#325: Discipline and Self-Direction
Accessing a new level of discernment.
In today’s Solo Episode, I want to talk about something that has been very prevalent for me since the birth of my son, and that I've talked about a bit on social media—what I call Operation Reverse Dad Bod.
I wanted to give you more specifics into what I've been doing and how I've accessed a new level of discernment in hopes that perhaps if you're someone who has struggled with your body, or you know you need to change how you eat, or it could be accomplishing anything.
I think about, what is the difference between someone who says that they want something and who actually moves towards and achieves it, versus someone who says that they want something and never achieves it?
Granted, we can all end up in that latter category. I've certainly been there, and I wondered why I oscillated between losing weight, gaining weight… losing weight, gaining weight… always seemingly battling 5 to 20 pounds. I battled weight fluctuations and the desire for a healthy weight.
So I thought to myself—I can maintain my weight at 15 pounds above my desire, why can't I just maintain it at where I want to be, which would be a healthy desired weight?
I want to share with you the origin story, something that I've never shared, about why I've had the relationship that I've had with my body.
I've been fairly, not obsessed, but fairly intentional about fitness my whole life, but I fall off of it sometimes and then come back. So I began to wonder why it is that I haven't maintained rituals throughout.
When I was in grade 5/6, I started to put on weight. I don't blame anything specifically for this, in that I had access to sugar, I had an allowance, I would go to a 7-Eleven that was a short bike ride from our house, and I would buy things like what we called five cent candies—they're like gummy candies that were five cents each. I would just load a bag with a dollar's worth. And meanwhile—I'm getting pummeled with high fructose corn syrup (and you think of all the inflammatory things those are doing to my body), I'm drinking a lot of chocolate milk, and I'm really consuming a lot of sugar. Marketing, at the time, said “If you're an athlete or you want to be higher performance, milk does a body good.” I'm not sure if you remember that marketing—that was something that happened in Canada. “It's good for your bones.” It's all marketing that we received from the dairy industry. So I don't really blame any specific circumstances, but what I found was that I would soothe a lot of my feelings with sugar.
During grades 5-8 are the times when children start to move into this teenage phase and social hierarchies start to be created. Male performance in terms of sports and things like that start to create a social hierarchy. And for girls, how their body looks begins to be judged and creates a social hierarchy. And so you start to get like the “cool group” and the “neutral group” and the “nerds”—whatever it might be.
So I noticed that this social hierarchy was being formed, and I was not moving up the social hierarchy, and friends that I'd had throughout my childhood now were above me and not necessarily still interacting with me at the same level. And—no judgment of any of this—but for someone who is that age at that time, it can be very painful. And it was very painful for me.
I didn't have the language or the venue to be able to express that. Maybe I had shame about it. So I didn't come forth and tell my parents what I was suffering with—what I was experiencing. And so I turned towards eating more sugar. I remember being at a grade 7 or 8 dance, and was thinking to myself: “Am I gonna dance with someone? Is this going to happen?” I was nervous, and that night, I drank six Cokes in order to deal with the angst that I wasn't feeling chosen or desired.
I remember sitting at a friend's birthday party somewhere around grade 8. Someone was sitting at the table with me who I knew from Cubs/Boy Scouts. He said to me: “Oh wow, Mark, you've really become quite a porker.” And I can visually remember exactly where I was. I can remember exactly what I was looking at. I can remember exactly how I felt. My stomach sank… and that was the beginning of really not loving how I was presenting. I knew that I had put on weight. There was a self-recognition of that. But that being called that… I just felt the social shaming and the consequences of a body looking different.
And that summer of grade 8/9, I went on... well it wasn't really a diet—it was very much food restriction. I started mountain biking a lot, and I lost a lot of weight. I wouldn't say I lost it in a healthy way. I remember my grandma used to have this product called SlimFast—it was like a powder that you put into water, and when you drank it, it expanded in your stomach and it was believed to make you feel full. I remember sneaking the Slim Fast. It is wild to even share or think about—I can't believe I remember that. But that's what I was going through.
