What’s Really Holding Back Your Results?:
Every once in awhile I get asked how to achieve weight-loss results.
Unfortunately, I get the feeling many people are held up by something almost invisible.
Whether it’s bad habits, a lack of experience, or even just good-ole’ fear of the unknown.
When I get a chance to talk to them, I share whatever I can. Many times it seems like a bit too much.
But one of the ideas I keep coming back to has parallels to their questions and the answers I give.
Because I’m usually reminded of a few parts of my own journey.
Once upon a time, I got a little bit too chubby…
So I decided to do something about it.
I audited what I had been doing wrong.
Then I made all the changes I could think of, by combining everything I’d learned across previous experiments since high-school.
However as a consequence of too much exploration on that plan, I later found I’d lost muscle mass in addition to the fat.
Even though at the time, it was fun getting my percentage under 10.
But I knew I would eventually have to gain the muscle back some day somehow.
At the same time, I also realized it was going to be the proverbial marathon and not a sprint.
So the program had to be doable in terms of:
Having exercised on and off for a long period of time beforehand, I suspected at least one thing.
If the program was too difficult, complex, or over-logistical, I would definitely fall-off.
And in this instance, that was not an option.
So the first things I came up with to flesh out the rules a little more were:
2) Full-body weight-bearing
3) As few exercises as possible
4) Shortest possible prep & travel to gym
4a) (so: at home)
4b) (preferably, on piece of floor closest to current position)
5) As little total time as possible
6) Should be doable in one continuous circuit of +/-uncorrelated muscle-groups
6a) Or, shortest rest time between sets possible
7) Zero-to-minimal equipment necessary
The results of which were great. Because now I’m more than 20 pounds heavier, with only a few of that gain being fat; I hope.
But the physical results, however nice, were not the only benefits.
There are some things you truly learn only as a function of going through a process.
Here is a hint at one of them.
Although I now lift weights 3 times a week, at first I started doing pushups, crunches, and body-weight squats over a yoga mat on the floor.
To make the program doable, the only goal I gave myself for any one exercise was to just do the amount that was easy.
At the beginning, the number of pushups this turned out to be was eleven.
Eleven pushups per set.
And therein lies the magic.
Because eleven was humble, but it was a start and it was achievable.
Achievable was the tipping-point for the rest of the progress that followed.
There is so much extra garbage the fitness industry likes to throw at people.
Most of it, machines, gear, gyms, clubs, classes, ipad-bikes, clothes, and European athletic shoes that look like they’re made from a patchwork of smoked Gouda and penguin hide…
It’s all basically noise.
Achievable, simple, and humble made me much more able to draw myself through a process with the CERN-grade electromagnet of, “Achieving The Goal”.
Long-term experience teaches things like:
- Good tries
- Gratitude for easy days
- Forcing yourself through hard days
- Going for 1 extra rep
And that process applied over time becomes habit and routine.
That’s now part of the advice I give to other people; even when it comes to nutrition.
Not only are you never going to out-exercise bad nutrition, by the way; unless you’re a triathlete.
It also does not even matter where you start; just as long as the initial demands you make of yourself are only as big as you are.
This is also where snarky gym-rats get it wrong by deriding fat newbies; the people who are actually doing something harder than what they are.
-Because they’re starting. Almost from nothing.
Maybe you could even back it out still further to the quality of Discipline if you wanted.
But the truth is, both muscle-gain and fat-loss are fantastic teachers.
Unless you cheat with drugs, neither of them will let you get away with quick-and-dirty solutions.
What those two physical transformations teach you is that Routine Is Everything.
I never got any quick results in physical transformation.
Neither will you.
(And because of how much better slow weight-loss is, you shouldn’t try for quick results either.)
Not only do you realize the truth of routine much later on.
But you also realize that the saying, “Iron sharpens iron” is also true.
Because you’re not just performing some physical motions.
You’re not just scheduling & ritualizing the specifics of what yoga mat, the location of your “go bag” of clothes & shoes at the ready, what time(s) each day you do the work, what music or podcasts you listen to, your body position, etc.
Sure, they’re all important personal details.
But what you’re really doing is getting better at many things every single time you do your workout.
- Overcoming resistance
- Dealing with pain
- Mitigating uncertainty
- Practicing faith, and
- Improving small details
-That’s just a few of the many.
As Matthew Dicks points out in his talk with Ali Abdaal, you may not even notice it because incremental progress is tiny and damn-near invisible.
But it does accumulate and eventually compound into something very noticeable.
After a certain point, you will find yourself looking at the clock or calendar and if you’re in the wrong place, you’ll be asking yourself what the hell you’re doing not in your gear and on the mat.
It will have become abnormal for you -not- to do your workout.
Later on, you might even find out you can apply the same procedure with anything you want to achieve.
Even behavioral economist, Dr. Grace Lordan might agree with me on that one.
Similarly, there are lots of fancy things you can do to improve nutrition and achieve your weight-loss goals.
(hopefully “dieting” is not on your list because diets don’t work)
But you could probably just start by getting a little less sugar & high glycemic carbs.
Then if you want to really go nuts, learn your daily calorie allowance and try to hit that with good guesses and no math other than arithmetic on your phone’s calculator.
Just do a little practice each day.
Make a change, get used to the new state through routine, take the next step.
Much like adding weights to the bar as you get stronger, you can taper on or off anything you want to change in steps so small that they become trivial.
Just like Hubspot’s Dharmesh Shah said about functional-decomposition in programming that goes right down to the “atomic” level steps.
Here’s another teaser from the laws of healthy weight-loss.
You will eventually realize that nutrition for it amounts to nothing more than hacking calories, protein, and fullness.
Once you’ve gotten away from the bad stuff, it just boils down to that routine and small daily adjustments.
At this point, I’m guessing you think I’m going to say that’s all there is to it.
You would be +/- right, but it only happens once you get to that stage. Sequencing matters. “Paying your dues” first matters.
So to wrap-up in almost a contrarian way: Yes. Routine is -everything-.
Discipline does help. But even if you don’t have it at first, the pull of the goal itself will force you into it.
Iron will sharpen iron.
Putting yourself through the process turns raw material into samurai sword.
But the thing that gives it the power to get started and continue through the early stages is this.
Doing everything you can to make the first steps happen.
And Do Not over-complicate!
For example, if you insist on going to a gym you may be putting socializing before progress.
Any over-complication or excess of logistics could sink the whole ship.
You’re just creating more links in a fragile chain that could break.
Because if you ever witness The Horror of someone who no longer -can- really exercise, you will your drop your misgivings and over-complications right there.
Your feet will take you faster than a cheetah to the nearest workout-feasible clearing and knock out your 30-minute circuit right on the spot.
You will realize that you don’t “Have To” strengthen and renew your mind & body each day; you “Get to”.
You will realize that waiting for motivation is like waiting for Godot; and that Routine Is Everything.
But mortal-terror and insights notwithstanding, the ultimate power really does lie in making the very first step something feasible.
So find your own “eleven pushups”. Set yourself up for success.
And in every way you possibly can:
Lower the bar.