My Dog Ate My Couch
A few evenings ago, I came back from my weekly soccer game and walked into a bit of a mess in my living room. For a couple of weeks my elderly dog has been a little restless, and when she’s restless she tends to get slightly destructive. She’s also 14 1/2 years old, so I usually just chalk it up to her being crotchety and it’s never gotten really bad. What I walked into on Tuesday was pretty bad. There were pieces of my couch all over the floor, and she’d chewed up three sections of it.
Of course, my first reaction is to get angry with her. I rescued this dog 12 years ago and I know her like the back of my hand, and it’s been just her and me since my divorce seven years ago. So usually we figure out a way to get along pretty well, but this was obviously something a little bit further than she’d done in the past.
The reason that I’m bringing this up is an example, is I want to illustrate the common themes of emotion and reactivity that people go through when they experience something unexpected or something that triggers them. As I said before, my first reaction was anger, mostly coming from frustration. A couch is an expensive piece of furniture to have to replace, especially when you’re not sure if you do replace it if the next one is just going to get destroyed again. Right now, times are tough and something like replacing a couch isn’t in my budget.
After I had that initial reaction of anger and frustration, the next day I suddenly started to explore the reasons WHY she would have done something like that. Whenever animals or humans have a reaction to something, it isn’t like it just comes out of nowhere. There is always a reason for it.
This concept applies to your body as well. Physical reactions are just a response to a stimulus from your nervous system. So that can come in the form of muscular contraction, it can come under the form of protection, it can even come in the form of pain if you’re doing something that your body wants to avoid. Your body is an incredibly intelligent mechanism that is constantly evaluating the stimulus around you, and providing a response to that stimulus.
Emotionally your brain reacts the same way. The instinct of your body is to protect you from things like trauma or physical situations that it perceives as something that might harm you. So when you’re having a reaction to something with an emotion such as anger, fear, or depression sometimes realizing that it is simply a physical response or an emotional response can really help you recognize the situation and be able to deal with it in a timely manner. Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a client about a massive amount of anxiety she was having, so I explained to her that anxiety is a perfectly normal nervous system reaction your body has in order to avoid a situation or protect you from something that it thinks might hurt it. She expressed that it was like a lightbulb going off in her head, and just simply knowing that her reaction was a normal reaction made all the difference towards being able to come down from her anxious feelings.
So as you go about your days and you’re dealing with stressful situations or possibly even having reactions to things that you don’t understand, remember that recognizing but your body has an innate instinct to protect you from things is part of the process. This can be something as mild as a gut feeling, road rage, or as severe as a full blown panic attack, and we all respond to these types of scenarios in different ways.
Going back to the original example, my dog was so worked up that the only way she could deal with her stress was to chew on something. Your reaction may be to grab food, distract yourself with social media, or even lash out at somebody like a partner or a child. I’m going to encourage you that the next time this happens, you take a deep breath and recognize where the reaction is coming from, and then if it’s somebody that is causing the problem try to understand where their thought process may come from. Sometimes it is completely unconscious, and the person is not doing it intentionally at all. My dog didn’t mean to eat my couch. She didn’t suddenly get up one day and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna destroy Dad’s furniture!’ She simply needed an outlet, and it’s my job to figure out what that outlet is and how to redirect her energy toward something not destructive.
I hope that this gives you some new thought processes around stress and triggers. Whenever you’re feeling yourself getting upset, just do yourself a favor and even if you walk into a room with a torn apart couch, remember that sometimes your emotions are going to get the best of you and that’s OK. Recognizing WHY is part of the process to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The RAW Approach For Change
When most people think about changing their body, they think of weight loss. But there are a ton of other reasons that someone might want to create a change, both inside and out. Maybe you’re tired of lack of energy or your stomach feeling terrible. Maybe you’re tired of aches and pains when you kneel or bend over. Or maybe you want to see a different clothing size on your body. Whatever it is doesn’t matter.
All of these things require one thing – change. And this article is all about the direct but effective way to create that change so that it lasts for a lifetime. Are you the type of person that has tried several times to change something and can’t figure out why the things you want to create never stick? Perhaps this insight will help.
I’ve been coaching people for over two decades and have managed to help hundreds of people create positive change. Through careful observation, tons of examples and lots of practical application I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what solid change takes.
So here’s the three things I’ve identified that break down the basics of what you need to think about. I’ve called it the RAW method for a reason. Part of it is that you have to really get into the raw details of what you want and what you’re currently doing. Here’s the list:
One: Recognize your Patterns
Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to do the same things pretty much daily, and when that routine becomes disruptive it is actually instinctual that it will cause some discomfort. Examples might be snacking in front of the television at the same point in the evening after the kids go to bed. Or right after work thinking about how nicely that glass of wine is going to feel, even if you know it might make your stomach feel terrible.
