The health industry has entered the Age of Enlightenment.
Science, reason, analysis, and skepticism are replacing gimmicks, gadgets, and asinine “5 protein shakes a day” diets. People are waking up and demanding better.
Emerging from this refreshing Age of Reason has been the concept of healthy habits.
The old school sledgehammer approach – “Follow this meal plan, dickhead” — is obsolete, having failed all but the exceptionally dedicated.
The new, the smart way, is to “coax” progress by installing small, easy, changes or habits. Each new habit builds upon a previous one, and because they’re introduced one at a time, it’s easy to be successful and build confidence.
So an unsustainable meal plan is now “drink water first thing every morning.” Then “take fish oil every day.”
Except it doesn’t work for everyone. Because it doesn’t go deep enough.
Recently I was in a bind. I felt guilty that my life was dominated by training, and reading and writing about, well, training.
Maybe I should do other stuff? There’s more to life than protein and floor presses and the occasional Netflix binge, right?
So I decided to re-learn French. I “should” do that. It won’t be hard. I can understand it well enough. There are online teaching courses and I even have the Rosetta Stone somewhere in my desk. Easy.
I bookmarked a few sites and downloaded some software. The goal was a conservative five minutes a day in the morning. An easy habit. I’d be watching hockey games on the French channel in time for the playoffs.
Week one was a disaster. I struck out. Not even one 5-minute “block” accomplished. I really don’t know what I did — it just sure as hell wasn’t learn French.
“Okay asshole,” — I talk to myself that way — “Next week has to be better. No excuses. Five minutes a day or else.”
The end of the second week came and with it another goose egg. I couldn’t believe it. How could I suck this badly?
It didn’t make sense – I can force myself through anything physically, eat the most plain, boring foods forever, but I can’t commit just five minutes a day? What’s wrong with me?
Now it was mid week 3, and my office is spotless, my laundry folded — and zero French lessons. I was rocketing towards total failure. Because I am a failure.
“You’re not a failure,” my psychologist friend said over coffee. “What you’re experiencing is typical.”
“In fact, had you told me of this experiment beforehand I would’ve predicted the outcome,” the bastard said in his smug, condescending way.
The issue wasn’t me being weak or lazy – it was that I didn’t start by addressing my values.
Your values are the things that you believe in. They determine how you live your life.
If that sounds important it’s because it is. Once your values are set you can establish your priorities (what’s really important versus sorta important), and from there your behaviors (actions). When these are all on the same page – values, priorities, and behaviors – we typically feel satisfied and content.
But when they don’t align it can get shaky. It can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression.
For example, if your job is important but you value your family most of all, spending 70 hours a week at the office might lead to internal stress. Even though you’re providing for your family (a value), the amount of time you spend working doesn’t jive with your priorities.
In my case, I value my family, my health and being in good shape. I value my career in a field that I have a lot of personal passion for. I also value having a good time with friends and travelling. And I intensely value Irish whiskey, probably too much.
But learning French was basically something I told myself I should do. I didn’t go any deeper and really connect with who I am.
And how much do we like doing stuff we’re told we “should” do?
This is where the habits-approach to body transformation fails as surely as the “follow this meal plan, dickhead” method.
If someone just doesn’t see the value in improving their health or losing fat – say they’re “told” by their doctor to lose weight – not only will they fight the big changes, they’ll also fight the little things.
Even something as trivial as taking a fish oil supplement – they’ll take it for a few days, and then forget, then say it upsets their stomach before declaring fish oil doesn’t work.
Adding other habits, no matter how small and painless, and you’ll hear similar excuses.
The Real Should
To make any significant life change, you first need to explore how it can sync with your values.
So if you value family and career and faith, losing fat “to look great on the beach” won’t work. But losing fat “to live longer and be a better parent” could certainly inspire a change.
So get a pen and paper and some solitude. Then start thinking.
What are your values?
What really matters to you?
Do your priorities and behaviors (and how you invest your time) all connect with your values?
If not, no course of action, no “habit,” no matter how simple or complex, will work.
Trust me. You’re better off just learning French.