Why We Fail & How To Succeed

This is a very important topic. It is also something one should consider (in my opinion) whenever embarking on a new endeavor. We all fail sometimes. We all start out on various endeavors with energy and good intentions and then sometimes “fail” to achieve our goals. Why? The answers are varied and complex, but one thing is certain, we have the opportunity to learn from our failures. Indeed, our failures teach us far more than our successes. There is a lot of great stuff out there on this subject, but here is my version focusing on weight loss, fitness and overall health as our objective.

So, let me start by telling you why I failed on multiple previous attempts to lose weight and get more fit and healthy. Brief background – up until about age 42 or so I was very fit and very active. This was true through my teens, twenties and thirties. Like so many people (my opinion), when we cross that “40” barrier things may start to slowly go south as far as our attention to fitness, weight and overall health. I think this happens to many people who are quite literally victims of their own success. By this I mean, as we get into our 40’s many of us are really hitting our strides in our careers. Also, for many, family and child rearing commitments start ramping up. We have more experience and resources, but also WAY more demands on our time. Ever have that feeling that “everyone seems to be taking a little piece of me?” I certainly have as success leads to more people wanting more of you in the professional / work world. Family needs naturally require more and more time. Perhaps you start investing, buying real estate or a getaway (like our Cottage) – ALL GOOD THINGS – but all things that ask more of you and your time. The slide down hill can be slow and insidious from there. Sound at all familiar? After this goes on for 5-10 years perhaps you look in the mirror one day and say to yourself “what the h#@l happened? Then you try various dieting strategies, or just cutting out snacks, or adding exercise and make a little progress … and then you get bored and/or “too busy” and let it fall apart. Again, sound familiar? This was my personal roller coaster from around age 44 to 51. Every year, usually in January, I would make a “resolution” to so something about my growing weight and decreasing fitness. And every year I did try – many different strategies. Some even resulted in pretty good progress for a few months. Then, as I said, life would derail my efforts and before long I was back where I started.

Why I failed in the past to make lasting gains in fitness, weight loss and health:

  1. From day one with each new attempt I was determined to give it my best shot, but I in retrospect I realize now that I did not truly believe I could succeed. This was particularly true in later years after multiple past failures. In other words I lacked true CONVICTION about my strategy and its (i.e. my) chances of success.
  2. I set unreasonable goals – and then judged myself as having “failed” because I did not reach those goals. This is also a direct result of not really thinking through past failures and devising a new approach that has a real chance of success.
  3. I always started out with a general idea of my strategy – but had not really thought it through in detail and wrote it down. For example, I might have said to myself “okay, I am going to get back on Weight Watchers and work out three times a week” and that was pretty much my plan. Not a bad start, but also not the kind of plan that addresses concerns #1 and #2 above.
  4. I found that I would do very well for 2-3 months, and then my initial determination to make progress would erode away into boredom and frustration, particularly if I was not making progress as fast as I expected and wanted. This goes back to setting unreasonable goals, but more than that, the words we really need to focus on here to succeed are not so much determination – but DEDICATION and PERSISTENCE … translating to a willingness to stay the course despite obstacles, plateaus, outside influences and distractions.
  5. Lack of DISCIPLINE. Having a well thought out plan, believing in yourself and that you can succeed, convincing yourself that you will be dedicated and persistent is all well and good – and absolutely necessary for success. However, if you do not find a way to have the moment by moment and day to day DISCIPLINE required to always find the time to work out, and to NOT eat that cookie or bag of chips, but instead grab an apple, then the entire strategy is all for naught.
  6. Feeling like a failure leads to failure. I often ponder the “obesity epidemic” in western culture. I personally think obesity is likely the biggest economic and healthcare challenge facing modern society … at the least the biggest one we might actually be able to do something about. Anyway, obese people who are also in terrible physical condition have low energy, low self esteem, higher rates of clinical depression and an endlessly long list of additional problems. The question I ponder is this … is obesity the RESULT of poor self esteem, poor energy, clinical depression, etc. -OR- is obesity the CAUSE of these things. I suspect it can be a bit of both and very dependent on each individual’s circumstances and other health limitations, plus age, genetics and more. Regardless of the complex interplay of factors leading to obesity (genetics, socioeconomics, age, depression, others) – once obesity is a reality it is VERY HARD to find the energy and dedication / persistence necessary to do something about it and get trim and fit. There are many barriers to success … just a few include: fear of failure, fatalism (no way I can do that), endless excuses (I’m too busy, I’m too old, I have tried and failed so what’s the point?) … just to name a few. There is also the bare fact that humans are very good at shifting RESPONSIBILITY. In this setting, what I refer to is that it is all too easy to make excuses and to ALSO (consciously or unconsciously) blame our obesity on everything and everyone but ourselves. Responsibility sucks when it translates to “I am fat and out of shape because I consume too many calories and too much garbage and I do not exercise.” It is much easier to blame genetics (my whole family is heavy, or “big boned” or whatever), or work (I’m too busy), or other outside factors (I don’t have time with all my family commitments). The end result, we dodge RESPONSIBILITY and make EXCUSES and never really get started … or if we do we fall back on these weakness as reasons to simply give up and accept our lot.
  7. Yo-Yo Diets, Fad Diets, Diet Pills, etc. Okay, I apologize, but I have to put on my physician’s hat for a moment. I have never been a believer in ANY of these. I will admit I tried a few well know “diets” that sounded good at the time and that shall remain nameless, and I found that if I stuck with them for 2-3 months I did indeed lose weight fast. Like most people, I also found that as soon as I stopped these diets (which are not intended to be long term nutrition strategies and are unsustainable for many reasons) the weight came back on pretty fast, and often even more weight on top. ANY diet, supplement, plan, whatever that makes outrageous sounding claims … “You can lose 40 pounds in two months” and so on is just plain unhealthy. I am not saying they are all lying, many people probably can and do lose a lot of weight very quickly on these diets … and then what? How do they look and feel six months later, a year, two years? Somehow we never see those “follow up later” stories or photos on the infomercials. Just be careful please. Use common sense. Anyone who really knows anything about diet and nutrition will tell you that only healthy eating and exercising for sustained periods of time in a way that can be translated into permanent lifestyle changes is truly effective – and that a healthy rate of weight loss is an average of 1-2 pounds a week, no more.

