Week 6 Spark Insight: The Value of Struggle

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Critical Concept:  Struggle Brings About Growth

What do we gain from struggle?
There is an interesting paradox that exists within the fundamental nature of man’s make-up.  The Motivational Triad dictates that we are hard-wired to seek pleasure, move away from pain, and do it all with the greatest economy of energy.  Yet, we are designed to grow – even flourish – under stress.  Nearly all advancements that we make neurologically, physically, emotionally and socially happen as a direct result of some kind of challenge.

We encounter the challenge, struggle, adapt and move forward.  This is the essence of growth.  In days past there was the adage, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”

Weightlifting stresses a muscle and causes an adaptation – muscle growth.  The same response is evident in our neurological functions, immune systems and social skills.  Resistance, friction and struggle produce advancement in our ability to cope and succeed.  We get stronger.

Throughout our lives there are requisite struggles.  As infants, we constantly put things into our mouths when teething, thereby opening the gums to create the ideal portal of entry for bacteria; this, in turn, triggers our early immune system responses.  Among these is fever.  Fever is the body’s innately intelligent response to a pathogen (germ).  With very few exceptions, fevers are not dangerous - in fact, immunologists have coined the expression “Fever is your friend.”  The fever will kill off the invader and save the child.  Although a child may be temporarily uncomfortable, this “struggle” promotes a robust immune system for life.

Why do we feel the need to interfere with this time-tested and effective method of healing?  Parents often want to make the child (and themselves) feel more comfortable.  But what is more important, being comfortable or being well?

We require struggle.

Can you imagine interfering in a young person’s first experience with upset or heartache in a relationship?  How would they ever develop the critical coping mechanisms that they will surely need in mature, successful relationships in the future if they were rescued at every sign of upset?

What if a young soldier skipped the conditioning and training of boot camp and was sent to the front lines of battle?

Our attitude will determine our experience with struggle.  If you accept struggle as part of personal growth and embrace it, you’ll respond differently.  Look at these moments as opportunities to grow and expand. Healthy people are always learning.

A Bonfire best practice is to train this new attitude deliberately.  Your mindset is like a muscle – the more that you use it, the more coordinated and flexible it becomes.  Unexpected life challenges can pose a heavy burden.  Developing emotional fitness should happen before you need it.

Author Dr. Steven Covey teaches us another vital behavior:  increase the time between stimulus and response.  If we do not show this kind of restraint, we will most likely react, rather that respond.  When dealing with others, it is always best to consider their position and feelings.  In our adult lives, it is fair to say that a good portion of our struggles will involve interactions with other people.  Developing this healthy coping mechanism is a priceless skill for those who seek extraordinary relationships.

If this creates a challenge for you, do not despair.  The mind had the capacity to change.  We have the ability to form new habits by repeatedly choosing new behaviors.  Practice responding to struggle with a new attitude.  An attitude is defined as a consistent thought process developed over time.

Choosing to practice a new behavior pattern is like cutting a new path in the woods.  You have to pass over the same terrain several times before it gets easier.  But this struggle is sure to leave you stronger…and enjoying a better life.

Week 6 Air Insight: Progression, Not Perfection

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Critical Concept:  Going Beyond Your Limits

Focus on progression, not perfection.
You will make exceptional gains, while enjoying an extraordinary experience, if you simply focus on progression, not perfection.  Your body and mind both thrive in environments of consistent stimulation, discovery and challenge.  You benefit from the plastic effect when you are stretched beyond the limits of where you’ve been before.  You grow when you progress.

We love to stay in our comfort zone.  The COMFORT ZONE is a great place to rest, repair and reflect on what has been experienced – but no growth is found there.  One concentric ring out from the comfort zone is the STRETCH ZONE.  This is where we choose to turn up the heat and explore new territory.  Beyond the stretch zone is the STRESS ZONE.  This is the place that we visit to test our metal.  We choose to temporarily step into this zone to accomplish specific things – and then get out of it as soon as we’ve completed our task or have decided that it is wise to retreat and regroup.  If we don’t, we end up in the BREAKDOWN ZONE.  This is where the wheels come off of the wagon – either mentally, physically, or both.  We want to stay out of the breakdown zone.

Your brain will create new synapses and your muscles will adapt and grow with every additional challenge.  The benefits of continually stretching yourself include, but are not limited to:  increased strength, flexibility, stamina, speed, agility, balance, focus, alertness, memory and coordination.

“Emerging research shows that physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another.  For the brain to learn, these connections must be made; they reflect the brain’s fundamental ability to adapt to challengesThe more neuroscience discovers about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparallel stimulus, creating an environment in which the human brain is ready, willing and able to learn.“        Dr. John Ratey, Neuroscientist and Author (Spark, page 10)

It appears that exertion triggers the release of the neurotransmitter BDNH (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Hormone), which is the equivalent to “Miracle Grow” for the brain.  And apparently, as we gradually increase the intensity of the challenge over time, the progression in our exertion is matched by the production of BDNH.  The harder that we exert our selves, the more benefit we enjoy.

