Yesterday marks the end of my 10-month cut, where I went from 200 lbs (20% body fat) to 160 lbs (12% body fat). Losing an average of about 1 lb/week is pretty much unobservable. Would you be able to tell a 163 lb person from a 162 lb person? Nope. But people I don’t see so often would give me comments like:
Wow, it looks like… you lost some weight?
You look skinny, man.
You look like a cancer patient.
However, by virtue of living in my own body, I never could really see any results since they were too gradual. Without seeing the end of the tunnel, and without seeing any observable progress, it is very hard to keep up with any long-term goals.
I’d weigh myself once a week and track my weight and body fat. Some weeks I’d lose 1 lb, some weeks 2 lbs, some weeks 0 lbs, and some weeks even gain poundage. My reaction used to be as follows for weigh-in scenarios:
Gain lbs: “What the fuck are you doing man? You are on a cut and you’ve gained weight?! Get your shit together and get the fuck back on track!”
0 lbs loss: “What the fuck are you doing man? You want this cut to take forever? It’s already been this long and not losing any weight this week isn’t helping your cause. Stop wasting precious fucking time and start cutting better.”
1 lb loss: “OK I am on track to accomplish my long-term cutting goals. But Goddamn, when will this fucking cut be over with? This isn’t going fast enough.”
2 lb loss: “OK this will put me ahead of schedule in terms of cutting. But you better not use this as an excuse to fuck up this week. KEEP PUSHING THROUGH UNTIL THE BITTER END.“
It isn’t like I’d actually audibly assault myself with a verbal diatribe, but these are the internal thoughts that would run through my mind. For some reason, when these rougher thoughts run through my mind silently, they are not nearly as sharp as if they were said out loud. Though I’d argue the negative effects are the same. Any time the negative is used as a sole self-motivator, you’ll only be faced with a lose-lose situation. You either lose by fucking up and hating on yourself, or you lose by accomplishing your short-term goals and don’t feel good about it. When faced with a lose-lose situation, one would just go into a negative spiral and get worse and worse results. This is because nowhere in the equation is there any opportunity to feel good, so why try? If your being tough on yourself is orthogonal to your results, how do you expect to be motivated enough to actually get the results?
So what’s the fix? Give yourself props!
Once I gave props to myself, the results would be consistently better. I’d be mentally rewarded with each tiny step of progress, and thus was motivated throughout. So even though I could not see the results I’m making physically, I would mentally reaffirm that forward progress is being made, and that that was enough. This is not to say you should give yourself props for things you don’t deserve. You should still give yourself props even when you screw up, but don’t compliment yourself on the screw up itself. That’s just being delusional. For example, if you were trying to lose weight, don’t tell yourself that it is OK that you gained a bunch of weight because it isn’t. Instead, compliment yourself on noticing that your progress is being reversed and then take the necessary corrective steps. The thought process of this positive spiral looks like this:
2 lb loss: “Wow! You are ahead of schedule and this is great! I’ll try not to screw up, but even if I do there would be a buffer and I would still be OK!”
1 lb loss: “Right on schedule and insanely good work. 100/10!”
0 lb loss: “I did not make progress and I’ll review this week’s diet to see what I could have done better. Good job noticing that I made no progress this week so that I could iterate on it and continue to progress. Trial and error is all part of the game.”
Weight gain: Same as 0 lb loss.
But it doesn’t matter what your goals are. It is unlikely that any massive progress you make will be observable since progress is usually gradual. The key here is to always give yourself props, and to lower the bar for what deserves praise. But don’t be delusional about it. Treat yourself like a vulnerable 3-year-old. Even if you screw up, you can always praise yourself for at least having this goal and that you’re committed enough to it to notice when you are fucking it up. Not only will the goal be easier to accomplish, you’ll also feel better about doing it. And the great thing about this: external approval is completely random, but self-approval is always in your control and is the thing that ultimately provides true peace and happiness anyway.
*Give yourself props for 3 different things each day. Try to make every day’s praises unique. This will force you to lower the bar for praising yourself. If you cannot spend the few minutes doing that each day, then you have some self-esteem issues.
*If you have some long-term goal you are pursuing, just compare where you at right now to what you were when you first started. You would find that you have actually made astounding progress. Don’t compare yourself to the “you” one day or even one month ago.
If you summit Mt. Everest and you compare yourself to the “you” just one step ago, it would look like you’ve made no progress. But everyone that summits Mt. Everest probably has a sense of pride and accomplishment because they understand that they started all the way back at base camp.