Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

December 2019

“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” - A Book Review, by Matthew Romans

I recently read the fairly well-known (at least in the field of psychology) book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, which was originally published in 1990. The author is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, and he is the former head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. His work has been referenced in the writings of Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth, and that is what led me to seek out this book. I believe there are a lot of things to be learned from this book that can help us not just in the field of exercise, but in other areas of our lives, such as school, work, and family.

Csikszentmihalyi coins the term "flow" to describe "a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity." The idea is to achieve an optimal experience, and it can happen while performing a variety of tasks or activities, such as writing prose or poetry, performing a piece of music, completing a work project, or spending time with family. The professor goes on to say that, "The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something worthwhile." This means that, by and large, an optimal experience is mostly likely to occur when you are doing something of your own volition, rather than something you are forced to do. That doesn't mean the activity has to be fun; in fact, many people report achieving a state of flow when performing tasks that most would consider drudgery. The author then says that, "Because optimal experience depends on the ability to control what happens in consciousness moment by moment, each person has to achieve it on the basis of his own individual efforts and creativity." While the flow experience may be similar for many people, specific elements of it can vary depending upon the individual.

This book is not particularly lengthy, but it covers a lot of ground in just over 300 pages (including notes and references). The chapters that I found most interesting covered topics such as the anatomy of consciousness, enjoyment and the quality of life, the body in flow, the flow of thought, and work as flow. Csikszentmihalyi says that, "The function of consciousness is to represent information about what is happening outside and inside the organism in such a way that it can be evaluated and acted upon by the body." In order to achieve flow, information must be processed efficiently to allow the body and mind to accomplish the task at hand. To enhance the enjoyment and quality of one's life involves the merging of action and awareness; a person will use all of the relevant skills necessary to cope with the challenges of a situation. I believe that there is a greater tendency toward happiness if a person believes they are accomplishing something important or of value. This is something that can plague retirees and lottery winners; once the challenge in life is gone, there is little incentive to keep growing or learning. Goal-setting and specific feedback are very important.

When thinking about the body in flow, martial arts, playing a musical instrument, and even viewing works of art comes to mind. According to the author, "...the easiest step toward improving the quality of life consists in simply learning to control the body and its senses." Mind and body certainly work in concert to achieve flow. Flow occurs when one is able to give order to his or her thoughts; it is a heightened state of consciousness that cannot be achieved with drugs, alcohol, or any other stimulant. Flow is the opposite of entropy, which is the normal state of consciousness. Csikszentmihalyi says that entropy is "neither useful nor enjoyable." Entropy is a threat to the idea of lifelong learning. Finally, on the concept of work as flow, the author discusses autotelic jobs, where the challenge of the work itself makes it not feel like work. Joe Kramer's experience as a welder in a Chicago railroad car assembly plant fits this description perfectly. Kramer worked in this capacity for over thirty years, passed up several promotions so that he could remain a welder, and he was so skilled that he could fix any piece of machinery in the plant. He simply enjoyed the challenges of his work, and even though he could have retired much earlier, he still came to work every day.

In a flow experience, goals are usually clear and feedback is immediate. This fits in perfectly with a Total Results workout. The primary goal of exercise is to achieve a thorough inroad of the musculature, which is the stimulus that the body needs to make improvements. The instructor provides feedback and cues throughout each exercise of each workout. This, along with precise record-keeping, helps the client understand exactly how they are performing. During a flow experience, goals should be intrinsic rather than extrinsic, in order to avoid distractions that can negatively impact performance. We go to great lengths to explain to clients the difference between the assumed objective (completing as many repetitions as possible) and the real objective (thorough muscular inroad). Focusing on extrinsic goals during exercise can lead to disappointment, cessation of progress, and injury. Although Csikszentmihalyi doesn't specifically mention exercise, he urges us to "...find rewards in the events of each moment", which is what we instruct our clients to do. Look at exercise as an opportunity to challenge yourself, and stay in the moment on each exercise you perform.

Although he was not mentioned in Csikszentmihalyi's book, legendary guitarist Keith Richards has his own take on the flow experience. In a documentary commemorating the band's 50th anniversary he says, "In a way, the Rolling Stones overtake you, and it's almost like you're sort of levitating. You don't even want to touch the strings, because they're doing it themselves. And anyway, they'd be too hot." Working to achieve flow gives our lives greater meaning because we are challenging ourselves to achieve something that wasn't previously possible. This enhances our self-esteem, gives us a sense of purpose, and a feeling of accomplishment. Achieving flow is a critical component to optimize your exercise experience. The author has the last word: "If the functions of the body are left to atrophy, the quality of life becomes merely adequate, and for some even dismal."

Posted December 20, 2019 by Matthew Romans

Go Vegan? Or Not?

There is a lot of positive press right now promoting veganism. The Netflix production Game Changers is one of several recent programs singing the praises of vegan dieting. After viewing and reading many of these programs, articles, and podcasts both pro and con, there are several points that I think are important to note:

-Humans can survive, and even thrive on a wide variety of food, ranging from a mostly plant based diet all the way to a mostly animal based diet.

-Many benefits of any "healthy" diet come from proscription, rather and prescription. In other words, it is the sugar, trans-fats, excessive calories, excessive omega-6s that you remove from your diet that improves your health as much as anything you are actually eating.

