The Creative Approach to Weight Loss

Print This Post Print This Post February 26, 2008 on 7:30 pm | In Creativity, Physical | Comments Off on The Creative Approach to Weight Loss

The creative process has a structure that is radically different from the structure of problem solving.  As we saw in my previous post the orientation and focus of problem solving is a movement away from an undesirable state or circumstances.  The focus is on the problem itself, with the motivation for action based on the magnitude of the problem – with the intent of eliminating the unwanted situation.  This structure tends to lead to oscillation between the undesired state and the absence of that state, but never reaches resolution.  The orientation and focus of the creative is a movement towards bringing into being a desired state or circumstances.  The focus is on the creation, with the motivation for action being the discrepancy (or tension) between the current state or circumstances and the desired state that you are trying to bring into being.

Because creating is not primarily based on reacting or responding to circumstances is has a structure that resolves rather than oscillates.  Creating is the process of bringing something into being that did not previously exist, with current circumstances being just one of the forces you use in the creative process.  Indeed, those current circumstances are very useful in creating the structural tensions needed to ensure that the creative process successfully resolves.  Because the focus of creating is the thing being manifested – the creation – creating is an outwardly focused, generative activity.  The point of creating is to bring something new into the world.  In the problem solving orientation external circumstances tend to control the situation, as it is the problem that defines the issues to be addressed.  In the creative orientation you control the situation, as the focus is on what it is that you want to bring into being.  The fundamental assumption in the creative approach is that you are the predominant creative force in your life, and that as such you chose what it is the you want to bring into being.

In the context of the discussion we have been having about weight loss, the creative approach means that the orientation and focus of your efforts are designed to bring into existent something new, something that did not exist previously.  There is a tendency amongst those not familiar with the creative process to confuse this concept with creativity as it is used in popular culture – which in the popular context is used to designate an approach that is unusual or idiosyncratic.  That is not at all what I am referring to: by creative I simply mean to designate activity that is focused on bringing into being a novel, desired state of affairs.  Hopefully a concrete example will illustrate this orientation, and I will use my own approach to the area of weight loss as an instance of creating applied to the goal of achieving a desirable weight.

The first thing that will stand out in my personal orientation toward weight loss is that the desired outcome is not to lose weight.  Losing weight is a moving away from an undesired state, and my orientation is towards a desired state.  Indeed, one of the fundamental tenants of a truly creative orientation is that you must make a primary decision to bring into being that which is desired – that is, you must love the creation enough to be willing to commit to bringing it into existence.  Love, in the sense it is being used here, refers to a generative tendency that seeks to affirm the existence of something that does not yet exist.  This tendency is fundamental to the creative orientation.

So what is the focus of my orientation as it pertains to weight loss at the moment?  Very simple: Bruce Lee.  To make this even clearer, here is a graphic that depicts the desired state of affairs that I am focused on bringing into existence:

Bruce Lee

Those of you that are familiar with Bruce Lee will recognize this as a photograph of him from Enter the Dragon, when he was arguably at his physical peak.  In terms of musculature, strength, agility, flexibility, energy, stamina, elegance, poise, and vibrancy – not to mention martial arts ability – his physique and movements were truly an experience to behold!  So that, in a nutshell, is what I have chosen to bring into being in my own physical manifestation.  That is the state of affairs that I desire to embody and create.

Now there are several key points I want to make about the nature of this choice on my part.  To begin with, let me emphasize that this is not a SMART goal by any stretch of the imagination.  If we go through the SMART criteria in order:

