Happiness and the motivation to change

I’ve been thinking a lot about the principle of reflection I’ve observed in my life lately.

The basic idea is that my experience of reality reflects my own deeper beliefs about reality.

For example, if I really believe that life is an endless struggle, then I will find that my experience reflects endless struggle.

Applying the principle in reverse: if my experience of life is an endless struggle, then on some level I must believe that this is how life is or should be.

In order for life to feel like a struggle, we have to want things that are unattainable, or alternatively we have to sabotage the attainable things we desire.

To be more precise, we have to feel like we want certain things, only to find that these things are unattainable either intrinsically or through self-sabotage.

For example, I used to think I wanted to lose weight. That’s fine if we define ‘want’ as a feeling. But if we define want as a motivational state – a state of mind that moves you to action – then it wasn’t true that I wanted to lose weight.

Paradoxically, when I accepted that I didn’t really want to lose weight, the sudden shock motivated me to do something about it.

By extension, I might think I want life to be easy, free, secure, prosperous, and satisfying. But if life instead feels difficult, miserable, hopeless, and full of struggle, then I need to question this apparent ‘want’.

If I wanted life to be easy and free and so on, then I would act towards those goals. I would at the very least have a plan and a course of action with definable progress along the way.

If I don’t have those things, then in what sense do I really want to be free, happy, and fulfilled?

To get a little more personal: I always had a vague goal of wanting ‘answers’ to life. But if I really wanted answers, shouldn’t I at least be clear-minded about the questions?

When I grappled with the issue of weight loss, it turned out to be quite complicated and full of self-delusion and conflicting desires. At face value I wanted to lose weight, but beneath the surface I was quite complacent about it and not really motivated to change my behaviour.

So it’s not immediately clear what I want from life either. I can only really say at this point that the most obvious answers are probably not correct.

I’ve distilled this down to a useful heuristic: when you find yourself stuck in persistent negative situations, consider the possibility that you are exactly where you want to be.

This might seem absurd, but what we don’t realise is that our psyches are complicated. There are layers of belief and motivation inside us.

For example, I might want to be a successful writer, and do my best to achieve that goal. But years earlier, perhaps when I was a teenager or a child, I decided that it was best to stay on the sidelines and avoid the limelight.

I never challenged or changed that belief, I just went on living and adding new layers as I went. So now as an adult my desire for success in various aspects of life is implicitly curtailed by my pre-existing and still operational desire to avoid the limelight and live life on the sidelines.

The end result is struggle and disappointment, but even so the struggle and disappointment must be part of the picture. On some level I’m comfortable with struggle and disappointment, because they concord with my beliefs about life.

Like I said, it’s complicated.

I don’t think there’s a single, simple answer to it either. Or maybe I just don’t want there to be a simple answer.

But at the very least it’s good to recognise that your unfulfilled desire for success may be the outcome you want deep down after all.

If you merely wanted to be successful, you would surely gravitate foremost to things you could easily succeed at. You would be mindful of your past successes. You would live and breath success, and avoid any enterprise where success seemed tenuous or uncertain. You might still suffer setbacks and failures, but you wouldn’t cling to them.

The weight-loss example is brilliant: all you have to do in order to lose weight is eat dramatically less. But we don’t do that, because we don’t really want to lose weight, or because our motivation to lose weight is far weaker than our motivation to lose ourselves in the pleasure of food.

It seems obvious with weight loss because moment-by-moment we are either eating or not eating, and it’s totally in our control.

But the same is true in other aspects of life – in our thoughts and feelings we are either oriented toward or away from our goal. It may be more subtle than putting food in your mouth, but I don’t think it’s necessarily less effective.

It’s terrifying and confronting to recognise that your supposed wants and desires are only a facade. But terror and confrontation are great sources of motivation! That’s why the weight-loss book I wrote about my experience is not for everyone. It ended up being very confronting.

Sometimes we need to be confronted with the truth of our situation. If you spend your life failing at finding happiness, then it’s worth considering if you really want happiness in the first place. Many of us would have no idea what to do with ourselves if we were happy. We’d quickly find a problem or a crisis or a new struggle to drag us back into our more comfortable misery.

It sounds paradoxical, but the strong feeling I have of wanting my life to change is only a feeling. The proof is that I haven’t done anything differently, despite my apparent frustration and unhappiness.

