If you went around town conducting a survey where you ask people whether or not they would like to be in better shape, I’ll bet almost all would answer “yes” to that question. In fact, a survey conducted by ReportLinker found that 77% of the 503 people they surveyed said that having a better shape and looking good is VERY important to them. In addition, 73% said they want to change something about their body, while 42% judge themselves as “too fat.” However, 45% of all the people surveyed responded that they don’t exercise at all, while out of the people who judged themselves as “too fat,” 59% said that they don’t exercise, either. So, why the disconnect? Many people want to be in better shape and want to change something about the way they look, but not all of them are doing something to promote change. It’s worth mentioning that a very small number of people in the survey mentioned that they thought of themselves as too tall or too short, 2% and 10%, respectively, but that’s not something that an exercise and training regimen can change.
Why the Disconnect?
All of us can relate to something we want in our lives but are completely unwilling to do something about. It might even feel like we REALLY want it badly, but when we take a moment to reflect, we can see that we’ve taken absolutely no steps to get there. A quick example in my life is that I’ve been wanting to save money for a new computer and have more money to spend on recreational activities. However, I’ve done almost nothing to stop spending money on things that don’t serve this goal, like eating out or going to Starbucks every day. Making these minor sacrifices are simple steps that I can take, which I know for a fact will help me to save money, but I’m not doing them. I’m sure everyone can relate. So, why do we, as human beings, do this?
Well, it seems that we rely on inefficient tools to get the job done. Many of us may think that once we write down a goal or a certain objective we want to attain, we’re going to will ourselves into taking the right steps to get there. It seems that all you need to do to eat healthier and start working out is to exercise some self-control. However, what we know about willpower and self-control may be misguided. I suggest reading Michael Inzlicht’s work on self-control: http://michaelinzlicht.com/research/. Basically, our self-control works better if we engage in tasks that we “want to” do rather than what we “have to” do. Our brains can also be unreliable and heavily influenced by our environment, genetics, biology, etc. So, why do we think that by just setting a new goal, that it’s going to spark the change we want to see in our lives if we haven’t yet considered changing our environment?
What is the Key to Sparking Change?
We can’t change our genetics, our parents, and the childhood we grew up in, but we can change our circumstances right now. If we’re setting new goals, it’s likely because we don’t like some part of our lives, and achieving these new goals would help to change that. It’s also likely that we haven’t already achieved these goals, because we haven’t had the appropriate environment that’s conducive to achieving them. This leads me to Step 1 to sparking change.
1) Change your environment
If we want to get on the right track related to changing our behavior so that we can get the things we want out of life, we have to find an environment that supports it. I was recently at a live Sam Harris podcast, where an audience member asked a question on the topic of free will. Sam Harris is a neuroscientist who believes that free will is an illusion and that we don’t actually have any control over our thoughts, desires, beliefs, intentions, etc., but we’re just conscious witnesses to those things. The guy asking the question was a recovering drug addict. He wanted to reconcile how his belief in free will is conducive to continue living that drug-free life if he’s actually not free to choose the things that will help him continue to live drug free. To summarize Sam Harris’ response, you have to immerse yourself in an appropriate environment where the incentives line up. You don’t just will yourself into playing the piano. You find a teacher, you practice, and you continue to do things that influence your growth related to playing the piano. You may start to hang around more people who also enjoy playing the piano. You may start reading about the art of piano playing, and your life might start to morph in a way that makes you a better and better piano player, thanks to the environment that you immersed yourself in. Take the prison system as another example of how incentives and the environment influence our behavior. In prison, the incentives don’t align with living an ethical life. You can take the most ethical person on the planet and drop him or her into the prison system and, within one week, they’ll probably have engaged in behavior they never thought possible.
This should give you some great insight into how powerful your environment is. What does your current environment look like in relation to those new goals you want to achieve? Does it need to be changed? How will you change your environment to make it the most effective for you?
2) Systematize the process
Effective systems also heavily influence our behavior. This sort of piggybacks on changing our environment and is equally crucial to the process of effectively influencing behavior. Systems are responsible for the way most things work. You may think the world is very chaotic, but when you look at it a little closer, it’s actually very orderly. We live in a physically-chaotic world, but everything still follows all the laws of physics. We have a system for educating human beings; we have a system for punishing crime; a system for electing a new President; a system for taking care of the Nation’s wealth, etc. Yes, these systems have flaws, but they’re all constantly influencing the way we do things. You could say we live in an “orderly-chaotic” world.
