The Three REAL Reasons Why People Succeed

We have featured some pretty incredible success stories on Nerd Fitness:

  • Joe dropping 130 pounds in 10 months
  • Saint going from 60 pounds overweight to less than 10% body fat
  • Staci becoming a powerlifting superhero
  • Stephen dropping 40 pounds in time for his wedding
  • Veronica losing 40 pounds in four months

There’s are a few constants running through each and every success story listed above.  Sure, they all worked on cleaning up their diet and they all followed through with a strength training routine, but neither of those things were the most important reasons why they found success.

I’ve been running Nerd Fitness for close to four years now, and I’ve come to understand why certain people are successful and why others can’t seem to make things happen.  Those that find success possess a few intangibles that can be learned over time, and are DEFINITELY REQUIRED for long-term awesomeness – something we all strive for.

Here are three biggest reasons why Nerd Fitness Rebels succeed where others fail.

Consistent persistence

turtle wearing helmet

Everybody gets healthy in their own way.

We all start out as level 1.0 versions of ourselves, and it takes us a considerable amount of time to get to a point where we’ve leveled up our lives.

I can generally tell within a few lines of an email from a new NF reader who is going to succeed and who is going to struggle:

Those that will struggle start by asking:

“How long is this going to take?” or “If do this for a month, how much weight will I lose?”

They’re interested in the results but have no interest in the process. They get bogged down in the minutiae of EXACTLY how many calories they should eat, the exact amount of protein required, and freak out about the exact number of sets and reps.  They  spend all day reading hundreds of health websites while taking the advice of none of them. They are collecting underpants gnomes.  They get quickly frustrated after non-earth-shattering progress in a few weeks, so they jump from diet fad to diet fad, from one “revolutionary workout plan” bandwagon to the next.  They consistently pick flash and style over persistence and consistency.

Those that will succeed start by doing:  

“Hey Steve, I’ve been following the __________ plan for four months, and here’s my progress!” 

These Rebels understand how just getting started is the best step taken, so they pick a plan, stick with it for months on end, and make adjustments along the way. They don’t send premature emails with sweeping declarations about how successful they will be four months later.  They just freaking DO IT, consistently improving for months and months, and then email me AFTER the fact to share their story.

Joe, one of our most dramatic Nerd Fitness transformations ever, followed through with a plan for ten months to get his results.  He actually didn’t email me until four months AFTER he had stuck with a plan. For Staci, it took a good 18 months of progress before she transformed into the powerlifting superhero that she is today.

Successful Rebels understand that they are NOT on a crash diet, and they’re not following some 6-week get-fit-quick plan. They are making concerted, calculated, and consistent changes, over a long period of time that will become part of their new lives.

Steps backwards are still steps forward

stepping stones

Failure is NOT a bad thing. Failure can be one of the greatest things to ever happen to you…if you learn from it and move forward.

People who struggle to find success: After a diet misstep a few weeks in, they get depressed, give up on themselves, and go back to their old habits because “it’s hopeless.”  Eventually, they work up the motivation to make another effort to get healthy, but they make the same mistakes as last time.  Not surprisingly, when it doesn’t work again, they get even MORE depressed and fall into an even deeper funk.

Those who are successful look at each and every failure as a step forward.  Each time they fall off the ‘get healthy’ wagon, they don’t sit down and make the assumption that “it’s impossible.”  Instead, they get the **** over it, and see that failure is one less method they need to try to get healthy the next time.  They understand that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, so when they fail at one particular method or strategy, they immediately get back on the horse and try another one.

Saint struggled to reach his level of “healthy;” over the course of two years, he continually failed to transform (mostly by trying the same methods repeatedly).  Now, rather than giving up and calling it hopeless, he took that opportunity to analyze WHY he was failing: counting calories and spending every evening doing more cardio didn’t work for him, so he shifted course and tried strength training and clean eating.  Success.

They put on their hard hats

hard hats

Getting healthy is a long and epic journey, my friend.  Like Frodo walking to Mordor, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

It really comes down to who is properly equipped and mentally prepared to complete the work required to make things happen:

Those that fail give up at the slightest sign of resistance.  They willingly accept that “things got busy” or “I had a bad day” or “I don’t have time,” and then they complain that they can’t seem to get healthy. They get overly excited when the scale reads lower than expected, and then they become inconsolable when the scale moves up a single pound the next week.

