As children, most of us were taught that negative behavior led to punishments which led to feeling bad and conversely positive behavior was rewarded with praise which led to feeling good. An example of this is good grades = parents pride = pride in oneself. The lessons are simple and obvious… good work equals good emotions and bad work equals bad emotions.
This process of coupling emotions along with events or behaviors is called anchoring. Most of us can recall a powerful event through the touch, sound, and/or smell of something. The most popular study supporting this phenomenon is Ivan Pavlov’s conditioned reflex most commonly known as Pavlov’s dogs. In short, Pavlov experimented with conditioned reflexes by ringing a bell directly before feeding his dogs. The dogs eventually learned that the bell meant it was time to eat and the dogs would begin to salivate at the sound of a bell. The dogs emotionally coupled the sound of the bell with eating dinner.
So how does this relate to health, fitness and your goals? Food is a social event. We gather as families to eat. Around the table we laugh, tell stories and create relationships between family and friends. As a result, we relate certain foods to those positive emotions. Compare the food eaten with family and friends to what you eat when you are “on a diet”. What motivated you to start eating healthy in the first place? Often you realize that you are overweight and you decide to start “the diet”. You sit down at the table and think “I hate being overweight”. This creates feelings of depression and sorrow. Now we couple those negative emotions to healthy food. We do the same thing with exercise. We decide that we are overweight and need a workout at the gym. While driving to the gym, we’re obsessing over losing weight. The entire time on the treadmill is spent thinking – wow I am overweight. Now we’ve taken the negative emotions tied to feeling overweight and anchored them to using the treadmill. It’s not long before we hop off the treadmill and seek out those unhealthy foods that have positive emotions anchored to them.
So how then do we use this to create success? How then do we use this to get to our goals (instead of getting off that treadmill and into the drive-through at McDonald’s)?
Ask people why they go to the gym and almost all of them say: to lose weight. Instead of thinking about what you don’t want (that extra 30 lbs) think about what you do want (six pack abs). This will create positive emotional anchors tied to fitness. The more you practice thinking about what you do want instead of what you don’t want, the greater that positive emotional anchor becomes. Now when you go to the gym, just like Pavlov’s dogs, you’ll salivate at the thought of having that fit healthy body. Apply the same concept to food. Before sitting down and eating a healthy meal, spend 5 minutes imagining the body that you will have as a result of eating healthy. Imagine the energy that you will have. Imagine how you will feel when people say that you look great. Once you have that in mind, eat your healthy meal. You’ll begin to feel those same positive emotions from a healthy meal that you get when people say you look great. Now you’ll be far more likely to maintain your newfound healthy lifestyle. You will now be anchored to that healthy, fit, positive lifestyle.
When approached at the gym many people will say I am not here to socialize… I have a goal…but maybe you should be here to socialize. The need to socialize is one of the greatest human driving forces and creates one of the greatest emotional anchors. Remember the anchor between unhealthy foods and socialization? We go out to eat and socialize. This creates that powerful emotional anchor to unhealthy foods and socializing. Use the power of socializing to create that positive emotional anchor to fitness. Creating friends at the gym will be far more powerful than any machine or piece of fitness equipment. Creating friends at the gym will allow you to enjoy the gym and will create the most powerful emotional anchor, socialization.
Remember, no matter what you do in the gym, no matter how efficient your workouts may be, nothing is more effective than getting into the right state of mind to achieve your fitness goals. By creating positive emotional anchors to fitness you will be far more likely to enjoy the gym and exercise more frequently and vigorously while you are there. You will be more likely to create a lifestyle change as opposed to a quick temporary solution. Remember, fitness is a way of life!