There can be positive patterns as well. A good bedtime routine. A good morning routine. Comforting yourself with a decent coffee in the morning which makes you feel good before work. Walking outside during your lunch hour. These things make us feel better, and we should also recognize that side of it.
When you wake up in the morning feeling amazing because of a good nights’ sleep, think about the positive things you did to create that feeling. It helps reinforce in your brain that it was a good thing rather than an inconvenience. Repetition creates new connections in your nervous system that can sometimes change things for good – or bad – depending on how you feel about it.
My point here is if you want to make a change one way or the other you need to recognize what that pattern is and acknowledge it. Once you identify what it is, if it is a negative thing in your life you want to change you can apply something towards it. Adjust it to something positive and keep reinforcing why you’re doing the thing you have changed.
Two: Adjust Slowly
We are also filled with a society of Type A personalities. People who are all in on whatever they are going to do and give it 100% of their effort. This is often a good quality, unless you are trying to make a permanent change.
As much as we would like to think it does, your brain and nervous system do not adjust quickly. Yes, there are mechanisms in place so that if you have to make a sudden decision or move your body quickly then you are able to, but then there is always a recovery period where your nervous system needs to rest. Think of it like almost getting into an accident and the adrenaline rush, then the subsequent crash afterwards.
My advice to people is always to adjust one thing, make it a proper change and then adjust something else. Don’t try to do three or four things at once. It’s kind of like dating. If you are involved with three or four people at the same time it becomes an exhausting juggling act where you’re like the cat with paws on several mice. Then you go after one more and all the mice escape.
Instead, work on one thing for a period of time until you’re confident it is solid and you’re able to have it as a permanent part of your routine. Then find something else and add on. This should ideally be something small – not big. Something that you will barely even notice like adding in a good food to increase your fibre or making a point of going to bed and getting up at the same time daily.
As an example, I recently got a client to start consistently stretching. How? We started with five minutes per day accountable. Ten stretches for thirty seconds each. Once that was good, we expanded the SAME routine to forty and then forty-five seconds and added some more one stretch at a time. But this took a period of weeks, not days. Now it is a part of his lifestyle, stretching ten minutes a day. The next step is taking on ten minutes of exercise on his own once a week.
Whether it’s five minutes or half an hour, it doesn’t really matter. Positive change is positive change. But if I’d tried to give him ten minutes per day right away plus a workout on his own it wouldn’t have worked. Slower adjustments bring on consistency, which yields results every time. Let me repeat that: Consistency yields results. Find a way to adjust slowly so that you can maintain consistency.
Three: WAIT and be patient
I tell my kids all the time when they are learning something new, just be patient and keep practicing. As adults somehow we forget this philosophy. Blame can also fall on our instant gratification society of course where we are marketed to by people who claim we can change overnight and make a massive change.
Think about examples of failure with rapid change in the fitness world. Biggest Loser? 90% gain the weight back. Those ads in magazines where they claim you can be shredded in weeks. Diving into a Crossfit box or group exercise program? Most people injure themselves quickly and never go back. Starvation fad diets. Supplements that waste your money all in the name of trying to make things go faster.
If people would just be patient and adjust things as I’ve discussed, you can see a big change. It just takes time. Another client recently eliminated the cream and sugar from his coffee and dropped seven pounds in a couple of months. I’ve had people lose ten pounds in the same time just by cutting out alcohol. Increasing your bench press is done two pounds at a time, not twenty all at once. Trying to do things fast is a road to either setback or failure.
When I first talk to someone, I try to get them to think long term. Like a year long term, and where they want to try to be. Not six weeks. Not two months. I’m not saying you can’t make a change in six weeks – you can make a massive one – but if you are only thinking about that six weeks you’re missing the bigger picture. Then plan accordingly for whatever goal you have. This should be broken down into smaller chunks to make it manageable with smaller goals along the way.
This process is why people hire professional coaches. To have someone else think about the big picture and what they are doing in broad strokes, then dialing down to explain small steps that will work. And it should be someone who has examples of people they have successfully helped, not just themselves.
And again, give it time. Make note of the little changes that you see or feel, or even comments that people make around you. Think about how much better you’re sleeping, feeling inside or moving. Every marathon runner I’ve ever met began with a run around the block.
I hope this article gives you some perspective and tools towards lasting change. If you truly want to do something positive, take the time to recognize, adjust slowly and wait. The RAW method works if you implement it properly. Just take it one step at a time.
