A number of unsuspecting moviegoers got a funny surprise back in the year 2000.
Little did they know that when they went to see Mel Gibsons “Payback”(if you can remember far back enough when Mel was cool) they unwittingly were going to be part of an important study showing how irrational and crazy our eating behaviour is.
They were simply given a free soft drink and bucket of popcorn, and asked to stick around after the movie to answer a few questions.
Nothing amazing about that except the fact that the popcorn was stale and awful. It had been made 5 days earlier. Some people got their free popcorn in a medium size and others in a huge large size the equivalent of a semi-truck. If you know meal sizes in America, then you know both sizes were enormous. Every person got a free bucket of popcorn so there wasn’t a need to share.
What scientists and researchers wanted to know was – would the people with bigger buckets eat more?
Both buckets were so big that nobody could finish their bucket sizes, even the ones with the medium. Add that fact to the equation and you get an even more specific question:
Would a person with a larger more inexhaustible supply of food eat more than a person with a smaller inexhaustible supply of food?
The results were stunning: People with the large buckets ate 53 percent more. Thats around 173 calories extra, or 21 extra dips into the bucket for more popcorn.
They weren’t eating for pleasure (it was stale, crap and rubbish). They weren’t driven by a desire to finish their portion (both sizes were that huge it was too big to finish, and nobody got close).
Looking at these results a normal everyday, practical person would say “well some people are just greedy fat pigs, others are more careful eaters”
A health expert, personal trainer, dietician, nutritionist or doctor on the other hand would think they need to motivate you into eating a healthy meal plan. “I’ll give you a 10 page essay on the benefits of healthy eating and that should motivate you”.
And thats why we fail.
While both viewpoints are correct and have merit, when we are dealing with human beings with feelings, emotions and attitudes we often have to forgo the hard change problem (convincing people to think differently) and concentrate on the easy change problem (just shrink the size of the bucket).
The first big secret of change is that what often looks like a people problem is often more of a situation problem.
I’ve been a personal trainer now for 10 years. At first I immersed myself in anything fitness related. I read countless books, magazines, watched video’s, took courses. My friends called me “The Doctor”. I was the fitness version of Quentin Tarantino and his encyclopaedic knowledge of movies.
Working in gyms (at the time I worked at Fitness First) it didn’t take me long to understand that everyone who walked through the door all had one thing in common – they wanted change. To be lighter, less fat, leaner, bigger, more muscular, fitter, healthier, happier, more energized, feel younger, sexier.
Some got awesome results, some didn’t.
I wanted to understand why 2 different people with the same needs, goals, desires, resources, opportunities and fitness training would achieve 2 different and drastically different results. Thats when I realised that for most people getting in shape physically and getting that sexy body or looking hot ( and staying that way) was largely dependant on getting into shape mentally, psychologically and emotionally.
People want overwhelming change – not just physical, but also mental and emotional, and it was my job to get them there.
Thats when i started researching psychology, self help, and any management material I could find that would lead me into helping people transform their lives. Once again I plunged into books, courses, etc to feed my brain like a sieve, only taking parts i needed, while adding others that I had learnt from my own experience and other areas. After spending my formative personal training years learning the muscular system, energy systems and pecs, glutes and dumbells I added another layer to that learning about emotional systems, beliefs, attitudes and thought patterns.
Thats when my clients started to get amazing results and transformations.
I quickly came to the realisation that my effectiveness as a personal trainer and facilitator of transforming people’s lives and bodies had less to do with my understanding of “bunz n gunz“, abs or how to make a protein smoothie, and more to do with the internal stuff and creating fun, engaging workouts that kept people coming back for more.
While i have a lifelong passion for the human body it’s the part that sits on top that intrigues me the most. Thats because while there are always limits we can achieve with the human body, when we master the thing between our ears, almost anything is possible.
OUR BRAIN’S TWO SIDES
The conventional chain of thought in psychology is that the brain has 2 independent systems at work at all times. There’s the emotional side that is instinctive and feels pleasure and pain, and there is the rational side that analyses, deliberates, thinks and looks into the future.
With technology and research we have learnt a lot about our brain the last decade, however, we’ve always known about the tension. Plato mentioned that in our heads we have a “rational charioteer who has to reign in an unruly horse that barely listens to whip and goad combined.” Lately behavioural scientists have labelled the sides the Doer and Planner, but probably the best analogy was from a University of Virginia psychologist who labelled the emotional side the Elephant and the rational side the Rider.
