Post VI: Push vs. Pullpush_pull

In order for change to occur, two forces are necessary: a push and a pull. While this is probably true for fitness (flexion and extension) I am talking about change in a broader sense. Ryan Maier recently wrote an excellent post on How To Change Your Life, and while I recommend reading that piece, my experience in the nutrition challenge has given me my own perspective on the matter.

When most people want to achieve change, they set a goal. A goal is a pull factor. It is a target in the distance or in the future. If you’ve ever gone for a run, you’ve probably looked ahead and seen a tree or a light post, and told yourself, I am not going to stop running until I pass that landmark. Or maybe you’ve gone on a diet and identified a target weight that you want to hit. On New Years day the gym is packed because everyone has set these goals. By February 1st, 90% of us have stopped pursuing our goals, and the gyms are no longer bursting at the seams; however, the same cannot be said for those who gave up on their resolutions.

Goals are good, but they are a dime-a-dozen. People set goals, fail to achieve them, and then set new goals. This process repeats, ad infinitum. The reason for this is because while our goals may appear to be directly ahead, it is never a straight path to achieve them.

You need something more.  Motivation. It is the push to your goal’s pull.

The nutrition challenge has convinced me that this push factor is actually the more important force in making lasting changes. More than simply your inner drive to accomplish a goal, motivation is an external force that impels you towards that outcome. Motivation is not the tree a hundred yards ahead, it is the other runner, nipping at your heels. It is not the Pinterest post you read last week, but your friend cheering you on to complete that last rep.

In a typical diet, this push, the external motivator, is almost always missing. We believe that a goal is enough – the number on the scale or a pair of pants you want to fit into should pulls us to  where we want to go – but it is not. The only motivation in most diets is your own self control. And let’s face it, if you had enough self control, you probably wouldn’t need the diet in the first place.

By changing a diet into a challenge, however, the goal is reinforced by real, external, motivation. A challenge achieves a better balance between the push/pull factors by giving each participant something to aim for, and by creating a race to the finish line, where each of us are competing against one another.

Regardless of whether you think the push or pull is more important, for sustainable results, I believe both are necessary. The absence of both a push and a pull not only affects my diet, but my exercise as well. This realization has led me to  change the way I approach both of these items, and I intend to maintain this new perspective long after the 8-week nutrition challenge ends. Interestingly, while my dieting has typically lacked the necessary motivation, my fitness has lacked a goal. I had a push and a pull, just not for the same activity, and because I am dense, I never connected the two.

So here is the change that I am going to make, and it is really just a shift in my perception. Rather than being a dieter who works out, or doing exercise to lose weight, I am going to strive to be an athlete. Food becomes fuel. Exercise becomes a series of never ending training sessions. The push is the drive to compete. The pull is my desire to be a healthy, fit and active dad, husband and individual.

By happenstance, I have actually been a competitive athlete for some time, I just didn’t realize it; not necessarily competing in sanctioned events, but competing in other ways. Competing with a group of friends that I work out with several mornings a week. Competing with other athletes across the country who perform the same workouts as I do. And most importantly, competing with numbers that I write down in a journal. Numbers that tell me how I did in the past.

As a competitor, my goal is to win. My motivation is sometimes the guy standing next to me, and other times it is simply the drive to do better than I did last time. The pull is a personal best. The push is a ghost from my past, chasing me every day.

In an earlier post , I detailed the numbers that I wrote down at the start of this nutrition challenge. One of those numbers was from a scale, but that was the least important. The other numbers were performance based. In four more weeks, I am going to compete with those numbers, head-to-head. I work my ass off every day to make sure I can beat them. When I do, I will have another set of numbers, not to pursue, not as a goal, but as a motivator, to beat again and again and again.



About The Author

Steven Schoenberger

Steven is a former estate planning and trust attorney turned life insurance and wealth management professional with Tamar Fink, in Minneapolis, MN. He is a husband and father of four. Steven is a CrossFitter and former swimmer.