“Why can’t I do this? I know what I need to do to get in shape, and I just can’t get myself to do it. I’ve yo-yo’d for years.”
I’ve been running Nerd Fitness for 8 years now (holy crap), and I have seen some of the most dramatic success stories from people of all walks of life that give me the biggest smile.
Single moms working two jobs, married couples that got in shape together, people who have been overweight their entire lives, and others who began powerlifting at the age of 50.
In that same time, however, I have seen tons of people who have been reading NF for years and struggled to find success. They might succeed for a short amount of time, or even a few months, before backsliding into old habits, and they just can’t seem to make things stick.
What’s interesting is that with both groups, they knew what they needed to do: more vegetables, more movement, less junk food, fewer calories on average, and a healthy exercise routine.
This wasn’t surprising: we all know what we need to do to get fit. So what separates the group of people who have fundamentally changed their lives and become new people from the other group who continue to struggle with little to no results?
I was curious, so about a month ago I sent a survey out to NF Rebels asking them for their honest answers on why they have (or haven’t) succeeded, and the responses really surprised me.
For starters, we had over 10,000 responses with people pouring out their hearts, proudly proclaiming their successes, or honestly sharing why they believed they hadn’t found their path quite yet.
About 25% of the responses came in saying they had made permanent changes, while the other 75% were still working on making enough progress and building enough momentum to make changes permanently.
So, why is it that some are kicking ass, and others are still warming up their kicking legs?
Newsflash: You Are Not A Unique Snowflake
You are not a unique snowflake.
I don’t mean this in a bad way, and I’m not saying that your problems aren’t real! But I mean that we all have baggage that we are dealing with:
- Some people are working crappy jobs with bad hours.
- Some people are working multiple jobs.
- Some people are raising children on their own.
- Some people have genetic challenges thanks to unhealthy parents or medical conditions.
- Some people are struggling with behavioral or psychological challenges that sabotage any efforts to live healthier lives.
- Some people just feel down and out, like they can’t change because they’ve lived this way for so long.
These are all VERY real problems that can help explain why people haven’t succeeded. These are the things we all grapple with (in different amounts) every day. However, I noticed something when studying the answers of people who were struggling to get results.
People who weren’t seeing the results they wanted wrote that many of their issues were UNIQUE to them.
So often we think our problems are special, unique challenges we’re facing. We feel like we’re in a boss battle with no hope, fighting an overpowering beast with no weaknesses. “I can’t succeed because of [insert VALID and REAL excuse here].”
We feel powerless trying to stand up to the momentum of our lives. Reading through the thousands upon thousands of responses we received, we saw the SAME things over and over again. It felt like an episode of Black Mirror – everyone feeling so alone, but they’re all fighting the same bad guys.
Here’s a word cloud of the responses: the bigger the words, the more often it was mentioned.
When we asked the question: “Why do you think you haven’t achieved success yet?
Some people assigned blame to the physical things in their life: “my job” or “my kids” or “my medical condition.” Others went down a level, and tried to explain their root feeling:
- I get bored and then find excuses not to do it even when I know I should.
- I have no accountability for when I mess up my healthy routine.
- I’m really good at self sabotage, and I get frustrated very easily when I don’t see immediate gratification.
- It’s hard to say…Probably energy and motivation.
- I find it really easy to lose my momentum – I’ll start an exercise plan, but then if I get sick or some personal family drama comes up, or a million other things that throw a wrench in my planned schedule, then everything unravels very quickly and no progress is made.
- I haven’t set myself up for success; there’s no discipline to leave my comfort zone.
- I believe that I am scared to change, so my commitment to starting to eat better is pretty much nonexistent, leaving me with no motivation to succeed.
- I feel defeated before I even start. Hate to exercise. I stress eat.
Most us feel like this: we’re so sure of our situation. Sure that we’re doomed. Sure that there’s no hope. Sure that we know what there is to know. We feel beaten. We feel buried.
We feel like Sisyphus, climbing a never ending mountain with a boulder too large to bear. Like we don’t have time. Like our kids have to come first, and we can take care of ourselves later. Like we lack motivation.
Like we can’t get ourselves to do the things that we want to do, and that’s just the way it is. It feels like an insurmountable battle that we can’t win.
And then something happens.
