Why Having to Start Over – AGAIN – Is Great

Mario Car

I received an email a few months back from a NF reader that made me smile:

“I am going back to square one. I noticed the only habit that I changed and stuck with was drinking tons of water.

Have you ever started playing a game and get a few hours in and go “man I wish I knew these controls/tips from the beginning”? So you restart and the game just feels easier from that point on. You start finding items that you missed before.

I’m restarting my journey now that I have a better idea of the controls.”

This resonated with me, because when I first played EverQuest (similar to World of Warcraft), the first character I created was terrible. It took me forever to level up, I assigned my stat points poorly, I died frequently, and I slowly crawled my way up to the more difficult challenges

When I started again playing as a new character, I FLEW through the first 30 levels: I understood the controls, how the game worked, and what needed to get done; it was much easier the second time through!

The same is true for any boss battle you first encounter in any game. You struggle to learn the patterns, you lose most of your health, but then you crack the code. When you face that boss again later, you win easily.

Getting in shape is no different. Every time we try to get fit and fail, we learn a little bit more about how the controls work. Maybe we lost a few pounds with strategy A, but failed with strategy B. If we go to the gym for a few weeks and give up, when we come back next time we are familiar with the inner workings, and don’t need to get over the fear of exercising in a public place like the first time.

Each time you start over, you’re getting closer to that point of making things stick.

It turns out that this strategy might actually be crucial in giving us the motivation to push forward.

Capitalize on the Momentum


Wharton Professor Katherine Milkman highlights the behavior in her “Fresh Start” study:

The study showed that Google searches for the term “diet” (Study 1), gym visits (Study 2), and commitments to pursue goals (Study 3) all increase following temporal landmarks (e.g., the outset of a new week, month, year, or semester; a birthday; a holiday).

We propose that these landmarks demarcate the passage of time, creating many new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors.

Long story short: there are specific points in our life (January 1st, birthdays, a Monday) when we say “okay, today is the day that things are going to change.” And it helps!

When we decide to start anew on a particular day, something powerful can happen. We can look at today as the first day of the rest of our life – everything else that has happened up to that point is in the past, and was indicative of our old selves.

Instead: Today, moving forward, this new version of us will behave differently.

The new version moves forward, levels up, and makes decisions differently than the old version of us. As the study highlights though, these fresh starts have a limited effect – it doesn’t last forever! That’s why what we do when we’re filled with this power-up is so important!

How to Start Over

gamers dont die

When you next come to your “Today is a new day” moment, there are some great steps you can take to guarantee you make a tiny bit of progress towards permanent awesomeness:

1) Separate yourself from the Old You. Today you are somebody different. I don’t care how poorly you made decisions yesterday; that was the old you. Change can happen in an instant, and it can be sustainable. So instead of thinking “I’m going to fail again,” you can think that today there’s nothing keeping you from achieving the health and fitness goals you’re chasing. Why not today?

2) Capitalize on the momentum. Willpower and momentum and inspiration are running high during that first week of “NEW ME!” – so use that to your advantage. During this week, begin to make any changes that will help you permanently.

  • If you sign up for a gym membership and 50 personal trainer sessions NOW, then a few weeks from now when you’re ready to start slacking, you’ve already pre-paid and set up your appointments, etc.
  • Can you use your 20 seconds of courage to sign up at a Dojo for martial arts? Or sign up for a race?
  • Can you use this week to clear out your cabinets of all your old junk food and buy lots of healthy replacements?
  • Can you go out and buy new workout clothes?
  • Can you take the time to schedule all of your workouts in your Google calendar with specific dates and times?
  • Can you follow through on ONE thing for 7-10 days, proving to yourself you can change? Like completing a morning mile walk. Crush your self-limiting beliefs!
  • Try a six week challenge.The current challenge ends next week and a new one will begin!

During the week when you are excited to exercise and excited about change, do as much as you can to seek out permanent wins. If your excitement starts to wane, then you’ve at least taken steps towards a permanent change that can carry over to weeks of low motivation.

