Orville & Willpower - The "Right Brothers"

by Al Coon

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by Al


Joe E. Brown once said that he wanted to lose some weight, and so he gave up heavy eating and heavy drinking, and he found at the end of two weeks he had lost 14 days. 

That is the way it goes with many weight loss attempts.  Weight is lost, and then it is gained back. That means that the only thing really lost is time.  

What I really would like to talk about today is “will power.” Have you ever used the phrase, “I just don’t have enough willpower?” Certainly you have heard others use the phrase. The saddest thing about that phrase is that it is completely untrue, and still people believe it. You have willpower, plenty of if. How many times have you gone to work, faced a boss or coworker that was obnoxious, stupid, and rude and not punched him the nose, or even acted in an uncivilized manner? How many times have you been cutoff on the freeway by some unthinking moron, and not slammed your car into his, as he was begging you to do? How about the last time that clerk at the counter made some rude comment to you, and you did not reach over the counter and rosy up her cheeks for her as she so richly deserved? How did you remain civilized in the face of uncivilized behavior? You used your will power! And it took more will power to control your actions in those circumstances than the vast majority of a weight loss journey will take.  Does that sound crazy? Let me explain. 

Think of willpower as jet fuel. Jet fuel supplies the power for flying aircraft all around the world. No one would suggest that jet fuel is an ineffective source of power for air travel. However, if you try to use it directly, you will fail to achieve safe air travel. If you take the amount of jet fuel, necessary to fly from here to a destination 1,000 miles from here, and you put it into a large tank, crawl up on top of the tank, and then light a match…. BOOM! You just blew yourself up. It was not because you did not have enough power in your tank, but it was because you used it incorrectly, that you failed. 

Using jet fuel correctly takes sophisticated tools. The fuel is used in a jet engine that efficiently converts the fuel into a force, called thrust, that will push an object forward in space. By itself, a jet engine will not be much more effective than the tank of fuel and the match were, but it is one of the mutually dependant tools required for air travel. Next you must have wings. Wings are designed in such a way that when air passes over them, the air traveling over the top of the wing must travel a longer distance than that traveling under the wing. That means, on each square inch of surface area, there will be a smaller number of air molecules on the top of the wing, than there are on its bottom.  Since air pressure, for any given temperature, is a function of the number of molecules present, air pressure under the wing will be greater than the pressure on the top of the wing. Viola! The air pressure pushes the wing upwards. You have “lift.”  The faster the wing moves through air, the more the pressure difference is increased, and the more lift that is created. The engine creates the motion, and now the wing uses that motion to create lift to pull you up into the sky.  

There are many other tools used to make an airplane a useful traveling machine. Flaps increase lift for takeoffs and landings. There are controls for turning and increasing and decreasing elevation in the tail. And most important of all, is the knowledge applied by the pilot. Bring all of these things together, and you have a working aircraft. 

Wilbur and Orville Wright, spent years of effort, and their hard earned money in developing a flying machine that could not only provide lift, but could provide “controlled flight.” They could steer and maneuver their aircraft, which no one had ever done before.  Orville nearly broke his back at Kitty Hawk, but in the end they succeeded! 

You too can succeed. You already have a supply of the fuel you need: your personal stash of willpower. It may not seem all that large a supply, considering what you have to do, but it will be more than enough! Just like with the jet fuel, what makes it powerful enough is your ability to channel that power into the sophisticated tools that make success possible. If you try to lose weight just using willpower, it is like striking a match on top of a tank of fuel. But if you use the tools to make it work, you will fly to your destination without a hitch. 

Some of the tools I am referring to are: journaling; organizing and planning; measuring; counting religiously; assertive behavior; and stress relief techniques. 

Journaling the act of writing down everything that you eat. It is a tool that allows you to be able to ascertain precisely what you have eaten each day.  It will help you know when you have eaten your point limit, and how well you have been doing at staying OP. Of course it only works if you write everything down you eat, and write it down correctly. If you write 2 points, when you actually ate 4, it will look really good in your journal, but the scale will tell you that you were inaccurate in your scribely duties.  If used correctly, this tool can help make your journey a directed, and controlled experience. 

Organization and Planning – When your food choices are made in advance, the very best choices can be selected and the foods can then be purchased and available when needed. Dotti, went through our cupboards and labeled the cans with point values.  She bagged up snacks in plastic bags and labeled them as 1 or 2 point snacks.  She always had her snacks ready when she was in the car, or on a trip. She kept her water bottle with her always. She was ready with something, that had been planned to at least some degree, to counter any situation. As the old adage goes, “When you Fail to Plan, you Plan to Fail.” Dotti has that saying on her refrigerator, and it is a true axiom of life for her. 