If you’d like to talk further about what it takes to change, feel free to reach out and have a conversation with me. I’ve been helping people for years find out what it takes and put together a proper plan to achieve positive things.
Until next time!
Why Walking Doesn’t Cut It
When I’m driving my kids to school and heading to work, I see a ton of people out in the mornings for a walk. Sometimes with an animal, and sometimes holding a set of Nordic poles. Enjoying nature, and getting in a great workout, right? Well, as with anything – it depends.
The top thing I hear from potential clients who are overweight and want to lose weight and get more active is “well, I walk.” The invention of the FitBit and devices like it have made getting in 10,000 steps a day a bit of a craze. And I’m all for people getting more active and healthier, but for the majority of people who really want results like weight loss, more strength and pain reduction, simply going for a walk isn’t going to get you there very quickly, and here’s why:
Walking Isn’t Intense Enough
To change the body, you need to provide a stimulus that is beyond what you normally do. Now, most people will think walking for 20 minutes is great – and if it’s more than you normally do it might be. However, most people simply go for a stroll at lunch and expect to lose weight. Simple math will tell you that this walk burns 140 calories, which is replaced as soon as you eat an apple. Even five days a week the calorie equivalent is basically one good solid hour long workout of high intensity. This is again, better than nothing, but please don’t expect any miracle weight loss.
Nordic walking at 4 MPH (which is quite fast for most people) burns 220 calories in 30 minutes. This is with the added pole movement. It feels great – and can be excellent for your mental health – but for fitness it is a bit lacking.
Walking will make you better at – walking. Unless you’re getting your heart rate up significantly you’re not getting any cardiovascular improvement. Unless you’re performing some body weight movements along the way (which is very easy to do) you’re not getting any strength improvements. So, what’s the benefit? One might be getting away from a seated position for a little while and destressing in the outdoors, but this again won’t give you any benefits for strength or weight loss.
People Use It To Justify Overeating
The amount of times I’ve heard “well, I went for a walk” at Starbucks while a person digs into a caramel latte could fill ten books. It’s the equivalent of the ladies who do Zumba or Aquafit at the gym and then promptly order a sugar loaded smoothie at the juice bar (often because they think it’s healthy – thanks, smoothie bar owners), instantly replacing every calorie they just burned. Plus, because they went to the gym that day I’m sure an extra glass of wine is fine at dinner. And then they wonder why they aren’t losing weight. Unless you’re paying attention to your nutrition weight loss simply isn’t going to happen. It’s a massive part of the equation.
This does not mean that you need to severely restrict your diet! There are simple changes you can make to support your new healthy habits (read my article HERE if you want some tips). You can still enjoy social time with friends and drink green tea or something that isn’t loaded with calories.
It’s Easy to Overdo It
I deal with overuse injuries on a daily basis. In fact, just because I spent the past weekend in Toronto and walked everywhere even my joints are a bit stiff today. If you suddenly take yourself from zero to a hundred without any progression then it’s easy to run into problems in your hips, knees and feet and ankles quite quickly. Then you get discouraged and stop. Many people join a group or start walking way too far way too soon because “it’s just walking”. It’s still loaded movement and repetition. The last thing we want is for you to get discouraged or injured before you even start, and walking is one of the chief culprits for this. Don’t even get me started on running.
So What are your Solutions? Again, there are some easy ways to ramp up something as simple as a walk and it doesn’t mean you have to run, enter an idiotic boot camp or kill yourself. In fact, for beginning exercisers this is a recipe for disaster.
It’s fairly simple to increase the intensity of a simple walk into something that will provide some results:
Get Your Heart Rate High, Even For Short Intervals
Studies show that increasing your heart rate to over 83% of your maximum for even four minutes can have a remarkable effect on your heart and lungs. This doesn’t mean you need to run – simply walk faster and with deliberate speed. It won’t take long for your heart rate to increase to the point where you are getting out of breath and you feel your muscles burning. Then stay there. Use the timer on your phone or other device and hold onto that level for 3-5 minutes. Even one minute has an effect, you just have to do more intervals. This is called interval training and it’s been proven to be the most effective method for increasing heart and lung capacity.
Add Some Strength Work
People seem to think that strength training is this horrible thing you need to do in a gym. Almost daily I provide simple isometric exercises for people they can do literally anywhere against a wall. In your office, at home or even at the gym with zero equipment required you can still generate strength. Do me a favour right now and find a wall. Stand with your back to it, rotate your foot out and left the side of your foot into the wall. Feel your butt fire? Great – push a bit harder and hold it for 30 seconds. Hang onto something if you need to for balance. You just gave your glute a workout. Most people while walking barely use their glutes at all because of the motion they are doing – so do this simple isometric (and a few others) in between those interval bouts – and give yourself some strength work at the same time.
