Once we decide that we want something we usually want it now. Not tomorrow or ten week from now but now, dammit! Obviously it’s ok to want something now. But the issue with now is that we seek for instant gratification and it clouds our rational thinking as we only focus on the short-term solution.
Take buying a new piece of clothing for example. You see something hip (and overpriced) hanging on the rack at the local store and your brain goes to overdrive. Flashing disco lights come on and the brain chants buy, buy, buy. As the chanting keeps getting louder and the lights brighter you forget the amount of money you have, the gas bill you have to pay tomorrow and the wedding anniversary present you have to buy next month. All you can hear is “I need to buy this wool sweater because it looks amazing and will make me look like a smooth criminal who should be locked up in the velvety institution of sexified personnel”. Or something along the lines of that.
All you care about is the instant gratification of owning something new. You forget the long term effects of having less money on bills, and possibly a looming divorce since you can’t afford that wedding day present. You have to fight the buying urge and reason with yourself to walk away from the store empty handed. And sometimes you are not even aware of any of this happening in your skull space. Like Nicolaus Copernicus would’ve said, “holy macaroni, it’s a subliminal mindfuck.”*
I know what you are thinking right now, “I came here to read about health and fitness and you talk about sweaters and skull space, while misquoting Nicolas Copernicus. Is nothing sacred anymore!?”
So let me throw some more stardust on your face.
Instant gratification and skill deficit
Let’s say you see a video clip of Eddie Van Halen shredding a five minute brain-melting solo on Youtube and get infected by the vicious guitar-fever bug. You take your infection to the local guitar store and fork out the dough for the devilishly good looking instrument that is EVH Wolfgang. Good for you.
Since your goal is to become the next bare-chested, leather-pants-wearing guitar hero you wouldn’t place the guitar in the corner of the living room, only to pick it up once a week. No matter how much you paid for the guitar, you can’t dust it off once a week and expect to be the master of it in 12 weeks. Hell no!
On the flip side, if you are a mere mortal, you don’t buy the 5 Weeks to Shredding Like Father Eddie – program on the Internet, which requires you to play 6 hours a day and sacrifice work, family and other aspects of your life. It’s just not a reasonable plan for an average person like you and me.
Unless you have some sort of inbuilt virtuoso in you, it would be expected that you practice often and build your playing skills step by step over a very long time. To get better at playing you can’t just wish you would be better while watching other people playing on Instagram. You have to actually practice and improve your skills, usually in a very tedious way. Both that will make your fingers and brain hurt.
And unless you are willing to sacrifice work, family and other aspects of your life, it’s safe to say that you will never play like Father Eddie. You will definitely get better at it over time by improving your skills. But your improvement and long-term guitar playing success is strictly correlated with the amount of time and effort you put in to build your skills.
Neither can you play hardcore for 5 weeks, not pick the guitar for a month and expect to keep all the skills you gained when you first started. For an average person, like you and me, little over a long haul makes perfect sense.
At the same time, if you don’t learn the basic skills of playing guitar it will be hard to improvise and create your own solos and riffs. You will be copying other players material for the rest of your life.
You: “WTF, Joonas. Enough with the guitars and leather pants and Eddie Van Halen!”
Ok, let me peel off the stardust to bring this all back together for you.
The issue with short-term transformations
The above situation with guitar skills is hard to argue with. Like gravity, it’s a fact and impossible-to-escape part of reality. For some reason though we don’t have the same fact and reality filter with health and fitness goals. We see amazing transformations achieved in short-term, with oiled up bodies, perky butt cheeks and sculpted chesticles, and we don’t think twice for striving for the same.
We ignore the facts that are stacked against us. One of them being that we don’t have the skills, the time or the resources to put in the effort those bodies require. We are not willing to sacrifice our sushi dinners, cocktails with friends, or to say no to the Sunday cheesecake by the sunset (I know I am not). And rightfully so, what’s life without cheesecake anyways. Yet we ignore the obvious and sign up for the Lounge To a Lean Mofo in 5 weeks – challenges in flocks.
These challenges give us a strict meal plan to follow, usually paleo, because sugar-is-evil and gluten was created by god to punish our gut flora. Yes, often there is a some form of good vs evil, us vs them nutrition mentality with these challenges, and they always involve restrictions.
This is combined with a hardcore training program, which is always high-intensity and high-volume. Let’s be honest, making people tired is a cheap way to provide the illusion of a great workout. No wonder the participants lost weight. I mean, eating limited calories and training for the zombie apocalypse will do that for you.
When we see amazing transformations achieved in short time we choose (because we know the true answer) to ignore what happens once the initial transformation period is over. We follow a strict plan that works in the perfect life. Yet with this plan everything is given to us and we don’t have to learn the skills necessary when life gets complicated (when isn’t it anyways?). It might feel great at the time but we don’t know how to adjust our habits to match our busy schedules.
The skill deficit
Like with anything that you want to achieve and be good at, you need to work on the skills. Training and eating is no different from writing, public speaking or playing guitar. But somehow we’ve come to think that this skill building doesn’t apply to our health.
What happens when you can only train 20 minutes a day, twice a week? What happens when you don’t have time to count calories and portion your meals into Tupperware containers each Sunday? Or when your boss asks you out for lunch and doesn’t appreciate your suggestion of sitting on the park bench while you both dig into your a containers of green beans and lightly salted ocean perch?
Short term plans don’t teach you the skills you need to be successful with your health and fitness for the rest of you life. It only provides a do this now – plan. But it doesn’t tell you how to match it with your current situation. Or how to modify things when life gets busy.
The more skills you have in a certain area, the more flexibility you have to “wing it” and to modify things on the fly. But if you don’t have the skills you can’t expect to improvise and adjust. You will always the one who follows other people’s plans. And no matter how exceptional their plans are, they’re never yours.
It might surprise you, but I am not saying that strict short-term transformations are worthless. As long as you are not a beginner to training and healthy eating, not prone to body image issues or orthorexic eating, these can be great challenges to get ready for an event. But it shouldn’t be anyone’s entry point to training and fitness. If you don’t have the skills the results won’t last and overtime you might be worse than when you first started.
Most of us shouldn’t focus on where we are in 5 weeks, but where we are in 10 years. And that’s why reasonable done with consistency beats extreme done periodically.
*I made that up. But I wish it would’ve been his go-to saying.