Measuring How many points are in those potatoes on your plate? Even if you know the point value for potatoes, it will not be much help unless you know the amount of potatoes on your plate. You can guess of course, but until you gather in a great deal of experience, you will usually guess wrong, and probably will guess low.  The scale of course will tell you later on that you blew it, but that is not the way you want to find things out. It is better to avoid an accident, than to try and repair its damage later.  It is far better to know before you eat it, how many points are in something, rather than letting your body tell you later at the scale. By using a measuring cup, you will know, without any doubt, how much food you are eating. It makes your choices become black and white. You know you are OP or not OP. No question. 

Counting Religiously Every bite counts. Every nibble. Each and every point. Compared with our life before, it was like living in a fairy tale watching Dotti, when she was losing her weight. If a store was offering a free sample, in the form of a small portion of something tasty, Dotti would count it, even if she only had a single bite. Nothing was free, except foods that were declared free by the program. No sneaks, no cheats. Just counting, that only would error in the favor of too high a count, and never too low a count. When she wrote down her count for the day, she knew that the point count she had written down was at least as high as the point count of what she actually had eaten for the day. 

Assertive Behavior The act of letting others know what your feelings are is called assertive behavior. It is something that too many of us do not learn to do. We discredit our feelings and wants, in order to give others what they want instead. A certain amount of that is wonderful. We all respect people who are giving by nature. Dotti is someone like that. She gives a great deal of her time, and extends a tremendous amount of her emotional energy and inner self to others in an effort to make them happy. But at the same time, she has learned that putting forward her wants and expectations is a necessary part of healthy living. In fact she is a tiger in situations where she needs to be. If a store treats her unfairly, she does not meekly take it. She will have the manager of the store standing in front her, and getting his ear bent, if necessary to set things right. By letting others know what you want, and expect, you allow them the opportunity to respect and fulfill those expectations. If you quietly say nothing, the other party may not even dream of what it is that you want. Only by expressing your expectations can you hope to routinely have them fulfilled. Assertive behavior allows you to avoid a great deal of frustration, that could easily lead to overeating. 

Stress Relief Techniques – Stress is at the root of many addictive behaviors. Assertively expressing your concerns and exceptions will actually lower your stress level. Even if your expectations are not met, you will at least know that the other party is aware of them. That makes you feel more in control, and gives you a higher standing in your own eyes. Other things you can do is to exercise when you feel that knot in your stomach, telling you that stress is setting in. Purchase a book on stress relief or attend a stress seminar. Master muscle relaxation and deep breathing techniques to lower your stress level during high stress events. You will be amazed at the magical way that stress will disappear when you do this.

Let’s say that you have a fight with your spouse, you have some issues at work, or a high stress event is coming up soon. How do you handle it? The old way was SYE: So You Eat. Your spouse made you angry, SYE.  Your boss was a jerk, SYE. You got a call from a collection agency, SYE. You have to appear in front of a large group of hostile stock holders at a meeting, SYE. What is the new way? What is the way that will allow you to use your supply of willpower fuel to take to the sky, instead of being blown into pieces? 

You and your spouse have a fight. What do you do?  

The first thing is to seek out a solution to the problem, rather than fixing blame as to who started the argument, or who did what, that caused the spat. If you join together to find a solution together, you have defused the stress, and have joined hands as friends in the process. No matter how big the problem is, with you both working together to face it, it builds a feeling of comradeire and joy that eating could never match. 

Next, make sure that you have assertively stated your feelings and wants. This is someone who cares about you and if he recognizes what your real feelings are, he will probably be anxious to try and validate them. This is a time for softly spoken, and calmly presented information. It is not a time for sarcasm or anger. 

Thirdly, listen to your spouse’s feelings and wants. Make sure you understand what he says, and not what you think he says. After he is done, ask questions if you have any doubt. 

There was a technique that I once learned in a seminar, where they used what was called a “talking stick.” It does not have to be a stick. Any object will do, that is small enough, and light enough to be passed back and forth and held indefinitely without strain. To see who goes first, you can flip a coin, or just be noble and let the other one speak first. (Remember that he who speaks last, often has an advantage in debates, and so you can be unselfish, and selfish at the same time. Serendipity.) The only one who can speak is the one who is holding  the object. The other one must sit quietly while the speaker has his say. Once he is talked out, the object is handed to the other party and the roles are reversed. This process goes on, back and forth, until the topic has been exhausted. You may ask, “What’s the point? Conversations go back and forth all the time anyway.” The answer to that is that using the technique correctly, you cannot interrupt your spouse with anger. Your spouse cannot interrupt you with anger. Instead you are forced to express your ideas clearly without comment from the other party. You must take the time to listen. It drains much of the emotion out of the process.  During the seminar, I watched debates on the most volatile subjects possible, by those of opposing opinions, discussed calmly and logically. I would not have thought it possible until I saw it in action.

Lastly, remember to deal with the stress directly. SYE is not an option. Instead, do some deep breathing and muscle relaxation. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. Minimize the use of caffeine. 

What if your boss is being a jerk or unfair? 

