Why We Fail

Predestination and the Fat Guy, Rated PG-13

I’ve lost a lot of me in my lifetime – in the past, I’ve lost over 200 pounds, going from over 450 to 250, which is the lowest I’ve ever weighed as an adult. In the last 6 years, I’ve yo-yoed the same 30 pounds up and down, growing complacent in every aspect of my life. I’ve decided to change that for good, but in the back of my mind, there was an inkling fear that I would relapse, start binge-eating again, and gain even more weight back, a situation I’m sure you may have found yourself in at one point or another.

Maybe you felt that fear seep into your body and freeze you, and everything you told myself about exercise, eating healthy for good, etc – all of that felt like a lie. You, like I, might say these things with the best intentions, but if you believe deep down that there’s some capacity for failure within you, then failing is simply an eventuality.

This made me think of why I might consider these thoughts and ambitions to be falsehoods. or rather that I might not “be able” to maintain them in the long run. I threw quotes around “be able” here because let’s be honest, when we’re talking about our ability to do something like “not eat a cheesecake in one sitting”, it’s all on us. Sure you might, like me, have a weak will, but you still have the will, and ultimately your decisions are up to you. You either want something badly enough to give up terrible food and sitting instead of exercising, or you don’t. If your end goal isn’t important to you, and I mean TRULY important, you will eventually fail.

Which is why I considered all the past-mes who have come and gone – all the people I was in my twenties, before I had kids, when I was drastically overweight, etc. Those Tonys have come and gone, replaced by wiser, fitter Tonys, and I don’t have regrets or laments that I am no longer those people.

If you truly want to get healthy, you have to commit to it, and part of that is understanding that this is a fundamental change. Your big-person insecurities cannot follow you into this new life, or you’ll conjure up the demons and weaknesses of your past self and screw everything up. If you want to pursue goals, you need to pursue them with gusto, fully prepared to give up food, comfort, and complacency in order to achieve them and hang onto them.

In short: Even a very minor tendency to believe that you will return to your old ways will make you return to your old ways.

 

Adaptation vs Constant Change

If you grew up in Snowman, Alaska, and your company decides they need you in good ol’ Humid Like Ogre Ass, Mississippi, then you’re likely going to pick up your life and move there. This will suck on multiple levels, but you will eventually adapt, and in that adaptation, you might even convince yourself you’re happy. You might lower your expectations of what you want out of life, or yourself, and get comfortable swatting mosquitoes and sweating through your teeth. Going from Snowman to Ogre Ass and convincing yourself that you like it is a pretty good analogy for being an adult, but it doesn’t have to be.

Everyone is on a diet, or trying to lose weight, or apologizing at Thanksgiving for eating the family dog as proteins weren’t defined beforehand (that might just be me). A vast majority of people’s New Year’s resolution will be something about weight loss, and inevitably they will fail, not because they’re weak, but because they’re comfortable. It’s like finally settling into a relationship – you might gain a bit of weight but you’re no longer on the hunt for someone to put up with you, so you let yourself go a bit.

 

If you’re happy being overweight and complacent, and you’re certain you’re not convincing yourself of that, then this advice isn’t likely for you. If you’re like me, however, and you aren’t truly happy with how you are, where you’re at, how you feel, etc, then no amount of convincing is going to change that. The good news is that you can get out of your complacency and into a mode of constant change. Have you ever wondered why/how people scale Everest or other tall mountain-type things? It’s because they are constantly setting new goals, and then taking those goals, wadding them up and stuffing them into a bear’s mouth, at which point they create new goals. They never get complacent but instead constantly strive to achieve more and better for themselves. They don’t believe they can fail, or if they do, they recognize that they cannot control every aspect of climbing up a mountain. In the case of those who do understand the possibility of failure is there, though, they approach that mountain knowing “failure” likely means they die. If you approached your weight or other goals like that, knowing what failure meant, you would likely treat it significantly more seriously, accepting failure is only a result of outside factors you cannot control.

If you lose 30 pounds, and then you’re happy and can live with yourself, you will probably gain that weight back. If the totality of the goal is “drop some weight”, that can be done with shakes or pills, crash diets, or hell even cigarettes.

If your goal is “get healthy”, though, one of the small goals might be “lose 30 pounds”. If you then try your hand at a 5k, or a marathon, or enter a weight lifting competition, or even just try to beat your own pace at walking, you won’t get complacent. Resting on your laurels is a good way to undo everything you’ve accomplished.

In short: Allowing yourself to get comfortable is a sure-fire way to slide back into old habits and undo your success.

 

The Takeaway

If you have consistently failed at your goals, or you can’t quite break the ceiling or upper limit on your progress, it’s likely that there’s a wrench in the works. Psychological forces act profoundly on our ability to succeed. If you believe, even in a small way, that you can fail through your own fault or weakness, then you’re dooming yourself from the outset.

Similarly, if you believe that hitting your most basic goals is “good enough”, then you won’t ever truly be happy with success. Reaching a level of comfort that allows you to get through days and be at least 51% happy versus 49% unfulfilled is not lasting success. As my wife always tells me, “you have to think past the first step”, which translates to “always have your next target in mind”. If you exercise but eat like garbage you won’t find yourself on the winning end of losing weight.

You have to believe that your future is up to you – that each step you take backwards or even lateral to your goal, is a bad choice. Believe that you cannot and will not undermine yourself, and then you can fight any outward opposition that springs up. Likewise with moving forward with the rush of success – don’t stop when you’ve conquered a small goal. Instead, use that momentum to move towards crushing another one, and then another.

The new year is coming up and with it there will be millions if not billions of resolutions made. If you decide to make one this year, stop first and consider your own psychological perspective on goal-setting. You can succeed, and to let anyone – especially yourself – stop you is a shame.

 

 

8 Comments

  • Robin Reply

    Tony, This is so well written. This is me. Or, more accurately, this WAS me. I never believed I could achieve my weight loss goals. Now, having lost 103 pounds — with another 60ish to go, my fear is not sliding back, but of being stuck here. Up 1 pound, down 1 pound … you know the drill. It’s a fight (in a good way) every day to remind me of my goals and not rest on my laurels because I’ve lost 100 pounds! Beautifully written. So very poignant, especially at this time of year.

  • Jennifer Reply

    I like that…”You have to think past the first step.” The first step is where we all seem to stop. It’s not just where you start but where you go to next that helps to keep you on track.

  • christina Reply

    You inspire others, let you inspire you too!!

  • Stacey W Reply

    This is an insightful and timely post. I am sure it is very appreciated as the holidays are here and there is so much going on!

  • Molly Stevens Reply

    There is a fine balance between believing you can achieve your goals and knowing you could fail. I don’t know if you can totally eliminate the fear of failure but perhaps use it in a healthy way to remind you not to take your success for granted. This could keep you on your game without letting up your guard. You have done a remarkable job! Congratulations on all your hard work and dedication to your health.

  • Carol Cassara Reply

    Deep and resonant. There’s so much to think about here. The thought of failure really IS a trap.

  • Jenni Reply

    Such a great post! I really needed to read this with all of the struggles I have had with weight loss. Hard to accept, but right on point.

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