Your Brain is Playing Tricks On You

I love Christopher Nolan films.  Not only does he tell great stories, but he tells them in a way that reveals fundamental truths about the human condition that very few other working directors can. 

His films force you to question others, yourself, time and even reality.  All of his films revolve around the same truth: Our perception shapes our reality.

There is an often replicated psychological study in which two groups of college kids are given a multiple choice test.  The subject matter changes, sometimes it’s a literature test, sometimes it’s a history test and so on.  The tests ask exactly the same questions, and only differ in the verbiage of the answers. 

The first test’s answers use language and words that we associate with being young. 

The second test’s answers were the exact opposite, it used language that we associate with being elderly.

The experimenters weren’t measuring the scores of the test.  Once the test was complete they would measure the time it took for each group to reach the end of the hallway once they exited the classroom.

The result was the same every time.

The group which took the test associated with being elderly took a significantly longer time to reach the end of the hallway. 

The results of this experiment tell us two things:

It tells us that the stories we tell ourselves matter.  Our thoughts about ourselves have a direct physical manifestation.  The thoughts we allow to enter our brain shape our perspective, which shapes our reality.

It also tells us the environment we create matters.  The media we consume, the people we hang out with, the thoughts we let fester all have physical consequences. 

We all struggle with something in life, and we all have the tendency to view our world through these struggles. 

If you’re someone who has made many mistakes you might constantly tell yourself “I am weak” in the face of temptation.  If you’re someone who has struggled with your weight you might constantly tell yourself “I am fat” when confronted with the rigors of fitness.

When we tell ourselves negative stories we are only creating a feedback look that leads directly to failure and stagnation.  You’re basically digging your own grave.

Why does this matter if you’re trying to get in shape?

Well, this matters because physical progress is never a linear path.  If you’re trying to lose weight it will never happen in a predictable, rational pattern.  There will be weeks when you lose the intended amount of weight, there will be weeks where you lose no weight, and there will be weeks when you actually gain a little bit of weight.  Despite the fact that your weight is trending down you will focus only on that week’s results.  Instead of having the larger perspective, and seeing the long term progress you will have a smaller, emotional progress and be beholden to each week’s failure or success.

That leaves a lot of room for self-doubt, self-sabotage and bad habits to creep back in.   There will be highs and there will be lows, and you need to develop a consistent mindset in order to navigate them.

I’m not saying you have to turn yourself into some fake inspirational, the roses are always red even when they’re covered in shit delusional person.  You just have to recognize when you are beginning to sabotage yourself and learn how to correct it.

Self-sabotage always begins with one thought that reinforces self-doubt.  This thought is already there, it’s the shitty story you tell yourself.  “I am weak”, “I always fail”, “I’ll always be fat”.  We all have that one negative thought about ourselves that we’ve held on to for our entire lives.  The first step is to recognize that this thought is creeping into your mind and coloring all your actions and decisions. 

Once you feel it creeping in you need to take a step back, away from yourself.  You need to separate your emotions and try to view yourself as an objective outsider.  View all your actions as someone else would, don’t take your thoughts and feelings into account.

If you’ve been performing the right actions and consistently doing the right thing you’ll be able to realize that your negative thoughts are just that, thoughts with no basis in objective reality.  

 If you’ve done an analysis and found that you were not following the right course of action you need to use these negative thoughts as a springboard for positive action.  You need to change what you’ve been doing.  Instead of letting these negative thoughts drown you, use them as a kick in the ass to propel you.
You must train yourself to view things as they are. 

If you ate too much over the weekend, you are not an asshole you just ate too much.  If you skipped a workout you are not doomed to fail, you just had a bad day.  You need to view these actions for what they are- momentary setbacks, not a referendum on your character.

On the flip side, having an overly positive mindset will create just as much harm.  Constantly telling yourself that you deserve indulgence only allows you to excuse every flaw.  Screeching at others to conform to your faults is not a road to self-improvement.  It leads to the degradation of character and body.

The key to success is consistency and being able to appropriately deal with roadblocks and setbacks.  You cannot progress if you turn every dietary molehill into a mountain of an issue.  You are human, you will not be perfect.

Like anything worthwhile, this reframing of your mind takes time and consistency. 

Your perspective is almost too important to describe.  It will shape the way you see yourself, the world and the actions of others.  It cannot be overlooked, you must work to shift your mindset to create a more positive mental environment because that will lead to more consistent action. 

An unspoken key to a healthier perspective is to very carefully curate what media, images, and memes(using the Dawkins definition) you let enter your mind.  We live in an oversaturated age where we are constantly bombarded with thinly disguised marketing campaigns that we willingly view.

If you are constantly scrolling through Instagram “fitness” pages and idolizing other’s bodies you are contributing to a warped perspective of yourself.  I’ll give you an insider secret to these Instagram fitness models.  They’re all taking illegal compounds to maintain those physiques.  Their diets and workout routines unsustainable and staged.  In short: it’s bullshit marketing to the highest degree.  You’re better off comparing your body to a cartoon character.

This applies to everything you read, watch or interact with.  Our minds have the habit of adapting to whatever their fed.  The solution to this is the same as above, you have to view yourself and your actions as a neutral observer.  Question every choice you make and evaluate if it is helping you grow stronger and healthier or doing the opposite.


A healthy mind and body should work in tandem.  Fitness should be a spring board to develop a stronger mentality filled with grit, character and confidence.  To become a better version of yourself you need to work just as hard on your mindset and perspective as you do on your muscles. 

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Patrick Henigan