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The Ownership Principle -
Still Working 12 Years Later
Develop your own diet and exercise program, one that youíre comfortable with Ė own it Ė and youíll stick with it. Thatís what Susan Olson, Director of Psychological Services at the Southwest Geriatric Nutrition Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Robert Colvin of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, found when they studied 54 adults who had lost at least 20 percent of their body weight and had maintained the weight loss for a minimum of two years. They found plenty of variations in why and how these people succeeded. But there was one common denominator: These people each found their own method for shedding pounds and keeping them off, a method with which they were comfortable. They didnít rely on someone elseís program. They developed their own.
In the final chapter of Lean for Life, I used the example of a 50-year-old Swedish health-and-fitness enthusiast to illustrate the ownership principle. Over a period of about 20 years, through trial and error, my Swedish friend had cobbled together a diet and exercise program that worked for him. He took bits and pieces from various sources (Joe Wieder, Swedish fitness adviser Arne Tammer, me and many other people), not adopting anyoneís advice entirely. He took what made sense to him Ė and left the rest Ė and combined it to form his own unique system. Like the people studied by Olson and Colvin, he developed his own personal program and that, no doubt, is why it worked so well Ė for him. He underwent a psychological process of "ownership." Itís a process which Olson and Colvin say often spells the difference between success and failure for those trying to become lean and fit, and stay that way.
That may sound too simple, but Dr. Olson says that many dieters find it much more comfortable to rely on "external" controls such as weight-loss programs that dictate what to eat and how to act. That mind set, she says, allows the potential weight loser to feel that itís not really "up to him," that "cheating" reflects upon someone other than himself, that the control, the rules, the entire process are all out of his or her hands. Besides being untrue, such thoughts undermine a personís confidence in the suggested solution. That usually means, according to Dr. Olson, that the person soon goes back to his or her old fattening and unhealthy ways.
"Itís a matter of what people are really willing and not willing to do," Dr. Olson explained. As I detailed in Lean for Life, my Swedish friend was not willing to lift weights, but calisthenics, jogging around a school yard for 15 minutes twice a week in the clothes he has on -- "even itís boots and a rain coat" -- and a fat-free diet suited him just fine. Thatís why the routine worked for him. He made the rules, and he alone was responsible for the results. It was his program. He owned it. (The full text of The Ownership Principle chapter from Lean for Life is excerpted on our home page.)
Twelve Years Later
Itís now 12 years later, and the ownership principle is still working for my friend. Heís still making his own rules Ė and thriving. I know, because I sent him a copy of my new book, Challenge Yourself, and several months later our mail man delivered two huge 10 by 13 envelopes stuffed with materials from my friend. He had sent me what amounted to his latest book; one envelope contained details on his current diet and the other on his exercise regimen.
Clearly, heís still reading and learning, searching for ways to stay strong and healthy as he ages. He reminded me that his father had a heart attack and died at age 53 years. "Iím 61 and a half, call it 62, so I have now lived a number of years more than [my father], and I do not know how many more years I have to live," he wrote. His diet, especially the new additions, show that heís more determined than ever to maximize the extra years as much as he can. In addition to adding to the years by which he has out lived his father, he says it doesnít take much to keep him motivated. "All I need is to see a fat person with his stomach hanging down and I do my best not to look like that in the future," he wrote.
Heís still eating a low-fat, near-vegetarian diet "with plenty of fruits and vegetables. " He never eats meat or fatty food and doesnít drink milk; he recently read an article by a medical doctor stating that nonfat milk is as bad as whole milk (I donít agree, but it obviously made sense to him). He only drinks water; drinking plenty of water, he says, helps old people retain their sense of smell and taste and, therefore, their appetite. He still eats fish on a regular basis. I donít know if heís aware of the latest research findings that people who eat fish have fewer strokes; he didnít say. He reads widely, however; in this latest mailing, he mentions studies from Japan, Denmark, Australia and Canada. The new additions to his diet include ginkgo biloba "to improve blood circulation" to the brain ("I sometimes get dizzy for a second, no more," he says); glucosamine "for the bodyís joints;" aspirin to prevent "small blood clots that temporarily cut off the blood flow to a small part of the brain;" tea ("I have read that drinking some tea daily reduces the risk of stroke"); and chili ("A report from Japan, states that chili is good for healing a bleeding ulcer").
The important thing, of course, is not whether what he says about diet is true, but that it makes sense to him, that he believes it. Remember, this is his program. He developed it. He has confidence in it. It works for him. And that keeps him motivated.
He has also made some changes in his exercise regimen. As explained in Lean for Life, he works from midnight until around seven in the morning, seven nights a week. His work includes walking up and down stairs for about four hours each night. He apparently doesnít think this provides enough aerobics exercise because, as mentioned above, he frequently jogged around a school yard after finishing work; as I said, he did this rain or shine, even if he had on boots and a rain coat. That hasnít changed, but he has reduced his jogging time from 15 to 5 minutes. He didnít explain why he reduced the time, but I gather itís because of his age; he says his work is tough for a "past 60 year old."
Heís still not a bodybuilder. "My training is vastly different from yours," he assured me in his latest mailing. But he now does some light weight training for about five minutes every day. I believe thatís a change, because he was not willing to lift weights before. Readers of Lean for Life will remember that he had concluded years ago "that the human body is not built to lift weights for sets and repetitions as is done when bodybuilding." Now, however, he tells me he can do repetition presses with his 20-kilo Eleiko international bar; thatís 44 pounds and not bad for someone who weighs only 56 kilos or 123 pounds. He continues to do some calisthenics and other simple movements as well; he specifically mentioned rotating his legs in large circles "to keep the hip joints healthy," as well as some other twisting and turning exercises for the joints.
My Swedish friend now does some light weight training. This photo shows him doing pulldowns in his home gym. He looks like he just got off work, because heís dressed for the cold weather in Sweden. He has been delivering newspapers to subscribers each night for about 35 years. He carries the papers in bags on his bike and walks up stairs to each subscriberís mailbox; he now services about 300 households. Youíd think heíd want to rest after doing that all night, but apparently he still has energy to train.
The thing that I found most interesting was his use of an abdominal training device called the "AB-Flex," not because of the exercise itself, but becomes it sets him apart from most other people his age. Hereís the story in his own words: "The Ab-Flex was picked up in the garbage container by one of my neighbors; he knows that I train, so he gave it to me. The owners of such equipment that throw it away do not know its value in helping them stay healthy. I use it a few minutes daily, doing different exercises. As I see it, itís more important to train when you are getting older and by doing so, as far as possible, keeping healthy."
That says it all. He believes strongly that regular exercise will help him stay young longer. Referring to my comment that the gap widens each year between people who train and those that donít, he says: "Yes, I believe there is a great deal of truth in that." Amen! On that point, we are in complete agreement.
My friend in his kitchen using the Ab-Flex device that a neighbor retrieved from the garbage. Note the leanness heís achieved from the years of watching his diet and training. He has the physique of a marathon runner or long distance cyclists. Come to think of it, thatís a big part of what he is. Taking care of himself, of course, is what has allowed him to keep riding his bike and climbing stairs for 35 years.
Take it from my wonderful Swedish friend, if you want to stay motivated for a lifetime, develop your own health and fitness program. Own it.
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