Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
Almost all of our Friday success stories have one thing in common (besides the whole Primal thing): they finally “decide to do something about” their health. Something changes. Their health, their stamina, the health of those around them change for the worse, or maybe a diagnosis is made. Whatever it is, life reaches a tipping point, after which change is a hurtling inevitability, moving almost of its own accord. And as you can see from their stories, success comes rather quickly. It’s a few months, sometimes up to a year, but when you consider the immensity of an entire life of ill health, those months or that year are mere blinks of the eye. After that, there’s really no going back.
Okay, but what does a tipping point look like? What does it feel like?
The thing about reaching a personal tipping point – one that effects true, lasting, meaningful change, rather than some fleeting thing – is that it requires engagement of all your faculties. Ever been hit in the solar plexus, that spot right below your sternum? Back when I was a kid, the solar plexus was the holy grail of targets in an impromptu boxing match with friends. For one, you couldn’t aim for the temple, because everyone knows that a direct hit to the temple will kill you in a single blow, and you couldn’t uppercut the nose, because that would surely drive your nasal bone up into your brain. Hitting the solar plexus, meanwhile, left your opponent stunned and breathless. The impact was so jarring that it became your whole world. That test on Friday, the cute girl who sits next to you in math, the fight itself – all that no longer meant anything at all. You could think of nothing else but the sensation radiating from your sternum through the rest of your body, eventually moving beyond the purely physical and on into the emotional. It was wholly consuming on every level.
That’s exactly what your personal tipping point will have to do: affect you on a physical, intellectual, and emotional level. Otherwise, you’ll just talk about it, read about it, hear about other people who are doing it, without ever really making the change yourself.
The question, then, is can artificially reach the tipping point? Can we speed up the process? Can we bypass all the years of suffering, the failures, the setbacks, the proclamations of dire health from medical professionals? Can we somehow ensure a chance run-in with a former classmate who looks better than they did twenty years ago? I think we can speed up the process, if not completely engineer it. For most of us, simply “deciding” to do something out of the blue isn’t enough. I mean, everyone knows that being healthier, leaner, fitter, stronger, and free of pharmaceutical dependence is better, but is that enough to make change happen? No. Look around. People aren’t changing, by and large, regardless of knowledge. Intellectual acknowledgment of the problem isn’t the problem, so to speak.
If you’re reading this blog, and others like it, and you’re hemming and hesitating while looking for your tipping point, you’re way ahead of the curve. You may not think it, but you are. For one, you’re knowledgeable about health. Once you make the decision to embark on the journey toward health and happiness, you know what to do. You know which plan will get you there quickest and which plan will be the most sustainable (hint: it rhymes with “thymal rooprint”). You can pull up the relevant blog posts, you know which book to purchase (or maybe you already have), you know which foods to avoid and which to favor.
Second, you’ve got an open mind. In this day and age, anyone who entertains the possibility that jogging is a waste of time, saturated fat won’t kill you, and whole grains aren’t the godsend they’re made out to be is willing to entertain some alternative ideas about health and fitness. If you’re reading this blog, and doing so on a regular basis, that’s you – unless you get a perverse thrill out of reading about crazy health and nutrition ideas. And having an open mind means you’re open to change, if something comes along to force it.
Third, you know it’s possible. You’ve read the stories, seen the successes, internalized the information, and (perhaps subconsciously) gathered all the anecdotes to arrive at the conclusion that yes, rapid, lasting change is possible. Unless you think all my comments come from bots and/or paid commenters and that I’m just doctoring all these success stories, of course. If that’s so, I’m not sure what I could do to persuade you otherwise. But for the bulk of you, you know that this stuff works.
You’ve got the resources, the know-how, the open mind, and the anecdotes. It’s a big start, a necessary one, but it’s not everything (obviously). It’s not enough for everyone. Otherwise, you’d already be doing it!
So here are some suggestions on how to mastermind a tipping point:
I’m not usually one to tell folks to rely on the doctor to tell them how unhealthy they are, but this can be a real eye opener. Go in. Get some tests. Get things felt, measured, and weighed. Be the willing subject of stern, disapproving glances directed your way from behind a clipboard. It almost certainly will be unpleasant, and you might find out some bad news (pre-diabetic, bad lipids, high blood pressure?), but that’s the entire point. As you drive home from the doctor with the sinking realization that your health is unequivocally, objectively on the downward swing, you might arrive home a changed person.
Remember when you were younger, svelter, and fitter? Revisit old photos and obtain visual confirmation. Weight gain occurs rather gradually. You don’t wake up with a spare tire. Rather, it slowly inflates over the months and years. Without pictures, literal snapshots in time, we might never notice how much we’ve changed or how much weight we’ve gained. Place the best picture you can find next to your worst current one. If they’re digital, print them out in the largest size you can handle. Gaze at them. Take them in. Allow yourself to be shocked, way down deep. Of course, the way you look isn’t everything, and aging, along with it’s inevitable decline, is natural, but this can nevertheless be an eye-opening exercise.
In order to experience sensations or witness events that might spur change, we have to put ourselves in situations that potentially contain those sensations or events. One reason why some people who get overweight or depressed or stuck in a health rut stay there and never get better is because they live an isolated existence. They don’t leave the house, they go straight home from work, they refuse invitations to go out. It’s not about lack of physical activity; it’s about maintaining a staid life that removes any potential for confounders. And when you’re looking for an event to precipitate massive change in your life, confounding variables are precisely what you need most. If you never leave the house, you’ll never catch that random glance of your own reflection in the store window from a terrible angle. You’ll never run into the former classmate-turned-fitness model who makes you reevaluate your lifestyle. So go out with friends. Go on a long grueling hike and note how far you’ve fallen. Try on clothes. Hit the outdoor gymnasium where all the fit people work out. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations that have the potential to turn your life around.
The reality is that it may be next to impossible to plan and engineer your tipping point. What you can do, though, is put yourself in a position to provoke an emotional response, and be ready for it when it comes (by marshaling resources, accruing knowledge, and keeping an open mind).
What’s reassuring about all this is that the hard part is reaching the tipping point. It’s going to be an unpleasant, visceral, jarring sensation (by definition, it has to be), but that will soon be over. And then change begins. The wild ride ensues, and you just get to guide it and let it happen.
So, readers, what was your personal tipping point? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading the poor beast to dump his saddlebags full of grains and refined sugar and begin taking vitamin D supplements (cause, you know, broken back indicates poor bone mineral density indicates poor vitamin D status)? Also, what led up to that tipping point – is there anything you specifically did to make it happen, or was it just all chance?