How does an overweight, out-of-shape person melt away all the excess bodyfat, successfully achieving every one of their health and fitness goals – safely, sensibly, even with what appears to be a sustainable plan – but then promptly begin to regain the weight, starting literally the day after they reach their goal?
Why do people enter body transformation contests, sometimes at serious physical and mental low points, then rise to the occasion in brilliant fashion, posting before and after photos so astonishing they make you wonder if it’s even the same person, only to fall back into old habits, starting minutes after the “after” photo is snapped?
Why are the weight loss relapse statistics still so dismal? The most optimistic statistic I have ever come across in any peer-reviewed academic journal is a 70% relapse rate. Most experts say the weight regain rate is an even more depressing 80 to 95%.
Somehow though, a handful of men and women lose weight, transform and keep their new shape, weight, muscle gains and fitness level. What’s the difference between these people?
There are answers to these questions and thankfully, many solutions, and today I want to share one of the best of them, because it’s one of the simplest and easiest to do.
Motivational speaker Brian Tracy once said, “Lack of planning is the cause of all failure.” When it comes to falling off the health and fitness wagon, Brian was right.
The irony is that all these people who succeeded temporarily, but then slipped back, they knew how to set goals and plan. They had good goals – big goals. They also had plans – great plans. That’s how they got the results they did in the first place. They simply didn’t hang on to those results. Why?
One of the reasons is, they forgot something. They forgot to ask:
You can follow every goal setting guideline in the book, develop a program that elite trainers would call perfect, and execute that plan like a champion athlete and it will all work out just like you’d expect.
But if that plan was only a few months long and you didn’t give any thought to what comes next, then the moment the goal is reached, all motivation, all focus, all drive, all energy – physical and mental – will drain out of you like you pulled the plug in a tub.
You’re also likely to feel an emptiness, even a sadness or depression, immediately after that one goal is completed. This is not uncommon at the end of any epic journey. But that’s not a side effect of goal achievement, the problem is having nothing else to look forward to. With a goal completed, the joy of pursuit gone, and nothing to take its place, you’ve created a void.
Voids are also known as vacuums, and a vacuum, by definition, begs to be filled. You’d think that continued training would fill that void, but the kind of training that makes you grow is hard and outside your comfort zone. Therefore, if you don’t consciously, deliberately plan and do something new, activities of comfort are more likely to fill the void – automatically.
After a months-long streak of being on your best behavior, it seems illogical, even unfathomable, but when you consider the “void and vacuum” effect” combined with “moral licensing” (the psychological tendency to reward yourself for something positive you’ve done) it suddenly makes sense how the empty space so often gets filled up with unhealthy, fattening food and drink.
The solution is so simple if you think about it: Don’t leave much empty space between goals! Goal setting and planning are not once a year events, let alone one-time events. They are disciplines you practice your entire life without ceasing. Having a great goal and a great plan for the next few months, but nothing after that is still “lack of planning,” and as Brian Tracy warned, it’s going to lead to relapse.
There’s a simple, specific type of planning you can do to prevent this from ever happening to you again, to keep your results and stay perpetually motivated. The way I describe it is:
“Think 1 goal ahead.”
This is advice, and also a challenge to you, which has to do with long-term time perspective: Never set goals only one at a time. Set them two at a time – one for now, one for later.
Set a goal for a short term period, like the next 3 months (or the next 98 days, if you’re entering our Burn the Fat challenge), and don’t stop there. Ask, “What’s next?” Think 1 goal ahead. After you achieve this first goal, what then?
Be specific. What are you going to do the minute after you take your “after photo” or step on the scale and see your goal weight achieved? If there’s more fat to burn, what’s the next fat loss goal and time frame? Maybe even more crucial: If there’s NO more fat to burn, what THEN? Even if you can see your abs, it’ doesn’t mean you’re finished. Fitness is never finished. Keep using it, or lose it. What’s next? How will you maintain that lean body? What kind of fitness regimen will keep you muscular? What new, even higher levels of fitness, physique, strength or vitality could you achieve?
What will you do the day after your first goal is achieved? What will you do the week after that? What’s your plan to get a sensible amount of rest, reward or downtime between goals without losing momentum? (Could you set up that recovery time to make the next phase work even better?) Then how will you transition into the next goal? On what date will you start that next phase? How will the way you eat and exercise be the same as it was during your initial transformation? How will it be different, if it is different at all?
You can’t ask too many questions like these. You don’t need the specifics of the plan for the next goal yet, because you’ll have time for that later. What you do need to know is what the next goal is. You simply need something new to look forward to. What’s on the other side of this first mountain you’re climbing? If you don’t have another mountain to climb, there’s nothing in front of you but going downhill.
Physique athletes like bodybuilders and figure competitors set a goal to get ripped for a contest, and they know they’re not finished when they get off that stage. If they don’t have another contest already lined up, they’re looking forward to the muscle building season, and that new and different type of goal is a nice change of pace and even a relief after a long contest prep diet. They’re exited for that next goal. Thinking even bigger picture, they know that their physique will never be finished – they’re not aiming to reach one destination, they’re on a path to achieve personal improvement and mastery of a craft, the same way a painter or martial artist would never be satisfied without continuing to improve their skills.
Can you think 1 goal ahead? Will you? If so, I challenge you to demonstrate it. Make it public somewhere, like your personal Facebook page, or at least tell one other person who supports you. If you’re on the Burn the Fat Inner Circle, post in the forums that you read about the “Think 1 goal ahead challenge” and state your current goal and your 1 goal ahead, which signifies that you’re not stopping when your present goal is achieved or your current training phase is complete. If you’ve got no one supportive at all to share this with, heck, email me and share it with me.
What’s your goal for the next 3 or 4 months, then what’s your next goal after that?
Last but not least, remember that you have to repeat this process – forever. It would be easy to think longer-term – once – then slip back into the short-term goal only trap. Then sure enough, you’re back into the cycle of in shape, out of shape, “oh crap, how did this happen? I have to get back in shape again.”
If you’re always thinking 1 goal ahead, it implies that setting new goals for continuous improvement becomes a perpetual process. Keep it up for a while and goal setting becomes a habit. Soon you realize you’re on a path. You always have a destination in front of you, and another just over the horizon, but there’s never an end point, only stepping stones that lead you out of old comfort zones and up to higher and higher peaks.
As our Burn the Fat Body Transformation Challenge is about to kick off for the summer, there could be no better opportunity to put this idea into practice. I hope you will be joining us in the official challenge, but even if you’re pursuing your fitness goals on your own this summer, I still urge you to take the “Think 1 Goal Ahead Challenge.” Set goals for the summer, then think ahead for the fall. What then?
If someone wanted to really impress me, they could tell me what their next TWO goals are.
Having seen so much success from so many different types of people from all walks of life, but then seeing so many struggle to keep their results and keep sustaining with their fitness plans, what you’ve just read is some of the best and most powerful advice I can give you as a coach.
Founder & CEO, Burn The Fat Inner Circle
Author, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, fitness writer and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of Bodybuilders and Fitness Models and the national bestseller, The Body Fat Solution, which was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Oprah Magazine, Muscle and Fitness Magazine, Ironman Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine, as well as on dozens of radio shows including Sirius Satellite Radio, ESPN-1250 and WCBS. Tom is also the founder and CEO of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community for inspiration and transformation