Do you ever wake up in the morning and something just doesn't feel right? Regardless of the quantity of sleep and how dialed in your lifestyle habits are, you feel lethargic and stressed. Well, you're not alone in this feeling. This begs the question, ‘Wouldn't it be great to wake up each morning, press a magic button and instantly run a self-diagnostics test on our body, mind and spirit?‘
The short answer, HECK YES!
The long answer, Heart Rate Variability is the magic button. Yogis, athletes, and students alike are loving a form of high-tech meditation – HRV Training – which is growing in popularity with bio and Lifehackers everywhere. Not only is this emerging science useful in identifying when we are over-tired or under-recovered, it's also training us to recognize when we are overly stressed or anxious, and more than that, providing us with a framework to deal with it in the moment.
Me, along with a lot of people in my circles, absolutely love this idea, and by the end of this article I know you will too.
What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
Heart rate variability is a type of tool that's designed to find out how stress affects your body. It basically measures the time between each heart beat and how it differs when breathing in and out. One of the primary reasons that this metric is tested is that certain HRV amounts can point to good health or bad health, depending on the exact time between heart beats.
By having your HRV tested and measured, you will be able to find how much you should work out and basic changes that should be made to your fitness routine. Using this tool can be exceedingly beneficial to your fitness levels.
How to Measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Heart rate variability is measured by identifying the times between each R spike of your heart beat. The information for these spikes are provided through an ECG, or electrocardiogram trace. The variation of these heart beats can be used to find how stress and fatigue are affecting the body during training. This takes into account both physiological and psychological stress.
HRV rates can differ between people depending on overall fitness level, size of left ventricle, skill, or exercise mode. Such factors as body position, current mood, drugs, altitude, and age all have an effect on HRV. In general, it's believed that a high HRV measurement indicates a good fitness level and good health. On the other hand, a lower HRV can be linked to everything from fatigue to stress. Understanding more about these measurements from apps and monitors like ithlete, BioforceHRV, HRV Plus is basically a small part of the science of recovery.
Screen Shots from HRV Plus App – available in the app store for free.
Your HRV will be measured along with your resting heart rate over a period of several days. While, at first glance, it might seem that this testing would be lengthy and laborious, the test itself is simply administered once each morning and lasts for just one minute. The measurements span several days to ensure that there isn't an anomaly on one of the days and to ascertain your baseline HRV. Your daily readings are directly compared to the established baseline, which helps with identifying if any large changes have occurred.
Why is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) So Important?
Now that you understand what heart rate variability is and how it's measured, it's time to take a look at why it's so important. Without the information provided by these tests, you may continue to under-train or over-train. Both of these can be harmful to your body. When you under-train, you don't actually progress as much as you might believe you are. Under-training can involve anything from not working out as often as you should, performing exercises incorrectly, or simply not pushing to your limits. Achieving a perfect fitness level involves pushing your body to its limits. This allows you to actually increase your limits over time.
However, over-training is very dangerous and is what HRV is primarily designed to help with. Over-training involves pushing past your limits. This can damage your body and limit your recovery. Getting in shape or staying in shape is certainly an admirable goal that you should go about trying to do.
Graph shows same person, actual readings. First half in stress, second in focus,relax situation. Recorded by Stone Biofeedback device. Image Credit: Wikipedia
However, when you exercise too much and train too hard, you're actually reducing the efficacy of your workouts and possibly causing your body much harm. Over-training can thankfully be caught before you do too much damage, as there are clear signs and symptoms that occur during the recovery process following a workout routine.
One of the more common ways in which over-training occurs is by starting another workout session before you've fully recovered from your previous one. If this damaging cycle is kept up for a lengthy period, portions of your body will stop functioning properly. There are a myriad of long-term effects of over-training, but the most important things to look out for are the first symptoms. Injuries such as stress fractures are common with over-training, as are illnesses that occur due to reduced function in the immune system. You'll begin to experience fatigue on a more regular basis as well as a quick reduction of lean body weight, which is certainly counterproductive when trying to stay healthy.
You might also suffer from an increase in your resting heart rate. Basically, this can set you back in many ways. Your body will become weaker and it will simply take you longer to complete your workout goals. Many people believe that training and exercising is the only thing necessary towards achieving a fitter and healthier body. However, it's just one cog in the wheel. For instance, getting a good amount of sleep during your recovery phase is essential if you want your muscles to heal, grow and see your fat lessen.
Studies have shown that athletes that over-train themselves have a lower HRV than athletes that exercise the right way. This is why having your HRV levels tested is so important. Not only will learning about your HRV levels prevent you from over-training now and in the future, it will also help you know more about your body and what it takes to make your training more effective. There are times during the recovery phase where your HRV numbers could be low. However, they should bounce higher as the recovery phase continues. It's only when the baseline remains low that you should consider adjusting the way you approach working out.
The Most Amazing Benefits of Using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) when Training
As touched upon before, HRV is an extremely useful metric when you wish to maximize your training potential. Without having this variable tested, you could under-train or over-train, both of which can be very harmful to your body. In fact, over-training on a consistent basis can take a long time to fully recover from, months if the damage was extensive. While it's certainly difficult to find out every effect that training has on the body, HRV is the best tool for determining whether you're training correctly and how to fix the issues if you aren't.
Each time you workout, you start out at whatever your current fitness level is. As your tissue is broken down, your fitness level will lessen throughout your training. During the recovery period, this level will rise. If you're training correctly, it will hopefully rise to above the level it was at before you last worked out.
HRV keeps track of your fitness level and allows you to precisely tune your workout to compensate for over-training or under-training.
To best understand the benefits and advantages of utilizing HRV, it's important to look at the results of studies that have been done with this method. One such study focused on soldiers with PTSD. When using HRV to regulate their training, participants saw substantial improvements in many cognitive functions. Additional health outcomes seen in separate studies displayed improvements in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Fatigue and stress were also greatly reduced. Without the use of HRV, you can easily miss the signs of over-training. The loss of any earlier gains you had made can take months to get back. With HRV, regulating your training is easy, allowing you to maximize your fitness levels.
