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Dealing with Challenges to Living Well

We're all surrounded by demons, those little vestiges of conventional wisdom and temptation that keep digging into our brains and diverting our energy and attention away from healthy living and back to the dark side.  It can be even harder for the Paleo folks in the world - conventional wisdom is the rule in general society, to be sure.  But these little demons can be fought off using a simple tool called mindfulness - being aware of what's going on around you and within you, and even how the outside world is affecting your inner world.

Food cravings seem to be one of the biggest culprits.  The well-documented addiction to sugar and wheat products has been a big one for me (particularly sugar).  And the number one culprit for me is the Reese's Peanut Butter Egg.  Not the cups, though those are tasty, for sure.  But every Easter (and now Halloween and Christmas, too, ever since the insidious designers at Hershey's bought pumpkin- and tree-shaped molds) these things pop out and tempt me to scarf down an entire six-pack at a time.

It's not pretty. Ask my wife.

But it's an example of what many of us go through in modern life where the calories-in calories-out model is still very much the norm as regards the public's attitude about health.

(And, on a side note, why wouldn't it be? If a manufacturer can create an object with absolutely no value other than "it tastes good," and then blame the weight gain issue on such stuff as people not getting enough exercise and the like, they are going to do so. And that's not even to say that there's some big conspiracy to make us all fat - people will fool themselves into a lot of things if it seems to be in their best interest. And financial gain is certainly among the aforementioned category.  But we Paleo folk know better, don't we - we know that calories-in-calories-out is an incomplete model.)

So what do we do to fight these little challenges that pop up?

I think one of the ways to use your mindfulness to fight those demons is to identify the triggers that set off the craving in question and preparing yourself to deal with them before they come. For me, simply seeing those Reese's eggs in the store is bad. But knowing they're in there when I go in makes it easier - I can prepare myself with a thought of "those little buggers are in there, so don't fall under their evil sway."

Yes, I do actually talk to myself that way sometimes - another sign of too much Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. But actually, talking that way to yourself can make your self-talk more effective.  It's fun, even if just to yourself, and that makes staving off the challenge of the sugar demons into a bit of a game.  As Steve Kamb does all over his site Nerd Fitness, turning every day challenges into a game is a very effective device for creating effective habits and strategies for success.

How about exercise?  Many people put off exercising, myself included.  I mean, sometimes, you just don't want to.  And if you're a parent, like many of us are, it's harder to fit exercise into the day.

For my part, I do my workouts in the morning, before the rest of the family wakes up.  Setting out my workout clothes the night before and getting a bit excited about getting up to do the workout (which is easier when the workout is a fun activity like MovNat) is a great device for setting yourself up for success.  Again - self-talk is a very powerful tool for success.

On the other hand, my wife has solved this challenge very effectively - she's scheduled time each week to go to the YMCA to go swimming.  It's on our calendar, and I know that I'm not to set up any appointments or meetings that night so that she can get out to do that.

So she's recruited me in her quest for fitness.  And that's another very effective tactic - create some accountability partners (even if they're not aware that they are such a partner).  Join a CrossFit gym or find a regular running partner.  Join an internet forum about fitness and recruit some partners for reporting on workouts (complete with videos?).  Start a blog and post your workouts there - and then blast the links all over your social media outlets.  There are lots of ways to recruit people to help keep you going!

But what about avoiding new challenges?  Say you've just started on an ancestral diet of some kind, and you're doing great till you walk into a store and see all the stuff that is off the list but that you used to eat!  Or you've just started a workout program and you really don't want to get up that morning to go for a run.

There comes a point where willpower is simply going to have to be part of the equation.  One of the greatest things you can do to give your willpower an extra boost is by creating a "Big Why."  This is simply creating a reason that is so big that it'll help you get over some of those humps and challenges.  For instance, you may have a high school reunion coming up - think about the looks on everyone's faces when you step into that party looking as fit as (or fitter than!) you did when you were in high school!  Keep that image with you all the time, and focus on it when the "going gets tough."  If you find that the image you've created isn't helping you avoid the temptations, then your "Big Why" may not be big enough!  Keep digging deeper into your psyche to come up with a real important reason for you to achieve that goal.

A personal example:  I was always a skinny little runt growing up.  Even when I was six feet tall as a senior in high school, I was skinny as a rail.  One of my good friends then was the starting center on the football team, and he used military press me.  As amusing as it was, it was sort of embarrassing, too.  So I've always idolized the "bad-asses" and wanted to be muscular.  Granted, I'm something of a ectomorph, so that's hard for me, but focusing on those skinny moments back then has given me impetus to compete in things like Mud Ninja and Savage Race.  It even helped when I was at Army ROTC cadet in college and had to compete for a slot to attend US Army Airborne school (yeah, I made it!).  And having completed a 30-day Paleo challenge and seeing that the proper diet can make me lean and more muscular gives me more of a "Big Why" to stay on the straight and narrow.

Plus, you can add some impetus to that willpower by simply remembering that the most dangerous thing you can do when building a habit is to "make the first exception."  Building a habit is a process that many experts say takes 21 days.  There's a reason that so many of the Paleo on-ramp programs and such are 21 to 30 days - not only does it take that long to change you from a sugar-burner to a fat-burner and turn on those fat-burner genes, but it takes that long for you to get into the habit of eating Paleo and making it an everyday regularity.

And the absolute worst thing you can do during that time is to break up that 21-day period - by making an exception. "Well, one sandwich won't hurt me today - I'll just go back to eating Paleo again for dinner.  Besides, there's nothing else available in the restaurant."  But what you've done is weakened your willpower and broken up that 21-day process.  So keep your awareness level high when you start on a new habit-building period, and don't do something that will make you need to basically start over the process!

My success mentor, J.B. Glossinger of MorningCoach.com, has a product out called Twenty-two Days that is designed to help you break through bad habits and/or create good habits.  And there are other plans out there as well (some of them specific to Paleo like Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation or Diane Sanfilippo's The 21-Day Sugar Detox) - find one that works for you and do it.

So how do we sum up here?  The key to overcoming your challenges is, once again, mindfulness.  Always be thinking about what's around you and how it's affecting you.  All challenges can be overcome, but they need to be identified.  It's really just a matter of finding the right tool to stave off each challenge, and being mindful of what you're doing and how you're processing it.

If you see something causing you a challenge, focus on why it's challenging you.  Even focus on the where and when of a challenge.  Knowing everything about that challenge will make it easier to overcome - sort of a "know your enemy" approach.  And then figure out what strategy you're going to use to win.

What are some of the challenges you're facing on a regular basis?  How do you defeat them?  Share in the comments!  

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