So, how are your systems influencing your health and fitness goals, career goals, relationship goals, etc.? Failing to set-up systems is unintentionally setting up systems that fail. If you wake up at 6 a.m. unsure of what you want to eat, you’ve purchased no groceries, you’re unsure of when you’re going to get groceries again, and you have no idea when you’re going to train that day, it’s a system that’s unlikely to be successful. If you want to start living a healthier life, you may want to start grocery shopping and prepping meals for the week ahead every Sunday. This way, you’re less inclined to eat out, because you already have food for the week that you don’t want to waste. Maybe even start your day by eating a healthy smoothie. This may make you more inclined to eat healthy throughout the day, and even if you mess up later in the day, you still have ingested your healthy smoothie and know that tomorrow morning you’ll start all over doing the right thing. When preparing to write a book, it’s usually better to commit yourself to just writing one well thought-out sentence a day, rather than pages at a time. Most likely, you’ll always write more than a sentence and it’s less demanding to write if you know you’ve only committed yourself to one sentence a day.
At Force Barbell, we have a system for training everyone who comes through the door that’s heavily likely to ensure their success with us. When working with individuals, we want them to develop certain physical characteristics before others. That way, we can ensure that we get the most development possible. It goes: movement quality/postural stability–>movement quantity–>strength–>power/speed or other sport-specific characteristics–>and then the actual sport. We’ve also created an environment and culture that’s built upon empathy and accountability. These things influence our ability to effectively develop athletes and to ensure that we have a community that’ll last a long time.
3) Find a way to make the process fun
If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’re likely to not be doing it for very long. Going along with some of the research mentioned earlier by Michael Inzlicht, self-control seems to be more reliable in situations involving tasks that we want to do, rather than what we have to do. We don’t really need much research to point this out. We simply need to look back on our lives and see that most of the things we’ve done have been because we wanted to do them. I don’t lift heavy weights and compete in Powerlifting and Weightlifting because it’s good for me. Instead, I thoroughly enjoy doing it. It also just turns out that strength training is also good for you. I can’t count the number of people who run to get in better shape and you ask them if they enjoy it and they respond that they HATE it. How long do you think they’ll continue to run as a means of getting in better shape? I’ll bet not very long.
Whatever your goal, find something to make the process more enjoyable. If you like attending a kickboxing class to get more in shape as opposed to jogging, then by all means, please keep kicking, because I’d bet you money that you’ll more than likely continue doing it a year from now. If enjoying cheesecake every Friday night makes all the kale you eat throughout the week seem worth it, again, keep doing it. In my case, I thoroughly enjoy coffee and know that’s the only way I’ll ever want to get started writing a new article or reading a new book. Hence, why, at this moment, I’m at a coffee shop writing this article. What are some ways that you can spice up your process and make your goals seem a little bit more enjoyable to work on? We only have limited time on this rock.
4) Last nugget of “truth”
The last thing I want to leave you with in regards to behaving in ways that help you achieve what you want in this life is this: passion is the result of action, not the cause of it. I got this from Mark Manson, who describes this process in a much better way at: https://markmanson.net/do-something. If you wait around all day looking to get inspired, you’re not going to get much done. The days you don’t feel like training or don’t feel like doing whatever it is that you need to do, it’s better to just start doing something. Likely, that’ll start to cause a chain of effects and give you the motivation to get done whatever needs to get done. If you don’t want to go to the gym, start by just getting in your car and drive to the parking lot. In all likelihood, by the time you get to the gym, you’ve already found the motivation to go in and start kicking some a**. Stop relying on ineffective sources of motivation and just start taking some steps. I’ll bet it’ll lead to more steps and take you in a clearer direction. Like Jocko Willink says, START WALKING https://twitter.com/jockowillink/status/973924530023415808.
- Milyavskaya, M.,& Inzlicht, M. (2018). In D. de Riddler M. Adriaanse, and K. Fujita (Eds). The Routledge International Handbook of Self-Control in Health and Well-Being (pp. 11-24). New York: Routledge. Link: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/550b09eae4b0147d03eda40d/t/56f9cb3907eaa0601bad7717/1459211067303/attentional-and-motivational-mechanisms-of-self-control.pdf