How to Get Started with Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
If you wish to get started with HRV, you can easily do so with a simple heart rate sensor. This can come in the form of a finger sensor or chest strap monitor. When using a program such as ithlete or a similar one, you will be tasked with downloading an app that will record your heart rate and its variability. These apps are intuitive, easy-to-use, and informative, providing you with all the information you need to name current problems with your training and what you can do to fix these problems. Measuring your HRV typically takes around one minute.
To simplify the process, I highly recommend checking out the BioForce HRV kit. These guys practically ‘wrote the book on HRV' and have everything you need to maximize HRV in your life. The Bioforce HRV System includes, compatible heart rate monitor, HRV training guide, and integrated web app that lets you track your workouts, chart your progress, and join the BioForce HRV community. Click on the image below for more info:
BioForce HRV Kit – all you need for heart rate variability testing at home
Each morning after you wake, place the finger sensor or chest strap in its position and follow the app instructions. Once 60 seconds have passed, you'll be provided with all the important info from the reading, as well as a training recommendation for the day. You'll know when to train, how to train, and when it's time to rest. The recovery period is just as important as the time you spend working out. Understanding how to best help this recovery period will work wonders with your overall fitness.
Now that you know how to get started with HRV, you can buy a heart rate sensor and take your first measurement.
Next step? Go forward and be awesome! It's that easy.
We all know the body needs routine exercise to stay healthy. Living without fitness has visible consequences as well as a correlation with body shape. Weight gain is something easy enough to notice with the naked eye.
Brain health is not as easy to analyze by the casual observer. A decline in mental stimulation and cognitive abilities has no obvious outward signs. Only later in life do we see effects of an unhealthy brain. Age-related memory loss and cognitive declines, such as Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia, afflict millions of Americans. Alzheimer’s disease impacts one in every three senior citizens and there is evidence that suggests you can prevent it.
As technology allows humans to live longer, we need to take care of our brain as intentionally as our body. Luckily, there are many ways to get a brain workout and get in shape today.
Meditation: The Ultimate Brain Workout
Meditation comes in many forms. While many meditative practices were founded by Buddhist and other Asian religions, meditation itself has no religious affiliation.
The idea of sitting quietly and observing your thoughts may not strike you as a brain workout, but that is exactly what it does. Harvard researcher, Sarah Lazar, led multiple studies about mindfulness meditation and physical changes within the brain. She wasn’t only interested in how people felt from meditating, but how the brain actually changed. She found that certain parts of the brain increased in size (cortical thickness) within a group who meditated for 8 weeks.
Regions of the brain that were associated with increased empathy were more active according to her research. More recent evidence suggests meditation reduces perceptions of pain and helps treat symptoms of ADHD.
Imagine what happens to your brain over the course of 40 years with a steady meditation practice. Studies of monks in Tibet show that four or more decades of meditation significantly alters brain patterns permanently. With modern neurofeedback technology, famed biohacker Dave Asprey has created a 40 Years of Zen program that reduces the time one must invest to achieve such results.
If you don’t have $15,000 lying around for his program, you don't have to worry. There are plenty of ways to get started with meditation and mindfulness that are free and easy. If you’re a beginner, you can start with closing your eyes and focusing your attention on 5 long breaths.
My grandmother plays Sudoku almost every day and I’m convinced it is keeping her mentally sharp. Not only that, she thoroughly enjoys the games.
Even though brain workouts are fairly new and unpopular, there are large, growing companies producing a smartphone and online games you may find enjoyable. Luminosity is one of the most popular brain game companies, which has grown 150% every year since founding in 2005. In fact, the games reach approximately 35 million people worldwide, which is no small feat.
Luminosity isn’t the only game in town (so to speak) and there are plenty of free tools you can enjoy. These include games on Cambridge Brain Sciences and CogniFit.
While they are nice, online brain games specifically created to workout your brain aren’t necessary. They may be fun and novel, but even traditional games like sudoku, chess, and bridge can have positive effects on your brain’s long-term health.
Brain Food: When Modern Diets Aren’t Enough
Practices, such as meditation and mentally challenging games, have the biggest impact on the health of our brain in the short and long-term. But just like the body, if we don’t have the right diet and fuel for our brains, no growth will come of it.
In terms of diet, assume your brain needs the same thing our body does: whole foods, not much sugar, and plenty of water. There are some other nutrients the brain needs more.
There are two main nutrients people in the western world lack. One is vitamin D and the other is magnesium, both are important for regulating many brain functions. For magnesium, you can find a supplement, but finding the right one is important. Magnesium glycinate is the most bioavailable form of this nutrient, it is better absorbed and it is superior to citrate (commonly found in stores). For vitamin D, you can either spend more time in the sun (15 minutes of direct sunlight is all you need) or find a supplement – preferably from fish oil.
For an aging brain, there are a few non-traditional considerations as well:
Creatine Monohydrate – While creatine might be a popular bodybuilding supplement, it is one of the most well-researched options for improving long-term brain health as well. Creatine is directly correlated with our brain’s ability to create ATP (energy) and this both increases our cognitive abilities and protects neurological connections from decline. Creatine is more than a tool to get stronger physically, but mentally as well.
Fish Oil – our brain is made up of around 60% fat and most of it is DHA. Our ancestors had a diet high in fish, which meant lots of omega-3 fatty acids and specifically DHA and EPA. Today, our diets have far less fish and foods with omega-6 fatty acids instead. By supplementing with healthy omega-3s from fish oil, it helps protect neurons and improves blood flow to the brain. Try to get 1000 mg of DHA and 500 mg EPA every day.
CoQ10 (Coenzyme10) – another nutrient you’ve probably never heard of, but your body synthesizes it every day. CoQ10 is an important molecule for improving the health of mitochondria, which are considered the energy manufacturers within each cell. By supplementing with CoQ10, you ensure your brain is producing energy on all cylinders.
Supplements will not fix everything, but they can be part of an overall strategy to workout your brain, nourish your neurological connections and boost your mental performance today and in the future.
Physical workouts are incredibly important and worth both the time and energy that you invest in them. Adding a mental workout will also do wonders for the health of your brain. You may not see the difference as immediately as physical exercise, but you will be glad you did when you're older.
