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How Your Mind Works Against You

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Because of my book Dr. A’s Habits of Health I’ve gotten to hear thousands of stories from people around the world who never thought that they could be healthy. Many of these people struggled with obesity for most of their lives. They tried everything, but nothing worked. The Habits of Health changed that, and once the weight came off, a common theme emerged:

Many people that lose a great deal of weight talk about having a new lease on life. They feel more energized, physically and emotionally. They talk about achieving new goals and seeing the world around in a completely different light.

It turns out that this feeling is more than a sense of accomplishment from transforming health. Let me explain.

According to a new study in the journal Acta Psychologica individuals who weigh more see distances as farther away. Essentially, their perception of how much work it would take to move from point A to B so strongly influences their worldview that they see distance as longer. If their physical burden is greater, in a way, the journey is actually longer because it’s harder.

This study had a small sample size, but there has been more research done in this vein. According to a study out of the University of Virginia, an increase of difficulty on any front shades our perception. In this study, individuals who put on heavy backpacks perceived hills as being more steep. If they had to throw a heavy ball at a target, they perceived the target as being farther away. The more difficult a task becomes, the more our brains start to see the world around us differently.

Understanding this psychology is important for two big reasons:

1. If you know that your mind will naturally amplify your perception of difficulty when times get tough, you can make a plan for working through it. The Stop. Challenge. Choose. method is built on this reasoning. Resisting the temptation for a candy bar in the moment is difficult, but if you think through how you are going to handle the temptation the next time it occurs, you can step outside of your caveman urges and make the healthier choice.

2. When you reach a healthy weight, your outlook of the world around will radically change. The effect of everything feeling farther away and hills feeling steeper will retreat. This is part of the reason that losing weight feels like a new lease on life. You are actually seeing the world around you in a new light. Knowing this ahead of time can help you to working toward your goals and to help you stay on a path toward Optimal Health when you do reach your healthy weight.

Our brains are powerful tools, but sometimes our caveman survival wiring can work against us. Our bodies are naturally inclined to take the easiest path as that path is most likely to ensure our survival. When we were dragging deer back to a camp, finding the path of least resistance made sense. In the world of today, our day to day survival is not nearly as urgent, but that wiring still has us eating as much food as we can and avoiding conflict whenever possible.

With some practice, though, you can harness the power of your mind to work in your favor. You can recognize when you are talking yourself out of the healthy choice—like walking instead of taking a cab—and change your inner dialog. As you build up a series of wins and move toward achieving your goals, your outlook will begin to transform along with your body.

You can create health in your life. Don’t allow your inner dialog to talk you out of it.

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