Those that succeed?  They put on their “hard hats,” and go to work. No complaints. No excuses.  No feeling sorry for themselves.  Just progress.  They understand there will be good days and bad, busy days and slow days, days filled with awesomeness and days filled with sadness. They don’t allow themselves to ride the roller coaster of emotion.  They just shut up and do work.

When Veronica emailed me to tell me about her progress, it was to tell me that she had been diligent about her workouts and eating for four months.  Same thing happened with Tony – he emailed me to tell me that he had made tremendous progress by being consistent and steadfast with his resolve to live a better life.

Hard hats go on, clocks get punched, and work gets done.

Why will you succeed?

stop start sign

Remember this Rule of the Rebellion: “We don’t care where you came from, only where you’re going.”

I want to know what makes this new version of you different from the old version of you.

Why are you going to succeed now where you have failed in the past?

Life is good: You woke up today, right?

Good, build on that.



photo sources: mountain silhouette, cartoon turtle, stepping stones, hard hats, start stop sign

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  • Lukup

    Noticing all the hyperlinks in this one. I fully expect an upcoming article to be completely red but completely new, just because of how many articles there are. XD

  • Leon Gaban

    Great article! Consistent persistence, repetition is the key! Wanting it is the start button, repetition is the fuel…

  • Savvy Scot

    Love this! You seriously need to want the change and want it with all your heart. If you don’t want it that bad, then you will never change your eating habits! Small steps

  • Katelin

    It not only takes 21 days to make a habit. It also takes willpower.

  • Les

    Beautiful post, Steve!

  • Karen

    All of this is awesome advice but my fav part is the last two lines!

  • UnboundDarkness

    I recently finished out the Insanity workout. I can’t remember one day that I said: “Awesome, I am going to workout again”. It was always like “Another day of torture, I don’t want to do tihs again, please stop.” But I kept on going. Now I am more fit, all because I kept going, in spite of the voice in my head. Definitely, persistence is required, but is too hard when you are really desperate and want to see instant results.

  • Krista Stryker

    It’s true: starting is always the hardest part.

    Be realistic with your goals, be consistant, and most importantly, keep smiling! Only then will you succeed.

    Thanks for the inspiring post, Steve!

  • SuzieQT

    This time it’s different for me because I’m not looking at the journey solely as a way to lose weight, but as a way to find balance. With my dad having been diagnosed with diabetes and a gastric ulcer, it gave me even more incentive to finally get as healthy as possible. My husband supports me (sometimes by being ‘mean’) and I’ve been able to stick to a modified paleo diet for the last 26 days. I have four more to go before we try an Italian restaurant, and I’m not entirely convinced I will have any pasta. When asked what I will do after this thirty days, I replied ‘another thirty days’. Oh, and starting Saturday, I’m going to walk to Mordor in one year’s time.

    All of this has helped me lose 6 pounds, approximately two inches total from waist and hips, and not be so tired all of the time (except this past week being sick, but oh well). I don’t fall asleep at my desk mid-afternoon, my lifts in the gym have gone up, and I sleep better at night. All because I finally decided weight wasn’t the main goal. Great side effect, but not the purpose: moving like I’m designed to and being able to enjoy my life is my main goal.

    Love the article, and it helped to just reinforce what my head has known all along but didn’t want to believe…

  • Phoebe

    Totally agree!

  • Anthony Korahais

    Awesome post. I see the exact same thing with my Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Qigong students. The crazy thing is that I’m writing a blog post on the same subject, but you totally beat me to it (and did a fine job of it too).

    Oh, and BTW, here’s a quote from my teacher’s teacher that I think you’ll like:

    “It’s not who starts first; it’s who finishes first.” – Sifu Ho Fatt Nam.

  • Cinny

    Why is this time different?
    – Instead of recording every calorie I eat, I record every kg I lift.
    – Instead of waiting for the clock to tell me when to eat, I wait for my stomach to tell me.
    – Instead of filling my plate with low fat grains, I fill my plate with green stuff, meat, and nuts
    – Instead of calculating how many calories I burnt riding my bike to work, I calculate my average speed and make sure it’s faster every week.
    – Instead of looking at the numbers on the scale, I look at all the clothes that are too big for me now.
    – Instead of feeling restricted in my diet, I enjoy previously “banned” high fat foods like avocado, salmon & nuts.

  • T$

    Love this article!

  • MaryAnn

    <3 This!

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  • UtahWife

    This is so well written, and so true! Love your blog.

