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
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.
Aim for Perma-healthy
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.
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?