So I lost all this weight and I remember showing up to the first day of school, and people being like, holy crap, what happened to Mark? And that I started to get more attention. But what was going on internally for me—I felt angry because I was still the same person. It was hard for me to sit with the fact that I was now moving up the social hierarchy and seen as attractive to some people—but I felt rejected and angry that that's what they now saw and desired.
And, look, there are evolutionary reasons that we desire healthy, fit bodies, and I’m not minimizing that. But the experience of someone on the other side, of course, is challenging, because we recognize that society values that external versus internal, and we want to dramatically change that system. We want to make it so that bodies that aren't in shape should not be shamed. Of course they shouldn't be shamed. But we also should speak the truth that a healthy fit body is actually an important outcome to desire. But, are we desiring it from the place of “I want to make everyone happy and make sure I fit in” or are we doing it from a place of a motivation that is more internal and real—wanting to create health?
I want to create a healthy sense of self. I want to have behaviours that align with the values that I want to embody.
And this is obviously a sticky subject because as soon as we start to have conversations about the importance of fitness or the importance of nutrition, there's a thought that it can be fat shaming.
But I do think that there's a natural experience of healthy shame when we recognize that there's something we want to change within ourselves that we might not necessarily desire to keep.
This idea that we're supposed to love every aspect of ourselves—I agree with that. If we can accept where we are now, great. Then we're free. And we can actually access it from a place of love. AND, we can accept ourselves from a place of love where we desire transformation.
Now, what seemingly I found in my repeated cycles was the repeated wounding. “I'm not enough, I'm not enough, I'll use food to soothe the I'm not enough-ness.”
“Oh, I put back on weight. Okay, I'm gonna do more exercise, I'm gonna be more restrictive with food.”
And later on, it was with alcohol, and I quit drinking. I didn't know how to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. I would binge drink. I couldn't just have one. I liked having lots of them. I was good at it. I thought I was more fun—all those types of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that come with that. But I didn't know how to orient to alcohol being in my presence without wanting more of it.
And just like when we start to relate to food from a different place, we can interact with it instead of it feeling restrictive.
What I noticed really helped me, which I learned from Ben Azadi, is to say “I choose to not have this.” I actually choose to not have this. I could have it, but I'm choosing to not have it because of the priorities that I hold for myself and my health.
So when I looked at the origin of my relationship to sugar, my relationship to my body, my relationship to social structures based on my body—I had to sit with the grief of all that. With the reality of all that. All the feelings I hadn't felt when I was younger.
What's interesting is that with Jasper, with having a son—I thought to myself—the current narrative about a father having a child is that a father gets Dad Bod. Now, there are some physiological reasons for this. One, when a man is around a woman who is pregnant, he is exposed to more pheromones and estrogen, and that in turn causes the testosterone to drop and the estrogen to increase. This is also shown in studies that look at males co-sleeping with the baby and the mother, that estrogen goes up and testosterone goes down. Again, these are posited to be because it raises attunement to the needs of the child and also, like in the co-sleeping, awareness, nurturing, all these types of delicious things that come with having your estrogen increased. The drop in testosterone, though, is important when we start to put on weight, right? Especially around the midsection. So there's a physiological reason.
But—if we just accept that things have to be the way that we're told they are, what happens if we just shift that sh*t right on its head? What happens if I have a child and I actually use the love I have for my son to make sure that I maintain the best possible health so I can be present for him, so I have mobility, so I can reach down, so I can roll, so I can do all these things with him?
I recently watched the movie Old Dads on Netflix, which is frickin' great. Bill Burr is hilarious. I was laughing while watching it, because I was thinking, he's 51, his son is 4, so he had his first kid at 47. And I'm 44, I had my first child at 44. And I thought, well, when my son's 4, I'm gonna be 48—I'm gonna be the old dad hanging around with young dads.
But the idea that age means a certain vitality or a certain physical experience—It's not true. There is a meme that went viral that demonstrates this. There is a woman who's 78 and looks like what you might think of as a traditional grandma—she has a perm and is not in great shape. And then there's a 78-year-old woman next to her who looks very fit and very vital. That's two totally different versions of 78.
We can take something that we believe is just “how life goes” or “how the story goes” and completely shift it on its head. So I thought, how do we access that?
