Most of us know way more than we’d ever need to in order to achieve our goals. We know that we shouldn’t be eating junk foods, candy, soda (pop if you’re East of some arbitrary line in the US), etc. We know that we should be eating mostly meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit and as little sugar as possible. We know that we shouldn’t just lie around all day, and that we should probably get some physical activity in on most days of the week.
I’ve personally written enough blog posts and articles on the topics above that you should have enough knowledge and tools at your fingertips to become as lean, as strong, as whatever you want to be. (In fact, literally following the paragraph above will get you to a better physique and physical condition than most of the nation can dream of.)
If, perhaps, my writing style doesn’t speak to you, there are thousands and thousands of other authors and books and seminars to get you going in the right direction. In fact, if you’re like most people, you own several of these books, visit several of these blogs and know of at least a handful of fitness and nutrition resources that should have you in the right direction.
Yet, most, if not all of us are not where we want to be in either health, fitness or nutrition.
That’s pretty crazy if you think about it. All of us seem to be searching for some grand answer to our question of what we’re supposed to be doing. Yet, we already have those answers. I don’t mean to be crass, but you are not special, and you probably already know the next thing you need to be doing. Yet you don’t do it, and you’re not alone in that struggle.
Why is that?
Well, we are a dynamic representation of our habits, our past, and our deep seeded behavioral traits that we’ve been practicing since we were infants. We’ve got beliefs and things we do that we can’t explain and that are too comfortable to change for the long term. Despite our surface level desires, our internal wiring is about as set in stone as the rising and setting of the sun.
I bet this sounds familiar:
You’ve finally hit your rock bottom. That point at which you say, “enough is enough, I need to get (back) in shape and I need to stop eating so much crap. Starting Monday, I’m doing “x”, and my whole life is going to change. I’ll have ripped abs by the 4th of July and I’ll be the envy of everyone. So what if I’m the annoying person at dinner who doesn’t eat dessert, drink alcohol, or have bread. I’m going to smash this new lifestyle and no one can stop me!”
A week goes by: You think, “I can do this forever. This is easy! I can’t believe how much better my life is because of ______. I need to tell everyone how awesome this is.”
Two weeks go by: You’re still going strong. “And they said this would be hard! Why didn’t I do this sooner!” You’re probably in the annoying everyone stage of this, but that’s ok with you. Screw them if they aren’t going to get on board with your new passion.
Three weeks: “That birthday cake certainly looks delightful. And Carrot Cake is my favorite. I’ve been perfect basically forever at this point, I deserve to let off the gas for a few minutes. I’ll go right back to it tomorrow.”
Four weeks: “Well, you know, I don’t think this is really working that well for me. I think I’m going to add _____ as well.” (“Or, this is working so well for me I think I’m going to re-introduce _____ to my life and see what happens. I can always eliminate it again, but this should be real life right?”)
And so on, and so forth. You know how the story ends. Slowly but surely, you’re back to “normal” (and sometimes worse off). Part of you hates yourself for relenting on what you set out to do, but part of you feels much more at ease in your normalcy. No more being the special person at dinner. No more dramatic swings of self control or feeling like you’re missing something. You figure, “we’ll, I’m just me, and that’s ok.”
Rinse and repeat. Perhaps dozens of times. Maybe every January and Spring. Paleo, Primal, High Fat/Low Carb, Low Fat/High Carb, High Protein, Intermittent Fasting, Carb Cycling, Beach Body, South Beach, etc, etc.
I’m painting a pretty dismal picture here, but it’s the reality. Almost every one of my clients expresses to me that they’ve tried at least a few of the above, alongside other nutritional “coaching” before. Yet there they are, sitting in front of me. When I ask them whether _____ worked, they say yes, yes it did. Until it didn’t.
A great analogy for the process that is going on here is originally credited to psychologist Jonathan Haight, and is reintroduced in the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath. The metaphor goes that we are the embodiment of an elephant and its rider. The elephant is represents all all of our normal and ingrained responses and behaviors. Things we’ve been doing forever, and we can’t even explain why we do them. This elephant is trudging slowly down a path that is right in front of it, and the path is clear.
The rider is a thoughtful, rational being that can see far ahead and plan for the future. The rider makes decisions based on reason and wants to steer this elephant into the best path possible, even if it isn’t the path immediately in front of him. The rider knows what is best for the elephant, even if it’s not what the elephant wants or can see.
Unfortunately, getting an elephant to move is an enormous task. You can will it, beat it, reason with it all you want, but the elephant is going forward and will never just jump over to the path it’s rider wants it to be on. You can exhaust yourself pulling with all your might, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you might get that thing steered over there for a moment, but inevitably, you won’t be able to keep that pace up. You’ll fall asleep or quit, and while you’re not paying attention, back to the original path it goes. Or perhaps worse, it’s now stuck in the weeds, unsure of any direction at all.
However, slowly but surely, you can divert that elephant over. It won’t be instantaneous. It probably won’t be tomorrow, or even next week.
But, if you can start to slightly cut that new path, without the elephant even knowing, you’ll be headed in the right direction. It may not happen as soon as you want it to, but it will happen. Once that elephant is on the new path for a while, and has some momentum, it’ll never even know the difference.
So, now you know the difficulty that lies with making major, long term sustainable changes. The question now becomes, well then what are we supposed to do?
First, you need to figure out what you want to change. Identify a long term goal that you want to achieve and really nail it down. Then, think to yourself what you can do today (tomorrow is fine to) to take a step towards that goal. Notice, I said, “a step”, not “totally turn your life inside out, burning down anything and everything that gets in your way starting Monday”.
A good way to do this is to work backwards.
If your goal is, “I want to run a marathon”, you should reduce that down to something you can do today that works towards that goal. So, to work backwards you could say, ok, I’m going to run that marathon in one year. In the weeks leading up to the race, I should be running 50-60 miles a week. I’m currently running 0 miles a week, and I haven’t run in 2 years. I need to build up to that volume of training. So, right now, I could get up out of my chair and go run for 10 minutes.
I can do that tomorrow, the next day and the next day. I could literally run for 10 minutes a day with absolute certainty for as far as I can see in my schedule. If you think it sounds almost too easy, you’re on the right track. Get that nailed and prove to yourself that it is, in fact, too easy. If after two weeks to a month, you’ve done with with a great amount of certainty, you can move on. In this case, you could run for 15 minutes, or you could run start running 2 miles everyday.
This step should be something you can do with 90-100% certainty. It should be something that will slightly challenge you, but that you can do rain, sleet or shine. Even if it’s your birthday, Christmas, and you win the lottery all on the same day, you should be able to pull this off. In this situation listed above, too small would be, “If I want to run a marathon, I need to run, and to run I need to put on shoes, to put on shoes, I need to tie them. Tomorrow, I’m going to tie my shoes!” Too big would be, “I’m going to drunkenly sign up for a marathon that’s happening in 90 days tonight!”.
Try it. It works! It won’t have that constant rebirth and smash yourself on the rocks in epic failure cycle that most 30 day commitments have, but it will work over the long haul.
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “I know what I want, but I don’t know how to get there”, or you try this approach a few times, and you don’t seem to be making the progress you’re hoping for, hire a coach. We can show you the path, give you exact action steps to follow, help you overcome the inevitable obstacles that you will encounter along the way, and we will provide you accountability as you venture along your new path.
Coaches are pretty awesome, and for less than most people spend on cable and internet every month, you have someone standing behind you, supporting you and guiding you to achieving your dreams.
If that sounds like something you need, you can contact us here to explore it further. Or, you can sign up for one of our plans here.