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Author Bio: Mansal is an avid brain health enthusiast who has an interest in both practices and tools that can enhance mental performance. He writes on numerous nootropics related topics on his site, Nootropedia, in order to bring accessible, non-biased information to enthusiasts.
Christmas is just around the corner, and that is pretty tough on the wallet. Each year you have to fork out the cash to get gifts for friends and family, buy yet again more Christmas decor, and not to mention the amount of money spent on baking! Seriously, how many Christmas cookies do people need?
The average person in Canada spends $1,810 celebrating this joyous season. With that kind of dough being spent it’s hard to remember to give back.
Operation Christmas Child is a non-for-profit organization that I support. Each year my family and I pack a shoebox and fill it with toys and basic necessities, which then get sent overseas to a child that would not usually get a gift. Each box costs approximately $20.
When I think about how little it cost us in North America to bring joy to a child overseas, I find it hard to believe that more people don’t do this!
So I have decided to share three ways we can pay for a Christmas box.
3 Ways You Can Pay for a Christmas Box this Holiday Season
#1) Starbucks Grande Cafe Mocha: $4.75 each X 4 = $19
Let’s face it, we North Americans love our coffee. But if we bought four fewer coffees we could fill a box! I’m not saying go on a coffee strike or anything, but maybe brew coffee from home a few times a week and spend that money on a Christmas gift for a child across the country instead.
#2) Christmas Decorations: 1 String of lights cost = $20.99
Christmas lights and decorating the house is awesome. And who doesn't love walking and seeing the neighborhood all lit up? But this year, instead of adding more lights how about spending it on filling a box instead? I’m not saying don’t decorate at all, I’m just saying maybe this year you don’t need to buy that extra inflatable snowman.
#3) Gifts Exchange: Average amount spent on Christmas gifts = $30.00 per person
This is where you can really save the cash. The average person spends thirty dollars on a present. Of course, this number could go up or down, but this is the average amount spent. This year at that family Christmas party, what about drawing names and only having to buy one gift instead? The amount saved would be huge!
There are so many ways to afford to fill a box.
The cost is little to us, but it means everything to children overseas. So this year, get together with your family, hit the mall and buy a gift for a child.
It will personally impact the child you are buying for, but I can guarantee it will also impact your life as well.
National Collection Week is November 14 to 20, 2016
So, gather your friends and family to pack shoeboxes with everyday items that can help a child.
Then, drop the shoeboxes to the nearest drop off location.
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Operation Christmas Child helps 11 million around the world
The holiday season is almost upon us which means it’s time to shop for gifts for loved ones. But this time of year is also about giving back. So, as you’re
shopping, pick up a few simple items like a toothbrush, socks or a book and pencils, that can change a child’s life across the sea.
Operation Christmas Child has brought joy and hope to hurting children around the world since 1993. The campaign brings shoeboxes filled with items such as toys, school supplies, hygiene products and a personal note to millions of children around the world.
Over the past 24 years, the campaign has helped over 124 million children through Samaritan’s Purse. In 2015, over 700,000 boxes were collected in Canada and over 11 million worldwide.
Last year, shoeboxes were delivered to countries like Uruguay, El Salvador, Senegal and Ukraine amongst many others. This year, the organizers want to exceed that goal.
Operation Christmas Child collects shoeboxes full of:
Personal note and photo
Participants are welcome to pack boxes and bring them to a drop-off location or pack a shoebox digitally at PackaBox.ca.
As I approached another milestone in my life, I found myself wondering how I came to be where I am.
What steps had to happen, in imperfect harmony, so that now I am right where I need to be. Were cosmic forces at work? Is there a ‘secret’ I’m not aware of?
Was it fate?
Turning 40 years old this year, I find my internal dialogue turning to existential banter. I’m curious about the possibilities that could have been MY LIFE had I gone left instead of right, up instead of down, or walked on by instead of saying ‘hello’ to my wife. The possibilities are as limitless as the choices that I could have lived, but accepting that ‘things are what they are’ because that’s the way it was meant to be, has never, EVER, resonated with me.
It was 7 years ago that I made a choice to value myself, my family, and my happiness above all else. I reasoned my way through a number of possible choices and ultimately came to the conclusion that I was in complete charge of my life and actions. It was with this realization that I became free of the Recovery Society rhetoric and found myself in control of my life and every choice and action within it.
This leads me to the following question… When it comes to living our lives, have we been guided or prodded by causes and, or, reasons?
Causes versus reasons, what’s the difference?
Over the past 6 months, I’ve been exploring many of the big milestone decisions in my life. None have been more impactful than the decision to stop consuming alcohol and other addictive substances.
I have been closely working with the teams from Saint Jude Retreats and Baldwin Research Institute to better understand ways to help my readers and networks. They’ve been wonderful at providing us a construct or context to better understand the choices we make, which are fully in our control and not typically a cause of some external force. We are powerful beings and can choose self-directed personal development and positive change through our decisions and directed actions.
…I still hear people blaming some external stimulus – whether be a bad day at work, financial stresses, a soured relationship, etc – as both the cause and the reason for making the choice to abuse alcohol and other substances.
This doesn’t work for me, and it shouldn’t stand for you either. To better understand this concept, Ryan Schwantes, President of Baldwin Research Institute painted this picture for me.
Imagine You are Punched in the Face
So you find yourself standing at the bus stop one cool, winter morning. You’re scrolling through your Facebook feed on your new iPhone, and out of nowhere you get cold-cocked. You are knocked clear off your feet, as the unexpected force of the punch takes you aground. Your phone lands next to you, where your assailant reaches down to grab it. What do you do next? Try to stop him? Let him grab your phone and make a getaway?
Think about your answer.
It’s pretty safe to assume that half of those reading this would let him get away with the phone, while the other half would probably fight to defend themselves and keep their phones.
On the victim’s side of this scenario, one part is CAUSED, with the other part REASONED. And to understand the difference between the two is to understand your nature as a human being.