I know when I changed my life and really got into integrity with how I was showing up to the world and how I was showing up to relationship, it was because I knew that if I was going to write something about what I thought was best in relationship or how to be in integrity, I sure as hell better be it. I knew that when I first hit publish, I could no be “all my old stuff.” There was conscious awareness around the dysfunction, around the lack of healthy decision making. I knew that when I hit publish, I couldn't do those things anymore.
And so there was a delineation between the “Before Create The Love, and the “After Create the Love. The BC and the AC. And that was actually just the birth of writing articles. The first time I ever started writing about relationships, and posting on Facebook, I just knew that I needed to really embody what I was saying.
And so, if there's something in your life that really matters to you, that is so important to you, that you're willing to stop your bullshit that you're aware of, that it is your bullshit… Or you're consciously aware that you're doing things that are not healthy for you, that you have a substance or a behaviour, that you've been thinking about exploring not doing anymore…Maybe the universe has been like, “hey, have you thought about…?” And then all of a sudden, memes come up about it, podcasts come out about it, or you're being hit with this messaging about some sort of expansive possibility for you that you keep delaying.
There's an interesting moment when we meet the old shit we're done with. Elizabeth Gilbert has a great quote where she says “There's no transformation that didn't begin with someone getting tired of their own shit.” It's so true. But how do we create that?
In a podcast that I recently did with Koshin Paley Ellison (airing in January 2024) who is a Zen monk and a marriage and family therapist, we talked about working with the dying. I shared with him that when I worked in oncology, I was very interested in why—all of a sudden, when someone finds out they get a terminal diagnosis, they change their life. Like, what's the difference between that person and you or me not having that diagnosis, but actually changing our life? How do we tap into that survival? Okay, now it's on. Now I don't have time. How do we do that? And he said, “If you look at really the difference between those two circumstances, one person has just accepted the reality of death.” And that's so fascinating, right? It's so simple because we all have a terminal diagnosis in some sense. This isn't going to go on forever. And all of us have a different expectation or idea of how long we have and then we negotiate that time with what we can tolerate today. But if you can actually confront the idea that you have no day promised to you, you can access a new level of motivation and integrity.
If I said to you, “You've got a month—clean your sh*t up if you want to. What legacy do you want to leave? Who do you want to be?” — what becomes important to you?
Imagine if you could change everything today. Like, just decide, today is it. That's the delineation. If you could change it today, what is possible for you in a month?
What is possible for the life you could create? How much could you extend it?
As I look at my son, and that's what I've accessed now. If I have to choose between consuming a dessert that's sugary (and you can have whatever you want, this is my own decision!)—but if I have the choice between having that, or having something that's not sugary that's maybe more nutritional, that can satisfy my desire for a dessert, I know that that in choosing the healthier option, I'm actually choosing life.
I'm choosing that I want to do whatever I can to be around as long as I possibly can to love my son, and to guide him. And through those behaviours that are in alignment with the desired outcome I want to create, I'm teaching my son integrity and alignment. Not only my son, but everybody I'm in relationship with now gets to witness me in full integrity with my commitments.
One of the most powerful ways you can create the pressure to change is to make your commitments public. I've shared that I desire to use the energy of having a son for transformation. Now that I've discovered this, there's a part of me that asks: Why didn't I do this earlier? Why didn't I change earlier? Why did I wait until I had elevated markers in my blood test to really get that motivation?
So there's this desire now that I have the awareness of this level of discernment. I look back on my life where I had a lower level of discernment and commitment to this outcome, and I feel a sense of grief about that. I feel a sense of shame about that, because there's a new awareness when you look in hindsight. You look through the lens of the new awareness. So I'm mindful of that.
And what brings me back is: It's the perfect time. It's the perfect time. I can do this now. I can do this now. And what's possible for my life now that I've accessed this new level of discernment and discipline? I didn't know I could have this level of discipline. And if I can access it through the motivation in this one area, how will it leak into every area of my life?
It's already done that. I'm getting up earlier, I'm going to bed earlier. There are so many habits that are coming in—the value of time. I joke that before I had a son, I had a lot of spare time that apparently I didn't know about because I wasn't using it efficiently.