All day long you’re going to pick things up, put them down, rotate your trunk, sit, sprint for the bus and many other things that need joint strength. It’s easy to add this into your daily walk with isometrics or bodyweight movements.
This may seem like a simple breakdown – because it is! Taking something like walking as a healthy habit and turning it into something much more effective over time isn’t difficult. If you’re trying to introduce this into your life, feel free to reach out for more detailed suggestions. I have an entire isometric at home system that I can share with you.
And, as always feel free to comment, tweet, add me to Facebook and reach out if you need anything!
Your Amazing Body
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a cadaver dissection lab, the first one ever offered to trainers in Ottawa. This was a unique opportunity to see the things that I affect every day stripped right down and actually see inside the joints and muscles and other structures. Incredible for learning even more about how we work from the inside out.
You have over 640 muscles in your body, some estimates go as high as 667 depending on what is classified as a muscle. Every time you move you affect dozens of these. When you can actually move a joint that has been stripped away and see how these muscles pull and stretch and work together, one of the most amazing things to me was how resilient your body is on an ongoing basis.
One example was that there were two different feet from the tibia down. One had one heel basically underneath the tibia and another had the heel slightly offset to the outside. Imagine every foot strike (taking thousands a day) hitting just slightly off center. What would that do to things further up the line? Multiply that by say ten years and you’re talking about 7.3 million steps. Knee cartilage takes the same wear and tear over time, as does the hip and back. And that’s without ever lifting anything or moving quickly.
We take this for granted. Our body is obviously really, really tough but more often than not especially in athletics we think that it will heal and all will be fine. This type of movement and trauma changes it permanently. I saw several examples inside joints where wear and tear that you wouldn’t even know was there existed.
I got to see nerves actually coming out of the spinal cord and how thick they are. There are areas of the body where these nerves are constantly compressed over and over again, even without any type of inflammation. They still hold up for long periods of time without fraying, breaking or even compressing enough to cause an issue. This told me that when you have a problem with a nerve – it’s a serious problem. On the flip side, I got to see the nerves that actually run through the center of the spine and how protected they are, but also how delicate and could be easily destroyed.
There were certain muscles that until I saw how the fibers actually sat and saw the lines I thought functioned in slightly different ways. When you moved them you could also see how the muscles might stretch and align themselves to allow a completely different type of mechanical ability. It also illustrated how many muscles work together to achieve movement, whether it be something as simple as typing on this computer or as complex as lifting something quickly from the floor over your head.
I actually got to see fascia – connective tissue that provides tension for a lot of the body and also creates patterns of contraction that move throughout the body and connect different areas. Many of you probably know Gil Hedley and “The Fuzz Speech”? It’s there. Seriously. I saw it, touched it and even broke it up. Incredible to think that such a thing is really there, but there it was. All over the place. And it was very easily altered.
Now you may not really care about this stuff – but you should. These muscles don’t just help you when you’re exercising. They help you walk, get out of bed, brush your teeth, sit down, stand up and play with your kids. They provide strength for lifting your grocery bags or performing household tasks like gardening and cleaning. It is an incredible thing and very humbling that all of these things just work – on demand – for dozens of years without stopping or really breaking down until the buildup becomes so extreme.
The other big takeaway from a spiritual point of view was actually something I hadn’t considered when I first signed up. All of these cadavers were once people. They had lives and families and experiences that reflected in the way that their bodies presented. A couple of them had joint replacements. A couple of them obviously had trauma or arthritis or something happen to their bodies over a period of time. You really never know when this body that you are walking around in could suddenly either break down or simply pass on. We all are a sum of the experiences that we have, whether it be emotional, mental, or in this case, physical. If there’s one takeaway I can give you, it’s this:
DON’T TAKE YOUR BODY FOR GRANTED
You have a finite amount of everything. Steps, breaths, movements and experiences. Treat your body well because it is truly the vessel that carries you every day from one of these experiences to the next. It will fight off what you do to it, and obviously incredibly well, but eventually it will break down. Stave that off as long as you possibly can and enjoy being able to move, breathe and experience amazing things for decades to come.
If you enjoyed this please feel free to share and like it on social media. My Facebook page is here and you can follow me on Twitter @strengthottawa. You can also check out my web site at http://www.srottawa.com and feel free to contact me if you have any issues you need help with. Treat your body well today!