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Unrealistic Expectations - Part 1

January 22, 202413 min read

What's Up, Gang? Welcome back to Principles: A Practical Fat Loss Forever System!

We begin this journey with:

Phase Zero: Preventing Failure

Chapter One: Preventing Failure

Principle #1: Understand Why & How People Fail

If you can fully grasp why and how people fail when trying to lose weight, you can navigate those challenges more successfully or put in safety nets to catch you when these challenges inevitably pop up and derail you. 

We will walk through several reasons why and how people fail when trying to lose weight and keep weight off over the long term. We will learn the necessary lessons by comparing the stories of two of my clients, John and Mike. 

If you read and watched part one already, you know that John and Mike were similar people who achieved radically different results. 

Reason #1 - Unrealistic Expectations

Meet John.

John was in his 50s, over 300 pounds, and mostly sedentary. He worked full-time and was a father with a busy family life. He had a leadership and sales job that required him to do a lot of meetings and a lot of social events. He worked a high-pressure job, but John was incredibly intelligent and wildly successful. He was intimidating to work with for a 22-year-old me.

John had a SMART goal. He wanted to lose 50 pounds by his son's high school graduation, roughly 26 weeks away. John planned to work out five mornings each week before work before any distractions or his busy schedule got in his way. He even planned to work out in the evening if he missed a morning workout. 

John planned to meal prep every weekend and to prep chicken and vegetables for every meal. He would eliminate bad carbs, cut out alcohol, and not eat food after 7 pm.

John was the ideal client to have. He was all-in, fully committed, and gungho! He had a crystal clear SMART goal and a fully developed plan. He had done this before and was wildly successful with it. The past success gave him confidence. His knowledge and experience made him prepared. 

John knew what to do and was in complete control. 

On top of that, he had the "perfect plan" by the typical weight-loss coaching standards. Cut carbs, meal prep, daily morning workouts, tons of cardio, and focusing on losing 2 pounds per week. In 2009, every diet and fitness coach on the planet would give that plan a gold star stamp of approval.

So, why did John fail so miserably? 

Because he had unrealistic expectations.

Not the kind of unrealistic expectations we all have, like when we try to lose 10 pounds in the month before vacation, and we say out loud, "I know it was unrealistic, but blah blah blah," or whatever, but in our hearts, we still thought we could do it.

And not the kind of unrealistic expectations where we shrink the goal to something we feel comfortable with and then say, "But I thought my goal was realistic!" 

What we are talking about here is the kind of unrealistic expectations that we don't see. 

Unrealistic expectations cause us to fail because we don't see them clearly. We need to consider all the variables that go into achieving our realistic goal to avoid falling into the trap of setting unrealistic expectations of ourselves to hit a very realistic goal. 

So, why was John's goal unrealistic? After all, John's plan was something he had been successful with before. If he had done it before, wouldn't we expect him to do it again? On top of that, he was in complete control of his plan. He had control over his schedule for work and the gym. He had control over his food and when he would meal prep. He had control over everything that he needed to be successful.

Everyone gave his SMART goal and his plan their full support. Everyone was on board, including his co-workers, family, other coaches, friends and partners at the gym, and other trainers. They all agreed this would be a huge success and were ready to help him crush it. 

Everyone except for me. 

I warned John that I felt he had a lot of unrealistic expectations and that it would backfire on him. 

John pushed back on this and initially accused me of not believing he could hit his 50-pound weight loss goal. I assured him that was not the case and even explained that I thought his weight loss goal was well within reason. I was not interested in changing his SMART goal directly, but I wanted to caution him on the overall plan. 

But John knew what was right; he believed in his plan, and my voice was drowned out by all the validation he was getting from everyone else. So, I conceded and did my best to help him navigate his plan.

Unrealistic Expectation #1 - Consistency of workouts

John's first unrealistic expectation that would trip him up is the expectation that he could execute his plan with consistency. 

The definition of being consistent is literally "the act of behaving or performing in a similar way." This created a problem for John on two sides of his plan.

First, before setting his SMART goal and creating his plan, John was inconsistent with showing up to the gym or diet. Before the start of the plan, John would show up once per week, twice if we were lucky, and the time and effort weren't consistent when he could show up.

Sometimes, the workouts were rushed because he was short on time. Sometimes, the workouts were weak because he was stressed about a meeting or project that was taking his attention. Sometimes, the workouts were just walking on a treadmill for a while because he was so exhausted from everything else that he didn't feel he had the energy to lift hard or complete a circuit. 

John found it nearly impossible to show up on a regular, twice-per-week schedule. So, setting his goal to five or six days per week was a massive leap that had no evidence of success for him. 

The second problem was John was a driven, high-achiever. He aims high and does the best he possibly can with everything he does. 

John was a self-proclaimed "all-or-nothing" kind of person. 

He said this to me (on multiple occasions): "I'm an all-or-nothing person. If I can't fully commit to something, I won't even bother with it because if I can't give it my full energy, I won't do it as well as I know I can. So, I like to wait until I can give my best because nothing can stop me once I commit to something. I'm that kind of person."

So John was an all-or-nothing person who set his aim at working out five or six days per week, something he had not been able to do in recent memory. But John believed that if he committed to his plan, nothing could stop him. 

So what happened the first time John had to miss a workout? He started to spiral into a feedback loop from hell.

John felt like a failure when he would mess up his plan. So, if he missed one of his five workouts scheduled per week, he felt like he was failing at his entire plan. Since he felt like he was failing his plan, he felt like a failure. 

When he missed a workout, he felt like a failure. Since he felt like a failure, he wouldn't show up, and if he didn't show up, he felt more like a failure. This loop went on and on and deeper and deeper. 

So John, like so many other people I've worked with, would stop altogether and tell me that he will be back when he can commit to his plan fully.

