P90X: The Psychology of Change

Happy New Year! Now let's get to fucking work.

I have created a new DAILY blog for the P90X thing and below is the address. It does not require you to join and you can comment freely and easily or just be an onlooker.

So far there are a few followers and only a handful of comments. But I decided that I do not want to hijack BHGP for a fitness program discussion and so other than a couple additional posts over here at BHGP at the one, two and three month mark, all posts will be on the blog site listed above.


"The paradox of change is that change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not." -- Arnold Beisser (Gestalt psychologist)

Czech born psychologist Max Wertheimer, largely as a reaction to the overly structured psychological analysis of his time, laid the groundwork for an understanding of the interplay between mind and behavior that is now known as Gestalt Psychology. In a nutshell Wertheimer started a "school" of thought that argued that when it comes to the mind/body of a human being the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sounds simple enough but it was a radical notion then and it is still a notion that is largely hard to absorb.

On January 9th some of us are going to embark upon a life(style) change that, at minimum, will be the redirecting of one hour each day of our lives but in truth will be significantly more than that.

It would be naïve to believe that we will just wake up that morning and engage this new life(style) while everything else in our lives remains unimpressed by the new activity. It is much more likely that those of us who are about to start a new fitness program on January 9th are about to undergo a seismic shift in our lives.

How do we cope? How do we see this thing through? This is where Wertheimer and Gestalt Psychology can help us.

Gestalt psychology originated as a form of therapy to help people make psychological change. Most therapy at the time was about deconstructing the life of the patient and holding each piece up the light to see what was wrong with it. Fix the broken piece and the patient was cured and on his or her way. But Gestalt therapy went in an almost opposite direction, look at and concentrate on the whole and the pieces will fall into place.

Change was then, and is now, a fucking scary thing. Oh yes, there are times in our lives when change is highly welcomed and very much desired. And it would seem our motivation is so incredibly high in those moments that to NOT make change would seem harder than to continue the status quo. But that is a mirage. Even then change is a difficult task for the mind. Research has been conducted for years to try to study the development of new habits. It is still in its infancy but early evidence suggests that it takes, at minimum, three months of daily commitment before it becomes a habit. Many researchers think it takes much longer than that even, more like 35-40 weeks of daily commitment. Again, research on this is not complete.

At its most basic, change threatens important structures we have created in our lives, structures that allow us to handle the chaotic and unpredictable world of daily life. Social anthropologists study and identify societal structures and one in particular, Victor Turner, found that social humans need both structure and anti-structure. The structure serving as the bedrock that allows us to handle the anti-structure. But on a more individualized level that mix of structure and anti-structure is highly idiosyncratic. Research also suggests that the older a human being becomes the less tolerance they have for change. It's a logical thing but, as an older person, it's a crappy one too. Think about it, a 3-year old child spends most of his time learning NEW things, language being the most predominate. A 3-year old therefore lives in an ever-changing world and by necessity must have great tolerance for that shit, and they do. Add to this that their bodies are changing (growing) and their minds are developing and they are genetically designed to have a remarkably high tolerance for change. But once all that settles as they get older, the mind and body take on new tasks---that of becoming expert. During this phase we see the emergence of filters that block out chaos in our lives and we begin to engage in greater repetition---for it is repetition or the act of doing a thing over and over again (a task for example) that allows us to become expert, highly skilled. We filter out new things so we may focus on a few things. But getting back to Gestalt psychology, it is a psychology filled with smart ideas that are particularly useful for those who wish to make change.

Here is what I mean.

When we introduce change in our lives it is like starting a street fight between who we think we "should be" versus what we think we "are," and in most cases the issue that arises out of this brawl is that we never fully identify with either.

In Gestalt the individual is shown how to invest him or herself fully in their roles, one at a time. In Gestalt the person is asked simply that they become fully what they are at any given moment. So, again, it sounds simple. But it's not. That is why people sought out Gestalt therapy, to help them make psychological change.

The point of adopting P90X or any prepackaged daily workout program, as our program of choice, is not because it is THE one program that works or that it is the BEST program out there for us. There are likely many programs that if followed faithfully will work like a charm to get us fitter and flatter. I chose P90X because it is popular (some measure of success must be in place for it to be popular), requires very little special equipment (so far, only a pull-up bar for me), and is reasonably priced (it's cost amortized daily is roughly equivalent to that of a Starbucks coffee). Again, other programs fit that bill too but I had to make a choice and I did.

See, the real purpose of selecting a program like P90X is that it's simply organized (you don't have to be an exercise scientist to follow it), highly structured (it is broken down into very small connectible pieces) and manageable (it takes about an hour a day). Given that I am about to introduce a serious life(style) change into my currently structured life, it would make a ton of sense for that NEW thing to be easy to adopt and not be so drastic that it creates complete upheaval in my life. If it is too complex and frenzied then I am introducing variables that will hazardously challenge the change I am seeking. That is not to say that I am psychologically incapable of managing any manipulation to the P90X program so that it fits ME and my idiosyncratic ways (by this I mean, making alterations to the program that are not explicitly suggested). In fact, I am going to bet that most of you will do that. You'll either skip a day or not do the yoga or skip an exercise here or there because you have to go to work and on and on. I, however, am going to do everything in my power to DO THE PROGRAM as presented. Believe it or not, that makes the change for me...easier.

How? Because if you funk with the program you run the risk of undermining yourself. That is what the Beisser quote above is all about. By messing with the program you are introducing variable to the change process and that makes it even MORE complicated and possibly even more chaotic. The more complicated and chaotic the more likely you are to fail in your change effort. It is an example of you trying to have your cake and eat it too, it is you having a street brawl about who you want to become and who you are.

But, again, some of you have a high tolerance for chaos and change and just might do well making alterations to the program. But I know me, and in this area of my life, I have the rationalization skills of a serial killer. I will be following the program. It's 90 days out of my life, 100 if you include the time I have already dedicated to preparing for the program, and it is the commitment I am willing to make.

So for me this is a journey into the subconscious. A journey into that elusive area of the cranial vault where change meets remain. I look forward to it and I hope those of you joining in do to.  See you at the new blog!

Unless otherwise expressly indicated by BHGP editors, this FanPost is strictly the viewpoint of the author and is not endorsed by BHGP in any way.

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