I was at a bar with a fellow coach once, and a man asked us, “What’s the fastest way to lose 15 pounds?” My colleague replied, “A hacksaw.”
Feedback is vital on any health and fitness journey, and, according to 50 years of psychology research, feedback is one of the most important components of long-term motivation. A performance metric, such as the number you see when you step on the scale, is a kind of feedback—it provides an objective way of seeing how you’re doing, let’s you know if you are headed in the right direction, and can help to keep you motivated.
However, even performance metrics that seem to provide the right kind of feedback for a specific goal can fail. The best performance metrics are relevant, reliable, and trackable, and, much like using a hacksaw to lose weight, scales don’t always make sense.
That scale on your bathroom floor is a tool that was designed to guess how many atoms you have. That’s all it does. It uses a spring or a coil of wire to estimate how many atoms make up your body based on how the Earth’s gravity affects that spring when you stand on it. It can swing 8 pounds in a day, remain completely fixed for months, and—most detrimental of all—it can leave you feeling frustrated when you’ve been doing everything right to get to your real goals!
But what are your “real goals?” I start my client assessments by asking a simple, but often-hard question: “What do you want?” Not “What have you been told to want,” not “What do you want from me,” but “What do you want from you—your body, your time, your effort, and your focus?” The answers to this question vary. I’ve heard everything from “I want to play with my kids” and “I want to feel better,” to “I want to look better naked.” But not a single person has ever said anything about atoms.
A scale doesn’t measure how strong you’re getting, how much better you feel, or if you can play hide-and-seek for hours. The number of atoms we have in our body usually has nothing to do with what we actually want, making your weight on that scale a terrible performance metric. Here are some better ones:
Take pictures If what you want is to look better in a swimsuit, in a pair of jeans, or even naked, take before and after pictures. The number on your scale can remain stubbornly fixed due to water retention and hormone fluctuations—even as your clothes begin to hang better on your body and you start to look slimmer in the mirror. Rather than hopping on the scale every Monday, whip out a camera phone and take a selfie instead.
Use a tape measure I’ve had clients come to me after consistently losing weight for a year and says, verbatim, “I need a new plan. I stopped losing weight, even though my waist is getting smaller.” If your waist or hip measurements, the circumference at the widest points, are going down, you are losing fat—which is usually someone’s actual goal, and possibly replacing it with muscle weight. Just keep doing what you’re doing and throw away your scale.
Play with your kids (or grandkids!) If your goal is to be able to play with your little ones without getting tired, set a time to play with them every week. If it’s getting easier to do week after week, then you’re making progress! You can even keep track of how easy it is in MyFitnessPal by writing yourself a note like, “Played with grandkids today. Was a 2 on a scale of 10, with 10 being the hardest!”
Keep track of what you’re doing When it comes to the human body, only bad things happen quickly (like injuries). Good things take time, and always more time than we think they should. Keeping track of healthy things you are doing, like eating colorful vegetables at every meal and walking daily, is the best way to see if you’re doing what you actually need to be to reach your goals. Every great athlete keeps a training log. Every pilot keeps a flight log. When you start doubting yourself, just look at all the little things you’re doing and remind yourself you’re on the right track! You just have to keep moving forward!
Give some thought to what you actually want and then figure out the best way to track your progress. I doubt you’ll care too much about how many atoms you have, and I bet you’ll find there are better tools for reaching your goals than a scale or a hacksaw.
What’s your goal and what are you using to measure your progress? Share in the comments below!