The fitness industry is awash with short term, high achievement promotions.

12 week body transformations, 21 Day Detox Diets, 30 Day Weight Loss Challenge, the list goes on and on. Whilst the intent of the gym/personal trainer making the offer is sound, there is an un-assumed fundamental that if not addressed will result in failure for the participant.

It is an unpleasant statistic that 90% of people that start a weight loss routine will fail. This is an alarming statistic for a number of reasons. Firstly, obesity or excess body fat (above a health level) is the top predictor for chronic disease. It is also alarming in that the statistic itself can’t help but to give you a great sense of ‘what’s the point of even trying’. This then creates a feedback loop that further perpetuates the cycle of weight gain and exposure to chronic disease. This is further reinforced with the fact that as a society, we are getting fatter and fatter. It’s not for lack of gyms or personal trainers, with both being at the highest levels of availability and accessibility of all time.

This has led to a very disjointed and divided society of what I’ll refer to as the ‘Abs’ and ‘Ab Nots’.

On one hand he have the ‘Abs’, they are a group that are firmly engrossed and indoctrinated into the world of physical culture. Training with frequency, putting on lean muscle mass, losing body fat, grasping the concept of healthy eating (of which there are many acceptable expressions) and in general, maintaining a healthy body with what seems like ease. They do it year in year out. They do it with ease. They respond quickly to their training and it never seems like they’re laboring through the whole ‘healthy living’ concept with any great sense of struggle. Some of them are quit and inconspicuous about it, whilst others are intolerable, telling (either verbally or on Social Media) anyone that’ll listen, why they’re so awesome.

Then there are the ‘Ab Nots’

The ‘Ab Nots’ come in many different forms. From the ‘I don’t train, I eat crap and I don’t care’ crowd, to the ‘I’ve tried and failed more times than I can remember crowd’. Whilst these are the two extremes, there are an infinite amount of archetypes in-between. They are constantly bothered by self depreciating thoughts, “This’ll never work for me”, “I’m different, my body doesn’t respond”, “I’ll do it till the end of the month then reward myself with a week off healthy eating”, “I don’t have time for fitness, I’m too busy with family/kids/work/building an empire/being lazy/etc.”. The common theme amongst the ‘Ab Nots’ is that whilst they are hopeful and at times optimistic, that sense of optimism ALWAYS gives way to limiting beliefs. Beliefs that condemn them to the 90% that fail to achieve their goals.

* Quick disclaimer. As a lifelong ‘Ab’, there is AB-solutely no judgment or sense of superiority from the author towards the ‘Ab Nots’. Every man/woman is your superior in some way and I suck at a lot of things that the ‘Ab Nots’ are often very good at.

What separates the two groups?

The ‘Ab Nots’ often go for extended periods of time being good with their training, eating well and in general being consistently consistent. Why do they struggle to make it stick in the long term? Why do they end up going back to their old ways and being one of the 90%?

There is an answer but it’s not what you think.

It’s not that their training was wrong (although it does help to get it right).

It’s not that they have a bad Thyroid.

It’s not that they’ve got Syndrome X.

It’s far more subtle than that and far simpler.

Away from Versus Towards

The earlier mention of different gym/fitness products is a good point to start with on motivation. These products have the habit of getting people excited, motivated, full of hope that this will be ‘the thing’ that’s going to change their life.

I have found that 30-day challenges in particular can be very motivating and compliance to the program is high.

I believe that a small part of this is the short attention spans humans have. But of far more importance is the way we are wired.

Motivation will always decrease, dissipate or abandon us at some point. This is a fact of life for both the ‘Abs’ and the Ab Nots’. Expecting a PT, training partner of baby Jesus to have spare for you is unrealistic. They may be able to help but ultimately you’ll need to draw upon your own motivation for long-term success.

This is where you need to understand what type of motivational behaviors you have exhibited in the past.

Below is a breakdown of the two main ones I’ll cover in this blog and how they apply to the context of health and fitness.

