected systems of the body.
This prediction is the promise of personalized medicine, and it is happening now.
For example, in the emerging realm of the human microbiome, VIOME is a cutting edge company with proprietary technology and algorithms to see every microorganism living in your gut and produce personalized nutritional intake recommendations to achieve better balance and thus better healing, health, and performance of brain and body.
Avoid the Pitfall of a Linear Time Perspective by Increasing Awareness and Practicing
Once you’ve gained an increased understanding, begin to train yourself to see cyclical time around you. It’s on display everywhere, right under your nose.
A greater awareness of how the systems of life operate will yield more and better decisions day to day toward a longer-term goal, aka your health and fitness pursuits.
Concrete example: You go for a beach run for the first time in years. Two days later your knees are achy and hurt. This is an extreme example to illustrate the point, but even still, many people won’t connect the pain in their joints to something they DID (running or sitting too much) or something they did NOT do (proper stretching or generally moving more to keep the joint strong) days ago.
When you understand that every process grows and declines in a pattern, you can begin to pay attention to these patterns, learn them, and facilitate the direction of the pattern toward growth. (or decline, in the case of stopping an undesired habit like overeating or smoking)
I’m going to deconstruct this pattern recognition and manipulation in a concrete way so you can gain traction in The Nature of Change: Part 2: "What State Are You In?"