The Couch to the Summit Philosophy – My Ten Elements of Health
Health professionals and scientists universally agree exercise is necessary for physical and psychological well-being. Defying exercise is like trying to defy the laws of nature and it appears life doesn’t seem to go optimally for any lifeform defying nature’s laws. In the end, nature finds a way to restore order and balance. Lifeforms are variables in the complex equation of life, but nature remains as an unchangeable constant. We cannot change the constant, but we can change ourselves.
While the weak animals in the animal world face the threat of apex predators, human beings face the predator of disease. Heart disease, stroke, cancer and psychological disorders are the apex predators to human life. We aren’t winning the fight against these predators; it’s actually a bloodbath in their favour. Many people spend their adult lives—or a good chunk of it—in pain, misery, and stress before exiting the planet well before their time.
The human body is designed to move—and to engage in movement—for most of the day, in an outdoor natural environment.
While, not everyone is motivated by the prospect of longevity, vitality while alive is something we can all be interested in. Wellbeing and vitality allow you to live life to the fullest, irrespective of where your ambitions and passion focus.
The human body is designed to move—and to engage in movement—for most of the day, in an outdoor natural environment. Being sedentary and locked indoors is one of the worst self-destructive behaviours impacting on physical and emotional health. I believe, we simply cannot be healthy without exercise and we cannot be truly healthy (in the full sense of the word) without some form of movement or exercise in nature.
Most people want to be in shape, leaner, fitter, stronger and healthier, but upwards of 80% of people who attempt a physical fitness program give up. Nobody wants to experience failure, so why then do so many of us fail at becoming a healthier version of ourselves? Perhaps, one big problem is our mind can easily get in the way of success. Psychologists say we tend to self-sabotage because our inner critic feeds creation of an “anti-self,” a part of you that feels it doesn’t deserve health, nurturing, and a better life. It’s ingrained in the fear of trying your best and not succeeding, that your best might not be good enough, or that you might be exposed as a fraud. It’s a complex psychological issue surrounding notions of self-worth, control, self-esteem and other self-identity misconceptions.
Self-sabotage occurs when the conscious mind is at odds with the subconscious emotional mind. Arising is a disconnect—a clash of needs and wants—resulting in self-sabotaging behaviour. Many of us don’t want to admit our mental and emotional troubles drive self-sabotaging choices and behaviours. However, all the layers of self are interconnected functioning as an integrative circuit; so, you cannot be physically healthy in the truest sense if you are mentally or emotionally unwell, and vice-versa. When these layers find better balance, the goal of all-encompassing health in our mind, body, and spirit becomes truly accessible.
I believe getting started on the road to better health requires acceptance of the need to enter into an introspective process to begin addressing any underlying emotional states. Personally, I find this level of introspection can be problematic in an urban indoor environment. I believe being in nature helps engage the mind with the most productive form of introspective reflection. Nature is especially helpful to snap us out of distraction, procrastination and a state of mind obsessed with focusing on the past or future. If you are a serious about living a healthier life, I encourage you to take this first step: Leave the phone and headphones at home, go for a peaceful walk in nature and ask yourself: What do I have to fear from living up to my best self and what can I do to get started in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me?
Avoiding overwhelm is a critical factor in undertaking any big change in life. Often, we can be easily excited by the prospect of the end goal, but the steps required to get there can quickly swamp our initial excitement. Generally, we end up in an unhealthful situation because we fail to take care of ourselves. We become used to the idea of failing, so we self-soothe this pain by engaging in a behaviour that temporarily soothes us. We then say to ourselves; I will start tomorrow or soon. Within the complexity of minds, our avoidance stems from fear, fear of yet another failure, that will make us feel even worse about ourselves. Sometimes its easier to just stay where you are, rather than risk things getting even worse. The problem with this mindset is that we can convince ourselves things will stay the same and not get worse, but they do tend to get worse when we avoid the change we need to make.
Often we fail because we make the first steps too hard on ourselves. I think it is helpful to reframe the possibility of failure as being far less scary and the summit of success as less daunting. When I go to hike or run up a colossal mountain, I don’t start by standing at the bottom of the mountain and looking far upwards to the summit and feeling a sense of dread and overwhelm about the painful journey ahead. My inner talk could say: “It looks so high,” or “Oh my god, HOW AM I GOING TO MAKE IT UP THERE!” with great trepidation. Or my inner talk could say, “Imagine how good I am going to feel when I am standing up there,” or “Imagine the great view at the top.” Self-talk is important, because your body listens to what your mind tells it.
My philosophy is to not focus so much on how you feel now, but to just get started. Take the first steps and reassess as you go. Your body can make you feel something different—even better—if you just let go of the attachment to your present feeling. I cannot tell you how many times I felt pretty tired, lethargic or zero energy before I started a hike or run up a mountain, but after a short time, the body shifted into a different state. Like it knew, “oh, we’re climbing a mountain again, better get the blood pumping!”
I like to visualise what my life is like when I am healthy and vital. I see myself as this person and this draws me forward. I question any thoughts arising suggesting I can’t do it or don’t deserve the outcome. Don’t be afraid to see yourself failing and also winning.
