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How to Avoid the Valley of Disappointment

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My new diet isn’t working. This CrossFit programming is garbage. I was seeing results but now I feel like I’ve plateaued.

How often do we start a new habit or program only to give up after we don’t see the results we expect?

Part of this involves setting reasonable expectations, but even with that, it’s very common to reach a point where the effort you are putting in is no longer matching up with the results.

Seeing results in the beginning is a challenge in itself.

As we start an endeavour, it takes energy up front to get us moving. This energy usually feels like more than it actually is because it’s new to us. As it becomes a part of our habits, that energy expenditure feels like it’s a lot less, even though it may be the same things we’ve always done. It’s still getting up at 5am and hitting the gym, or meal prepping for an hour twice each week. The only thing that changed was your familiarity to it.

I like Darren Hardy’s analogy from his book, “The Compound Effect.” He writes, “The space shuttle uses more fuel during the first few minutes of its flight than it does the rest of the entire trip. Why? Because it has to break free from the pull of gravity. Once it does, it can glide in orbit. The hard part? Getting off the ground. Your old ways and your old conditioning are just like the inertia of the merry-go-round or the pull of gravity.”

If we only had to beat gravity once to start new habits, we’d all have the bodies we want and the bank accounts to match. Instead, we have to repeatedly beat the pull of old ways and maintain our flow in orbit.

Since floating gracefully through space is not what happens in real life, Hardy uses a better analogy to describe the power of keeping momentum and not letting yourself stop and restart all the time.

He says to think about a flight from New York to Los Angeles (this guy really likes air transportation apparently). This long distance flight is a metaphor for your new journey. If you take “breaks” or “pit-stops”, you have to sit at the runway and gather all this energy, use up all this fuel, just to take off again.

So what feels like one slip-up or cheat, is actually sending you backwards because of all the energy you have to amass to restart again.

Ok, so we’re flying again.

We’re staying in the air, feeling good. But it seems like this flight is taking longer than we orginally expected. The pilot promised us a six and a half hour flight while we could comfortably fall in and out of sleep watching “The Notebook”.

We are six hours into our flight when the pilot gets on the intercom and says we actually have another seven hours to go! How disappointing!

This is the “valley of disappointment” James Clear talks about in “Atomic Habits”. It’s this point in our journey where we feel like positive results are few and far between. We get down on ourselves because we can’t see the value of our effort in this moment. It’s easy to think, “what’s the use? Why bother?”

(Atomic Habits is our current book club book, meeting February 21st 7pm)

As I’ve chatted with our athletes who are 3 weeks into a 6 week nutrition challenge, some wanted to do a mid-challenge weigh-in to see if what they’re doing is working.

I respectfully denied their request because that is the same thinking that gets us into our disappointment valley and makes us want to jump from that delayed plane.

We think results must be linear and equal to the effort we put in. That if we have lost 10 pounds in 3 weeks, we will certainly lose 20 pounds by challenge end. And if we lost 1 pound, there’s no point in moving forward.

This could not be further from reality.

I always loved watching “The Biggest Loser” when it was on tv for it’s inspirational stories. It always surprised me how shocked everyone was when they felt like their weight loss was the least on the weeks when they worked the hardest. The host, the coaches, the participants were always shocked. Every. Single. Week.

Understanding the peaks and valleys that you and your body are going to go through during this journey is so important. Don’t be bamboozled by messages of overnight success and beach ready abs for a few easy payments of $19.95.

The truth is, you don’t know when your greatness will show. You don’t know when your weight loss will hit an easy cascade. We often have to wait longer than we thought, but we always know it was worth the wait.

James Clear relays this message so well in his book. “In reality, the results of our efforts are often delayed. It is not until months or years later that we realize the true value of the previous work we have done. This can result in a “valley of disappointment” where people feel discouraged after putting in weeks or months of hard work without experiencing any results. However, this work was not wasted. It was simply being stored. It is not until much later that the full value of previous efforts is revealed. All big things come from small beginnings.”

He talks about the small beginnings of the bamboo tree. Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years as it builds extensive root systems underground. Then in just six weeks it can explode ninety feet into the sky.

Be like bamboo.

Keep Living Superhuman,

Roadsign at Disappointment Valley, Colorado depicting sorrow and disappointment in life