Finding Willpower as Vegan

            We want what we can’t have. The saying that is usually reserved to describe the trials of love or yearning for objects and aspirations out of reach, but in this case, I’m referring to food of course. A familiar inner voice appears in your head convincing you to give into temptation as you fixate a longing gaze and a watering mouth on a certain food item you know you should refrain from, that you try desperately to stifle and silence. It seems like a cruel joke how the appeal and desire emerges ever more strongly, accompanied with a heightened sense of attention and awareness, when restraining one-self. Lately, fueled by frustration from struggling with non-vegan food cravings, the inner workings of self-control and the implications of having a lack of personal discipline have been heavy on my mind, striking my curiosity. It’s the ultimate test of willpower at play that all of us grapple with in various aspects of our lives on a daily basis.

            What I learned is willpower has, in fact, recently been discovered to be more than a mere metaphor. Scientists describe willpower as being a form of energy in the brain, similar to a muscle. Willpower can be strengthened with practice and use, however, it also progressively gets fatigued and decreases with use throughout the day. Whether it’s resisting food, decision-making, or completing a dreaded task, exercising self-control in different areas of your life ends up drawing from and draining the same source of mental energy. The key is in conserving your willpower for matters of importance, since you only have a finite amount of it each day. Simply putting food you’re resisting near to you, in your sight, aides in depleting your willpower. Whereas putting it across the room from you or not having it in your presence at all, makes restraint far easier because you are not actively resisting the temptation. A study even concluded that workers in an office ate a significant more amount of candy when it was placed on a desk inside a clear, glass bowl versus a non-transparent bowl. Proving the out-of-sight-out-of-mind technique to be an effective strategy.

            These findings came as no surprise to me, whose battle to follow a vegan diet while still in New Hampshire, came to be an impossible feat for me. Surrounded by non-vegan food not only at home and gatherings with friends, but also at the restaurant where I worked, I was constantly being challenged. Even after watching those horrid videos of farm animals being cruelly abused and slaughtered, I was hopelessly only able to uphold a vegan diet for a meager day or so, until I gave in and let all of my old habits and diet come rearing back in. Utterly discouraged, I concluded my goal to go vegan could not realistically be reached until my impending move to Hawaii. Where I’d be removed from my routines, the lure of my refrigerator, my mother’s cooking, the quantities of rich food available at the restaurant I worked for, and all the other surrounding influences and temptations that seemingly held me hostage. I’d be able to start from square one moving to Hawaii with the most extreme and ideal out-of-sight-out-of-mind set up available to me.

            I then had about a four month long postponement period before Hawaii and a vegan lifestyle that awaited me. I must admit, for a large portion of those four months, I was gravitating towards meat and dairy with a lust and desire like it was my last day to live. The guilt and shame associated with consuming meat and dairy was palpable, but in my head, what consistently prevailed was an overwhelming feeling of limited time. The dominating argument that I won’t be able to have this food/drink item once I follow veganism, so I need to enjoy it while I still can. It’s a mindset difficult to describe, which strikes a certain feeling of scarcity, finality, and fear producing a powerful desire that makes you want to cling to your old diet even more tightly. For the duration of the postponement of my transition to veganism, before my move, I focused on the traditional aspects and familiarities of meat and dairy, which I had consumed all my life. The notion that it is “normal” to eat these things, instead of reminding myself of the animal it originated from and pushing the new information and the unpleasant things I had watched to the back of my mind. Before my move, I only managed to cut down on my meat consumption slightly, while my dairy intake, I believe, increased to make up for my self-imposed meat limitations. I was feeling weak and defeated for my embarrassing, pathetic display of self-control and seemingly nonexistent willpower.

