April 19th, 2009
The Most Effective Motivational Force: How To Stick With Any Diet or Fitness Program
Do you easily stick with your nutrition plan or do you give in to unplanned cheating and frequent excesses? Do you have near-perfect gym attendance or do you often skip workouts? When you do workout, are your sessions a 10 out of 10, or do you have a lot of 6’s and 7’s (or lower)? Have you ever weighed the consequences of those missed or sub-par workouts? Did you ever add up the calories from all those indulgences or see how one weekend can erase an entire week of work? Here’s a big question to ponder: What would happen to your results – the increased amount of fat you would burn, the muscle you would build, the strength you would gain – if you finally mastered this whole “fitness motivation” thing and finally STUCK WITH YOUR PROGRAM without falling off the wagon again… [updated]
There are countless factors that increase motivation, but I have a strong opinion about what I believe is the most important factor of all – the ultimate key to sticking with it, all the way to a full-fledged physique transformation.
After more than 20 years of using this method, I’m a believer
I’ve used this motivational force with success for many years. I’ve always taken it seriously and built it into all my training and coaching programs. Here are some of the ways:
When my clients knew they were going to be weighed and measured every week, they worked harder during the week in anticipation of the big Monday… weigh-in day!
I also created a 12 week progress chart that measured body weight, skinfolds, body fat percentage, lean body mass, fat body mass, waist measurement, and the change in each measurement from week to week. Naturally, of course, we took “before” photographs as well.
My local coaching clients met with me in person where they would step on the scale and I took their body fat measurement with calipers. We recorded these results on paper and then took a look at the progress and talked about the results. Based on results, we would decide whether any adjustments needed to be made and we set new goals for the following week… in writing.
We wrote down the goal on a copy of the progress chart in red ink – it was filled-in in advance as if it were already achieved. My clients would post this chart with the results up to date and the weekly goal on their refrigerator where they would have to look at it at least few times a day. Many of them also wrote a new goal card every week with their 12 week goal and their 1 week goal written on it.
For my internet or phone clients, every Monday morning, my clients would email or fax me their progress chart and sometimes even their entire eating and training diary for the previous 7 days. If they knew I was going to be looking through their journal like a professor at a term paper, I knew they would be sticking with the program better.
The progress chart was held sacred. Seeing those numbers on paper was incredibly enlightening due to the way you could see progress in a linear fashion over time. Everything became tangible too. You could hold the piece of paper. It was your report card. It was real.
Did you ever notice how if you had straight A’s on a report card it just drove you mad if you had even a single B on it? Well, I always noticed how my clients never wanted to have a “blemish” on their weekly progress chart. They almost always worked harder knowing this measuring, charting and tracking was going to happen.
On the occasions that people cancelled a session, I always probed into the reason why. Some were legit, most were excuses, but one thing I always noticed is that if someone had a bad week, they wanted to “dodge me” and cancel the weekly measure & weigh-in meeting.
Like I said, they hated having a blemish on that chart or even worse, facing their coach in person without having results to show for the week’s efforts. This is why I liked to stay in touch with them by phone and email throughout the week and confirm my appointments in advance. This keeping tabs on them decreased cancellations and kept them motivated and on track during the week.
Simple motivational concepts, yes, but the results were amazing and the power behind these psychological principles is undeniable.
If you haven’t guessed already, the word for this motivational force I’ve been describing – the weighing, measuring, tracking, keeping tabs and so on – is of course, ACCOUNTABILITY.
This probably resonates with you because you might remember times when you put accountability into action in your life and you were highly successful and produced results at a high level.
Now, I have two questions:
1) Are you currently using accountability to help you stick with your program?
2) If you are currently using accountability, did you ever think about the power of having a multi-level “accountability SYSTEM”?
If you’re not using accountability right now in your nutrition, training and healthy lifestyle plan or if you are and you’d like to learn how to multiply accountability by a factor of 4X, please read on.
Level One: Self accountability
Accountability is a MASSIVE leverage factor in achieving any kind of success, whether in business or in a fitness program and here’s where it starts: with yourself. Self accountability, also known as internal accountability is very simple: It means you set a goal, map out a plan, make a commitment to it and then KEEP SCORE.
You can become accountable to yourself by:
1. setting written goals
2. weighing yourself
3. measuring body composition
4. taking body (circumference) measurements
5. taking photographs
6. Creating menu plans or tracking nutritional intake in a journal
7. Creating workout schedules and tracking training performance in a journal
Basically, anything you want to improve should be measured and everything related to your nutrition, training and even lifestyle (hours and quality of sleep, etc) should be tracked in writing (or electronically).
If you aren’t keeping track and staying accountable by using at least 6 out of 7 items in the list above, then this is where you begin.
