Why Weight Loss Is Harder Than A College Degree

For many people school isn’t particularly fun. Sure, you get to visit with your friends or you might even have a class or two that pique your interest. This is usually outweighed by the required courses for your degree that bore you to death. (Does anyone actually like bio-chem? Or statistics? How about an entire semester on research methods?)

Higher education isn’t particularly easy, either. I can think of countless examples of friends performing all-nighters cramming for their exams and finishing their papers; coffee in hand and blood-shot eyes glued to their computer screens. Despite all of this, people are quite good at suffering through this stress for four (or more) years.

Fitness requires similar commitments: doing things you don’t particularly enjoy and seldom look forward to, and literally counting the days until you get a break from the demands of your new lifestyle. In the school scenario, people are awesome at meeting their goal of graduating with a degree. In the case of fitness it’s quite the opposite. People are really bad at sticking it out to reach their fitness goals.

What gives?

Could it be that the goal of obtaining a college degree is defined and clear?

Most people attend higher education with the intent of earning a specific degree. This degree is believed to unlock greater opportunities further down the road in your professional life. Similarly, most people who begin an exercise program have an idea of exactly what they hope to achieve. In my career I’ve never met anyone who wanted to start a fitness program with no idea what they wanted to gain from it.

What about the ability to delay short-term gratification in favor of long-term goals?

Those all-night study sessions could easily have been spent as all-night party sessions. College students have plenty of social demands on their time, including more pleasurable alternatives than locking themselves in the library to ensure the prosperity of their future. If a student can choose to study instead of hangout with their friends, choosing their long-term goals over short-term pleasure, then surely they have the capacity to engage in this behavior with their eating and exercise habits too.

If you clearly have the capacity to delay gratification in favor of long-term goals, why is it so hard to apply these same skills to your fitness program?

The answer lies in the process.

Say what you want about the U.S. school system, but one thing they’ve done really well is make abundantly clear what you have to do to get the degree you want. No matter what path you want to take, you know what’s expected of you. You know very clearly what classes you’ll need to take, what assignments you’ll need to complete, and what grades you’ll need to achieve in order to receive your diploma in four years.  There are very clear, defined, and concrete steps that you have to take.

This is why people fail to lose weight and succeed in their fitness programs: There aren’t any clearly defined action steps, smaller goals, that lead to the big desirable goal at the end of the journey.

Dan and Chip Heath, authors of the book “Switch,” said it best:

“Any successful change requires the translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors.”

    • Eat healthy foods.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
    • Get more protein.
    • Lift heavy.
    • Exercise more.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

These are incredibly well-intentioned, but awfully ambiguous pieces of advice. They may seem like fantastic goals, yet they leave too many unanswerable questions. What does healthy eating mean? How heavy is heavy enough? Is chicken better than fish?

Imagine if school was this ambiguous…

    • Take good classes.
    • Write good papers.
    • Pick a good major.

Would the graduation rates remain the same? I doubt it. Shockingly, people are three times more likely to graduate from college than they are to lose weight successfully.

Weight loss shouldn’t be more difficult than a college education. Here’s how can you set yourself up to succeed with your fitness program: take those ambiguous fitness goals above and break them down to concrete actions.

  • Eat healthy foods: Eat at least four servings of vegetables everyday.
  • Get more protein: Consume 4oz of meat with at least two meals, daily.
  • Lift heavy: perform at least two full-body strength training exercises, two times per week.
  • Exercise more: Perform at least 10,000 steps daily; take the stairs two times per day.

These goals don’t require any guesswork into deciding whether you’ve completed the action step or not. It’s very clear what is required to be successful.

Set yourself up for success by identifying small, clear, and daily actions that can lead you to your goals.⠀

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