If we look at the sheer physicality of this scenario, it’s easy to say the physical object (the attacker’s fist) strikes another physical object (your body). The strike of the fist is the CAUSE; and the effect is that your body is sent to the ground, the force of which knocks your phone from your grasp. Your attacker CAUSED you to fall and lose your phone. This is an instance of pure materialistic cause and effect that applies to all physical things.
However, the next sequence in this event is far different. It’s the part where you CHOOSE the movements of your body. REASONS come into play. Instead of being pushed around like an inanimate object, you decide what your body does next.
As you read through this article about Cause versus Reason, recall The Freedom Model.
Here’s TFM explained:
The Positive Drive Principle (PDP) – this principle is the basis of all internal human motivation (including yours). It states: “All people always move in the direction of what they believe will make them happiest at every given moment in time.”
Free will – you can, and do, choose all of your own thoughts and all of your behaviors based on your internal freedom of will.
Personal Autonomy – you are separate, completely independent being from all others, with thoughts that are yours and yours alone. This makes you completely free from the control of all others.
Option 1: You choose to avoid confrontation
You value your phone, but you also think that a man who’s willing to sucker punch you to steal a phone isn’t worth fighting with. You think “this could get worse; he could be crazy and have a weapon; let it go, it’s just a phone” and so you recoil a bit and play too hurt to retaliate, letting him make off with the phone. You chose this as the best course of action, based on your specific reasons held within your own mind.
Option 2: You choose to fight back
While laying on the ground, with your attacker above you motioning to your phone, your mind races. You may be thinking, “oh no – it’ll be so hard to replace my phone; I can’t deal with that; he’ll have all my personal information and can really mess with my life; I might be able to take this guy.” And so you reach quickly for the phone and tussle with your attacker. You CHOSE this as the best course of action, based on your personal REASONS held within your own mind.
Whichever way you go (and certainly many other options and potential reasons supporting those different courses of action), the behavior in option two is not exactly caused as there is a multiple of possibilities available, and it boils down to your own thinking and reasoning, which will decide your course of action.
Your thinking is under your own control (remember, you have Mental Autonomy). If we put 5 people (of the same approximate physical build) into this same scenario, all 5 would be caused to have the same first movement (fall and drop their phone) by the sucker punch. BUT, all 5 could then engage in completely different behaviors based on completely different reasons. Each person could have their own unique mental prediction of what actions will best help them fulfill their Positive Drive Principle (see above explanation).
None of the potential reactions are caused.
Option 3: You choose ego first
There’s another possibility. One person may think, “I’ll look like a wimp if I let this guy push me around,” and then go ahead to choose an entirely different behavior – he grabs the phone and beats his attacker senseless with it, breaking the phone in the process.
His behaviors are chosen for completely different reasons than the first two options. He barely considers the phone or its safety. Instead, he thinks happiness is found in maintaining a tough reputation.
When you’re in the place of being physically hit without warning, you are at the mercy of the basic principle of cause and effect that applies to all matter; your body will move in a way that you clearly did not choose. A trained scientist could predict how far a lifeless ball will travel when hit, by calculating the various factors, such as the force of the hit, density of the object applying the force, weight of the ball, gravity, etc. The same applies when calculating the movement of a human body hit by another object. But there’s a limit to the scientist’s powers of prediction.
Whereas the scientist could predict the entire trajectory of a ball right up until it comes to a final resting place–he can only predict the first trajectory of a human body up to the point that the human chooses what to think and how to react. That part is unpredictable because it’s ruled by the individual’s Free Will and Mental Autonomy. Lifeless objects don’t have these attributes; as far as we know, they belong only to the creature known as man. A baseball can’t choose to turn around and hit the batter who knocked it out of the park.
Consider what happens when gasoline comes into contact with a flame. There is an explosion of fire. The gasoline doesn’t think “I’m mad, I’m gonna explode.” Nor does it have the alternative option of thinking “I shouldn’t explode, I don’t want the other chemicals to think I’m unstable.” It is a lifeless, mindless, substance. It can’t think. It can’t choose. It can only be caused to do what its nature as a lifeless, mindless, unstable substance dictates it will do when it comes into contact with some external catalyzing force.
You are probably thinking… “So, Dai, what’s your point?”
Why am I painstakingly explaining all this?
Over my past 7 years of choosing to not consume alcohol, I have heard endless chatter about “the causes of addiction”, as if people are inanimate, lifeless, mindless objects without the POWER OF CHOICE.
Cause is a strong word.
Human Behavior is Reasoned, NOT Caused
I’ll be the first to admit that human behavior may not always appear reasonable or rational. At times it seems extremely irrational and illogical to would-be observers. It has the potential to be ugly and shortsighted, like that of the man attacking someone at a bus stop to steal their phone. But, nevertheless, we tend to act according to our how we reason and think things through, to support the decisions we make.
When I asked Mr. Schwantes to help me better understand Cause vs Reason, he shared the following:
There’s no guarantee that we’ll always make the best choices for the best reasons. That would need an immense amount of effort; and if we could always choose a perfect option, I feel it would negate the idea of freedom of choice. Simply having FREE WILL means we have multiple choices available to us at any given time regardless of external circumstances and events. Whether it be good, bad, or ugly all human behavior is chosen.
The nature of being human is that we have the ability to choose our behaviors based on our reasonings. As much as scientists try to explain human behavior in the same terms of cause and effect, as used in physics, this would be a mistake. Sure, they sound credible and convincing, but the science of physics is not the science of human behavior.
A science of human behavior must consider all the attributes that makeup humans, otherwise, it’s not a complete science. Human behavior has reasons, not causes. To solve a problem of human behavior, you must understand the reasons involved; the motives, the drives, the goals.Once you understand these things, the problems with the following FALSE STATEMENTS become clear:
Addiction is caused by trauma.
Exposure to drug cues causes drug craving and use.
Addiction is caused by social disconnection and loneliness.
Recovering addicts need to beware of triggers that can cause a relapse into active addiction.
Addiction is caused by stress & anxiety.
Addiction is caused by depression & other co-occurring disorders.
Cheap heroin is the cause of the heroin “epidemic.”
Every one of these statements puts forward a direct cause and effect relationship that ignores the nature of human beings as creatures of free will. They ignore the mediator between stimulus and response in human behavior – the mind.