-Game Changers and others like it are not documentaries, as it's category within Netflix suggests; rather, they are agenda driven promotional videos that are funded by people who stand to gain from the promotion of that particular stance on eating. James Cameron, the famous Hollywood producer who produced Game Changers, is heavily invested (over $100million) in one of the largest pea protein companies in the world. Likewise, many of the studies promoting the health of animal products are industry funded. So, we need to consider the source for any of these videos, articles, blogs, etc. for any side of the debate.

-Even the most ardent Vegans admit you need to supplement your diet with Vitamin B-12 because it is very hard to find in plant products (Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis). If you need supplements, then you should question the completeness of your diet.

-Yes, you can get adequate protein in a vegan diet, although it is not quite as easy as eating animal products. However, there are benefits to both animal and plants proteins. For example, lentils, one of the best known plant protein sources (which I love, and make soup with regularly) has about 16.5 grams of protein per cooked cup. A 1/4 pound 15% fat ground beef patty (which I also consume regularly) has 18.8 grams of protein. So the two foods are close in protein. However, to get that 16.5g of protein, the cup of lentils of is 322 calories, whereas the 1/4 beef patty is only 177 calories. Also, the lentils have zero Vitamin B-12, whereas the beef has 36% of the RDA of B-12. The beef also has significantly more of every single essential amino acid than the lentils. Conversely, the lentils contain 58% of RDA of fiber and 45% of manganese, an essential mineral, whereas the beef has none of either. This would suggest a combination of protein sources may be optimal for our health.

-There is no significant evidence that animal products in a healthy diet cause cancer, heart disease, or any other malady. Animal products have been a healthy part of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years. Humans have in fact evolved by eating animal products.

-Much of industrial/global food production today, both animal and plant based, is bad for the soil, bad for the air, bad for the plant and animal life, and bad for our health. It is absolutely necessary that we increase regenerative farming techniques where the plant and animal life work in harmony to provide food, build the soil and even sequester carbon. Each of us can promote this by shopping at local farms or farmers markets, eating food in-season, and pushing our grocers to provide more traditionally and humanely raised animals and plants.

-We are each our own N=1 experiment in living. I would encourage each of you to research these subjects for yourself and find what works for you. Wherever possible seek out the least biased sources. Different approaches and ranges of food types work differently for each of us. A whole food, less junk, low sugar, no trans-fat approach will help us all be healthier and allows for a great deal of variability as to what we can eat.

Bon Apetit!

Posted December 20, 2019 by Matthew Romans

Overcoming Your Fear - by Matthew Romans

There are a great many reasons why people decide not to undertake a comprehensive exercise program. Cost may be a consideration, as well as work/travel, family, or it could be that you're just not interested in exercise. While we certainly believe that Total Results exercise is extremely beneficial to anyone who decides to pursue it, we also believe that there is one very powerful element that can prevent one from achieving the benefits of our exercise philosophy: fear. It's very natural to have fear, but it is something that we can help you to overcome.

One common fear among potential Total Results clients is the fear of beginning an exercise program. It could be that you have never weight trained before, or that you had a bad experience with a previous exercise program. This is very understandable. Fear of the unknown is perfectly natural, as is the memory of a previous bad situation. There is nothing to fear about beginning the scientifically-based Total Results exercise program, and there is so much to gain, regardless of your age, exercise history, and health history. We take the time during an initial consultation to learn about you and your goals, and give a detailed explanation of our exercise philosophy. Our job is to guide you through this process, and we are happy to address any concerns and questions that you might have.

Fear of injury is also something that we frequently encounter. Some of this fear is legitimate, while some of it is misguided. Many people mistakenly confuse the term "weight training" with "weight lifting", when in fact, they are two completely different things. Weight training, particularly when done with a slow movement speed in a proper environment, is very safe. Weight lifting, on the other hand, is typical of the behavior seen in most commercial gyms and usually involves throwing and catching weights with dangerous levels of acceleration. Proper weight training should protect you against injury, not cause it. Total Results is the safest exercise protocol available; as Ken Hutchins (founder of our protocol) is fond of saying, is "safer than stepping off a curb."

A legitimate thing that discourages many potential clients is the fear of the gym environment. Most commercial gyms are noisy, hot, and crowded. The clientele is often there simply to be social, and the staff is usually ignorant about anatomy and physiology. Many people are turned off by commercial gyms, and it's often enough of a deterrent to prevent them from reaping the benefits of high-intensity exercise. Total Results is the anti-gym. Our exercise studio is private, distraction free, temperature-controlled, and has equipment that is engineered specifically for our exercise protocol. Here, you can focus exclusively on getting the best workout possible. It is the ideal exercise environment.

Finally, many people are apprehensive about the exertional discomfort (often referred to as the "burn") that is a by-product of Total Results exercise. This is often unpleasant, and it isn't something that most people look forward to (not even us!) This discomfort is a result of intense muscular and metabolic effort, and intense effort is what is necessary to stimulate body improvements. Exertional discomfort is temporary; each exercise only lasts from one to three minutes, and a complete workout should take no longer than twenty minutes. As you become a more experienced trainee, you gain a greater tolerance for discomfort. As your breathing, form, and focus improve, you tend to be less affected by the burning sensation that occurs in your muscles and momentary muscular failure approaches. The fact that our workouts are brief and infrequent makes this fear much easier to overcome.

Don't run from your fear; meet it head on. Once you confront your fear, it is much easier to deal with. Entrepreneur and author Grant Cardone says, "Overcoming your fear is just an exercise in doing something that will allow you to increase confidence in yourself and take your career to another level." Do not allow your fear to prevent you from taking that very important first step toward a physical and mental transformation. Schedule a consultation with Total Results today.

Posted December 03, 2019 by Matthew Romans