Every year people work hard to change habits, set goals, and create changes within their life, with one of the most prevalent being health and weight loss. The sad truth though is that the vast, vast majority of people never follow through with these newly set goals, often falling off only a month or two into their journey. With weight loss, at least at first, it doesn’t sound too difficult; just start exercising, stop eating junk food, and watch the fat burn off. But it obviously is not that simple, as year after year people fail after never reaching their weight loss goals, let alone even making a dent in them. So after 6 years of seeing this continuous cycle first hand, I feel I have come to a pretty good conclusion on why I continue to see people fail again and again. Way too many people are in search of finding the perfect workout or diet plan that has some magical powers because a celebrity endorses it, or because their friend lost 40lbs. on the “XYZ” diet. Instead, it’s the mentality and psychology behind habit formation that is truly the key to succeeding. Of these 4 keys to success, all of them could honestly be applied to any goal. And that is because the factors that go into forming a habit are fairly universal, and below I hope to be able to outline these factors for how you can finally succeed in your fitness goals by creating a lifestyle that you can actually maintain!
By a large margin, the absolute most important factor in being able to reach any goal is consistency. That is the exact reason why there are thousands of different workout and nutrition gimmicks out there that have had success, because someone somewhere actually was consistent in following through with the plan. Whether at work, home, or in the gym, if you set out a game plan for what you intend to do in achieving your goals, and then consistently week after week follow through on that, you will be successful, even if it is not the most optimal plan.
One of my favorite stories of all time was passed down to me by one of my college professors, and whether it is a true story is debatable, but either way, it is a great lesson on how to be successful in any endeavor.
“A man approached JP Morgan, held up an envelope, and said, “Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell you for $25,000.” “Sir,” JP Morgan replied, “I do not know what is in the envelope, however if you show me, and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will pay you what you ask.” The man agreed to the terms, and handed over the envelope. JP Morgan opened it, and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look, a mere glance, then handed the piece of paper back to the gent. And paid him the agreed-upon $25,000 …
This is what the piece of paper had written on it…..
- Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.
- Do them.” (1)
So have you have decided consistency may be a big factor? Because it is, but it is also nothing without a sustainable plan set in place. The other large factor that derails the majority of people in achieving their fitness goals is doing things that they feasibly cannot continue to do and be consistent with long term. Whatever you do to get into shape is what you have to keep doing to maintain it, for the most part. The majority of the popular fad diets and exercise routines out there fail for this exact reason. They may be a good option for weight loss, but are they really sustainable long term? Can you really keep going on without eating carbs and how many days in a row can you realistically keep choking down tilapia and broccoli at dinner? The perfect diet and exercise program is the one that you can sustain long term. Just because it worked for your friend does not mean it is right for you. Within your lifestyle, you need to set up sustainable goals for what you can truly achieve. If exercising 5 days a week for 2 hours is not a realistic goal for you, then the truth is that a month or two down the road, you will fall off the bandwagon, because honestly very few could possibly maintain a lifestyle of spending 10 hours a week in the gym. It must be things you enjoy as well. If you hate fish or despise the elliptical machine, then don’t do it! There are plenty of other options that can lead you to the same success; it is just about finding what is right for you!
Learn to enjoy the process
As you are reading through this, one thing you will notice is that each point very much ties into the next one, and that is very much true with learning to enjoy the process. As mentioned above, to create sustainable habits, you must enjoy what you are doing. Our minds live off a reward system, and to successfully create a habit, we must go through a continual cycle of “Cue, Action, Reward” (2). And therein lays another issue with most weight loss plans. People do not actually enjoy or receive any reward from the process; they just desire the final outcome. There is no instant gratification, which is what most desire when it comes to their goals. Instead, most likely a body transformation is going to take months, if not years, so there is very little short term reward. Working out just to look good doesn’t make working out enjoyable, it just makes it a necessity to reach your goal. The key is to find things you enjoy within exercise and nutrition. Many find gratification in the progress they make in their strength, doing things they never thought possible for themselves. Some find events or competitions to work towards, like a 5K or a tough mudder. And others find stress relief from daily life by being able to let their mind relax while plugging away on the treadmill. There are many different ways I have seen people find enjoyment in exercise, but no matter what it may be, it is vital to find what will motivate you. This will help create the many short term rewards your mind desires to stay diligent in your journey.
Don’t go at it alone
Whatever it is that may motivate and help you enjoy the process, as that will be highly individualized, there is one overriding aspect that seems to motivate everyone, and that is having a partner or community that is working with you towards your goals. There is a reason that group fitness classes, Crossfit, and personal trainers have become a mainstay in the fitness industry, and that is because they create a sense of community, accountability, and motivation that is impossible to achieve on your own. There are going to be days when you want to give up, you are sluggish, and doubt your ability to really follow through. And that is where friends, workout partners, fitness communities, and personal trainers play a big role in providing that extra kick to keep you going. Think back to your successes in life, whether within work, family, or personal interests. I would be pretty certain that you did not achieve those successes all on your own. You may have played a big role, but you very well likely receive support, encouragement, and help from those surrounding you. This is absolutely essential when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. Finding those that are going to support you every step of the way, pick you up when you are down, and praise you when you succeed is what truly makes the process enjoyable.
If even one of these steps is missing, it creates a gap in your ability to succeed. They work in unison to help create the right mindset and plan to allow you to finally reach your goals. Each key directly ties into the next, so when sitting down to decide your goals, formulate a plan. And not just a plan for what exercises you will do or what you will eat, but really spend time focusing on how you plan to be consistent, build sustainable habits, learn to enjoy the process, and who will be your partner(s) in success. This can be applied to any goal, not just fitness related resolutions, and I hope this will help you break through the plateau and succeed this time in what you hope to achieve. No one has ever reached their goal of losing weight, stuck with it long term, and regretted it. Now it’s your turn to be the success story!
1. Kaufman, Josh. “Josh Kaufman.” JP Morgan’s Guaranteed Formula for Success – Josh Kaufman. World Wisdom Ventures LLC, 2 June 2007. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
2. Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.