3) Fail differently. Now, this next attempt might not be the one that sticks either, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you try to change differently this time. After all, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. So try something different! Take different types of classes. Try blogging your results. Track your calories. Go full Paleo. Change one thing.

Change something.

Aim for Perma-healthy

Mario Win

Here at Nerd Fitness, we don’t want you to reach health perfection for one week and then “go back to the way things were.”

I’d rather you find a balance of permanently being pretty damn healthy and pretty damn happy.

As you are declaring “today is Respawn Day!” – wear it like a badge of honor. You are starting over. You are now somebody different than the person who tried to get fit last time.

Anything is possible.

You are learning the controls. You are studying the boss battle patterns.

And you are getting back in the fight.

Your turn:

What’s one BIG WIN change you make today now that you’re fired up and ready to capitalize on this momentum?

What’s a big win that will result in a LONG LASTING slight improvement?


photo source: Joseph Thornton: Mario, Rubbertoe: Mario Kart, Jeroen Bennick: Xbox

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    69 thoughts on “Why Having to Start Over – AGAIN – Is Great

    1. Hi steve,

      I’m Makki by the way, and when I read this article it rang so true. I always struggle with the new lifestyle and its dependancy on will power. It takes a random amount of time and then i slowly regress to bad habits. Respawning is going to help massively. You’ve just gained yourself a new fan.

    2. I’m glad I read this today. I’m a teacher, which means I have three times that are prime to install a new operating system, as it were: beginning of the school year, Christmas break, and beginning of summer. And whaddaya know… we’re getting close to the last one! Add to that… I’m going to be moving this summer and starting a new teaching job in August, which makes an OS hard-install a little more natural. I’m excited to see what this season holds!

    3. It’s quite hard to start again after being lazy for quite some time. But once we get into the loop again, it’ll really be hard to stop. Lifting weight is quite addictive!!!

    4. Respawning is great. I’ve lifted off and on my whole life. BBQ potato chips, gummi worms, and pepsi have been a staple of my diet for at least 20 years (I’m 30). I’m convinced I have fantastic genes because they were able to keep me from weighing over 200lbs despite my terrible diet. My first respawn in recent history was when I started integrating paleo into my diet while biking quite a bit. The energy levels I got after a couple weeks were insane! My weight also dropped crazy low (149lb for a 6′ guy). I was feeling great, but in retrospect I really needed some more muscle. I switched jobs after that and wasn’t really able to bike to work and there were no healthy options close. Plus the job was kind of depressing. I got out of shape. Then I switched jobs to a place close to my house. It was the opposite of depressing, but the food they gave us was too delicious. My weight started creeping up. Things came to a head July of 2014 when I went backpacking. I had to buy new pants for the hike because nothing fit me any more. I’d gone from a 32″ waist size in pants to a 34″, my weight was about 174. That may not sound like much, but it opened my eyes. I was also really out of shape on the hike. I decided to start up on paleo again and within a month of so I respawned on nerdfitness.

      Within about 12 weeks (2 challenges) I’d lost 12lbs which put me back down to my “normal” weight. I’d also gone from maybe 1 pullup to about 10. My real waist size went from about 37 to 32.5 (you can guess where I carry all my weight). After that I plateaued a bit. It didn’t help that I switched jobs again. I got a personal trainer, and she probably kept me from stopping working out. While I didn’t make any gains during the holidays at least I kept at it through thanksgiving and christmas. I also traveled a ton during this time. Job training in New York and California, 3 week vacation road trip in New Zealand.

      So I started another respawn around my 30th birthday in March. My waist size was about the same, but my pullup count has atrophied a bit. I started going to the gym regularly again. I decided that I’d spent enough time trying to get lean, I wanted to spent a challenge going for strength. So I decided to eat more food. I figure I want to actually see a ROI for the time I’m putting into the gym. I was a little nervous because despite being a scrawny person, I always want to lose the extra weight on my stomach. It’s hard to try and gain weight knowing a little bit of that will bad fat, but since I started nerdfitness my relationship with food has been improving. I started cooking breakfast more often, eating eggs along with my normal protein shake. I could feel I had way more energy in the gym, and my strength did increase quite a bit around my chest and arms.

