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Positive Addiction by William Glasser

Positive Addiction by William Glasser

Finally and most important, to find happiness we need others, but an addict needs only himself. Dependent only upon himself and knowing he can pursue his addiction, he does so with a single-minded devotion that is remarkable to behold. But what if there were addictions that, instead of making you weaker, made you stronger?

Breezed through William Glasser’s Positive Addiction. At around 150 pages (the 1976 edition), it is a quick and thought-provoking overview of Glasser’s conclusion that there are activities that enable a person to achieve a transcendent, trance-like, meditative state where the mind can “spin free.” Positive addictions are activities that fairly predictably take a person to this mental state, are addictive in that missing the activity results in various symptoms of withdrawal (anxiety, depression, etc.), and are positive in that they are a creative, in-control time that endows an individual with strength in the form of both mental capacity and increased neurological horsepower. These strength gains carry over into all other aspects of life.

It sounds mystical in nature, but Glasser believes (and I have no reason to suspect otherwise) that the state of mind reached via positive addictions is natural and maybe even primal — a reversion to animalistic mental processes, perhaps.

What is the PA state? My understanding is that when you reach the PA state, your mind drifts, wandering effortlessly from random thought to observation to idea. This “spun out” or “free spinning” state is creative, relaxed, unforced, and difficult to intentionally maintain.

Though Glasser alludes to other possibly PA activities, running dominated his research which involved sending out a survey request in a running magazine. One response to Glasser’s survey helps describe the mental state:

When I am settled into my run I concentrate on running as much as possible but the mind wanders to thoughts of most anything. The state of mind is one of almost total complacency and privacy. Although you are in sight of people, cars, buses, school kids, dogs, etc., I feel a very privateness when I run. People may yell at me or a kid may bug me for a few hundred yards but due to the nature of running (it is hard and physically demanding) you are pretty much left to yourself and no one can invade your runner’s world because they physically are not able.

The above runner’s description may conjure up imagery of the well-known (Today but not when the book was written) phenomenon of a “runner’s high”. A runner’s high is the effect felt as the body releases endorphins to weaken the physical pain caused by high-impact nature of running. Though Glasser does not address this connection in Positive Addiction, given the numerous alternative means to reach the PA state, I am not convinced endorphins are fundamental — they may merely be an ancillary effect of higher-endurance activities. It seems to me based on personal experience that the meditative state achieved through repetitive, non-critical physical activity is separate from endorphin release.

Transcendental meditation is another way to achieve the PA state though Glasser concludes from his research that TM rarely becomes addictive because it tends to only induce the PA state infrequently.

Aside from regularly running, Glasser alludes to other possible methods that may achieve the PA state. His research into PA discovered subjects that appeared to be positively addicted to gardening, juggling, swinging a bat, bathing, creative but non-critical writing, and knitting. The PA state elicits in me the diminished, wandering awareness reached almost immediately prior to falling asleep; could the PA state be akin to dreaming while still awake? It also reminds me of how I (and many people I know) feel during a morning hot shower.

In Positive Addiction Glasser outlines six steps or requirements of a PA activity. If you’re looking for a potential PA, the steps as pulled from the book are:

  1. It is something noncompetitive that you choose to do and you can devote an hour (approximately) a day to it.
  2. It is possible for you to do it easily and it doesn’t take a great deal of mental effort to do it well.
  3. You can do it alone or rarely with others but it does not depend upon others to do it.
  4. You believe that it has some value (physical, mental, or spiritual) for you.
  5. You believe that if you persist at it you will improve, but this is completely subjective—you need to be the only one who measures that improvement.
  6. The activity must have the quality that you can do it without criticizing yourself. If you can’t accept yourself during this time the activity will not be addicting. This is why it is so important that the activity can be done alone.

Glasser’s default recommendation for those interested in reaching PA is to run. He cautions that getting to the point where you can run for an hour for five to six days a week could take up to six months, and even then, it may still take up to two years to get to the point where running is a positive addiction.

