support for your health & fitness

The Resolution Trap: Beating Instant Gratification to Achieve Lasting Results

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people who joined a gym after the first of the year ready to get back in shape, you’ll likely start to notice something different about the size of the gym crowd in the next couple of weeks. There’s a funny thing that happens the first week of February to most of those well-intentioned souls looking to lose weight, lean down, and regain their energy. Although I say “most”, that is actually an understatement. Approximately 90% of people who set some sort of health and fitness resolution will quit by the first week of February…yes, you read that right…90%!!

While it doesn’t seem far fetched to believe that most people will give up on a goal at SOME POINT, it is much harder to believe that the vast majority of people will officially call it quits after about 4 short weeks. But, there has to be a reason for this. Is it just because people are lazy and lack the grit to push through to results? Well, sometimes, but not always. Maybe their genetics just wouldn’t allow them to achieve their goal? Again, this is sometimes the case, but it’s less often a contributing factor and more often an excuse for failure.

Okay, so if it’s not because people are lazy and natural abilities aren’t the main factor, then what holds people back from reaching and exceeding their health and fitness goals? It all comes down to one thing: mindset.

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Understanding Growth VS Fixed Mindset

At this point, most everybody has heard of the work done by Carol Dweck on growth verse fixed mindsets (if you haven’t come across this terminology, or you want to learn more, check out her book, Mindset). Essentially, Dweck and her colleagues found that, in different areas of our lives, we fit into one of 2 mindsets: growth or fixed.

In a fixed mindset, we tend to believe that our abilities are naturally limited and that we’re only able to get progress up to a point. Once you reach that point, as the belief goes, you aren’t able to get any better in that area. People who were smart in school and naturally gifted tended to fall into this category. This is because, as smart, gifted people, we were constantly praised on our “natural” talents and abilities. And this praise led us to believe that, since these abilities are natural, we must not be able to get any better at them. Hence, we developed the fixed mindset that we are limited by what we have been given.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the mindset that, no matter where you currently are on the learning continuum, you are able to learn, grow, and educate yourself so that you become better and more proficient at whatever skill or ability you’re trying to improve. People who are more growth mindset-oriented tend to have to work hard in school and in sports. While they worked hard, they were (usually) rewarded with better results. Therefore, this group was lucky enough to link learning and hard work with results.

It’s important to understand that, when it comes to mindsets, things are not as simple as “growth” or “fixed”. You can have a growth mindset in one area while having a fixed mindset in another. Take fitness, for example. Most people have a fixed mindset about fitness. If you listen to the things that people say (yourself included) this becomes apparent. For instance, a regular argument I hear is “But, I’m (30, 40, 50, 60) years old and my body just doesn’t work the way it used to.” (ironically, I’ve found that, on average, once you get past 70, your mindset tends to start to shift the other way. That’s because, at that point, death is more imminent, and you NEED to believe that you can become healthier). I’ve heard this statement from anyway between the ages of 30 and 70.

Another argument I hear often that ingrains the fixed mindset on fitness is, “But I’ve tried everything and nothing works for me. I just can’t (lose weight, get in shape, reduce aches and pains).”. As you can start to see, repeating these beliefs over and over again to yourself will lead to a fixed mindset.

Going Beyond Growth VS Fixed

While understanding the difference between a growth and fixed mindset is imperative if you are the type of person that seeks to be the best at what you do (and, subsequently, making the shift from fixed to growth in order to continually make progress in that area), I’d like to build on this idea in order to show you how your beliefs are holding you back from reaching your resolutions.

If we dig a little deeper, we might notice that those who have a growth mindset will have other, similar traits, while those who have a fixed mindset will also have a set of similar, yet opposite, traits. As we start to look back at what makes someone quit a New Year’s resolution just 30 days after starting on the journey, we can begin to see a similar characteristic both in the growth mindset group and in the fixed mindset group that either hurts them in their progress or pushes them to results. Those characteristics are what I’m going to call the instant-gratification mindset and the mastery mindset.

As you well know, the world we live in today is full of instant-gratification moments. Think of these moments as little cookies that feed your mind. While these little cookies are nice and tasty, they are absolutely toxic to your health and wellbeing. That’s because, as instant-gratification goes, it tends to leak into other areas of your life other than that one simple little moment.

Take, for instance, every time you open up your phone and check your notifications. Each one of those notifications is like a little cookie for your brain. And every time you see a notification, it gives you a little hit of dopamine, much like eating and an actual cookie would do. Your brain loves dopamine because it gives you a sense of feeling wanted and needed.

And when you get a hit of dopamine instantly in that moment, then the mind starts to want those little cookies in every instance of every day. Which then turns into the inability to be patient enough to accomplish anything worthwhile, because the brain is looking for dopamine cookies to feed its instance-gratification addiction. Hence, you begin to build an instant-gratification mindset in every area of your life.

On the other hand, there is the mastery mindset. While the instant-gratification mindset is all about getting results NOW, the mastery mindset is quite the opposite. That doesn’t mean that the master doesn’t intend to get results. On the contrary, the master seeks results of the highest level. The difference is, in the instant gratification mindset, you will not have lasting, sustainable results, while, in the mastery mindset, you will not only achieve the goals you’re after, but you’ll also become the type of person that is ABLE to achieve other goals like them.

Having a mastery mindset means understanding that things take time to achieve, especially those things worth striving for. Considering most New Year’s resolutions are of the self-transformation type (losing weight, competing in a Spartan race, changing your mindset), these are all things worth striving for. However, what most of us don’t want to believe is that, they also take time to develop. How much time, you ask? Well, typically right around a lifetime, give or take.

