Last week I asked that readers of my blog think of their most pressing questions about health, fitness, nutrition or mindset and ask them so that I could start fine-tuning my blog to be of maximum value.  I got a bunch of great questions here on the blog as well as across Facebook on all of the shared posts.

I am tremendously passionate about using fitness, nutrition and overall mindset to improve the quality of one’s life.  I think of this as a grand adventure, a hero’s journey, where each day provides an opportunity to expand into the truest version of ourselves. I know, damn, that’s a lot to get out of exercise and eating veggies!  The thing is, it’s not how much you bench or what your dietary choices look like that matter; it’s the process of learning about yourself, and how that allows you to express yourself and explore your life, that is the true benefit.

“The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.” —Isaac Asimov

Because I am so passionate about this I spend my working time and the majority of my free time exploring it in one way or another.  I love to read blog posts, articles and books about fitness, nutrition and mindset.  I also enjoy training myself so that I can see the results of what I’ve learned in a physical way and I like to try out as many different modalities of training as I can.  I attend workshops and seminars and get additional certifications so that I am continually expanding on what I’m able to offer to clients.  And most of all, I love to share this passion of mine.  Whether someone is my client or not, I am always willing to try and answer their questions or find a resource they can use to find the answers I may not know yet.  I willingly spend hours sharing information, helping people determine their goals and how best to achieve them or tweaking someone’s technique so they can improve their skills, with folks who haven’t hired me, but are just trying to learn more and are honestly interested.

But in my zeal for sharing and in my excitement when I see others’ excitement or curiosity I forgot one of the tenants of learning that I believe in wholeheartedly and made a mistake.  The mistake was this:  I answered questions by giving information.

::sound of needle scratching off the record on the turntable::

Wait, what?  What about my passion to share and what’s wrong with giving people the information that they are asking for?  On the surface, nothing.  But to explain this we need to explore something called “The 80/20 Rule.”  Also known as The Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule basically means that 80% of the results you get will come from 20% of your efforts.  In other words, that 20% (and figuring out what that 20% is) is highly valuable, and to get the full value of it, it must be highly actionable.

There is another view of the 80/20 rule that I like even more:  80% of your efforts must be focused on action, while 20% come from information.  Learning is good, of course.  However, putting that learning into action allows you to actually use the information you’ve collected.  And, even more powerfully, if you don’t have access to information, or only have partial information, focusing the majority of your efforts on action will lead to greater results and in fact greater understanding.  

One of the greatest limiting factors for most people when they want to start increasing their fitness, improving their health or moving their diets toward a model that more effectively reaches their goals is knowledge.  However, the greatest factor in jumping that hurdle is not information, it is action.

Seriously, re-read the above paragraph, like, five times.

For most beginners, their experience of wanting to begin includes feelings of overwhelm and the idea that they don’t know enough to begin.  Both of these are true:  they simultaneously have too much information and don’t know enough.  Information is not understanding (or knowing), it is just information.  How do you get past that?  “Start anywhere,” as John Cage said.  Start, and continue to educate yourself as you go.  You will make mistakes, absolutely. Action and mistakes are the matrix through which information becomes understanding.

This requires a LOT of self-trust.  You have to have the courage to trust yourself enough to start.  You have to trust yourself that the feedback you get from your body and what your intuition is telling you are even more important than all the information you are collecting because they are what is translating that information into knowledge that pertains to your life and your body and your experience.

Ok, you want to start, you are ready to start, sure you feel overwhelmed and like you don’t know enough but you get it, action uber alles and all that BUT what should you DO???

Alright, here is a practical 3 step way to figure out how to start and what to do to start:

1. Figure out your GOAL — your goal is the endpoint, it’s where you like to end up.  Spend some quality time here, figuring this out.  A good process to follow is called “The Five Whys”  It goes like this:

Q. What is your goal?  A. To lose 50 lbs.

Q. Why do you want to lose 50 lbs?  A. Because I want to be in better shape.

Q. Why do you want to be in better shape?  A. Because I want to feel good about the way that I look.

Q. Why is it important to you to feel good about the way you look?  A. Because I want to feel attractive to my partner.

Q. Why do you want to feel attractive to your partner?  A. I want to feel attractive to my partner because I want to know that they value me, that I’m important to them.

Q. Why is it important to you to feel valued and important?  A. Because I equate that with feeling loved, I want to know my partner loves me and that I am central to their life.

That got pretty deep, pretty quick, right?  The point of this exercise is to find the real, true reasons behind your goals so that you can understand why they are so important to you.  It also highlights that often we state a goal that is a thing (a number on a scale), but what we really desire is a feeling (being loved and valued).  Having this kind of deeper knowledge of what your goals mean to you will enable you to better reach them, and to better enjoy the process of reaching them because it will be imbued with meaning.