            Exhausting your willpower is a process researchers call “ego depletion”, in which everything, positive and negative, feels more intensely to you because your brain has lost some ability to regulate emotions. Thus, you respond more strongly to everything while cravings, frustrations, and desires build. In the short term, willpower is a limited resource where your mounting restraint and discipline overtax valuable space in your brain, making it that much more difficult to resist other temptation later on in your day. Fortunately, not all hope is lost for the ones, like myself, to put the “power” back into our “willpower”. Improvements can be made by frequent and consistent exercises in self-control. Observant religious people are a good example of this, often scoring higher in self-discipline than others, perhaps with personal religious practices involving willpower. One study found that students who were asked to pay attention to their posture for a week, performed better on other willpower tasks (not pertaining to posture) than students who had not been actively exercising control all week.

            Therefore, all these areas in your life that require some form of mental effort, will help build up and strengthen that mental muscle of self-control within you. The more you practice willpower and put it to the test, the more successful you will be in resisting temptation in the future.

            Now if you’ll excuse me, I will be beginning my day with the ultimate willpower exercise of passing the pastry counter, full of non-vegan delicacies at my regular coffee shop, with a new motivation that will hopefully extinguish my lingering urges to jump across the counter and devour each and every one of those buttery pastries. Best of luck in your willpower pursuits!

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New Years Resolution for Christopher Bornstein so that all may hold me accountable

FireworksinMexicocityatNewYearAnother year is about to be forever lost to the sands of the hourglass and be written off as history.  For many the passing will come with some form of alcohol induced revelry, for others it will be a most somber moment and for most, it will be nothing more than a day or two of reflection and over the counter pain meds for the hangover, but what if it were different?

What if we use this particular Neuvo Ano [New Year for those who are particularly language challenged] as a milestone in our lives, something that come next New Years, we will be able to look back and have even more incentive to push forward to the future?

For most of us the cycle that we call life is nearly fixed, only being changed when forces beyond us cause the change, we lose a job or get a promotion, we become sick, we have an accident, get into a relationship or get out of one.  How about driving the change from within for this year?

This will, for me, mark the first New Years that I will endeavor to make a concerted and conscious effort to become more than what I am today.  To be that man I for now only dream of.  I share it with you as what I hold dear to my dreaming self is noble enough for anyone who may want to question it and it is my mission to share most all of my life to help and assist you in doing that which you may ordinarily deign as a flight of fancy or some silly whimsy.  Obviously if I can pull it off, anyone can, that’s the reason for sharing.

What is life if not full of mystery and dreams, what is the point if we cannot hope for real magic in our lives?  Should we content ourselves with the search for financial stability and possibly a partner as a be all and end all?

As children did we not often seek a thrill by doing that which we were expressly forbid.  Entering rooms that were off limits, sneaking under the broken fence to explore the abandoned house, going off into the woods, getting lost and sometimes being lost on purpose… where did those days go and if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven as a child, then what are we but hypocrites who call other adults childish and demand that our youth grow up quicker?  God tells me one thing and my boss and parents another!

At some point I purposely laid this aspect of myself to rest.  The zest of life was packed in an air tight jar and slowly forgotten together with the other spices in the back of the pantry only to shine once every so often when I find myself searching for that something, my eyes momentarily lighting upon my lust for life, now covered with a thin film of dust, so long forgotten I am no longer even certain of what it is I am looking at, and yet, on some deeper level, I know that if I only opened that jar, all would be well, but even this has been bred out of us by our daily lives and the slow crush of routine which spells death through normalcy.  A slow kind of slavery if you will, with no one apparent master, so insidious in its indoctrination by all that we surround ourselves with, and find ourselves surrounded by since our very birth.  Almost like a huge corporation, that upon reaching a certain size, it nearly runs itself.  To big in scope and reason to point a finger at any one person to lay blame for what it does, as even those in its innermost workings eventually are lost to the greater ideal of the company.

This is where I lose my way, my voice in life.  Lost in the cacophony of the small and tedious, the seemingly huge responsibilities which are no more our own that those things we do in order to continue breathing and living with “things”.

Everything has a price to be paid, a membership fee, a dress code and a way of speaking that is particular to it, from “The Old Boys Club”, to the Local 284, The Masons, The hippies, Potheads, Gangsters, everyone has a price to be in that game, every game its own rules and jargon.  Whatever game you find yourself in, its because you choose to pay the price and play the game.  If you do not like it, you must follow the rules and get out, or you must be smarter and more clever.  Either way, you must recognize the overall idea and then choose which games to play and which ones to not even glance in the direction of.

