Why Emotions Impact A Change In Lifestyle

 
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The common belief is that emotions are fixed and that most human beings experience specific emotions in more or less in the same way. Paul Ekman, a leading psychologist, and pioneer to the study of emotions identified ‘core emotions’ through his research as disgust, fear, surprise, happiness, anger, and sadness. Concluding that all human beings more or less experience these pillar emotions in more or less the same way. Ekman’s conclusion is an important pivot in the study of emotions as his work was then widely accepted as the basis to how we understand emotions and therefore how the majority of researchers after him studied emotions. But, can emotions and therefore human experience be generalized this way?

In a podcast I was listening to, titled “Decoding Our Emotions” (TED Radio Hour by NPR Radio), one of the most significant revelations was learning that some cultures are absent of certain emotions. That some languages in the world do not share the same ability to identify the emotions Ekman had identified as ‘core emotions’ applicable to all peoples, in all instances, and in all situations. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and a Harvard researcher, uses the example of Tahitians, who do not have a word for sadness or Russians, who have multiple kinds of sadnesses. Being bilingual I can relate to this experience, as there are feelings in Bahasa (the language spoken in Indonesia), that aren’t translatable into English. There are feelings in which I can express in Bahasa with one word, that I must dive into an elaborate explanation for when I am trying to explain the feeling to a non-Bahasa speaker. This highlights the subjective, contextual, and cultural boundaries in which emotions are felt, expressed, and identified. This also identifies the inherent boundaries language can create, as Barrett made the point that if an emotion is not available linguistically in the mind, then such emotion will be harder to surface due to the limitation on naming that particular emotion. Barrett concludes that emotions are not universal for all peoples, in all instances, and in all situations, rather emotions are subjective and contextual.

Barrett asks an important question: “does a human brain come pre-wired with the capacity to make anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and so on...the answer is no.” What is clear is that “there’s no single objective fingerprint, single objective measure for any emotion that holds across all instances, across people, across cultures” and that emotions are experienced by how the “brain is basically making predictions, guesses, that it’s constructing in the moment with billions of neurons working together.” In other words, humans have “the kind of brain, that allows us to transmit culture by wiring the brain of the next generation to make perception and experiences in the same way that we do, and so,...  emotions are real, they're absolutely real, [but] they're real in a very situated way, because we've learned and agreed on how to make sense of particular sensation in particular situations.”

What’s significant about the learnings from Barrett’s research is the emphasis she places on experiencing emotions based on context, an individual’s brain, and the agreement and acceptance “on how to make sense of particular sensation in particular situations.” What then, if a person chooses to disagree? Even if there’s a collective agreement based on culture, emotions, at the end of the day, are an individual’s autonomous cognitive appropriation of their reactions to context and situations outside the mind. What comes to light is the opportunity and autonomous potential each individual has when it comes to taking control of their own emotions and how they perceive emotions in others.

In conjunction, the rise of technology and the globalization of ideas exposes people today to higher variables of contexts (i.e. culture and language). Whether it’s due to moving around, mixed-race couples, or even through a hunger for knowledge (made widely available through the internet and technology), culture and context are much more fluid today than in previous generations. The connection I see between this research is how individuals today have more opportunities to take responsibility into their own hands by having more choice about what to agree on and what gets transmitted into the wiring of their brain.The liberating truth to realize is because emotions are fluid, not fixed, and not predetermined, emotions become an opportunity for change. Further, within the climate of today’s globalized world, the potential for each individual to set the context and culture in how emotions influence their life becomes greater.

If emotions are situated and contextual, then the decisions prompted by our emotions are also situated and contextual. The life we choose to live (i.e. whether it’s in the promotion of a healthier self or lack thereof) is dependent therefore on what we’ve learned and what we chose to agree on. The emotions which arise are fluid enough for us to take control of. If exercise causes rise to negative emotions, it is in one’s autonomous capacity (and I would argue responsibility) to change perceptions within their own minds in order to improve the emotional dialogue one has to something that’s meant to better one’s life. It is clear that the responsibility sits with the individual. What’s more important to grasp is how each individual’s unique context and culture (and therefore the emotions associated with healthier choices), are in reality non-universal and autonomous. Finding an individualized approach to achieving a healthier lifestyle becomes dramatically more important. There’s no denying the role emotions play on a lifestyle change and understanding that it is in my power to shape how I experience and express my emotions is a major key to helping me further my journey towards my healthiest self because it is in my capacity to reject any negative or resistant emotion which may arise to the positive changes I wish to embark on.