Newsflash: Somebody with your challenges HAS succeeded before!
With 10,000 responses, I saw something powerful in the messages from people who HAD succeeded.
Everyone has their own set of unique problems, but we saw it was the same 10 or so problems in different amounts, over and over again.
Those who succeeded ALSO have their unique mix of baggage. They also work shitty jobs. They don’t have a lot of time. They struggle with mental health issues. They are single, divorced, and raising kids.
They have bad parents and unhealthy habits. They love to eat junk food and struggle with motivation. The things that kept them unhealthy before are NO different than the things that keep the other 75% unhealthy.
So what’s so different between those who succeed and those who don’t?
There’s a few key things that happen:
- There’s no drastic declaration. Life changes just a little bit. A small win here and there. Or they wake up one day and do one thing. And then do that one thing again.
- They kept at it. Some people we heard from had to fight through 10 boss battles in order to find the solution and final habits that worked for them. Some people had larger, longer boss fights.
- They start to see cracks in their previous “limited mindset” of themselves. “Hey, look! I DID do something and changed. Maybe this time CAN be different…”
- Instead of seeing excuses as to WHY they aren’t in shape (“I can’t find success because [insert valid excuse here].”), they instead see those things as obstacles to overcome (“Okay, I have [insert same valid excuse]. What steps can I take to overcome it?”). They stop believing their own excuses and start to step up to the plate.
- These small victories build momentum. Changes become permanent slowly over time.
As one Rebel replied, “Once you find a rhythm, it’s not actually that hard. And it feels sustainable.”
Now, I hear ya. If it seems like there is a LOT in your way, it might seem unsustainable. A dream.
But remember, that person who said “it’s actually not that hard” was surprised. For years and years, it WAS hard. They didn’t believe they could change…until they found a rhythm of small changes and had the epiphany: “WOW!” Until then, they were part of the “still searching” group. They found some momentum and started to see how change really happens.
Remember, we’re all in this together. What if there was someone in this Rebellion, with a life just like yours, who found a way to slay the final boss?
Your reasons ARE valid. They are a real part of your life. However, we have to acknowledge them and move beyond them to see any lasting results. That’s what it means to change.
But if someone else with your same types of challenges (from genetic, to habits, to job and family) has succeeded, MAYBE there is a path to success if you attack it the right way! If they can change, you can too.
Yup, even with the shit you’re dealing with in your life. With your disadvantages. With your limitations. Yup, even with the limited amount of time you have.
This response in particular really jumped out at me. I GUARANTEE you can relate to this:
The biggest surprise is that it was possible in the first place. You spend your whole life thinking “I can’t do that, I can’t get up in front of people and tell them things.” And then you take a class and you start doing it and suddenly you can get up and give a speech.
You spend your whole life thinking “I’m a quitter, I can’t finish anything to completion let alone actually build (and keep!) healthy habits” and then you just decide to start and suddenly you’re on day five and you know you can exercise every day for a week, and then you’re on day 27 and you know you can make it to the end of the month, and then you’re on day 42 and you know you can do this for the rest of your life because it’s changing you, it’s changing who you are.
Your back is straightening out for the first time since you were a child, your scoliosis is fading away, you relish the sore muscles, and you know you can do this.
Read that response again. This is somebody who had told themselves all their life that they couldn’t do things, and success was light-years away. So they stopped worrying about light-years and instead just did the things they could control that DAY. Then that somehow became Day 5, which became day 27 and then day 42 and then counting was no longer necessary because it just became part of their new persona.
This is a brand new person. And change happened so slowly and in such small ways that it wasn’t until they looked back months later and said “holy crap, I’m a different person! That was easier than expected.”
Your success will come as a surprise to you.
Response after response from the people who HAD made permanent changes stick used the same word over and over – it was “surprising” how it happened.
You see, when we have lost hope, we can’t even imagine eating healthy and working out feeling fun. So when we give half-efforted attempt, we use the lack of success to reinforce our mindset of, “this won’t work…I’m doomed.” It’s easier to tell ourselves, “This is the way it is.”
But then you find a tiny bit of success, and cracks start to form: “Maybe I DON’T know everything. Maybe… Maybe change is possible.” And we develop a tiny bit of hope. Hope that we were wrong, and we weren’t seeing the whole picture before.
