Friday, July 31, 2009

Choice = Life Enhancing Control

Out and about the other night, doing some fun life enhancing adventuring, I got chatting with a beautiful lady named Phoebe, who stimulated the thoughts and ideas behind this blog entry.

Phoebe is studying to be a Pilates Instructor and combining this with skills and concepts from NLP, which together are a wonderfully integrative and powerful approach to building patterns of wellness, strength, fitness and flexibility into life.

Exercise and Fitness are Life Enhancing

The first distinction that came from my delightful conversing with Phoebe is the insight that the fitter, stronger and more flexible you are, the more resilience and stamina you'll be able to bring to everything you do in life. It's a truly important life strategy! You need to build core strength aligned with flexibility into your body, mind and life. And of course, practices such as Pilates, Dance, Martial Arts, Yoga and other exercise forms are a fun way to do that. By choosing something that is fun and integrative you are more likely to continue exercising as a life practice and an ongoing life journey.

Research on exercise benefits to mind and life

Over 62% of deaths in the western world are caused by heart disease, cancer and stroke. These are known as ‘lifestyle’ diseases. They are largely caused by people’s choices and behaviour. For example, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in the year 2000, over half a million people died due to the effects of tobacco and alcohol, while another third of a million individuals died from poor diet and physical inactivity. What we see from this is that the leading causes of death and disability in the developed world are SLOW suicide. People are literally killing themselves through bad habits and negative behaviours.

Poor diet, lack of exercise and common addictions destroy your health, your well-being and ultimately your happiness. This is serious and definitely NOT life enhancing!

On the other hand, new research shows that exercise beneficially affects your genes, helps reverse the aging process at a cellular level, gives you more energy, makes you smarter, and can even help you grow new brain cells.

Once you are strong and fit you’ll find that exercise feels fantastic and leaves you feeling energetic and alive. Research has also proven that aerobic exercise can relieve symptoms of mild depression and can be as effective as psychotherapy. Exercise improves memory and increases cognitive function.

For your long-term health and happiness you need to enjoy a balanced mix of different exercise forms. Flexibility and stretching exercises are important to maintain suppleness. Weight-bearing exercise is necessary to maintain bone and muscle density. Aerobic exercise will keep your cardio-vascular system toned and healthy.

I really can’t highlight how important exercise is. It’s vital for your health and happiness.

The Cybernetic Loop

The importance and usefulness of exercise and flexibility is also backed up by the NLP Cybernetic Loop model.

The NLP Cybernetic Loop model encapsulates the understanding that the mind and body are connected in a control loop; that the mind/brain and body interact and affect each other, they are not distinct and separate; that what affects one, affects the other. The Cybernetic Loop is summarised in the diagram below.

What this model shows is that your thinking (your Internal Processing – thoughts, images, ideas) is connected to and both influences and is influenced by your feelings (your Internal State – your emotions). Your feelings in turn are connected to and both influence and are influenced by your physiology (your External Behaviour – your body, breathing, physical state), which in turn is influenced by and influences your thinking, in a loop.

The process of control runs both ways, each of the three components influencing the other.

So for example, whenever you think of something sad or picture something that makes you unhappy or depressed, you will begin to feel the emotions and feelings of sadness and depression, this in turn will cause you to hunch over, to breathe slower and lower in your chest, to tense your muscles. These changes in your physiology will lead to even more negative thinking and feeling which will amplify the negative physiological state and you will spiral into a more and more negative experience or attitude. You can see this in people who are severely depressed, they carry their depression in their stance and posture, they rarely look up, are unlikely to smile or breathe fully and deeply. They will be slow and lethargic, lacking energy and zest.

Alternately, this loop can function in a positive direction as a success spiral. If something positive happens to you, or you access a memory of a positive time or experience in your life, you will start to feel positive feelings and emotions. Your posture will change to being more upright, open, relaxed. Your muscles will relax. Breathing will be much more full and easy, bringing more oxygen to your brain and body. This in turn will support even more positive thoughts and feelings and the spiral will continue, generating positive changes in your mind and body.

The import of this model to exercise is that to feel good and think well, you need a body and physiology that supports this. You need a healthy body to have a healthy mind. Your health and wellness are vital to living an enhanced life.

Thinking Tool – The Body-Mind Health Spiral

Your mind and body are connected in a loop – thoughts, feelings, beliefs and health influence each other!

Law of Requisite Variety

It's obvious that it is life diminishing to impoverish your world through limited choice and flexibility. Freedom and choice are important values and you want to hold on to them with all your heart.

There is an old Estonian proverb, full of wisdom that says “never leave yourself with only one pair of shoes” because if they get too tight and start to hurt your life can end a painful misery. This maxim or learning tool refers to the idea that if you give away choice and only allow yourself one option in life, and if that option becomes problematic, you’ll end up with a life of unhappiness and misery.

There is a provable mathematical theorem from Cybernetics Systems Theory that supports this. Known as the ‘Law of Requisite Variety’ it suggests that in any system the element that has the most choice, flexibility or requisite variety will be the controlling element. Read that again... "the element that has the most choice, flexibility or requisite variety will be the controlling element".

The corollary to this is that to gain more control in any system, you need to give yourself more choice or flexibility. A simple way to remember this law is:

Choice & Flexibility = Control

Always give yourself more choice and flexibility and never give away your control. As often as possible in life always give yourself more choice (within reason) rather than less, it's life enhancing.

So that's this week's exploration of ideas and strategies for Life Enhancing, bought to you by a stimulating conversation with a very fit, flexible and astute lady. Thank you Phoebe for your input into my blog.

flexible and health filled smiles,

And for those interested, here's a pivotal book about Cybernetics applied to life success, referenced by the developers of NLP and well worth reading:

and here's a highly recommended book on Pilates:


  1. Exercise can work despite a mind determined to stay in the blues. Feelng depressed the other day I went to pick the boys up from school. Whilst waiting i got involved in a game of "tiggy", and was run ragged by a group of 8 year olds determined to get me. Fifteen minutes later I realised I was feeling happy. Its great when something simple can be so effective.

  2. I absolutely concur with you regarding exercise and well being. Recently in my life I started dancing which is one of the most fantastic, enjoyable activities I have ever done. Time stands “still”, there is the absorbing and appreciation of beautiful music and the pleasure of sharing this with a partner. All this with lots of movement, exercise and fun! Very much life enhancing….

  3. A comment on the (increased) importance of fitness/health/flexibility when you are less young in life… these qualities, which can be readily taken for granted when younger, become even more precious as the years unfold..


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