Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions for they become habits.
Watch your habits for they become your character.
The above series of statements has been credited to individuals as disparate Frank Outlaw and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to Margaret Thatcher and Buddha.
I like it. I like its congruency and logical progression. It makes sense to me. We don’t simply float through life, allowing our brains to graze lazily on the fields of stimuli across which we travel. We hungrily ingest countless pieces of information and paint them into a larger canvass upon which make decisions. Because decisions require action, decisions become actions.
One’s possible actions are as many as the hairs on one’s heads. However, whether we like it or not, we are creatures of habit and we tend to choose to do what we did previously. Specifically, we tend to do what we did that brought us previous success. Success (in what ever form that takes) is the catalyst that cements an action into habit.
And habits, we all know, are hard to break.
That’s not merely a catchy phrase; there is science behind that. When we perform an action that brings us success (pleasure), dopamine and endorphin are released. When repeated enough times those two chemicals cause the body to burn in a new psychological neural pathway. This is done in much the same way we burn in neural pathways, physically, by meticulously repeating a movement numerous times. Rather than call it “habit”, we call it “muscle memory”. Whether the task is mental or physical, our brains become hard wired to perform the action that brought us the success. We repeat the action because we want the pleasure supplied by the dopamine and endorphin. In other words: Specific Action = Success = Pleasure (dopamine and endorphin) = Habit. And habits, my friends, are to what we will always default when the going gets tough. In the grind, when we are slogging away on no sleep at the end of a 16 hour day, and the task, what ever it may be, is still not done and our brains are foggy and incapable of clear thought, we are going to do what we habitually do. And we will do it precisely because we are incapable, at that time, of cogent thought. That is the reason we are designed to create habits – survival.
So why am I opining on cement and habits? Because when we are in the gym we are mixing cement and creating habits. “How so?” you ask. Allow me to explain.
We discussed above, in very simplistic terms, how habits are formed. In the gym, we are in the business of creating habits because we are always pursuing one of two possible “successes”. We are either endeavoring to push ourselves harder, or we are choosing to quit. Both result in very specific rewards. When we choose to push harder (in order to ultimately complete the WOD, set, or specific task), though we suffer more physical pain, we are rewarded with the great satisfaction of accomplishment. We receive a huge rush of dopamine and endorphin that positively reinforces, or “burns in”, our decision to have chosen to press the fight. When we choose the later we similarly receive a reward. It comes in the form of relief, rest, and the elimination of physical pain. Again, the body basks in the flood of heroin-like chemicals that accompany a sudden and drastic reduction in workload. Likewise a neural pathway gets burned in, one that connects the avoidance of hard work, or quitting, with success (pleasure).
So lets bring this around full circle.
In the gym we are faced with choices: complete another repetition of an exercise, or do not. Stop and receive an immediate reward, the reward that comes with quitting, or press the fight and suffer more pain before reaping the reward, that which comes from pushing harder towards accomplishing the mission. Every time you walk into the gym you give yourself the opportunity to build a habit. Decide what kind you want to build when you have the choice. Because outside the gym when the going gets tough and you have no choice you are going to do what humans have done for 10,000 years. You are going to default to your habits. Choose well and let habits be your champion.
While I would normally sign off here I feel I must provide a disclaimer. I am in no way implying that stopping to rest, when warranted, is a bad thing. I’m not in favor of pushing to the point of injury. In fact to do so would create the wrong habit. The habit of composition is equally important, if not more so than the habit of completion.
A few reminders:
Spring Feast – we are about 4 weeks out from the 2d Annual Spring Feast. The paleo eating discussion will commence at 1900. We will dig in at 2000. Feel free to bring a guest with you. Please send in your paleo recipes, for inclusion in the cookbook, NLT 31 March. And don’t forget to bring a paleo dish with you.
Olympic Clinic – the 1030 session is filled. We have plenty of spots remaining in the 1200 session. Contact Jen to get registered.
Nutrition Class – We will be starting our next Nutrition Clinic in about 2 weeks. Stand by for dates, times, and prices.
On Ramps – Sold out through May. We have 4 spots remaining for June. If you have family and friends interested in becoming UNLEASHED, have them give Jen a call.