Away from motivation.

his type of motivation will get you going. It will motivate you to join the gym. Maybe even lose a little weight. To do just enough not totally balloon out. The problem with it is that it does not sustain. It is the type of motivation that gets you into a perpetual cycle of starting, stopping, then starting something new once you’ve had a little break and some self loathing.

In financial terms, it would give you just enough motivation to start saving a deposit for a house, only to save $5,000 and go ‘YOLO, time for a holiday in Bali’, rather than continuing to work towards financial wealth.

It’s an exhausting cycle that wears you down each and every time you relapse (it’s no coincidence that it sounds like addictive behavior), often leading to incrementally more crazy solutions (slimming shakes, Marathons or sewing your mouth shut) to finally achieve your goals. It ignores consistency and focuses on the extreme. The common theme is that the focus is often unsustainable.

More often than not, the individual will not even be aware of their pattern. They may come up with excuses or blame others. But the consistent theme is that they never stick at anything long enough, and that’s because the motivational pathway they are exercising, only ever gives them enough oomph to get started.

It’s the financial plan that does just enough to get you out of poverty, without ever trying to accrue wealth.

It’s the prescription drug to alleviate pain but with no interest in removing the cause for better health.

 

‘Towards’ Motivation

This is a type of motivational energy that is far more productive. It is the same energy that drives a billionaire to do more, accumulate more and achieve more. It is perpetual and enduring. It gets you out of bed each and every day with the knowledge that to get ‘over there’, you’ve got to do your thing. That thing is structured movement and eating a certain way. ‘Towards’ Motivation is the intrinsic knowing and the underlying energy that your destiny is to move relentlessly and effortlessly towards the finish line that will never appear.

The Effortless Long Game

By all means, join a 30 Day, Six Week or 12 week Transformation Challenge (Provided that it’s with an experienced and reputable industry professional with a track record), but before you do, I would heed you this word of advice.

‘Know thy self’

Know your weaknesses.

Know your behavioral patterns.

Know what it is that you say to yourself at that point of failure and be prepared for it to come up…..because it will!

It is often said (across a number of different disciplines) that to have success, you need to look at what the 90% who are failing do, and then do the opposite.

In becoming one of the 10% or the ‘Abs’, you especially need to understand this concept.

Below is an interesting excerpt from a message that one of my clients once sent me. This is a guy that has had a pattern of success, followed by self-sabotage, never really getting all the way to his goal. He’s REALLY good at getting half way there, but thus far has never made it all the way.

One time when he tried to tell me he was canceling from my gym to go it alone, I told him some very hard to hear home truths.

I told him in no uncertain terms by doing that he would be condemning himself to yet another failure.

I told him that it was another chapter in his history of straying from the path that was getting him to his destination.

I told him that if he did leave, it would fail and in six months time, he’d have put back on all the weight he’d lost (14kg with plenty to go at that point in time).

You see, what he was doing WAS working, he just couldn’t get his head around the fact that it was this easy.

He thought it had to be more complicated than this, he thought there was more to it. At some level, he thought that achievement of his goal required a different, more masochistic behavior than what he did when things were going well.

I said all this not to save myself the revenue that would be lost if he left (it’s actually easier to find a new member than deal with the maladaptive behaviors of one that is self sabotaging), but to hold him accountable to what he told me he wanted to do.

A bad coach will let you off when you start to exhibit self-sabotage (that is most likely part of your behavioral cycle), a good coach, a coach that actually cares for your success, will call you on your bullshit. They’ll be prepared to have the uncomfortable conversation, hold up the mirror and help you see what it is you’re doing, AGAIN!

There were a number of other observations that I will now let you read in the message history below.

Hey mate I just wanted to let you know I’ve unlocked the key to my self-sabotage mindset. It’s taken me a long time to get down to it but I’ve finally done it!

