Long before taking over as the Director of Coaching for Metabolic Living, I was your run-of-the-mill personal trainer. I ran all over town, taking on clients and classes from multiple gyms. I saw many people succeed in changing their body composition and feeling better than they have in years. Still, I saw many others grow frustrated by a lack of results and eventually fade away from training altogether.

I take a lot of responsibility for my clients who withdrew (especially my very first personal training client. Sorry, mom.). I hated seeing the frustration and disappointment on their faces, and I knew they often left feeling more hopeless than when they began.

When I first started, I assumed clients were coming to me for answers. I thought they were missing information, and due to my certifications and mentorships, I had the answers they needed (personal training is a great tool for humility).

I quickly learned that there’s something deeper when it comes to those who succeed and those who don’t. It’s not a knowledge gap (99.9% of my clients knew chicken breast was probably a better option than a doughnut).

It wasn’t a lack of motivation or laziness either. Every one of my clients was successful in some areas of their life (great mothers, great friends, great businesspeople, etc.).

I grew extremely curious about the psychological elements of change. Why did some clients fail, and some succeed? Why did some clients disappear where others persisted for years?

Although I couldn’t always pinpoint why somebody wasn’t successful, I started to see patterns in the ones who were.

It’s like that famous Leo Tolstoy line, “All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Clients who fail may not have cared for my personality or had a family issue that drew them away, or they may have had an injury that changed the momentum of their training. It could’ve been a million different things!

But all successful clients shared a similar thread. They seemed to focus on other aspects of training than the scale or six-pack abs.

Their mindset was different. These successful clients saw and interpreted the world differently than their unsuccessful counterparts. And we know that the way individuals think and perceive influences behavior, and therefore, results (this is the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

Here are three mindsets embodied by clients who persist and succeed in their journey to looking better, feeling better, and performing better.

Successful Clients Care About the Big Rocks

Imagine you’re walking in nature, intending to fill an empty bucket.

You’d probably begin with 2-3 larger rocks, which would fill about 80% of your bucket. Then you’d fill in the gaps of the large rocks with smaller rocks and pebbles.

You’d then fill those gaps with small grains of sand until you eventually had a full bucket.

This is a great metaphor for body change. Your goals are that empty bucket, and clients who succeed spend most of their energy on the “big rocks,” like improving sleep, reducing stress, increasing movement, or having a diet rich in vegetables.

They don’t spend a lot of time obsessing about the latest fads and trends. They rarely asked about detoxes, intense fasting protocols, or how many grams of sodium they should consume.

They understand that getting 2-3 big things right makes up for missing out on a handful of little things.

The thing about big rocks is that they usually make the “pebbles” and “sand” a lot easier. Charles Duhig, the author of The Power of Habit, writes about Keystone Habits – habits that lead to other habits. For example, when you start exercising, you naturally start eating better, stressing less, and becoming more productive, leading to better work habits and relationships. And on the cycle goes.

A good indication of whether you’re focused on the big rocks or the grains of sand is to think about how many programs/challenges you’ve tried over the past two years. If you’re jumping from Keto to Paleo to the HCG diet to whatever else and left feeling frustrated or defeated, you’re likely not focused on the big rocks.

Successful clients aren’t attached to novelty and distraction or change for the sake of change. They get the big wins and let the chips fall.

Successful Clients Know Results Aren’t Linear & Predictable 

In our coaching program at Metabolic Living, the client least likely to see results are the ones who focus intensely on the scale.

That’s because they view body change in entirely the wrong way. They see it as a linear, predictable process. They feel that their output should immediately reflect their input in a clear, tangible way (like a calculator). They eat a salad and want to see their efforts rewarded on the scale.

But that’s not how fat loss works. Having a good day and expecting the scale to change is like investing $100 and being mad when it’s not worth $110 the following day (and steadily, predictably increasing day after day). 

Not surprisingly, these are also the least likely people to actually change their behavior for a sustained amount of time. Which makes sense, right? If they believe they’re not rewarded for their efforts, then why endure a bland chicken breast?

Successful clients focus on consistent behavior changes. Not surprisingly, my most successful clients had the best attendance records. They showed up consistently week after week. They focused on eliminating snacking at the office or implemented an afternoon walk. They replaced a McMuffin with a protein shake or committed to eating a salad every day.

Successful clients understand the compound effect of results.

Try this thought experiment: Would you rather have $3 million in cash today or a single penny that doubles every day for 31 days?

Your first instinct might be to take the $3 million today. And that doesn’t sound like a bad deal.

If you took the $3 million, on Day 20, you’d still be swimming in your riches, and I’d have $5,243.

But on Day 29, I’d be creeping up on you with $2.7 million. And on Day 31, I’d have $10,737,418.24

That’s how successful clients view body change. They’re not concerned with their day-to-day bank account (i.e., the scale)

They are focused on implementing consistent behavior changes, show themselves compassion when they make mistakes, and aim to be better every day.

And over time, they’re the ones who get what the others wanted all along: a significant change on the scale.

Successful Clients Find Something to Enjoy About the Process

I’ll never forget three of the most successful clients I’ve ever had. We’ll call them Sam, Bill, and Lisa.

All three first began working with me to lose weight, but all three found something beyond protein, fiber, and push-ups that kept them interested in training.

Sam used to come early and stay late after his sessions to talk fantasy football, local restaurants, and world events. This kind of small talk led to a true friendship that lasted for years. Sam seldom missed a session, not because he loved squats, but because he felt a sense of connection and community with me (and I with him). And since he never missed his workouts, he slowly progressed and lost 50 pounds.

Bill learned that he was a lot stronger than he ever knew, which led to a sense of confidence and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a term in psychology that describes a source of motivation that comes from within. It means doing something for its own sake rather than external rewards, and it is far more potent for sustaining change. Bill kept showing up because he enjoyed beating his old records and took pride in incremental improvements.

And Lisa found that taking an afternoon walk wasn’t to look good in a bathing suit, but it was her time to refresh and revitalize and spend some much-needed time alone. So it became a daily ritual that tangentially led to great results.

At some point, successful clients find something they actually enjoy or are driven by something much deeper in the weight loss process. It’s not a never-ending drudge or a 30-day willpower sprint.

They stick with it to set an example for their children.

They engage in sports or hobbies that keep them moving.

They join Zumba classes to meet people.

Or whatever else they find personally meaningful or interesting

Professor and author Angela Duckworth says, “Nobody works doggedly on something they don’t find intrinsically interesting.” 

So at some point, we have to like something about the weight loss journey; otherwise, we’ll alternate between drudgery and misery and leave a damaged metabolism in our wake.

It’s important to note that successful clients weren’t born that way, and they’ve often fallen on and off the bandwagon. But the difference is that they get back up. They take ownership of the journey. They seek support. And when they finally develop a lifestyle that works for them, they focus on the big rocks, let results compound, and find little ways to enjoy the ride.