A couple of years ago I read Marshall Goldsmith’s outstanding book “Triggers”. I have since read it a couple more times as his concepts are life-changing. Although Goldsmith focuses more on personal and professional development, his principles certainly apply to health and fitness pursuits. I’ve adapted the following “belief triggers” or fallacies that pull people off track toward the quest of body composition goals.
1. If I understand, I will do: Understanding what to do doesn’t necessarily mean you will do it. This triggers confusion. I will argue ‘til the end of time that almost everyone has enough basic knowledge to make life-altering health and fat loss progress. You don’t need more articles telling you that exercise is good for you, nor do you need to be told that eating a diet of minimally processed foods is healthy. It’s almost never about the understanding part, it’s almost always about the follow through.
2. I have willpower and won’t give in to temptation: We overestimate our willpower and underestimate the power of triggers in our environment to lead us astray. Our environment is a willpower-reduction machine. Also we are notoriously horrible at predicting how we are going to respond to future enticements. Setting our home, work and travel environments up for success will help reduce the need to rely on will power.
Expect to have weak moments. Expect that you will fail. Expect to learn from every misstep to keep progressing.
3. Today is a special day: When we want to make an excuse for errant eating behavior we justify it by denoting many days a special day. Christmas has somehow evolved into a 6 week long gingerbread and alcohol-laden orgy when really it need only be only a couple of days’ worth of eating in a surplus. There are unlimited numbers of birthdays, weddings, parties and other reasons for cake, drinks and deep fried deliciousness. By all means don’t deprive yourself completely. But DO exercise caution and sound judgement as we can turn just about anything into an occasion worthy of indulging.
4. At least I’m better than _____ : We often lower the bar and excuse our behavior by comparing ourselves to someone worse off. It’s an easy default to justify unhealthy eating or sedentary behavior when we can point out someone who needs to change more than we do. Comparison in the other direction is also a common pitfall. Focus on yourself – are you satisfied with YOUR current health?
5. I shouldn’t need help and structure: We feel we are above needing structure in completing seemingly simple tasks. As a result we trudge forward without guidance that could be very helpful in shaping an effective path. This lack of humility can often lock us into place. I’ve fallen into this trap myself when it comes to my business. I thought I could do it all and felt “dumb” asking for advice and guidance. It wasn’t’ until I hired a business coach that things began to move in the right direction.
It’s ok to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit you need some assistance in structuring good nutrition and exercise habits.
6. I won’t get tired and my enthusiasm won’t fade: The early stages of embarking on a new health journey are often filled with enthusiasm, confidence and heightened motivation. In the mornings when we may feel energized, we assume that we will have the energy for an evening workout.. or cook something from scratch. We feel our self-control will not waiver – we see it as an unlimited resource. Anyone who’s ever tried to lose fat and get healthy knows what a trap this is. Yet we delude ourselves into assuming that we will have the same drive and intestinal fortitude on May 1st that we do on January 1st.
It’s highly important to be aware of the road ahead. Know that there will be obstacles, roadblocks, waning motivation, fatigue, deadlines, illness and other curve balls to throw us of track. Being aware of the potential obstacles will help you mentally prepare to work around them.
7. I have all the time in the world: We have 2 misconceptions when it comes to time and achieving our goals. 1. We chronically underestimate the time it will take us to reach our goals. and 2. We believe that time is open-ended and sufficiently spacious for us to get to all our self-improvement goals. Faith in times infinite patience triggers procrastination.
One of the most formidable mental traps we can fall into is the “I’ll start tomorrow” ruse. Whenever you feel something can wait until tomorrow – remind yourself that it can’t. Treat your health and fitness as precious entities that deserve your priority.
There are 2 polarizing, yet unifying themes about the “right time” to start your health journey. Firstly, there is no “right” time. At no time will you be in a utopic world where you have all the free time, money and motivation to tackle your goals (and if you do, congratulations Unicorn person). Secondly, now is the PERFECT time to start your journey. Now is all we have… now is YOUR time – regardless of how busy, uncommitted or unmotivated you feel you are.
It’s important to have a simultaneous sense of urgency with your habits and yet patience with your results.
8. I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur: When we make plans for the future, we seldom plan on distractions. We assume a perfect world scenario free of distractions and derailments. There is a phenomenon that a mathematician might call a “high probability of low probability events”. It’s not likely that a tire will blow, you’ll have to pick your sick child up from school, your boss needs you to work on a last-minute project. We don’t plan for low probability events, BUT the odds of at least one of the many events that CAN occur, is higher.
I’ve always told clients – never plan for a day off. Life has a way of implementing them naturally.
9. An Epiphany will Suddenly change my life: Sudden burst of insight and willpower will rarely heed long-term results. It triggers more magical thinking based on impulse rather than strategy. While it’s true that some will have had a “moment” in their lives when they said “enough is enough” and then never looked back, truly sustainable change is almost always a gradual and up-and-down process that is continuously refined.
10. My change is permanent and the key to my happiness: The great western disease is “I will be happy when____” this is our belief that happiness is a static and finite goal. It’s ingrained in us in the most striking example of contemporary life: The TV commercial. We set a goal and mistakenly believe that achieving that goal would make us happy.
Leaning out, gaining health and energy, getting stronger and fitter – these are life changing benefits that positively impact so many aspects of our lives. Keep in mind, however that it is not the key to happiness, the solution to all of your problems or a panacea for life. Go into your journey knowing that you are already enough. You cup is already full and you will become a fitter version of the wonderful person that you already are.
11. My Efforts will be properly rewarded: The reality with fat loss is that many times (at least in a short-term perspective), our efforts don’t always reflect on the scale. Getting better should be its own reward. This is where intrinsic motivational forces need to shine through. Eating well and training for how it makes us feel.
Hard work WILL pay off. You WILL see results and you will reap some very positive benefits of your lifestyle change. The complexity of the human body and it’s biochemistry, however don’t always produce the even and predictive results we hope for. The important thing here is to take a big picture approach to our fat loss goals. Take inventory of what IS going well. Where are you seeing changes in your life? Also recognizing that scale weight can be deceiving – fluctuating for a variety of reasons.
There are almost limitless ways in which we can deceive ourselves through false beliefs. I know that I’ve personally been guilty of all of these at one point or another in my life. Oftentimes the first step in meaningful change is being able to call BS on our perceptions and change our narratives. This opens up the possibility for changing our bodies.