It feels like you’re doing EVERYTHING that you’re supposed to be doing. You’re eating right, training hard, and getting your z’s but nothing is happening. The scale isn’t moving, you look exactly the same, WTF gives?
Wether you’re trying to lose body fat or put on muscle no progress can lead to frustration, program hopping, low mojo, and eventually you quitting all together.
In today’s article you’ll learn how to tell if you’re doing everything you need to be doing, and if you are, how to make changes that can jump-start progress.
HOW PROGRESS WORKS, THE TRUTH
We like to think that progress happens in a nice linear line. But unfortunately it often doesn’t happen like that. More often it resembles something like this.
You may be doing really well for a while but then “life happens.” A big project at work comes up, you go on vacation, the kids get stick, it’s finals week, or maybe you broke up with your significant other and a carton of Chunky Monkey takes precedent over preparing healthy meals for the week.
Sometimes you quickly recover and get right back into the swing of things, while at other times it may take a bit longer. The key is to accept that your life will have setbacks, struggles, and disappointments but to also be willing to grind through those low points. Your ability to embrace setbacks and failure is an important building block for continual growth and progress.
In order to grow and change in the present you have to remove the obstacles that stand in your way by experimenting.
- You will fail
- You will make mistakes
- You will get frustrated
- Things will go right but they’ll also go wrong
The difference between those that reach their dreams and ambitions and those that don’t is the perseverance to push through these factors and do the work anyway.
Personal setbacks are one of the biggest obstacles you will face as you strive for progress. It has been shown that setbacks actually have a 2-3 times stronger effect on us than positive effects.
“…Setbacks have a negative effect on inner work life that’s 2-3 times stronger than the positive effect of progress. When we checked into whether other researchers had found something similar, we learned that it’s a general psychological effect; “bad is stronger than good.” The reason could be evolutionary. Maybe we pay more attention to negatives, and are more affected by them, out of self-preservation. So – because positive inner work life is so important for top performance, leaders should do whatever they can to root out negative forces…”
And this bad is stronger than good effect is even seen in our personal relationships.
“…The implication for all of us in long-term relationships is both instructive and daunting: If you have a bad interaction with your partner, following up with a positive one (or apparently two, three, or four) won’t be enough to dig out of that hole. Average five or more and you might stay in his or her good graces….” –HBR.org
It’s going to be impossible to avoid setbacks but striving for small wins each day instead of dramatic changes makes it much more likely for you to avoid some of the mistakes that could lead to the setback effect.
Some small wins might be walking more steps today than you did yesterday. Adding 2 more push-ups to your workout every Monday. Focusing on one small nutrition change like going from 4 tablespoons of creamer in your coffee to 2.
In her book The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile discusses how we actually just want to see progress towards our goals and the actual achievement of them is often less rewarding. Small wins that we can experience each day release dopamine in our brains which helps to stimulate the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
But the progress you make has to be meaningful to you.
“…When we talk about meaningful work, we do not necessarily mean lofty goals like curing cancer, only that the work be of value to the person doing it. In fact, meaningful work can be as ordinary as providing customers with a useful service or a quality product. But for the progress principle to take effect, the work must be meaningful in some way to the person…”
Teresa suggests blocking out a minimum of 20 minutes each day to making progress towards something meaningful to you. First thing in the morning is an ideal time to do so in order to avoid your willpower being depleted through various activities during the day.
Take action: Spend 20 minutes today brainstorming how you can get a bit better. It doesn't have to be related to weight loss or weight gain. Maybe you want to see progress when it comes to being a better writer, mother/father, student, boyfriend/girlfriend, coach, teacher, barista, etc...
“But Justin, this isn’t me. I’m able to push past most obstacles. I workout all the time and I never go off my diet plan.”
Ok, then keep reading.
ARE YOU REALLY DOING EVERYTHING?
So you haven’t missed any workouts in the past 6 months. How do you know? You haven’t gone off your nutrition plan even once. How do you know? You’re not making ANY progress at all. How do you know?