Take special note of the absurdity of the last statement. Is it really true that you could cause a person to start using heroin regularly by offering it to them at a cheap price? Of course not. That person would have to believe that heroin use will benefit them in some way first. They will have to believe that it benefits them enough to be worth exposure to whatever risks are involved in it. They will have to believe that heroin use is a worthy way to achieve whatever personal goals and desires they believe to be important. Or put another way, they’ve got to have some reasons to support the choice to use heroin. Cheap beer is available at almost any corner store, but this fact doesn’t cause people to drink from dusk till dawn every day.
There probably are people in the world for whom the cost of heroin is the only issue on which their choice to use or not hinges upon. Such a hypothetical man holds many reasons in his mind that he’d like to be using heroin; he thinks it’s fun, relaxing, and would fit well into his life if only it was cheaper. Present him with a steady flow of dirt-cheap heroin, and he would choose to use it regularly. But by doing so, you haven’t proven that cheap heroin causes heroin use. Present cheap or even FREE heroin to someone who doesn’t think it’s very enjoyable, and who thinks it would interfere too much with other activities he thinks are more important, and he still wouldn’t choose to use heroin regularly. The difference between these two men and the true deciding factor in whether they will begin to use heroin regularly upon learning of a cheap steady supply of it is their thoughts, i.e. their reasons. One sees reason to use, the other doesn’t.
To put this and all such causal claims in perspective, when you put a lit match to gasoline, the gasoline will combust 100% of the time – that is direct cause and effect. If touching a flame to gasoline only resulted in combustion 20% of the time, then we’d assume that some other cause must be in play when combustion happens. We wouldn’t broadly say that a flaming match will cause the combustion of gasoline. Yet we’re comfortable in psychology saying that anxiety causes addiction when this association is only found 20% of the time. This is a strong statement. Cause is a strong word.
The claim that high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression are the causes of addiction is very popular now. About 7-10% of Americans are classified as addicted at any given time. Are they the only people experiencing stress and anxiety? Certainly not. Nearly everyone experiences these feelings throughout their lives. Stress, anxiety, and episodes of depression are extremely common; responding to these feelings with heavy substance use is actually abnormal.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 20% of Americans diagnosed with these disorders also engage in problematic substance use.That means that 80% of the time, mood, and anxiety disorders are not related at all to problematic substance use (note, that’s “disorders” which would be very high levels of anxiety & depression. If disorder level anxiety isn’t related to heavy substance use a majority of the time, we should hardly think that lower levels of anxiety would be.) The constant talk about “causes of addiction” or causes of any human behavior is intellectually irresponsible.
“Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” – Martin Seligman Ph.D., former head of the APA
Clearing the Way to a Workable Solution with the Freedom Model
The Recover Society, the drug war, and the efforts of most parents and spouses are based on the theory that human behavior is caused by external stimuli, however, the Freedom Model is based on the theory that human behavior is reasoned and chosen. Two very different views ultimately lead to two very different strategies for dealing with substance abuse.
A cause-based approach looks to name causes, and eradicate those causes, shelter “fragile addicts” from them, or offer support and special techniques to the “addict” so she can fend off those causes in some way. This results in a confusing smorgasbord of tactics that often need as much effort as heavy substance use itself, with little long-term change. It can also seem to compound problems. For example, let’s look at a popularly perceived cause of substance use: stress.
Why we can’t blame stress for our substance abuse
The Recovery Society often teaches people that stress is an “underlying cause” of their addiction.
The problem, they say, is that your life is too stressful, and you are too weak to deal with the stress, and so it somehow compels you to use substances – you “self-medicate” your stress with drugs and alcohol. You’ll be asked to identify your stressful situations in life and be told to avoid them. This could mean dropping out of school, finding an easier job, avoiding family members, and shifting your life responsibilities to other people.
Next, you’ll be signed up for ongoing counseling/therapy that you’re told to continue indefinitely, so your therapist can help guard you against stress. Then you’re told you need a support network of recovering people, and meetings to turn to so that stress doesn’t get the best of you. Then you’re trained in techniques for dealing with stress, so that when something stressful happens, hopefully, you’ll use your new coping method before the stress causes you to turn to drugs and alcohol. Beyond this, your family might even be asked to make sure they don’t stress you out too much either, or else you might be caused to use substances.
Frankly, this all has the effect of making a mountain out of a molehill, and it sadly misses the point. People are led to shrinking their lives and live every day in fear of one of the most common human emotions – stress. If you didn’t think stress was connected to your substance use before rehab, you now do, and every time you feel it you now think of substance use. If you previously connected stress to substance use, then you now connect it more than ever, and your problem hasn’t been solved – you still think of substance use whenever stress appears.
We can’t say this enough–stress is an extremely common, universal human experience. A life free from all stressful situations is unavoidable. Life throws curveballs when you least expect it. Everyone faces stress, yet only a small minority of people connect it to heavy substance use.
The Freedom Model approach to the stress/substance use connection is simple. Recognizing that there are no causes of substance use, just reasons, we want you to know that you can let go of stress as a reason for substance use.
The only connective tissue between stress and substance use is a thought. Those who connect it, a reason that substance use is a good or necessary response to stress. If you think this way, though, you can change it. The billions of people who don’t respond to stress by using massive amounts of substances simply don’t think stress is a good reason for this kind of substance use. They don’t think it’ll solve the stress, or they think it’s only a temporary fix, or they think it’ll compound the stress with more stress, or they may have never mentally associated stress and substance use at all. You can join them, by changing your reasoning.
The Freedom Model says to change your thoughts/reasons, and you’ll change your desires and behaviors.
You don’t have control over all the stressful events you’ll face in your life, but you do have control over whether you connect them to substance use or not. And if you do disconnect them, it can be permanent. You can come to understand a few facts pretty quickly that would result in a profound internal change:
If stress caused heavy substance use, the whole world would have drug and alcohol problems. Stress can be seen as a reason for heavy substance use, but it’s not a cause.
Substance use often leads to more stressful situations. This makes stress an illogical reason to use substances (even if it worked temporarily).
