Lost in a Labyrinth: Getting Healthy Isn’t a Straight Shot


The maze.

A sprawling complex network of dead ends, traps, adventures, and challenges.

I’ve always LOVED the concept of a giant maze, and I know I’m not alone.

From the movie Labyrinth (featuring an amazingly bizarre David Bowie), the maze in Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire, the absolutely incredible Pan’s Labyrinth, the labyrinth in God of War III, The Shining‘s Hedge Maze, and MadMaze for Prodigy (remember that game!?), I’m always up for a good maze-run to test my wits and keep me on my toes.

You know the phrase, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon?” 

That’s not true at all.  It’s neither.

It’s a freakin’ labyrinth.

Life is a labyrinth

hedge maze

I recently stumbled across a blog that I’ve fallen in love with (and I know a lot of NF people have as well, as I received at least a few dozen emails linking me to this article).

Oliver wrote an article recently entitled “Life is a Maze, not a Marathon” and I couldn’t help but nod my head and think: this applies to getting healthy most of all.

In this Game of Life, we’re tasked with finding a way to be healthier. To live up to our potential. TO challenge ourselves to be better.

When we try to make a lot of changes, we struggle to adapt to it all. We’re told “that’s okay, remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint!” – that change takes time, that things don’t happen all at once.

This is true.

HOWEVER, a marathon implies that every step we take is always a step forward.  That if we just put one foot in front of the other and keep trudging away down the path, we’ll reach our 26.2 mile marker and finish.

It turns out, life – and your quest for a healthier lifestyle, has a lot more twists and turns than expected.  Rather than thinking of your journey like a straight shot marathon, think of it like a winding labyrinth.

If your quest for a healthier life was a marathon, it would look like this:

  • I tried to lose weight and I failed. I’m a huge loser and I’ll never succeed.
  • I can’t get myself to eat healthier, something must be wrong with me.
  • I tried exercise once and I didn’t enjoy it. Exercise isn’t for me.
  • I applied for that job I wanted and didn’t get it.  Looks like I’m doomed to a miserable existence.

Instead, this is a labyrinth that you’re navigating, with your goal at the center of it.  You will find dead ends – and they don’t make you any less of a person.  They are simply paths that don’t work.

  • I tried to lose weight and I failed.  I will try again with a different tactic this time! I will go back and make a different turn.  Last time I tried counting calories. This time, I’m just going to focus on eating better foods.
  • I tried exercise once and I didn’t enjoy it.  I’m going to try a different type of exercise that sounds interesting to me instead.  Parkour? You mean I get to be the dude in Assassin’s Creed? I’m in!
  • I applied for that job I wanted and I didn’t get it.  Looks like I’ll need to change my tactics and stand out differently for the next job I apply for.

Fight your stubbornness


Thanks to our love of difficult videogames, nerds LOVE a challenge and have no problem dedicating hours and thousands of “continues” to win.  It’s the reason games like Dark Souls exist.

However, while this stubbornness and dedication can be a blessing, it can certainly be a curse when it comes to getting healthy.

Sometimes you’ll be heading down a path that is incorrect. The problem is, continuing down this dead-end path is a waste of your time, and actually steps taking you further away from your goal.

The best thing to do? Try a different path!

We oftentimes let our stubbornness force us down a losing path because we’ve already started it:

  • We keep trying to force ourselves to count calories and run more often, when it’s not giving us any results and we quickly abandon it every time. Instead of switching to strength training and less stress-inducing clean eating
  • We stay in dead end jobs because that’s what we got our degree for, and it’s what we think we should do, rather than what we actually want to do. This is “good enough” syndrome at its most dangerous.
  • We stay in unhealthy relationships because we’ve been in them so long and might as well just keep being miserable…instead of realizing we deserve to be happy, and that we need to take care of ourselves.

Sometimes, heading in a new direction is the best thing you can do.  Not because giving up is what to do, but rather because giving up on the wrong thing will allow you to refocus your efforts on the RIGHT path.

But…what if that path isn’t obvious?

lost in the labyrinth

green hedge maze

In any labyrinth there will be times when you see three paths ahead of you, and have no clue which one you need to take.

In life there will be times when you don’t know which path to take either, and this can be overwhelming.

The worst thing you can do? Sit down on the ground and complain that you don’t know what to do.  More information at this point isn’t gonna help either.  Instead, you know what DOES help?  Making an educated guess, picking a path, and seeing where it leads.

Remember The Fellowship of the Ring? Of course you do. They sit and see three paths ahead of them – they select one, which leads to the great hall Dwarrowdelf, one of the most impressive scenes in the entire trilogy:

So, after sitting in that spot for hours, how did they decide to pick that one path? Because Gandalf decided “the air [didn’t] smell so foul” down that path.

Sometimes, we’re going to be at a point in our lives where there are many options laid out before us.  Because we’re an analytical bunch, we can actually paralyze ourselves with too many choices, and instead choose to do nothing.

When you are faced with a similar decision:

Should I try this type of workout, or this type of workout, or this type of workout?
Should I follow this diet, or this nutrition plan, or this one?

It’s easy to be so afraid that one path might be better than the others that we don’t decide at all.

It’s tough to solve a maze when you are sitting still.  It’s time to pick a path.  Here’s how:

1) Do SOME research and see if you can determine if one path is better than others. However, DO NOT BECOME AN UNDERPANTS GNOME.  Yes, that’s a serious condition that needs to be avoided.

2) Pick a path, for a reason.  Maybe it’s because you did a bit more research and it’s a path that seems like the most optimal.  Maybe it’s because that path “doesn’t smell as foul.”  Maybe it’s because that path is the prettiest. Maybe it’s because you flipped a coin.  Whatever reason, pick one and start working.

3) Give yourself the chance to have a small win to test that path. When you are lost in any game, you often mark the walls or leave breadcrumbs to make sure you don’t double back or make the same mistake over and over. If that path fails to get you out, you NEED TO KNOW! Just like leaving breadcrumbs in a maze, give yourself some way to find out if you are going in circles. Give yourself two weeks to see if your new workout routine is producing performance (strength or time) gains.  See if two weeks with your new diet results in a slightly slimmer waistline or improved weight.  If the path isn’t working, make a TURN! Return to step 1 and repeat the process.

You can’t save the world, and you can’t find the end of the maze sitting on your butt wondering which path to take.  Research and a logical decision making process helps, but sometimes you just gotta move.

As you eliminate paths and solutions, continue working and pushing and trying and failing and learning.

Do this long enough, and you’ll reach your goal…

the end of the maze

maze solved

We are so hard on ourselves when we fail.  It’s time to stop thinking of failure as the end, and start thinking of failure as one step in a big process towards finding the end and saving the day.

Here’s a quick recap on how to find the end of the maze:

  • Understand that we’re in a maze, and it’s damn difficult to solve.  Anybody that tells you they have life all figured out is lying.
  • When faced with a series of paths, make the best educated guess you can and PICK a path.  There’s only one way to find out where it leads…
  • When you find a dead end, cross it off from your list of possible solutions, and try a different path.
  • Grit and determination will result in victory. With enough perseverance, crossing off enough possibilities, and continuing to push ahead…you will find the center of the maze.

Get started. Don’t beat yourself up when you end up in a dead end. Try new paths.

Find the end.

Take that, David Bowie.


PS: I really just wanted to see if I could end an article with “Take that, David Bowie.”  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.


photo source: Hans Splinter: Labyrinth, vgm8383: Bush Labyrinth, Zach McCormick: Stairs Labyrinth, lina bielinyte: foggy maze, FutUndBeidl: maze puzzle

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