Self-experimentation — as I am more or less convinced of the benefits of positive addiction; however, in order to see if its something real and useful for me, I need to conduct some self-experimentation, introspection, and observation. Since I am not a runner (or jogger), I am interested in finding other means to achieve the PA state. I believe that I have reached the PA state at various times while working out. I have noticed symptoms of withdrawal when I miss workouts. Finally, I’ve noticed that working out with others tends to diminish my enjoyment severely even though weight-lifting often requires a workout partner (and I do suspect weight-lifting can be a positive addiction).

If you wish to follow my experimentation with achieving PA via alternatives to running. Right out the gate I suspect that PA can be reached through kettlebell drills such as the kettlebell swing. Additionally, as I somewhat regularly bike (both mountain and road), I will be experimenting with positive addiction there, as well, though I’m nearly positive I have noticed the PA state while biking.

Further reading — This is the second book by William Glasser that I have read. The first was Control Theory. Glasser’s style of therapy has been termed “Choice Theory” or “Reality Therapy.” I have one other book of his that I plan on reading. I have enjoyed Glasser’s writing style and particularly his inquisitive mind and search for useful, testable and easy to apply methods to improve mental health. Working to improve your mind is something healthy individuals do not do enough. This is despite the obvious conclusion that just like it is healthy to strengthen your body via lifting weights and routine physical activity, it is also healthy to take efforts to strengthen the mind. As it is, positive addiction may increase both physical and mental well-being at the same time.

Below are all William Glasser books that I have read to date:

  • Control Theory — the most comprehensive and useful of Glasser’s books that I have read, this one covers the basics of control theory (also known as choice theory and reality therapy).
  • Positive Addiction — a more niche focus on acheiving meditation and creative reorganization via pursuit of positive addictions.
  • Staying Together — focuses on applying control theory, the ideas of “pictures in your head” and quality worlds, and matching up basic needs (or accounting for differences in these needs) in relationships.
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Back to basics: Fasting and Fasted workouts

Having returned from India and a month-long hiatus from eating healthy and working out, I started brewing on a strategy to “get back at it” and continue working to my ultimate goal, which is achieving never-before-seen (on me) lean-ness and vasculature.

My approach for most of the summer had been working out about five days a week (doing CrossFit) with daily fasting (i.e. 16 hour fasts daily). I tracked a lot of my daily workouts via my workout blog.

Unfortunately, I ran into any number setbacks as I had a couple long periods where I couldn’t manage to eat right or workout (A two week stint out west and a three week stint in India).

That brings me back to today. I’m going “back to basics,” which for me, was eating breakfast/lunch and the fasting until dinner the following day, with a weight-lifting oriented workout an hour or two before breaking my fast. This method worked for me the first time, stripping away a great deal of fat and focusing my diet/weight-training efforts. This time around, the only tweak I’m implementing is that I will do two fasts per week, lifting on days I break the fast, working out on days I eat, and resting on any day I begin a fast. Per usual, my diet will be carb-light, which means no breads, rices, cereals or starchy vegetables while still allowing for most fruits (apples and berries being preferred), some cheats (ice cream), and alcohol.

Goal is to try this for three weeks, track my progress daily and see how I come out on the other end. Stay tuned.

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Weight Lifting: Slow or Fast?

Rusty, founder of Fitness Black Book, tells us that when it comes to lifting weights and building strength, the key is “slow and steady” (See his most recent post, Strength Training Rep). In short, rather than lifting heavy weights in a jerky fashion, which is best exemplified by the near chest bounce on the bench press, you’re better off going through the weight lifting motions in a slow, controlled fashion.

The benefits of slowness in weight lifting include reducing the chance of injury and, according to Rusty, more lasting strength creation. Actually, in reading through the aforelinked post, I’m reminded of Rusty’s post on “Mastering the Weight“, which I particularly found interesting.

Both are good reads with some solid food for thought. For me, the jury is out on this subject and there are all sorts of conflicting opinions. Arthur De Vany seems to be an advocate of more explosive lifting. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to track down the posts where Art advocates as much as it seems Google’s indexing of his site is broken (arthurdevany.com recently underwent a sitewide “upgrade”, and it seems that some posts were lost in the change). Art’s argument, if I recall correctly, is that explosive movements are more in keeping with function — i.e. we don’t sprint in slow motion. On the flipside, dead lifting in real life is hardly explosive.

Isn’t there room for both? Methinks yes.

