Welcome to my new blog feature that I might start sarcastically calling Weightloss Wednesdays. I will likely blog about my weight journey on Wednesdays, and if it motivates me to find a catchy name, so be it. Because today’s post is all about motivation.
As I move forward on my new goal i.e. losing weight, I mentioned that “something had happened” that allowed me to commit to weight loss in a way that I had never been able to do before. Before I get to that, I have to give a bit of context to show how I arrived at that “something”.
I have been heavily interested in the concept of “personal change” ever since I took five years off from dating to figure myself out aka get my head on straight. Yet while I am really good at field-stripping my psyche down to its component parts and reassembling on the fly, and even better at setting goals and sticking to them for a year, I’ve been stuck on this one big goal for several years. I’ve wanted to do it but didn’t feel like I could commit to it successfully. So I frequently read stories and tips about setting big goals, monitoring them, analysing them for obstacles to success etc. And when my wife had her graduation ceremony for her Masters of Education, the guest speaker / honored was Jeffrey Kottler. He was inspiring to hear, and his topic was about change…so after the ceremony, I bought and read his book called Change. I’ve even done some blogging about it (Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change” – Chapter 1 and other chapters).
I was really looking for any secret tips or tricks to help me achieve “lasting sustainable change”. Unfortunately, as expected, there are no magic bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions. In fact, Kottler argues that we often don’t have any idea why one person makes a change that sticks and another makes the same change and relapses. But there are some common themes.
For example, lots of people have made lasting change because they underwent a traumatic “bottoming out”. Maybe the drug addict who loses his family or the alcoholic who winds up broke and homeless. Some sort of THIS SHIT IS REAL impact where they see the costs of their addiction and it shocks them into changing. For people who are fat, it’s often a heart attack. A life changing, chest grabbing incident that says, “Fix your life NOW, while you still have it.” I didn’t have that type of event. And even if I did, it might not have been sufficient. To the naïve, who think it is just something you decide to do and then you do it, aka Nike’s marketing slogan, they are often shocked, surprised and mystified when someone who, for example, is a heavy smoker, has a bad diet, and poor lifestyle doesn`t suddenly miraculously find the motivation after a heart attack to change their whole life around in a day. Or if they do, they can’t stick with it over time. For the uninitiated, they think it’s as simple as snapping your fingers and the decision is made. And if you don’t do it, it’s because you’re lazy or stupid. After all, you total up the costs and benefits and it is clear math — you need to make the change.
Except your psyche doesn’t work like a mathematical formula. It doesn’t take your current situation and subtract 10 points for a heart attack, and add 8 for stopping smoking, 3 for altering your diet, and 2 more for adjusting your lifestyle and decide that for the extra 3 bonus points, you should change everything to have more “utility” or “benefit”.
Heck, even the NY Times figured this out back in 1992 with an article about weight loss and diets:
In April, Ms. Walker and other fat people were, in a sense, vindicated by the findings of experts at a conference called by the National Institutes of Health. The group looked at data on success rates of weight loss programs and concluded that diets, including expensive commercial diet plans, have an abysmal success rate in long term, with virtually all dieters regaining the weight they had lost. The panel wrote, “There is increasing physiological, biochemical, and genetic evidence that overweight is not a simple disorder of willpower, as is sometimes implied, but is a complex disorder of energy metabolism.
Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. And don’t forget the psych stuff.
Understanding draw and drag on motivation, NOT on life
If you combine another of Kottler’s themes about forces at play with some of the findings on addiction research, you see that there are actually four forces, not the simple two (costs and benefits). I am using slightly different wording and approach from Kottler and the addiction research, but the resulting paradigm resonated with me, so this is how I approached my new goal. Most people tend to think of bad things as dragging them down (so-called costs) and good things (so-called benefits) as drawing them forward. Yet in the world of motivation, i.e. the key area that was holding me back psychologically, the terms are more normatively neutral. Some “benefits” can hold you back, and some “costs” can speed you up.
In my current situation, there are the obvious costs to my existing lifestyle. After all, there’s a reason I want to change. These are usually negative factors in my life, and their inherent negativity should motivate me to change. For most people, these are the typical primary costs of remaining in one’s current lifestyle and not making a change, and they are easily identified. Most popular press articles will point to them. They basically act as primary “draw” factors propelling me forward.
In my future situation, I will hopefully see a bunch of benefits. Some of them, as I said, will simply be the benefits from erasing the previous negativity, plus any secondary benefits that are produced at the same time. Like with the costs of the old, they will act as “draw factors” propelling me forward. In the end, it is this category more than any others that allowed me to change. A new secondary benefit, if you will, that I will talk about with respect to draw factors later. A mental change that made the difference for me.
Yet there are also drag factors. The first type is one of the biggest insights that I gleaned from Kottler’s book, the idea that your current situation has benefits. There are benefits to me of being fat. There are benefits to the person with anger management problems. There are benefits to the alcoholic of drinking. And these benefits will be “lost” when that changes. As such, they act as forces to resist change, resistance that will slow your change, or in some cases, prevent you from making any change whatsoever. An amazing concept…and one that is not well understood by huge numbers of so-called experts in the diet industry, even when they talk about motivations. There is actually very few that talk about the benefits you are giving up by changing, yet with many people, they are deeply rooted and hidden. And unless exposed to the light, they can act to sabotage any progress you will ever try to make. So they act as drag coefficients on your rate of change.
Finally, any “new” situation that you create comes with not only the good / benefits, but also the bad / costs of the new world. In an ideal situation, the new situation is paradise, but it rarely is. Many of the downsides will be the flip side of other elements above, but they also often fall into simple obvious categories too. Time. Money. Effort to change. Choice, as you focus on one thing and other things drift. But these costs also often go unheralded. And if they are demarked, they are often lumped under “no pain, no gain”. It’s simply the cost of doing business to accomplish your goal. But again, unless exposed to the light, they can sit in the dark as niggling rationalizations of why NOT to do something, acting as drag on your progress.
Two draws, two drags. It’s a bit simplistic to summarize this way, but I’ve come to believe that true change, sustainable change, can ONLY happen when the two draws outweigh the two drags on a permanent basis.
That is VERY hard for me to say. I have always believed, quite strongly, that freedom of choice and the set of your mind are enough to overcome anything. That even if the draws were not enough to overcome the drag on their own, you could CHOOSE to consciously commit to the goal and overcome that drag. And on some small issues, conscious awareness and commitment does often tip the balance. A so-called “X” factor that can change the whole equation.
But I’ve begun to admit to myself that eventually all equations balance out. And that “choice” that you added to the one side to tip the scales can start to wane, and if you haven’t accomplished the goal yet (i.e. most dieters who’ve tried losing weight), the drag forces will slowly wear away at your progress until you’re back where you started with some sort of skewed equilibrium. Your weight yo-yos, or you relapse, or you just plain slip and then stop trying.
In addiction scenarios, one of the ways that people can overcome this slippage is through a rigorous, detailed, candid inventory. I was / am not looking forward to this stage, anymore than I was looking forward to blogging about my weight.
But I need to muster all my mental forces towards the goal. I can’t hide behind timidness, or euphemisms, or even hidden forces that will slow my progress. I need candour with myself about what I’m doing and what it is costing me against what it is benefiting me. I need to itemize the drag forces and mitigate them, and identify the draw forces and embrace them.
And while it may be raw and unsettling to think about and blog about, it doesn’t scare me. It’s just emotional and mental homework. And I’m good at homework.