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The podcast featured more than one TED speaker, but I chose to focus on Lisa Feldman Barrett’s research in order to arrive and elaborate on my own conclusions about the relevance of how we understand emotions in relation to making a lifestyle change.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

 

 

Why Identifying What Drives You Is Important

 

There’s no questioning the role drive plays in our behavior. Drive is what motivates us to take actions, it is what pushes us towards decisions, and it is the momentum towards what we desire. Drive is a foundational element to how we behave. When it comes to working out, this pattern of human behavior is no different. I need to find what drives me in order to figure out what works for me.

Every person possesses free will and an autonomous mind, so no matter how much I try, I will never be able to experience or perceive the world in exactly the same way as another. The only fact is the shared experience all of us claim to share, but there’s no way to prove the accuracy of this claim. How I experience one thing may seem similar to how another experiences the same thing, but we can never experience another’s mind in first person. The mental dwellings in which drive resides is therefore unique to each individual.  

If I am free, autonomous and unique in this world, then what drives me can never be the same with another. There may be similarities in what drives us, but the reality of human existence is that we are unique (even when we are genetically identical, such as the case of twins). Our individuality is what dictates the uniqueness of each individual’s drive.

This is why identifying what drives us is critical to our success in life, and of course, in fitness. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you driven by statistics?

Are you someone who likes to see numbers? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment if you achieved a better score in something? Does things like, cutting down your mile time or seeing the number of calories you’ve burnt after every session satisfy you?

If you’ve said yes to all of the above, then you’re probably someone who loves numbers! Whether statistics helps awaken a competitive edge or whether statistics satisfy an admiration for numbers, if you’re someone who is satisfied by comparing and seeing numbers then this attraction for statistics may be your golden ticket to a successful fitness routine.

There are plenty of gadgets, apps, and gyms out there which can help with this. In the age of technology, there’s always an option which prides itself on numbers. Whether it’s a studio who has a live feed of statistics (like F45 or Orange Theory) or whether the gadget you’re wearing is tracking your distance and calories (like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch), there’s an option for you out there. Make collecting and comparing statistics a priority. Make sure to also set numerical goals for each session.

Are you driven by how you feel?

Are you someone who doesn’t enjoy counting calories? Do you prefer running as much as you can or running at a specific time and/or distance? Does the number on the scale matter to you? Are you someone who judges their health and athleticism based on reports or numbers?

If you’ve answered against numbers and statistics, then feeling is definitely your drive. I am in this category. I am less driven by statistics and numbers. I don’t even really pay attention to my weight unless I have to. I hate counting calories and when it comes to health and fitness, my decisions are driven by how I feel.

When I run, I run as much as I can until I feel like I can’t go any further. I never count calories, I eat what I feel is right at the time. If I’ve had a bad meal or a bad weekend, I will feel sluggish, so I will eat healthier the next couple of meals. Rather than going with statistics available through so many studios, apps, and machines these days, I track my effort by feeling. Do I feel exerted or do I feel I can give more? I also almost never weigh myself, I’d rather go with how I feel in my clothes or how I feel in general.

These are signs of a person driven by feeling. If you’re like me then the way to figure out what routine is best for you is by getting in touch with how you feel before, after, and during a workout. How does running make me feel? How does circuit training make me feel? Do I feel like I have more energy in the morning or at night? Go by what you feel and try motivating yourself by feeling. Think about how amazing and accomplished you’ll feel after a workout or think about how guilty you’ll feel if you don’t work out. Make feeling a priority.

I can sense all of you out there thinking, “what if I never feel like working out?” Well at the end of the day, whether you’re driven by statistics or driven by feeling there’s still a need to take the first step. If you want to see results, if you want to live an active lifestyle, then the first step is always to do something about it. Whether it’s to run, try out a new gym, hire a personal trainer, doing on online workout at home, the options are endless, but identifying drive is what will help direct you in your choices and hopefully help you stay consistent with your routine.