If we define ‘want’ as a motivational state – a state of mind that results in action – then clearly I do not want life to change. As I note in the end of my weight-loss book, the thought “I want life to change” or “I want to lose weight” is really a form of self-delusion designed to distract us from what’s really going on in our minds.

Because if you admit to yourself that you don’t want life to change, that you want life to continue as it has been, the obvious question is “Why?” Why would you want life to continue in a way that you obviously don’t enjoy?

Looking at it this way forces you to own your role in making life the way it is by performing the same kinds of actions over and over with the same motives, beliefs, and feelings. Hopefully it raises in you a genuine motivation to understand, a curiosity as to why you are perpetuating a way of life that you don’t enjoy, to such an extent that you even delude yourself with thoughts of change.

Before I lost weight I thought the benefits would all be aesthetic. I was surprised to find that the greatest changes were in my relationship with food, and my overall sense of well-being.

I could not have predicted what being thin would be like. In that sense I really didn’t know what losing weight meant until I accomplished it. It’s no wonder I couldn’t really ‘want’ it in the first place.

What helped me in the end was knowing that my relationship with food was dysfunctional and seeking to ‘work it out’. That might be a more constructive approach generally: recognise that things aren’t right and try to understand where they’re going wrong.

 

 

 

 

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The Weight-Loss Paradox: paperback re-release

I’ve re-released the paperback version of The Weight-Loss Paradox: an enlightened approach to body weight and diet. You can buy it from Createspace – which gives me a better share of the royalties or from Amazon which might give some readers better postage options.

If you’re in the UK, Canada or Europe, your respective Amazon stores may be cheapest in terms of postage. Word is that Createspace orders all ship from the US, whereas Amazon orders may be printed in either the US, Europe, or the UK.

I redesigned the cover for The Weight-Loss Paradox basically because the original looked great online but not so great in hard-copy. I also tweaked the font and print size. Using a different picture of the same model makes it easier to see his awesome tattoos, which would have meant cutting off his arms in the previous pic.

While I’m at it, the paperback version of To Create a World is also available, and I’m very happy with how it turned out. I just gave my first ever copy to a dear friend who had helped me when I was writing it, and her reaction to seeing it as a real book was very rewarding.

Everyone who’s seen it has been impressed with the quality. As above, you can order it through Createspace if you want me to get a better share of the list price, or through Amazon if it offers you better postage.

Apologies to my Australian would-be readers. Postage from the US is prohibitive, and alternative options are not enticing at this stage. I might have to end up simply ordering a couple of boxes from the US and mailing them out myself.

Fiction versus non-fiction: which is easier?

I’m working on the sequel to my novel To Create a World and I have to admit it’s really hard to get started each time. But once I do start, it’s so rewarding!

My non-fiction book The Weight-Loss Paradox was kinda the opposite. It was really easy to start. So easy, I started again 18 times before I was happy with my approach. That’s 17 instances of intense frustration until I finally found the right angle.

Non-fiction is like having a single amazing idea that you know so well you could write it out a hundred different ways and still be drawing on the same central theme. But I can’t be satisfied until that idea is expressed purely and clearly enough, in a way that will engage the reader.

That’s why it took so many tries to finally write The Weight-Loss Paradox. It was only 14,000 words, but those words had to be right on the mark. They had to be inspired in line with the idea behind them.

Fiction is completely different. Fiction is worked out in the process of writing it. At the beginning I have only a vague idea of what’s going to happen, and many of my ideas are rejected along the way or reformed into something almost unrecognisable.

In that sense, fiction is like growing a text. It’s like fashioning a little bonsai or Pen Jing tree. You have to shape it, water it, feed it, and keep it alive. But the work happens while it grows and that lends the work an aspect of discovery no matter how well you think you’ve plotted it at the beginning.

To Create a World had seven drafts, but each of those drafts was about refining and improving a structure or a theme that I didn’t know the book would necessarily contain. It’s like pruning back something that you only partially understand.

If fiction is like growing a text, non-fiction is like having one machined or fabricated. With non-fiction the central idea behind the text is not only clear, it’s like a blueprint. The final result must reflect the blueprint as far as possible. There may be issues that arise and innovations that emerge, but if it deviates too far from the blueprint it simply won’t work.

That’s why, when it comes to the question of difficulty, it’s hard to measure either by effort or duration.

My novel took 15 months and came out at 70,000 words.

My weight-loss book took 3 months and came out at 14,000 words.

