Taxis and Neuroplasticity
The conversation of short term vs long term satisfaction is an interesting one, isnt it? Why does impulse so often rule the day over wisdom? I think about extreme examples, exemplified by substance-use disorders and addictions. It seems so obvious that sticking a needle in your arm or perpetually drinking doesnt yield long term joy and freedom, yet people still do it. But what about exercising and eating? Why is it that so many people literally dont do anything to make their life healthier?
Part of how the brain works is that it re structures according to what we do; this is called neuroplasticity. It’s like our brain is replacing back roads with highways to make certain avenues more accessible, and vicariously institutes hierarchical proclivities. So when we do things that are pleasurable (from a brain chemistry perspective) such as eat sugar, drink caffeine, smoking cigarettes etc. then our brain wants more. Before you know it, your brain has restructured to reward impulsive behavior. On the flip side, if you don’t exercise or eat well, your brain’s pathways to the health department looks like a pot-holed logging road (in this enology pretend you are driving a 2003 Nissan alitma). Point being, if you dont exercise then you arent likely to enjoy exercise. Waiting for joy to manifest in order to start being healthier is like waiting for your taxi to arrive before vacating a burning building.
It’s easy to be frustrated with people who make no move to improve their life, but I often remind myself that compassion is more appropriate. It’s pretty sad, if you think about it, that some people are so enslaved to their neuroplasticity that it will literally kill them. It’s genuinely hard to flip that narrative. If you dont exercise, then exercising may feel like a fate worse than death. Or maybe a fate worse than being physically unable to play with your grandchildren. If you never make healthy choices, then maybe eating a salad tastes like an ashtray. If healthy things feel like torture to you, then start with smaller goals before progressing them.
Week 1: go for a 15min walk 2x/week
Week 2: go for a 30 min walk 2x/week
Week 3: go for a 30 min walk 4x/week
Week 4: go for a 45 min walk 4x/week
In one month you have increased your activity level by 3 hours a week.
Here are the wins that have happened in the last week alone from clients who have taken this approach:
Client 1 has lost 20lbs since working with me, and told me the other day that his typical food cravings have significantly decreased. He craves junk food less, and is less emotionally impulsive towards eating.
Client 2 admitted that she hates exercise and only signed up with me in a sudden burst of fleeting motivation. Currently, she has been marvelling at how much stronger she has become doing tasks at work and home. She is all smiles in our sessions despite the fact that our sessions have become much harder since she started.
Client 3 told me that he would never exercise if I didn’t facilitate it. He was very pessimistic about his abilities, and had injuries in the past that hammered his confidence. The exercises have become second nature to him, and his confidence and work ethic has doubled.
These are all examples of people who were wired neurologically to do things that gratify them in the short term, and are now re-wired to do things that gratify them in the long run. Isnt that crazy? They have literally changed both their bodies and their brains.
Instead of waiting for their desire to manifest before exercising, they begrudgingly started exercising and their desire came after.
Stop waiting for the taxi. It won’t arrive in time.