Research has shown that attempting to change our appearance to gain outside approval is not a strong enough motivating factor to have positive results.  However, desiring to feel loved and valued is a universal human need.  Finding love for ourselves through caring for our health and valuing the things that our body can do as we improve our health are real, actionable ways to find a sense of meaning as well as a deeper, richer experience of our lives that will be strong motivating factors on our journey.

2. Determine the SKILLS necessary to reach your goal — Once you have determined your goal, in this case losing 50 lbs (with the added benefit of knowing the feelings we’d like to have during the process and at the endpoint that can influence how we choose to get there) the next step is to determine what skills we need to reach that goal.

While spending a good amount of time exploring our goal is great, figuring out our skills is not a time to get too bogged down with details.  This is a step you will return to over and over throughout your process, so find a few skills you’ll need on your journey and then pick ONLY ONE to focus on at first.  The reason we focus on skills is that they can be learned and continually improved upon.  They are NOT something you have or don’t, they are just something to work on, something to do.  And you can do this.

We know that nutrition and exercise are usually the two biggest parts of the puzzle for effective and sustainable weight loss.  Out of both, nutrition is going to be the biggest limiting factor and have the quickest, most visible effect so we will focus on those skills the most.  We don’t want to forget the importance of exercise, we just don’t want to put all our pennies in that basket.

A breakdown of how this might look, in terms of skills, is this:

—Prioritize being active each day.

—Learn to understand body signals for hunger and satiety (fullness) in order to take in an appropriate amount of nutrients for our goals.

3. Create small, actionable HABITS that when practiced become the skills we need to reach our goals — Ok, we have our goal: lose 50 lbs, and we’ve determined two skills that will help us reach it: prioritizing daily activity and learning our body’s signals.  Those are excellent skills, but as they are they are still too big.  In order for us to succeed we must break those down even smaller into habits that can be practiced every day.  These habits must fit in our life in order to be sustainable enough to have the effect that we want.  Small and doable is the name of the game.

Let’s start with the lower priority skill: daily activity.  A great way to prioritize being active each day is to take a daily walk.  Start with something super doable:  20 minutes.  Ok, we’ve got a first draft of our habit:  Take a 20 minute walk each day.   I like this, it’s pretty small, so more likely to get done and it’s centered around action, walking.  This is a great start!

Take a moment to troubleshoot this, what are some possible obstacles that may crop up?  I know from experience that if I don’t schedule something, it doesn’t get done.  If I just say, take a 20 minute walk each day, I might be inclined to leave it until it’s too late to do so reasonably.  So, knowing myself, I’ll break this habit down into an even smaller step that I am guaranteed to succeed at:  Schedule 20 minutes each day to be active by putting this time in my calendar at the beginning of the day.

Yup, you read that right, I’m not even asking myself necessarily to do any activity other than scheduling the time to do the activity.  How could this possibly help me get towards my goal?  Well, I can give myself a habit that is big and epic sounding but won’t get done because it is too big or I can do something I am able to do that will teach me a skill I need in order to move forward.  The point here is to succeed, right?

Now, on to our higher priority item: learning our body’s hunger and satiety cues.  I am not exaggerating when I say that this is THE most important skill anyone looking to lose weight can learn.  The coolest thing about this process is that you have all of the tools that you need already, it’s just a question of teaching yourself how to apply them.  You have a body, it will tell you when it needs food and when it has had enough food, if you learn how to listen to it.  No need to count calories or use points, just the simple (but still challenging) act of learning how to read your body’s signals.

How do we break this down into smaller, more actionable habits that we can practice daily?  It’s really two elements:  learning to pay attention to our body and learning how to limit food intake to an amount that will help us meet our goals.  So, this is two habits:  Eat slowly and Eat to 80% full.

Time-management and patience are going to dictate how best to schedule these so that we can truly start mastering them.  That is the essence of turning a habit or practice into a skill:  mastery.  And this must have the proper amount of time.  All of these habits are lifelong skills that we will continue to sharpen and use forever so that weight loss and a healthy lifestyle are sustainable.  The absolute minimum amount of time to dedicate to the adoption of a new habit is two weeks, keeping in mind that even when we start learning a new skill we are still working on improving skills we learned earlier.

This is how I would schedule this:

Weeks 1 & 2:  80% attention to:  Eat slowly at each meal

20% attention to:  Schedule 20 minutes each day for activity

Weeks 3 & 4:  80% attention to:  Eat to 80% full at each meal

20% attention to:  Take a 20 minute walk each day

The really great thing about this approach?  This is something you can do within the context of your daily life, you don’t need any special tools or equipment, you don’t need more knowledge or information than you have right this moment and you don’t need 3 extra hours a day or a full staff of in-home chefs.  These are habits that fit within the context ofyour life that you learn to make work for your individual needs that will get you the results that you want.

All you need to do?  Just start.  And now you can!  Go!

Elias Gross