We like to tell ourselves that we’re doing everything that we’re supposed to me doing but the truth is that most of us don’t actually track it. We don’t measure consistency, compliance, and adherence – we just guess.
The 3 biggest reasons most people don’t make weight loss (or gain) progress or progress in general is because:
- They’re not consistent enough
- They’re not doing as well as they think
- They’re making progress in other ways
It’s very easy to forget about the handful of M&M’s you grabbed out of the candy dish at work. It’s super simple to forget about a couple of workouts you skipped because something came up.
When things get busy, stress happens, or if you’re like me; you just have a head that enjoys spending time in the clouds – it’s very easy to forget.
Track how consistent you are with your workouts by using a simple tool like this or by picking up a wall calendar and crossing off the days that you train. Do this for the next 30 days and see how often you actually get in a workout.
You can use the same tracker to measure how consistently you’re practicing healthy nutrition habits. If you’re following the free Limitless365 31-day fat loss blueprint you can check off the box on the days that you follow the plan (exactly as it’s laid out.)
You can also pick one small healthy habit to practice like drinking only zero calorie beverages for a week or including veggies with each meal. Check off a box on the days that you practice your habit. How consistent can you be for the next 30 days.
If you discover that you’re at least 90% consistent then it’s time to really figure out if you’re doing as well as you think.
A couple of times a month I get an email from someone who tells me they’re doing everything they’re “supposed to be doing” to lose weight (or build muscle) but that they’re making no progress and seeing zero results. They’re starting to get frustrated and are ready to quit.
I’ll ask them to spend a week or 2 recording everything that they eat and drink… and I mean everything. One single M&M, a sip of orange juice, even if they pick your nose and eat that. A week later I’ll get an email back from them saying something like this:
“Oh mylanta! I lost 2 pounds this week.”
It’s a miracle 🙂 Creating some real awareness and being accountable to someone for a week or 2 might be just what you need to make a little more progress. You can use a food log like this or apps like My Fitness Pal to keep track of everything you eat and drink for a week to give you a real idea of what you’re doing. You can use Beeminder to help hold yourself accountable.
But be on the lookout for some of these things when tracking:
- Restaurants can have up to 200% more calories in a meal than are expected (1)
- A week of healthy eating can be derailed by one 5,000 calorie “cheat day.”
- You probably are not burning as many calories as you think. Or as many as your FitBit tells you.
- A tablespoon of almond butter isn’t really a tablespoon unless you’re taking a knife and chopping off the Mount Everest that’s coming out of it.
- Did you forget about the creamer you added to your coffee? The packet of sugar you put on your oatmeal? The couple of fries you grabbed from your kids dinner? Oh shoot, a couple quick bites out of the ice cream container too.
Make sure you log EVERYTHING.
I’ll often ask some of the folks that email me how they know they’re not making any progress. Usually it has something to do with the scale not moving. “My weight has been stuck at such and such for weeks.”
There’s more to progress than the scale. Try any or all of these 6 methods for assessing progress to give you a broader scope.
- Body girth measurements: Take these bi-weekly
- Athletic performance (strength, speed, power, endurance, etc…): Assessed monthly
- Blood work (cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc…): Yearly
- Before and after photos: Every 30 days
- Body fat percentage, skin folds, etc…: Every 30 to 60 days
- Journaling (mood, emotions, thoughts, appetite, sleep, fatigue): Daily
Keep a record of these things for yourself in a simple spreadsheet or notebook that you can easily refer to.
BUT I DO KEEP TRACK! WHAT NOW?
Some things to consider if you feel like you’re doing everything but nothing is happening.
1: Weight loss is different from fat loss. Weight loss doesn’t differentiate from water, fat, and muscle weight – fat loss does. For example, when most people first start a training and nutrition program it’s very common to see rapid results. It’s not crazy to lose 4, 5, and even 10 pounds in a week or 2. This is usually related to water weight loss. While the scale may tell you you’re 10 pounds lighter, that 10 pounds may be mostly from water. No fat has been lost. Women in particular will have a difficult time with their water balance due to the menstrual cycle.
