Weight loss is really a process of change.
Changing the way you currently eat to a way that suits your lifestyle and your desired appearance.
Changing the way you currently exercise to a way that suits your schedule and your optimal aesthetic.
Changing your lifestyle itself so as to suit the optimal occupation, the right social groups, a positive mindset and ideal behaviors.
Behaviors like cooking your own food, walking or riding to work, eating more veggies, or taking up a physical activity or a sport for fun. It could be learning new things like how to cook or how to ski, snowboard, skate or cycle.
The combinations are endless and unique to the individual, there could be 10 really big things worth changing, or 100 little things worth changing that would yield be results for the average weight loss client.
Change can be freakin’ hard!
So, how can we make this easier on ourselves?
Change Will Happen
Whether you want it to or not.
Getting yourself in the right mindset about the process of change is the most ideal way to set yourself up for incredible results. A lot of people set themselves up for failure because the process of goal pursuit doesn’t match their expectations.
If you expect for something to be so incredibly hard you’ll never be able to to do it; You’ll never start.
If you go into something thinking it will be so incredibly easy and it turns out not to be; You’ll stop before you had a chance to get rolling.
How many times have you heard this B.S. pitched?
“Eat whatever you want and lose inches each week!”
“Don’t count calories at all and drop more than 10 pounds a month!”
“Get ripped on only 20 minutes 3x a week!”
The real reason people fail here isn’t that these programs don’t or won’t work, it’s really that they set up false expectations about having to change.
You don’t have to really restrict your diet to have success, but you’re going to have to change how you eat.
You don’t have to count calories to have success, but you’re going to have to change your general food intake to a negative energy balance somehow, someway. Then you’re going to have to learn how to maintain what you’ve lost or gained.
You might see a huge benefit from exercising twenty minutes at a time for three days a week, but it might not be enough (depending on where you start) to give you the shredded physique you saw online or in that infomercial. It’s still a good idea to exercise and learn how to exercise better.
It’s crucial to know where you are in your quest and to go in with the clear expectation of changing yourself for the better, in the long-term.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it and 6 months from now you won’t even miss certain things about your former self; Even things you thought you’d never let go.
There are a few certainties in life; You will die; You will pay taxes; Things will change!
The Conscious and Sub-Conscious Mind
Remember my article on the Elephant and Weight Loss, from last week?
The conscious mind can only truly concentrate on things, one at a time.
That’s right, if you’re multi-tasking, you are actually shifting your conscious focus from one thing to the next; Splitting your time simultaneously between conscious tasks — kind of like how the first iPad multi-tasked, anybody remember that?
This is why the process of change generally works better by focusing on making singular changes to your life at a time.
That and your brain doesn’t like too much change at once, it’s overwhelming. No matter how good at multi-tasking you think you may be.
We’ve all been there. A period in our lives when maybe we change jobs; Move cities or into a new place or new part of town; Leave friends behind and have to make new ones; Loved ones might be sick or dying or struggling; Maybe we just got out of a long-term relationship or are starting a new one.
When all of that is coming at you at once, don’t we just want to explode? You’ve had this moment in your life by now, I’m sure of it. If you haven’t, you probably will (sorry!).
It’s easier for the brain to focus on singular tasks, rather than trying to juggle multiple things. Do diet overhauls work? Sometimes, but not the majority of the time.
If you need to learn a new skill focus on learning that skill. Break it down into sub-skills, improve the routine and rebuild it.
The only other thing you could be doing, when you multi-task; Is put other tasks on auto-pilot, through your sub-conscious.
The sub-conscious mind is capable of handling a lot more data and can actually multi-task. In fact, it’s multi-tasking right now as it looks after your heart rate, breathing rate, digestive system, hormonal system and so on.
Ever wonder how athletes get so good at shooting a basketball or hitting a golf ball? They ingrain a motor pattern — through a lot of deliberate practice — to the point of sub-conscious control, then that movement becomes reactive in nature and they no-longer have to think about ‘how‘ to shoot, or ‘how to hit this golf ball, given this terrain.’
