I want to lose weight. I want to gain muscle. I want to fit into smaller clothes. I want to look more like Mr. X. I want to look more like Mrs. Y.
These are just some of the reasons I hear people give when they’re asked why they want to start the gym or why they want to lose weight. But these reasons aren’t really good enough. I’m not saying that they’re not valid. I’m just saying they’re not good enough. Good enough for what, you might ask? Well, good enough for when things get hard. And they will inevitably get hard.
So, what is good enough? Going a little deeper than your first answer. Typically 5 layers deeper. To find a motivation with a little more weight. A little more emotional currency.
I often use the ‘5 whys’ with my clients. This was an interview technique originally used by the Toyota Motor Company and it really cuts to the heart of why we do something. The idea is that when we want something we should first ask ourselves ‘why’? Seems pretty obvious. But to that answer you ask ‘why?’ again. And again and again. Typically, 5 ‘whys’ answered honestly should give you a pretty powerful answer.
Why have you come to me today?
I want to lose weight.
Why do you want to lose weight?
Because I want to fit into smaller clothes.
Why do you want to fit into smaller clothes?
Because I think I’d look better.
Why is looking better important to you?
Because when I look better I am more confident and assertive.
Why is being more confident and assertive important to you?
By being more confident and assertive I will be able to get more out of my career and my life in general. This would make me happier and my family happier.
Right, now we’ve got somewhere. We’ve arrived to a deep level of motivation that carries a great deal more weight than simply ‘I want to lose weight’.
You see, to my original point, when things get tough recalling back this sort of a deep-level reason is infinitely more powerful than “I want to lose weight”.
Try it out. See if you can create the following scenario in your head and the difference in feelings the two motivational references would make to you in times of difficulty.
Visualise yourself on a weight loss journey. You’re 12 weeks in. You initially lost quite a bit of weight. You began to feel quite a bit better. You were even noticing some changes in the bathroom mirror. But things have slowed down now. You’ve barely lost a pound in the last 2 weeks. You don’t know what you’re supposed to have done wrong. You feel as though you’ve done everything by the book. You’ve made so many changes to your eating.You’ve rescheduled your entire week to make time for shopping and food prep. You’ve been hitting the gym 3 times a week. Consistently. But still. STILL! The weight won’t bloody move! You feel old compulsions bubble up in you. They’re strong and they’ve brought all their justifications along with them.
‘Go on, go get that pizza you really like. You’ve worked so hard at this, you know? Why not take a break? What harm could it do?’
‘Yea, exactly, what’s the harm? Why not get that wine you really like? What was it again? Oh yea, that 2015 Terrazas Cabernet Sauvignon. Yum’
‘Oooh yea, and that Haagen-Dazs Pralines and Cream. Get that. It’s not like you’ll eat the whole tub, right?’
You remind yourself of why you started.
I want to lose weight
“FUCK IT”, you say to yourself. “I did begin this to lose weight but I’ve not been losing any bloody weight! And I have been trying really hard. What harm can one night do anyway?”
Before you know it, a week has passed, your diet has gone to hell and you’ve not been to the gym once.
‘How did this happen?’, you ask yourself. The feelings of regret are building. The self-loathing. You’re already telling yourself you’ve completely failed and undone the entire 12 weeks of hard work. Which isn’t true but you believe it anyway. You immediately begin to kick everything that’s even remotely tasty out of your life and get back on the gym wagon. Only this time, you’ll go 5 times a week. You overcompensate. You overstretch. You punish yourself. Not good.
You remind yourself of why you started.
I want to be more confident and assertive so that I can get more out of my career and my life in general. This would make me happier and my family happier.
The compulsions to rebel against all of the changes don’t just suddenly go away.
You still say to yourself “I’ve not been losing anymore weight recently”.
But another part of yourself says “Yes, but you have been feeling more confident and assertive recently. And you have felt happier. And you’ve noticed your family seeming a little happier around you. That’s the real reason you started, remember? How is throwing all of these changes out the window going to get you any further towards that?”
You begin to see yourself a year from now. Even more confident and assertive. More job opportunities and surrounded by a happier family. Your emotions are stirred. You can see things a little more clearly now. The compulsions begin to fade and you find the resilience to power through. To look at everything you’ve done and find out what you could do differently. You go again because you know it will be worth it.
Know your why.