In my 20+ years of coaching I have picked up on certain tendencies of those who succeed in the fat loss game vs those who keep spinning their wheels. I can tell very early on when I work with someone how likely they will be to succeed based on a few mindset and habit attributes. Some of these attributes are “duh”-but-worth-repeating but some are a little less obvious.
Before we dive into the five, I feel it necessary to drop a few preemptives. There are some fundamentals of the fat loss journey that apply to EVERYONE. Read this first – many times if needed.
- Fat loss is HARD. There are no 2 ways around this. If you struggle or have struggled with shedding pounds – you are not alone, you are not weak-willed and rest assured, you are fully capable of achieving it.
- Fat loss fundamentals are grounded in the “3 P’s”; patience, persistence and practice. It will take longer than you think, it will require more resilience than you think and it takes more consistent implementation than you might imagine.
- This has to be important to you (really important), you have to have agency (the knowledge that you have control over the outcome) and you have to be willing to kick yourself in the comfort zone – over and over.
Now that the groundwork is laid, let’s look at the traits of those who crush their fat loss goals.
1. They crush the process goals
Stop chasing outcomes! And while you’re at it, stop dreaming! I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but you will thank me later (or call me an a-hole and stop reading). If you’re still with me, let me explain; Sure, have outcome goals, have an “ideal you” in mind but stop right there – don’t ruminate on how badly you want it, and stop daydreaming about how much attention you will get, what you will look like in a bikini or speedo, and while you’re there slap yourself for the very idea of wearing a speedo. Put it into the back of your mind and focus on processes and systems instead – and put your energy into taking action on those processes. These are the “goals behind the goals” – the bedrock habits that will perpetually set you up for success.
Process goals look like this:
- Go to bed 30 minutes earlier, wake up 30 minutes earlier.
- Use the extra 30 minutes to prepare some healthy snacks/meals.
- Grocery shop 2x week on sunday and wednesday.
- Prepare meals from said shops.
- Get to the gym saturday, monday, tuesday and thursday.
- Take 5 minutes to breathe/meditate/pray/reflect.
By putting the aforementioned examples into daily practice you will give yourself an amazing chance of achieving your outcome goals. Looking sexier requires vastly unsexy habits.
2. They reduce behavior variance
In reading Kelly McGonigals “The Willpower Instinct” several years ago, one of the many gems that stood out was her thoughts on reducing the variability of a behavior, not the behavior itself. For example, rather than indulging on one day and trying to stave off sweets and pastries the rest of the week, try keeping things more consistent. Aim for 8-11k steps per day on most days, rather than getting 4000 one day and then trying to make up for it by sprinting a 5k the next day. Get 7-8 hours of sleep daily and try and go to bed and wake up at close to the same time every day (yes, even on weekends). My clients who keep indulgences to a minimum during weekends, celebrations, life stresses, vacations etc are the ones who see more consistent results.
Set your life up in the most optimal way possible to reduce the variance of your habits. Set alarms, push notifications and implement triggers. Decide when, what and how much when it comes to indulging and stick with it.
3. They take scale fluctuations in stride
One of the more delicate arts of body transformation is going full Swiss when it comes to your scale weight. I think weigh ins are great – daily weigh ins even. They are an awareness tool, however not a determinant of your overall progress and certainly not something that deserves our emotional resources. To me, a bigger victory than a client losing a couple of pounds is a client losing no weight at all (or even gaining a bit) AND being ok with it.
Long term, process-oriented people will look at the big picture, non-scale victories (more energy, stronger, better technique, better sleep), and longer term (bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly) trends. They also realize that scale weight can fluctuate for other transient reasons.
4. They don’t require constant change/variety in food/exercises
Doing repeated scales was boring to me when I took piano lessons. Repeated vanilla-looking front kicks and left jabs were rote and not the 360 Van Damme-esque spin kicks I wanted to learn. Later in life I would learn the importance of what researcher Daniel Chambliss calls “the mundanity of excellence”. Success comes down to nailing the basics. The boring, repetitive and uninteresting basics.
In most cases it’s my clients who require a great deal of variety and excitement in meals and exercise selection that have the hardest time out of the gate. I’m not suggesting food has to be bland and you have to relegate yourself to only the stationary bike and planks. What I am saying is be open to embracing less variety. Be open to the idea that reducing your choices can actually help you better establish habits. Be open to the idea that mastering the basics of cooking and exercise technique will open the doors to more proficiency when branching out.
By all means seek out new recipes, add some spices and try out exercise variations. But put your mental energies into the consistency of healthy eating and movement first and foremost – knowing that yep, you’ll be eating things that don’t taste like chocolate chip cookies most of the time. You’ll learn to embrace the mundanity as you see the effect it has on your life.
5. They close the door on loopholes/justifications/excuses
One of the most potent tools of long term success is the ability to recognize and gently call BS on yourself. You will give yourself “outs”, justifications and flat out excuses to take a detour from your path. Here are some of the more common loopholes you will try to pull on yourself (don’t buy in).
- I’ll start tomorrow: This is the most insidious trap of them all. As humans we are wired to put off the challenging in favor of doing what is more comfortable. The cumulative effect of “I’ll start tomorrow” almost always results in remaining stuck.
- YOLO fallacy: Seize the donut! Some of us struggle immensely with FOMO (fear of missing out). Living this way will lock you into place. Pick your spots, indulge moderately and keep your eyes on the long term benefits when choosing your moments of indulgence.
- Dichotomous Thinking loophole: 20 minutes of a workout is better than 0 minutes. Also, you blew it for a meal or 2 doesn’t mean the whole week is a write-off. Letting go of black and white thinking will help build clarity and possibility.
- The clear and predictable path trap: You will be excited for a new health venture. You will see a road lined with daisies and few obstacles. That’s. Not. life. Life is messy, unpredictable and will do whatever it can to pull you off track. Know in advance this won’t be a smooth ride. But it WILL , however be worth it.
- Today is a special day: With all the birthdays, Holidays, retirements, Christenings and other celebrations it becomes very easy to overindulge on a very frequent basis. Again pick your spots, learn to say “no thanks” and learn to enjoy the company/event/celebration for aspects for reasons unrelated to food.
Take Home Points
Don’t worry about ticking all of the “traits” boxes – at least not all at once. Zero in on 1-2 habits that you can do consistently week after week. Challenge yourself and be open to that kick in the comfort zone. Commit to a process, don’t let setbacks get you down and keep plugging away and the mundane, unsexy habits. Your past doesn’t determine your future. If you’ve tried and failed before – you’re human – keep trying, keep practicing.