Use These 3 Science-proven Steps to Get into the Best Shape of Your Life

get into shapeEveryone wants to get healthier, yet 88 percent of people fail to accomplish their goals every year.

Why? What’s the secret of the 12 percent who are successful?

It’s not good genetics.

It’s not personal trainers.

It’s not Paleo.

Or CrossFit.

Or Weight Watchers.

The “secret” of the 12 percent who are successful is actually not a secret at all.

It’s simple science. And once you understand it, you will succeed where you’ve failed in the past.

The Number One Thing Holding You Back

dark alleyFear is good in small doses. It helps us avoid dangerous situations, like walking down a dark city alley at night.

But it also holds us back from accomplishing our goals.

Consider this: there are thousands upon thousands of web sites devoted to weight loss and health. We have a world of free information at our fingertips about losing weight, gaining muscle, and getting into better shape.

Yet 67 percent of people in the US are still overweight or obese.

Why?

Because we’re scared.

We unconsciously let our fears hold us back instead of taking action to get the things we want in life.

How do you overcome this?

By acknowledging the underlying reasons why you’re not taking action and facing your fears.

This takes immense courage. It means taking your body, mind, and spirit into the uncomfortable realm of the unknown.

It’s a heck of a lot easier to keep doing what you’re doing.

But to me, the scariest thing of all is doing nothing and wasting years of my life.

The Psychological Mistake All of Us Fall Victim To

Science tells us that one of the biggest reasons so many people fail to achieve their goals every year is a psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance, which is a state of tension that occurs when you hold two inconsistent beliefs (i.e., “I am going to lose 20 pounds this year” and “One candy bar isn’t going to kill me”).

cognitive dissonanceCognitive dissonance affects all of us, and it can be detrimental to your health goals.

For example, when you fail to achieve your goals, you say things like “I just don’t have the time,” “I have a bad back,” or “I don’t have good genes.”

In short, your brain finds ways to downplay your lack of commitment to your goal. When we have “dissonant” beliefs, we tend to stick with the belief that’s more comfortable.

In one experiment detailed in Elliot Aronson’s classic book The Social Animal, people who broke their New Year’s resolutions initially felt bad about themselves for failing, but after a short time succeeded in downplaying the importance of the resolution.

Your brain is the most sophisticated organism in the universe. And it will pull out all the stops to avoid feelings of frustration, fear, and rejection.

So again, it’s crucially important to recognize and acknowledge the reasons why you keep holding yourself back.

Be brutally honest.

Once you understand your fears and how they’re holding you back, you’ll be ready to take the next steps to rewire your psychological impulses.

3 Steps to Get into Shape (and Stay That Way)

Step 1: Make a Commitment

Psychologist Robert Cialdini says in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:

If I can get you to make a commitment, I will have set the stage for your automatic and ill-considered consistency with that earlier commitment. Once a stand is taken, there’s a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand.”

88 percent of people fail to accomplish their New Year’s resolution because at the start of each year, they make a vague statement like, “I want to lose weight.” They have an idea in their head that they’re going to eat healthier, work out more, etc.

It’s not enough though.

Commitment means more than that. It means taking a firm stand.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Write down what you’re committing to. Don’t say, “I want to lose weight”. Say “I will lose weight.” “I will” and “I can” are strong, affirmative statements. The way you frame things is important, because you won’t get in the best shape of your life if you don’t believe wholeheartedly in yourself. Visualize and feel what it will be like.
  2. Make your commitment highly visible. You want constant reminders of your goal, so you don’t lose sight of it. Save your commitment onto your computer background, place sticky notes everywhere you spend a lot of time, and post it on your refrigerator.

Step 2: Tell Everyone You Know

Here’s where things get fun.

Share your commitment with your friends, family, classmates, co-workers, etc.

If the thought of this makes you cringe, here are two key pieces of research that should convince you to go outside of your comfort zone and give it a chance:

Another bonus? When you share your commitment with people, they’ll often motivate you and help hold you accountable to accomplish your goal.

I was reading a recent issue of Eating Well magazine and saw this fitting quote from a woman named Nancy Roscigno who has lost 20 pounds and kept it off:

I was able to stick to my commitment to walk or work out every day because I wanted to prove to my family that no matter how busy you are, you can make exercise a part of your routine.”

Have the courage to tell people what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that 99 percent of them will respect and support your effort.

Step 3: Take Action

Now for the most important step: mapping out your action plan.

There are two key parts to this: 1) start small and 2) track your progress. Let’s look at each.

Start Small

Research shows that the more complex a behavior is, the longer it will take to become a habit.

That’s why starting small is so important.

This video of BJ Fogg, director of the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab, will help you understand how and why forming “tiny habits” works:

To increase your odds of success, link your new tiny habit to an existing routine. For example, if you commit to losing 10 pounds, start by doing 5 pushups every day as soon as you wake up.

When you link the behavior change (pushups) to an existing ritual (waking up and getting out of bed), you will be more likely to create a habit that sticks.

And that’s the goal here.

Track Your Progress

Imagine you have two friends who both want to lose 20 pounds this year.