Substances don’t even relieve stress in the short term (we’ll show you why).
Stress is a feeling that comes from the act of worrying about problems; it comes from interpreting some event or condition of your life as signaling a loss, and then focusing on that. Many people think that substances relieve this feeling temporarily, but this power to relieve is an illusion. Imagine for a moment that you’ve been stressed, but you’ve taken 5 stiff drinks at the bar and no longer feel stress. Not long after, you hop in your car to drive home, and you get pulled over by the police. You think “oh no, I’m going to get arrested for drunk driving” and just like that, BOOM, you’re hit with a massive amount of stress. How could that be if you’ve got 5 doses of a stress-relieving drug coursing through your bloodstream?
The fact is, the alcohol itself never relieved your stress at all. You relieved it yourself. You chose to stop thinking stressful thoughts, and focus instead on the tingly buzzed feeling you got from the alcohol. You gave yourself permission to put those thoughts aside while you drank. You gave yourself permission to be distracted. But now, a problem that demands your attention has arisen, and as you think about it, you’re back in the feeling of stress – even though you’re drunk. There is a staggering amount of research on alcohol, yet none of it has uncovered a direct pharmacological action by which alcohol removes stress. That’s because it doesn’t. The idea that alcohol and other drugs relieve stress is folklore. Now that you know this, you don’t ever need to connect stress to substance use again. You can let go of stress as a reason to use substances.
The cause-based (Recovery Society) approach has you trying furiously to eradicate and hide from stress, and fearing each potentially stressful situation as a moment where you could be caused to involuntarily use substances. You walk around as a permanent victim of circumstances.
The reason-based approach (Freedom Model) shows you how you can permanently end any connection you’ve made between stress and substance use, and move on without threat, regardless of how much stress you face, by changing a thought. It points you to exactly what directs your desire and behavior, and what you have ultimate control over your thoughts.
My “Triggers” made me do it — I had no choice
The danger of the cause-based approach is worse than you may think because it actually distracts you from changing the reasoning behind your substance use. For example, the recovery society harps on the idea of triggers. According to them, just seeing an image of drugs or paraphernalia, liquor on a shelf, or the glowing neon sign of a nightclub is enough to trigger (i.e. cause) you to crave and eventually use substances. They tell you to avoid all these things… or else!
If you get caught up in trying to avoid these so-called triggers, you are thinking of yourself as a helpless, out of control thing that’s simply pushed around by other lifeless objects – like a bat to a baseball. And guess what you’re not doing while you focus on triggers: reconsidering how useful substance use is to you. Like cheap heroin in our earlier example, these “triggers” are utterly MEANINGLESS to people who don’t seem good enough reason to use substances excessively. Triggers don’t cause people to use substances; their own reasoning causes them to use substances. And again, trying to combat this supposed cause is life-consuming and doesn’t solve your problems.
So, what do you think? Do you think you are free to make your own decisions?
Nearly 7 years ago, I made a decision to stop blaming everyone and everything for my alcohol abuse.I made my decisions freely. I chose to consume a variety of substances in hopes that it would make me happier. Hoping that it would help me to deal with life’s stresses and numb my sensitivity to everything I thought brought me pain. It wasn’t until later that I realized the power of the Freedom Model and that the Recovery Society’s rhetoric didn’t apply any longer. I am powerful beyond measure and am in control of my own choices at any time. I chose me. I chose my family. I chose to change.
Power and freedom can be attained through knowledge. This is how the Freedom Model works. You have both the Mental Autonomy and the Free Will necessary to change your reasoning, and when you do, you don’t ever have to feel caused or compelled to use substances heavily again.
We all agree we want something better when facing painful cycles of substance abuse, while fearfully trying to fend off the ‘causes’ of our abuses. It’s in these moments that we can best harness the power of the Positive Drive Principle in search of greater happiness in our lives.
Remember, Human Behavior has Reasons, not causes… reason yourself to choosing happiness, because you can.
This question has been at the center of a series of #AddictionFreeLife articles. When I was first introduced to Saint Jude’s Retreat and Baldwin Research Institute, I was presented with a construct that just made sense. Back in 2010, I made a choice to lead a life without alcohol, and even though I didn’t know it back then, the Freedom Model helped me better understand the journey I had embarked on which I continue to travel today.
Whether you know it or not, I’m confident the Freedom Model has presented itself in your life many times. It’s a model that is comprised of “3 vital, natural, undeniable and universal gifts all humans possess internally at birth.”
The Freedom Model explained
The Positive Drive Principle (PDP) – this principle is the basis of all internal human motivation (including yours). It states: “All people always move in the direction of what they believe will make them happiest at every given moment in time.”
Free will – you can, and do, choose all of your own thoughts and all of your behaviors based on your internal freedom of will.
Personal Autonomy – you are a separate, completely independent being from all others, with thoughts that are yours and yours alone. This makes you completely free from the control of all others.
Of all the explanations, the most concise and to the point Freedom Model can be summed up as:
All people have the natural right, the ability and the inherent tools to think freely within themselves and independently of all others, and can, and do, exercise and express those thoughts as behaviors through free will and free choice, from birth to death and that at any and every given instant in time a single internal drive motivates every human being: the pursuit of happiness.
With the help of Saint Jude Retreats, I’ve explored the Positive Drive Principle. The 2nd aspect, “Free Will”, is a concept many of us are fortunate to have the privilege of living each day.
However, the 3rd part of the Freedom Model – “Personal Autonomy” – is arguably the one attribute that deserves the most respect. And for the sake of this article, that’s just what I’ll aim to do and hopefully help you with better understanding the FMT and how it plays into our lives, especially as it relates to the negative aspects we would like to change.
Autonomy and more specifically, mental autonomy, is truly incredible because at its core it determines freedom. Without embracing mental autonomy you’re never truly free.
The ‘Recovery Society’ Trap?