Many successful people report they are successful because they failed over and over again. They are the most experienced failers in the world, but the difference between them and others, is they didn’t let it stop them. They kept picking themselves off the floor and learning from their setbacks knowing how one day they would achieve their vision and transform their life. Success comes from building a platform of incremental wins, where you teach yourself you are worthy of winning.
Most of us give up because we start out with big ambitions and unsustainable goals in our early excitement to change. Then we face a few setbacks and the whole plan starts to unravel. A few days pass and you have returned to your bad habits, procrastination sets in and it becomes really hard to restart the process. Like moving a hundred tonne rock. The rock is a mental barrier, not a physical one. If you can use your mind to plant massive roadblocks in your path, then you can also use it to propel yourself forward. It is interesting how the mind works. It can be your worst enemy, but also your best friend. The difference lies in your perception and state of mind. Create a positive thought-loop that sees tomorrow as a new day, and you always get the opportunity to start again. Accept the setbacks, don’t fight them, don’t beat yourself up, but learn from them. It’s very rare in life for everything to turn out as you plan or dream. Success is about becoming adaptable and constantly learning from your experiences.
Successful people are guided by doggedness, patience and pragmatic application. If you can start small with wins you can achieve on an hourly or daily basis, then this helps you become comfortable with winning. I call this achievement stacking because it helps develop positive inertia in your life. I encourage this mindset, because our emotional self exists in a world of volatility and is easily appeased by smaller wins—rather than larger longer-term ones—which the conscious mind more prefers.
An important step in creating meaningful change and positive inertia is identifying to yourself you want change and things can be better. Acknowledge you don't presently have the wherewithal presently to make things better. Once you make admission and accept what you know at the moment isn't sufficient to solve your problems, then you've opened yourself up to the possibility of learning something. The act of admitting a problem is the first step in solving it and by doing this, you are simultaneously admitting to yourself you can potentially solve it. Don’t be afraid of admitting you need more help. Don’t be afraid of learning, it’s how you grow, improve and move forward in life. If you are not learning, then you are stagnant or going backwards in life.
I believe health and fitness requires educating both your mind and subconscious mind of the benefits. Remember, self-sabotage occurs due to a disconnect between the two minds. Many people set out to become healthier through something like a new year’s resolution, but this is often a decision made solely in the mind, but is not yet accepted by the subconscious which continues to find comfort in bad habits. The subconscious mind fears letting go of bad habits because it has become trained at holding onto them to suppress underlying unresolved emotional volatility.
Here are nature’s laws stepping in once more to save the day. Your sub-conscious mind does this to protect you from your inability to maintain adequate cohesion in your self-identity. I use a process called self-integration, which involves a healthy understanding of self-identity management where you actively connect on a regular basis to work with underlying emotions driving your behaviour. From a more emotional stable platform, you can then access your underlying value system and use values to drive your thoughts, actions and behaviours rather than your unresolved emotions. When you cannot access what you truly value, you are left to the whim of your emotions, which are largely irrational.
If you start to value health and fitness as a core component of your identity, then your subconscious will start to enforce positive behaviours. Your old habits will start to have less power over you.
Nature’s laws want you to minimise your emotional volatility because its crucial to your survival, especially when you are faced with a threatening environment. Nature responds with a plan to manage the threat. By suppressing your emotions, driving them to the sub-conscious and releasing adrenaline and other stimulating hormones, your body can then fight back against or flee from a threat. The temporarily heightened sensations of power and energy arising from this state can become addictive, but it is a very damaging process to the body.
It doesn’t take much time in nature to reset. The power of nature to heal can sound a little new-agey, hippy, or spiritual to some people, but there is verifiable scientific reality underpinning this notion. Nature certainly can help to heal, but it is not a panacea for all ailments. What it really helps with is improving psychological disorder, stress and calming the body down. These processes have a flow on effect helping to boost the immune system, reducing blood pressure and oxygenating the blood, all helping to improve most health ailments.
Psychologists know the power of nature to improve mental health in their patients. All the emotions you face in life can keep getting buried, but getting into nature can help you to get the quiet time and introspection to release the valve a little bit because you get away from all the other distractions in your normal environment that prevent you taking that step. As you develop capability in self-integration you can actively manage your inner world and release your need for externalised modes of self-soothing. Its an important life skill to know how to work with your inner self and also then know how to use exercise in nature as a way to efficiently amplify your healing and well-being.
Just like nature is not a panacea for all ailments, neither is exercise, but used together the benefits are profound. Firstly, you cannot truly out-exercise your bad habits. A bit of exercise to help offset a damaging habit, is like taking one step-forward and two-steps back. Any step backward is preventing you from becoming the best you. You can stress the body, and then destress it, in a continual back and forth battle, but eventually it takes its toll and the body weakens.