So that means my weight-loss book was one-fifth the time and effort of my novel, right?

Well not really, because it took me a year to work out the idea behind my weight-loss book and apply it in my own life. In other words, the ‘research’ behind non-fiction can take as long or longer than the writing of the novel.

I plan to write another non-fiction book about the temperaments, and again that’s an idea I’ve been turning over and refining for a few years. When I finally come to write it, it too might only take a couple of months, but the research and thinking behind it are as long as a novel, if not longer.

Perhaps the best way to look at it is that my non-fiction books have a logical or theoretical coherence that allows the research to be done well before the book is actually written. Meanwhile my fiction has an emotional and narrative coherence that means the research/planning must be done while the book is being written so that it is adaptive to whatever changes or challenges arise along the way.

Want to read the books I’ve written? Click on the covers below to find out more!

People who can eat whatever they want…and not put on weight.

I’ve been flat out trying to get my head around various aspects of marketing and promotion and publishing, while also working on the sequel to my fantasy novel, doing my usual editing work, and looking after my family.

But it’s still a lot of fun, and it’s rewarding to have it all focused so clearly on ideas that mean a lot to me. It doesn’t take much to get me excited about my weight-loss book!

I just posted on facebook that The Weight-Loss Paradox temporarily hit #3 in its categories on Amazon.com.au. That was quite a thrill!

To help get it back up there, I’ll continue publicising it, and sharing some of the insights that make up my enlightened approach to body weight and diet.

For example:

Those people who can eat whatever they want and not put on weight… there’s a chapter about them in The Weight-Loss Paradox.

I’ve since confirmed with a number of these people that while they can eat whatever they want, the simple truth is that they usually don’t want to eat a lot. They might regularly skip meals, or eat only a token amount of food.

What fools the rest of us is that they tend to eat more on social occasions, because social eating has its own logic…and its own chapter in the book.

So while we see these perpetually thin people scoff down impressive quantities at parties and social gatherings, we tend not to follow them around 24/7 to confirm their actual caloric intake.

We watch them eat huge amounts when we’re all socialising, and when questioned they will say they eat whatever they want, and simply don’t gain weight.

How cruel that sounds! If I eat whatever I want, I’ll end up severely overweight if not obese. Yet these people can eat whatever they want, and might even struggle to stay at a healthy weight.

The problem is that “whatever I want” means different things to different people.

If you ever did find someone who could eat objectively excessive amounts of food and still not put on weight, you should encourage them to see a doctor, because that doesn’t sound normal.

If you’d like to read more about it, it’s all in my book The Weight-Loss Paradox – available on Kindle and in paperback.

 

Why is losing weight so difficult?

I’m in the middle of changing my blog layout to facilitate ebook sales. People need a landing-page for incoming links to my books, and sadly my beloved dog-lion-whatever was a bit too much to scroll through.

While you’re waiting for the inevitable upgrades, my latest article on MercatorNet looks at…you guessed it: my new book on weight loss!

The Socratic principle that “to know the good is to do the good” means that the primary cause of our struggles and suffering in life is intellectual. In other words, the surest antidote to a problem like excessive body weight is to better understand the problem itself.

The corollary is that confusion and ignorance surrounding a problem like weight loss is central to the problem.

That’s why “willpower” is such a distraction in the weight-loss debate. From an intellectualist point of view the main problem is not the strength of our will, but the clarity of the intellect that informs it. It’s not that we aren’t trying hard enough to lose weight, it’s that we don’t really understand how or why or what we are actually trying to accomplish.

We think we want to lose weight. We think we understand why it is harmful to us. But if we really understood, then we wouldn’t have to struggle and suffer in confusion.

If we really understood we would just go ahead and do it. That’s why I call my approach an enlightened one. Instead of fumbling around in the dark, relying on diet fads and fashions and incomplete information, I decided once and for all to understand the problem, knowing that if I understood it I could at last resolve it as efficiently as possible.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/19846

Promoting The Weight-Loss Paradox

If you have an idea you believe in, all you can do is trust that others will believe in it too, find it beneficial, and then it will succeed.

“Success” is just short-hand for your plans coming to fruition. My plan was to write a short book that describes how I used my skills in philosophy to lose weight.

It won’t help everyone, but I believe enough people will find it worthwhile, insightful, and refreshingly honest.

All I can do beyond that point is try to make people aware of it. I’ve never been big on marketing or social media, so bear with me.

