I’m fortunate enough to have a rare insight into what makes people successful in fitness.
There’s nothing really special about me, except for one important fact – I’ve trained hundreds of clients and pay close attention to patterns that lead to success and/or failure.
When you look at the subset of clients who have made amazing transformations, there are key commonalities that can’t be ignored. I want to share the most powerful one with you.
Never use this word again
What if I told you that there were one word which, if you stopped using, would instantly make you better at fitness. And life.
That word is “mistake.”
I’m completely serious, ditch this word. Nuke it from your vocabulary.
Mistakes are completely natural; all humans make them. They’re a learning opportunity that will make you better at life.
The problem with the word mistake is that its negative connotation is deeply rooted in society. People are so prone to defining themselves by their mistakes that there is a belief that they necessarily stem from character flaws.
Recall the last time you uttered the words “I made a mistake.” You probably subconsciously cast your character in a bad light for making it.
How does this translate to fitness? Let’s see.
A Case Study on “Mistakes”
Let’s pretend that you have been on a strict diet for three months now. You’ve been disciplined about hitting your macros and have seen great results.
Your friend’s wedding is coming up soon, but you don’t want to interrupt your diet. Instead, you decide to diligently plan your macros around the food that’s being served at the wedding. You’re not exactly sure what that food is, except that you checked off “chicken” on your wedding invitation.
As you’re sitting at your assigned table, passing up the champagne, and hoping that “The Rains of Castamere” doesn’t start playing, the chicken dish arrives.
You expected a grilled piece of chicken with a side of vegetables. To your absolute horror, it was breaded and doused in more oil than the Deepwater Horizon’s backyard.
You rationalize eating it anyway, and your diet goes downhill from there. Six thousand calories later, you realized you made a mistake.
But wait, thankfully Dick told you not to use that word.
Missteps vs. Mistakes
One thing I’ve noticed about my clients who make this amazing transformations is that they don’t make mistakes.
Instead, they make missteps.
A mistake implies a dead end – that a shameful decision, often a perceived personality flaw such as the lack of willpower or discipline, led to an undesired (and final) outcome.
Instead, the word “misstep” reminds you that the decision is part of an overall journey, and that you always have the ability to course correct.
By reframing the experience as a stepping stone to mastery, you can show yourself self-compassion, which makes you less likely to make the same bad decision again.
After all, unless you’re Walder Frey, you’ll probably be invited to more weddings.
The Time Machine Exercise
Let’s go back to our example. Now that we know that we made a misstep (a decision that you can avoid in the future) rather than a mistake (the result of a potential character flaw), we can now learn from it.
One of the exercises that I have my Your Ultimate Transformation clients do when they make a misstep is the “Time Machine Exercise.”
Pretend that you had a Time Machine and could go back to the day of the wedding. What could you have done to have created a better outcome? (Aside from buying stocks, that is.)
In this exercise, you’re not allowed to default to “I would have shown more discipline” or “there was nothing I could do.” (Sometimes these are legitimate answers, but more often than not it’s a cop out that your brain will default to in order to prevent learning.)
Well, perhaps you should have known that there was no way that you would have stuck to macros at your wedding and should have given yourself an off day, which is far less mentally taxing.
Alternatively, rather than try to stick to your target macronutrients, you could have created a caloric buffer instead. (I have an entire guide on planning to fail here.)
Regardless of what you think would have worked best, reframing the wedding as a misstep allows you to perform the Time Machine exercise and obtain a better outcome in future similar situations.
A word of caution… Don’t be fooled, because this is no easy experiment. Every single bone in your body, every single cell in your brain, even all of your friends who “like you just the way you are,” will fight against change.
You’ll try to convince yourself that this exercise is silly, or that you already knew what you should have done – just don’t eat the damn chicken.
Change is hard. Allowing yourself to change is even harder.
The Secret of Transformations
Want to know the secret of creating your own permanent transformation?
It’s that you cannot create an external transformation without first creating an internal transformation.
So many people try to start with the external, rather than the internal.
You see this on shows like The Biggest Loser all the time. They grind themselves into the ground and give it everything to simply “eat less and move more.” External actions might work in the short term, but not the long term.
Maybe that’s why most contestants (and dieters in fact) end up gaining back their original weight.
As I’ve said before, fitness is a skill, and an internal one at that. To make true transformations like my clients above, you’ll need to change yourself on the inside. This change can only happen if you drop the word mistake from your vocabulary.
After all, you are not your mistakes.