Several months ago a few internet acquaintances of mine introduced me to an intriguing website called SuperBetter (www.superbetter.com) The gist of the site is that it provides a framework for self-improvement. The site was developed by experts in neuroscience, psychology, medicine, and game design. One can chose one of four areas of concentration, Physical, Mental, Emotional, or Social. You then set up a goal for yourself in this area and are presented with a succession of tasks, termed Quests, designed to improve ones “resilience” in that area. Much like Lumosity (www.lumosity.com), which aims to improve ones mental flexibility, SuperBetter has many game-like aspects. Keeping Score, Leveling Up, and the like.
I let my SuperBetter activity lie dormant through most of the last Winter, but with the advent of Spring, and with my recent determination to improve my overall health and well being I returned to see what might be gleaned therein. The first Quest I was presented with was to develop a personal motto. The one I came up with is rather geeky but serves its purpose well. It is derived from Newton’s First Law of Motion, “A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest remains at rest.” It helped to keep me motivated as I worked to lose more than 40 excess pounds from April to now. Whenever I needed a little boost to take a walk, or turn down a piece of cake, I would recite that couplet like a mantra. It reminded me that I had to make an effort to change my behavior patterns.
I would like to share with you the thought process by which I came up with this motto. It is my hope that in so doing I might potentially help another person who might also be struggling with overcoming a bad habit or at least attempting to reinforce a good one.
The blazon for my branch of the Russell clan states that our family arms bear the motto: Che sarà, sarà, which is Italian for “What will be, will be.” Why a Scottish clan should have an Italian motto is a mystery for another time. As a clan/family motto I suppose it does well enough. For me, it seems to signify an attitude of resigned acceptance toward the future. Leaving it all in the hands of Fate, as it were. This seems rather too passive and deterministic for my current frame of mind, however, especially, as I am looking for something that evokes a striving for positive change.
One might reformulate this bit of wisdom to the more contemporary related expression “It is what it is.” This shifts the emphasis from the future to the present. Rather than the fatalism of the prior expression, this pithy statement expresses a practical approach to current situations. It signifies an awareness that complaints, condemnations and endless consternation about ones circumstances rarely ever result in solutions. Neither does continual blame laying nor arguing over who started what or who might be responsible for the present condition. Accept the situation as it stands and move on from there. This comes closer to what I am looking for. It is still too passive, but it does introduce the idea of movement.
Movement. Motion. Moving forward is generally considered positive while Moving backward is generally considered negative. This idea of motion has meaning as a physical property and as a psycho-social concept. We move forward into the future. Political parties, special interests, businesses, and communities strive to move their agendas forward. On a personal level we are considered to have moved forward when we overcome past limitations or meet personal goals.
In the science of Physics we find Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Is it possible to allegorically apply these laws to social and personal motion? As a Freemason this appeals to me. Freemasonry relies heavily on allegory to stimulate thought and to illustrate various principles of Morality and Right Conduct. Let us then take a look at Newton’s Three Laws of Motion and see what allegorical insight might be contained therein.
Newton’s First Law of Motion, often referred to as the Law of Inertia, can be stated thus: An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to remain in motion at a constant velocity (i.e. speed and direction) unless acted upon by some force. I saw another way of phrasing this that struck me as particularly relevant. “An object continues to do whatever it happens to be doing unless a force is exerted upon it.” (Wikipedia – Newton’s Laws of Motion – Newton’s First Law) Think about this in a behavioral context. We humans are creatures of habit. We tend to do the same things in the same way throughout out lives and derive comfort from the doing. Many of these habits we had drilled into us in our youth. Our parents taught us how to brush our teeth, for instance. Others are learned through experience or formal training and education. Our teachers taught us a certain way to perform arithmetic problems. There is a certain inertia to these things. Changing the way we do things requires an effort, the application of force. That force may be internal, the so-called force of will, or external, the force of circumstances.
In my particular case, I had to overcome a particular pattern of behavior in the way I ate, and what I ate. I also had to change my general level of activity. I had to get off my butt and get moving. I had reached a level of inactivity and obesity that I could no longer tolerate. I exerted an internal force of my determination to finally lose the weight that was making me uncomfortable. Through continuous application of this force I was able to change my eating habits and to establish a new habit of regular activity. I changed my behavioral velocity, the speed and direction of my mental course. I continue to strive for further improvement in this area knowing that if I do not, then I will return to that state of complacence and rest which led to the undesirable circumstance in which I found myself.
At the beginning of last Spring I tipped the scales at 312 pounds. I hated that my clothes no longer fit right. I had to buy a pair of jeans with a 48 inch waist and a longer belt to hold them up. I almost didn’t need the belt anymore. I had finally had enough. So, I joined a gym, paid for an extended program of personal training and nutritional counseling and got to work. Now, six months later, I am 43 pounds lighter, can fit back into my 44 inch pants and on my way to even more weight loss. With any luck I will reach my goal of 225 pounds by my birthday at the end of next April.
I intend to keep this body moving in that positive direction, despite the forces working against me.
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