Some people give up on exercise because they don’t enjoy the type of exercise they are doing enough to make it an everyday (or near everyday) part of their lifestyle. Life is short, so why spend it doing something you barely enjoy? This is understandable and I agree. If you are forcing yourself to do something you hate, this also causes stress to some degree. True healing and vitality derive from unbridled enjoyment and joy in what you do in life. The healthiest older people typically report this. Find something you are passionate about and love to do. This is why it is important you don’t set out to improve your health just for the sake of doing so because the world says you must. It is the wrong mindset and it won’t be all that helpful to your mental health.
If you perceive exercise to be associated with hard work, suffering and difficulty, then exercise will always feel that way. Scientists have discovered exercising in nature reduces the perception of effort compared with the same exercise performed indoors or in an urban environment. They also found the perception of effort is less, even when you are actually working harder. If you find exercise hard, then try doing it in nature more often.
When you combine your fitness activities with nature and adventure, you can get fit and decompress from the stress of life all in one activity. This is effective time management and its health producing at the highest level.
I believe you have to want something deep down, not just because it is expected of you, but because you want the change passionately. Fitness and health are not about comparisons with others, narcissism, vanity, obsession with losing weight, punishing yourself for overeating, drug taking etc… You should want to improve your health because it helps you achieve more in life, to do more things, be more successful, be more adventurous, have more vitality, more stable emotional poise and clearer thinking.
I truly believe, you must shift your focus away from what you hate toward what you love to do. Changing our mindset about “working out” defeats the self-doubt and laziness, especially when we are over-worked or tired. Many people stress about getting fit, thinking more about the pain and effort required. It can be daunting. However, the relaxing, stress-reducing and mental health benefits of exercise are profound and scientifically proven. Let them help you heal and you will become motivated to keep feeling better. This is truly what becomes motivating.
Nothing beats the satisfaction of getting stronger and feeling more vitality. You will lose weight and look better by default from just living this way. Don’t focus on losing weight or getting fitter, all this happens when you simply become more adventurous. That is why I chose the phrase “create a life of health and adventure” because I truly believe adventure is key. Focus on what your next exciting adventure will be, look forward to it, and don’t worry about losing weight or exercising. When you find something you love to do—which moves your body in the natural world—then what you do becomes an adventure, something exciting and fun that you cannot wait to do. Fitness becomes the consequence of your play time. Just go outside, move and have fun, it is that simple. I really want to encourage and demystify the notion we have to endure pain and torture to get healthy and fit.
This is why nature is so helpful because it provides you unlimited amount of variety and adventure. It stimulates your mind far beyond what a treadmill in a gym ever would. Find what excites you and let that carry you toward the best version of yourself. If you don’t want it bad enough, then I can help you address why you think this way and start to change your perception toward life.
1. Exercise can be a dirty word to some people. If you dread the thought of it, then reframe how you look it and strive to find more adventure in your life instead. Incorporate your fitness activity with a passion. I use photography to help shift my mind away from any discomfort or tiredness I might be feeling when I am adventuring in the mountains.
2. Adventure doesn’t need to be something epic. It can be anything new or interesting that gets you outside briefly. Even a short walk in an urban park can be an adventure. Anything that gets you moving around water, plant life and trees is restorative to human health.
When you combine your fitness activities with nature and adventure, you can get fit and decompress from the stress of life all in one activity. This is effective time management and its health producing at the highest level. I want you to find something you love doing, but it is ok if you don’t know what that is at first. It could be hiking, trekking, trail running, mountain biking, canoeing etc… Combine as many as you like in your adventurous life, there are so many choices for people of all levels of fitness and mobility. I don’t want you to think exercise has to dominate your free time if you have never been cut out for it, but deep down in all of us, we are human beings who evolved in nature and there is a part of our humanity waiting to reconnect to the natural world using all our five senses.
What I believe the Couch to the Summit philosophy helps with is stacking up many benefits into an efficient way of adventure so you can get on with other important things in your life. Then you work on a plan to incrementally nurture each of the following Ten Elements of Health I believe to be essential requirements in cultivating better health:
1. The Great Outdoors and Observing Nature’s Laws
2. Self-Integration, Mental and Emotional Health
3. Organisation, Vision and Achievement Stacking
4. Movement and Aerobic Training
5. Strength Training
6. Biomechanical Structural Balance, Integrity and Pain Management
7. Toxin Load and Detoxification
8. Weight Management, Nutrient Density and Mineralization
9. Timeout, Rest and Sleep
10. Social Support and Community
The vitality from a healthy mind and active body gives you the ability to achieve more in life and the personal strength to overcome challenges. With greater energy comes greater productivity and the mental health benefits are important too … everything you do in life will benefit. All it takes is a little bit of effort to greatly lower our heightened stress and nervous system responses, so we can better undertake any challenges life presents. This means making self-nurturing a necessary priority in your lifestyle, rather than something you do if you happen to find some free time here and there.
My focus is on simplicity and nurturing calmness and relaxation rather than focusing solely on performance. Not everyone wants to race or be an elite athlete; however, the principles of health apply equally to people who just want better health and to look and feel better, along with those who want cutting edge information to seek out maximum performance. Either way, every person still needs to treat their body well and learn to manage stress. My goal is to help educate you to build a strong platform of health, and then its up to you to take it to the next level.