Level Two: Accountability to another
No one is coming to your rescue. Change starts with you. “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” You have to make that important self commitment. But once you’ve accepted personal responsibility, you can literally double your motivation with this second step. All you have to do is take those journals and written progress reports and show them to an accountability partner on a weekly or even daily basis.
Your support partners could be anyone – friends, family, siblings, neighbors, co-workers or even your internet friends from forums and social networking sites. You can also recruit a professional – a coach, trainer or mentor of some kind. Get your partner’s agreement that he or she will hold you accountable for the daily action steps you must take and the weekly goals you want to achieve. They have to hold you to it or they’re not real accountability partners. No “Yes men” for this job.
If you have access to your support partner in person, you can increase the positive pressure a bit by having your partner take your picture, weight, body fat and measurements rather than you taking your own.
Why is this so effective? Well, have you ever heard the saying, “Performance is improved when performance is measured?” It’s a popular maxim in business management circles. Good managers have found that personal productivity can be increased many times over by measuring and tracking anything and everything, sometimes to the extent of having employees use numerous checklists, reports and even a diary of how they spend their time.
Rest assured, it works in fitness even better than in business.
Level three: Accountability to a group
Social psychologists have studied group behavior for the better part of a century. Crowd behavior has some interesting dark sides, many of which are far worse than the problem of conformity. But I believe the bright sides of a positive group are stronger and more powerful.
Not only do all human beings have a deep seated desire to belong and to socialize with like-minded people, there’s a group dynamic that creates a powerful positive pressure that can be applied toward higher levels of achievement. You can take advantage of this positive pressure and social support by joining the right groups.
When discipline is imposed externally and high expectations are set within a group, things get done at a high level. There is also an ego factor involved, (or simply call it an extra “motivational factor”), that makes you want to push harder when others are watching. It’s even more powerful if there are real consequences, either emotional or physical, for not fulfilling the expectations. You could call it the “Drill sergeant” effect.
Speaking of military metaphors, look at how Boot camp classes and group personal training are more popular than ever before. Consider the leverage that’s created when you make yourself accountable to a whole group instead of just one person. Not only is your “drill sergeant” instructor watching you, you also know that your peers in your group are watching you. What happens if you stop short or quit in front of everyone? Does the prospect of pushing your self harder seem more likely?
Think about support groups where participants gather around a table or in a circle and must share to the entire group how their week went. What are the emotional consequences of falling behind? Amazingly, this works almost as well online in virtual groups as it does in person and ongoing research has continued to confirm that.
Accountability partners and support groups will always pull more out of you. A coach, partner or group will help you raise your standards and see the potential in you that you didn’t even know you had. After working with any truly effective coach or support group, you will realize that you have been thinking too small and selling yourself short. A group will lift up that positive pressure to a level you never imagined before you immersed yourself in that environment. But it’s possible to take this even further. How?
Level four: Public accountability
GO PUBLIC! By announcing your intentions and posting your results for all the world to see, you add a fourth tier of accountability, that for some people, cinches the deal to the level of FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION. Why? Because look at the alternative. Losing face.
A great example of going public is the story of my friend, Australian fitness blogger Adam Waters.
After several frustrating attempts to complete various physique transformation contests, Adam was sick and tired of being, sick and tired… and fat. He decided that as motivational as these transformation contests were, he knew there was another level.
He decided to put the power of accountability to work not only by using ALL four levels of accountability, but also by taking his photograph every day and posting it on the web for all the world to see.
The results made him famous. His story has been featured on TV, in Men’s Fitness (Australian and US editions) and his real time physique time lapse video has had more than 7,000,000 views on you tube – along with the #1 you tube search ranking for “weight loss.”
To Adam though, all the attention was just a side benefit. The real benefit was that he beat body fat once and for all. He went from (in his own words) sick, fat and stupid, to six pack abs, happy and successful. And then he went on to help other people do the same.
He credits his success to accountability. In his case, “real time internet accountability.
I hope you are now seeing the potential in this force for helping you get the body you deserve and you will print out this post, read and re-read it, soak in the information about the four levels of accountability, and start to apply it in your life .
Share it with others too, because the higher levels of accountability all involve other people. You have to do it by yourself, but you can’t do it alone.
– Tom Venuto
Author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Learn more about the power of accountability and social support in my free ebook, “The 5th Element: Missing Piece of the Fat Loss Puzzle: http://www.burnthefatinnercircle.com/5th
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilder, fat loss coach, fitness writer and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle. Tom’s articles are published on hundreds of websites worldwide and he has been featured in Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, Oprah magazine, The New York Daily News, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He has appeared on dozens of podcasts and radio shows including Sirius XM, ESPN-1250, WCBS and Day Break USA. Tom is also the founder and CEO of the premier fat loss support community, the Burn The Fat Inner Circle.