  • Specific:  Although I have a fairly clear idea of what my goal is, and the graphic above connects me to that goal in a very visceral way, there are some aspects that are not precisely defined.  For example, I recognize that my muscular and skeletal structure are quite different from Bruce Lee’s.  To begin with my frame size at 6 feet tall is considerably different from Mr. Lee’s, and in addition my upper body musculature – even if becomes more fully developed – has quite different geometrical properties and asymmetries than Mr. Lee’s.  More importantly, I want to be clear that my goal – my focus or desired outcome – is not to look precisely like Bruce Lee, even in the limited sense of my musculature, flexibility, and body structure.  Rather, that picture of Bruce Lee, or better yet some of the film sequences of his physique and movement in Enter the Dragon, capture the look and feel that I am trying to create for my own physical expression.  I do not want to simply copy Bruce Lee – to become a clone of his physique: rather, he exemplifies the look and feel of what I want to create in my own physical manifestation.
  • Measurable: Although at some point I may refer to Bruce Lee’s measurements as a reference for assessing my progress towards my goal, at this stage I have not even defined my outcome in measurable terms other than to specify I want to look and be able to move more like Bruce Lee.  At this stage in my pursuit, that description is precise enough – I do not need measurements to confirm whether I am proceeding in the right direction.  I will be able to see and feel if I am on the right path to my goal.
  • Achievable: At this stage I have no guarantee that my goal is achievable.  Bruce Lee died at the age of 32, precisely when he was at his prime physically (and creatively).  I am 50 years old, and am not aware of any examples of 50 year old men with the physique, flexibility, power, and grace that Bruce Lee exhibited in his prime.  I certainly believe I can satisfactorily move towards this goal or else I would not have committed myself to it, but whether it is achievable remains to be seen and thus open to debate.
  • Realistic:  Given the facts above, many would argue my goal is decidedly unrealistic.  Indeed, my wife has told me on several occasions that it will be impossible for me to lose my love handles, much less develop a Bruce Lee physique at my age!
  • Timely: I have not set a deadline for achieving this goal, for the very good reason that I have no idea how long it will (or “should”) take to achieve this goal if I can, in fact, achieve it

Given all of the above, the natural question to ask is why don’t I modify what I want to create to something more realistic, something more achievable, something more certain?  For a very fundamental reason: because I would not love the downward revised goal enough to pursue it.  I would really love to be able to move like Bruce Lee – the power and decisiveness of his movements, the grace, the feline poise and agility, the fluid and yet dynamic explosion of sheer physical presence.  That is what inspires me enough to exercise more, eat more consciously and healthily, to stretch and develop my flexibility.  And a lesser goal?  Well, it would just be a cheap substitute – an impostor for my affection – but not something that I could love enough to want to bring into being.

I believe that is enough for this post – I hope it captures something of the truly fundamental difference between the creative orientation and the problem solving orientation.  The key point to take away is that creating is about bringing something that you deeply love into existence – manifesting something new that you truly desire.   Creating is a generative movement towards the desired state of affairs, and an affirmation of the object of creation.  In the next post I want to examine another aspect of the creative orientation, and that is how the creative approach makes use of external circumstances.  The focus of that post, now that we have introduced love, will be on truth!

The Problem Solving Approach to Weight Loss

Print This Post Print This Post February 21, 2008 on 7:15 pm | In Creativity, Physical | Comments Off on The Problem Solving Approach to Weight Loss

Following on from yesterday’s post that contrasted the orientation and focus of problem solving and creating, in this post I want to examine the structural aspects of problem solving (and specifically how these aspects relate to weight loss) in more detail.  First I need to discuss the concept of structure, which is probably best defined and illustrated in Robert Fritz’s book The Path of Least Resistance.  This book is nothing short of a masterpiece, and draws an amazing array of conclusions from three relatively simple insights.  However, it does take some focus to grasp the essence and implications of these insights, so please bear with me as I try to explain them! 

The three key insights are:

  • Energy tends to move through a structure along the path of least resistance
  • The path of least resistance is determined by the underlying structure
  • The underlying structure can be modified in order to redirect the flow of energy

A simple example of these principles in the natural world is a river.  In this system water flows where it is easiest to flow (the path of least resistance) – which in the case of a river is along the maximum downhill gradient from the source of the river.  The trajectory and shape of that path is determined by the underlying structure – in other words the topography of the land over which the river is flowing.  If we wish to change the course of a river we need to change the underlying structure – for example by building a dam or constructing an artificial channel – such that the path of least resistance (i.e., the maximum downhill gradient) leads in the direction we wish to direct the water.  Simple enough, right?  So what does this have to do with problem solving, much less weight loss?  Stay with me: I promise the ride will be worth the price of the ticket!