  • Affienia

    These are the posts I love man! I know that I am not ready to take that first step on the road to Mordor. I know that my head isn’t quite in the right space and I will fail. How do I know? Because I’ve done it before. But I also know something else. It won’t be long til I am ready. My bags are backed, I’ve got 2nd breakfast all sorted and I just need to say goodbye to the Shire.
    I’m gonna step out on that road soon and this time I will take it one step at a time, with goals I can actually meet, knowing it will take some time and trying to change my life completely so the lessons I learn stick.

  • SuzieQT

    Doing the same thing here, and isn’t it such a great feeling?

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for this post. It’s great cause even though this is a fitness blog, these self-improvement articles bleed into every other aspect of my life (i.e. my business and love life too).

  • Paul

    My favorite part of this whole post is the part about failure. Failure, in the right context, is the greatest thing that could happen to a person.

  • Sal Kaye

    I really needed your post today. It was like somebody kicking my butt because:

    I started counting calories in late July. It took a month to lose 2 kgs.

    In early Sept. I had a nervous breakdown and my Dr prescribed additional antidepressants.
    Side-effect of both meds and depression: constant craving for food & no energy left to worry about what I ate.
    Weight gain: 2 kgs in two weeks.

    Vacation trip to the US in early Oct. I felt I deserved to eat what I liked during vacation.
    Result: Weight gain, 2.5 kgs.

    I have never weighed so much in my whole life.

    One week ago I decided to stop counting calories because it made me feel even worse to realize I never achieved to limit my calorie intake to 1,400.

    Result? No weight loss, gained 0.5 kgs.

    Now? Just read your post. Then counted calories. Did a brisk walk during lunch break.

    I want to change. I will change.

    Thank you so much.

    @Sal_Kaye from Germany :-)

  • Bloom

    That’s a great article Steve. It was well written, easily scannable, and had some interesting and applicable information.
    I thought it was very effective how you set up a contrast between people who fail and those that succeed. Your right. The media, particularly in America, has brainwashed people to expect instant gratification. You see this on TV with infomercials about the AB Blaster 5000. They take advantage of people who don’t know any better.
    I think you should mention something about having the right motivation. So many people try to get in shape superficial reasons like trying to impress other people or just trying to look good. And then when obstacles come, they don’t have the drive to continue pushing forward. And besides, appearance is just a consequence of fitness. Not the end all be all.
    Keep up the good work!

  • edith aguilar


  • karassa

    I’ve been struggling with consistency lately myself. But I’m committing to getting better!

  • gm

    Hello, Steve–to me, this is the best article you have written. Pros do work quietly and amateurs talk of it loudly. Twenty more pounds! gm

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  • Suzanne

    Love this!!! I’m a trainer who eats healthfully but not strictly at all, and my clients who succeeded are the ones who put on the hard hats and then broke the ‘fitness rules’ by eating …like you said, avocados, salmon, and their favorite chocolate cake and restaurant steak when their body wanted it. I can tell you that all these changes you’ve made are the true mark of someone who’s really going to be successful this time. Congrats.

  • D …

    Awesome post, thanks and a great reminder. I keep telling myself even though I have really &%#*ed up this year, I’m still here trying, I’m still blogging, I’m still getting up each day and trying to be the best I can be for myself. I know my biggest problem is consistency, I can do great things for a week or two and then I get tired of trying. I’m in a great place this week, I’m going to try and find my hard hat when I start losing the strength I feel at the moment. Really thank you!!!

  • QuiltingB52

    I’m disabled and face many challenges through the day….but as I lean forward to struggle out of bed, I can decide right there if I will have a good day. All I need is a huge helping of humor and day gets easier. In the beginning I got out of the mind-set that I was on a diet….it’s more like a healthy journey, learning, growing and changing my mind-set. Many things have changed, while exercise is a challenge – I adapt it to fit my abilities (have been on a marching streak since 5 Dec 2011), have bad day and better days, but I never look back….I only look forward and pray each day will get easier if I just keep trying!!!!!

  • Danny

    Steve, i always love your articles!! i want to print them out and post them at work. is there any way you can make a printable version of the article so i can do that without all the comments on the bottom and info on the side come too?

  • Ricardo Caicedo

    The “steps backwards are still steps forward” is very motivational. Sometimes people get permanently discouraged after a setback.

  • FaceAK

    I’ve been committed to making small changes over the last 4 months, and boy has it paid off. I did a program called Medifast to help clean up my diet it while seeing results to get that positive reinforcement. I also spend all that time reading this site, MarksDailyApple and others to soak in as much information as I could. I also read the Medifast books, and what they were saying in those books just wasn’t lining up with what I was actually DOING on the plan (restricting carbs and focusing on “lean and green” meals). That’s when I knew primal was the way to go, and over the last month I’ve been weaning myself off the Medifast meals and have started incorporating more whole foods into my diet. After a few frustrating weeks on the scale, I’ve decided to put the scale away and simply focus on clean eating and body weight training, mostly so I don’t start to freak out when I gain a pound.