The process started after our conversation way back when I decided to quit the gym (awful decision) which I reacted horribly to. I really reacted so poorly to what you were saying that I couldn’t even process what you were telling me at the time. I was so angry that I didn’t even hear the words! All I could think at the time was “I’ll show you motherfucker!!”. But as the weeks turned in to months following that conversation (and I proceeded to get fatter and fatter as you predicted I would if I quit) I realised that you were dead on and the real problem I had was right between my ears. So it got me thinking, Righto, what do I have to do to prevent history repeating, what do I have to change? After a lot of thinking and delving into the archives of yo yo weight losses and gains I found out two very basic things I was doing that ultimately led to self sabotage.

Firstly, every time I would embark on a quest to change I would set it up as a work versus reward system “do this work and eat well for a month and then you can have this food”. This mindset stems way back to my childhood and without realizing it I had continued it through adulthood. This reward would ultimately lead to another and another and another. Sabotage!!

The second thing I realised was I always set myself a finish line to get to and I would get to a point where I’d cross it and get that feeling of “yes!! I’m done” and I’d stop. I was like a sprinter racing his heart out for 400m and crossing the line victorious, not realizing he was actual racing in the 800m and there was still a lap to go. Sabotage would ultimately come.

So once I realised what I needed to change it’s become a matter of creating a new headspace. My goal now is simple; train a min 5 days a week and do something everyday, even if it’s just going for a walk. There’s no timeframe attached to this. It’s just what I do now. The second thing is food. I’m following the eat clean model and allowing myself a 10% variance if I feel like I need it, not a weekly “oh I can eat junk today cause I have been good” mentality. Basically allowing myself some leeway when I’m in a pinch and can’t make better choices. And I’m seriously doing that now “I want that bread” “do you NEED it?” “Well no not really”.

Hey I’m not perfect but I really do feel like I’m on the right track now thanks to you being a great mate and calling me out on my bullshit. I can’t thank you enough mate you’ve changed my life!

So, as you can see from the message history, there were a number of things going on.

Firstly, there was always a sense of ‘if I can just do this until such and such a date, I’ll then allow myself to X-Y-Z’. This type of thinking is very ‘away from’ orientated. It will only ever allow you to fuel your behavior until you are far enough away from your low point, leading to the foot coming off the gas pedal.

Then there was the very imbedded behavior of linking food to the activity as a reward. Whilst there is a requirement to refuel after training, that should not be confused with reward eating. This type of eating usually goes back to our childhood, 99% of the time from our parents using food as a reward (be careful of doing this if you are a parent). Every time we reward a child with food, we create an undeniable feedback loop that can be VERY hard to break as an adult. ‘If I just do this, then I can have that’, often undoing a lot of their good work.

And of particular note was the shift away from focusing on a certain block of training time, to more of a ‘this is what I do’ mentality.

There’s also been a really balanced and objective shift to towards acceptance. You’ll notice in the case history above that he says ‘Hey I’m not perfect but I really do feel like I’m on the right track now’.

One of the things that the ‘Abs’ don’t do, is beat themselves up. If they have a big night out, they’ll recover, chalk it up as ‘wow, that was an unexpected evening’ then get back into their routine.

No self-loathing.

No binging for the next month because they’re so despondent that they got pissed and consumed 55 dim Sims at 2am.

They just get on with it.

This applies to a night out, a sub-optimal meal, a missed training session or a week of illness. Don’t dwell on it, just get back to business.

They understand that health and fitness is about the long game.

It’s a marathon or as I often tell my clients, focus not on how many sessions you can do in a week, but in how many you can do in a year. This will help to break down belief structures that have you thinking you need to be doing 10 sessions per week for the next 6 weeks to get shredded and make your life better.

Focus instead on doing somewhere between 150 – 400 sessions per year. The exact number will differ depending on your tolerance for training and your life situation. Consistency and frequency is the key here though.

You don’t need to be perfect, you just need some basic rules that govern your behavior and habits for the 80-90% of the time. Do this and the other 10-20% of the time that’s not perfect won’t make a big impact.

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