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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45 thoughts on “Lost in a Labyrinth: Getting Healthy Isn’t a Straight Shot

  1. Awesome read. Agreed 100%. Fitness is like the longest RPG you’ll ever play. Always gotta upgrade yourself to adapt to new conditions new battles. Take some losses, get some xp then come back and beat that boss. Love it.

  2. Crossing off the wrong ways is often the best way to find the right way.

    Though just like blowing up the Death Star, you’ve got to stay on target. With consistent effort and a belief that you will succeed, you will.

  3. Nerd Fitness is by far the best fitness blog out there! Steve, as always, spot on and very thought provoking. I’m thoroughly enjoying my time in the maze.

  4. You should totally read “Who moved my cheese?” It talks about the same lessons and principles.

  5. Dude. You mentioned David Bowie AND the movie Labyrinth in the same article?! My affection for this website grows stronger EVERY DAY!!!!

  6. Hey – just as a matter of fact, i love the idea of many paths of trying to reach a goal, but a labyrinth actually only has one path to a prescribed point (usually in the center) and the same path back out – so totally different than a maze…
    I am a labyrinth fan as a meditation – and i think mazes are frustrating and very scary!

  7. So… I just have to add this in because it actually feels relevant. Technically, a labyrinth and a maze are different. A labyrinth only really has one way to go, a maze has branching paths.

    So, fitness like a maze would mean that there are tons of options, but only one right way to the end. Fitness like a labyrinth would mean that there’s really only one way, it’s just really confusing and twisted around, but if you keep going eventually you’ll finish.

  8. Thank you. My thoughts exactly. I get annoyed when folks use labyrinth incorrectly (movies aside…)

  9. To those nitpicking definitions…

    Definition of maze: a confusing intricate network of passages. Synonym, labyrinth.
    Definition of labyrinth: a place that has many confusing paths or passages. Synonym, maze.

  10. This was such an inspiring read and it applies to everything in life beyond fitness. I really needed this read. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Thanks for this, I always thought a labyrinth was a large maze that had many obstacles or monsters to overcome in it.

  12. I have to admit I’ve been on the negative side of negative thinking (if
    that makes sense). I started this year telling myself that 2014 would be
    my year. I’m going to be 30 in August. I can’t wait to get healthy, I
    need to get healthy while I’m young to create long term habits. One
    thing after another seemed to keep me from working toward my goal.
    Depression took over strong. I ended up withdrawing from school as well.
    I’m sad at my job because I work hard every day and seem to get no
    recognition for it.
    Well a month ago I lost my mom. She was only 50
    and died of a blood clot. She was young. She didn’t take care of
    herself. She smoked and had diabetes. I refuse to let that happen to me.
    I don’t smoke and I don’t have diabetes, but I am overweight and
    This blog post was just what I needed to flip the switch.
    I have started working out this week and eating much better. I’ve
    slipped up a little with the eating but I always turn back around and
    say next meal something healthy. I’ve applied for 2 new jobs and I’m
    working to get back into school in the fall. Thanks, Steve.

  13. Not to be “that guy”, but I think the word you’re looking for is “maze” rather than “labyrinth” – the latter has only one path, it’s just a long-winding one, whereas the former has many paths but only one solution. Otherwise, this is a great article!

  14. absolutely love this article (really all of them on the Nerd Fitness) but this one is definitely what I needed to read to fuel my motivation I was starting to lose..

  15. How do 90% of the articles I get from NF end up in my inbox at just the perfect moment? Another great read!

  16. And when you find the center of the maze (sorry, labyrinth), open that trap door that teleports you to a new level. (Queue Zelda music) You just leveled up!

  17. Yes live is a labirinth and one have to find the right way. I really like your writing style and I have to add that I think live can be way easier when one live his live with truth. I really enjoy running because it alows me to think about my live and what I want it to be. That is truth for me.

    Love Hans Chaplin

  18. Where did the 2 week number come from before making a change to something else? I see people doing two weeks of no carb, two weeks of no fat, two weeks of calorie counting, etc. and they don’t make any substantial gains or losses. Wouldn’t a better strategy be to stick with something for a 4-6 weeks to see if it is working? Our culture wants fast results I understand that but the weight that you will keep off is the weight that comes off slowly and is made through good habits.

  19. I agree that 2 weeks is a short time to expect to see changes in your body. Some medicines or nutrition supplements don’t really kick in until you’ve been taking them 2-3 months. Maybe that’s a more helpful time limit to give something a chance?

    After all, if you are 30, 40 or older, what’s 3 months out of your life?

  20. This is exactly what I needed to read today. Not for fitness purposes so much, but life in general.

  21. I always had the analysis paralysis problem about making educated decisions until someone gave me the life changing tip that I only need to be 70% sure about my decisions to know that it is the right decision. below 70% I need to further educate myself.

  22. I’m new to NF and this post was just what I needed. I actually lost my job about a month ago so things have been pretty hectic right now.. But reading this article was really encouraging. I guess in terms of the labyrinth, i just hit a dead end. now i gotta back up and take another path. It’s def not easy but we’ll see where things lead me.. thanks for this post!

  23. “It’s the reason games like Dark Souls exist.”

    Speaking of Dark Souls: http://www.reddit.com/r/DarkSouls2/comments/22lu8x/youll_do_pushups_a_lot_of_them_over_and_over_again/

    I particularly liked kiwi_commander’s comment:

    That sounds awesome! Do you mind if I expand that a bit?
    Death: 10 pushups.
    Boss Death: 10 burpees
    Defeat Boss: 60 second plank
    Defeat Boss with 1 summon: 90 second plank
    Defeat Boss with 2 summons: 120 second plank
    If you invade and win: 10 tricep bench dips
    If you invade and lose: 15 tricep bench dips
    If you are invaded and defeat invader win: 15 jumping jacks
    If you are invaded and are defeated: 20 jumping jacks
    Blood/Blue Covenant Dueling: 30 crunches per round (either win or loss)
    Pop any health, “restore spell uses”, or human effigy item: 10 pushups
    Pop other items (example: poison moss, souls, rusted coin): 30 second wall sit
    Waiting to get summoned: 30 seconds of mountain climbers
    Rest at a bonfire: 20 squats

    EDIT: Open a treasure chest: 30 second scissor kicks.
    EDIT 2: NG+ version? Add “5” to every exercise per + game. Example NG+++ requires 15 additional repetitions or seconds
    EDIT 3: Added /u/kheltar suggestions”

    This sounds like something I’d need to work up to for some of these but I love Dark Souls and I’m currently stuck to Dark Souls 2, so I’m enthused to try! 😀

  24. I really enjoy your blog! Great information – positive, uplifting, and fabulously nerdy. 🙂 Great read!

  25. I normally don’t post on blogs like this, but you’ve inspired me! Keep strong, you got this! 😀

  26. I agree that keeping yourself healthy is a constant uphill battle because you’re always going to have those temptations that will bring you down the moment you give in. I remember how I used to hate protein shakes because they always tasted like you’ve crushed about a hundred pills in them but lately, I’ve begun to get an acquired taste for them…I guess it’s because of this article I read for info. May the force continue to be with us all…

  27. Take that, David Bowie. Amazing. I really love your articles, Steve. It’s inspired me to begin my own transformation!

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