Shiny New Objects!

Jun 16, 2022

We know by now that get-rich-quick schemes don’t work.  Darn it, right?  

Well, the same is true for fitness, but patience is hard!  

“I’ve been working out for 2 months and my arms are still flabby!”

“I want to work out but I keep getting sick!”

“This fat around my belly is driving me crazy!”  

“My butt is still flat!”

So it goes with voluntary change.  We’re frustrated and impatient. Our troubles are so predictable that psychologists¹ have made a 5 part framework to light the way.  It goes like this:

In the beginning, we have an exciting vision of what we want, a shiny new object.  We enter Phase 1, Uninformed Optimism.  

Let’s say that we adopt a new program that promises fantastic results. 

We want these results so bad it hurts, and we want them now!  It’s gonna be so good!  We are willing to work so hard, the rules won’t apply to us! 

We imagine all the benefits in techni-color, but gloss over the difficulties.  We imagine a sleek new body, strong, athletic, and healthy.  Pull ups, push ups, jumping, tons of energy.  We buy new workout gear and a gym membership.  

As knowledge and perspective trickle onto the field, Phase 1 fades pretty quickly, and soon we move into grumpy Phase 2: Informed Pessimism:

“Okay, this is real work.  I don’t like it.  I’m sore, tired, and all my new outfits are in the hamper.  What was I thinking?  I hate exercise”    

We don’t yet have a solid routine, we’re bush-whacking unfamiliar terrain, and the new activities feel like moving boulders up a hill. 

We haven’t reaped any physical rewards yet.  Looking at the mirror is exactly the same, and the scale hasn’t budged.  Some of us start dropping off and go back to our old ways at this point.  

Maybe we sniff the air and sense that it’s going to get worse before better! 

And here comes Phase 3:  The Valley of Despair.  We still long for the changes we started working for, but now it’s clear that it’s going to be harder, and take longer, than we initially thought.  

There are two ways out of the valley of despair.  The first is quitting, hitting the eject button.  We keep our old identities and give up.

If we keep going, though, we enter the depths, the crucible where we must leave behind our old, familiar identities and form new ones.  The hard part is that the old identities are glued to us with pain and old beliefs about ourselves.

Listen in to your mind and you might start to hear stuff like:

“I don’t deserve to feel good”

“I’m a loser.  I mess everything up”

“I’ll never get strong”

“I hate my body” 

“It’s too late for me” 

Even though our stories feel very personal, the important thing to remember is…

We all have to sort through this stuff when we want to change!  So, try not to take it personally!  

We gotta slow down, breathe, and treat ourselves with compassion.  We need to have heart-to-heart talks with ourselves, often! 

One might sound something like this:

“Hey, no way to put lipstick on this.  It’s just plain hard to face how I’ve been treating myself for so long.  Getting my body back is going to take time, but it’s worth the effort.  I’m worth the effort!  Little steps will get me there, and I’m not stopping!” 

The “not stopping” part guides the way out.  We keep working our plan, creating a new identity in the process.  Even if the path winds uphill and sandy slopes drop us back a bit every step, small steps will move us forward.  Here we find faith, and comfort in the process.  

Soon we will emerge into the fresh air of phase 4:  Informed Optimism.  We kind of have to admit that some good stuff is starting to happen:

“Aren’t my arms looking a little better?”

“I like the structure of exercising, and I feel proud of myself”  

“My doctor said to keep doing what I’m doing”  

“My coworker asked if I’ve lost weight”

“I hardly eat junk food anymore”

As our new behaviors cast daily votes, our new identities strengthen.  

The path has opened up and cleared, and we enjoy the company of fellow travelers who inspire us to keep going.  Clearly we walk on a new trajectory toward a promising future.  

We even start enjoying ourselves a bit, which brings us into… 

Phase 5:  Success and Fulfillment.  Time is now on our side: day by day, things are getting better.  We stop searching for constant proof.  Clearly, the path we travel leads where we want to go.  We calmly apply ourselves to the tasks at hand and build momentum.  

Even though we aren’t “there yet”, we embrace the journey.  Small wins keep coming, turning into large wins now and then. and we just keep going.  

When we find ourselves challenged by hard times, we have perspective from our trips into and out of the Valley of Despair, and tools to take care of ourselves.  We continue to learn, tweak our process as needed, and keep going.    

Is there an endpoint when we don’t have to train our bodies anymore?  No, and yes.  We’re in it for life!


¹ Don Kelley and Daryl Conner developed the Emotional Cycle of Change, and published it in the "1979 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators."

Atomic Habits, by James Clear.  This is my enjoyable, go-to resource for personal transformation through new habit formation.