How To Get In Great Shape In 2020
Why everything you’re about to do is wrong and doomed to fail, and what to try instead.
New year. New you. Or so the theory goes. Every year at this time swaths of people make well intentioned promises to themselves that this year will be the year they get in shape, get healthy, lose weight, etc. But reflecting on who actually achieved big and permanent changes last year will tell you something; the success rate is extremely low. Actually the success rate is abysmal. Just look at yourself and your friends. How many of you have set resolutions for wellness and leanness before, but have made nothing near the changes you once envisioned? Most if not all, I bet you. So what’s the problem. Clearly, set a resolution for massive change and achieve said change is not so simple. After 17 years helping people with just these problems and observing what actually happens in real life, please allow me to share my insights on the topic here and, if I may be so bold, a bit of guidance.
Your efforts are doomed to fail or at best fall short for three basic reasons.
- Change is harder than you think.
- You’re making too much change too quickly.
- You’re in a rush.
Fail to acknowledge and address these three issues and I assure you your chances of success are very slim unless you’re extremely disciplined and desperate. Allow me to address each in a little more detail.
Change is harder than you think:
My wife, a clinical psychologist was shown a video on the first day of her training that was designed to illustrate this exact point. A man sits in an office and on the door is a sign that reads “the greatest psychologist in the world”. A woman enters and explains her great and difficult problem behaviour. The psychologist pauses for a few seconds and thoughtfully leans back in his chair. Then leans in and stares the woman straight in the eye. “Stop it” he says. She’s taken back, “that’s it?” She asks. “Yes, stop it. Next!”. The woman leaves somewhat confused and the psychologist proceeds to repeat this treatment with patient after patient. This parody illustrates how simple it just isn’t to make meaningful changes in ones life. If its was easy as simply “stopping it”, we would all be lean, healthy, rich, etc.
You’re making too much change too quickly.
The number of changes you try to make at any given time and the likely hood of success is inversely related. Not only that but the relationship is exponential. Meaning that if you try to change one habit at a time, your success rate is likely around xx%. Try to change two habits and its not half that rate its actually xx%. Try to change three and its xx%. If you want to make changes stick you need to be slow. Taking the common goal of losing weight as an example, a person may change their diet (which is itself a cluster of individual changes such as shopping habits, cooking habits, eating habits). Then also training or taking up come new exercise (which again is a cluster of changes such as to your morning routine or weekend). It is also a change to your social habits, (refusing sweets at the office, drinking water at lunches and likely drinking less alcohol in your social life). Try doing all that at once and you’re not likely to succeed past a few weeks, a month tops.
You’re in a rush.
Never use a short term solution to a long term problem. Unfortunately the fitness industry is awash with 8 week solutions to life long problems. Let me give you a breakdown of how this works. Let’s say you’re 20% body fat as a male. At this body fat percentage you have a visible gut, but are not obese. Abs are a rumour and depending on how much muscle you have you either look a bit fat or a bit “swole” or a bit “tubby” in a shirt. You want so desperately to get to the magic 10% mark, where you have a visible six pack and a chiselled physique. If you were to give me your soul, and a huge budget, be willing to hand over your life to me, I can get this done in 12 weeks, no problem. But that journey will be torturous. I’ll have you doing more activity than you thought possible to squeeze into a day. You’ll be in pain, you’ll measure every morsel of food and have ZERO wiggle room on the diet. You’ll pay the price. You’ll be tired beyond what’s reasonable, many who do this have to reduce hours at work (including professional personal trainers), and quitting is a likely outcome. But if you make it through, the transformation picture will be awesome. Friends will accuse you of using steroids and those who don’t know you will accuse your trainer of using photoshop. But here’s the rub, The chances of you maintaining that physique and looking like that the following January are remote. Most studies suggest less than 5% will maintain what they lost for a year. Most will regain 108% of what the lost. (Note: this includes studies done on “the biggest loser” contestants, who had all the support from top trainers you could hope for).
Allow me to present the slow option. Losing 10% body fat over 10-12 weeks is brutal and dramatic. But losing 0.83% per MONTH for a whole year is bordering on lethargy. Its actually quite easy. To do so you have to focus on sustainable modifications to your diet and training regimen. Gradually upping the level of discipline in each in a more than comfortable way. Every change you make can be a sustainable one, every tweak a virtually painless new normal that becomes effortless after a few weeks. Friends wont notice as much, until they look back at old pictures. But the result you achieve will be the result of a series of changes to your way of life that are now permanent fixtures in the way you live. You live like a person who is 10% body fat and therefore you remain that way. Not only are you a completely different person in January next year, but the year after that and the one after that. Without really trying that hard.
Take my client Nick, as an example. He started at 33% body fat, did zero exercise, drank often and enjoyed afternoon cake with his coffee frequently. One year later he runs weekly, lifts weights four days a week and walks around at 11% body fat. He still drinks more than I’d like him to, and still enjoys a cake and coffee in the afternoon on occasion. He lives like a normal person, not overly restrictive and not overtly dedicated to fitness. But he’s built great habits that allow him to look and perform well without extremes. This is his new normal and even when he slips backwards on holidays etc he only climbs to 13%, a level that would have been a major goal a year ago.
What to do to actually make 2020 a healthy and transformative year
- Think on a year long time scale.
- Change slowly, painfully slowly, but compound permanent changes
Here’s how I recommend you start. In week one, pick ONE change you can adopt as a permanent change to the way you live. For example, eat a high protein and fat breakfast which is usually my first step with clients. Do just that for two weeks, don’t add anything else at all. Sounds simple but its effective. After two weeks when you’ve settled into that. Start getting up to go for a 15 minute walk or run before that meal. Sounds too easy to work, but it’s about making it hard to fail, rather than hard to succeed. Anyone can get out for 15 minutes! After a few weeks add another change, like hitting the weights twice a week for 30 minutes. You can always do more later on, but its about adding things you will actually do and adding to them over time. Set yourself the target of running for an hour every morning on day one and I absolutely guarantee you’ve dropped this within a few weeks. These tiny changes compound upon one another to add up to immense changes. Keep upgrading at this pace for a year and your way of life is completely different. So too will be your physique, health, outlook, sleep, etc.
This is curating your way of life.
Resolve to curate your way of life towards that of the person you want to be.
Use life long solutions to life long problems.
The process is ongoing.