As a coach, I’m fascinated by why some people can easily build new habits while others fail miserably.
I’m sure it’s something you’ve noticed in your own life too. You probably have a friend who is very successful. He always accomplishes what he sets out to do. Just listening to him talk about his goals, you think, “Yeah, he gets it! He will really make this goal a reality.”
For the sake of this article, let’s call that friend Mike. Mike the successful.
You probably have another friend who is the exact opposite. He rarely accomplishes what he says he’s going to do. Hearing him talk about his goals you think, “It’s just wishful thinking. He’ll never make it.”
Let’s call him Jim. Jim the failure.
I’ve coached many Mikes and Jims and at first, they’re seemingly the same. They both show up with enthusiasm and motivation. But after a few weeks, the difference is obvious. Mike knows and uses the fundamental success principles and Jim doesn’t. Exploring these fundamental principles will help us build habits and reach our goals more effectively.
To do that, let’s say that Mike and Jim have the same starting point and the same goal. The principles work for all goals and habits, but for the sake of this example, we’ll use a specific goal. They both start at the same weight and want to lose 30 pounds of fat. Neither of them has any experience with healthy eating or exercise. Let’s see what each of them would do differently to work on their goal.
Realistic Goals and Expectations
Mike knows how to set realistic goals and expectations. Before he commits to a specific target, he researches the topic thoroughly. He reads a few books and talks to his friends who have done it before. He takes the time to learn what a reasonable fat loss target is and how long it’s going to take to achieve it.
Jim doesn’t want to do any research or planning. He wants to start immediately and not waste any time. “Lose 30 pounds in 3 weeks” sounds like a reasonable goal to him since that’s what all the ads are saying lately. He commits to the goal without thinking if it’s realistically achievable or not.
Devote Time for The New Goal
Mike knows that to achieve any goal he has to devote extra time every day to work on it. His time is already booked a 100%, and he knows he can’t fit anything else unless he gives up something else. If Mike can’t devote that time every day, he knows there’s no point to even start.
Jim is also booked 100% of the time, but he thinks he can fit in the exercise and change his diet in between things. He is confident that it’s not going to be a big deal and things will just work out.
Tracking Progress and Milestones
Mike knows that to make progress on a goal he needs to have a way to measure it. He knows measuring just his weight is not good enough since the muscle mass will also change. He measures his body fat percentage to keep track of his progress accurately.
Based on his goal and the time frame that he sets, Mike figures out weekly and monthly milestones. By tracking his weekly and monthly progress he can easily see if he’s on track to achieving his goal or not. If Mike is not consistently hitting his milestones, he knows that his strategy isn’t working and he has to change something.
Jim doesn’t bother recording any measurements or progress. He also wants to lose 30 pounds but has no idea how much progress he should be making every week. His only measure is the mirror and the subjective opinion of the people around him. Hearing somebody ask, “Have you lost some weight?” feels so good! He wants to be surprised by jumping on the scales one day and finding out that he’s at his perfect weight.
Gradual Progress vs. Cold Turkey
Mike has never worked on this goal and he knows the start will be slow. He needs to learn many new things about how to achieve it. Before he jumps in, he makes sure what he’s doing is safe and effective.
He starts to gradually remove the unhealthy foods from his diet and replaces them with healthy ones. At the gym, Mike is careful to not push himself too far. He takes his time to learn how to properly do the exercises and gradually increases the challenge.
Jim hasn’t worked on this goal either, but he doesn’t want to waste time. He’s heard that the paleo diet is pretty good for losing weight, so he goes a 100% paleo right away.
He goes to the gym and loads the bench press with the maximum he can lift. He doesn’t waste time with warming up or learning the correct exercises.
Quick Fix vs. Long Term Strategy
Mike knows that there are no lasting “quick fixes” in life. When he creates the strategy to achieve his goal he makes sure that it’s viable long term. He doesn’t just go on the latest diet, he picks a meal plan that he can follow for life.
Jim just wants to get ripped quickly and go on with his life. He’s interested in quick gains and quick burns. He is taking steroids and weight loss pills to accelerate his progress. He is also saving up some money for liposuction, just in case.
Mike knows that getting help from experts will speed up his progress. He will learn how to avoid a lot of mistakes along the way. He invests some time looking for a good coach who can show him the basics. He does a few coaching sessions to learn which exercises are most effective and how to do them safely.
