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It Takes a State of Mind, Not a Place in Time January 2, 2010

Posted by jassnight in Change, Health, Holiday, Life.
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5 comments

Happy New Year?

Are you sure about that? What difference does one evening, one day, make in your happiness? Will writing 2010 on your checks be that much more thrilling and exciting to you than writing 2009?  I doubt it.

I have been travelling the blogosphere in the past few days and reading everyone’s thoughts on how, in this New Year, things will be different. Losing weight, exercise more, quit smoking, do more of this-do less of that – Resolutions such as these are made only to be broken within a short time span.

Cognitive Dissonance

Rationalization of bad behavior can be a powerful influence. A smoker will rationalize by thinking, “I won’t get cancer, other people get cancer.”  A dieter has thoughts of, “One more cookie won’t matter.” A couch potato will reason, “Running is bad for your knees.”

The psychological theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Leon Festinger, 1957) explains just this type of human rationalization. It is more difficult for a person to change behavior than it is to change their thought. Thus, rationalization is conceived and the behavior remains the same. In fact, the process of Cognitive Dissonance is so powerful that marketers use it as a basis to sell you products you don’t really need. They force you to make superficial decisions that make you believe that you must buy their product. “Oh! Chef Boyardee says my kids will be happier if I serve them mini-bites micro ravioli.” “Oh! I will get ‘girl-approved hair’ if I use Axe hair products.” These marketing techniques are banking on people not taking the cognitive energy to understand that these superficial connections are completely irrational.

Superficial Rationalization vs. Reality Perception

It comes right down to Ontology – the way in which people perceive their reality. There are two basic meta-theoretical perspectives on this: Determinists – the thought that prior conditions determine human behavior, and Pragmatists – the thought that people plan their behavior to meet future goals. Determinists believe that their life is all determined by fate. This is the “Forrest Gump” philosophy of “Life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” People who think within this paradigm are behaviorists. They believe that their world is just a series of events and awareness levels that are slowly unveiled throughout their lives. They have no control over the outcome. These people tend to rationalize more (they are more susceptible to Cognitive Dissonance.) The Pragmatists however understand that their whole world outlook is based on previous experiences and connections and their future is completely malleable through their actions. These people are interpretivists. They understand that for every action, there is going to be change and they have previous experiences to prove it. They learn from their past mistakes, they adjust future actions by assessment of prior events, they plan accordingly for long-term improvement.

The Transformational Learning Experience

How do we learn to think like an interpretivist? How can we gain the knowledge and experience that will give us the constructs to intrinsically understand consequential behavior? What do we need to obtain the cognitive complexity needed to think long-term benefits rather than frivolous unsubstantiated pronouncements of change that will be consumed by cognitive dissonance the next day?

I was fortunate to be involved in a research project on transformational learning during my last degree work. Transformational learning has three elements; the learning experience must be memorable, it must change behavior or attitude, and it must be continuously referenced within a person’s self-narrative (Wilson, Switzer & Parrish, 2007). Long-term behavior change begins with transformational learning. There must be a personal stake involved that transforms thought into entrenched action – action that will not be shifted by cognitive dissonance or any other external influences.

Specific examples might include:

  • Personal health scare or one of a close companion = healthy living changes
  • Birth of a child = value of life and need for longevity
  • Divorce/separation = broader understanding of long standing relationship values
  • Job Loss = value in acquisition of transferrable employment skills
  • International travel = understanding of acceptance and value of diversity

The list is limitless on the powerful learning possibilities and the long-term values that are gained by them. What is important to understand is that life change cannot be frivolously decided upon just because of a date on a calendar. True behavior change must come from previous experiential learning events that are transformational. Personal change comes from personal experience. Something must be at stake for you, or your loved ones. Use the New Year not as a reason to start a new behavior, but as a reaffirmation of your devotion to your journey towards life-long action. Action that is based on previous powerful learning which puts true consequence on change.

Long-term personal change comes from a state of mind, not a place in time.

References:

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Wilson, B., Switzer, S., & Parrish, P.(2006).  Transformative learning experiences: How do we get students deeply engaged for lasting change? Paper presented at the Association for Educational Communications and Technology proceedings, 2006, Dallas, TX.