      The craziest thing is that after 6 weeks of trying to eat more food, my weight/waistline didn’t even have the decency to go up at all. It’s quite possible that if I really want to bulk up I’ll have to eat more. Maybe eating enough clean food to grow is actually hard work?

      So now we’re at my latest respawn. I’m calling it a respawn because I am going to start over in some areas. I’ve tried to do squats with good form. I’ve ditched the smith machine. I’ve dropped the weight I squat in order to do real squats and not power-curtsies. But the truth is I still don’t have that full range of motion. My form’s not quite there yet. I’m still not doing 3 sets of 10 perfect squats. Starting next challenge I’m going to swallow my pride and go down to just the 45lb bar. I’d rather do a real squat with zero lbs of weight than something that’s not even a squat. I’m going to spend the next challenge doing lots of body-weight exercises like squats, pull-ups and push-ups. I’m also upping cardio again. Last but not least, I’m taking another step in improving my diet. This challenge all artificial sweeteners are out.

    5. Starting over is ok! You can start over with your weight, too 🙂Losing weight doesn’t have to take long. If you’re looking for something that works to lose weight quickly and keep it off, I recently discovered The 3 Week Diet online (go to venusfactro.com/try ) on our local news and it really helped me. I went from 195 pounds all the way to 145, so I’m glad I made the change to a healthier lifestyle. If I can do it, you can too! Get up off your butt and do something about your health and fitness! Three weeks from now you’ll wish you have started today… good luck and you can do this! I promise 🙂Text me if you need some help staying motivated! (706) 968-7729 – I might be a little slow at replying but I’ll do my best to be your free personal trainer. We can be here for each other 🙂xo,Angie

    6. Spot on. I look back over the years, and I lose count over how many times I’ve respawned. For me, it seems to be an ingrained lifestyle habit, going back to childhood, when I took up judo, and a few years later, football (Aussie Rules) on a whim. Still crap at footy, but the training in that 6 months set me up for life. 🙂 Then gymnastics in my teens (an accidental discovery, thanks to my younger sister! 😀 ). Over the years, I did the same for my half marathon and marathon, put the money down for the race then made sure I trained for it! 🙂

      The latest respawn is an attempt to improve some aspects of my fitness (specifically speed), which has led to me taking up cross country and athletics, in addition to my existing sport and gym work. Where that leads, who knows. Cross country has been going well, athletics training is already showing promise, though the season hasn’t started yet.

      I know I need my fitness tied to external commitments like gym or sport.

    7. I did a 6 week challenge earlier this year, and although I didn’t achieve my goals at the time, I’ve either setup for future success, or subsequently exceeded my goals.

      First element of my challenge was to walk 100km in 24 hours at a charity walk on the last weekend of the challenge. I achieved 95km, and only fell short because of a couple of tactical errors, one fully on my part, the other initiated by my support crew (I should have protested harder lol). But I now know I can comfortably achieve this and will prove it next year.

      Second and third elements were tied together a bit. I wanted to do 3 gym workouts/week and find myself a sprint coach. I couldn’t complete these in the challenge period, but have made significant progress.

      At the gym, I am training 2 days/week. I am satisfied with this, because I also got in touch with the local athletics club and am training 2-3 days/week with them, which, combined with the gym is sufficient. I am also running cross country.

      So, while I didn’t meet the challenge at the time, I’ve achieved most of my goals within the following 2 months.

    8. Gosh this made me tear up…I mean how did I miss the simplicity of it? I can raid for months attempting to progress with my guild and be fine with the insta deaths, the tiny messups, the learning, the gold repairs…

      This isn’t any different!!!!!

    9. just found this site today. Realize that your comment was made 6 months ago so I’m wondering how you made out. because I really felt for you after reading your comment

    10. lol, I’ve just done the inside out of that with the clothes thing. I went online and bought 3 really pretty sets of bras and panties in one size lower than my current size. I am also a hope addict, lol! Why not? Its is a tangible goal that I can look at everyday if need be to spurr me on, right?

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