Sometimes people ask me things like this: “Jonathan, I’m thinking about working out six days per week for 45 minutes until I can get below my target weight. What do you think about that?” And I generally respond with some questions of my own:
“Then what? What will you do after you’ve reached your target weight to ensure you don’t return to where you are right now? Can you see yourself doing that five years from now? Because you may as well make some changes you can live with now since the results are likely to be more lasting. You may not reach that target weight as quickly, but you’ll be more likely to stay there.”
I’m almost ready to say that this is an absolutely universal principle: when it comes to positive change, lasting results will only come from sustainable practices.
It’s true. This applies to fitness, finance, dietary changes and everything else. It’s why I do hard, short workouts: I’ve found them to be sustainable, something I can carve out time to do on an ongoing basis. If I had to do long cardio sessions several times a week, I would find countless (legitimate?) reasons to miss the workouts. So I try to work shorter and harder. That’s sustainable.
Let’s continue with the fitness example. My fitness philosophy has simplified dramatically over the last few months, and whenever I’m talking to anyone who wants to change his exercise regimen, lose twenty pounds, or whatever, I always tell them this: “Whatever you do, make it sustainable.” How many times have we seen someone enjoy tremendous “success” on a diet or training program only to relapse once the determined time period is over? How many brides have we seen trim down to slip into that wedding gown only to balloon right up starting on the honeymoon? Too many. How many husbands have you seen mutter over their beer guts, “What’s the point in exercising? I don’t need to impress anyone anymore…”? There’s no need to stay fit like they did in their single days because after all, they’ve won their brides, so mission accomplished, right? It’s not hard to come up with examples here, because we’ve seen the cycle before:
- Crash diet or exercise faithfully for a while
- Reach ideal goal weight
- Relax and return to “normal.”
- Regain weight plus 5%
Why? Lots of reasons, but the one I’m going after here is this: Because the changes introduced were not sustainable to start with.
What about finances? This one is a bit trickier because it is subject to such extremes of a different sort. Dave Ramsey talks about paying down debt with “gazelle intensity.” A gazelle sprints to flee danger; he can’t sprint all the time any more than you or I can. That’s all well and good. But when the sprint is over, what will you do? Spend like you did before and get yourself in the same financial trouble? Hopefully not. The idea here is to get a taste of freedom and find encumbering debt utterly distasteful. So sustainable change is in order going forward: increase your giving to your church or other nonprofits little by little; grow savings little by little; squirrel away money to invest little by little; stash some cash for an evening of frivolity at an nice restaurant little by little. See a pattern?
We could continue with how this principle applies to parenting, car maintenance, Bible reading plans, and more, but you get the idea.
But let’s be clear. Am I saying that aggressive approaches to weight loss or getting out of debt don’t have their places? Absolutely not. Just don’t expect for these to be lasting. We were aggressive in the elimination of our student loans, for instance, and – Lord willing – the only other kind of debt that we will ever carry are mortgages and leveraged investments. Also, sometimes an aggressive dietary approach is necessary in the sort of detox period of a new plan. That’s fine, as long as it’s a part of the plan and there are efforts to never go back to how things were before.
It’s been said countless times before: “Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Or, “Do like everyone else does and you’ll get what everyone else gets.” Long term, this is true, and it doesn’t matter if you have teeny windows of success and victories along the way.
But if you want long-term, lasting change for the good, that must involve sustainable change.
Stay tuned and in a follow-up to this post I will argue the following point: Sustainability requires moderation.
Have you read…?
- Why Is This So Hard?
- For this is the love of God…
- The Cold-blooded Killing of Sin
- My Workouts: Week of June 18. 8-minute hotel room workouts and a hike in the Rockies!
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