Pro Tip: How To Learn It All For Yourself!

George Sheehan, doctor, author, philosopher, and the first 50 year old to run a sub 5 mile!

George Sheehan, doctor, author, philosopher, and the first fifty-year-old to run a sub 5 mile!

“Each of us is an experiment of one – observer and subject – making choices, living with them, recording the effects.”  The wisdom in these words from the late George Sheehan can be applied equally well to diet, relationships, or any other area of one’s life.  And they are particularly apt in describing how to learn the best use and care of one’s body.

The process is simple.  By taking on new postures and self-care routines as considered experiments, anyone can learn firsthand what works best for them in any scenario, at any time – even as the body ages, is injured, or as goals and other circumstances change.  This is entirely different than being told how to sit, stand, move, and exercise.  No one can really know for sure how any particular strategy or approach will work for someone else, much less as that someone-else’s body changes over time.  My fervent wish is that this idea would be taught in physical education to young people everywhere.

A few more tips.  It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of accurate and skillful body-awareness.  Folks who don’t really know much about what their bodies below their brains are doing will undoubtedly experience false-positives and false-negatives.  Also, the process of learning by trial and error can be painfully protracted without knowing where to start; a little guidance by an expert can save a lot of time.  This need not be in the form of personal consultation – YouTube videos and books can be just as helpful for getting an idea of what you want to try first.

All that is needed to get started in any such experiment is a clear idea of what one wants to achieve, what intervention is going to be tried and for how long, where one is beginning from (the experience to be changed), and the ability to track changes.  If all goes well and one experiences changes for the better, they then can decide if they wish to stay the course or experiment with finding the minimum effective dose to maintain or sustain progress.  If the experiment fails, then they can make a new experiment guided by the experience of knowing what doesn’t work – they also will have earned some valuable information to take to an expert, should they decide in the future to consult with one.

Let’s take the example of weight loss.  Actually, this is too vague – not a clear idea of what one wants to do, in most cases.  So let’s say fitting into an article of clothing that hasn’t been a realistic wardrobe option for some time.  And let’s say that the intervention that will be tried is burning a couple hundred more calories per day by using a standing desk at one’s office and watching TV and using the internet at home from a mini stair stepper.  (Both excellent ideas for this sort of goal.) Let’s decide to try a month of this before saying whether or not it works.  Knowing what one’s present size is in such an article of clothing will be our starting point.  Then check every couple of days to notice when/if it begins to feel looser, or when the target article is becoming easier to wear and move about in.

If, at the end of the month, the original clothing size feels lose, or the target article is fitting better, then we can say that the experiment was a success.  We can continue with the intervention to obtain further results; or we can experiment with a little less stair stepping at home, say, or go back to a traditional desk, and see if we maintain progress.  If the experiment failed and no progress in clothing size was realized, then we can choose to add another dimension, such as a dietary change, or weekly bootcamp class.  You get the idea.

Here’s another example: chronic neck and shoulder discomfort, and the desire for it to go away.  For the intervention, let’s try the twice daily practice of an exercise which develops the skill of regulating muscular tension for a month and see what happens.  But first we should take care to note how often and when (in which activities) we experience this discomfort.  If, at the end of the month, there is less or no discomfort in those activities, then we know it worked!

And now, if I may leave you with a sentence that I was told is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Experiment often.”  Happy experimenting :-)

UPDATED 2/4/15