    I’ve lost about 30 pounds (241 to 209) and now I’m taking the steps I need to go full primal. I surprised myself a little the other night when I was out with friends. Nothing on the menu sounded good except a burger (they mostly serve sandwiches and pasta and pizza). I got the burger with a side salad, didn’t even touch the bun. And it felt automatic, like I had no other choice. And it was GOOD. That’s how I know I’m making progress.

    I know that was long and rambly, but I guess what I want to say to everyone out there is STICK WITH IT. You will see results, and you will learn from your mistakes. Think about the big picture, and the little steps along the way that will help you reach your goals. If I can do it, anyone can! =)

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  • physiquerescue

    Your comment and way of thinking is AWESOME!

  • Destinyfate

    Just wish to ask healthy fats does it include the skin n fats in chicken n duck thigh/drumstick?

  • Cinny

    Thank you!

  • Cinny

    Thank you! 14 month in and things really are changing. It’s a great feeling not stressing over calories or numbers on a scale, but still having to buy clothes in smaller sizes.

  • Cinny

    Yes it is :-)

  • burn fat

    They understand there will be good days and bad, busy days and slow days,and everyday doing hard work.

  • Aakash kotnala
  • William Dulitz

    The differences between my old self and my new self are many…but the biggest couple have to be the following:

    1. I used to starve myself to the point of barely wanting to do anything, then try to get on a bike and ride until I couldn’t go any further…it sure helped get me to a weight for skydiving 12 months early, but I was weak! Now I do full-body functional training from the WOD

    2. I used to work all the time…in a job where I sit all day…and I would do just that. I still have the same job, and I work similar hours, but during informational meetings (where I’m not going to be speaking), I step away from the computer with my wireless headset and exercise.

    3. I used to eat fast food and chose the “healthier” options…only to find that those options were actually worse than the “unhealthy” options with a little tweaking. Now the only time I have fast food is when I’m traveling and short on time, but I have to be seriously short on time now!

    4. I don’t have excuses anymore, if I have an excuse, I have to back it up with consequences. If I don’t workout one day, I have a penalty, if I don’t eat right or drink too much, I make certain there is a consequence to my actions.

    5. I now sign up and show up…I’ve been into obstacle course racing since February 2011, ran my first Warrior Dash 5 hours away in June 2011, even though I couldn’t get anyone to join me. Since then, I was able to get people to join me for other races. This past weekend I travelled to Marseilles, IL for the Midwest Super Spartan…9 hours of driving…alone…to volunteer and run. I wasn’t able to get anyone to join for it, so it was a long drive to work and get beat up. Even though I did not finish on account of cold and running out of energy, I learned many lessons and met some awesome people!

    If you’re looking for a little competition, sign up for something before you’re truly “ready” and go whether you’re “ready” or not. It is amazing what putting money down can do!

    Also, my advice for road trips is to buy or make snack sized whole foods which can be easily eaten while driving. I ate nearly a pound of vegetables, over a pound of fruit, a half pound of nuts (no legumes), and when I stopped I ate some leftover shredded beef from a party I had. It kept me from eating fast food and kept me awake for the trip, and when I reached my destination, I felt AMAZING!

  • RevolutionFF

    It’s taken me 5 years to truly succeed. It’s taken that long to get everything in place in my life. I work as a trainer, and I must admit for the first year I thought I could get away with being blasé with my workouts. Not only has being more strict with my own planning helped my body and mind but it has also helped my quality as a trainer.

  • moonbutt

    i love your site. i would love though to see some topic on women over 40.

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  • Panczo

    I am going to do in my town the same STOP=> START sign thing you have in this article :D I just need to find some peacefull place to do it late at night >;)

  • Edward

    I’m a freak for persistence and I love to have a good fight. I don’t want to give up even if I lost several times until I succeed and get what I want. for starters, you shouldn’t be put down every time you fail, you should toughen yourself up to prevail at all times.

  • Me

    It takes 21 days to form a BAD habit. “They say” (They being the people that study this crap) it takes about 63 days to form a good habit.

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  • Bryce Wayne

    I also heard something about. “It’s not who starts first, it’s who is still there in the end”.