Brain States & Willpower

Now that we’ve officially flipped into another new year, activity at the gym — and in the kitchen — is about to boil over into that first-quarter frenzy of new goals, new resolutions, and the hard determination that only the buzz of the holiday season can kindle. For the starry-eyed masses recently-committed to laying down the cigarettes and twinkies and getting some exercise, the new year is a time of optimism: they have dreams of better health and better bodies.

For the old gym hermits, it’s time to fortify the defenses, shore up the walls, and hunker down until late February. Not because we resent the influx of greenhorns. I’ve waffled on this over the years but in my mellowing-out I’ve had to admit that the January rush makes me happy for what it is. Sure it can be irritating to see all the chuckleheaded tomfoolery going on when you just want to squat, but let’s keep it in perspective: at least they’re trying.

The Serious and Dedicated know that, year after year, the Resolutioner rush inevitably fizzles out by late February, March at the latest, as that post-holiday enthusiasm gives way to the hard truth about reality. It’s hard work. Changes aren’t immediate and to call gratification, such as it is, delayed is an understatement. Those of you with “the bug”, who enjoy lifting and intense cardio for what it is, have to realize that, like coffee, it’s often an acquired taste.

The average Resolutioner doesn’t get that, and without any guidance or mentoring, the odds are stacked heavily against them ever figuring it out. Take a look at all the fresh faces you see on the second week of January, and compare that to how many are still there in August.

It’s easy to snicker and shake your head in judgment. It’s even easier, if you’re like pretty much everyone I’ve ever met in the fitness or strength community, to write these people off as lazy, unmotivated, weak, and other assorted insults continuing on down the spectrum of disdain.

A depressingly large number of people abandon exercise programs, and diets, and plans to quit smoking, and most anything else you can name. Why is this? Are people really just lazy and weak-willed? Are they just stupid and in need of your brilliant workout and diet plan?

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The Language of Failure [Neuropsych]

In the 1930s, linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf argued that language shapes thought. Language, wrote Sapir, can be considered “the mold of thought.” Languages doesn’t simply latch on to pre-existing concepts. The words themselves define the concepts available to us and provide the raw building material for our thoughts. There can be no thoughts without the words to define them.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, as this argument became known, itself went on to influence social theories and, perhaps most famously, the ‘newspeak’ in George Orwell’s 1984.

I’m no linguist and I won’t try to argue over the correctness of linguistic relativity. What I find interesting is the premise that words can influence our thoughts, if not outright shaping them.

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