PLEASE FORGIVE ME, man. This article might cross a boundary, into “your private business.” And certainly, it’s just scratching the surface of deep stuff.
From this provocative start, it may now seem I swerve to a boring topic: so-called “Systems Thinking.” But hang in here for a second, please.
You may recognize Systems Thinking as a business and engineering buzz phrase. But it’s also highly applicable to ourselves as people. And in this context, it’s NOT boring at all.
Definition: Systems Thinking uses habits, tools and concepts to better understand the linkages and interactions among components of a complex system. This helps identify “leverage points” to achieve desired outcomes.
Let’s think of our own personal “systems” in a very simplified way: body, heart (emotions), and mind (intellectual functions). “Holistic Self” sounds kind of hokey and New Age-y, I realize, but that’s another way to think about this. Putting labels aside, let’s apply personal systems thinking to the OlderBeast goal. Doubling down on fitness, nutrition and wellness, to maximize the second half of our lives.
With this as context now, I’m here to make two key points.
1. This one won’t surprise you much, but it’s worth recapping. Fitness/nutrition investments we make directly improve our sense of emotional well-being and our intellectual effectiveness.
2. But also, I wonder. When we struggle to find time, motivation, discipline for our physical health…is this an isolated issue, or rather a symptom of emotional or intellectual blockages we should work through?
POSITIVE EFFECT: FITNESS/NUTRITION ==> BENEFITS FOR HEART/MIND
Exercise and nutrition make us feel physically better, but they make us feel better in an emotional sense, too. I think you know this, so here’s just a brief recap of reasons:
- Chemical and biological impact. Exercise and good nutrition reduce stress hormones like cortisol in our system, and increase positive-impact neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin. This is a virtuous cycle, where the good feelings then return to benefit the body component of the system. Stress reduction prevents real, physical harm we’re exposed to from chronic stress. And release of “reward” neurotransmitters builds motivation to continue and expand on good habits.
- Better self-image. Dropping a little weight (or maintaining a good weight), having visible muscle tone, staying flexible and nimble. These things keep us feeling that OlderBeast feeling of “I may be getting old-ER, but I’m not OLD. I can still be a ‘beast,’ now and for years to come.”
- Space for peace and tranquility. Exercise—especially running or walking outside, swimming and yoga—bring us a respite from the constant press of modernity. It creates time for refreshing mental quiet. And often in that quiet time, creativity and problem-solving bubble up unbidden.
In addition to emotional benefits, exercise literally makes our brains work better. Yeah, it brings us more energy to apply to mental tasks. But beyond that, it physically improves the brain for memory and cognitive functions. Here’s a Harvard Medical School article on the topic, if you want to go deeper.
SELF-LIMITING DYNAMIC: HEART/MIND ==> DISCOURAGE FITNESS/NUTRITION
Now we get to the meaty and challenging other side of this “systems” dynamic. I can’t presume to know what’s going on with you, so let’s explore this by talking about me.
In the early 2000’s, I weighed 20 pounds more than I do now, and I was less strong and flexible. I belonged to a gym and went through the motions there a few times a week, but not with a lot of purpose or intensity. And NOT well-supported by good nutrition. I hadn’t even heard of wellness, mindfulness, or any of that stuff.
Yeah, I was really busy with work, and our kids were young, so time availability was an issue. But looking back, I could’ve found time for 1-2 more workouts per week. And I could have made workouts more diverse across endurance, strength and flexibility…and more fun.
And time challenges had nothing to do with me standing in the pantry eating tortilla chips straight out of the bag at 10 pm, brother.
It’s easier to say this with the distance of time. My subconscious emotional state was anxious about and a little frustrated by my job. I was sometimes frazzled from family demands. Without thinking about it, I was acting in “basic survival” mode with little longer-term thinking. This limited my fitness/nutrition motivation in a “wallow in difficulties” type of way.
And intellectually, I chose to prioritize incremental work over making time for fitness. I was unproductively chasing the hope that “just another hour” would create some breakthrough in success (and thus happiness) that the other 59 or 69 work hours that week hadn’t.
Ironically, as I now recognize, working out a bit more and smarter, and eating better, would have improved my sense of emotional well-being and my mental freshness/creativity. Doubling down on body-and-soul health would have greatly helped the other components of my personal “system.”
But instead, I allowed the other system components to affect and limit my health. Which then brought a “negative cycle” impact back to those other components.
F**k. I’m glad I’m not in that mode anymore.
So that’s my story of fitness, nutrition and wellness struggle (part of it, anyway). I overcame this via self-awareness about what was going on, then just “getting started” on improvement, which brought its own self-reinforcing motivation.
If you want to read more about different types of motivation and how to work up a “motivation curve,” please read this OlderBeast article. Or if you want to read about how actions affect emotions and mood (not just the other way around), this is a great article from Psychology Today. Here’s one key quote:
“The shortest, most reliable way to change how you’re feeling is to change what you’re doing.”
But there’s really no magic, one-size-fits-all formula for breaking through this. So I won’t attempt to give further “advice” here.
Rather, with your thriving in mind, I invite you to live with the following questions for a little while. “Live with” as in don’t just shrug them off, but don’t feel you need a full answer immediately, either. Just think about these for a while, dude.
- What’s the impact of your emotions on your motivation for fitness and good nutrition?
- Which priorities, values and assumptions is your mind acting on (consciously or subconsciously) when you choose to not exercise or eat well? (and have priorities changed as you hit “mid-life“?)
- What possibilities might open up if you could see these things plainly and truthfully?
- What could realizing these possibilities mean for your life?
With OlderBeast, I don’t just think of myself as a “writer” and you as a “reader.” I think of us as “friends who haven’t met yet.” So please, friend, let me know if I can help!
“Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind. Had to get away to see what we could find.” (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Marrakesh Express — click to listen)
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