So, where does that diatribe leave me…?  It leaves me in the self help section of our local bookstore looking for yet another book to read and then possibly ponder, give away or shelve as I found such gems of wisdom therein, highlighted, dog eared and yellow stickied….  Until the next self help book comes along, and I do it all again.

Lets break the cycle and actually DO some of the things I tell myself I will do someday, for what is it I am actually waiting on in order to enact these rights of passage that will set free my bonds of self imposed misery?  What moment am I truly waiting for if not now?  Its one of the most elusive drugs of our time and station in life.  If you are reading this, there is an incredibly high chance that you live in relative luxury.  Of course, such things are relative to be sure, and yet, you are fed, and for whatever reason, you have a computer, internet, and as you are reading this, you have time to surf the net for semi important things and not life or death things.

In fact, there is no one shooting at you right now, do you have any idea how many children wish they could say the same.  As they walk miles for dirty drinking water.

Make this the year you actually ENACT you resolution.  Make this the year you will keep your RESOLVE.

Enough, plenty of blah blah time later!  Time for MY resolutions and they will be thought of by me as SEEDS.  My reasoning is that all seeds have a specific set of instructions inherent to them, that, if followed will yield results.  Just like all games, seeds are another game, a set of rules, use of jargon and tools particular to them.

The results will be based upon my personal influence over my own mind and body.  The stronger I bend my will to whatever “seed” I have planted, the easier it will be for the fruits of my labor to be sweet beyond measure.  In planting a seed, I must ensure that the individual seeds planted do not over grow the rest of the garden, or, that depending on the season and time, the space and condition of the soil, I do not upset any overall balances.   Paying attention to the growth of the seed into plant, keeping balance, always keeping a balance.

I am seeking to make changes that will best effect my overall experience in life.  If our personality and responses to things are the basis for all we are, than a more quality life may only be achieved through the fundamental reconstruction of our minds, that is what this year will hold for me.

1.  Re establish base point for emotional response – So what does that mean.  It means that when I lose my wallet as I did the other day I will not resort to calling myself names and deciding that I wish Id been aborted rather than adopted.  Its unnecessary at the very least, at its worst, it is more corrosive than having battery acid shoved up ones own ass.  Truly, a keen sense of baseline when it comes to responses is key, for what is it that sets us apart from our heroes?  Why is James Bond the man when it comes to diffusing a nuclear weapon with 5 minutes on the clock, precisely because he is – Cool Under Fire.  Now I use this as an extreme example, but tone that most will be able to identify with.  That I completely lost my marbles when I thought I lost my wallet, and however well intentioned my anger may potentially have been, after all, it is quite a thing to get a new drivers license from Hawaii while in Mexico with very little cash, in fact, you cannot imagine.  All of that being said, we must be ever vigilant when it comes to justification, rationalization, all of these will enable our behaviors, but will not help us be free of their destructive consequences on those around us.

As emotions are thoughts turned into actual chemicals by the body, this is a crucial element to be in control of.  It is the essence of all our lives if we were to boil it down to a purpose, and so it shall be my beginning.

All of this is well and good, but, what do we do about it, I may as well be lassoing a tornado or driving a herb of Northern Mexico Spotted Prairie Chihuahuas!  While true in one sense, on the other hand, it is a most easy process, so easy in fact that it has been practiced by nearly all the world in one for or other since the dawn of time.  From religion to Martial arts, meditation is a key ingredient, there is no master, be they good or evil that doesn’t practice the meditative arts.  There is my beginning, a minimum of 10 minutes per day of sitting meditation.  Why sitting, because it is uncomfortable for me and I do not like it per sey, ergo, that is where I will begin.

