I’m fascinated by the question, “Why do some people succeed where so many others fail?” When you consider that conventional weight loss and health programs have a failure rate of over 90%, it’s a good question to ask.
Hopefully by now you’ve digested the truth that success in developing a healthy lifestyle is 80% psychological. Concepts like ACE, addiction, ego depletion, pattern paralysis, symbolic substitution, toxic beliefs, and the hierarchy of needs all contribute to success or failure far more than knowing the answer to “how many carbs do I eat?”
Today, I want to discuss another psychological obstacle to success: black and white thinking.
Placing yourself in a false dichotomy will put you in full-throttle failure. Depending on the dichotomy, this classic mindset trap may even prevent you from starting altogether.
Here’s 8 examples of black and white thinking that clients come to me with all the time. I’m also going to offer you some suggestions for how to change your mindset to something more productive.
“I can’t lose weight and achieve health because I hate feeling deprived.”
Said another way: Either I restrict myself to be healthy or I throw in the towel, eat what I enjoy, and doom myself to being unhealthy.
Why it’s bogus: Doing legitimate work — such as in Total Body Reboot — changes your relationship with food, creates psychological perspective shifts, and can even create physiological perspective shifts. Without rehashing dozens of previous articles and podcasts, that means you will come to enjoy and prefer real food and a healthy lifestyle while feeling disinterested in the food and behaviors that previously controlled you. These perspective shifts mean that a healthy lifestyle can and does align with outrageous enjoyment and opposes a sense of deprivation.
What to do instead: Ditch superficial goals and short-term plans. Create bigger whys. Focus on the process of health. Work to change your relationship with food. Work diligently on the psychological aspect of the process until you experience the important perspective shifts.
“Either I abuse myself with exercise or I stay overweight and out of shape.”
Said another way: Long exercise sessions or dedicating many days of the week to exercise that’s not enjoyable is required to achieve a healthy weight and physical fitness.
Why it’s bogus: 70-80% of your health and body composition is determined by what you eat (fitness isn’t the most important factor for weight loss). By far, making changes in the kitchen is the best way to sustainably lose fat when paired with a lifestyle that’s not sedentary. Exercise may not even be necessary depending on your lifestyle.
What to do instead: Walking and general physical movement is not exercise, but is essential. Start there. Make yourself less sedentary. Then, branch out into other physical activities using the DWYLT philosophy. Once you’ve done that, traditional exercise becomes supplemental.
“I need better willpower, otherwise I cave in and eat destructively.”
Said another way: Either I find a way to have rock solid willpower or I’m doomed to be out of control with food.
Why it’s bogus: Willpower can be useful for a short period of time. The problem is when people are led to believe that willpower is a useful long-term tool. In that context, willpower is bullshit.
What to do instead: When you change your relationship with food and achieve important psychological and physiological perspective shifts, willpower is no longer necessary. Achieving those perspective shifts should be the end game of all legitimate programs and coaches.
“I’m going to do P90X. This will finally be my ticket to success.”
Said another way: I will succeed or fail based on my ability to consistently use the latest and greatest fitness product.
Why it’s bogus: This is bogus for two reasons. First, it plays on the notion that exercise is where the majority of progress comes from. The truth is that food is where most of your progress comes from and these fitness products rarely talk about food in a healthy context, if they talk about food at all. These programs usually end up becoming an exercise in futility.
Boxing yourself in with this black and white thinking also distracts you from what you should be doing: improving your psychology, simplifying the process, rejecting what’s unsustainable, and working to heal your body (not punish it).
What to do instead: Ditch your laser-like focus on finding the “latest and greatest” tools and supplements. Success doesn’t live in a trip to the future, it lives in a return to the basics. It doesn’t live in the addition of new things, it lives in the subtraction of what’s harming you.
“I can’t afford organic, well-sourced foods. I don’t have enough money to be healthy.”
Said another way: Either you’re wealthy and healthy or poor and sore.
Why it’s bogus: Eating the highest quality foods is not required to improve your health. There are always steps you can take to be successful within the situation you’re dealing with.
What to do instead: Everyone is faced with varying obstacles and hurdles. You can be wealthy and have an eating disorder. You can be broke and unable to buy the highest quality foods. Nobody has it easy and society has stacked the cards against you. Expect to meet resistance and prepare (or get a coach) to overcome it. Your attitude is a far sharper weapon than your wallet or any other arbitrary tool.
“That’s not ‘on plan’ so I can’t have it.”
Said another way: I have to be perfect or there’s no point in doing this.
Why it’s bogus: This type of black and white thinking is a few different disordered ideas molded into one. It’s perfectionism, moralism, and pseudo-orthorexia. Perfectionism is strongly linked to disordered eating. Moralism causes an emotional tug-of-war that blocks a healthy relationship with food. And pseudo-orthorexia is just plain unhelpful.
What to do instead: Ditch the “plan” mentality if you interpret “plan” as “rule book.” And especially if you interpret “rule book” as “stone tablet.” Focus instead on healing broken thinking, healing your body, and healing your relationship with food. Focus on the constructive, not the destructive.
“There’s no way for me to be successful if I can’t get my entire family on board.”
Said another way: “If my family doesn’t buy-in and behave like me, I might as well not even try.”
Why it’s bogus: Your family’s behavior has nothing to do with your behavior. What you’re really longing for is support and you’re afraid of doing the work on your own. You’re afraid of disconnection from your team. You’re afraid of them potentially seeing you fail (again).
What to do instead: Act in opposition to how you feel (“do it anyway”) and resolve to be the change you want to see in your family. Get the support you need from a great coach outside of the family. Make the necessary adjustments to make it work — you’re worth it.
“I’ll feel better when I cross the finish line.”
Said another way: “I’ll be [happy, worthy (of love, attention, etc.), healthy, confident, etc.] when I reach my goal weight.”
Why it’s bogus: When you reach whatever physical goal you’ve set, nothing will be different about your life. If you’re unhappy now, you’ll be unhappy then. If you’re stressed now, you’ll be stressed then. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for things. It means that if you want to change your life, you should actually change your life and not just your body.
Additionally, there is no “finish line.” That’s a fairy tale that allows you to juxtapose your current situation with your fantasy of rainbows and roses. And unachievable fantasies make playing the victim card easy and comfortable.
What to do instead: Address the root cause of why you’re unhappy, feel unworthy, or lack confidence. Excess weight, disordered eating, and addiction are not causes, they’re symptoms. As far as the finish line fantasy goes, the only thing ahead of you is life. Behaviors are day to day decisions and success is a game of making 1% improvements.
What has been your experience?
Have you experienced any of these examples of black and white thinking? Or, have you identified any others that have held you back in the past? Share your experience in the comments!
Founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. Kevin helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.