How are you shaping your path? If you’ve not read the book, Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, you may have no idea what I’m referring to. You see, you have two brains which the authors represent with the analogy of an elephant and a rider. The rider represents your logical “thinky” brain which typically runs the show and is responsible for most of your daily decisions. The elephant, on the other hand, is your more powerful and primal emotional brain that will take over when the rider tires or when threatened.
The example that I often share with my clients is of an elephant and rider at the circus under the big top with thousands of fans watching in amazement and wonder. Under normal circumstances, the elephant dutifully follows the rider’s every instruction. However, if you set the tent on fire and the tigers escape from their cages, the elephant will cease following the rider and in a state of sheer panic, will be looking for the nearest exit.
That’s how it is with your efforts to change any area of your life. You can have the best of intentions, but if your environment is working against you, as in the burning tent resulting in a panicking elephant, the voice of your logical brain will be lost in the chaos. So, what’s the solution? You must shape your path and or control as much as possible the influences that impact the environments that make up your life.
The four areas of concern are as follows:
1 – Social environment – The people you spend the most time with both at work and at play.
2 – Cultural environment – This is a tricky area because you may go up against beliefs that have been in place for many years and quite possibly your entire life.
3 – Intellectual environment – This is the information you take in from all sources including TV, social media, books & magazines, podcast, music, movies, and etc.
4 – Physical environment – This includes your homes, workplace, and places where you gather and socialize with others.
To paraphrase my mentor, Darren Hardy, these influences are powerful in your life, and yet they don’t shove you in a direction…they merely nudge you. And still, over a period of time of being just a little off daily, you can wake up one day and find your life completely out of control.
One of my favorite quotes from the late, great Charlie “Tremendous” Jones is as follows:
“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
How often did you hear from your Mothers as children to be careful with the friends you choose to play with? Apparently, Charlie and your Mothers were on the same page and they got it right because your associations will make or break you. So, by all means, choose wisely.
To expand on the first half of his quote, the people you spend time with will influence your thinking, which drives your choices. It’s been said that you will be the average of the top 5-10 people that you spend the most time with. To whatever degree this is true, I defer back to the Good Book:
“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed!”
Every experience in your life with other people will leave its mark…for better or worse. So, you really should be careful with your associations in all cases. Obviously, there will be situations where you have little to no control over the people you’re surrounded by such as at your place of work. And yet, you still have a choice in how you conduct yourself and how much you choose to interact beyond what is professionally required to excel with your job and career.
For many, it will be extremely beneficial to take a hard look at all your associations and evaluate whether these relationships are in alignment with your priorities and goals. You may have some difficult choices to make in either spending less time or potentially cutting ties with various people should you determine that they are not a good influence in your life.
On the flip side, you may determine that you need to add more quality associations with people who already have the knowledge, wisdom, and success that you’re seeking. These expanded associations can make a tremendous and positive impact on your life. And with today’s technology and tools such as LinkedIn, building these expanded associations has never been easier.
For the influence of your native culture, I will tread very lightly. All cultures have their unique attributes and some can be challenging when it comes to achieving and maintaining optimal health and body composition. For example, Italian cuisine is known for its pizza and pasta. In addition, cheese and wine make up a large portion of the cuisine with many varieties. These are all calorically dense foods that could make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight without a strong degree of restraint and self-discipline.
The staple foods of Indian cuisine include pearl millet (bājra), rice, whole-wheat flour (aṭṭa), and a variety of lentils, such as masoor (most often red lentils), tuer (pigeon peas), urad (black gram), and moong (mung beans). Most Indian meals (depending on whether your host is vegetarian or not) are comprised of rice, Chapati (flatbread), meat, vegetable and lentil dishes, salad, yogurt, and pickles.
I have worked with many clients in my career who have followed one of the numerous variations of a plant-based diet and the biggest challenge always seems to be in getting enough protein. The more they go in the plant-based direction, restricting other foods, the more difficult it becomes in getting enough protein.
Now please, all of you plant-based nutrition followers out there, don’t blow up my post. Plant-based eating can be very healthy when done right. My boss is 5′ 9″, 190 lbs, and carries less than 10% body fat. He’s built like a Mack truck and he follows a mostly plant-based diet. Clearly from his results, he’s getting plenty of protein and is quite healthy overall.
My biggest point is that regardless of your culture and its particular traditions around food, you can maintain very healthy body weight and composition if you know what you’re doing. Regardless of your heritage, eating healthy simply requires knowledge and discipline.
For your intellectual environment, I’m going to break it down into two parts, “feed” and “protect”.
Every bit of information you take in will affect you for better or worse. Every source of media you consume will influence your thinking which drives your decision-making and ultimately your life. My mentor Andy Andrews teaches that there’s no such thing as treading water. Every experience in your life is moving you closer or taking you further from your goals. And the choice is yours as to how you spend your time.
Due to some early positive and wise influences in my life, I have been a student of personal development since my days in college. I’ve never been in the habit of watching the news any more than the bare minimum required to stay abreast of what’s going on in the world. And I’ve always been proactive in feeding my mind with positive growth-oriented information. In today’s world, that’s countercultural to the masses for the most part. By the way, if you want to be successful, look at what the majority is doing and go in the opposite direction.
Brian Tracy teaches a concept called the E to E ratio. It is the ratio of time you spend entertaining yourself versus educating yourself. If you look at the highest achievers in the world, they intentionally invest time in furthering their growth…especially in the areas of their passions and strengths. In contrast, the average person spends far more time entertaining themself and as a result, they stay a part of the masses achieving far less in life than they could if they only challenged themself to grow.