Mike also hires a dietitian who helps him learn the fundamentals of healthy eating and weight loss. They spend a few hours designing a new diet plan that fits Mike’s lifestyle needs.
Jim doesn’t need anybody to tell him what to do. He’s already read hundreds of fitness magazines and has figured out a workout strategy that works for him. He exercises on whatever machines he can find at the local gym. He doesn’t have a set routine and does the exercises that he feels like that day.
For Jim hiring a dietitian is a waste of money. Plus, nobody knows his own body better than him. Based on a few articles he’s read online he comes up with his own diet plan.
Besides having a mentor, Mike knows that having social support is a crucial part of achieving any goal. He knows that the people around him will be a key factor in determining his success. So he is actively looking for friends that will encourage him. He doesn’t share his goal with people who are negative and could hold him back.
Mike also knows the value of accountability partners. He has a pact with a dependable friend to be in the gym together 4 times a week. He knows that he is much more likely to exercise if he is held accountable.
Jim is thrilled to tell everybody about his new goal and broadcasts it to everyone, regardless of whether they will encourage him or not. He doesn’t change anything in his social circle and doesn’t look for people who are into exercise or healthy foods. He relies only on his strong initial motivation and doesn’t need anybody to hold him accountable with exercise.
Do It for The Right Reasons
Mike knows that if he loses that extra fat he will be healthier, happier, and an inspiration for others. Because Mike is doing this for the right reasons he has the motivation to persist when the going gets hard.
Mike knows that he doesn’t need to brag and flaunt his success. He quietly works on his goals and knows that the rewards and respect from others will come because of hard work, not showing off.
Jim wants to get ripped and look better in front of his buddies. He is all about showing off his success. He often checks in from the gym with a photo of how much he is benching. His main motivation is to get approval and popularity. Since his goal is entirely selfish and shallow, when the going gets hard Jim doesn’t have the internal motivation to keep going.
Fast Forward a Few Months
Mike has already made solid progress. He weighs 10 pounds less and has even built some extra muscle mass.
The exercise plan that his coach helped him create feels great. He has increased the challenge and intensity of the workouts and he can feel that his body is getting stronger and more flexible.
It was difficult to get used to his new diet, but now he feels satisfied after each meal. He still gets some cravings for junk food occasionally, but because his body is getting all the nutrients it needs it’s easy to stay on track.
Mike indulges with a cheat meal every week or so without feeling guilty about it. He knows that he’s got a great diet and one meal with less healthy foods is not going to affect him.
Mike had a rough time emotionally for a few weeks. He was feeling depressed and working out was the last thing he wanted to do. However, his accountability buddy was there to cheer him up and motivate him to do the exercise anyway. He didn’t miss a single workout despite the emotional turmoil.
He also has a sister and two colleagues that have been obese for a long time. They are all inspired by Mike’s great results and have also started working on getting a healthier lifestyle. They’re all supporting and encouraging each other.
Jim has had a few very rough months. The diet plan he created was working well for the first week or so, but soon he started getting very strong cravings, a clear sign that he’s missing essential nutrients. After a few days, his diet streak ended in McDonald’s, but he still swears it’s the best meal he’s ever had.
The exercise was also going well for a while until he had a bad accident and hurt his back. That kept him out of the gym for a few weeks and erased the progress he had made. Even though his back healed, Jim was bummed out about the whole thing and didn’t go to the gym for a few more weeks. There was nobody to encourage him and help him get back on track faster.
Jim also got a rash all over his body from the steroids. The doctor prescribed, even more, drugs to balance out his body.
He’s still debating whether a healthy lifestyle is for him. After all, nobody from his family is fit and healthy, maybe it’s just his genes?
All the examples above are about fat loss, however, the principles apply to all goals we want to achieve. The process is the same whether we want to lose fat, build a business, learn to play the guitar, or improve our relationship. To be successful in any goal we need to make sure we’re following the fundamental principles.
So if you have a goal and it’s not quite working out so far, see if you’re following the fundamental principles of success. Check if your strategy and actions are more like Jim’s or more like Mike’s.
No Jims or Mikes were harmed in the making of this article. And I sincerely apologize to all the Jims reading this. I’ve coached many successful Jims and I love you just as much as the Mikes! <3