ELEPHANT AND THE RIDER
Sitting on top the Rider seems to be in control and holds the reins but his control hangs in the balance cause he’s so small in comparison to the Elephant. Anytime they disagree the the Rider is going to lose. You would have experienced this when you make an excuse not to go to a workout, sleep in, overeaten, tried to quit smoking, refused to speak up in a meeting cause you were scared, etc.
The weakness of the Elephant – our emotional, instinctive side is that it’s lazy, and a quitter. It’s likes to flirt with starting something like losing weight but is looking for the quick payoff rather than the long term goal. Because it’s also obsessed with the short term payoff it wants instant gratification so it takes it whether it be a few choc biscuits or macdonalds, or starts smoking etc. When you fail it is most likely the Elephants fault as the kind of change we need involves short term sacfrices for long term gain. (suffer now and save so you can buy that car you want in the future, don’t drink booze for the next few months so you get that hot summer body).
The Rider is outmatched and can’t keep you on the road long enough to reach your destination.
The Elephant has enormous strengths, however. Emotion is the Elephants playground and when we use that we can get amazing results. Love, loyalty, compassion. The spine stiffening you feel when you need to stand up for yourself, protecting your kids, thats the Elephant. In my 10 years of personal training the 2 greatest motivators i’ve found have been when a person breaks up from their partner, and after they have paid upfront for their sessions. Again the Elephant comes to the foreground – the devastation you feel after a breakup makes you want to improve yourself and transform your life, you develop some backbone and stand up for yourself, and in the later you don’t want to waste what you have worked hard for.
The Elephant is the one who gets shit done. He provides all the drive and energy to make change and progress.
The Rider’s strength is he can plan ahead and see past instant gratification. That’s why you feel guilty if you skip a bootcamp session or quit on your goal. His weakness, however, is that he can spin his wheels. He thinks too much and over-analyses which leads to decision paralysis. You would have seen this a million times and I get emails every day asking about it. “whats the best diet? I tried this diet, then that diet, now the soup detox”. They go from 1 thing to the next thinking too much without sticking to it. I’ve even had people contact me for personal training and when I asked their previous fitness experience have said that they tried this bootcamp, then that bootcamp, then this bikini body guide, then that challenge etc etc. Thats the problem. If they had just stuck with 1 for 6 months instead of going from 1 to the next they may have seen improvement.
If you want to finally achieve change in any aspect of your life – quit gambling, get a hot body, lose belly fat, quit smoking – you need to appeal to both the Elephant and the Rider, and get them both going in the same direction. The Rider brings the planning and direction, and the Elephant provides the energy and balls to get there.
If you appeal to the Rider, you’ll get understanding without motivation. You’ll think you know what to do and then quit saying “i’ll do it next week” and be like that the rest of your life.
If you only appeal to the Elephant you’ll get the energy and motivation to keep at it, but spin your wheels cause you don’t know the right way to do it.
If you appeal to neither, then nothing changes.
When they both move together, massive change comes easily.
SO HOW DO WE DO THIS?
I’ve poured more than 10 years of experience and research into the fields of fitness, health, psychology, self help, and anything else I discovered to bring it all to you in my personal training sessions.
For anything to change, people have to start acting differently.
I know what you’re about to say – It’s hard and people resist change! Thats not exactly true though. People make massive changes all time. Babies are born and their parents welcome the change. Just think…would you go work for a boss who woke you up all the time during the night and you had to change his underwear? Change is not only normal but we welcome it. We buy a new house, get married, get a new job all the while others resist change and get fat, get so unhealthy it’s dangerous, keep gambling, or drinking or smoking.
So there’s hard changes and easy changes but they all have a few things in common and I give all my personal training clients this 3 part framework or as i like to call it “The Plan“.
In brief (contact me for detailed personal training and weight loss sessions)
1. Direct the Rider – specific, crystal clear direction. Saying “You just need to eat healthy” is not crystal clear direction that you want to hear from your PT or nutritionist. Appeal to the mind.
2. Motivate the Elephant – appeal to the emotions. Sometimes what often looks like laziness is often just mental exhaustion on the part of the Rider. If you keep doing the wrong things your bound to quit after losing self control. If your lazy, we work out what works for you, and how to get you going and keep the elephant on the path.
3. Shape the Path – narrow or direct the path and it makes success more likely even if you have trouble with the Rider and Elephant. The path is the situation and surrounding environment. (think back to the popcorn test – give them a smaller container of popcorn).
Change is undoubtably hard. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. We can make it easier, however. When we direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path we can get dramatic change even without lots of power or resources behind us.