Many people in the media and corporate world find themselves in a state of obesity and lacking in energy due to an unhealthy lifestyle when a typical day involves sitting at a desk from morning till night, being too busy to eat until the evening, then having a big meal out or a takeaway with a glass or three of red wine at the end of the night. Or, worse still, they have constant meetings with wine, and unhealthy canapes and go to function after function where the champagne is flowing. It may sound fabulous but a lifestyle like this on a consistent basis is a recipe for disaster, diabetes and heart disease, growing old before your time and cutting years off your life. Not only will you look older and feel unhealthy but you will find that you are less effective at work and may resort to ‘pulling a sickie’ when the hangover is so bad that you can’t bear to leave the comfort of the duvet!
The estimated annual costs to the NHS as a result of physical inactivity are between £1 billion and £1.8 billion per year and a recent survey by CBI/Pfizer found that employees took 180 million sick days last year, averaging 6.4 days each and cost employers 16.8 billion. So, it’s bad for your looks, bad for your health and bad for business.
If this lifestyle sounds like the norm for you, it may seem extremely difficult to make the changes and overcome years of habitual behaviour but with the right focus and imaginative strategies anything can be achieved.
What changes your life is making a decision and taking action consistently toward a specific outcome – you also need to be aware of the results you’re getting by these actions and changing direction accordingly. So, for instance, if you drink a bottle of red wine every night with at least three to four takeaways a week or canapes and champagne all evening with a stop at burger king on the way home on a consistent basis for a year or two this’ll certainly get you to that twenty stone mark or heading that way, like it or not. On the other hand, eating a balanced healthy diet with a regular structured exercise plan on a regular basis will get you results that will turn back the clock, have people think you’re ten to twelve years younger than you are, and give you health and vitality and confidence in abundance. But if it’s that simple why don’t we all just decide to make that change?
I believe in the philosophy that we are all driven by pain and pleasure – meaning we are driven by the need to avoid pain and the need to gain pleasure. It’s said people will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. So, for instance, on that basis whether you like your job or not you turn up and do your best at work to avoid the pain of losing your job and not being able to pay your mortgage or not being able to shop for groceries. On the other hand, you may work overtime to be able to afford the pleasure of owning a new house or spending two weeks in theMaldives. For me just the painful thought of leaving my client standing waiting at 7 in the morning while I oversleep keeps me from the pleasure of getting back into bed and hitting the snooze button. Think about it – isn’t almost every action we take somehow either to avoid a painful experience and or to gain a pleasurable one?
The way we determine whether we decide something means pain or pleasure to us is based on our neuro-associations to the given situation – it’s all based on how much we link pain or pleasure to any situation. Your neuro-associations control your level of motivation. We get linked up in this way any time we feel strong emotions and at the same time make a connection or link with something. So say there’s a certain song that you heard when you were on holiday in Crete, now every time you hear it you are right back in the Greek sunshine- or you saw a movie where James Dean smoked a cigarette and looked amazingly cool – so as awful as that first cigarette was, you associated it with a style icon – and you ignored the pain of how disgusting it tasted for the pleasure of being cool and sexy just like Jimmy Dean. How many neuro -associations have you made that have had a huge impact on your life? When I was younger I made a strong association between boxing and training and role models like Sugar Ray Leonard and Evander Holyfield which in turn linked to feeling fit, strong, looking good, feeling confident and significant – so for me this was a strong enough association to have me in the gym a lot of the time and eventually make a career out of health and fitness.
So, how can we use this information to help us avoid excesses and change our lifestyle to a healthier one? Firstly we need to set a goal and make it a big one, one that resonates with you on an emotional level. I have seen this first hand when training an athlete. The stakes are so high, it means so much to him or her that the pain of not performing or blowing the event keeps them on track with amazing dedication. Or, when someone gets in great shape for their wedding day, the painful thought of looking tired, pasty or overweight is stronger than the pleasure of chocolate cake – right up until the wedding day.
So you set a goal, and if nothing inspires you then get out of your comfort zone and sign up to run a marathon or to climb a mountain. Make a plan and set a goal that demands your focus. Make the idea of failure so painful that you change your behaviour, make the pleasure of the champagne and canapes as nothing compared to the painful thought of wedding photos where the main focus is on your expanding belly or the bags under your eyes.
Once you have your goal in place and it’s one that moves you and really inspires you – then you can start working on changing your neuro-associations. Say you like a cigarette after a meal on a night out – as that feeling creeps into your nervous system do something to break it – like getting up and getting on the dance floor or going for a brisk walk – make the association with cigarettes a painful one and then focus on the pleasure of succeeding and reaching your goal. Also begin to change your associations with alcohol and an unhealthy diet by linking this to bad health and obesity, and link working out and healthy diet to feeling and looking good, and having endless vitality. Do this enough and you’ll naturally break your old associations by replacing them with new, healthier associations that move you closer to well-being and fitness.
Now you have an overall goal that moves you and you begin to change your neuro-associations, and as a result your overall focus, then you can take massive action toward your goal. Once you have grasped how the mind works then you can commit somehow by say, signing up for a marathon, taking swimming lessons or, better still, calling that trainer. This will add to your momentum, by having someone to motivate and challenge you, being there to guide and inspire you, to keep your focus and in turn changing your life and taking you in a new direction. If you can’t seem to find that goal that inspires you then at least work on your neuro associations, constantly linking fast food and alcohol to obesity. At first changing your lifestyle and working out may seem tough but eventually you’ll begin to feel stronger, fitter, more energetic and this will show in the way you look and feel – then you may find scheduling a training session in the morning and saying no to the alcohol the evening before will be an easy decision.
It then comes down to what you value, If you have a focus toward health and begin to enjoy feeling stronger and fitter and learn to create painful associations with elements of an unhealthy lifestyle like excessive consumption of alcohol and an unhealthy diet – then you’ll begin to value your health. This in turn will lead to being more productive in your work and having more energy to enjoy your relationships and life in general.
The truth is if you do not take control of how you use pain and pleasure in your life, believe me there are plenty of other people who will do it for you whether they are advertisers, or friends and colleagues who want your company in the pub.
To recap – notice what you are linking pain and pleasure to in your life and see how this has shaped your destiny.
Set yourself an inspiring goal, one that moves you emotionally.
Change your neuro-associations using pain and pleasure to drive you, the stronger the association, the more motivation you’ll have.
Make a commitment – like hiring a personal trainer.
Take consistent action toward your goal.