One friend takes the following familiar approach: “My work and family situation is just crazy so every week I’ll do my best to work out 3 times on whatever days I have time. I’ll try and eat healthier too.”

The other person takes a slightly different approach: “My work and family situation is crazy … so I’m going to buy a daily planner so I can plan my trips to the gym and my healthy meals each week ahead of time. I’ll write down each of the action steps I take every day to track my progress.”

Which do you think is more likely to be successful?

Planning and tracking your progress sets you up for success.

My daily planner is an integral part of my life (I use the Blue Sky Weekly/Monthly Planner and it costs around $12). It helps me keep my life on track and map out daily action steps for accomplishing my goals. You can find plenty of free versions online or make one yourself.

Research shows that having a plan to follow increases the chance of you forming a habit that sticks. In the book, Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward, written by several distinguished professors of behavioral psychology, tracking your progress in a journal is one of the best ways to stick with your new habit.

Once you have your planner, here’s how to use it:

  1. Start with one small change you can do every day, and link that change to a routine behavior (remember the example above: “After I get out of bed, I will do 5 pushups”).
  2. Spend 5 minutes at the start of each week planning out your action steps for each day.
  3. Slowly increase the action steps you take each week until you reach a series of habits that work for you.

It took me a couple years to form all the habits in my current routine, and I’m constantly adding new ones. Here’s a look at some of the habits I’ve developed to get in the best shape of my life:

  • Stretching:
    • After I eat breakfast, I will stretch for 5 minutes
    • Once I get to work, I will stretch for 5 minutes
    • After I eat lunch, I will stretch for 5 minutes
    • Before I go to bed, I will use my foam roller
    • Once I get home from work, I will stretch and meditate for 20 minutes
  • Yoga:
    • Once I get home from work on Tuesday, I will do 45 minutes of yoga
  • Lifting weights:
    • Once I get home from work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I will lift weights
  • Eating:
    • I will eat between 2,500 and 3,000 calories/day
    • I will not drink soda or sugary drinks
    • I will not eat refined carbohydrates
    • I will eat eggs, oatmeal, and a smoothie every day for breakfast
    • I will eat a salad every day for lunch
    • I will cook a healthy dinner every night

Planning your action steps and tracking your progress is the absolute best thing you can do to increase your productivity and achieve goals that you’ve struggled to achieve in the past.

It works.

On top of that, it’s extremely gratifying. Checking things off your list each day feels good. It gives you visible proof of your progress and holds you accountable for your actions.

There will be days when you just can’t get to the things you planned, and this is perfectly okay.

Accept it and move on. Some days you’ll take two steps forward. Others you’ll take a step back. That’s part of the process of creating permanent behavior change.

Final Thoughts

One final thing that’s perhaps the most important part of this article …

Your mindset will ultimately determine whether you succeed or fail. When you focus your thoughts and feelings on the things you don’t want, those are the things that will manifest in your life.

Studies show that being optimistic can make you healthier, happier, and more successful in life.

So channel your thoughts on what you do want. If you want to get into shape, then visualize yourself in a perfect state of health every day. Imprint that memory inside your head. And trust me, it will become a reality if you do this repeatedly and form healthy habits that become automatic in your brain (using the steps outlined above).

Your past is behind you.

It doesn’t matter anymore.

Starting now you can choose to be healthier, happier, more productive—whatever you want.

So what are you waiting for?

If you want to get in the best shape of your life this year, make a commitment and go make it happen.

I will help you.

Leave a comment on this post and answer this question: What is one area of your life that you’re not happy with?

Don’t just say “I’m not happy with my weight,” tell me the specifics, like, “Scott, my doctor says I need to lose 20 pounds but I don’t know where to start.”

I read every response, and I’ll respond to as many as I can.

Comments

  1. Richard says:

    I’ve just read your article and I hope to implement some of your suggestions into my life. Physical fitness has always been important to me and I’ve tried numerous times to get into great shape. After countless plans and countless failures here I am again searching the web for some new approach that might actually work.
    I will attempt to start small and track my progress as you suggest. The thing that really gets me is the fear. It seems so strong that it is almost like an actual presence keeping me inert, instead of something psychological. How can I determine why I’m holding myself back? How do I face this fear?

  2. My brother recommended I might like this website. He was totally right.
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  3. Alexa says:

    I have hired trainers to help me gain muscle mass but had to stop seeing them Bc well it got expensive. I finally gained curves where I needed them, quads, butt, and had strong core. Due to stress of school I find myself resorting to too much cardio then at the same time I eat very lean and clean. Usually leafy green salads w a variety of veggies topped with lean protein. Very healthy, but probably not enough calories and ultimately I’m almost looking like I was when I started training. I don’t eat like an anorexic person and strive not to look like one. I’m trying my hardest to get back to the gym the only problem is eating enough in the am before a workout then trusting that my workout was hard enough of a challenge to deserve the PWO Protein after. I never trust that I actually worked out hard enough to drink it.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    • Alexa – most people find it hard to believe that “skinny people” have problems too. I commend you for seeing a trainer but yeah, they’re super pricey. I think you nailed it: you’re just not eating enough and/or lifting enough to maintain the lean muscle. To me, the eating part is more important. Couple questions for you: 1. What protein powder do you use? 2. What are the criteria you look for when choosing a powder? I’m currently working on building a protein powder supplement and most powders on the market are garbage … too many crap ingredients and processed, artificial junk. I recommend making your own: mix up either a grass fed whey protein or plant-based powder like hemp, brown rice, or pea along with some raw cacao powder, a banana or other fruit, and flaxseeds … sometimes a bit of coconut oil when I want some extra calories. This is my go-to shake and it’s a healthy way to consume an extra few hundred calories each day, which it sounds like you need.

