George Costanza: Neuroplasticity Guru
“If every instinct you have is wrong, the opposite must be right!”
“Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do something!” George Costanza has been my Life Coach for my upcoming Spring Campaign.
In my neighborhood, the biggest seasonal change of the year occurs coming out of winter and heading into spring. Here at the base of the Catoctin Mountains, the crazed cusp that divides the two seasons has some strange ecological consequences. For example, five days ago it hit 60-degress and I was sitting down on the deck eating BBQ. Then I took a nap on the glider.
Yesterday we got six inches of snow and this morning it was 16-degrees. The unopened 36-ounce seltzer water I sat on the deck table while eating BBQ was frozen solid. It was a case of rude opposites that never should never be experienced back-to-back. Driven inside on account of the cold, I flipped on a Netflix Seinfeld episode. Out of all the possibilities, I randomly selected what turned out to be the “Opposite” episode. It had a profound effect on me.
One of my smarter friends observed, “All of life’s lessons and pitfalls are contained in the 180 Seinfeld episodes.” In the Opposite, George Costanza listens to his friend Jerry’s advice and for a time does the opposite of whatever his initial instincts tell him. By doing the exact opposite, he experiences success at every turn. George (being George) eventually fell off the Opposite bandwagon and devolved.
As I watched George struggle against his conditioning, I had a Zen satori, a breakthrough in my own transformative Koan: my unsolvable riddle, one that I had pondered for weeks, instantly solved itself. I now knew how I would spend the next three months; I now knew the contents of my “Spring Campaign” transformative strategy…
I would do the opposite of what all my ingrained instincts told me. I would stop plagiarizing my own methods, I would jettison all my smelly little orthodoxies (Orwell) and I would do the reverse of what my deeply rutted instincts and comfortable little cliches told me to do.
I had a very productive winter. My Achilles tendon, injured in October, was (finally) fully healed. I was factually more capable than I had been in the final four months of 2021. Now that the winter/spring seasonal change was upon us, I wanted to reshuffle the transformative deck. There are four eternal levers of physiological progress: resistance training, cardiovascular training, nutrition, and what we label Brain-Train, i.e., the psychological aspects associated with the transformative process.
Stymied, I pondered potential transformative template changes needed to retool the Winter Campaign into the Spring Campaign. Legislated seasonal changes are used periodically to jerk or jolt a man (me) out of his stagnation, to paraphrase Pablo Picasso. All my proposed spring changes were the usual ones, the predictable ones, the proven antidotes that I had used over and over as the decades rolled by.
The changes I mentally proposed were the same old stale changes. The same ones that I automatically proposed and automatically used. True, they dramatically contrasted to my winter approach, and they were effective – but they felt rote, and I was resistant and unenthused. My radical changes seemed cliched.
I was plagiarizing myself, offering the same solutions to the same reoccurring situations. Not that these strategies were not and are not effective. I knew them inside out, backwards and forwards, I invented some of them and I was tired of my cookie-cutter solutions. I didn’t have any Bright Boy answers, just smoldering dissatisfaction. I knew I needed to step outside the box of conventional thinking. But how?
While drowning in the sludge of my motor-oil-like torpor and pudding-thick stagnation, I by chance caught the 1994 Seinfeld episode “The Opposite.” Afterwards, while drinking beer, it hit me like a Zen thunderbolt: I too need to rip a page from George’s playbook and do the opposite - I needed dramatic change – nothing is more dramatic than opposite! What kind of opposite stuff could I come up with?
Exercise Machine Training: I have been a sworn enemy of resistance training machines my entire life. Machines are always current and modern; I am always primal and Old School. I have used free-weights my entire life. I am a free-weight grand master. I have written numerous articles damning machines, pointing out their isolative one-dimensionality and their sad lack of muscle-stabilizer activation. I am, and always have been, snidely dismissive of progressive resistance machine use.
What would George do?
I began using machines, to near exclusion, purposefully and with a mission. I seemed to be experiencing some “muscle flameout” in minor muscles. i.e., I could not flex (contract) the rear head of my left tricep. Ditto the inner head teardrop quadricep muscle on my right thigh. They were two small muscle flat tires. The big, sweeping compound free-weight exercises apparently allowed some small muscles to hitch a free ride. Parts of muscles were altogether avoiding assisting the effort. The solution: seek the extreme isolation that machines and cables enable. I could now zero in on that rear head of my left tricep and damn well make sure it contracted on every rep of the cable pushdowns which I do with various handles. My quadricep teardrop muscles are forced to contract as I do slo-mo seated leg extensions.
