Dynamism Biohack: The Iron Will
In this training, “What to Do If You Know You Can’t Change.”
I’m going to share some of the scientific insights about self-control that explain how we can “break old habits and create healthy habits, conquer procrastination, find your focus, and manage stress.” I’m going to share some interesting research on practical ways to train our brains to improve our willpower for self-control. This will give you the edge as you improve your Five Pillars of a Dynamic Health!
- Your meditation muscle improves, you build a full range of muscles for self-control, attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness
- How states of mind like stress and hope influence the body
- clear overture of this ancient human response when we feel stressed
- Breath of The Iron Will
I am really excited to start you on this journey and I hope to add a lot of value to your life as a whole.
Nutrition is remarkable in its ability to have people with completely opposite views saying they have science to support completely opposite views.
Frustrating isn’t it? What are we supposed to believe?
Welcome to Dynamism Biohack, my name is Dr. Matt Hammett Wellness & Nutrition Expert, Lifestyle Trainer, and Movement Enthusiast. In each week I’m going to share with you how to make the right nutritious choices despite conflicting expert opinions where I help you to discover how to unlock your inner aborigine or your inner greatness. Thank you for spending this time with me today, so let’s get into the training.
THE IRON WILL
The strength of our hearts and thoughts to receive wisdom is like that of a piano. If the keys are kept properly tuned, in harmony with one another, beautiful music is created. If not, then there is only chaos.
When our hearts are primed and ready to receive wisdom, they will produce a heavenly song and joyous harmonies. An iron will is something all human beings are capable of creating. Dynamic people use their willpower as part of their routine in daily life, so as to create these melodies of sorts.
Psychologists know that individuals who exhibit better control of their attention, emotions, and actions are always better off than Caged people. More and more, research from academic institutions and professors is demonstrating that Dynamic people who use their willpower have happier and healthier relationships. They are better off financially and healthier than the Caged people. They are better able to deal with conflict and overcome adversity. They even live longer.
The ability to control one’s passions is a better predictor of academic success than your score on the SAT! Willpower is also a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma.
And that leads me to Dynamism Biohack: The Iron Will.
Award-winning Dr. Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a professor at Stanford, has devoted her life to the scientific insights about self-control that explain how we can “break old habits and create healthy habits, conquer procrastination, find our focus, and manage stress.” Her research has discovered ways to train our brains to improve our willpower for self-control.
MEDITATION FOR WILLPOWER
A cobra remains a snake, no matter how many times it shed its skin”. – Author Unknown
Once upon a time, lived a village girl who dusted the cobwebs each day from her house. One time while cleaning, she also prayed, “O God, as I am cleaning this room, will you please cleanse my heart.” God spoke to her, saying: “Daughter, you will have to wash the place again and again as long as the spiders remain. For it is better that you drive the spiders from your house.”
She was not able to drive them out because they were hidden from her and too smart to be caught. Likewise, it takes an iron will to struggle against our defeating the Caged version of ourselves. A Dynamic person can remove those deeper layers, with the proper training of the brain for willpower.
What is the #1 way to get more willpower? Meditation. Neuroscientists have discovered that when you train your brain for meditation, you get better at a vast amount of things. Your meditation muscle improves, you build a full range of muscles for self-control, attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness. The repetition of this practice carves new neural pathways, making your brain a willpower machine.
In fact, the more you meditate, the more gray matter you develop in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness. No other animal species can do that! McGonigal often cites a study done with just three hours of meditation practice that led to improved attention and self-control.
Other studies measured meditation with an amount of time spent. Eleven hours of meditation showed actual anatomical changes in the brain. There were new neural connections between regions of the brain important for ignoring distractions, staying focused, and controlling impulses. Another study measured daily meditation over two months and found amazing results. It led to increased self-awareness in daily life, as well as an increase in gray matter in corresponding areas of the brain.
We now have the science to prove that meditation increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, just like bodybuilders building their muscle. The brain is adapting to meditation exercise; the same way muscles build when they are working out during physical exercise.
Suzanne Segerstrom, a prominent psychologist from the University of Kentucky, studies how states of mind like stress and hope influence the body. It was she who found that self-control has a biological signature, much the same way stress does. Training the brain for self-control and willpower set into play a coordinated set of biological changes in the brain and body, which help resist temptation and override self-destructive habits. Segerstrom calls those changes the pause-and-plan response, much the same way as our fight-or-flight response.