This should make us rethink our approach to schooling children:  “Sit still and listen!  Stop your fidgeting and pay attention!”  How about the elderly?  The research that supports activity benefiting seniors is compelling.  How many people are left idle and wasting away in nursing homes?  Budget restrictions cannot be the argument – exercise is free.  We might even consider changes to our work spaces.  Dr. John Madina, researcher and author (Brain Rules) has set up his computer monitor in front of a treadmill.

So whether you are a top athlete or a recently reformed couch surfer, progression is your new mantra.  That may mean more minutes walking or seconds off of your 500M row.  A Bonfire best practice is to journal your training.  Write down your training schedule, routine, times, weights, distances or personal bests.  Keeping a journal allows you to track your progress and keep yourself honest and objective.  It is nice to feel like you’re making progress; it’s another thing to know that you are.  Dreams become goals when you write them down, and accountability is king when it comes to progression.

Nudge yourself into pushing a little harder every time you workout or exercise.  Recruit a friend, hire a personal trainer, watch training videos or train for a contest or event.  These kinds of extrinsic motivators have been shown to increase the effectiveness of your efforts by multiples.

Often people are held back by the fear that they aren’t good enough or that they can’t do something perfectly.  This never serves you.  Focus on the growth that you enjoy just from the experience.  Just do better than yesterday.  Remember: progression, not perfection.  The only thing that you can perfect is your effort.

Summary Checklist:

  • Add activity every day in every way
  • Calculate Energy Balance
  • Add Functional Training
  • Use variety in your workouts
  • Focus on the Intensity of your workouts
  • Gradually progress to a higher intensity

Week 6 Fuel Insight: Essential Supplementation

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ESSENTIAL ELEMENT:  Essential Supplementation

Critical Concept:  Food, Not Chemicals

Are supplements essential?
The quick witted Bonfire Member is probably saying “Hey, Doc, did our Paleolithic ancestors actually take their vitamins?”  Great question.  The answer, of course, is “No.”  But our ancestors ate an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit, plenty of wild game, fish and fowl, and all of the nuts, seeds and berries that they could gather.  They were not subject to the environmental and lifestyle toxins that we face every day.  And they certainly did not keep the constant stressful pace that we all consider “normal” life today.  Face it - our industrialized life has left us generally toxic and deficient.

The best way to reconcile these deficiencies is to compliment a robust nutritious diet style with high quality, essential nutritional supplementation.  Notice the word is supplement, not replacement.  The bedrock of a healthy diet is healthy, real food choices - not vitamin pills, potions or lotions.  The Bonfire Diet Style is the most complete, genetically congruent diet available.  But, all but the most steadfast followers must supplement their diet with essential nutrients if they wish to reach their health potential.

A nutrient is considered essential if the body requires it for health, but cannot make it on its own.  In other words, these nutrients must be provided by our dietary intake.  Bonfire recommends supplementing only those elements that are 1) essential, and 2) very difficult to provide sufficient amounts of in our regular food intake.

The Bonfire Essential Supplements include:

1.  A Whole Food Supplement
2.  Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid (fish oil)
4.  Vitamin D

This recommendation stands for everyone, of every age.  These supplements are required by everyone for the promotion of optimal cell function and overall maximal health.  As much as this may sound like a disclaimer, these recommendations are not meant as a treatment for a condition or disease.  The Wellness Paradigm promotes the return to health through normalization of physiology, not manipulation through chemistry.  These nutrients will support, maintain and promote greater health by contributing to the environment that allows for it.

Investing in high quality nutritional supplementation is money well spent.  A common best practice is to redirect monies that are typically spent on things that were making you weaker and sicker toward the choices that make you stronger and healthier.  People are typically shocked when they sit down and calculate the monthly cost of coffee, alcohol or cigarettes.  The right nutritional supplements are an inexpensive way to reduce possible future health care costs.  Staying well can seem expensive, but being sick will break you.

For the forgetful, try keeping your supplements with your toothbrush and make them part of your daily ritual.  Or for the incorrigible, try leaving your car keys in the refrigerator next to the fish oil.  Don’t leave home without it.

Using an auto-ship option is the best way to ensure that you don’t run out of your supplements.  This efficient and effective best practice will keep you well stocked and on schedule – with one less thing to remember.

This may be the “best bang for your effort” recommendation yet.  Adding these essential supplements to your lifestyle is such a simple and easy thing – but the rewards are profound and immediate.

Summary Checklist:  At this point you should be:

  • Drinking water as your primary beverage
  • Eating plants first
  • Eating lean cuts of high quality protein
  • Consuming high-fiber, whole food carbohydrates
  • Increasing your healthy fat intake
  • Taking your Essential Supplements