Back to Rusty’s Strength Training Rep post — he had a great explanation on using irradiation to boost muscular definition and strength. Check it out:

The Skill of Generating Tension in the Muscle

Strength is largely determined by your ability to generate tension in a muscle. The harder you can contract a muscle the better strength you can demonstrate in that muscle. Did you know that you can contract a muscle much harder if you also contract the muscles surrounding it? I learned about this principle called “Irradiation” from Soviet Special Forces Trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline. Here is how he explains it.

  1. Try flexing your bicep as hard as possible without making a fist.
  2. Now try and flex your bicep as hard as possible while making as tight as fist as possible and squeezing.
  3. You should be able to contract your bicep much harder when making a tight fist.
  4. This is called “irradiation”?what is happening is that the nerve impulses of surrounding muscles can amplify the effect of that muscle.

How to Become a Master at Generating Tension

Here is the craziest thing about the principle of Irradiation. You can actually create stronger contractions in a muscle by flexing a bigger chain of surrounding muscles. Take that bicep example above. Try contracting you bicep as hard as possible but this time don’t only squeeze your fist, but contract your pecs and abs as hard as possible as well. Did you notice a difference? After a while you will become a master at irradiation to reach high levels of strength.

Anyway, some food for thought on this fine Friday. I like Rusty’s site and you should check it out. I’ve been particularly interested in his (and Lyle McDonald’s) approach to stubborn fat loss. You can check Rusty’s mini-book on it here (it is free!).

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One month CrossFit update with photos

Quick update on CrossFit progress before I sack out for the night.

Been about a month since switching from my homemade workouts to CrossFit. Since starting, I’ve completed four to five workouts a week. For the past two weeks (approx.), I have been practicing daily eating-window-style fasts1. Over that same two-week time period, I’ve also cut back on alcohol consumption on days I worked out. Even still, there was a glutinous July 4th last weekend, where I managed to scarf down three DQ blizzards over four nights with a monster bowl of ice cream the night in the middle. I slipped up. It happens. It’s okay!

The alcohol-fasting is just an experiment to ensure that I don’t down-regulate testosterone, or increase cortisol, thereby maximizing post-workout gene expression.

If you’re wondering, I consider four to five highly-intense workouts a week to be too much to maintain indefinitely2; however, I’ve been driving myself harder in anticipation of achieving the desired results faster.

Some five months since embarking on this lifestyle-shift, I’m happy to say that the combo has been a resounding success so far and I believe will prove out to be a success indefinitely. My goal is to publish my before shot from February and an after shot in August (Just a guesstimate. The goal is satisfaction with with my leaning out, which is equivalent to achieving some optimal vasculature and probably means reaching around 7% body fat).

Until then, I’ve decided to publish some interim before and after voyeurism. I submit the following self-taken camera phone pictures, taken four weeks apart on June 12 and July 9, 2008, from left to right.

Believe it or not, I’m flexing my midsection in both photos. What’s making up the change? A bit more muscle combined with a bit less adiposity. I’m 27, 5’10.5″ and around 168 in both photos. I’m happy to say that I’m currently more lean and defined than I’ve been since I was less than ten years old. Prior to a few months ago, I had given up on leaning out. Just didn’t think it was in my genes.

I was most happily wrong.

Regarding CrossFit, I did the “Nasty Girls” workout today, subbing out pull-ups and dips at a ratio of 3:1 for the normally prescribed seven muscle ups. This made for three rounds of:

  • 50 air squats
  • 21 pull-ups
  • 21 dips, and
  • 10 hanging powercleans @ 95 lbs

I managed to complete it in 19:56, which is incredibly slow relative to CrossFit vets; however, I was happy with my time — likely because I thought I was about to die at the end, and I managed to rock out all 63 pull-ups and dips.

I could not have accomplished this without practicing insulin control. That is, without a doubt, the secret ingredient to maximizing my health.

Footnotes

1 Whereby I compress my eating window to about eight hours — usually noon or 1 pm to 9 pm though its just a target. My workouts tend to fall in the middle. This is (intended to be) similar to the Lean Gains Intermittent Fasting approach (Martin Berkhan).

2 No reason to put your body through that much chronic stress.