 
 

A Different Approach To Resolutions

 
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Most of us enter a New Year eager for changes, expectations, and improvements. A lot of us start hoping that this year is our year! This is the year I will have more time to read, be in the best shape of my life, skyrocket in my career, etc. There is an endless list of possibilities when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. With so much hope and aspirations, if you’re like me more often than not I arrive at the end of each year, for the most part, disappointed at my uncanny ability at falling short with my resolutions.

Now that 2017 is coming to a close, I reflect upon the goals and resolutions I had set for myself at the end of last year and realize something. I’ve miraculously dodged my almost routined disappointment and have surprised myself with my success rate this year. Although I didn’t 100% succeed in all my resolutions, I’ve done a lot better than in my previous years and here’s why:

Identifying & understanding my motivations.

Let me use a simple resolution and start by sharing how I used to approach it. I chose to focus my attention on the action and/or activity. For example, I always have a goal of reading at least four books a year. This may sound simple to an avid reader, but I am someone who I classify as a non-reader by nature. Reading a book isn’t something I do on a daily basis, nor is it something I gravitate to if an opportunity arises. Reading for me is something I consciously make an effort of doing because at the end of the day I love to learn and although audio books are an option, I still think there’s great value in reading books (well, my Kindle). Now, this may sound crazy to some of you bookworms out there, but this is the first year since my days in school where I’ve succeeded in this resolution. (Truthfully, I was a fan of SparkNotes!) Yes, that’s right I finally read four books in a year! MIRACLE.

The difference between this year from previous years is the question of why. I asked myself why I had set this as a resolution each year, why is this resolution important and what is my motivation and purpose behind this resolution. Let me share my answers with you:

Why is reading important? What is my motivation & purpose behind this resolution?

To learn. I value knowledge and continuous learning-- as Socrates had said “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing” or in other words, the wisdom we possess is in knowing that there’s always room to learn more. The human brain has an insatiable capacity for knowledge and learning. Simply said by Dr. Seuss, “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Simply said by Dr. Seuss, “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Note: Worth noting that I pretty much only read non-fiction books

What was different about this year was that reading was my avenue towards satisfying my purpose to keep on learning. I was motivated simply by the fact that the reason I read was no longer just to read a book, but that I wanted to gain knowledge, continue to learn, and stimulate my brain.

There’s something powerful that happens when I attach a bigger intention and purpose to the goal I want to achieve. In previous years, it was hard to get myself to read because I viewed reading as a chore. Meaning, reading was a chore which took time away from doing other things I enjoyed. Instead, this year I focused my attention on the bigger picture and the motivation towards the action.

It sounds simple, but give this a go this coming New Year! Make sure to attach each resolution to a deeper motivation with a greater purpose in your life.

Here are some questions which might help:

  • Why is this resolution important to you?

  • What are the motivations behind this resolution?

  • What is the purpose of this resolution?

  • What are the positive impacts/changes that will result from completing this resolution?

  • What is driving you towards this resolution?

  • How will this resolution impact you and/or others around you?

  • Is this resolution for you or for someone else? If for someone else, who is this person(s) and why is this resolution important for them?

Cheers to a wonderful New Year’s Celebration! Here’s to a wonderful year ahead.

 

Am I Enough?

 
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Confidence, positive self-image, security, and contentment in myself is something new in my life. Where I am today is not where I was even a year ago. The power self-defeating thoughts had over my mind and my life had always been the larger struggle. The negative internal dialogue was sometimes crippling and I know is damaging. Where I have arrived today on my journey is somewhere that’s liberating. It’s a space where I am happy with myself and how I am. It’s a place where I am comfortable in my own skin. Finding this comfort is why I want to share my revelations because this way of living is so much more fulfilling.

The dominant damaging thoughts which sabotaged my life were:

“I am not skinny enough.”

Those who have known me all my life will tell you that I’ve never been overweight, nor have I ever been close to being overweight. I gained around 9 kg (approx. 19 lbs) in my first year of university in the US, but I never really struggled with being overweight. Then there was a time in high school when I was scary skinny. I was about 43 kg (approx. 94 lbs) with a height of 160cm (approx. 5 ft  2 in), this was a point where my friends and even my teachers were concerned. Yes, I’ve had my share of fluctuations. What is intriguing is the fact that even with no real concern of being overweight, I used to suffer from the perpetuating thought that always told me I wasn’t skinny enough.

