The human mind is complex. We still don’t fully understand it.
What we do know is that unlike many of our other animal friends, the human brain, has a cerebral cortex, which allows us to have conscious thought.
That’s right, we are, ‘self-aware.’ Skynet.
This can be a life-line in one context, our ability to be self-aware means that we have the ability to think through various processes’, and make decisions based on that thinking.
Generally this makes our conscious thought good for society.
On the other hand, we humans, also have a tendency to ‘get-all-up in our heads,’ too…
This makes us slow to act on things as they happen, and it also prevents us from performing at the top of our game.
This is just a casual observation of working with many people over the last eight years; people are becoming more and more, ‘too up-in-their-heads.‘
Being constantly on-top of ourselves, constantly thinking, judging, watching…look at the baby…look at the baby…
Anyways, this constant self-criticism can be a real debbie-downer on progress.
Until now, I knew about it, but I didn’t know how to approach dealing with it, or how to describe it to clients.
How to Think More Like a Squirrel
We’ve all watched in awe as racoons or squirrels seemingly defy gravity across absurd obstacles.
A hydro-wire? Come-on!
What does that squirrel have that you don’t?
How come it never worries about falling?
How come you’ve never seen one fall?
Well he doesn’t have a cerebral cortex like you do. He’s not stuck trying to consciously think about his form, he just executes on the skills he’s learned (or she).
When it comes to performing under pressure, we’re stuck in our own reasoning. We’re evaluating or making rational calculations about our circumstances.
What neuroscientists often refer to as ‘open-loop information processing;’ meaning that thought passing through the conscious brain is essentially ‘open‘ to interpretation and conscious disruption.
The squirrel never has to deal with this distraction. It can only think in what neuroscientists will refer to as ‘closed-loop information processing.’
Essentially meaning there is no line up at the DMV of conscious interruption/analysis/reasoning/evaluating, etc…
Even more applicably though, the squirrel relies merely on learned reflex. We can learn to do the same.
In human beings, closed loop processing (C-LIP) can still happen.
The easiest examples are often athletes, the best of whom merely react to the situation at hand (a blocked shot, a free-throw, a slap-shot, a diving catch into the endzone, etc…) and most likely would under-perform if they to ‘consciously-think‘ about each situation.
There are generally recognized four types of closed loop processes (each one getting more and more complex within the nervous system):
- Monosynaptic: which are the shortest/quicket, involving the fewest neurons (think about a doctor smacking your knee and the kick, it’s called your myotatic reflex)
- Multisynaptic: which make it part-way up your spinal cord
- Brainstem Regulatory Functions: which control things like your heart and lungs, the neural connection makes it all the way up to your brainstem
- Patterned Intentional Behavior: which is organized at the thalamus and is often where we want all our deliberate practice to be stored (same kind of processing the squirrel would use to walk a wire)
In C-LIP situations, the processed information never even has to reach the cerebral cortex, where conscious thinking occurs.
The Role of Deliberate Practice
According to John Eliot, PhD and human performance specialist, squirrels are masters of what he’s come to term, The Trusting Mindset (AKA The Performance Mindset).
The objective of deliberate practice is to move from our conscious thinking patterns or The Training Mindset, to that of unconscious thinking patterns or The Trusting Mindset.
*Essentially what I termed Unconscious Competence in this article.
Easier said, than done perhaps, but it can be done.
After-all, how does the tight-rope walker, walk across Niagara Falls without falling?
The problem is that many of us run into with respect to modern day living is that the current educational system and cultural norms expect us to rely more and more on our conscious-thought scape-goat, and less on adequately transferring all of that practice into the trusting mindset.
We are all familiar with the term, ‘gut-instinct‘ right?
*Read the book ‘Blink‘ by Malcolm Gladwell for a little more detail on this.
Remember that all the practice you’re implementing in your weight loss journey, eventually has to lead to performance or the trusting mindset.
If all you’re doing is following some diet and exercise program made for you, without a full understanding, there is no way you can deliberately practice those skills into the trusting mindset.
This means we all need to spend time learning, and more importantly, understanding the necessary nutrition and movement skills, that enable you to unconsciously execute on good patterns of habit/behavior.
Deliberate Practice has to eventually lead to good performance.
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Feel free to stop reading here if you want, that is essentially the gist of it. All I really wanted you to know is that there are two different phases at work through a process of weight loss, muscle gain, or health improvements. Whatever you may be working on.
Most people either never truly leave the training mindset. Or they try to skip right to the trusting mindset without having truly developed their skills while in the training mindset — which could also be synonymous with ‘The Preparation Mindset’.
They diet but don’t learn how to adopt the lifestyle they need to maintain the result. They train but they don’t learn the skills that help them continue to make progress when they don’t have an instructor or a class to attend. Ultimately nothing sticks when they remove the diet or classes.
I’m urging you to take the time to learn good skills, habits and behaviors because keeping weight off it just easiest by progressing to a rock solid performance mindset.
Habits take time to form, perhaps even upwards of 66 days or beyond, so you had better train your mind appropriately to begin with.
Please leave a comment below if you have an additional insight to offer.
If you’re still curious, I’m going to go a little more in-depth on the two mindsets below, including how to know when you’re in either.
The Training Mindset
The training mindset is what we use to fine-tune our skills, in a controlled environment.
We need conscious thought — and ideally a mentor or coach, or two or three — to create feedback loops that help us refine our training mindset and gradually establish the performance mindset.
Unconscious execution (no matter what the field, nutrition, exercise or mindset fitness…), is essentially the objective.
Here are some signs that you are utilizing the training mindset:
- Active Mind
- Wanting It Now
- Effortful (remember effort is natural?)
The Trusting Mindset
I actually prefer the term ‘Performance Mindset’ but we’ll keep with Dr. Eliot’s terminology.
The trusting mindset allows us to execute on our training, in chaotic environments.
After-all, how else would military personel be able to tolerate real war, if they didn’t have some sort of training?
How is preparing for a weight loss battle, really any different?
Here are some signs that you are utilizing the trusting mindset:
- Empty Mind (‘in-the-zone’)
- Letting it Happen
- Extremely Confident