It’s like flexing a muscle to make it stronger. You practice a fitness or nutrition skill to make it automatic, to create the change you seek. The more you can put on autopilot — by first focusing on it solely for a period of time, until it becomes automatic — the easier change is. It develops like this:
Conscious Effort —-> More Conscious Effort —-> Hopefully Subconscious Skill/Habit
Under this circumstance, you’re focusing on one thing that you need to consciously think about, while your subconscious mind handles the other things going on in the background.
The sub-conscious can then drive automatic habits and behaviors, and in the case of weight loss the process that needs to happen. I’ll explain how below.
The more things you can run in the background that support your objectives without your conscious thought, the better. The transition to unconscious automaticity though requires conscious practice.
In the examples below, the unconscious, represents your sub-conscious mind. I use the two interchangeably.
The Change Process
As you go through the process of change, these are more or less the four stages of that change.
1) Unconscious Incompetence
This is the stage you won’t even be aware of yet. If you’re reading this, you are probably already past this stage, or you wouldn’t be here. People in this stage are completely oblivious to the fact that there is anything to change, let alone know how to change it.
This might be a love one you’ve been urging to lose a few pounds for the last 10 years but refuses to believe they have a problem, or is in a state of denial. Truth is they may not even view what you view as a problem and you should be aware of that.
2) Conscious Incompetence
This is the stage that we see the most often. This is the ideal stage to work with a coach actually.
You may realize or know someone who realizes that they have a problem with their weight but they just don’t have the skills, habits, knowledge, attitude or behaviors needed in order to do something about it.
This stage requires an in depth experiential education into the unique aspects of your physical existence — hey we work mostly on physical change here but it’s inter-related to the other dimensions of well-being too — and what is needed from you in a sequential fashion to create lasting change.
3) Conscious Competence
This is the stage where we really start making some progress!
At this point, you are probably well on your way to acquiring great skills, changing bad habits and creating positive, new behaviors. Congrats!
You’re probably feeling a sense of accomplishment at this point, on a roll, you’ve found your zone or your flow, all good things.
The only thing you’ve yet to accomplish at this point is instilling the pattern into the sub-conscious so you no longer have to consciously think about it’s execution, you can just do it.
4) Unconscious Competence
The last stage of change and pretty much where everybody should aim for.
At this point, the habit, skill, pattern, or behavior is so ingrained you don’t even have to think about it, you just act on it, it’s completely controlled by your sub-conscious.
Funny enough, you may even find yourself struggling to understand why other people don’t exercise more or eat better, it’s just ingrained in your natural behaviors.
At least though, the hardest part is over, now you can find something new to change.
How Long Does This All Take?
Well the research is not surprisingly, pretty mixed. Easy skills can be taken on pretty quickly, while more complicated (or skill you don’t really want to learn) can take considerably longer.
If you look at habits, it was commonly assumed that 21 days was the magic number but that’s false. It wasn’t based on any real research. Real research into habits showed an average of 84 days to automaticity but that’s just an average.
However, the range to 95% automaticity was 18 to 254 days!
So hard difficult habits (and arguably skills are slightly different) could take 2/3’s a year, while easy habits (I believe the main example was drinking a glass of water every morning) can become engrained pretty quickly in a matter of weeks.
The lesson here? Make the skill you’re working on small and manageable; Then layer slightly more complex versions on top of what you already know.
Layering all those skills up is a trial and error process, and you’re bound to have some high, highs and some low, lows. Progress tends to start more slowly for most people, and then snowballs into action.
It will feel harder at first and get easier. It will take some time. Keep in mind that most realistic outcomes (1-2 lbs of weight loss per week, or 0.5-1 lbs of muscle mass gain per week, as examples) are the AVERAGES.
That is to say, it’s the 84 days out of the 18-254 day range. What tends to happen is you get that cumulatively over the period of time it takes, but it isn’t always consistently like that.
When it comes to any objective rarely will you ever see linear changes. You have to look at the overall trends.
Prepare yourself and you’ll do better. Expect to change and you will.
Do none of those things and it’ll be a lot harder on you.