A question of identity
Someone recently asked me what, in my opinion was the biggest challenge in getting someone to lose weight. My first impulse was to fire off a long list of reasons. Bad eating habits, resistance to exercise, poor discipline so on and so forth. But then I caught myself. I realized that none of these was actually the biggest challenge at all. They are all valid reasons sure, but not the key to success.
What is the key then? Well, to answer that, I would have to ask a question in return. What is the difference between the following statements?
- “I have a weight problem.”
- “I am fat.”
Most people struggle to see any difference Some say that statement 1 seems like less of a challenge. A “weight problem” could just mean something as little as a few extra pounds. Where as being “fat” is well, being fat. But it’s not that simple. For one thing, our definition of the word “Fat” varies wildly. The average desk jockey would seem horribly “fat” to a ramp walking model for example. So no, that’s not it either. The fact of the matter is that there is a MASSIVE difference between the two statements.
“I have a weight problem.” Is a physical challenge. It is the admission of an undesirable state and points toward a possible desire to change.
“I am fat”. Is a statement of identity.
Please take a moment to think about what that means. If I were to make you try and do something that goes against what you consider is your “true nature” it would be very difficult or even impossible. For example, if you think of yourself as an animal lover, it would take a lot for me to make you kick a dog. Even if it meant that kicking said dog would push it out of the way of a speeding car. It is a mental block. It goes against your idea of who and what you are.
Example two. If I establish that your diet is severely deficient in protein and you would do well to add some fish in your meals, it won’t mean a thing if you are vegetarian.
What I’m trying to say is this: It is impossible to create long lasting change in lifestyle if it conflicts with a person’s sense of identity. And ultimately, being healthy is a lifestyle. It isn’t something one “does“. It is something one simply “is“. I could take someone who truly believes he is a “fat” person and regardless of what sort of training program and diet plan I put him/her on, it won’t work in the long term. Sure, I can get them to lose a little body fat and reach some short term goals but the second they leave the gym or dojo, they will sabotage themselves. They will eat the wrong foods or indulge in alcohol. They will miss training sessions for a variety of reasons. In a few weeks, they will give up, convinced that the trainer wasn’t good enough, it hurts too much, or they don’t have the time, their genetics are bad etc etc. In other words, they will fail.
The sad part is, very few people are aware of this. It is a subconscious thing. But it can be changed. I can always tell when I’ve succeeded in making this clear to a client. It is a very tangible thing. I can see their expressions change as their face takes on a “Wow. I never thought about that” look. That is the point where I know we have achieved a major breakthrough. From this point, its just a matter of doing the right things. The only challenges left are physical ones. And those are easy to overcome.
90 percent of all successes and failures begin and end in our own heads. When it comes to health and fitness, most of us have a good idea of what we want and where he have to go.
We just need to get out of our own way.