2: If you’ve dieted for a while you may be moving around less because of fatigue due to calorie restriction. This may offset any reduction in calories that you’ve made in an effort to lose weight.
Tip: Keep track of your steps, how much you’re sitting, or if you’re putting in less effort with your workouts. Try some simple things to get you moving more like taking walks, hikes, using the stairs, work standing up, etc…
3: Are you consuming a lot of “healthy junk food.” This is directed mostly at anyone that is following a specific nutritional approach such as: Paleo, vegetarian, vegan, or low carb. A Paleo chocolate chip cookie is still a chocolate chip cookie. 4 pieces of Gluten free bread is still 4 pieces of gluten-free bread. Vegan cheesecake is still vegan cheesecake.
Tip: Just check in with yourself and take some inventory of what you’re eating every day. How can you emphasize more real food and less “healthy junk.”
4: Are you keeping your fruit consumption in check? It’s pretty common for most people to increase their fruit consumption when trying to eat healthier. But it’s really easy to over do it. A fruit bowl is definitely better than a Pop Tart for breakfast but not if the fruit bowl is the size of your head. If fat loss is your primary goal try to keep fruit to 1 to 3 low sugar fruit servings per day. You can use this Real Food Chart to help you choose some low sugar options and to get an idea of what a serving size is.
5: Are you nuts! Just like fruit above nuts are a healthy food that are very easy to overeat. A handful here, another one there, and before you know it you’re a few hundred calories deep. If fat loss is your goal try to keep nuts to 1 small handful per day. Use other healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil.
6: Are your workouts strictly cardio? I love that you’re moving more, running, and walking but strictly doing cardio doesn’t help much with building muscle – something that you’ll need if you want to lose body fat. Chronic cardio can actually impair fat loss. Make sure to mix in some resistance training. If you’re a beginner you can try this free routine.
7: Are you about to rip your hair out and are your eyes bugging out of your head? Emotional, physical, financial, and relationship stress can all lead to elevated cortisol levels and poor insulin resistance. This combination can lead to fat storage or an impaired ability to lose body fat.
Tip: What kinds of activities do you find relaxing, enjoyable, and gosh darn fun. Create some time every day even if you only have 5 minutes. Ever try meditation? How about 5 minutes of gratitude and daily reflection journaling?
8: The licensing effect: This is when you justify eating whatever you want because you exercise hard. It doesn’t really work this way. You can’t out work a poor diet.
9: Are you pulling a TLC, “Creep?” A TLC creep is also known as a “calorie creep.” We discussed it a little earlier in this article but mindless eating, restaurants, those extra licks, nibbles, and picks. They can really add up over the course of a day.
10: Are you self sabotaging? I recently came across and interesting article on Psychology Today that describes this phenomenon.
“Ayelet Fishbach, a professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and Ravi Dhar, a professor at the Yale School of Management, have shown that making progress on a goal motivates people to engage in goal-sabotaging behavior. That’s right, the very act of recognizing their own success sets them up for failure. In one study, they reminded successful dieters of how much progress they had made toward their ideal weight. They then offered the dieters a thank-you gift of either an apple or a chocolate bar. 85% of the self-congratulating dieters chose the chocolate bar over the apple, compared to only 58% of dieters who were not reminded of their progress.” (1)
HAPPINESS CAN’T BE FOUND IN A NUMBER ON THE SCALE
I’ll wrap up today’s article with a question. When you get to your goal weight what then? Sure you’ll be happy, you’ll feel good, and you’ll be pretty damn excited. You worked hard for that and you should celebrate, be proud of yourself, and feel accomplished.
However, that joy will have nothing to do with the number you read on the scale. Instead, it will have everything to do with the hard work that you put in to get to that point. It will be because of the struggle, discomfort, and failures you overcame. So while on your journey don’t deny your emotions. Accept them and embrace them because in the end it is those emotions that you will appreciate the most.
Marriage, having kids, getting a college degree, finishing a huge work project – How do those things make you feel? For most of you I’m willing to bet they make you feel happy. Those are also some of the biggest struggles most of us face every day.
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