Robert Fritz’s insight was this: You are like a river.  You go through life taking the path of least resistance, and the underlying structure of your life determines that path.  Most people are unaware of the underlying structures that operate in their lives, but regardless of whether or not you are aware of these structures they powerfully and naturally influence the way you live.  If you have tried to make changes in your life but have been frustrated in your attempts – only to find yourself back in the same old familiar situation – a likely cause is the underlying structure of your life.

Rather than defining what we mean by structure, let’s dive right in and examine the structure that is the subject of this article – problem solving.  Indeed, the remainder of this article will examine problem solving as an example of an oscillating structure – a structure that produces movement in the form a forward and backward motion. 

The path of least resistance in problem solving is:

  • The problem leads to action to solve the problem
  • Which leads to the problem decreasing in intensity
  • Which leads to less action to solve the problem
  • Which leads to the problem remaining

Because the motivating force in the problem solving structure is the problem itself, as you take actions to eliminate the problem the motivation to continue taking those actions reduces in proportion to how effective the original actions are.  The greater the success actions have in reducing the problem, the less the likelihood that you will continue those actions – because what was once a big problem is now a little problem.  Of course, over time that little problem tends to creep back to its original state and once again become a big problem – which motivates stronger and more effective actions, which starts the whole cycle over again.  Worse yet, in many problem solving structures there is an inherent structural conflict that virtually guarantees that the problem cannot be resolved within the context of that structure!

To illustrate this graphically for the example of weight loss, consider the basic structure of a diet regime that involves calorie restriction.  This structure is a classic example of structural conflict, where two simple tension-resolution systems compete against one another:

  1. When you are hungry (tension) the natural tendency (i.e., path of least resistance) is to eat (resolution)
  2. When you become sufficiently overweight (tension), you may decide to go on a diet to bring yourself to a desirable weight.  Once you have made that choice, the tendency is for you to take action to reduce the discrepancy between your current weight and your desired weight – namely, refrain from eating (resolution).

Now clearly you cannot simultaneously resolve both of the tensions present in this structure, as it is impossible to eat and not eat at the same time!  When you try to resolve these tensions sequentially, the following pattern emerges:

  • If you don’t eat, you grow more and more hungry, which increases the tension in the hunger-eat system.  The path of least resistance in this system is then to eat.
  • If you do eat, you grow more and more overweight, which increases the tension in the overweight-refrain from eating system.  The path of least resistance in this system is then to not eat.

Graphically, this system results in the following pattern:

Hungry (tension) ——> Eat (resolution) ——> Overweight (tension) ——> Do not eat (resolution) ——> Hungry (tension ) . . .

If you have ever wondered why lifetime dieters tend to see their weight yo-yo between their desired weight and their undesired weight, wonder no longer: this is simply an expression of the underlying structure of their approach to weight loss.  This is referred to as an oscillating pattern because it does just that – oscillates back and forth between two states without ever reaching its intended destination.  This structural conflict, coupled with the inherent tendency of the problem solving approach to “run out of fuel” as the problem diminishes, virtually guarantees an inability to create lasting change.  Note that this in not a matter of of insufficient will-power on the part of the person caught in this type of structure – anyone operating in this type of structure will tend to oscillate back and forth without reaching their intended destination.

But all is not doom and gloom – for Robert’s third insight was this: you can change the fundamental underlying structures in your life.  Just as civil engineers can redirect the course of a river by modifying the terrain, you can change the fundamental structures in your life.  Moreover, when you change the underlying structures of your life you direct energy towards the destination you have chosen and the path of least resistance is to reach that destination.  In other words, once the underlying structure changes you naturally tend to move towards and reach your intended destination – you are no longer struggling within a structure that resists permanent change.

In my next post I will examine a structure that does resolve towards lasting change: namely, the structure of creating.  And for that post I will use the specific example of how I am currently using the creative approach to weight management in my own life.  Until then, shine brightly!

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