In reading the excellent book “Barking up the Wrong Tree”, The author, Eric Barker outlines 4 aspects that might be missing if you’re feeling frustrated with your journey. These are applicable to any pursuit but I’ve adapted these directives towards fat loss and sustainable health.
Your undertaking has to be winnable. (and it is). This comes down to sound goal-setting (more on this later) and realistic expectations. Barker uses video games as an example and I feel it’s still applicable to fitness and body composition goals. Video games are alluring despite a relatively low success rate – particularly as we struggle through the initial stages of figuring out the game. Yet we keep at them, battling through periods of frustration, uncertainty and the mythical prowess of the evil bosses. Granted, it’s much easier to park our derriers on the couch than it is to park it on a stationary bike or a seated row machine, but there are similarities. Every game made is winnable (at least the good ones are). Games have rules, challenges – all which spark “justifiable optimism”.
Fat loss is similar. It is winnable, albeit challenging. About 80% of gamers fail to complete video games – whether it’s getting your ass handed to them by the end boss, running out of time, getting mauled to death by an alien or that conniving bastard Bowser knocking you into the side of the track with flying shells on your last lap, most don’t complete the game.
Where else do we see a high percentage of failed attempts?
Do the gamers ENJOY losing? Heck no.. they become determined, eager for the challenge and optimistic. While sweating it out with a set of dumbbells and eating more broccoli doesn’t always inspire us, we CAN learn to view our body and health goals as winnable games. We will experience the proverbial “hadoukens” to the face, bouts of dysentery, opponents with extra nitrous boosters and that scheming jackass Bowser. None of these are fatalities, however (d’ya see what I did there?). You scrape yourself off the pavement, get back on your covered wagon, car or kart and you keep the eff going! You are being challenged, tested and you will get frustrated. But your game IS winnable.
We are wired to love novelty. Our brains and bodies require some challenge and discomfort to progress. Novelty keeps our attention, keeps our focus and keeps us engaged. Legendary researcher Mihaly Csilszentmihalyi is the master of what’s called “flow” – a state of being where time is suspended – where you are completely engaged in your task. Flow is most efficient and reliable when a combination of specific and self-directed goals, personally optimized obstacles and continuous feedback are present.
The key here is to choose tasks that are just challenging enough to stimulate the brain and body, yet not too challenging so that you become frustrated and quit. Noted author and motivational expert Daniel Pink refers to this as “Goldilocks” tasks. When it comes to health and fat loss goals, your Goldilocks tasks might look as follows;
- Increase vegetable servings by 1-2/day.
- Get 25 total minutes of intentional cardio.
- Grocery shop every wednesday and sunday
- Get 8,000+ steps per day
- Try a new lift/sport/activity
Note that the above are just examples. Some of these may be “too easy” or “too difficult” at this time in your journey. Use these examples as a template and choose tasks related to your lifestyle enhancement that will keep you progressing.
As with games, the rules of fat loss are clear when it comes to what you need to do to win. Setting the right kind of goals is very important. I’ve spoken on goal-setting in more detail here, but in essence, when setting goals I encourage taking the following into consideration;
- Discover you “why”: What are your deepest, most sacred values. How do they relate to your health goals? Are your health goals part of your core values? If not, why not?
- Focus on process goals: The “goals behind the goals” are habit-based objectives that will help you solidify the foundational wiring that will beget your outcome goals. This could mean grocery shopping and prep habits or could even be waking up 30 minutes earlier (going to bed 30 minutes earlier).
- Look at your goals through a lense of sacrifice – not wish lists. Instead of asking what you want to accomplish, ask yourself what pain are you willing to go through to get to where you want to be? What are you willing to sacrifice? What are you willing to quit? What will you do when things get difficult?
Setting goals is a way of taking an untangled mess and giving it clarity – making it part of our personal narratives. Goals are meant to be revisited, revised and should remain flexible. Having goals gives your a blueprint and when done
Feedback is about acknowledging your small wins and reflecting on setbacks. Feedback helps keep or pursuits top of mind. Whether this is a daily weigh-in, fitbit numbers, protein targets or miles run, keeping tabs on our progress is crucial towards moving forward.
Where my methods may differ from other coaches is that I actually favor daily weigh-ins… not because I care about the number (and I have to emphasize that I ask clients to also detach from the emotions that can accompany this metric), but because it creates a daily habit that places goals top of mind. It gives instant feedback and over the course of a few weeks, one can see if what they are doing is working (along with tape measurements and body fat calculations).
Food logging also provides valuable feedback – pointing out potential red flags on what might be keeping you from progress. Wearables are another method of providing feedback as they can measure step counts and estimate calorie expenditure.
One underrated and underutilized form of feedback is daily reflection. This could be in the form of mindfulness/meditation, journaling or simply a short thoughtful reflection on how your day went. What went well? What could have gone better? If you had an off-day eating-wise what precipitated it? How might you approach this situation differently next time?
Solicit feedback from others too. Accountability can go a long way – whether it is a friend, family member, co-worker or coach you’ve hired. The more you set up your social environment as one of support and accountability, the better your chances of sustaining your path.
Take Home points
Remembering and re-enforcing these 4 tenets will give you the focus, clarity and the mindset edge you need to keep pushing forward.
Winnable = provides a sense of control
Novel = provides more enjoyment
Goals = provides a blueprint and a direction
Feedback = provides focus
So much of your journey is developing the right mindset. Fat loss is a game you CAN win. You need to be aware of the rules, employ strategies, keep the journey novel and keep the feedback loop going.
Hit singles – aim to be 1% better every day. Ask yourself “what can I do today to get better at taking care of my body”.