Friday, April 13, 2012

More on "Buying In".

What causes a lot of people’s trouble and woe with fitness is the issue with "buying in." They get emotionally invested in something. It becomes a point of pride. Part of their ego hangs on a program, pill or diet fixing not just their physique but everything else in their life. Either they hold on to something that doesn’t work for far longer than they should or they get sucked in by hype and crushed by the let down when whatever it is doesn’t pan out.

Now, there is a certain amount of shared responsibility in these failures. Looking for speedy weight loss in diet pills or rapid strength gain in some ultimate smoke down secret lifting program indicates an unwillingness to put in the required work. What other short cuts are these people taking? While it chaps my ass when people just give up on trying to improve their physical fitness because they failed to get a six pack after taking diet pills, these failures are a shared responsibility. What really makes me heart-burnt about the problem are the hucksters selling "healthy" food, magic pills and workout miracles we see so frequently these days.

People buy into DVD’s and gimmicks for the same reason they buy lottery tickets. No one remembers the losers. Behind every smiling face with a brand new million dollars there’s a massive line of people who wasted two bucks. Before you argue that the two dollars only bought them a chance at the million (which was delivered), the point is they had two dollars and now they don’t. There are people out there who spend their kid’s lunch money on this.

I don't want to discuss the morality of government sponsored gambling, but you have to understand that not remembering the losers and emotional involvement are used in some manner in every advertisement you see. There are psychologists who do nothing but study consumer behavior and work up new ways to get you more emotionally invested in a product. It’s the biggest legal con in history. They know what strings to pull and how to pull them. It’s devastating when you apply it to something that affects self esteem as much as weight loss and physical fitness. 

I’d like to introduce you to my new metaphor, his name is Bob:

Bob* lost 100 pounds by swimming with 50 pounds of weight tied to his testicles in a 10 foot deep pool. It’s my new extreme, fat burning program. Look at Bob. He’s about 45 years old and you could bounce a freakin’quarter off his abs. He’s like well aged carved marble. Bob followed my new extreme, fat burning program every day for three months and it worked for him.

Now, if I can get you emotionally invested in Bob’s success and if I can get you imagine yourself in his place after he completed my program then I can get you to overlook the blatant insanity of this. Think about being Bob at the beach. Think about being Bob in a speedo. The guy has to have a sack that would make a beast of burden proud. He’s like a walking Enzyte commercial. You want to be like Bob don’t you? (Ladies, you will probably need a different example to get the full effect.)

If I can pull this off, I’ll get you to ignore the sad scattering of bloated corpses at the bottom of my pool, strap up and jump in. Only unlike Bob, you’ll sink like a stone and wonder what the hell happened as you drown. See the thing was that because Bob was 100 pounds overweight, he was far more buoyant and had an easier time at first.

Bob is That Guy. For every bullshit gimmick, there is a guy who tried it and says it worked. Typically That Guy could have done anything and had success. It’s a fluke, it’s some random quirk of genetics or it’s "possibly" an outright lie. That Guy is the smiling asshole who hits the lottery twice and appears on the news to tell that trail of hopeless lunch money wasters that the real secret is just buying a ticket every now and then. I feel that an insanely high percentage of fitness products business models are based around someone trying to get you to bet on being That Guy. Even many of the good guys get in on this. Regardless of if they’re selling a decent product or not it’s likely that they’ll still want people to buy in as it means they have reached you. It’s just how advertising gets done these days.

That Guy is so ordinary, so friendly, that you can’t help but wonder why it didn’t work for you. That Guy may have even had things much worse than you. They told you this would work for everyone. They told you it would be easy. They showed you an "Average American" who got everything they wanted and more. They don’t even have to make outrageous claims to do this. They can do it all with implications and innuendo. But the end result is that many find something else to blame besides the hype. Genetics, a busy life with two kids or their own weakness and lack of willpower are all common themes.

In your head, the weights and my back alley psychology had nothing to do with your sad, watery death, it was because you didn’t swim hard enough. Remember, I certainly didn’t force you into this, you strapped that 50 pounds on by yourself, so it must be your fault.

You can’t bet on being That Guy. That Guy exists so people can sell you a product that does something you can often achieve with nothing but the right advice (stop eating junk food, for example). Even if he’s legit, it’s a fluke no one else will repeat. Objectivity is essential no matter what your goals are. You did X for three weeks, have you lost weight? Are you running faster? Do you feel better? Are you lifting more weight? You need a log and a metric to gauge success. Even if it’s just something like “it took me fifteen less seconds to recover from walking up the stairs.” That, for some people, is obvious and excellent progress.

I’m not trying to tell you stop trying new things. There is an answer for you out there. I’m trying to get you to stop thinking or saying things like this when something goes wrong:

“There’s just not a good way for a guy with three kids to stay in shape, there’s no time.”

“I’m just built to be overweight.”

“I could never do that, I’m too lazy.”

“I love food too much to go on a diet.”

“That’s a young man’s game, once you hit my age you’ll understand.”

These types of statements are poison. They sap motivation and drive. They put you back on the couch with the Mt. Dew and Doritos. They are all things friends and co-workers have said to me. Don’t expect to be the exception. Don’t blame yourself when you aren’t That Guy. Don’t bank on the fitness lottery. You wouldn’t retire after buying a single lottery ticket, would you? 

Invest your physical capital in what looks like stable, long term investments and evaluate how well they work. If they don’t work, re-invest. The reality is, even good programs and products fail some people. Gimmicks fail almost everyone. But something will eventually work. If you’re too caught up in what might be, you might never see it.

As always, you mileage may vary, but that’s sort of the point.

*For the sake of giving credit where credit is due, Bob is actually named Yang You-sin. He’s really hanging those weights off his wedding tackle. Apparently he’s quite good at it. It’s enough of a thing that his teacher has even produced a how-to fitness video in Taiwan if you’re looking for a good way to lose weight. I found him on Google.

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