Another aspect of this, and a potential source for my destructive behavior, is what I allow into my mind.  Unfortunately, I love action and movies with rather high amounts of violence and yet, what do I truly gain from said films?  At best, a brief sojourn from reality, at worst, some deep and systematic re programming of who I am as an individual.  Many people do not wish to lay blame on these forms of entertainment – video games, movies, TV shows, and yet we know, based on the collected science of Big Industry, that even 30 seconds, if crafted right, will exert a huge influence over the average person.  Case in point, advertising.  A Super Bowl Commercial is worth many millions of dollars these days due to its ability to get a person to buy the product.  Why would we assume that there is any difference with a TV Show or Movie?  Because we don’t want to believe there is a difference as we are not ready to do without.  Well, we must all choose our own lives and what we want them to look like, so, this is gong to be mine.  It has been shown by lab tests and scientists the world over that the mind changes, quite literally simply by watching violence.  Well, if what we seek is a world of Peace and if what I want to be is a harbinger of said Peace, I have only one option.  Drop my amount of media intake in the form of TV [shows and NEWS] and movies with violence to nil.

Meditation is now scientifically, I always love when facts are scientifically proven, then you have to really be a purposefully ignorant person to continue to spit in the face of the fact, and has been the key vessel for enlightenment since man begin to scratch marks on stone and call it history.

How Implemented – Meditate daily for at least 10 minutes.  Decrease the amount of violence I see on a daily basis, i.e. cut out violent movies and TV shows [includes News, there is nothing there that I need to know as I am part of its cause].

2.  Focus on Martial arts ad Breathing, one and the same –  The magic is in the breathing, that is the moment that the intangible becomes tangible.  Imagine, and yes, I know that you know the air is made of particles and vis a vis, is not made of nothing, no, I don’t mean intangible in the sense of a vacuum, simply put, to the naked eye, the pavement of concrete under ones feet strongly makes an impression of safety, where if a person were to walk on a sidewalk made of air at 1000 feet, another set of feelings entirely, for most, would arise.

So it is here that martial arts and especially those arts which are considered internal, are for me the most powerful.  They teach one to control the most fundamental alchemy that every living thing does, respirate, even the planet respirates, once you learn this single naked truth and see it for the true wonder that it is, you have planted a seed, you must now simply follow through with various practices to see your seed mature into a most powerful thing.

Planting the seed is a key, writing it to paper is a key, committing to a goal and then making it public is a key, it is in fact a key which causes the most consternation and war, or peace and prosperity, for we make the plantings of seeds in our promises on a personal, group, national and global level.  Empires fall because of broken words, people are freed because of kept words.

How Implemented – Daily Kung Fu – choosing from Bagua Zhang, Tai Chi, or Xing Yi.  I know the basics of all three, according to all my teachers throughout my life, he who studies the basics for a lifetime is a master in the end.  I will never have that answer if I never implement the practice.

3.  Stay in the Moment – many of these I realize are interconnected, but even as the roots and the tree limbs are interconnected, they must still be focused on individually or there will be no fruit.

Staying in the moment is part of breathing, obviously, too many moments without breath and there will be moments no more.  But what does it really mean to stay in the moment?

It is not as some may think the act of not thinking, for this is only possible to minds that have transcended even using Facebook, no it is the art of not following a thought.  For example, Mr. Bond falls from a ledge, in one moment he has the thought of what awaits him at the bottom, death by splat.  NOW, at this point, many people will become fixated on this thought, the death by splat, they will be completely focused on it and will think of nothing else except the splat up to the moment of the splat at which point thinking will cease of its own accord due to damage of the machine doing the thinking.

So here’s the rub, not following the thought to its logical end, staying in the moment, not wishing you hadn’t been pushed over [past thinking], not focused on the splat [future], but there in the moment and BINGO, grabbing the flagpole on the way down, swinging in through the window and kicking ass.

