As a master trainer and nutrition coach, I talk to a lot of people about their weight loss goals. One statement I always make is that I want this to be the last time they ever start a weight loss program. My purpose is to instill belief in them that they can be successful and also lay the groundwork upfront that we want to avoid relapse.
Surely you’ve heard of someone who lost a good bit of weight only to gain it all back a short time later. The problem? It could be many things however I would say that one of the biggest reasons is that “diets” don’t work. Counting calories or balancing macros or going Keto or Paleo or whatever may result in some short-term success, however, these strategies can fail in the long run.
So, how do you achieve success in reaching your ideal body weight and then maintain it for life? There are a number of core skills and behaviors to adopt and master but first, let me say that my purpose in this post is not to focus on the nutrition and exercise part of weight loss. The following deals with the emotional side because after all, how we think controls everything.
First, we need to consider the three levels of motivation:
Have you ever received a bad report from your doctor saying you need to lose weight? How about a friend or family member commenting that it looks like you’ve put on weight since the last time you’ve seen each other. As a nutrition coach, I hear on a regular basis people complain that their clothes don’t fit and use this as a reason to lose weight.
While not positive, these can be great if they will get you into action. The only problem is that without action, this type of negative motivation can wear off. It’s called the Law Of Diminishing Intent – the longer you put something off, the less likely you are to do it. So, if you receive any form of this fear-based motivation, my best suggestion is to get into action quickly, before it goes away.
So, you get the bad doctor report telling you to lose 20 lbs and you take action. You change your nutrition and you start exercising and after a couple of weeks, you’re down
5 lbs. Now the next level of motivation kicks in. You’re thinking after 5 lbs that you just might be able to reach your goal because you’re getting positive results, and so you’re all the more determined to move forward.
Two weeks go by and you’re down 10 lbs and a few weeks after that 15 lbs, until finally after a few months, you hit the magic 20 lbs. Now one of two things could happen. By the way, there’s no such thing as neutral or treading water in life. You’re either moving forward or falling backward…there is no in-between.
If the only thing you’ve been fixated on is losing the 20 lbs, you may find yourself slipping backward. This happens to many people because they only set short-term goals and once achieved, there’s nothing left to strive for. The worst-case scenario is that you gain all the weight back which sets you up potentially to fall into the “Yo-Yo” dieting syndrome.
If you’re not sure of what I mean, it’s as simple as this. If you go on any type of diet plan and lose for example 20 lbs, some will come from fat, but some will come from muscle. Your best strategy for maintaining as much muscle as possible is to incorporate strength training along with your diet plan. All the “cardio” in the world will not help retain the muscle that lifting will.
Let’s say you do lose the 20 lbs and the makeup is roughly 15 lbs from fat and 5 lbs from muscle. Then for some reason, you decide to give up on your diet and go back to your old ways…slowly gaining back all the weight you lost. The sad part is that most of the weight gain will be fat…with little muscle. The only way to gain back the lost muscle is to earn it in the gym.
Now repeat this “lose/gain” scenario a handful of times in your life and you can see the damage that can take place. Every time you lose and gain, you’re effectively increasing your body fat to muscle ratio. This is a really bad thing that you want to avoid at all costs because your metabolism will systematically slow down as a result of the lost muscle.
The key to avoiding the fallback is to set not only short-term goals like losing 20 lbs but to also work on building in new and positive behaviors that you can effectively work on for the rest of your life. This is the necessary action required to transition to the third level of motivation. If you only set short-term goals, you will live your life in fits and starts. If you will blend in long-term growth in conjunction with your goals, you will achieve far more and the ride will be much smoother along the way.
I wish I could give this to you unfortunately it just takes time. From the results of focusing on long-term growth and building positive behaviors into your life, you will reach a point where outside circumstances no longer derail you. Your fitness journey becomes a way of life regardless of the curve balls that life will inevitably throw. The key is a continued focus on both process goals in the short-term all while keeping a long-term perspective. You simply move forward and persist without exception.
Focusing on small steps can really add up to big change. Imagine standing at the bottom of a one hundred story building with a spiral staircase going to the roof. Your task is to climb the stairs all while looking at the top. As you can imagine, given the enormity of the goal, it could be quite overwhelming.
Now take your eyes off the top of the stairs and focus them on the step right in front of you. Now take the step. Not too bad, right? Now, take the next step. Still not bad, right? In fact, it’s no more difficult than the one before. If you will break your goals down into bite-sized chunks and focus on one little chunk at a time, you can walk to the moon. The key is to simply not look up.
Now imagine that there’s a 20′ plank on the ground about 2″ thick and 12″ wide. The offer is $20 to walk across the plank. Do you take it? Of course, it would be an easy $20. Now imagine if the same plank was between two one hundred story buildings and I offered you the same $20 to walk across. Would you do it? Probably not, right?
Now, what if your most treasured family member in life was on the opposing roof and the building was on fire? In fact, the fire is only a few floors below the roof and moving up quickly. The only way to save your loved one is to cross over the plank and carry them back to safety. Would you do it? Of course, and without hesitation. The change in circumstances changed everything.
You see, when your why is big enough the facts don’t matter. That’s why it’s so important to identify your why. It could be one thing or it could be several. It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is to really dig deep and determine your true reasons for going after your goals. People who go after their goals based on just sheer grit and determination will often fail. It can be like pushing a piece of string.
If you have a piece of string on a table and you try to push it from behind across the table, it will bunch up on itself. If however, you pull it along the table with your finger, the string will follow along in a clean straight line. Holding your why out it in front of you can really act as a magnet to help pull you along and help keep you on track towards reaching your goals.
I read an article about Jerry Seinfeld a few years ago and the author asked him to share one of the biggest reasons for his success. Jerry replied back that it had to be his wall calendar. The author, clearly confused, asked Jerry to explain. He said that when he first started writing, back when no one knew anything about him, his goal was to write every day. Some days he wrote “gold” and other days he wrote “garbage” however the ultimate goal was to write.
Further, he had a big honkin’ wall calendar where every day that he wrote, he would cross off the day with a big red X. Between the commitment to daily writing leveraged by the physical act of marking off his calendar, Jerry’s daily efforts produced the gold that we know to be the sitcom Seinfeld and beyond. Today the term is called gamification, and it’s a powerful tool that companies use to drive results both with the products they produce and with their employees to boost performance.
Closing remarks for my readers:
In closing, I have some very concrete action steps for you to consider. First, you have to determine your why or why’s along with your goals and write them down. I like sticky notes and learned this little trick from my long-time mentor, “King of Sales”, Jeffrey Gitomer. Also, determine the 2-3 key behaviors that you will need to adopt in achieving your goals and write them down as well.
Now post them in the following places to help keep your focus laser-sharp on what you’re working to achieve and why.
- Bathroom mirror
- Bedroom mirror
- Front of your refrigerator
- Front of your microwave
- Front of your laptop or desktop
- Front of your steering wheel
Change in any area is never easy and sometimes it can be really hard. If you will surround yourself with your goals and your reasons for pursuing them, they will help you stay the course, especially when the storms of life come crashing in.
And above all, persist without exception. I heard this phrase from another of my long-time mentors, Andy Andrews over 20 years ago, and it’s become a part of me. Never stop pursuing your dreams. If you will persist, without exception, you will reach them.
Best of luck in your journey.