We have been revisiting the fight-or-flight response often throughout this book. For the moment, let me give a very clear overture of this ancient human response. When we feel stressed, our sympathetic nervous system by its very name sympathizes and kicks in the “fight-or-flight” response.
For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it was helpful when their life was threatened by a saber-tooth tiger, but not so useful for the modern man when we are stressed about our day at work. This “fight-or-flight” response can destroy our willpower. Therefore, to cultivate our self-control, Dynamic people choose the “pause-and-plan” response by consciously directing their minds to a more positive engaging response.
In other words, your conscious mind puts the brakes on your impulses and the gas pedal on the prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex communicates the need for self-control to lower brain regions that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and other automatic functions. Instead of speeding everything up during the fight-or-flight response, you consciously choose your pause-and-plan response. Your heart slows down, blood pressure stays normal, and you take deep breaths, relaxing your body instead of priming your muscles for action. This technique is explored in depth in our video training for those of you who wish to dive deeper into self-mastery.
IRON WILL BREATHE
Slowing the rate of your breathing activates the pause-and-plan response when your body wants to initiate the ancient stress response. Breathing deeper and more slowly activates the prefrontal cortex, and increases your heart rate variability, which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control mode. Dr. McGonigal recommends a slow breath to four to six breaths per minute. That comes to ten to fifteen seconds per breath.
Deep breathing is an excellent opportunity to try this breathing exercise which will help initiate your pause-and-plan response the next time you’re faced with a saber-tooth tiger, (Kidding). Here is the breathing exercise:
- Breathe in for a count of four… Exhale for a count of six…
- Breathe in for a count of four… Exhale for a count of six…
- Breathe in for a count of four… Exhale for a count of six…
Breathe training should be part of your daily meditation training. Even a Caged person can do this training! A Dynamic person is going to add exercise to their training for the optimum results. Therefore, to boost your willpower, brain studies validate three practices scientifically: meditation, slow breathing, and exercise with proper spinal hygiene.
EXERCISE FOR WILLPOWER
Surprisingly, to increase your five pillars of Dynamic health, exercise on the body builds the brain circuitry as well. Like I indicated earlier, working on just one of the pillars works all five because they are dynamic in a continuum of constant motion, interconnectedness, and interplay.
Exercises show increases in brain cells, gray and white matter, and the insulation on brain cells which increase their ability to conduct electricity to each other, to communicate better and stronger. Working out also enhances the biology of self-control, by increasing baseline heart rate variability and training the brain. Therefore, physical exercise and meditation make your brain bigger and faster. The prefrontal cortex shows the largest training effect. Do you remember how 80% of the excitatory input (electrical energy generation) to the brain is initiated?
If there is anything you get from this book, you better know that it comes from proper spinal hygiene (alignment and movement of the spine)!
If you recall, basic neuroscience teaches that the mechanoreceptors are responsible for the generation of input to the brains charge and Nobel Prize winner Roger Sperry teaches us that the movement of the spine is what is responsible for 90% of the nutrients (that generated electricity) or the charge the brain essentially needs and is comparable to over 30,000 species of fish with the lateral line system.
In other words, for the optimum benefit of brain plasticity, we need a properly aligned spine with lots of movement and good posture for the greater part of our day.
In taking care of our spinal hygiene in this way, we amplify our brain power with meditation, deep breathing and exercise. Got it?
A famous psychologist, Heidi Grant Halvorson spends her life studying the science of motivation and communication. Her research confirms the idea that self-control is like a muscle that can build and grow with daily workouts. In fact, recent research is demonstrating that engaging in daily routines like the strategies from The Five Pillars of a Dynamic Health, along with exercises, keeping track of your finances, what you are eating, or just remembering to sit up with better posture every time you think of it can help you develop your overall self-control capacity.
One study moms will be excited about! Halvorson says students who “stuck to a daily exercise program not only got physically healthier, but they also became more likely to wash dishes instead of leaving them in the sink, and less likely to impulsively spend money!”
In this training, I talk a lot about making small incremental changes and that those small incremental changes have a huge impact in the long haul. The most important neural program we are building while engaging our Cope driver is the habit of noticing what you are about to do and choosing to do the most difficult thing instead of the easiest.
Dynamic people exercise their brains with willpower routines, to coach the brain to pause before acting. The triviality of the assignments may help this process. Tasks may be challenging, but they in no way are overwhelming. Self-control does require careful attention, but it is not going to trigger intense feelings of deprivation.
