The title looks like a pisstake, but I’m srs.
The word ‘jihad’ actually describes the concept in this article perfectly.
‘Jihad’ is the inner struggle between the self and its desires: the friction between who you want to be and your short-term whims. This post covers how to avoid being defeated by your lower self through procrastination, avoidance and time-wasting.
The Chimp Paradox
Dr Steve Peters’ book on mind-management, The Chimp Paradox divides the mind into three distinct characters: The Chimp, The Human, and The Computer.
- The chimp (i.e. the limbic system, or reptilian brain) personifies our basal, impulsive drives, and is reactive and emotional.
- The human (frontal lobes) is rational, analytical, empathetic and truth-focused. This is your ‘higher self’
- The computer acts as the memory bank, so any of our installed behaviour programs run automatically in response to the appropriate stimulus.
The chimp acts emotionally, and may not consider consequences. It’s the part of you that would give the other driver the finger, or choose to spend the evening with ice-cream and Netflix rather than squatting. If the program becomes established, the computer will begin to take over, and a habit is formed.
Unfortunately, the chimp is stronger than the human, and can’t be overriden with brute force.
Dr Peters’ solution? Recognise your lower self, work with it, treat it like a child that needs compassion and direction rather than dragging it along kicking and screaming.
You can try to reason or #beastmode your way through, but the chimp will strike in any moment of weakness.
Willpower can change our actions, but not our fascinations – Sally Hogshead
By personifying these neural networks, the book provides a great accessible model, but I always felt the author’s chimp-management strategies felt incomplete.
Catering to your chimp is great for when it’s acting up in the moment, but could we leverage the ‘computer’ and re-program our autopilot behaviours? Can we eventually stop waking the chimp entirely? In my experience, you can.
Coolstorybro, how can this get me shreddy?
What if we could stop battling the chimp, and instead change our fascinations? By re-patterning the reward centres, we can stop the chimp from defaulting to eat for comfort, or missing training only to spend the time on facebook.
We need a boatload of self-discipline to fight against our entrenched conditioning and emotional whims. And discipline is a finite resource.
That’s why crash diets work – by sheer novelty we can muster enough motivation to power-through a few pounds of weight loss, before the overwhelming difficulty wins the tug of war.
In other words, whenever we do something that requires motivation and a push, we are trying to do something that is not natural to us given our beliefs and conditionings. And the standard response is to think that our poor results are a deficiency in willpower, and that we just need to try harder.
An analogy that comes to mind, is a skinny guy whose calorie intake is 1500kcal – he’s not gaining muscle, and thinks that it’s because he’s not training hard enough. So he throws in more capillary-bursting dropsets to failure. It won’t work. The limiting factor is not his training intensity.
The opposite example: obese people are often (wrongly, and judgementally) criticised for lacking willpower – to say that implies that everybody who isn’t obese is walking around in a constant state of restraint. The truth is that the both the hardgainer and obese person simply act according to their conditioning.
Those conditionings form their habits and coping mechanisms. The obese man may actually have more raw willpower than his leaner colleague, whom he’s perhaps outperforming at work. His willpower is being channeled differently, or his conditioning sets him up to work harder in the office.
Eliminate the beliefs & conditionings
If we can eliminate the beliefs and conditionings, the need for self-discipline disappears, as we replace the unhelpful autopilot behaviours with useful ones.
Needing courage, nerves of steel, or self- control would imply an internal conflict where one force is being used to counteract the effects of another. If you’re not afraid, you don’t need courage. If you’re not stressed, why would you need nerves of steel?
– Mark Douglas
Wouldn’t it be easier to eliminate the need for self-discipline than to struggle to discipline yourself to act against your beliefs and conditionings?
– Morty Lefkoe
The mind secretes thoughts, just like the pancreas secretes insulin
You can’t control the mind, but you can set the conditions for its activities. If you’ve ever meditated, you’ll see first hand that, at the deepest level, you do not produce your thoughts. Disagree? Close your eyes and tell me what your next thought will be.
If our obese friend suffers from emotional eating, then attempting to ‘discipline’ emotional eating is stifling the symptoms. At worst, this is ineffective. At best, a struggle, prone to relapse.
Emotional eating does not stem from lack of discipline, so trying to stop it by strangulating the behaviour is like squeezing a water balloon. It’s driving with the brake on.
The friction between target behaviour and actual behaviour stems from our conditioning
The friction between target behaviour and actual behaviour stems from our conditioning, so fighting it with discipline alone is an uphill struggle. It’s a hill that doesn’t always need to be climbed.
If you were to uproot your limiting conditioning, any resistance would be eliminated and you would move closer to target behaviour as your natural state, with less effort.
1) Desire gives rise to a feeling.
2) Feelings give rise to thoughts.
3) Thoughts give rise to behaviours.
When we see somebody else with our target behaviour, we conflate their behaviour with discipline, assuming that the reason we aren’t at that level is due to our relative lack of discipline. What’s really happening is that their combination of desire and emotion are simply driving their thoughts, and therefore behaviour in a certain direction.
You can modify your behaviour using an outside-in approach, or an inside-out approach. Dichotomies like this give rise to many straw-man fitness arguments, such as cardio vs weight training, compound vs isolation . You have both tools at your disposal, why not burn the candle at both ends?
Collecting data, then using willpower and conscious habit change to redirect the underlying want to a more resourceful behaviour.
Going to the source: uprooting the underlying desire. Remember, a want gives rise to a feeling. The feeling no longer gets triggered, and so neither do those thoughts and behaviours.
The old programs are like old burnt rope. They retain their shape but as soon as they are challenged, they crumble
– Lester Levenson
The outside-in approach focuses on building the systems and incentive structure to build your goal physique in SPITE of your conditioning. Discipline is required.
The inside out approach suggests that your physique is a function of your conditioning: your dispositions, tendencies and inclinations. Your mindset draws you towards exercising and eating in a way that matches your goal physique. There’s no inner resistance, and it’s just something you do. Discipline is not required.
What actually is discipline? Here’s the best I could come up with: the act of consistently refocusing on the goal. It’s an act of persistence that gets stronger like a muscle. Until eventually… LIGHT WEIGHT BABY
It is a sequence of choices. Interestingly, discipline doesn’t appear to be global – and has to be built in different dimensions of your life separately – e.g. you may have strong dietary discipline, but can’t stop scrolling the news feed.
When you see someone who appears disciplined, it’s often not how they perceive it. Either their muscle has become strong enough that it feels ‘submaximal’ to them, OR they simply lack the conditionings that block their productive behaviours. They are compelled to act in that way because of their beliefs – it’s a function of their identity. We have less control over our daily conscious behaviour than we think:
We seem to be pulled into the same grooves despite our attempts to be different, despite the fact our surface consciousness may be trying to move in that direction.
– Shinzen Young
I’m not saying outside-in approach is pointlessly swimming upstream, or that the inside-out approach lacks systems and application. A solid enough mechanical system can override your dispositions and reach your goal by brute force. Similarly, a correctly aligned mindset may organically SPROUT the systems necessary to reach your goal more efficiently.
In part 2 I’m going to cover the practical side: How you can leverage both approaches, and light both ends of that candle.