Happy 4th of July! 237 years ago the American colonies first declared their independence from British rule. On a similar note (well… the analogy’s probably quite a stretch), I’m going to share with you the story of a young man who declared his independence from a life of unhealthiness. (Told you it was a stretch.) And fair warning, this post is probably going to be a long one.
This past week I watched a show with my roommates called “Extreme Weight Loss”. This particular episode followed a young man named Ryan who had lost his arm in a tragic car accident 2 years prior to the events of the episode. Over the course of a year, Ryan went from a massive 410 lbs down to a healthy 193 lbs, but not without hitting a few snags along the way.
At the beginning of the year of training, Ryan had set the goal to drop down to 195 lbs. Dropping down from 410 to 195 is a significant goal, even daunting. How did he stay motivated? It’s easy to look at a case like this and think, “Man, Ryan sure had a lot of motivation. I wish I could motivate myself like that.” But I really want to challenge that line of thought. How did he stay motivated? I believe it came down to three things: 1) Support, 2) Accountability and 3) Meeting good goals.
I came in partway through the episode, but one goal stood as a prominent 2nd (only behind losing weight and becoming more healthy). That goal? To be able to ride a bike unassisted, even though he couldn’t ride a bike even before his accident. Ryan definitely had his work cut out for him. He was heavy, which makes balancing more difficult. Plus, he only has one arm, which also makes balancing difficult. Oh, and he didn’t even have enough stamina to walk to the end of the block without getting winded.
As the episode showed him learning to ride, we saw him fall. And fall. And fall again. And he fell hard, earning scrapes and cuts. Over and over and over again he fell, but he kept getting up and trying again. Why? Was it sheer determination? I really don’t think it was. You see, Ryan wasn’t in this alone. His mother and father were completely behind him, supporting him as he was seeking to make these changes. His uncle encouraged him to keep trying to ride his bike, even when things were tough. Even off the air, Ryan’s Crossfit trainer, Ryan Dart, was constantly encouraging him and believing in him. Yes, I believe that Ryan worked hard and was intrinsically motivated. However, I think that the true reason why he was able to go for this full year (and is continuing to do well) is the support he’s had from the people that care about him.
It may not surprise you to learn that one of the biggest struggles for Ryan was figuring out how to eat healthily (after all, most people don’t reach 410 lbs by eating healthily). In Phase 2 (months 4-6), Ryan started noticing that his hair was falling out. Chris also had a few cameras set up throughout Ryan’s home so he could check on him from a distance (Ryan lives in Wisconsin, and Chris is based in California), and began noticing that almost all of Ryan’s nutrition was coming from shakes and smoothies. Chris booked a flight out to WI and confronted Ryan about his eating habits, then proceeded to show him how he could cook healthy foods.
Later on, at the end of Phase 3 (around month 9), Ryan was forbidden from having a skin surgery (I assume this was the surgery to remove the excess skin that was left over after losing so much weight), because he was once again bordering extreme malnutrition. According to the doctor, Ryan was experiencing a level of nutrition almost on par with people found in third world countries. Once again Chris and Ryan talked, and it came to light that Ryan was so afraid that he would return to overeating that he was drastically under-eating.
In this second talk about nutrition, Chris made Ryan commit to eating healthy and ignoring what that did to his weight. Chris knew that Ryan wanted to meet the 195 lb weight goal, but he also knew that it was significantly more important for Ryan to meet that goal in a healthy way. Could Ryan have met his 195 lb goal on his own? Possibly. But there’s no way that he would have developed sustainable habits without Chris checking in on him and keeping him accountable.
Meeting Good Goals
Now, obviously, part of meeting good goals is making good goals, and Steve Kamb wrote a great guide on How to Not Suck at Goal Setting over on his site Nerd Fitness. That’s a great place to start if you’re not sure how to set goals well.
I mentioned several times that Ryan’s overall goal was to drop from 410 lbs to 195 lbs. But he also had smaller intermediary goals that Chris set for him. The first goal was to drop 111 lbs in 90 days. It was a big goal, but definitely achievable if he kept his focus. Not only did Ryan meet that goal, but he passed it, dropping 112 lbs. The second goal was to drop another 60 lbs over the next 90 days. As a trained professional, Chris was setting goals that would push Ryan, but still be reasonable, so you’ll notice that each goal drops fairly significantly from the preceding goal. At the end of phase 2, Ryan had dropped 66 lbs. The third goal was to drop another 27 lbs, which would level off Ryan at 205 at the end of 9 months. However, true to form, Ryan smashed past this goal as well, dropping 30 lbs. Finally, the goal for Phase 4 was to drop the last 7 lbs down to the 195 lb goal. Even though Ryan stopped focusing on his weight and focused entirely on eating healthily for the final phase, he even surpassed that goal, dropping 9 lbs bringing him to a final weight of 193 lbs.
Beyond his weight loss goals, Ryan also wanted to be able to ride a bike for a block by the end of the year. When he managed to ride his block within 90 days, Ryan said “This was something I wanted to do at day 365. By the end of this year, it would be so amazing to go a couple blocks, or a mile even! The possibilities are endless.”
However, when Chris challenged him to a 100 mile bike ride (from Los Angeles to San Diego) as a milestone challenge, Ryan ended up backing down. Yet a few months later, Ryan came back to Chris, stating that he wanted to to ride 43 miles in honor of his uncle who had always believed and encouraged him to ride his bike (his uncle had passed away during the year).
Ryan met and surpassed all of his weight loss goals, and he smashed through his goal of learning to ride a bike. How did he do it? We’ve already talked about the support he received from those who care about him. We also talked about the accountability that Chris provided to him when he started to stray from the plan a little. Those are two very important parts to his success, but I believe that meeting these goals was key to his success. By meeting each goal, he built momentum, which made it easier and more exciting to keep persevering.
Now, I don’t want you to think that self-motivation has absolutely no role in accomplishing goals. On the contrary, self-motivation is critical in the initial push to build momentum. However, after this momentum has begun, we can’t expect to maintain our course on self-motivation alone. Rather, we need to find a way to enlist the support of others who will keep us accountable to good goals that we set.
What do you think? Am I underestimating the power of self-motivation?