Do you ever say you’re just going to wash one thing then 3 hours later the house is spotless?
You know those times when the house is a mess and every day you tell yourself you’ll get your shit together tomorrow, or the weekend when you have time?
Sure enough though, the kitchen keeps getting messier week after week. Yet you keep telling yourself the same thing, “I’ll do a massive clean up when I have time”. But of course when you do have time you still don’t do it because there are other things you’d much rather be doing with your free time.
For example, literally anything other than doing dishes.
Then one day, you say to yourself, “Ok, this has gotten out of hand — I’ll just do one dish for now. Then I’ll do more later.” Next thing you know you’re in a full on cleaning frenzy with no sign of stopping.
“Oh, well I've done this and isn’t so bad, maybe I’ll just clean this too, and this and this.” Next thing you ou’re on a warpath to remove every single flec of dust from your house. Pretty soon the kitchen is completely spotless.
That, my friend, is momentum.
It takes you forever to start because you’re at a stand still. But once you get going, each new step gets easier and easier because you’re already moving in that direction, adding more momentum with each step. It doesn’t seem like as big of a deal to continue making the effort to clean.
Fat loss is the same way -— momentum is all that really matters. The longer you’ve been doing something the more momentum it has, so the harder it becomes to reverse that momentum. For better or for worse, this is how it works.
Wikipedia defines inertia as:
The resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion. This includes changes to the object's speed, direction, or state of rest.
If you’re struggling to eat better, it’s because your old habits, the ones you want to change, have tons of inertia behind them.
If you’ve been doing the same thing for 20 years, you’re not going to be able to be able to change that habit in a month with sheer force of will. You’ll gas out, quit, and that 20 year old habit will resume its course. Because that's what inertia does.
The more dishes you have in the sink the more intimidating it seems.
“Jesus, I can’t even fit a dish under the tap -- how am I supposed to wash anything?”
Just get started. You don’t need to build Rome in a day. In fact, I strongly advise against it.
Just start chipping away. One dish here, one dish there. Break the task up into smaller, reasonable chunks. And if you want to go crazy and wash more dishes, go for it, but it’s not necessary. Either way, fighting your reluctance to act by finding a compromise with a smaller task is a really really effective way to get shit done.
Fat loss (or any sort of behavioral change) happens with small actionable steps done on a daily basis. Those steps snowball in the long term. The longer you’ve been working at it, the less force you must exert to keep the thing moving.
Set small daily and weekly goals. If you want to do more, you’re welcome too of course, just don’t burn yourself out.
That’s pretty much it really. That’s what you need to do. No secret. Just set small reasonable goals. Crush them. Then set more small reasonable goals.
Rather than waiting until you have the perfect strategy for cleaning the kitchen, just start washing something.
The goal is simply to keep moving at some speed, no matter how slow. Even if it feels like you should be doing more, just do something relating to your goal today. Then something on the next day, and the next day...
As long as you’re still moving you’re building momentum. That kitchen will be clean sooner than you think.
What you need to know about momentum if you’re just starting out
The longer you’ve been doing something, the easier is to keep doing it. Whatever you have been doing the longest will be the hardest to change.
So it makes sense that whatever you have been doing the shortest, is the most vulnerable to a loss in momentum and subsequent quitting (I’ll say postponing, because you’re always just one decision away from starting back up again).
I’ve had clients who unfortunately got sick or had some other life event prevent them from showing up during their first month of training. Which, at that point in their training career, meant they stopped training.
No judgement of course. This is just how the law of inertia works. We all do it with various pursuits. We’ve all started doing something, yet didn’t stick with it long enough hit our goals. Plus, sometimes there are more important things than fitness. They just happened to have the bad luck of having to take a week off just as they were getting started.
Had they missed that week after they had already been training for a year, there’s not a doubt in my mind they would have kept at it.
So, especially if you’re new to this stuff, you need to be adaptable and resourceful in the way you tackle your goals, so random, unfortunate, unavoidable circumstances don’t halt you on your path to your goals.
Here’s what I mean by adaptable:
If you can’t do plan A, do plan B, or C, or Z or even Z lite.
It doesn’t matter as long as you do something.
If you can’t make it the gym, do some form of exercise at home, or take a walk around the block, or walk up and down the stairs twice. Honestly, it doesn’t matter so long as you as you do something instead of nothing.
Even driving to the gym and not working out will move you forward. Literally. Because... umm... that's what cars do... ok, anyway...
Say you had planned on cooking a healthy meal at home, but friends invited you out for dinner last minute, order something with vegetables, or eat half and take the rest home or whatever health minded decision is realistic given the circumstances. Get creative.
Then once you’ve been in the game a few years, taking a week (or a month) off won’t be synonymous with taking a year off.
Get your head right
Ironically, not thinking about your lofty long term goals is the most logical and practical way to think about long term goals.
Because big goals are achieved one unnoticeable decision at a time. There’s no point worrying about the last step if you’re still working on your first or second.
So if you’re focused on how big your end goal is you might say to yourself, “just one won’t hurt”. And you’ll be right, one slice of pizza never made anyone gain fifty pounds. But everyone knows, “just one” never means “just one”.
So you’re right. One decision won’t have any noticeable impact on your results. But the compounding of unnoticeable decisions creates noticeable results. So weight loss and weight gain are achieved the same way, one seemingly insignificant decision at a time.
The best way to achieve long term results is to focus on whatever step/obstacle is right in front of you. Don’t worry about the disgusting sink full of dishes. Worry about washing the dish on top of the pile.
How do you make healthy habits stick?
Beyond being aware of this inertia. You have to know how to build inertia for the habits you want. This is done one small, minuscule decision at a time. It doesn’t happen all at once.
It happens slowly. Day by day, week by week. as you stay consistent with putting in some amount of effort towards this goal. You accept challenges as you’re ready for them. Then after a few years, a week off won’t be the death knell for your fitness goals. You’ll bounce right back into your routine, because it won’t feel like washing dishes i.e., a chore.
I know I’ve been pretty repetitive with this post. That’s because I really want to drive home how powerful a force momentum is, and how you can give your healthy lifestyle the momentum of a speeding locomotive.
Especially if you're fairly new to this fitness stuff, something is ALWAYS better than nothing. Because little actions will push you in the right direction and more importantly keep you going in that direction.
Rather than changing everything at once, commit to something small and easy to change, do it everyday for a week, then build on it the next week. If, on a given day you really don’t feel like doing that thing, do an easier version.
For example, if you can’t make it to the gym, or it simply seems too daunting after a long, shitty day, workout at home. Or if a home workout seems too daunting, do one set of one exercise. Hell, even 1 rep is a bajillion times better than nothing, because that way you’re continuing to apply that pressure, to keep adding to that snowball.
Don’t worry about the most effective this or that. Just make sure that you’re acting in some way that supports your goal. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it won’t be perfect. So screw perfect.
Success in fitness is all about consistent, imperfect, flawed action.
Ditch the all or nothing mentality. It doesn’t serve you well. Simply focus on taking action in whatever way you can on any given day.
Progress isn’t linear. Forget about your goals. Take your eye off of the results you want and relentlessly ensure you’re taking some form of action.