The Last Bastion of Freedom January 1, 2010

Posted by jassnight in Change, fitness, Health, running.
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5 comments

Today was my first official day of my training for the Boston Marathon. I will be running my dream race on April 19th of this year. I had a good run to start off – a 10 mile slip-slide along snow covered roads dodging cars and snow plows. It was splendid! I crank up the long run mileage this weekend. I start cross training (Swimming) on Monday.

I was talking to a good friend today about control. It seems there is very little that people have personal control over these days: finances, careers, relationships. People are making sacrifices for their children. People are forced into financial compromises because of unemployment. People are postponing relationships because of overwhelming responsibilities. I am no different. I don’t have control over much in my life right now. I have made good choices but with poor timing (deciding on a career change right when the economy tanked.) Because of this, I have made several sacrifices for others. I have had to accept compromises for myself. The only thing I have control over these days is my running. I am in charge of my training plan. I make decisions about where to place my runs during the week. I listen to my body and respond to it’s needs for nutrition and rest. I weigh the consequences of skipping a run or the advantage of adding a run. It is all up to me.

My Only Control

People need to have control of something in their life. Even if it is only one thing, it gives them freedom. To be the master of your own creativity, to be the director of your own narrative, to be the manager of your own career, to be a contributor of your own relationship – just one thing to grab onto and say, “this is mine.”

  • I know someone who lives for writing
  • I know someone who breathes for photography
  • I know someone who determines their children’s future
  • I know someone who is a partner in a passionate love affair
  • I know someone who has a successful business

These people have a purpose. These people have control. These people have something to wake up for. These people have something that keeps them alive. These people have freedom.

The Challenge

Training for a marathon will be a challenge in such a harsh environment here in the northeast. I have only trained for half-marathons during the winter, never a marathon. I have already hit challenges in the past few weeks and now that I am on a strict training schedule, I need to be creative in my re-working of training elements.

Cross training – I will have to switch to swimming as my non-impact cross training. In my usual summer-fall marathon training, I used cycling for this. I am hoping to get the same benefits in the pool.

20+ long runs – Always a challenge even when the weather cooperates, I have never run a 20+ training run in the snow. I have also decided that I need to do at least 4 of these to get myself over the Newton hills and still come in at a sub-four hour finish time.

Speed workouts – I have been very successful with step-ladder interval training on a track in the past. Since I won’t have access to a track (shoveled off anyway) I will have to resort to Fartleks exclusively. It is hard to monitor progress with this training technique and I have never relied on them exclusively.

Treadmill alternative – In severe weather, I will have to use a treadmill. I hate training on a treadmill. These machines do not offer the same training return that road training does because they naturally aid in the push-off. I also will miss the psychological and spiritual benefits of running outside.

Night training – Running in snow is one thing. Running in the dark in the snow is just downright dangerous. Most of my training injuries have happened in the winter mainly as a result of the combination of poor visibility and slippery conditions.

Weight – Winter is when people experience weight gain the most. Not only do I have to focus on my training diet, I also need to lose about 8 pounds before race day. This will all be a challenge in itself especially with the stresses of other variables in my life right now.

The Benefits

Ever since I have been running marathons I have always dreamed of qualifying and running the Boston Marathon. The journey to that end has changed my life. On this road I have found new perspectives in my social life, psychological stability, spiritual awareness, and self esteem. I have discovered elements of myself that I never thought existed. My depth of understanding and awareness has increased. My fear of challenge and change has dissipated. My perception of what is important in life is clear.

When I cross that finish line on April 19th it will be the symbolic culmination of my personal freedom because I am in complete control of this one little part of my life. I will determine my fate. I alone will decide my success.

On the outside looking in December 3, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Health, Holiday, Job Search, Life, Love.
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2 comments

He was faced with death at an impressionable age.   His sister committed suicide last year. He found her body covered in blood as it drained out of her wrists. It became difficult to follow the mainstream after that. With no guidance or grounding to morn in a healthy way, drugs and alcohol are used to temper the agony.  Rehab and counseling can only do so much.

She is on her own now. Her husband of 20 years died last year. His pension died with him and now it is only social security. The mortgage is due. The heat is off. The electricity is next. She misses him terribly.

