How to plan things in life so that you fail miserably.

I hear it over and over again:

“I want to eat less junk, but I don’t have the time at work to make better choices!”

“I want to work out, but I just don’t have the time to exercise!”

“I want to lose weight, but it’s impossible! There is just no way to eat healthy when I work 12 hours a day!”

What do all of these statements have in common with each other? They’re all excuses! The harsh truth is that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, and everyone can make just a little time to do the things that are important to them. But what is the key factor that differentiates people who succeed with their personal goals, vs. people who flounder around defeated and whine that nothing can be done because eating better and exercising are “impossible” goals?

The make-or-break trait that separates the Ones-Who-Do from the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas is planning. Well, to be clear, not just any type of planning…I can have some crazy plan to make a million dollars by inventing the next fidget spinner, but without the knowledge, experience, and ability this plan would likely fall flat. No, what I mean by planning is having a specific, actionable, well thought-out plan for success that factors in all the real-life curveballs that will get thrown at you to sabotage you reaching your goal before you even get off the ground.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

-Benjamin Franklin

As promised in the title of this article, let’s look at the plan for someone that wants to fail miserably:

John is 48 years old and wants to lose 50 pounds because he is sick of his belly being his major defining feature among his friends. His wife is starting to make more and more comments about his weight. His doctor just told him he is becoming pre-diabetic and he has a fatty liver. Good for John…wanting to make a change is the first step in the right direction! Every action starts as a thought, but this is not enough to effect an actual change of course. So John thinks about losing weight a lot. He spends a fair amount of time asking Google “how to lose weight” and comes up with 100 different ideas. He thinks about losing weight for three months, and when he has his follow up appointment with his doctor his weight went up from 265 to 268 pounds!

His doctor casually mentions again that John should consider losing some weight. John feels embarrassed, defensive, and defeated when he leaves the office, more disappointed at himself for not really doing anything to lose weight. His doctor’s apparent lack of genuine concern just added to the sting. So John made the decision to take some action and next week he visited his local gym and bought a membership with a 1-year commitment. He was offered a free personal training session as part of the intro package and told them he would call to book it just as soon he figured out his schedule for next week.

Stop researching it and just start doing it!

John found a diet he liked online which consisted of having a protein shake for breakfast and lunch, and a reasonable dinner of real food. The protein shakes didn’t taste that bad, but he was starving by 9AM and would have to eat a mid-morning snack just to get to lunch without fainting. Clients would bring pastries and bagels to his office a few times a week, and in his weakened state he would often indulge in just half a bagel to get him to his lunch shake without feeling lightheaded. In all honesty, he would usually have the other half of the bagel around 4PM to keep him alive until dinner—his workdays usually ended around 6PM and he didn’t get home until after seven. John also knew he went a little overboard on dinner most nights of the week. He was just too damn hungry all day, and it was his first real meal of the day after all. An hour after dinner he usually had a few pretzels or chips…whatever was salty and crunchy and in the kitchen cabinets. 

He stuck to the diet for a month and lost five pounds. He never did make it to the gym. He never ordered the next months supply of shakes since he was already sick of all three of the flavors offered. He started ignoring the comments by his friends and coworkers, and responded to his wife’s genuine concern with dismissive comments and anger. His weight ballooned up again, and he was now 10 pounds heavier than when he started this whole mess.

We all knew John was going to fail. His plan was barely a plan, and was not realistic. He needed to make major lifestyle changes and lacked the knowledge to design a proper plan. He could have benefited from an experienced professional like a nutritionist or personal trainer or medical doctor with experience in weight loss. Maybe a support group or a life coach could have helped, or even a good internet forum. He tried a quick-fix diet plan that was bound to fail eventually…who can drink shakes for meals for the rest of their lives anyway? And while he spent a lot of hours searching online for the best exercise programs for rapid weight loss and even joined a gym, he never actually started working out.

Jane was 26 years old and has been constipated for most of her adult years. She would typically move her bowels every 5-7 days, preceded by several days of bloating, pain, gas, and general misery. She started having these issues in college and saw a gastroenterologist who instructed her to increase her fiber intake, stay hydrated, get regular exercise, and take occasional laxatives. She found that just by increasing her fiber dramatically, she could get her bowels mostly regular and avoid the laxative roller coaster. For a while she was doing alright; after college she lived at home and her mother made sure she had plenty of high fiber foods to choose from. But now she has been working in the city and moved out of the house a year ago. Between work stress and a less-than-ideal diet, her GI issues have been acting up again and she decided to make an appointment with a new gastroenterologist. The advice was basically the same: Get at least 25 grams of fiber per day, drink plenty of water, and exercise five days per week. She was given samples of a new prescription laxative to try if needed as well.

Jane went online and figured out ten different ways to get 25 grams of fiber in her mouth every day. She made a list of a variety of fiber-rich foods that she liked to eat, with the amount of fiber in each serving, and put this list on her iPhone. She did a quick food shopping at the local store twice a week (a benefit of living in the city!) and made sure to stock up on at least 3 days of healthy food each time she went. Once Jane got home, she would wash all the fruits and vegetables and put them in the fridge. Every morning at 6AM before going to work she would take three portions of food with her, each with roughly 5 grams of fiber. At about 9AM she would have snack #1. Lunch was a sandwich on whole wheat bread and a piece of fruit. Snack #2 would be at 4PM, which was also her preworkout snack since she would either hit the gym or go to a yoga class right after work almost every day. She planned ahead for this by bringing a small gym bag (containing her workout clothes and shoes) to work with her every day—she would also stick her lunch bag in there to make it easier to carry everything on the bus).  After returning home her job was to get another 10 grams of fiber in before bedtime. She planned dinner accordingly, or if eating out she made sure to get a hefty amount of fiber in whatever she ordered. Based on her prior research, she could roughly estimate how much fiber her meal had by reading the menu and looking at the portions the restaurant was serving. If she was deficient, she would have a fiber supplement (like Citrucel or Metamucil) before going to bed. She kept this in the kitchen cabinet just next to the cereal.

Jane started to feel good again. Her GI tract was back on track, and was no longer a source of misery. She was eating healthy and never had to worry about getting her nutrition correct at work or on the road because she brought her food with her. This became automatic after a while…a true lifestyle change. Her plan was simple, realistic, executable, and successful.

Be like Jane.