Being in the moment isn’t about not having thoughts, thoughts come constantly, its about which thoughts to follow, which ones will be kept and which are let to pass.  If not for our ability to think, we would be lost as a species and as individuals.  In thinking, we are constantly shown answers to every question, need and desire that come into our lives.  For many of us, we grab at the first thought that comes to mind and then follow it, blocking out all other thoughts, therein lies the problem.  We are using the machine incorrectly, much like the T.V. which can show us so many different things and yet many of choose to watch drivel.  Originally hailed as the great savior, it is now the great seller.  The same can be said of our thought processes.  Choose to only focus on the most helpful of thoughts time and time again, helpful to my overall aim and I shall be a master.

How implemented – Again, meditate, when moving around in life on a daily basis, focus on the breath and use the adage of every moment is a teacher to the fullest.  This may be one of the more abstract New years goals I have set for myself, and yet, one of the most important, for there can be no super HEROES in those that lose the moment.

4.  Discontinue Use of Alcohol – This is a tough one for me as I love it.  That being said, I also have a literal laundry list of scientific, spiritual and a whole host of common sense reasons why it simply is not for me any longer.

How implemented – Simple, dont drink alcohol, nor take up time explaining why not=]

5.  My diet is fairly precise and I am happy with it, BUT, there is an aspect I would like to change, late night snacking! I’m vegan, I rarely eat sugar and am not bullied into eating anything except what I want by anyone, until its my own mind of course…

One of the hardest habits I have is the late night snack.  Now, while seemingly innocuous, I assure you the devil is in the details.  For one, a late night snack is usually just before bed or somewhere in the midst of dream time.  As you may or may not know, the stomach best serves the resting body when EMPTY.  When full, one of two things, well, two that I am aware can happen.

A.  The body does not rest, and instead goes through the process of digestion.  This of course is debilitating as now I am not getting my rest, not getting rest is so deadly that it is one of the most fundamentally used forms of torture.

B.  The body decides to shut down.  I get my rest, but now I have a lump of food literally rotting in my gut all night.  This now becomes a lump of yuck that must be expelled from the body, and that takes a lot of energy to get rid of.  So now I am losing energy, and lots of it simply to get rid of food that was eaten for no purpose other than to make my tongue happy for a moment.

How implemented – Don” t eat past 8pm unless I am on some mission and haven’t eaten in days and etc etc etc, if the situation arises, I will deal with it then.

That there will be more to come to my mind as the day progresses, of course, I will add them as I see fit.  For now, this will give me plenty to work on and the results will be pretty spectacular.  I am happy for anyone to share theirs with me and I am open to suggestions and of course, have advice to share with you as well should you ask.

The world isn’t saving itself, or, better, it WILL BEGIN to start saving itself and that is when things will get increasingly difficult for us as human beings.  If not now, when?

If we look at our lives in some way that makes the daily choices we make more tangible in how they affect us long term and those around us, life will become infinitely more interesting and functional.  For this reason I leave you with the analogy of a book, or, for those who disdain such pursuits in lieu of Television, well, any long term TV show will do.

In any decent Book or TV show, there are story lines.  The story lines start when one of the characters in said story makes a choice about something.  These choices usually branch out in many ways both seen and unseen to not only us, but the characters in the story.  How often have I been blown away when a character, or choice comes up from last season, or from chapter 2 only to show again in chapter 25, having been seemingly forgotten all this time, but now, BOOM, there it is, now a pinnacle of the entire story upon which everything else, even that which was thought to be much more important, now rests.

So it is with our lives.  They are stories, you are the writer.  Unless you keep your choices simple and succinct, you may end up with an unmanageable heft of various story lines that are now beginning to write themselves as you are no longer able to maintain them, so, as with anything that involves others, they begin to take on lives of their own, which in turn greatly impact our lives, for they are of our story!

As you go through your days, remember this, PLEASE, every choice you make, even the most minute of those choices at the time, could very easily be the biggest life changer ever, and, just as possible, the greatest of choices can easily end up being dust in the wind, not worth the time you spent thinking on it.  Choose wisely and your life will show it, choose poorly and such is the story you write of your life.

Aloha and a very Happy New Year to you, may you choose wisely, and may YOU choose often that which alters your life for the good or the bad and blessed is the person who doesn’t judge until the end=]