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Brain Damage Pill

Brain Damage Pill

photo of bitter little pill

    “Not exercising is like taking a brain damage pill.”

    Whoa. That’s pretty strong language. I know it’s true that exercising increases alertness, energy, and the ability to concentrate, and that it improves physical and emotional well-being. But brain damage pill? Isn’t that going too far?

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    No. That’s exactly as far as I need to go.

    After several years of failing to transform my off-and-on running habit into a permanent, lifelong habit, I have finally discovered a powerful key to achieving my goal: the highly emotional, simple, concrete self-advertisement. I have learned that using this “brain damage pill” metaphor stimulates me to behave in the way my “higher self” wants me to behave (go for a run), even when my “lower self” is feeling exhausted, unenthusiastic, or tempted by couch-potato pursuits and sleep. The brain damage pill metaphor has proven to be magic.

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    I gained insight into the “why?” behind this simple technique for behavioral change from the new book, Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The authors assert that there are six principles for making ideas “sticky” and influential, and #5 on the list is, “Make messages emotional; make people care.”

    The Heath brothers cite an example of the head-to-head competition of two anti-smoking ad campaigns, both targeted at teenagers, in the late 1990s. One ad took an analytical approach and had the tagline, “Think. Don’t Smoke.” The other ad (from the famous “The Truth” campaign) showed body bags piling up outside the headquarters of a major tobacco company, and implied that teens were being lied to and manipulated by conniving, rich tobacco executives. In follow-up studies of the ads’ effectiveness, seven times as many teenagers remembered the body bag ads as remembered the “Think. Don’t Smoke” ads. Pushing the right emotional button beats out rational, research-based analysis. Every time.

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    For years, I tried to motivate myself with the knowledge that aerobic exercise is good for my body and brain. We’re all aware of studies that prove the undeniable benefits of daily exercise, the most compelling being that the habit significantly increases the length and quality of our lives! And yet, “Exercise because it’s good for you” has always been strangely devoid of motivational potency.

    Even the shocking phrase, “Not exercising is like voluntarily injecting myself with an early-death serum” hasn’t galvanized me. Premature death still seems like a long way off, and I can always rationalize that I’ll start the work of prolonging my life tomorrow.

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    Not exercising is like taking a brain damage pill hits the sweet spot. It’s true (for me). It’s simple. It’s concrete. It’s emotionally powerful. The implied consequences of ignoring it are immediate. It imperils my highly valued mental acuity. I would never pop a brain damage pill… so, obviously, I must exercise today!

    Rob Crawford, a school administrator who loves baseball and acoustic guitars, writes on productivity, impact, and self-management at Crawdaddy Cove.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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