My first step has been to create a Facebook page for the book, which you can find here:

I’ll keep it updated with key ideas and concepts from the book, and other thoughts that helped me arrive at the answers to the weight-loss problem.

My first non-fiction ebook!

When I tell people I’ve been writing a diet book they’re typically speechless.

I choose to interpret their reaction as one of awestruck silence.

Awestruck is incidentally how I felt when I came across the photograph that now adorns the cover of my new ebook, The Weight-Loss Paradox: an Enlightened Approach to Body Weight and Diet.

I’m also pretty proud of the book itself. It’s not a long book at only 14,000 words, but it’s the culmination of several years of thinking about body weight and the psychology and ethics of eating.

But more than anything it reflects my own success in using my insights and reasoning as a philosopher to help me lose weight without trying. That is, I lost 20kg without feeling like I was trying to lose weight, and I did it in the firm conviction that if I truly understood the whole dynamic of eating and body weight it would change my mind, my relationship with food, and my whole life.

A quick shout-out to my former PhD supervisor Dr John Quilter: this probably isn’t the continuation of my work on free will, intellectualism and voluntarism you were expecting, but on the other hand I bet it’s the only diet book in existence that explicitly asserts “To know the good is to do the good!”

Like anything in life, this book won’t be for everyone. But if you or someone you know is thoroughly sick of the confusion and mixed-messages surrounding dieting and weight loss, or despondent and demotivated at the very thought of losing weight, my book may be exactly what you need.

I’ve been overweight for more than half my life, all my adult life until now. At my worst I was over 100kgs, right at the cusp of obesity according to my BMI (Body Mass Index). I’m now well into the normal range, and my weight stays consistently at or under 85kg.

In hindsight, I used to be someone who valued the enjoyment of eating so highly that I would never turn down good food unless I was physically incapable of eating it. I never understood people who could say no to a second helping of something delicious, or who could refuse a treat. I never even imagined I could be one of those people.

I finally found an approach to eating that makes sense, and I gradually changed my eating habits. I still enjoy food, and I still occasionally overeat. But most of the time my eating habits reflect my body’s actual needs in that moment. Isn’t that the ideal?

But for me the best part is that it’s not about weight anymore. In fact my weight loss really took off when I stopped thinking about it, and focused instead on the deeper motivations and dynamic that was driving my dysfunctional attitude to food.

In the end, being overweight was a symptom of that dysfunctional relationship with food. Weight loss is such a struggle because we expend most of our energy fighting a symptom instead of looking at the root cause.

The Weight-Loss Paradox: an Enlightened Approach to Body Weight and Diet is available exclusively on amazon kindle. If you don’t have a kindle, you can download a free kindle app that lets you read kindle ebooks on your PC or Mac, android or iOS devices. So you can buy the book at Amazon and then download it to the app on your preferred device.

Fat, non-fiction and the philosophy of losing weight

I’m working on a diet book at the moment, and it’s taking a bit of time to get back into the process of writing non-fiction.

The book is essentially a common-sense philosophical approach to the problem of diet, weight-loss, and overeating. And if “common-sense philosophical approach” sounds like an oxymoron to you, well that just means you’ve been philosophising wrongly.

If you can’t use philosophy to ask “why am I fat?” then what good is it?

The book is based on my own experiences over the last couple of years, wherein I analysed the hell out of my eating habits, motivations, and life itself, and then lost 20kg with relative ease.

How easy was it? Well on the one hand, it involved facing some unpleasant truths about my life that were painful and confronting to admit. On the other hand, I didn’t do any additional exercise and stopped even thinking about losing weight. When I finally thought to weigh myself it was a surprise to see how many kilos I had lost. It felt like I wasn’t even trying to lose weight.

I discovered this approach because I’m too lazy to do huge amounts of exercise, too gluttonous to just set arbitrary limits on my food intake, and too frustrated at the conflicting messages and “solutions” offered by existing diets.

Here’s a great example: today the news is full of new evidence that gluten-free diets might increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Meanwhile we’re in the midst of either a revolution or just-another-fad that says refined sugar is the devil in nutritional form. Should we place bets on how long it is before some other new discovery bursts the no-sugar bubble?

I’m not doubting the scientific evidence, just doubting my ability and motivation to sift through all the conflicting messages to work out the whole complex picture formed out of the various strands of research.

