Once again, weight related goals are forefront in the minds of the nearly 50% of North Americans who made New Years’ resolutions this year. Now, as our National Weight Loss Month draws to a close, it’s typically time for the 38% of those “resolutioners” who decided that 2014 would be their year to finally lose weight to assess how far they’ve come. If you count yourself in this this group, you’re likely either experiencing some degree of success or you’ve given up altogether only 3 weeks in. Unfortunately most people fall in the latter category.
There are literally hundreds of factors influencing your weight loss efforts, many of which are completely out of your control. While each factor plays a role, I’ve identified only two that need your attention from the start. I’m not talking about calories, exercise or nutrition. Don’t get me wrong, these factors are all important, but only after you’ve initially set the stage for success. If these two factors are not properly assessed and addressed from the onset you are doomed. It’s that simple.
These 2 crucial factors are:
- Personal ability – this refers to the skills, knowledge and resources needed to complete a task; and
- Personal motivation – this refers to your level of motivation as defined by how well you connect with your goals internally.
Now let’s look at each factor and how they can be used to influence your weight loss success.
1. Personal Ability
It’s paramount to assess your degree of knowledge and skill before attempting a weight loss program. Despite this, you’ve likely missed this critical step in your effort to shed some extra pounds. The end result of this omission is inevitable. At some point you will become frustrated by the whole process. Chaos and confusion ensues and you either quit the program or move on to another.
So what’s really going on here? Were you in over your head? Do you lack the necessary willpower? More likely you’ve been led astray by your false assumptions and misinterpretation of the process. Without an assessment of your current beliefs and assumptions on how to lose weight, you will not succeed.
Do you have the ability? To get real world weight loss you need to have your head IN the real world. To start you’ll need to accept some absolutes when it comes to long term weight management. Success means:
- hard work and focus on the goal
- being comfortable with being uncomfortable at times
- maintaining relative consistency with your daily goals/behaviors
- sustaining a negative energy balance for most of the program
- flexible dieting and daily exercise
- a commitment to a long plan and maintenance of your results
Start by finding out what you do/don’t know and what you can/can’t do. Make a list. Putting pen to paper is always the best way to organize your thoughts. Ask yourself questions like:
- Do I understand the basics of energy metabolism?
- Can I exercise at least 3-5 days a week?
- Do I know anyone like me who’s been successful that I can learn from?
- Do I understand how to be flexible on a diet?
- Do I have a support system in place for the rough patches?
When you’ve identified weak areas, get the necessary training and educate yourself on those issues. Go to seminars, reach out to people who have been successful at your goal, read reputable books, join support groups and learn from professional fitness and weight loss coaches. There’s really no excuse to be ignorant. If you don’t get the skills to succeed, you’ll always fall for the next quick fix scheme that comes along.
Once you acquire the skills, you need to practice them until they become habitual and part of your routine. An example would be learning how to digitally track your daily food intake. Maybe your friend recommended a tracking app that worked for them. You learn how it works, and with daily use, you get really efficient at tracking. You learn a lot about yourself and your eating behavior in the process. The new skill is now paying off as you now have some control over your results.
Not everyone misses this step. Some people already possess the knowledge and skills to succeed at weight loss. But even if you know it all, your results are still at risk if your initial assessment is incomplete. In fact, I’m often amazed at how resourceful and knowledgeable some of my clients are about weight loss before I teach them anything. So why do they come to me for help ? The answer – motivation. This is the second critical piece of the puzzle. To succeed, people need to harness their motivation to excel.
2. Personal Motivation
Motivation is powerful. It can compel us to do (or not do) just about anything. You either master the power of motivation or the power of motivation masters you. If you lack motivation, you lack persistence. If you lack persistence, you lack the willingness to follow the change process until you succeed. In other words, without the right motivation, nothing else matters.
Do you have motivation? Motivation must come from within you. Even the best coaches in the world can only help you find the existing motivation within yourself. Nobody can motivate you to do something you don’t want to do – at least not for very long. You must have compelling reasons that will overpower your doubts, your comfort zone and your lack of confidence stemming from past failures. So how do you discover what motivates you?
First, understand that basic human motivation dictates seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Pain avoidance is always a bigger motivator than pleasure. The truth is that unless not acting on your goals becomes unbearable, you will not take action. Why? Wherever it is more comfortable for you to be is where you will choose to be. But if it becomes uncomfortable to fail, you will stay committed to your goals. When you couple an association of pleasure to achievement with an association of unbearable pain to failure you become highly motivated.
For example, I workout almost everyday because I’m afraid that if I stop, the exercise with become painful once I start up again. I don’t like excessive muscle soreness so that becomes a powerful motivator during times when I don’t want to do it. I also like to eat- a lot! As such, if I don’t exercise, I don’t get to eat as much and that doesn’t make me happy. See how it works?
To identify the pleasure and pain that you associate with losing weight, brainstorm ideas from the following four questions:
- What good things do you expect to get, now or later, from losing weight?
- What enjoyable things do you get to do or have by not trying to lose weight?
- What do you have to do or give up that you don’t want to do or give up to lose weight?
- What undesirable things are you likely to get now or in the future if you don’t lose weight?
After you have come up with ideas for each, pay close attention to your answers from questions 1 and 4. These are you motivators. They represent your perceived benefits of weight loss and what you stand to lose if you don’t. If the answer to #4 is nothing, then I guarantee your chance of succeeding is extremely low. You must have something to lose.
Questions 2 and 3 are your detractors. They represent the things that compel you to avoid the pain of making changes. If your detractors are greater in number and are more powerful than your motivators you will very likely to fail. Many of my clients who perform this basic exercise are shocked that their motivation is actually very weak. But that awareness helps shape their expectations and gives both coach and client a starting point from which to build their motivation going forward.
Does this mean that things are hopeless for you? Of course not. Continue to find or create new motivations and strengthen existing ones. At the same time find ways to weaken the detractors in your life.
Laying the foundation for weight loss success starts with assessing and addressing your personal ability and motivation to lose weight. It’s never easy to face the truth, but it’s crucial to your journey. When we have chosen wrongly hundreds of times, it eventually becomes a powerful momentum, a momentum that literally becomes self generating. It can be really hard to pull yourself up from this downward spiral. If your journey hasn’t started off well this year, maybe now you have some insight as to why and what to do about it.
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“ No matter what a man’s past may have been, his future is spotless.” — John R. Rice