A lot of reading has told me that this self-defeating thought probably had something to do with experiences in my past, whether it’s personal, due to societal pressures, influence from the media, or because of certain relationships, the reasons are complex. Whatever the cause though, it is troubling to remember the demons I battled when it came to my self-image. I wasn’t physically overweight, but my thoughts were so strong in their portrayal of my body, that I always felt that I was never skinny enough.

I can laugh about it now because I’ve finally realized something really powerful. In this self-damaging thought I had, who is the ideal I was trying to be skinny for? If I kept thinking, “I am not skinny enough,” the real question should be, “but for who?”

“I am not strong enough.”

There was a time in my life where I was intimidated and immobilized by challenges. I mean who isn’t, but I had an unhealthy relationship with my fears which led me to never take action or ever be willing to put myself out there to take a risk. The honest truth is this was one of the reasons why I never tried Barry’s Bootcamp when I was in the US. After hearing about how hard the class was, I was terrified at the thought of having to go into an environment I was not familiar with and risk failure (I am laughing at how silly this seems now).

The fearful voice inside my head refused to hear the positives about the class. All my energy was focused on the worst case scenario (i.e. I embarrass myself and am unable to complete the class), which ended up stopping me from stepping into an experience which I could have enjoyed. The voice inside my head stopped me from something I might have enjoyed, even without experiencing the class or knowing the real outcome. Sounds familiar?

“I am not smart enough.”

I remember moving to a new school and really struggling, especially when I moved into middle school. I had really poor grades. Cs and Ds were my friends. I remember feeling stupid, unaccomplished, and incapable, until one day in 8th grade one teacher who believed in me and suddenly everything changed. I became a straight A student that year and even got the most improved student award. From then on, I became an above average student. What happened?

That was a really long time ago, but this experience has stuck with me because anytime my mind goes into a downward spiral of thinking that my intelligence is lacking in some way, I think back to this moment in my life and realize that it’s all in my head. I mean I can never know everything, nor can I even try to know everything so lack in knowledge is normal and of course I am not speaking about technical knowledge, but what I am focusing on here is that feeling of not being smart enough for anything. What I remind myself now is that there’s always something I can do about it. Whether it’s to find books and read up on certain things, find a friend or a person who can help fill the gaps, or in some other way take action to minimize whatever gap I feel I have; there’s always a way if we’re willing to find a way.

“I am not enough.”

I struggled with this statement a lot more before. It’s something that rears it’s head here and there even now on some occasions, but I’ve learned how to handle such thoughts. When reality kicks in I realize something simple, almost obvious, but also powerful. All these self-defeating statements and thoughts are exactly that; they’re thoughts! They’re a created and sometimes imaginary perception sitting in my mind. The power it has over myself and my life is only as strong as I allow myself to believe in these thoughts.

What’s interesting about thoughts are that no one else, but I have the power to change my thoughts. My thoughts may be influenced by external things. My thoughts may be a reaction to external things, but ultimately the final decision about what I choose to think about, how I choose to think, and what lies in my mind is in my control.

Self-defeating thoughts exist in my mind. If I choose to believe it’s true, then it will be true in my experience of myself in the world. If I choose not to believe it’s true, then it will remain false in my experience of myself in the world. It sounds simple, but this is why acquiring a strong command of my mind is such a priority in my life. The strength of my thoughts is as strong as I allow it to be. At the end of the day, I am in control.
 

 

The Mental Game

 
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More, more, more, and more. We live in a world of more! More is better, harder is better, longer is better, etc. What’s left in the back seat is what seems to be an old age mantra of finding balance, whether in life or in the pursuit towards health and wellness. In the realm of more, it is important to highlight that fitness is not just about packing on the weights and clocking in more hours. Fitness is as much a mental game as it is physical. I believe the way to optimize the value of the journey towards a healthier self is to first outline a mental framework in which to operate from.

# 1 - The Give & Take Mentality.

The combination of life, humans, the world, the universe, and all else in it equals to a concoction of imperfection, but that’s what’s beautiful about my day to day. What I am sure of is that in my pursuit towards health and wellness, I can’t and never will be 100% perfect; nor am I trying or saying I am close to perfect. The only thing I hold myself responsible to is in being honest in my approach. How much am I willing to give and how much can I take?