I’d much rather see what I can work out for myself, using principles and facts that are unassailable. And if it turns out that I still lack the necessary information to find a solution, then at least I’ll know for sure that this is the case.

Asking “why am I fat?” is actually a great philosophical question. It led me to some very profound answers that have almost entirely changed my eating habits, and the way I relate to food. That’s why I’m writing a book about it. I’m sure some people will find it too radical and confronting, but for others it will provide the kind of certainty and insight they’ve been craving.

While you’re waiting for me to finish writing it, why not check out my new novel To Create a World? Unlike in Harry Potter the evil characters aren’t overweight!

Dieting retrospective

In January I wrote a couple of posts on dieting, in an attempt to make clear my own thoughts on losing weight and maintaining a healthy relationship with food.

Dieting Tips part 1 and part 2

Someone left an appreciative comment on part 2, so I thought I should post an update on how my idiosyncratic approach to dieting has fared in the nine months since I wrote those posts.

In short, it has been very successful. I’ve lost nearly 20 kgs, and I’ve found it easy to maintain my current weight.

The most effective part of the diet was to complete the link between how I felt about being overweight, and the eating behaviours that were making me overweight in the first place. It might sound a bit harsh, but if you feel miserable when you look in the mirror, hold onto that misery for the rest of the day and use it to diminish your appetite.

But it helps to do so with the conviction that if you eat less you will definitely lose weight. There are a lot of conflicting messages about obesity, including the idea that some people simply cannot lose weight, or that there are hormonal, genetic, psychological, environmental, and social causes for obesity that make attempts at weight loss futile.

Or how about this one: “I have a friend who eats more than I do, but they never put on weight!” The (weak) implication is that weight is therefore not directly related to food intake.

I countered these conflicting messages with the simple conclusion that regardless of how overweight people might be, if we starved to death we would all lose weight before we die.

We are all products of our biology, culture, family, society, and environment; but we are still free to change our behaviour, provided we can understand where things are going wrong, the cause and effect of our unwanted circumstances.

Before my diet, my motivations for eating were often compounded: I would eat at meal-times because of habit, I would eat snacks because of boredom, I would use the process of eating as a kind of escapism, I would seek the sensory feedback of a full stomach to distract from other negative feelings including dissatisfaction at being overweight.

Now my attitude to food at any given point in time is dominated by wanting to avoid the dissatisfaction of being overweight, and wanting to maintain the benefits of a healthy weight. But other motives have gradually accrued: new habits of not eating for most of the day, the feeling of an empty stomach as the new normal, avoiding the heaviness and distraction of being full of food.

In practical terms, I know that I need very little food to maintain my current weight, and for personal reasons I prefer to eat as little as possible until the end of the day. So in any given day I’ll most likely eat nothing until dinnertime.

I’ll eat more if I have a lot of work to do and need the energy. Sometimes I’ll eat more if there’s a celebration or party. There’s a lot of latitude when you know you can easily not eat for most of the following days.

I usually have one or two espresso coffees with milk, which is a kind of substitution for eating during the morning. I could probably do without them, but coffee and tea aren’t a big deal.

That’s pretty much all there is to it. I avoid eating when I’m not genuinely hungry, and I used my negative emotions about being overweight to help me achieve this new approach. I cut through uncertainty about the causes of being overweight by looking to the bottom line of food intake versus expenditure. And as I lost weight, it became easier to continue than to stop.

One final point: I didn’t chart the progression of weight loss, but subjectively it was very rapid. At the time I wondered whether there was some kind of psycho-physiological system at work – that by diminishing my appetite and strictly controlling my intake I had somehow ‘told’ my body to change how it was storing energy and processing food.

That’s highly speculative. It’s equally possible that the weight loss seemed rapid because I wasn’t keeping track of it, and because I knew that it was really just a symptom or outcome of the processes of escapist eating I have described in the earlier posts. In other words, I wasn’t dieting to lose weight. I was putting a stop to an escapist dynamic of which weight gain was the unwanted side-effect. It may have seemed rapid because my mind was elsewhere.

My diet isn’t perfect. Perhaps I would feel better if I ate breakfast and skipped dinner. Or ate smaller portions throughout the day. I’m guessing that the way I eat at present is the path of least resistance to diminishing overall intake. Perhaps the next challenge should be to vary the routine and see what benefits and limitations the changes bring?

Regardless, it’s good to have the psychological freedom to even consider changing the approach, because I know and understand the mechanism that drove my weight change in the first place.