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  • Writer's pictureChris Smith

Losing the Weight

It’s the kicks… always the kicks. I get excited about the sporty hoodies, the latest sweats from Athleta and UnderArmour, the trendy Lulu’s, and even the odd Patagonia vest with its provocative recommendation on voting. But for me, maybe like Mars Blackmon, its gotta be the shoes. It was that first new year in 1999 in my adoptive home town of Arlington, VA. And what I saw then and would see each year after was all the gear that Santa left under the trees of the would-be, resolute, New Years ambitionists and ambitionistas finding its way to the streets. Laced up and pulled on… and off they go.

Resolutions are easy in January. For a while I was an ambitionist - a member of the annual resolution squad. Goals are set by 31 December, the gear with that special something that going to make this year different arrives via amazon or reindeer, and the rest basically takes care of itself. And then it becomes February. You can tell its February because in February all that new gear is off the streets. The hoodies, the sweats, and even the fresh kicks are gone… just like the resolutions.

What remains is the unfancied gear, the worn in stuff. This is the stuff that didn’t need to be replaced because the people wearing it didn’t need a resolution to put it on. These folks were already demonstrating their desired behaviors without the help of champagne, a dropping ball, and a new calendar. They didn’t need new behaviors and new gear because they were already on the streets, and their gear worked just fine. These are the people still working in February.

I am Team January. I like new gear more than I like better discipline and new behaviors. I found other uses for my gear. I rationalized. As I drove about town in February, seeing that the other “me’s” were also gone, I would tell myself that I could still be out there if I wanted to. I wondered if the other “me’s” were on their way to cancel the gym membership, or perhaps like me, they still have one.

A few years ago, I decided I was going to find out if I could even do it. I wanted to know whether, if I put my mind to it, I could still be the NCAA athlete that I had once been, and harbored thoughts that in a pinch, I could still be. I wanted to know if I could be Team February. I have a friend who hosts 30-day wellness challenges. And it just so happened, that the foundation that my wife and I chair - for the improvement of the NICU experience for preemies and their families - was having its annual gala in 29 days in the fall of 2017. I might never find better conditions to test my discipline.

I walked into Juliet’s Gala 20 pounds lighter. To say I felt fantastic was an understatement. Physically, I felt confident - better than I’d felt in years, and that wasn’t the half of it. I was so proud that I’d done it. As people asked, I shared with them my discipline. I didn’t run or exercise, but I cut out sugars and carbs, shunned dairy and red meat, told anything artificial to talk to the hand, and I didn’t touch a drop of booze. In its place were shakes and cleansing beverages, chicken breast and tomatoes, and kale…so much kale.

In the months ahead and without the wellness challenge, I put every single pound back on… and then some. By the the 2018 Juliet’s Gala and the holidays that followed, I was 10 - 15 pounds heavier than where I had been when I started the initial wellness challenge. Turns out starvation was a bad plan. It helped me achieve a result, but not an outcome - at least not the outcome I wanted. New Years 2019 was only a day or so away and I had zero intention of making a fitness related resolution. Then I got a text. A good friend had decided to organize a group of 12 guys for a “Biggest Loser” style weight-loss challenge. He wouldn’t even participate, but thought the idea had a high entertainment factor for himself.

On the days and hours leading up to the official weigh-in, I might have looked back with embarrassment at my efforts to eat anything that would make me bigger and drive up my initial weight if every other guy in the competition hadn’t done the same. As I approached the door of the commissioners home and formal weigh-in site, I passed friends chugging bottles of water of in their vehicles as if they were in places they weren’t supposed to be to meet people they weren’t supposed to be meeting.

The two competitions were markedly different. Gone were the positive messages and the rah-rah videos [not that there was anything wrong with those] and in their place were pizzas sent to competitors homes and cocktails put into hands, and yet somehow it was precisely what I needed. I didn’t need to prove I could lose weight. I needed to prove that I could be more accountable to myself for the behaviors I wanted to demonstrate.

This time I took a different approach. Rather than starvation, I maintained a healthy of diet choices in moderation, a sensible exercise plan that was consistent with my lifestyle, and an informal accountability network built upon good-natured ribbing and sass, and the fragile egos of 40-something men. This approach included some not-so-healthy things, but they were sensible for me.

This isn’t really a blog about losing weight. I think it’s a blog about change, a blog about adopting and sustaining healthy choices - either physically healthy in my case, or organizationally healthy for teams and companies. Here are four things I think will help you to make change easier - either in your life or in your business:

  1. Moderation - Don’t swing too wildly. Sustainability is hard enough without trying to immediately instantiate behaviors that are too far beyond your norms.

  2. Sensibility - Make choices that fit. Behaviors must be sensible for you, your team, and your organization. There aren’t right and wrong answers - there are answers that don’t work for you and ones that do. Find the latter and weave them into the fabric of your personal or corporate culture.

  3. Accountability - Find a tribe. Surround yourself with like-minded, similarly purpose-driven people for whom common behavior shifts and transformations also make sense. Enjoy the process of getting there together.

  4. Perform - Measure the right things. In my first crack at fitness, I measured pounds,which didn’t align with how I wanted to live. In the second, I held myself accountable to an 80% solution of healthy behaviors. This made far more sense for me and how I wanted to live, and proved to be far more sustainable. Take the time to figure out what to measure.

When you are comfortable with your process, you can be far more honest about expectations and pursuing the right outcomes. I use these things with ChangeSmith’s organizational health and business transformation clients. They are proven and they work, and my clients often smile in appreciation of just how simple our approach to achieving remarkable outcomes can be.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t win the competition… we all won the competition. Who needs February with deepened friendships, sustainably healthy habits, and enough ribbing and sass to keep us all honest. After losing nearly 13% of my body weight, I didn’t keep all of it off, but I sustained transformed behaviors that enable me to enjoy a healthy life without the stress of drastic plans or ambitious New Year’s resolutions. I still do like a fresh pair of new kicks.

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