If you’ve ever tried to lose weight or get fit, you may have experienced the following scenario:
1. You work out a great plan of attack.
2. You get your head in the zone for change.
3. You’re highly inspired to get going!
Yet when it comes to putting that plan in place, your adherence quickly becomes low to non-existent. And so you see little to no progress. Eventually you lose motivation and you stop following your plans. Nightmare!!
But why does this happen? Why do you struggle to stick to your plans? And what can you do about it?
If you ask yourself why you didn’t stick to your plan, you’ll often find yourself over emphasize things that were outside of your control.
“My kids were arguing”
“My partner didn’t feel like it”
“My boss put a bunch of work on my desk”
And so on.
This is referred to as “Passive Reasoning”. It’s essentially you pointing outside of yourself and saying “That’s why I didn’t follow my fitness plan”.
The issue with such an approach is that it pushes the responsibility you feel away from yourself. You can point at an external factor, shrug and say “It wasn’t my fault. There was nothing I could do”. Yet the knock-on effect of this is you cannot learn from the situation, and so nothing changes. As there will always be an external reason for not changing behaviour and with almost no effort you will always be able to find them.
The reason individuals fall into this pattern can be due to a few factors:
Lack of self-compassion– Essentially meaning you beat yourself up and get frustrated when you aren’t doing things perfectly.
Having a fixed mindset– Which causes individuals to doubt their ability to change.
Current and future self separation- Often individuals believe they will have more motivation to change in the future (i.e. the infamous “I’ll start on Monday” principle). This interesting situation arises because individuals subconsciously see their future selves as a different person, meaning they truly believe on Monday they will be bursting with motivation. Unfortunately, when they get to Monday, they find nothing has changed.
Whatever the underlying reason, it prevents you from learning from the situation. Meaning nothing changes. Which results in your progress being minimal to none. Until eventually your motivation collapses and you lose interest in carrying on.
Thankfully there is an easy way to prevent this…
If you are ever going to learn from your “failures” then you need to take personal responsibility. But I promise this isn’t as scary as it sounds! To achieve it, all you need to do is focus on your effort (i.e. Did I do my best to stick to the plan?). This approach, where you look internally to your level of effort, is called Active Reasoning.
Examples of using active reasoning to question why plans were not adhered to include:
“How much effort did I put into getting to the gym?”
“How hard did I try to resist getting a takeaway?”
“How strongly did I attempt to follow my Monday plan?”
When you approach poor adherence in this way, you completely change your mindset. You stop looking for quick excuses, and instead, you begin to take responsibility for your actions. This allows you to get focused on what you can do to improve results, rather than what external factors should bend to your aspirations and goals.
Of course, effort can be an abstract term. So to make it easier it’s wise to rate yourself on a scale. For example:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a 100% effort, how hard did I try to follow my diet plan yesterday?”
If the score is 10 out of 10, then fair enough. There is nothing more you could have done. Sometimes a new behaviour is impossible to do. However, you are more often than not going to get a score below 10. And this means there is room for improvement.
To help yourself discover what you could do to improve your chances of success when you next have your new behaviour, follow up by asking:
“What could I do next time to make my effort a 10 out of 10?”
Once you’ve identified how you could enhance their effort, create an action plan for putting that change into place.
And hey presto! Just by questioning why you didn’t adhere to your plans you’ve managed to:
1. Stopped yourself from focusing on external factors, which will always exist.
2. Accepted personal responsibility.
3. Learned from the situation.
4. Put in place an action plan to improve next time.
Which will all result in:
1. Improved plan adherence
2. Improved results.
Not bad for asking one question in a different way!
- Dweck, C., 2012. Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential (Updated ed.). London: Robinson.
- Goldsmith, M. and Reiter, M., 2016. Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts. Danvers: Crown Business.
- Leary, M.R., Tate, E.B., Adams, C.E., Batts Allen, A. and Hancock, J., 2007. Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(5), p.887.
- Pronin, E., Olivola, C.Y. and Kennedy, K.A., 2008. Doing unto future selves as you would do unto others: Psychological distance and decision making. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 34(2), pp.224-236.
Simon has a CYQ in Personal Training from Loughborough College, a BSc in Sports and Exercise Science from Loughborough University and a MSc in Behaviour Change from University College London.
He has recently changed to working as an online trainer, meaning he can work with clients from around the world! To join his ever-growing client base check out the info here!