The mental makeup of those who succeed: What hundreds of diet clients have taught me about success

What I have always found remarkable about the common struggle to achieve fitness is that an overwhelming emphasis is placed on the physical aspect of the program. That is, you need to do this work out, you need to do this cardio, you need to eat this, you need to not eat that, take this supplement and on and on and on. What has been gravely undermined is the fact that these things are ultimately trivial for 99.9% of dieters as they fail mentally long before their physical plan ever gets a chance to fully play out and they see the inevitable benefits.

Of the hundreds of people I have coached on their fitness journey, from professional athletes to those who are morbidly obese and are seeking to recapture their health, there has never been one instance where someone has said to me after 3 to 6 months “I have followed the diet exactly, I have completed all the workouts to the best of my ability, I have been honest with myself about my program, but I have not greatly improve”. This scenario has never happened. On the other hand, of the people who fail, it is invariably because they A) achieve a moderate level of results that quenches their drive for results and then let off the gas or B) are unable to be 100% honest with themselves from the beginning as to what they really need to do for success. In other words, they look for the path of least resistance, the easier way in an effort to build a mental case that “they tried” but in fact they did not ever fully invest in the program.

The truth is, there are a million different diets that are extremely effective, there are an equal number of workouts that will build and tone muscles and aid in burning fat. The difference between success and failure in fitness is not white rice versus brown rice, it’s not the amount of creatine you took, and it’s not HIIT versus steady state cardio. Most people never achieve the mental fortitude and stamina to last long enough in their program for any of these to ever matter.

So how DO you stay focused? How does one start a diet, follow a diet, and stay on a diet to get the results they want? This, of course, comes down to motivation. Everyone who starts a diet has some form of motivation to do so, some driving force that compels them want to make a change to better themselves and to achieve something difficult yet desirable. So what happens to this motivation after two weeks, two months and so on? There are two big killers of motivation:

  1. Lack of quick results – It’s difficult to stay on course for very long when you reap no fruits of your labor. For many people, you don’t physically see results in two or three weeks, yet at the same time, the first two or three weeks of the diet are also often the most difficult, so combine discomfort with doing something with lack of positive reinforcement and the end result is loss of motivation.

  2. A little results becomes enough – Most people start diets because they are dissatisfied with the status quo. They go on a diet and week by week, they lose weight and the initial dissatisfaction diminishes. At the point where they become content enough with how far they have come, they no longer have the need to go any further.

So what do those who are able to stay focused and motivated all have in common? From working with so many successful dieters and competitors over the years, they all share a particular mental makeup, a special set of drivers and a particular outlook that makes them succeed where others fail:

Focus on today – Thinking of a diet as something you need to do every day for months and months can be a bit overwhelming. Instead of looking too far out in advance, shift your focus to today, to this week. What do you want to achieve today? What is your goal for the week? Let next week worry about itself until you get there.

Be 100% honest with yourself – It’s much easier to go through the motions of diet and training and feel like you are doing it than it is to constantly examine what you are really doing and give your 100% effort. Over time, we tend to convince ourselves that this or that is “good enough” or that you are pushing hard enough in the gym even though deep down you know you can do more. Don’t fall victim to the last voice in your head and stay vigilant of why you started and what the goal is for that day.

Give yourself a little slack – All too often someone who has honest intentions to succeed in their diet finds themselves in a position where they are either unable to follow their diet or workout either because of outside circumstances or a mental lapse. They then allow this breach of the program to mushroom into a binge eating session or more deviation from the workout plan. It’s important to allow yourself to have days like this, then get right back to it asap. Chances are you didn’t even do any harm from the initial lapse, but the subsequent mental breakdown can do serious harm.

Don’t overly focus on results – Weighing yourself every day, constantly looking in the mirror to see if you have improved and micromanaging your progress is a surefire way to frustration. It’s not realistic to think every day you will weigh less and look better than the day before. The body doesn’t work like that. Instead, just focus on the plan, focus on the process, then casually watch the results but don’t make a case against the program you are on, as the results usually come in spurts.

Dieting and getting fit is a mental challenge that manifests itself physically. We are far from machines that you enter inputs and get set outputs, but in this instance it can help to be more like a machine and less like a human. Follow the program and don’t overthink what you are trying to do. Motivation is hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would have everything they want for the most part. It is the mental impediments that most often divert us from our goals.


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