And we all know how powerful hope is. After all, Rebellions are built on hope, right?
And that tiny bit of hope combined with a little bit of action, repeatedly, eventually results in surprising, drastic change when we don’t even realize it.
We asked what surprised those of you who have found success:
- I’m happier!
- Once you create the habit, it’s so easy to maintain. The habit of working out and eating healthy is easier to keep than going out of your way to eat poorly or not work out. It becomes like a self-perpetuating machine.
How I started liking foods that used to be absolutely disgusting, but now help me further my goals of becoming stronger. Also now I can run off walls and jump off any set of stairs and continue dashing like a free-running freak. That’s nice, too.
- How much of a mental game fitness really is. Mind and body are truly linked.
- Why didn’t I do this sooner?
- Might sound cheesy but it feels good to feel good. Once you accept you are progressing at your own pace, that there will be ups and downs and not let them affect you as much as before, everything is becoming so much easier.
- I feel lighter and more free.
Sitting there believing deep down you can’t change – that your problems are unique – is the very thing that needs to be looked at carefully in order to change. If you are part of the 75% who say you haven’t had success (yet), who just want to get rid of some belly fat, have some more energy in the day, fit into size 8 pants, feel comfortable in your own skin, who just want to be happy….
We have a message for you:
It IS possible, and it is absolutely worth it.
I want this for you so badly, because I’ve seen it happen to thousands and thousands of people in this community. A switch flips, they start to believe, and they then look back months/years later and discover just how much they have changed.
What will be different this year?
Most of us know what to do already. We know we need to eat less and move more. We know we need to change our relationship with food. We know we need to exercise more. At the 4,000 foot level, we get it.
As Morpheus tells Neo, “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”
Ultimately, only through action can we understand how change really happens. But remember that we are all in this together: fighting against an entire world that seems designed to keep us down.
Looking through responses from thousands of people DID see lasting success with healthy habit changes, I noticed 5 big patterns repeating:
- A growth mindset rather than a limited mindset.
- Focus on the day to day habit building.
- Not relying on motivation.
- The right environment.
- They started.
Let’s dig into those a bit more:
1) GROWTH MINDSET – The feeling that change isn’t really possible often sneaks up on us: “I ran on a treadmill and starved myself and I hate my life. I cannot get in shape.”
But when we looked through people who had success, they seemed to view that same event in a different way: “Okay, that didn’t work. Maybe this time I’ll try something different, like eating some more vegetables and going for a walk. I can do that.”
These people told us that they had to make a perspective shift:
“I have kids and a tough job and no time. I can’t get in shape.” becomes “Okay I have kids and a tough job and no time. What CAN I do with these limitations? I shall try that.”
Often, this involves needing to give ourselves a break. We DO have a lot of limitations and a lot of challenges to overcome. We should look clearly at them, acknowledge them, and then acknowledge that we are worthy of change and deserving of a better life. So, let’s work for it.
We then start to see previous attempts at getting fit as just that: attempts, not failures.
I loved this response too: How did you succeed? “By forgiving myself when I mess up but not letting it take over and sabotaging my quest.”
You didn’t fail, you don’t need to feel shame. You tried something, it didn’t work. Move onto the next one. You don’t need to feel guilt or self-loathing. You can change right now. Today.
Sometimes when I work on a puzzle game, I feel stupid when I can’t get it. But when I finally crack it, there’s no guilt or shame. I just change my behavior because I understand how to solve it now.
People who found their path to success said that more permanent changes didn’t get weighed down by their failures or missteps, but instead they turned them into opportunity to find what COULD work given their situation.
2) DAY TO DAY HABITS: The journey to Mordor happens one step at a time.
We cannot control what happened to us yesterday. We cannot control what will happen tomorrow. We can only control our actions today.
This realization is something we heard again and again from those who found success. Like this response:
“I broke goals down in very small steps and made each step ridiculously easy to accomplish.
And it makes sense: We look at our lives… the weight we have to lose. The effort that change will take. How behind we feel… and we feel this dread and impossibility. It’s paralyzing. And that’s where the surprise comes in from those who actually start walking, taking one step at a time… it really is shocking how it becomes effortless.
Just do the next thing that you can control, and try to do it the best way you know how: We call this the “Minecraft method.”