Often in recovery models, traditional methods of recovery use what is called the ‘Control Method’. This type of treatment takes the erroneous position to tell people what to do, as opposed to empowering them to make decisions on their own. The ‘Recovery Society’ is a part of this control method because they imply that external factors such as alcohol or drugs cause you to do something, or, cause you to make a decision. This methodology completely removes volition from the equation. And the way I see it, as long as you maintain personal volition, you are an autonomous being. When I asked Steve Slate, Co-Author of The Freedom Model and creator of TheCleanSlate.org to elaborate on this idea, he said:
The Recovery Society often says “you have to want it to work” in regard to their treatments. What they mean is that you have to sincerely want to reduce your substance use in order to successfully reduce it. They’re right – this is the entire key to making a different choice. Changing your wants is an autonomous activity though. It can only be done by you, in your own mind, coming to see that you would be happier if you used less. Nobody can do this for you. The Recovery Society doesn’t know how to facilitate this process. Instead, they try to circumvent your autonomy and force the process by convincing you that you must become abstinent immediately or die; that you must follow their program or die; that you are a helpless addict who has no choice but to follow their commands. The result is that people don’t really think through their options and change their wants. They may sober up for a while, but they’re still left wanting heavy substance use, and it all falls apart.
Based on these treatment methods, it’s clear to see how the ‘Recovery Society’ is literally the direct opposite of the Freedom Model.
Autonomy and the Freedom Model
When I first made the decision to give up alcohol, I knew that it was for me first and foremost. I had reached what I felt to be a rock bottom both mentally and emotionally. There were no more pointing fingers. There was no more ‘it’s not my fault!’ When I got past all the excuses and looked at myself introspectively, I realized the only person that could make the decision to change was me.
It’s funny, only because it’s very much a cliche we hear often today, but it seems that ‘history repeated itself’. When I was 14 (going on 15) years old, I had a similar experience. I was clinically diagnosed as being morbidly obese. I’ve shared often in presentations, my book, and past articles, about how depressed and disconnected I was as a result. No one should ever feel that way, no matter the age, but you can imagine some of the stigmas I faced at the time. I was faced with two very distinct options: 1. I could kill myself or 2. I could choose to make some changes that would improve my health. I thought about the first choice often, but I couldn’t handle the fear and potential finality of death, so the latter option it was. I couldn’t live with my current state any longer and as much as I wanted to point fingers at everyone outside of me, from my parent's divorce, the junk food I was eating and the lifestyle I was living, it all came down to one thing in the end – ME.
I chose me. I chose my health. I chose to make some changes and never looked back.
You think I would have learned from that experience and been bettered prepared for when in my 30’s I experience a similar epiphany again.
This time though, I had the maturity and wisdom to pay close attention to my inner workings and am grateful that I was able to choose a path that forever changed my life’s trajectory.
And if there’s one thing I’ve tried to hammer home with the #AddictionFreeLife article series, is that you have a choice. Always. No matter the situation.
To better understand the Freedom Model and the role Autonomy plays in it, take a moment to read the following excerpt from the upcoming book, The Freedom Model.
Autonomy – the independent nature of the human mind. It is why we can’t be forced to think or feel (emotionally) in any particular way by anyone or thing outside of ourselves. It is also why personal change is a choice, we choose to think, and we choose what to think, which in turn directs our actions.
One of the three attributes of the Freedom Model is the uniquely human attribute of mental Autonomy. What is meant by this is that your mind is an impenetrable fortress. It means that no one or nothing can force or cause you to think or feel any particular way. As Dr Viktor Frankl put, the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose your own attitude. This attribute is easily demonstrated by cases like Frankl, who chose to feel strong and motivated, even while physically stripped of everything in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. It is demonstrated by those born with physical handicaps who choose to see themselves as “differently-abled” despite those who pressure them to behave helplessly.
With autonomy, everyone is the master of their own mind. Nevertheless, we ignore this fact with external control methods of change. We invest in a vision of ourselves as delicate beings, helplessly brainwashed, and mentally and emotionally pushed in any direction by our circumstances. For example, we learn to avoid so-called “triggers” such as the sight of a liquor store or drug paraphernalia – believing these things can literally force us to want to use substances. We’re told to avoid “toxic” people whose words can cause us anxiety and stress that we’ll then be forced to self-medicate with substances. Or we’re told that circumstances such as living in an impoverished environment can cause us to desire and to ultimately use substances heavily.
All of this ignores that we are the masters of our own minds – we have autonomy. Again, because this attribute is ignored in external control methods of change, there a rampant problem with this method and unintended consequences. The answer is simple, you don’t have to believe that heavy substance use is all that great anymore – and boom – it doesn’t matter if you see any so-called triggers! You can believe that your other pursuits are more important than getting high – and boom – it doesn’t matter if you live in an impoverished neighborhood amongst drug dealers!
These personal thoughts are what you have the most immediate direct control over. And yet they are completely ignored (even denied) as a tool to change in the external control methods. Instead, they seek to change the world outside of you or to retreat into some artificial safe space. People are encouraged to spend months or even years on “sober living” communities; they’re taught to work frantically to avoid triggers, or else they’ll relapse, and they’re taught to see themselves as an inevitable product of their environment and to simply lower their expectations of a brighter future, and learn to cope with their predetermined fate. This all leads to a lot of unnecessary inconveniences, pain, and repeated episodes of problematic substance use for those who have led astray in this way. Because you have mental autonomy, you can choose to throw the ideology of fear and external control based methods away and choose the beliefs and attitude that will eventuate in a brighter future.
Autonomy, while being a principal like the PDP (Positive Drive Principle), is not only a realization, but it’s also something that can be practiced and performed at any given time. Whereas the Positive Drive Principle cannot be, it just always is.
The importance of autonomy in overcoming addiction is that once you have the realization you are in control of your own thoughts, and regardless of what people tell you or try to get you to believe, you have the power to believe what you want to believe.
Often times, those who have a significant amount of confidence bordering on cockiness are sometimes called egotistical assholes, for lack of a better word, are autonomous people to an extreme. They think what they think, say what they want to say, and ultimately do what they want to do regardless of what outside factors, norms, or other people tell them.
Being mentally autonomous is essential to success because otherwise, you’d be flip-flopping in any direction in which popular thought would have you go.