But that will never happen. No one will ever have a season of their life where there are no other priorities, distractions, events, travel, emergencies, or whatever. No one will ever have an opportunity to have an uninterrupted twelve weeks or six months to focus entirely on their diet and workouts without anything getting in their way. Life doesn't work that way. So, if you're waiting for the right time, you will wait forever.

You should start when you're the most busy, but we are saving that for another chapter.

There is no such thing as an all-or-nothing person because there is no such thing as an all person because life doesn't work that way. So, there can only be nothing people.

Being fully committed doesn't mean executing a plan flawlessly. There is also no such thing as perfection. But those two are future chapters, too. 

For now, we are looking at why John was not able to show up to all of his scheduled workouts. 

Remember, John was the boss. He could make his schedule. So why wasn't he able to make his workouts a priority? After all, you can't take care of anyone else unless you take care of yourself, right? And if you prioritize your health and take care of yourself first, you'll do a better job at taking care of everyone else, right?

John tried to make his plan the priority, not his health. His day-to-day focus wasn't on measurable improvements in his fat mass, strength, endurance, or anything else. His day-to-day focus was exclusively on whether or not he executed his plan to the fullest. He couldn't see it clearly, but his priority was effort when it was supposed to be results.

I remember the first workout that John missed on his 50-pound plan. It was in his third or fourth week on his plan. He was supposed to work out on a Wednesday night but texted me at the last minute to cancel because he had a work event to attend. 

I later found out that it was a work social event with a bunch of his customers. It was a higher-end get-together with formal attire, fancy food, free drinks, and a DJ. It was a big event, a significant work party that his wife attended with him. He texted me about it an hour before he was scheduled to workout, but he had known about the event for months. 

John wanted to be there because he loved those kinds of things. John wanted to be there because it was necessary for his job performance and finances. John wanted to be there because he wanted to take his wife to the event, and she was excited about it. 

John chose to go to the work event (rightly so) because he valued all those things more than he valued being a badass in the gym, which makes perfect sense. Yes, John's health was a top priority. Being the envy of everyone because of his performances in the gym was not a top priority. So, he chose the more important thing when it came down to it. 

But he couldn't stop feeling like he was using the event as an excuse to skip a Wednesday night workout. He thought he was making excuses for messing up his perfect plan, which triggered the spiral into a feedback loop from hell. 

Unfortunately for John, that belief was fueled by other people and other trainers in the gym. They gave him a hard time for missing a workout for a work event. They would say things about making it a priority, say things about discipline, and ask him if he was serious about his goals—a whole bag of guilt trip tools and tricks. So, I don't entirely blame John for feeling how he felt. 

When John texted me to cancel on Wednesday night, he promised to do a workout on Thursday morning (cardio) and then again on Thursday night (weights). He would do two workouts in one day to make up for missing Wednesday night. 

I'm willing to bet my word-for-word text back was something like this:

"Don't even worry about it! One workout won't matter. Just go have fun and enjoy yourself, and show up again on Friday to get back to work!"

John had a lot of fun at that work event, had a few drinks, and ate a lot of food. So, he woke up Thursday morning and texted me again. He had to skip his Thursday morning workout because he was too exhausted from being out late at the party. 

Two workouts missed—no big deal.

Then John texted me Thursday afternoon. He was going home after work because he didn't feel well. "Must have been the food from the party." He and I both knew he probably went a little too hard on the fried foods and was feeling the effects the next day. But, whatever, it was fine. If you binge eat and you feel bloated and your stomach is a wreck, you shouldn't punish yourself with a hardcore workout anyway. 

Three workouts missed - in a row.

John texted me Friday around 4 pm. He was supposed to be at the gym at 4 pm. "I'm swamped at work because of Wednesday and Thursday. I can't make it in today. I'll see you tomorrow morning." 

Four missed.

Saturday came and went. We had a 6:00 am appointment. John didn't show up. I texted him at 6:30 am to see why he wasn't at the gym. He responded to me around 10 am with just a picture of a restaurant table with breakfast and drinks for his whole family. No words. 

I replied that I understood and told him to enjoy his family day. 

John had now missed five workouts in a row.

That was the end. John quit showing up after that. 

Expectations are the firm belief that something will happen or that someone SHOULD accomplish or achieve something. 

What made John's expectations of consistency unrealistic was a combination that showing up to the gym six days per week would happen and that it should happen.

John thought it would happen. I knew it wouldn't happen. He made it a few weeks, but the pressure for sales and meetings in the evening became too much. He couldn't completely put those off for six months while he worked out. So, he caved and started doing more sales and meetings after 5 pm. But, instead of still working out two or three days per week, he got frustrated that he couldn't be all in. So he quit.

John also thought it should happen. He thought it was the right thing to do. He thought it was the right plan. He felt it needed to be done to see the results he wanted. None of that was true. John could have achieved jaw-dropping, head-turning results from working out once or twice weekly. John could have completely transformed his health and felt like a new man from working out once or twice per week. He refused to believe that anything more than that was overkill. 

One of the most painful things about this part of John's unrealistic expectations backfiring on him is that before John had the perfect plan, he would show up once or twice per week. After he went "all-in," the result was that he actually started showing up less. He set his target high and ended up feeling physically worse, gaining weight, and feeling terrible about himself and embarrassed for failing. 

My money analogy for this unrealistic expectation: John was trying to pay $50 for something that only really cost him $10, but he got frustrated when he felt like he couldn't afford to keep paying $50 so he quit altogether. If John had just started paying $10 for the $10 thing, he would have kept it up for a lot longer, felt much better during the process, and had a significantly higher value outcome. 

(to be continued...) 

Next Episode: Unrealistic Expectation #2 - Consistency of Strict Dieting

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