Pattern Recognition

In Greek legend, the Oracle of Delphi was consulted by the kings and wise men before all major undertakings. Carved into the stone above the entrance to her temple  was the advice  and warning “Know thyself.”

Easier said than done. One of my favorite sayings is, “Rule number one is ‘don’t fool yourself.’ Rule two is that you’re the easiest one to fool.” What all this means is that we rarely take the time to see which  of our habits are moving us forward and which ones are holding us back. Chances are you’re stuck in a rut in at least one area of your life, but how to escape?

The first step is to recognize your problem and its consequences. This can be financial, related to your relationship, a problem at work, your tendency to get injured in training, you name it. For our purposes, we’ll talk about the number one reason people exercise: losing fat.

Let’s say you have a few pounds to lose. The consequences of holding extra fat are more than aesthetic. You’ll want to recognize that carrying extra weight increases your health risks, creates more wear and tear on your body, and even costs you more money each year. Make a list of every possible consequence of maintaining this state. Once you have a firm grasp of what’s to be gained by losing, you can make a list of all the great things that carrying extra weight is bringing to your life.  After you compare these lists, you’ll need to decide if you’re happy staying in this pattern or if you’d be better served to get out of it.

Let’s assume you want to change. Here are the rules:

  1. Hope is not a strategy. You can’t just wish for change to happen to you, you have to take an active role. Line out a plan that you can execute, and then work on it. Every day. In our fat-loss example, you might aim to write down what you eat each day, and to weigh yourself twice a week. Plan on reasonable and regular loss, say 1-2 pounds per week. If the plan you lined out isn’t working, revisit the plan and go to work again.
  2. Get some help. No you don’t have to hire a trainer, but trainers are a good example of what I’m talking about. First, share your goal with someone who won’t let you slip up. Pick a loudmouth who doesn’t particularly like you, so you’re sure to hear about it if you fail. You could also join a class or weight-loss group, start a blog, post your goals on Facebook, etc.
  3. Fix your attitude. Don’t get wrapped up in how much you suck. Keep coming back to how good you are, how hard you try, how many goals you’ve achieved…you get the idea. You’ve got to keep aware of patterns that drag you down, most of which are negative attitudes about yourself. If you let this stuff creep into your thoughts, you’re going to start listening.
  4. Realize it’s up to you. As much as your friends and family care about you, in the end, it’s you that has to do the work. You’re the one that has to go to the gym when you don’t feel like it. You’re the one that has to push away from the table. You’re the one who has got to have patience to see this thing through. It’s not about the program or which expensive supplements your chiropractor talked you into buying. It’s you getting some control over yourself and gaining the courage to change.

Once you’ve recognized your problem, built a plan, and started acting on it, you’ve still got to watch out for your biggest foe-yourself. “Knowing thyself” is a huge key to knowing how to help thyself. Change is the only way you’re going to change.

Also carved into the temple at Delphi is a lesser-known warning, but one that’s just as useful to us these 29-odd centuries later. It reads, “nothing in excess.”