Life is ultimately a series of choices. And one thing I realized from the amazing comments and discussions from yesterday's video, is that perspective is everything. All day I had the theme song from Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' echoing through my mind… "always look on the bright side of life!" I don't regret any choices I've made in my life — after all, they've brought me to where I am today. But, if I failed to learn from the choices that brought me sadness, caused pain or hurt to others, or detracted me from being the person I was determined to be, then I would be full of regret… Today marks 39 days until I turn 40.Today's Topic: Power of Choice#40daysto40I talk more about this in the following article:https://www.daimanuel.com/2016/10/06/are-we-truly-free-to-do-what-we-want-when-we-want-addictionfreelife/
At the end of the day, I know we are all individuals and all have our own power to choose the paths, actions, and lifestyles we live. I could have easily chosen to go left instead of right in many situations in my life. I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made because it has led me to the point of my life I’m at now. But I am grateful that I have the mindfulness to listen to my heart, my emotional and psychological being, and recognize the actions that will bring me closer or take me further away from sustained happiness for a whole life. And at the end of the day, when I look in the mirror, the person looking back at me is the person I need to win the respect of.
The answers were as varied as the demographics that replied, but no matter the age, gender, or current state of health, one commonality existed. People are excited by the idea of being rewarded for making healthier lifestyle choices.
On September 27th, my family and I, along with anyone who happened to be downtown Toronto, had the opportunity to witness the unveiling of the Manulife Vitality program.
What is Vitality and What Does it Mean to Me?
‘Vitality' is the state of being strong and active; it's energy. It's a fitting name for the new program being rolled-out by Manulife and it is changing the entire notion of life insurance. With advancements in technology, people are taking an active role in their health and Manulife is the first to leverage these innovations in Canada by rewarding Canadians for living a healthy life.
Customers who choose this innovative, new kind of insurance will have industry-leading financial protection, opportunities to save on their insurance premiums, as well earn valuable rewards and discounts for taking steps to improve their health.
We asked Stephanie to share with us in 30 seconds or less, what the Vitality program is all about. She sums it up nicely…
I don't know about you, but I've never thought a life insurance company would reward me for healthy living. But with providers like Garmin and GoodLife Canada enlisting in the Vitality program, it's got me pretty excited and I can imagine there'll be a lot more rewards providers enlisting in this new #HealthyRewards based program.
How would you respond if you were asked, “What do you life for?”
It's one thing to be told we will be rewarded for living a healthy life, but after witnessing a team in green flood Yonge-Dundas Square on the 27th, I know how seriously this program concept is being taken. The Vitality unveiling made a statement for all Canadians on the 27th to witness, and at the center, one question was asked, “What do you live for?”
The unveil revealed the world's largest punching bag keyboard (and in fact there's only 2 of them in existence, the other in a museum in Istanbul). Manulife enlisted the help of Micheal “Pinball” Clemons. I couldn't imagine a better fit than Coach ‘Pinball', he epitomizes what it is to live a healthy life.
As people were invited into the ring, Coach Pinball would ask “What do you live for?” and then, with boxing gloves strapped on, we'd be asked to punch our answer into the keyboard while being televised life on the jumbo-tron hanging above Yonge-Dundas Square. A pretty epic opportunity that got us all thinking about our lives and what drives us to do what we do. I have to share a very proud Papa moment when my daughter was asked the question, she handled herself beautifully with confidence and grace… and a mean right hook! (video below)
I watched for most of the morning as people lined up to meet Coach and be asked to punch-out their answers. Words like ‘love', ‘adventure' ‘my wife', ‘family', ‘health', ‘happiness' echoed across the square. Not a person left that ring without a hop in their step and a smile on their face. And as an added reward, for a few lucky people a brand new Garmin fitness tracker too.
Not only was the ring and boxing keyboard a great idea, it was an real life example that making fitness fun and interactive can engage a wide array of people to move their bodies with purpose. There's no doubt in my mind, and there's evidence to support it too, that participation in a program like this—that recognizes and incentivizes people for positive behaviors—not only correlates to positive behavior changes, but also to more active and engaged customers.
Are you older or younger than you think? What's your Vitality Age?
One of the most interesting aspects of the Vitality program is the Vitality Age calculator. It takes only a minute or two to complete and you'll be provided with a Vitality Age. And depending on your lifestyle habits, your age may be higher than you actually are, indicative of daily choices that aren't serving your long-term health goals. Or on the flip-side, if you are eating well, moving your body with purpose and leading a healthy life, you'll more than likely see a Vitality Age lower than your actual age.
Give it a try at VitalityAge.ca to find out your Vitality Age.
The Media, a DJ, a TRX workout, a bike tune-up and a sweet treat or two (or 3)
I can only imagine what the downtown passer-by thought as they walked past all the excitement happening at Yonge-Dundas Square. A giant green boxing ring, bike tune-up stand, DJ spinning mad beats, live TV and radio broadcasting… and that was just the first 20 feet!
To help paint a picture, here's a social media round-up showcasing much of the event's highlights.
So I ask again, “What would you do if you were rewarded to live a healthy life?”
Knowing there's a new and innovative way to deal with one's life insurance, I believe many of us will feel more confident in our daily lifestyle choices. There's both power and accountability in being able to track our daily choices back to a direct cost savings. And what's really got me excited is that we may realize an immediate savings today, a super cool reward perk from a company like Garmin or GoodLife Fitness, but the quality of life we're investing in 10, 20 or 40 years down the road… how do you put a price on that?
Remember, sometimes our daily choices may seem insignificant and lacking impact on our current lifestyle, but compound out those tiny, little actionable choices over a period of weeks, months, and years… you'll be amazed at how far you will have journeyed, knowing that it all started with you deciding to lead a healthy life.
This post is sponsored by Manulife. The opinions and views are wholly my own…
And to be absolutely clear, this is my disclaimer: “Just so you know, I have been compensated to share my ideas on this topic. Sometimes it is in the form of products, or services or even money… But here’s the thing; I won’t share anything with you that I don’t fully support. It doesn't matter what it is, or how much they are willing to give me, if I don’t believe in it, It won’t be on my site. Seriously. You’ll just have to trust me on this.”~ Coach Moose