But now that I have a kid (and all of you who have kids, you for sure knew this way ahead and way better than I did) that time is very precious—not just the precious time of their own changes that you see happening. In a week to a seven-month-old, there is so much change. You could have a new tooth. There are new behaviours. It could be new words. But that value of the precious moment just becomes so clear.
And I didn't realize how much time I was wasting, like in getting lost in things on social media or. When you go to open something to do it, you go check something on the internet and all of a sudden you end up wanting to buy a new car or looking at houses that are not in your market at this current moment. We don't prioritize things and we have to be mindful that technology itself is meant to do that to you.
So we have to build the skill set and the level of discernment and discipline to be able to say: Not now. This is actually not important right now. And if we can structure our day from that—the most important things will already be done in the morning.
I interviewed Hal Elrod, who created the Miracle Morning, and he looked at what the most successful people do in the morning. They did one to five things, and instead, he asked himself, what happens if I do all five things? So the whole morning is developed. If you do it all in 15 minutes, you have already crushed all the habits that the most successful people do one to three of. That's pretty wild.
You have to look what's available to us when we take this level of responsibility for our lives. And I'm not on a pulpit saying that you have to go take responsibility for your life and that I now am a master of all of this. I'm learning as I go.
So, why do some people access that and other people don’t? What I believe is that, first, they've accepted the finite time that we have on this planet. They've accepted death. They've recognized it. And now they live their life through the lens of acceptance of that.
Second, is that they have found the motivator that lives deep in their core: their purpose, mission, integrity, and what legacy they want to leave.
A really powerful exercise that Stephen Covey has in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is that you write a eulogy—your eulogy. You write it out,—what would you want someone to say about you? And then you live that life. What a beautiful guiding principle, right? What a beautiful guiding document—like a living eulogy.
This is what I'm actually creating as I go. So at any moment, if you did happen to pass, you would be leaving that already. You wouldn't be striving for it, it would be your way of being.
So, I say all of this because of the wounds that I experienced with my relationship to food and body. I could blame the guy at the picnic table I was sitting at, I could blame sugar, I could blame social hierarchies of evolution and that society values fit bodies over big bodies and all that kind of stuff. I could blame all those things… and I would be valid, right? I could say that, and other people would be like: Yeah, I can't believe they put high fructose corn syrup in that. I can't believe that people are so vain or shallow.
Or I instead, I can ask myself what I want to create independent of all those things.
Evolutionary behaviors exist. It's just normal. You know, we think that people have become superficial, but we've always been superficial. It's just that social media and apps like swiping apps just exemplify it. They just exaggerate it. But we can choose to be part of the game and be in it and not know about it, or we can enter in and out of it, right? Or like that saying about Christ—to be in the world but not of the world. Or as Alan Watts says, to be in the system but not be the system.
So how can we actually look at how the world works, and see what we want to agree with? When you're operating with this level of awareness and consciousness, you're not lost in blaming the world for the world being the way it is, or the psychology being the way it is. Because if you're blaming it, then you can't change it. So this is this level of discipline and individuation that says, let the world be the way it is. Let me be the way I am and then let me interact with the world. So you're dancing in and out of it. You're playing the game.
And if there's something that you've been waiting to change, if there's something that you've been waiting to give birth to, if there is a purpose, a mission—just you being a fully embodied version of yourself is the completion of a mission. I mean, that's so inspiring. When we are around people like that, we change. Because not only do their behaviours become contagious, the energy at which they're operating, which some might call frequency, it's radiant. You can feel it. You know when you're in a room and someone enters a room and the room changes? Sometimes it changes from a sense of fear, but other times it changes from a sense of expansion and possibility. And we can be that expansion and possibility for every room we enter, for every relationship we're in, for every community we're part of, for every conversation we have.
And that is the legacy that I believe we should all strive to leave. And it is through the experiences we have in our lives, our suffering, the wounds we have.
Gosh, there's an endless collection, isn't there? If we want to collect them. And we do collect them unconsciously, anyway. So, it's like, what do we do with them? And this is the invitation to decide what we do with it.
So with lots of love and with hope and possibility, I hope that through my share, you access a different version of yourself and a different level of discipline and discernment. And I can't wait to hear what you've changed just by saying: Today is the day that everything changed.