Diet Detective: Get Into The Flow and ­Finding Your Positive Patterns

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Detective: Get Into The Flow and ­Finding Your Positive Patterns

Michael Ray, a Stanford Business School professor, explains in a Fast Company article ( “It’s like the experience you have when you make a perfect shot in a tennis match or say just the right thing in a meeting or make just the right move in a relationship. That experience tells you that there’s something really great inside of you ­ that you’re somebody who can hit that perfect shot, and that you can probably hit it all the time.” The idea is that these moments, your “aha!” moments, prove that you do have what it takes.

If you’ve had that experience, think back to what you were doing when you were “in the flow.” Chances are that you were feeling passionate about whatever it was. When you’re working at something you’re not so passionate about, it’s tougher to reach that optimal place.

Always look for clues to your real passions. People who are very successful and who achieve a great deal need to be passionate, as well as disciplined, about their pursuits. Without passion, the work becomes pure drudgery.

Here are a few tips to help you find your “sweet spot” (or unsweet spot) when you’re trying to lose weight:

Avoid Anxiety: Sports psychologists often tell professional and Olympic athletes to study themselves and “pattern” the state of mind in which they’ve excelled. Most elite athletes are surprised to realize they’ve done best when they were relaxed, almost not caring, rather than being all “keyed up.” In this respect, a good part of achieving, succeeding and moving forward relies on “The Three C’s”: being calm, cool and collected.

Most times when you’re trying to lose or control weight, you, your family and your friends and/or co-workers create anxiety around your attempt. Creating any anxiety around a behavior change increases the likelihood that you will engage in the very behavior you’re trying to change.

Love What You’re Doing and Do What You Love: If you believe that your losing weight is temporary – well – it will be temporary. You need to find healthy foods that you love – foods that are not just good enough for now. If you don’t do that, you’ll be feeling deprived, you’ll be suffering, and you won’t be in the zone. In fact, the Journal of Nutrition reports that taste is the single most important reason people choose the foods they do, and that this is also an important factor for regulating “hunger, satiety and voluntary food intake.”

What’s the best way to find your food zone? Get out the cookbooks and check out your local restaurants’ online menus. Go to the supermarket and experiment with frozen dinners and other healthier food choices.

The same goes for physical activity and – you need to love that, too. Pick activities that will sustain you, that will make you want to be more active and that are easily available. Experiment until you find something that makes you tick, and keep in mind that you need to do it on a daily basis. Take out that trial membership being offered by your local gym. Check the online classifieds and consider buying a used bicycle, treadmill or elliptical machine.

Reduce Stress and Sustain Personal Energy: When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone designed to help you either fight or flee. But when the cause is not a lion about to attack but rather a stressful e-mail, the cortisol may trick you into thinking you have done something active in response to a perceived threat and send a signal to your brain to refuel your body. Additionally, according to experts, some of the indirect effects of cortisol overexposure are depression, fatigue, tension and anxiety.

To accomplish your goals, you need to sustain personal energy. While personal energy cannot be quantified, you know what it feels like when you’re drained of it. But when your brain and your body are in sync, they produce tremendous energy. People who are enthusiastic about what they’re doing can work long hours, sometimes with less sleep, and still wake up restored and raring to go. When you’re “in the zone,” “in the flow” or having an “optimal experience,” energy is not even an issue.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and exercises you can do to reduce stress and improve your own personal energy:

1. What are your high and low points of energy during the day? When are you most productive and clear thinking? If possible, can you schedule important events to make full use of that high energy time? Are there activities you can schedule during your lower-energy times that might be less taxing but still productive, and even potentially re-energizing?

2. What aspects of your life frustrate and drain you of energy? Do they tend to be associated with a certain time of day? With one particular person? How do they arise and work themselves out? Do your own actions and reactions to these situations contribute to your frustrations? Is there one small aspect of your own behavior or attitude you could change that might change the whole dynamic?

3. As an experiment, try shifting your attitude about a certain task or job or person from negative to positive for a day, or if you can’t do that, for just a few hours. Emphasize the positive aspects about a person or task you have previously seen as a problem. Decide not to let it get to you. Smile. See if, at the end of the day, you feel less drained than usual.

4. Try positive affirmations, visualization and meditation – these are effective because they calm the mind and body, relieve stress, improve concentration, increase energy and allow you to listen to your intuition and stay true to your personal goals. They cost nothing, and even a short session can be helpful. You need only decide to give yourself a moment alone to do it. Ultimately, these strategies work better than any of the over-the-counter, chemical energy boosters that many people rely on. Stimulants such as coffee, sugar and ginseng, to name just a few, provide you with a spurt of energy, only to send you crashing down a few hours later.

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