1.        Be assertive and express your concerns. Your boss may just be ignorant. (Sometimes you wonder if that isn’t a part of the job description.) He may not know that what he is doing is bugging you. He may even think that it is just fine with you, or even that you like it just the way it is. That is when it is time to be assertive. Let him know that he is upsetting you and why. It will be a golden opportunity for him to correct his behavior. 

Note: Assertive does NOT mean aggressive! Aggressive behavior is attacking, and personal. It brings up defensive posturing in the object of your aggression. He will not listen, and will be highly motivated to avoid changing his behavior to suit you, if he views your comments as aggressive. 

Aggressive: (Yelling across a roomful of coworkers) Are you too stupid to realize that I taught you how to fill out that form, and you are telling me how to do it? Give me a break! 

Assertive: (Calmly and in private) I wanted to let you know that I find it demeaning to have you pretend to teach me things that you know I already know. I am sure you did not mean any harm, but it does hurt my feelings, and I would very much like you to stop doing that. 

The first will anger your boss, and if he does change the unhappy behavior, you can be sure something else, and probably worse, (perhaps your termination as an employee) will be coming down the road soon. 

The second, places the responsibility squarely upon the boss to change his ways, without challenging his authority or dignity. He is placed in the position of both being educated about a flaw in his behavior, and an open door through which to walk, leading to both correcting  the flaw, and retaining his dignity. 

2.        Look for a new job – Sometimes the devil you know is worse than the one you don’t know. Finding a new job is not the end of the world, and many times your situation can be improved if you are in an unhappy environment. 

3.        Deal with stress directly – SYE is not a solution. As before, take care of stress itself, rather than searching for a destructive “solution” to the problem. 

What if you have a high stress event coming up? 

1.        Identify what contributions you will be expected to make to the event.

2.      Make a list of everything that you need to do, to accomplish all that you will be contributing to the event.

3.        Work aggressively through the list and complete every item on it.

4.        Put the project to bed. You have completed all that you can do, and it is time to focus on something else, that is less stressful. Additionally, it is important to remember that there is a double blessing in completing such a task. First you no longer are carrying the stress of having something undone hanging over your head, and secondly, you feel good about accomplishing something important. 

Remember, you are the pilot! You are the one who will master the tools in order to use your jet fuel to power your successful journey. You will be the one who will journal, organize, measure, count and control stress.  You will channel the fuel of willpower into the tools.  You will then avoid using willpower to explode into failure, and instead use it to power your success! 

The weight loss journey is not a cold or a germ to “get over.” Those who “go on a diet” must believe in the myth that you “get over” an eating problem. Why else would anyone try the crazy diets that are out there? At the very heart of all diets, is the idea, “If only I can get my weight down, I can go back to living my same life, only as a skinny person.”  No thought is given to the fact that whatever you do to get your weight down, is exactly what you must do to keep it down. It is a fool’s errand to eat in any fashion that you cannot be happy with for the rest of your life, in order to lose weight. As soon as you stop a diet, you will gain the weight back. Period. 

In this vein, I recall once when I went to an AA meeting. My father had a drinking problem, and he died in 1973 in an alcohol related incident. His drinking impacted my life in many ways, and I often wondered, how such a wonderful, caring and intelligent man could do that to his family? As part of my research into that question, I attended the before mentioned meeting. I heard many stories while I was there. Some of those people had stared hell itself in the eyes before they bottomed out and got onto the road to being sober. But what I remember most from that meeting was, before it officially began, some of the “regulars” were discussing someone who had not made it to that meeting, or a couple of meetings before. And one of the guys said, “Maybe he got well.” All of the regulars laughed. However, it was not a laugh filled with amusement. Those eyes were deadly serious. They knew: you don’t get well. You get in control, or you lose. 

Dotti, still attends her meetings every week, just like she did when she was losing her weight. She focuses on keeping her tools in top shape, by working on her web page, researching and answering questions from email and the message board, and by continuing to work the program. She is not now, nor will she ever be, finished. However,… 

You are in control, as long as you continue to maintain your tools, and you continue to focus your willpower into those tools. You monitor your position and make sure that you are on course. You get the help and support you need from friends, meetings, and of course, Dotti’s Weight Loss Zone. 

Also, there is such a thing as an autopilot! It is called “habit.“ Over months of doing the right thing, you find that you no longer have to use as much of your willpower as you used to, to stay on program. Without thinking you order food that is within your point allowance. Without thinking you grab your water. In fact, you feel very strange if you do anything that is outside of what is now “normal” for you. It is normal to eat right. It is abnormal to eat outside of your point range. With minimal effort you find your airplane is nearly flying itself on autopilot because you have created the right habits to keep the plane on course. 

As time goes by, you will be using your will power to fly an ever improving craft.  Your skills will continue to get better as you work them. You find in the end that you have plenty of fuel, if you remain alert. You will never again say, “I don’t have enough willpower.”

This article is based on a talk I gave at the First Annual Dotti's Weight Loss Zone Conference - Please check out the 1st Annual Conference Pictures at: Conference Pictures & Happenings

By Al, My Wonderful, Supportive Husband







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