Have you ever worked towards a health or body change goal, only to feel like you can never arrive at your goal?

Say you want to lose fat or put on some muscle… and you do. If you’re like most people, you probably keep thinking, “just 5-10 pounds more, and then I’ll be happy.” Or you lift weights… and you can’t help but wish your lifts were a little heavier. Or you see changes in the mirror… only to wish you were smaller or more muscled. Sound familiar?

Are we there yet?

You’re not alone if you love results or you are results-driven, but the end point feels never-ending. In many cases, the focus of our efforts is misplaced. We tend to focus on results or the final outcome. In reality, we have little to no control over the final outcome.

If we focus on the end, it’s easy to get frustrated, derailed, or demotivated. We never get there. The elusive, imaginary “there” is what Psychiatrist Phil Stutz calls the “the snap shot”. That perfect version of ourselves is a snapshot within our heads. It has no depth. It doesn’t mesh with reality. Can you picture your snap shot?

Most people are on a constant hunt for the perfect experience: the perfect partner, the perfect amount of money, the perfect level of success. Stutz says that thinking of life in this way resembles a snapshot, or a frozen moment that has no movement, dynamism or depth. Though people think the perfect life exists within that snapshot, it doesn’t mesh with Stutz’s Aspects of Reality — and remember, those are unavoidable for everyone. 

Psychiatrist Phil Stutz (from the Netflix documentary created by Jonah Hill)

So how do we avoid the trap of the “snap shot”?

Change the focus.

I know. I know. “Focus on the journey” sounds overused and trite. But hear me out.

When it comes to body change, we can reliably control one thing only. Our actions.

Picture your journey as a string of pearls. Each pearl represents an action. Psychiatrist Phil Stutz explains “String of Pearls” as a tool to support continual and consistent effort – not perfection. Each step, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, is part of a larger system. As Stutz explains, all actions have equal value. That certainly takes a lot of pressure off, doesn’t it?

In Stutz’s illustration, each circle or “pearl” is an action — and, since each pearl is a similar size, you can think of each action having the same value, no matter what it is. This means that every large or small action in your life (brushing your teeth, deciding to end a relationship) is just that: a thing to do. You are the only person who can put the next pearl on the string. But, within each pearl is a dark spot (Stutz calls it a “turd”), which is a reminder that no effort you make will be perfect. The key is to acknowledge that and keep adding to the string anyway.

Psychiatrist Phil Stutz (from the Netflix documentary created by Jonah Hill)

Take action consistently, every day (or regularly and frequently). Add the next pearl on the string. That’s it.

On your journey, you might need to face your shadow.

In my experience as a Metabolic Optimization Health Coach, the desire to lose weight or change our physical appearance often comes from a place of shame. Not always, but more often than not. I defer to Brené Brown and her teachings on this topic for anyone interested in exploring this further. Brown is known for her research on shame and vulnerability.

Visualize, engage and honor the “shadow” part of yourself. Some people refer to this part of yourself as the inner child. Regardless of what you call it, it’s a part of you. And it needs attention.

According to Stutz, the Shadow is the part of yourself you’re ashamed of — the part of you that you wish didn’t exist. Stutz says to talk to your Shadow, ask it how it feels about you and ask it how it feels to be denied or avoided. In order to work with the Shadow, Stutz says you have to be able to visualize  it, honor it and engage with it. The Shadow and Part X aren’t quite the same: Think of Part X as your doubts and deepest fears, and the Shadow as the by-product of believing whatever Part X tells you. 

Psychiatrist Phil Stutz (from the Netflix documentary created by Jonah Hill)

Part X is triggered when we hit a roadblock. Whenever we face challenging circumstances, pain, judgement, uncertainty – you name it, the voice of self-doubt and fear appears. Part X is the critic that anchors you from changing or moving forward. In many ways, this is a safety measure. Staying in a holding pattern is safe. It’s safe because it is familiar and known. Change means uncertainty, constant work and even pain or discomfort.

When your Part X is triggered, what does it say to you? If we wish to break free from our holding patterns, then we need to confront our doubts and fears. And we need to love and accept the shadow part of ourselves.

To summarize: How to keep moving forward

Visualize your journey as a string of pearls. Each pearl represents an action. Keep adding pearls to the string. Take action consistently, every day (or regularly and frequently).

Consider the actions you’ve been taking – no matter how large or small, as your true measure of progress.

Acknowledge the end point for what it truly is: a snap shot. Your life and your journey as a human being is deeper and more complex than a snap shot will ever be.

Honour and acknowledge the shadow version of yourself. Challenge Part X, the voice of self-doubt and fear, when it is triggered.

Avoid holding patterns. They represent a state of comfort because they are familiar. That false sense of safety keeps us stuck.

Celebrate your wins. You can still move towards your goals from a place of love and acceptance.

Add your next pearl. Keep moving forward.

Photo by Urvi Kotasthane on Unsplash