The give and take mentality is like a pros and cons list for my journey towards health and wellness. This is where I outline (in my head-- but if writing down a list helps you, then go for it) the wins and compromises in my journey. For example, I know alcohol (as much as I wish I can)  is something that’s unrealistic for me to give up forever, but in contrast, something like sugary drinks is more realistic for me to give up forever. I almost never drink sodas (unless it’s the only drink available), I never add sugar to tea or coffee,  I never add sweetener to my morning smoothies and whenever I have a choice, I’ll go for the non-sugary mixer (like a vodka soda instead of a cranberry vodka). But, there are those out there, who will find giving up alcohol comes much more naturally. The point I am making here is, there’s no one solution fits all. It’s about being realistic with my choices because after all I still need to enjoy my life. What I keep asking myself is, what am I willing to give and how much can I take? There’s no point in going through life with an endless list of restrictions because that will drive anyone crazy.

# 2 -  Restrictions aren’t a way to live.

When we think of losing weight or getting fit a lot of people (I admit I was one of these people), gravitate towards rules and restrictions: “I have to cut sugar out completely,” “I have to work out at high intensities at least 5 days a week,” “I can only eat low sodium foods,” and let’s be honest the list goes on and on. If there are so many new rules to follow, then do I need to add, “remember to enjoy life,” as part of the guide to a better me? But, I hope to never get to a point where I need to be reminded to appreciate my life.

The bombardment of misleading messaging of more equals to better which is so prevalent in the diet and the fitness industries does leave a lot of confusion! The truth of the matter is, health and wellness is not about temporary unrealistic rules (that will only be kept for a couple months at best), rather health and wellness is about creating long-term parameters that will help steer life in a different direction forever. There’s a huge difference between saying, “I have to cut sugar out completely,” to “I will have less sugar by avoiding sugary drinks and sugary treats.” The difference is in the words and the specificity on how to frame the behavior.

Let’s dive into this a little more. “Cut out” versus “less” and “avoid” are similar, but very different words. The former is a strict command that leaves no room for error, while the latter two words allow for imperfection (i.e. allows us to be more human in our approach). It might seem like a small difference, but it completely changed how I responded to slip ups. Rather than feeling guilt and blaming myself for not sticking to my rule, I respond with a lot more understanding and an attitude that’s more forgiving like, “do better next time.” The unexpected reality was how once I alleviated the restrictive mentality, it was much easier to make better choices for myself.

What’s ironic about how my mind operated was that the more I had a hard no and restricted myself, the more I thought about it and the more chances I relapsed. But, when I shifted my thinking to a more forgiving space, it was much easier for me to follow the ‘rule’.

# 3 - Listen to your body

This might seem obvious, but working at a gym and also going through overtraining syndrome myself woke me up to how difficult it actually is to listen to my body. The prevalent culture in today’s fitness world encourages us to work harder than ever before, this is why the phrase “no days off” has become so popular; with over 4.5 million hashtags on Instagram. The truth of the matter is, rest days are so important to our fitness journey because at rest are when muscles grow and regenerate. Without rest, muscles will be fatigued and development will either be slowed or halted.

What I need to remember to do is to ask myself: how am I doing? If the answer is, I am tired because I didn’t get enough sleep or I am a lot sorer today than I usually am. That’s a good indication that it’s time to listen and take a step back. The integrity of this decision really lies in me and is there a point to cheating myself? What’s important is to be reflective and honest about how I feel and decide what is the appropriate level of activity for that day. Whether it’s to reduce the intensity of the workout, opt for a more low-impact exercise like yoga or pilates, or to actually take a day off and maybe even get a massage. There are plenty of appropriate ways to take it easy. Again, it’s about an individual choice, you’ll know what’s right!

# 4 - Health & wellness is a lifestyle choice.

The theme of all the above is health and wellness is in my hands. There’s no one that’s going to make the hard decisions for me. It’s about looking at my life and deciding what are the realistic changes to make. It’s about understanding that this is a long-term commitment versus a couple months before my beach getaway. There’s no one that’s really going to monitor how I choose to live. It’s about taking charge of my own health, wellness and destiny!