She is a single mom with three beautiful children. Between caring for her children and working two jobs back to back (overlapping three days with two shifts,) she is lucky to have one Friday night every two weeks to call her own.  She worries endlessly about having the resources to keep her family fed, clothed, dry and warm. She calls it a good day when her car is still in the driveway and has not been repossessed. She is dealing with a relentless ex-husband who is constantly dragging her into court to shirk his responsibilities to his children and to generally make her life miserable because he can afford to and she can’t.  She has dealt with two bouts of cancer and fears every upcoming appointment and what it may find. She is tired, stressed, overworked and living day to day, dollar to dollar.

He is dependent on drugs to be able to cope with life. His fears and anxieties are about life in general. He can no longer work. He lives on social security alone. His loving parents are long gone, the rest of his family has abandoned him. He lives in an upstairs apartment but incapable of caring for his immediate space. He sleeps most of the time. He has lost faith in love, connection, and life. He is trapped in an internal struggle with his own soul.

She is in a loveless marriage. With three young children there is nowhere else to be. She has no means to support herself and her children without him. He has her trapped and he knows it. There is verbal and sexual abuse. There is an allowance issued. The odometer is checked every week. The phone bill is monitored. She is a prisoner only for her children.

She has lost family and friends. It seems like everything she loves dies. She lives in the pain that it may be her fault. She is afraid to love again. She is lonely. She is alone.

He was laid off last year. Unemployment is ending soon and there are no opportunities in sight. He is too old and too broke to go back to school to learn new skills. His children have families of their own and are having problems themselves. The bills are piling up. He no longer owns a car. He is about to lose his home.

Merry Christmas

And now for some GOOD news! November 23, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, fitness, Health, Life, running.
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9 comments

I am a runner. In previous posts I have told you how running has been instrumental in shaping my psychological and spiritual life. Now I need to tell you the obvious good news. I have never been fitter in my life. I have never been healthier, had as much energy, looked as good and, yes (on the rare occasion that I do) I have never had such pleasurable sex as I do now. Now that I have your attention (sex will do it every time.) Let me tell you my story.

In 2003 I weighed 210 pounds. I was experiencing lower back and knee problems. I could barely get up and down stairs because of joint pain and just plain cardiovascular weakness. I developed sleep apnea. My blood fats were high (Triglycerides and Cholesterol.) I could not make it through a regular workday without falling asleep. I was quite often sick and my doctor had just written me a prescription for high blood pressure. I was dying.

It was then that I realized that I was not ready to give up on life at such an early age. I guess it was the blood pressure medication that woke me up. I don’t believe much in drugs and medication and believe in the true healing power of the body, but at that time I was lazy and expected that the body could to it without much help from me. I was wrong. The body has amazing powers but you have to keep it in a condition to allow it to do the work.

I started walking first. Then I worked on running a full mile without stopping. Then, I made three without stopping. Then came six. I ran a few races with my buddies and found a wonderful, supportive community that gave me even more inspiration. I dropped down to 190 pounds quickly. I ran my first half marathon. Then I started studying nutrition and found the value in nutrient rich, complex, fat burning foods and the value of eating smaller meals throughout the day.  I dropped another 15 pounds QUICKLY. I ran faster, stronger and longer…

Today I weigh 170 pounds. My triglycerides and cholesterol are way within the limits. I sleep soundly and have tremendous energy throughout the day. I am no longer experiencing back pain, knee pain, or sleep apnea, and I have been off blood pressure medication for over five years now. I have run and finished six consecutive marathons. I have qualified for the Boston marathon (with a 3.30 finish time) and will be running there in April of this year. I am fitter, healthier, stronger, AND SEXIER (had to get your attention again) than EVER before.

Yes, YOU can achieve ANYTHING if you believe in yourself.

Now the proof

I hate to show my fat pictures but here they are, followed by recent pictures.

My fattest in 2003 - 210 pounds

Tired and Indifferent in 2003

Light and Strong in 2006

Light and Strong in 2006

Lean and fast in 2008

Lean and fast in 2008

Boston qualifying in 2009

Boston qualifying in 2009