  4. BOgs says:

    Need to lose 45 lbs and no matter what i try i never seem to lose wt

  5. Lili R. says:

    Thanks, Scott! 🙂

  6. Lili Reagan says:

    This was a very encouraging article. I decided December 2013 that I was fed up with my unhealthy habits and wanted to lose weight, feel good and change my lifestyle. I was thin most of my life and very active but I’ve always had an addiction to sugar. After my second child, my body just couldn’t bounce back from the weight gain and I never changed my eating habits. Frustrated and depressed, I ate to make myself feel better then instantly hated myself for making such bad choices. It felt like a vicious circle. I compared myself to other mothers that just seemed so much more together than I was and just couldn’t figure out how to balance my family, working, health and just plain quality sleep. I finally had a very frank conversation with my husband and told him all I was feeling. He was very supportive and gave me the encouragement and support I needed. I then made a list of all the things I wanted to achieve in 2014: lose 15 lbs by end of June, lose another 10 by end of year, run a 5k by spring and a 10k by summer, etc. Armed with that list, I made a vision board to showcase what I want to achieve. It’s very personal – in the sense that it’s all about “me” and my specific goals. I keep it on my nightstand so that I always see it and never lose focus. I joined myfitnesspal and encouraged a few other friends/family members to do the same so that we can keep each other motivated as we track our calories and workouts. I joined a running group and the gym with my mom, which forces me to keep with my commitments. I try to plan my workouts and meals in advance so that I can’t blame my disorganization for poor choices in food or not exercising. Exercising has been therapeutic for me and I am cranky if I miss a workout. 🙂

    I wish I had started this a year ago but reading your article reminded me that my mind had to be in the right place to be able to achieve my dreams. It’s finally in the right place. There is no point in looking back or focusing on last negative behaviors. I want to continue to encourage the positive energy and keep my eye on the target. I want it bad enough and I am committed to making it happen!

    I must confess though that it is a constant struggle. I am often fighting the desire for sugar or comfort food and sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not. The important thing, I’ve learned, is not to let that define me or drive the rest of my day or week. It’s frustrating to see the pounds slooooowly come off (I’m down 8 lbs and 3% body fat within the 9 weeks I’ve been doing this). But I constantly tell myself that this is a new lifestyle and not a diet. (I’m only counting calories and exercising.) This is a marathon and not a sprint. But it’s constant internal conflict and can be deflating at times when there’s no obvious progress. I also have some very serious fears that I will “fall off the wagon” and not be able to pull this off long term. I don’t want to give into those negative thoughts and will focus on the items you listed. It felt good to see that I was doing many of your recommendations without having previously read this. Made me feel like I was on the right track.

    Thank you for letting me share my (too) long story and for a very thought provoking article. I will NOT let fear dictate my life.

    Have a wonderful week!

    • First off, Lili, you have the most important part figured out (the mental part) so pat yourself on the back. Keeping taking small steps every day like you have been and let yourself celebrate the “small wins” every day. 8 pounds in 9 weeks is amazing. It’s healthy, it’s sustainable, and it’s allowing your body to adapt the way it needs to. There will be weeks when you don’t lose any weight. This is okay. Keep going.

      You’re now at the point where you feel bad when you miss a workout … welcome to the club. This means you’ve created the habit.

      It will feel like a struggle at times. Changing behaviors is hard … there’s no sugarcoating that. When you slip up, treat it as a learning experience.

      The sugar cravings will fizzle. The less you eat it, the more sensitive you become to it.

      Thanks for sharing your story. I love hearing stuff like this. Your head is in the right place, and your heart and body will follow it. Keep doing what you’re doing, and I’d love to hear about your progress as you go along. Of course, let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to help.
      -Scott

  7. Steven Bernal says:

    All my life I’ve been tried to gain weight, but it’s so hard to me, I need to increase my weight at least 20 pounds. I know what I need to do (eat 5 times per day, work out every day, drink a protein) but after a few weeks without seeing results I give up.

    This systematic technique to create tiny habits sounds good for my behavior problem.

    Thanks for post this, it was very interesting for me.

    • Let me know how it goes, Steven. I’m a “hard-gainer” myself and a work out a LOT (5-6x/week). Try tracking what you eat on this free site: http://www.livestrong.com/myplate/.

      It will help you understand exactly how many calories you’re eating. Because gaining weight is all about getting more calories (from healthy, whole foods, of course).

    • Milly says:

      14 May 23, 2012 5:24pm Emily That’ s SO cool Elle! I love how you went above and beyond what you needed to! I think it was for a great purpose and you are also a great friend and peoErn!smily

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