Vegetables: I avoid vegetables as they take up valuable stomach room that could be used for protein and pie. My favorite vegetable is cornbread – with jalapeno peppers for extra-added vegetables. Not to say that I do not enjoy perfectly prepared vegetables. Now I mean, vegetables, not starch carbs like potatoes and rice. I love potatoes and would eat them at every meal if they didn’t blow me up like the Michelin Man. I have had some incredible salads at expensive restaurants. Just as it is with quality proteins, vegetable taste and potency are synonymous. My wife Stacy decided to become a micro-green gardener (my phrase.) She constructed outdoor structures and turned extra indoor rooms into indoor hothouses: our kitchen overflows with Michelin three-star restaurant farm-to-table vegetables.
What would George do?
Eat vegetables! I switched out delicious tiny fruit pies and Mennonite pumpkin bread (hot, slathered in rich, organic butter) for gourmet salads. Again, I am not a hater. I have had some incredible, memorable salads back in my expense account days as I burned a path through every gourmet steakhouse in Washington DC (Capitol Grill, Morton’s, The Palm, Joe & Mo’s, Smith & Wollensky, Ruth’s Chris, the 1st RC outside New Orleans, The Prime Rib, Clyde’s of Georgetown.) Now I eat salads as farm-to-table fresh as what Thomas Keller presents at the French Laundry. I need to work on my homemade dressing chops. Stacy likes my “honey-balsamic-apple cider vinegar-garlic-coconut” concoction.
Beer: As an Irish writer, I love to drink. If there were no ill effects or aftereffects, I would, like Churchill, wake up and have a drink. I would definitely drink every day. I was drinking beer nearly every day thru the winter. I gave up hard booze a decade back because it ruined my next day morning, and I would lose a day of work. In recent years, even certain beers fuzzed me out the following morning. I found a few brands that I could drink with zero next day effects. Even during a lean out phase, I would allow myself one day a week to drink beer. My keto-beer diet was actually quite effective: live on BBQ, rib-steaks, pork belly, shrimp, bacon, cheeseburgers, ribs sausage, salmon, rainbow trout, braised lamb shoulder – and beer.
What would George do?
I switched out beer for raw milk mixed with Parrillo protein powder. During those times of day when I would become desirous of a beer, I would mix three scoops of chocolate or strawberry protein powder with an 8-ounce glass of raw milk. This anabolic atomic bomb delivers 60 grams of protein. The high-quality fat contained in the raw milk has a satiating effect. The Parrillo protein powders are incredibly flavorful; this milk-protein powder combination has a dual purpose, it satiates my sweet tooth, making me far less likely to embark on a binge of sweet treats. Interestingly, after downing one of these delicious shakes, the last thing in the world I want is a beer. The milk fat, the richness of the concoction kills the beer urge while simultaneously satiating my sweet tooth.
Swimming: I have never had an athletic relationship with the water. I grew up with no public pool, no river, no pond, no ocean, no exposure to water or swimming. Ergo, I have never been comfortable in the water. I am not built for swimming; I am built for sinking. My 19-inch neck and mountainous traps make it impossible to rotate my gigantic pumpkin head out of the water high enough to breath. If one were to design the ultimate swimmer, the physical prototype would be opposite of my short-legged, long-torso body.
What would George do?
I now swim. I went to Walmart, purchased a mask, and set of swim fins. I drove back to the YMCA, stripped down, got in the steam room, and sat in scalding vapor until I was ready to scream. Instead of taking an ice-cold shower, I walked out to the pool. No one was in the entire pool. I went to the far end, sat down masked up, put on the fins, and slowly descend the pool ladder in the 3-foot end. I began my imitation of swimming. Pathetic, an iron ball attempting to doggie paddle, I found that flipping onto my back, keeping my arms limp, and using my strong legs with flippers, I could actually generate propulsion without strangling. I did “laps” using the shallow half of the pool. I am now quite full of myself and want more.
We all know George did not last long before reverting to his natural state. He was a small man with the easy assurance of the blissfully ignorant. I am not that man and intend to ride this pony into the dirt. We shall see. Stacy looks at me askance and tells me without a hint of irony not to drown when I now head to the Y. I feel as if I am riding a monster wave of neuroplasticity and I could pop out the other side a changed man. I am considering taking up the steel guitar and Irish dancing, Riverdance style – or perhaps Wing Suit flying – now that looks exciting! I am pretty sure my brain neurons are already reconfiguring.
About the Author - Marty Gallagher
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher Biography for a more in depth look at his credentials as an athlete, coach and writer.