Why We’re Failing As An Industry [part 1]

Right now, there’s more dedicated health, fitness and wellness professionals than ever before. We know more about the human body than any generation previous. The 100m and marathon records have been broken in recent years. Numerous world powerlifting and weightlifting records have fallen.

We are the pinnacle of health and human performance.

BUT we’re fatter, sicker, weaker and more unhealthy than at ANY other point in the history of mankind.

The question must be WHY?

Personal trainers, fitness instructors, nutritionists, life coaches, dietitians, witch doctors and gurus have all failed to solve this connumdrum. We’re failing you as an industry.

I believe it is because we fail to adequately establish the gap between where you are “now”, and what you say your “goal” is. We’re trying our best, but we’re failing at every turn. The answer can’t be “will power”, or “wanting it bad enough”, or even “self sabotage”. It HAS to be something more.

But what…?

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All will power really is is forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do – so it can’t be that. Self sabotage is actively sabotaging your goals in a conscious manner – no one DECIDES in a logical manner to ruin their path to their goals. It “just happens”.

So it can’t be that either.

Failing to achieve a goal is really your body’s reaction to threat, and the different parts of your brain fighting to stay safe.

Our two biggest fears are death and judgement.

Being “judged” makes you feel like you’re under threat. The threat mannifests as a logical thought (what if he doesn’t like me) which becomes a fear (say of social exclusion) and finally ends up as a reaction (lashing out – “f*ck him, he’s a dick anyway”).

The primary function of your brain is one of survival. Until we are confident on all levels (conscious and unconscious) that there is no immediate risk to our survival, we will never reach the “thrive” stage. So… you have to look after your ENTIRE brain, and not just your logical thought process.

 

HOW YOUR BRAIN WORKS
Before going on, it’s important to understand  a few things about how our brain works. It functions on three main levels – the reptilian, the mammalian and the frontal cortex.

Your reptilian brain is a non-thinking, reactionary mechanism. It’s ONLY goal is survival and it is constantly analysing every bit of data in your environment to decide if it presents a threat or not.

The next level in our evolution was the mammalian brain. It’s responsibility is the maintenance of social connections and hierarchy within that group. It’s the loving and emotional part of your brain. We realised long ago that functioning as part of a tribe or group is the surest way for survival, so it’s constantly on the look out for upsets in that area.

Finally, we arrive at the most recent incarnation – the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Your logic centre. It is the thing that seperates us as humans and allows us to be logical, creative and imaginary. When we “think” we’re using our PFC, but it’s really just a slave to the whims and desires of the reptilian and mammalian brains.

So we can never meet our human mind, until our animal brains are happy.

With that – we learn something important… Negative emotions are good. They’re our body’s invitation to create a positive change because it recognises something isn’t working the way it should be.

Brain

Remember, because our body is reacting to a set of (for the most part) environmental stimuli, until we take control of that – we will be powerless. It is constantly seeking to recognise patterns, create predictions based off that pattern, initiate a response, and finally a complete an action. So that it can (in the first instance) survive, then take advantage of opportunities, and finally thrive, or reach “self actualisation”.

 

YEAH…BUT WHY?
All of our decisions and actions are based on the pursuit of a feeling – confidence, happiness, importance, freedom, love. Whatever. If you boil it down to it’s smallest part, everything you do is for a “feeling” of some sort.

It’s why people join “28 day transformations”. At the end of the 28 days, they want to feel X (let’s say confident). But what if we could generate that confidence (remember, that’s the “why”) quicker? Say, in 28 minutes….

If you’re a girl reading this – here’s how you do it in 3 easy steps;
1) Make an appointment to get your hair and nails done
2) Route our your “special” clothes (you know the ones – you feel like a million bucks in them) 
3) Go out into a social occasion and notice how much better you instantly feel

…and I’m not saying that’s your problem solved, just that you don’t have to completely delay gratification and feeling until a predetermined time has passed.

 

BRAIN BULLSHIT
The “thing” is NEVER the thing. Losing weight is never what you’re after. It’s how you think you’ll feel when you’ve lost the weight that you’re chasing. EVERYONE has the capacity to be great and achieve their goals, but almost nobody has reached it yet. It’s a threat problem.

We will never be able to speak to our PFC until the animal parts are happy. A negative bias in life is normal – it’s part of our survival instincts. It’s a chance for our brain to recognize and create new patterns to move forwards based off the question “what is not working for me right now”.

Your environment (sights, sounds, smells, location, social group, bosses, work, friends, partner, kids etc etc) is a HUGE emotional trigger. It’s like a loaded shotgun ready to go off at the slightest nudge. We are constantly doing battle between doing the “war” and “peace” side of ourselves – our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

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WHY SMOKING CAN BE GOOD
The war and peace argument is a curious animal. How can something as bad as smoking, be potentially good? The key is in the principle. What does a typical cigarette break look like?

You remove yourself from the stressful environment (work), you communicate with your coworkers and nurture your mammalian brain by increasing social connection (you talk outside with em) and finally you take some deep breaths and move from SNS dominance (war) to PNS dominance (relaxation). 

It’s not that smoking is good per se, but that the ritual around it can be hugely beneficial. 

The sympathetic nervous system can be know by the 5Fs – fight, flight, freeze, food, and fuck (…fornicate?). It’s on the look our for danger, survival and the continuation of the species. 

Your parasympathetic nervous systems looks after RRRD – rest, repair, regeneration and digestion. 

Both have CRUCIAL roles to play – the SNS looks after your immediate needs, and the PNS backs it up by taking care of the longer term survival issues (taking the food you eat, and activity you do and helping your body to grow stronger for it).

HOW IT ALL LINKS TOGETHER
First, we must recognise that “we” are really a combination of several different brains and animals. Each layer has its own needs, and if they’re not fulfilled – something will lash our. Our primary concern is to make sure there’s no immediate 5F responses needed. Then we look for connection, and relationships (…let’s not upset that applecart!) and finally if they’re all in line, we can make logical cause-effect decisions. 

But right now, we’re failing as an industry because we don’t pay any attention to these basic neuroscience principles. 

We don’t solve the problems  of emotional discomfort with logical thinking and appeals. We don’t get to speak to the human until the animal is happy. Until we identify what’s REALLY behind our actions, and what we’re REALLY feeling, and peel back the onion a few layers, there’s no point trying to do anything.

Consider this…

  • depending on what part of our brain we’re in, we’ll react differently to challenging situations (why do you have road rage some days, but not others?)
  • being in the “wrong” state can effect everything downstream (eg we process and digest meals in a completely different manner if we’re in a state of PNS or SNS dominance)
  • negative emotions and experiences are really just an invitation to change or move away from internal conflict (it’s our body’s alarm that something is wrong)

Now, think about how the last time your “trainer” helped you address any of those areas…

**tumble-weed**

We already know enough about training (train 3-4x per week, focus on getting strong, having decent movement and not being totally lazy with cardio).

Nutrition is simple (eat 3 good meals a day based off meat and vegetables, match carb intake to activity levels, and have a couple of healthy snacks).

But we’re really only just starting to understand how our brains, our nutrition and training links together.

And I gotta tell you – I’m REALLY freakin’ excited about the next frontier.

I’ll be talking more about how to actually tackle it in part 2 of this blog post in a few days.

*** If you want to find out a bit more about what these things mean for you, and get a free mindset coaching call with me, just fill in your details below***

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James Hanley

Strength Coach. Performance Specialist. Dog Lover. Powerlifter. And the guy behind the scenes in RevFit that keeps the plates spinning.