I know this is hard to grasp. Making the shift from the instant-gratification mindset to the mastery mindset is not easy. Simple, sure. But not easy. So, in order to help you make the shift from IG to mastery, let’s look at the 5 keys to mastery, as laid out by a known master, George Leonard.

The 5 Keys to Mastery

In his great book, Mastery, George Leonard goes in-depth on what it means to become a master in whatever domain you wish. To begin, let’s start with Leonard’s definition of mastery: the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice. You might also think of this through the lens of the 4 stages of learning: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence.

As you see, mastery is not something just happens overnight. While we like to believe that Michael Jordan popped out of the womb as a basketball phenom, or Usain Bolt just woke up one day as the world’s fastest human, what you don’t get to see are the hours and hours and hours of practice, training, learning, and iterating going on in the background. With that said, let’s understand what masters like Jordan and Bolt did so well by breaking down the 5 keys to mastery.

#1) Instruction

Do you remember a teacher or a coach that had a profound effect on you at some stage in your life? Not because they were your best buddy and let you get away with whatever you want. But because of the ease at which they were able to help you learn and grow as a human being. There’s a reason why we remember these people so vividly, and that’s because good instructors leave a lasting impression.

Which is why, in order for you to gain mastery in any domain, you need a quality, competent instructor to get you to where you want to go. While instructors come in all shapes and sizes (both literally and hypothetically), it’s important that they have a few key characteristics. First, they must have a track record of success in the field at which you are pursuing. While Babe Ruth was a great baseball player and could teach you how to hit, I surely wouldn’t go to him for fitness coaching.

Second, they need to have a history of successfully teaching those skills and abilities to others. As you know, not all great athletes can be great coaches. Going back to Michael Jordan, as an example, he is one of the greatest athletes to ever live. However, he’ll never be a great coach, and never wants to be a great coach. And that’s because, due to his strive to be the best at everything, no matter what, he won’t set his ego aside long enough to allow others to come along for the ride.

Lastly, you should jive with their teaching style and feel confident that they’ll support you on this journey, no matter what. Not all coaches and teachers are created equal. While some of us need someone who is going to be in our face 24/7, others (myself included) just need someone who we know is going to be there if we need them.

#2) Practice, practice, practice

Tell me if this quote sounds familiar to you…

“I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not … Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? … And we talking about practice

I know I supposed to be there. I know I’m supposed to lead by example… I know that… And I’m not.. I’m not shoving it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do… But we’re talking about practice man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man. We’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice. We ain’t talking about the game. We’re talking about practice, man. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you see me play don’t you? You’ve seen me give everything I’ve got, right? But we’re talking about practice right now.”

If you don’t recognize this tantrum, it comes from a press conference with then Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson in which he was questioned on not showing up to practice. While there’s no doubt that Iverson will go down as one of the toughest players to ever play basketball, it’s obvious that he didn’t take his game quite as seriously as he should have.

Yes, practice, while typically being the brunt of many jokes, is THE WAY to mastery. You must practice in order to be great. You must practice in order to get better. You must practice in order to achieve your highest potential. Without it, you will stay the same.

#3) Surrender

The last time you resolved to change your health and fitness, how did you go about it? Did you make it a priority, or was it still second rate? Did you change your environment to support your goals, or did you hope and pray that things would change on their own? Did you educate yourself and find better ways of improving your fitness, or did you simply continue doing the same things, over and over again?

When you’re seeking mastery in any domain, you must surrender yourself to the effort it’s going to take, the time you’re going to put in, the learning you’ll have to endure, and the perseverance you’ll need to develop in order reach your goal. Surrendering is about letting go of old thoughts and beliefs and opening your mind to new ones. It’s about pushing past what you “know to be right” and figuring out “how you know you’re right”. Surrender yourself to the process of mastery so that you can achieve the goals you’re seeking.

#4) Intentionality

There are many times that we start something with the HOPES of getting better. As our fitness example goes, most people start exercising with the HOPES of getting in shape and losing weight. While hope is a good place to start, you have to be intentional with your pursuit in order to continually progress.

This means that, instead of just showing up to the gym and getting on the treadmill every day, you sit down and layout and 12-week training plan. The plan progresses you forward and moves you toward your goal. It pushes you to get faster, stronger, leaner, and better than you were the day before. This is being intentional with your progress. You have to make it purposeful, otherwise, you will not see the progress you deserve.

#5) Play on the edge

Greatness was never developed in comfort. And while most of us strive to move “out of our comfort zones” to improve ourselves, it’s unlikely that you’re doing that often enough to progress in any significant manner. Playing on the edge, then, is pushing outside of the comfort zone on a regular basis in order to reach your mastery goals.

This doesn’t mean that you try something new once a week hoping to achieve mastery. It means doing it every single day, pushing your limits, and, yes, playing on the edge. This is the only way you’ll be able to get to where you want to go. You want to lose weight? Great. You have to eat better and exercise harder today than you did yesterday. You want to run a marathon? Awesome. You need to run faster and push harder than you did last week.

If you want to achieve mastery in any domain, you have to take these keys into account. You must constantly push forward and strive to become 1% better than you were yesterday. And, if I were to point one area that most people overlook, one of the best ways to do that is through accountability via a coach or teacher. With a high-quality coach, they can help you align these other 4 keys of mastery so that you don’t have to put as much effort into understanding the nuances of each one.

However, even if you choose not to incorporate a coach at some level, be sure to integrate these 5 keys as you think about your resolutions for this year. Otherwise, you’ll have a much harder time becoming your best and achieving results.

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