We all suffer from this at some point: the need to — but the inability to — stick with something and follow through with it.
Really, the only way we succeed in many things is to stick with it, to keep going long after you want to stop/quit/give-up. Of course, sometimes it is wise to stop because you realize it’s fruitless or not taking you towards your true goals. But sometimes it is precisely where you want to go, yet you can’t get there.
One place folks constantly fail on this is “diet and exercise”. We know we’re supposed to “eat better” and “exercise more”, and we try, but after a few weeks or a few months it fades. You see it in gyms every January when people decide to join up, then in February when they all fade away.
I recently read this article on Fitocracy about The Myth of Willpower and ‘Eat Less, Move More’. It talks about the need for a positive feedback loop in order to succeed:
At a high level, there’s only one way to succeed at fitness. All fitness successes and failures can be explained using the following framework.
The only way to succeed at fitness is to create a positive feedback loop.
In laymen’s terms, that means engaging in fitness‐related activities, and then seeing enough results to motivate you to keep going.
When you decide to start any fitness regimen, there is a certain amount of friction or “pains” working against you – the pain of giving up your favorite foods, taking time to exercise, giving up alcohol, being constantly hungry, etc.
After some time has passed, you will have to determine (consciously or subconsciously) if the results are worth continuing. One week into a fitness regimen, you might ask yourself a few questions:
Did I lose enough weight? Do I look better in the mirror? Do I feel healthier and more energized?
If the rewards outweigh the pain, then the feedback loop is renewed. The strength of your feedback loop can be summed up below:
Strength of Fitness Feedback Loop = Fitness Reward - Fitness Pain
Creating this feedback loop is the only way to succeed in fitness. It’s the same way that a business must become profitable to exist. You must create this feedback loop to stick to a healthy lifestyle. There is no alternative.
If you’ve always struggled with maintaining a fitness regimen, it doesn’t mean that you’re a pathetic, weak-willed individual. It means there was a breakdown somewhere in creating this feedback loop: the pain of dieting was too high, you did not accumulate enough reward, or you didn’t measure your progress.
It’s quite right. I never thought about it before, but it is true.
I look at my own efforts. When I engaged in martial arts for purposes of fitness, I didn’t have a direct feedback loop regarding the fitness itself, but the martial arts program did because I would see myself climbing up the belt ranks. That gave positive feedback, and you kept coming back for more.
When I lifted weights in my prior years, I would see some level of positive feedback in the initial stages, but then it waned and I would too. Why have I stuck with it the past couple years? Because I see this positive feedback loop constantly. I may hit a rep PR, or this cycle sets a true PR. I can look in the mirror and see how my body is becoming something I like more than the body I had previously. The program I’m on (Wendler 5/3/1) is set up for constant positive feedback. And it does keep you coming back.
I really don’t care if people want to lift weights or jog for miles. You do whatever it takes to give you the positive feedback. I have a friend of mine that’s right now trying to lose weight and he’s just getting on the elliptical machine every day. It’s not what I care to do, but for him it works because seeing him post that post-workout picture of the elliptical’s readout to Facebook? Positive feedback gets created not only in seeing better numbers each time, but also because there are people liking the picture and encouraging him on. So it’s not really about the particular program, it’s just about keeping the positive feedback loop going in whatever way works for you that keeps you willingly and happily going back for more.
So whatever you goals are — fitness, health, or otherwise. Do you have a program? Do you have something actually laid out to help you along? And does it include some way of having a positive feedback loop? If not, see what you can do to remedy this. It may be just the thing to keep you going for the long haul.