If you’re not currently investing in your personal growth, I encourage you to get started. Most people underestimate the value of small blocks of time. For example, if you commute 20 minutes to and from work every day, that small investment of time equates to just over four, forty-hour work weeks annually. Now, you can spend this time listening to music or sports talk radio which is bubblegum for your mind or you can listen to an educational podcast or audiobook which can quite literally change your life over a period of time. The choice is yours.
Look for the small spaces in your day where you can layer in listening to something positive while you’re doing another activity. I personally listen to a couple of hours’ worth of growth-oriented audio every morning before and after the gym and while getting ready for my workday. Darren Hardy calls this “net time”. You’re already doing the other activity and so make the most of it by feeding your mind wherever it makes sense.
In our technologically hyper-connected world, negative news media will beat a path to your door. The news machine is in an all-out battle to get and maintain your attention. And trust me, it’s not by sharing messages of hope and inspiration. These will go mostly unnoticed. You respond far more to shock and awe and the news media knows this. They know you in some cases better than you know yourself and they are absolutely maximizing this knowledge to monetize their message through advertising $’s.
You have to build a fortress to guard your heart and mind. And despite your best efforts, the negative news of the world will find its way in. That’s why it’s so critical to continue flushing your mind with positive information daily.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Where do you do life? Beyond your homes, you work, play, travel, worship, and serve in many different environments. For most, your homes are the one place where you have total control and I will circle back to this in a moment. For the rest, consider the same suggestion I gave above regarding your associations. Be very careful with the different places you “do life”. You may determine that you need to make some changes if you identify an area where you frequent that’s ultimately a negative influence in your life.
This includes your job. Life is too short to spend the bulk of your waking hours doing something that doesn’t make you happy. A career change is typically not easy and can seem quite daunting, however, if you’re not happy, then be willing to seek a positive change.
Leadership expert John Maxwell gives some great counsel on making a change in your career path. First, figure out what you really want to do. Then figure out what you need to do to get there. Even if it involves a process like getting further education, determine if the price is worth it, and if it is, then get to work paying the price. And be very careful to dismiss an opportunity because the process takes time. The time is going to pass regardless and you can look back with a sense of accomplishment or with the dreadful feeling of regret for having been unwilling to change.
Now, once you’ve pruned your life of any negative environments, you still need to have a game plan for how to thrive in what’s left. For example, if you work in an office where people routinely eat fast food for lunch and make unhealthy choices for snacks, you have to be prepared with your own healthy choices. If you go to work each day unprepared, then you are all the more likely to be influenced by your associates and join in with their unhealthy practices.
Your gold-standard solution is to meal prep on the weekends so you can always be prepared with healthy meals and snacks throughout the day as needed. And if eating out is a part of your normal routine, then have a game plan for that as well. Your choice of restaurant is the first big decision that can make or break you. The better the restaurant, the easier it will be to make healthy choices. And better does not necessarily mean more expensive. Just shoot for a place where you can get a good portion of clean protein, veggies, and smart carbs and you will be good.
As I mentioned above, there is one environment where you have total control and you must make the most of it. If your home is your castle, then be sure to treat it as such. This includes both the environment in your home and the things you bring into your home…namely food.
Please hear me on this. Discipline is to be exhibited at the grocery store…not when you’re staring at the tub of Ben & Jerries in your freezer. Whatever your choice of indulgence, if you bring it home, you will eventually eat it. The better your choices when shopping for groceries, the easier it will be to stay on track once you’re back home.
And please don’t think I’m suggesting that you never have ice cream or any other kind of treat. I address the idea of treating yourself in depth in “No Cheat Meals Required”. Still, you need to be smart about the quality and quantity of “treat” foods that you bring into your home. For example, if you struggle with occasionally losing control when eating ice cream, then consider only bringing home a pint-sized container rather than a gallon. Another huge consideration is to opt for lower-calorie options such as Halo Top or even make your own healthy treats.
You have to understand that food manufacturers know how to combine sugar, fat, and salt in a way that makes some foods almost irresistible. Ever taken a bite and found yourself wanting the rest of the tub? That’s how full-sugar and full-fat foods in particular impact your brain. The old saying, “you can’t just eat one” can really be true. In contrast, you can make some amazingly good-tasting healthy treats that will not impact your brain in the same way. To me, this is a much better way to go where you can treat yourself regularly without running so much of a risk of overindulging.
I have one more thought on your home not related to food. If you’re motivated by inspirational sayings and artwork, be sure to take advantage of this and decorate your home accordingly. I teach my clients constantly about the importance of identifying your “why” and then having it strategically posted around your home. It could be as simple as post-it notes on your bathroom mirror, fridge, microwave, pantry, laptop, and etc.
Your “why” should be your guiding beacon and trust me, there will be days when you will need it to stay on track. Remember, if your “why” is big enough, the facts don’t matter. You will never always feel like doing the things necessary to be successful and that really doesn’t matter. Do them anyway because they’re the right things to do and your “why” is worth it.
In closing, I will ask again my opening question. How are you shaping your path? After years of working with clients and doing countless consultations geared around helping people improve their physical and emotional health, the information I’ve shared in this post really strikes at the heart of where and why people struggle.
If you’re not happy with where you are in life in any capacity, then be willing to change. You know the definition of insanity, don’t you? It’s doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. If you want things to be different in your life, then you have to be willing to change.
A great method for goal achievement is to determine your ultimate destination. Then break it down to what you have to do each month. Then break it down to each week. And then down to what you need to do…this very day.
And then act. A journey of a thousand miles truly starts with a single step.
Best of luck in your journey.