3) NOT RELYING ON MOTIVATION: We saw a LOT of responses from people struggling who said they needed more motivation.
We all wish we had more motivation. What’s interesting is that there’s no secret energy tank in successful people compared to unsuccessful people. It’s not like those struggling don’t have motivation while those who have succeeded have TONS of it. They possess the same amount and have the same parts of their lives that zap motivation.
Successful people seemed to tell us that they didn’t rely on motivation!
Motivation pales in comparison to momentum. Here’s one response we received: “Once you create the habit, it’s so easy to maintain. The habit of working out and eating healthy is easier to keep than going out of your way to eat poorly or not work out. It becomes like a self-perpetuating machine.”
Like rolling a tiny snowball off a hill and watching it build size and speed, inertia takes over and it becomes a self-growing, unstoppable force. Check out these articles on building discipline and systems.
4) THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT:
We found a lot of responses from successful Rebels who knew that shaping their environment would lightly “nudge” them over the course of their day to greatly improve their chances of succeeding.
Like the Rebel who “threw [their] junk food in the bonfire and stopped buying it.” That’s a fairly dramatic response. But motivation is not necessary when you don’t have that food in your apartment to eat!
We heard so many different ways that people made their job EASIER. Many of us work hard, stressful jobs. And the natural response for many is to binge eat or quickly grab fast food to compensate for how hard or long we work. But a few tweaks in your work environment can go a long way.
Batch cooking helps to remove the willpower temptation for unhealthy food. Rebels who joined running clubs, The Nerd Fitness Academy or Camp Nerd Fitness Facebook groups found it easier to do their workouts. They cited these groups as huge reasons why they succeeded.
So many who succeeded talked about how they found supportive influences in their life (whether animate, or inanimate objects!). You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.
5) TAKE ACTION:
Yes, as we learned from Rogue One, Rebellions are built on hope. But hope without action would have made for a painfully boring movie. We can hope for a better life. We can believe we CAN get to a better life. But action, even if it’s imperfect and incorrect, is better than no action.
Every single person who said they succeeded took action… often with a small tweak to something they’d done before.
This seemed to be the slogan that so many followed: “The idea that doing something, ANYthing, is better than doing nothing has been key.”
Do something different, and do it today.
Hope needs action. Otherwise it’s no different than hopelessness – nothing will happen.
So get started and do something today:
- Try this workout.
- Begin a walk to Mordor.
- Cook an easy meal.
- Join a group.
- One less soda. One healthier meal. One 5-minute dedicated walk.
But do something!
I want to put you on this list.
We asked people who have succeeded what they are most proud of. I want 2017 to be the year you get to respond to the next survey with an answer like the following…
What are you most proud of?
- Feeling better about my body.
- Losing 120lbs. Because I don’t want to die in my 40s.
- I am most proud of allowing myself to be vulnerable within the Nerd Fitness community and ending up with so many friends as a result. I am most proud of this because I have always been embarrassed or ashamed by how I felt about my body and my struggles. Finding this community has helped me understand that everybody has struggles and there is nothing wrong with that. It also gave me the environment I needed to start admitting my goals to myself and start working toward them.
- Fitness wise–hitting a half marathon PR because I trained really hard for it.
- I fixed my relationship with my spouse.
- I finally valued myself enough to leave an abusive relationship.
- I haven’t drank soda in a year. Soda was one of the hardest things for me to give up. I still drink coffee, but I don’t want to give that up.
- Making exercise into a regular habit. I never exercised before I found Nerd Fitness, and now I do it regularly, so that’s a pretty big change. I still haven’t accomplished a lot of the dramatic goals like a handstand and a pull-up, but I now have the framework to make progress and I AM making progress.
- Being able to give birth naturally to my daughter.
- Losing 25 lbs and making exercise a regular and enjoyable part of my week.
I want to hear from you below. How are you going to make 2017 different?
What SPECIFICALLY are you going to change? We’re going to be hitting these topics hard in early 2017 to help you finally crack the code. In the meantime, don’t forget this:
It starts with hope, but it only happens with action.
PS: We’ve created a cool experience that helps people conquer all fo the challenges above called Rising Heroes. It turns habit-building and self-improvement into a fun, exciting adventure! Head on over to check it out here.