How do we address the problems that lead to failure and get on the path to success?  Well, it is NOT easy, let us start there. Also, some people truly are “comfortable with themselves” as they are. Far be it for me to imply that everyone needs to be athletically slender and trim and fit. If you are perfectly content with how you look, your weight is not causing you mental or physical health problems, and you have no desire to exert any more energy than you already have and need to do the things you want to do in life – then heck – more power to you!! There are definitely people like this, but I believe they are rare. This blog is for the rest of us.

Getting off the failure train and achieving real success – some suggestions for YOUR individual strategy:

  1. First and foremost, you MUST decide that you really, truly, seriously want to do this (lose weight and get fit). You cannot have any doubts. You MUST make up your mind that you are going to do whatever it takes to stay COMMITTED until you reach your goals. As part of this – you WILL have a detailed plan (see below) – but you will also be prepared to deal with some plateaus and disappointing times, the occasional “slip” or bad week or two. This is different for everyone. A few ideas for anyone = look to family and friends for support, write on this blog for inspiration or help, post notes or reminders to yourself everywhere to “keep going” “grab an apple” “get those 30 active minutes” or whatever it takes.
  2. Make up your mind that you ARE going to believe in yourself and that you ARE going to succeed. Sounds easy right? It is, until things get hard. This is where the words DEDICATION, PERSISTENCE and DISCIPLINE come in. Again, have a bad week, even a bad month. Fine, that is not failure, it is a challenge. Get back to it with a passion and don’t waste any time or energy beating yourself up – it solves nothing.
  3. Before starting to make YOUR PLAN – spend some time examining past failures (if this is not your first go at this). Do some deep thinking and take notes. As your thoughts take shape – discuss them with close friends and/or your significant other and get their thoughts too. Aim to reach a level of understanding of what “went wrong” with past attempts so you can be prepared and plan to do it right this time.
  4. Now, make your PLAN / STRATEGY. Use the tools provided on this blog and/or anywhere else you think might help. Your PLAN must be written down and detailed. I strongly encourage you to share your plan with those closest to you – both for suggestions and to get their support – and to give you that added bit of motivation that comes with “I told everyone I care about that I was going to do this, so I need to do it.”

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