Keep in mind, if you put an ameba in a petri dish and ask it to move toward something it does not like, it will refuse to. It will always move toward what it wants. You and I have 75 trillion amoebas living inside us, so keep in mind that while strong willpower might be a strong tactic, it is only one exercise while the rest is about rebuilding your biology (gene expression through daily lifestyle choices).
Remember, while building willpower is a tactic, in the long haul of this five pillar processes I am revealing in this book, “it is not about willpower, it is about biology.”
In other words, iron willpower will never be enough because you have to learn how Dynamic people reprogram their biology through engaging all of the incremental strategies and tools contained in The Five Pillars of a Dynamic Health.
The concept of variability behavior introduces a fun exercise to our engagement. Dynamic people aim to reduce the variability of behavior day today. They view every choice they are going to make during the day as a small commitment to future choices. A little commitment creates a synergy effect, compounding the willpower experience for the day.
For example, instead of asking, “Do I want to eat this ice cream now?” ask yourself, “Do I want the consequences of eating this ice cream every afternoon for the next year?” Another example I like is motivation gusto. If you have been putting something off you know you should do, try this out. Instead of asking, “Would I rather do this today or tomorrow?” Ask yourself, “Do I want the consequences of always putting this off?”
The two most empowering self-questions are:
1. When do I get stuck making poor decisions? (For me, it is not preparing my lunch before work at my set time each day.)
2. Do you want the consequences of making the less-than-optimal decision every day of your life? Dynamic people certainly do not, and from this perspective, it is a lot easier to make the right choice!
STRESS STRATEGIES THAT WORK
The American Psychological Association says the most effective stress-relief strategies are as follows:
- Exercising or playing sports
- Praying or attending a religious service
- Reading a book
- Listening to music
- Spending time with friends and family
- Getting a massage
- Getting a regular chiropractic adjustment
Alright, I admit it; I added that last bullet point. But, perhaps one day they will admit the importance of regular spinal hygiene and chiropractic care when they will stop viewing chiropractic and natural health as a threat to Big Pharma.
As you know from the Move driver, regular spinal hygiene and chiropractic care generates the energy to the brain by afferent input following a chiropractic adjustment thereby amplifying all these amazing stress strategies endorsed by the American Psychological Association.
- Going outside for a walk
- Meditating or doing yoga
- Spending time with a creative hobby
The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and sitting on your butt watching TV or movies for more than two hours.
Dynamic people do understand the difference between the strategies that work and the plans that do not. The stress strategies that work boost mood-enhancing brain chemicals like serotonin, GABA, and the “love biomolecule” oxytocin. These chemicals also shut down the fight-or-flight stress response, reduces stress hormones in the body, and turn on the healing relaxation response.
When we are stressed, we tend to forget about these strategies, not because they do not work but because we fail to direct our consciousness to that prefrontal cortex of the brain and take control of our choice, our personal power. In other words, having this list engages the front part of your brain which is essential when we pause and plan.
One of the biggest single predictors for depression comes from being hard on yourself. Research shows that self-criticism is consistent with less motivation and a lack of self-control. Dynamic people are supportive and kind to themselves especially in the face of stress and failure.
A study at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada tracked the procrastination of students over an entire semester. Most students tend to put off studying until the day before the examination. The students who chose to be hard on themselves for procrastination were more likely to procrastinate than students who forgave themselves. The harder they were on themselves about procrastinating the first time, the longer they delayed for the next exam. It was forgiveness- not guilt- that helped them get back on track!
The moral of the story is simple. Dynamic people know it is important to hold high standards, and it is crucial to be nice to ourselves when we fall short. The key to remember is that everybody makes mistakes and experiences setbacks. How we handle these setbacks matters more than the fact that they happened.
McGonigal teaches us that “we all have a tendency to believe self-doubt and self-criticism, but listening to this voice never gets us closer to our goals. Instead, try to the point of view of a mentor or good friend who believes in you, wants the best for you, and will encourage you when you feel discouraged.”
Dynamic people know that using guilt, stress, shame, and fear do not motivate us or fuel our willpower. People who have the greatest self-control are not waging self-war. They have learned to accept, integrate and fail forward to higher consciousness and personal power.
In the words of one of the greatest thinkers and revolutionist of our time, Albert Einstein, “From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other- above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends on, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”
For me, as I shared many times in this training and in my life, I cannot raise the dead or bring my family back to life from the dead. What I can do is help the living lighten up, move better and live fuller.
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