When it comes down to it, the most potent factors that determine success or failure in your fitness intersect at pain and impulse. The more pain you are in, the more time you will spend distracting, numbing, and stimulating your mind. You will do this with food, alcohol, technological distraction, and other forms of ‘laziness.’ The greater your impulsiveness, the quicker you will turn to these forms of self-medication, and the less resilient you will be with different kinds of emotional turmoil. The pain-free, low impulse individual can quickly extinguish fear, sadness, anger, and disgust. The high-pain, high impulse individual, will be quick to escape and avoid the emotions that s/he is sensitive to. Weight gain is not the only way we show our pain, but obesity is the most wearable and one of the most highly stigmatized expressions of a person who is struggling.
When you see someone with a lot of weight to lose, you are not seeing a person who is lazy, uncommitted, or who doesn’t care about her health. You are seeing someone who is wearing her troubles from the superficial and meaningless to the incredibly deep and painful.
‘Fit’ people often see an overweight individual and make classic assumptions. This person must be weak, uncommitted, and clearly does not care about her health. This is an uneducated judgement. A judgement that can only be made by a person who does not understand even himself. Sick people want to be healthy. Poor people want financial stability. Drug addicts want to be clean. When the acute inner pain a person is facing is more powerful than the long-term dream of change it is almost impossible to make right decisions. If this was not the case the world would be full of fit, successful, well adjusted individuals. Stress, trauma, and emotional burden pushes individuals to self-medicate with food, alcohol, drugs, laziness, and technological distraction. Everyone has his or her pain, and everyone has his or her medicine. When you have to wear the effects of your self-medication, you are the first to be judged.
‘I want to lose 10lbs’. Goal-driven statements like this are prevalent in the fitness industry. The problem is that setting a goal does not address the underlying systemic issues that got you to a place where you needed to ‘lose 10, 20, 30, or 100 lbs’.
Obsessing over goals while failing to address process is why goals are rarely achieved, and even more seldom sustained.
For instance, if you eat out for 21 meals per week, setting a weight loss goal is arbitrary. You should be setting a meal making goal. For example, ‘I am going to make dinner for myself six days per week.’ If you reduce the amount of time spent eating out by 30%, it is going to impact your waistline.
If you don’t currently exercise with any set regularity, why would you set a fat loss goal? You should be setting an exercise frequency goal that you can keep up with consistently. If you can hit your exercise goal, the lagging measure will follow.
Not only is a process approach more effective in a direct sense, but it also leaves less room for silly time-based expectations and feelings of failure. There are fewer variables to leave you feeling deflated. When you focus on the scale, you tether your win/loss ratio to an unstable number. If you determine your win/loss ratio by the consistency of healthy actions you take, it is very straightforward. You leave much less room for negative thoughts and feelings.
If you want to change your body, set action-based goals that are easy to track, which will ultimately lead to the superficial goal that you desire. You will be happier and have a much higher chance of long-term success.
Why is it so easy to form bad habits but so challenging to develop good ones? The feedback gap might explain this problem.
Most of us seek out bad habits because they provide immediate stimulation. Whether it is food, sex, laziness, or technological distraction, the thing we are after is immediately received.
On the other side, we have healthy habits. The reward of a healthy habit takes months (if not years) to appear. This lengthy delay in feedback and gratification decreases our motivation to continue moving toward the finish line.
There are, of course, other factors at play as well. Bad habits act as painkillers. Good habits often require a certain amount of suffering to achieve. When we are in the moment, the well-being of our future selves is not a top priority.
Human beings are present bias. We are quick to sacrifice long-term reward for immediate gratification. This is a cruel joke in the human experience. It stems from the need to survive on a minute by minute basis when we were living in the wild. A starving ancestor isn’t going to forgo a pit of honey because s/he was on a low carb diet.
Those who overcome their present bias win the game of life. The rest of us end up fat and sick.
When it comes to making habit changes, we often focus on the magnitude of change. We carry the attitude of ‘ I will make any sacrifice of any size if it gets me what I want.’ The all or nothing approach can work for some people, but you must ask yourself this: ‘if major changes with large effects worked for my personality, why have I not been able to attain the result that I am after?’
Answering that question should open your eyes to the reality that extreme changes don’t lead to ideal long-term outcomes. The exception to this would be when someone goes through a high impact life event (sickness, loss, etc.) that immediately changes that person’s path.
For the rest of us, ‘repeatability’ is much more important than magnitude. If you are currently eating a standard (North) American diet of fast food, processed food, and sugary beverages, switching to a Carnivore, Keto, or Plant-Based diet is going to give you a great reward. For a little while. After the honeymoon phase, you’re going to relapse and then believe you are too weak to sustain healthy changes. But what if you instead focused on small, repeatable habits. Perhaps you can aim to cook your dinner five nights per week instead of eating out. You could switch soda for some other naturally sweetened carbonated beverage. Or you could begin walking 3-5 days per week.
Here is the real key to success: make a small commitment. Prove to yourself that you can stick to that small commitment. Move onto the next little commitment. Repeat until your entire life has turned around.
High magnitude change is for the desperate. And the desperate are rarely sound decision-makers. Focus on small, repeatable habit changes, combine that with patience, and you’ll win the game.
Mindfulness…Meditation…Spirituality… such dirty words. This is unfortunate because learning to be less reactive and more thoughtful throughout the day can be life-changing.
I ‘meditate’ every single day. I don’t (always) sit cross-legged. I don’t say a mantra. I don’t touch my index and thumb over the top of my knees. I don’t partake in any silly, dogmatic bullshit. You don’t have to either. Do you know how many Instagram pictures I have seen of some asshole taking a ‘selfie’ of himself or herself meditating? How does that work? It is the worst kind of insecure and self-indulgent irony. It is the kind of disingenuous stench that makes a ‘normal’ person flee from the spiritual realm. Don’t let your disdain throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Sometimes I stretch or listen to music or even a short talk by someone like Alan Watts. All ‘no no’s’ in many meditative circles.
The fake spirituality and general pop-culture of mindfulness have ruined this gift for the average person- but it doesn’t have to be destroyed for you.
I sit, and I breathe. I pay attention to how chaotic my brain is. I problem-solve. I move on. How you spend time being still isn’t essential. Spending SOME time being still is all that matters.
It is also worth noting that it took my 2 years and five to six attempts and failures to make this practice stick.
Headspace played a significant role in helping me build my own (shudder…), ‘practice.’