How to do anything
(even the hard stuff).
Can’t get in shape? You’re not a failure. You probably just missed a step.
Skipped your run? Ate too much again? Don’t freak out. You can get unstuck with the right roadmap. Here’s how to do anything, even the hard stuff.
Get in your car. Turn on the ignition. Pull out onto the road. Get some speed. Merge left.
You just sideswiped someone.
Are you a bad driver? (Maybe. Most people wrongly think they are “better than average,” but more on that in a sec.)
More likely, you missed a step in the sequence: You didn’t check your mirrors and blindspot before changing lanes.
You didn’t do the thing before the thing.
Things before things
Think of all the things you’ve tried to do, but haven’t been able to.
For Precision Nutrition clients, those things often include losing weight or getting in shape.
People try with the best of intentions, and then something inevitably happens.
They “find themselves” stuck. Frustrated. Overeating something they vowed they wouldn’t. Skipping a workout they promised they’d do.
Once again, very likely, they missed a step in the sequence.
They didn’t do the thing before the thing.
There are more steps than you expect
Let’s go back to driving.
Think about the first time you got into a car and tried to drive. It was probably pretty overwhelming (unless you were one of those kids who grew up on a farm and was driving a tractor by age six).
So many things to remember!
Adjust the seat, adjust the mirrors, put on your seatbelt, hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, make sure you know where the speedometer is (and to check it), fiddle with the A/C and radio controls, find the turn signal and windshield wiper levers, figure out how to turn the headlights on… and let’s not even think about cruise control, clutch and gearshift!
Now, if you drive as an adult, you don’t think about all that stuff.
You just… drive.
In fact, driving might be so seamless that you do it while having a conversation, talking on the phone, playing with the radio, or — heaven forbid — texting. (Please don’t do that last one.)
You arrive somewhere and are kind of surprised, because you were zoned out most of the way. You rarely drive completely consciously anymore.
And yet — think of all the steps involved.
Could you explain them all to a computer or an alien? You’d probably have to go through about 25 steps before you even got out of the driveway.
There are almost always more steps than you expect.
Also, the order of the things matters a lot
Not only are there more steps than you expect — but steps usually have to go in a particular order, too.
For instance, you can’t start driving before you turn on the car or put it in gear.
Same with getting healthy, improving your diet, or getting in shape. It’s literally true that you can’t run before you can walk.
- If you don’t know how to grocery shop effectively… you probably won’t stock your kitchen with healthy ingredients.
- If you don’t know how to plan your time… you’ll probably be “too busy” to work out regularly or “too rushed” to maintain a healthy diet.
- If you don’t know how to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and motivations… you’ll probably find yourself repeating “bad habits,” not knowing how you ended up with your hand in the Doritos bag again.
On the other hand:
- If you can cook… then you can take a meal template, get creative, and make delicious, nourishing meals that help you stay healthy.
- If you can eat slowly… then you can digest your food properly, feel truly satisfied, and avoid overeating.
- If you can do a proper squat safely… then you can add some weight to the bar without hurting yourself and get fitter with each workout.
If you can do things in the right order, without skipping any steps, you can succeed.
All you have to do is figure out the order of the things, then do them.
You’re not as skilled as you think (sorry)
Here’s one more tricky bit about doing things:
We think we’re better at things than we actually are.
For example, most people think they are “better than average” drivers.
In one classic study, 93 percent of Americans ranked their own driving skills above the median — i.e. in the top half of drivers.
Must be the seven percent who are causing all those fender-benders, huh? The rest of us are obviously crushing the Dakar Rally and Formula One circuit.
Logically, we can’t all be “better.”
This is known as illusory superiority, the mistaken belief that we’re better than most people — at anything: driving, telling jokes, having smart political opinions, being a friend…
We don’t know when or how we’re wrong
Here’s the catch-22:
- Most of us don’t have the skills to accurately judge our own skill level.
- But precisely because we don’t have those skills, we assume — in fact, we’re absolutely certain — that we are judging correctly.
We don’t know that we are wrong because we don’t have enough expertise to know that we are wrong.
Of course, then it’s impossible to know precisely how we are wrong.
Even if we’re aware we want to fix ourselves, we often can’t, because we’d have no idea where to start.
Think of the “weekend handyperson” who decides that plumbing is “easy” and ends up with an exploding toilet. That repair job sure does seem easy… to the person who’s not an expert plumber.
So we’re wrong about ourselves and we don’t even know it. Which makes us do more wrong things!
But believe it or not, that’s also kinda good news.
- If you’re struggling to do a thing, you may just not be very good at it.That’s better than being stupid, or lazy, or a bad person, or a “failure”, or “unmotivated.” Because…
- If you’re not very good at something, there’s probably a way to get better at it. All skills can be learned. And…
- Generally, skills that must be learned probably have a whole community of teachers who can help you learn them. They’re the ones who can accurately guide you and assess you.
In other words, you can almost certainly do this thing you want to do.
All you need is coaching and practice.
Information is not skill
Now, you may be reading this thinking, “Yes, but I know what to eat!” or “Yes, but I’ve been working out for years!”
So, you may have some information. You may even have some experience.
But that’s different from having the skills.
Like, you could watch car racing on TV all day long. You could listen to Car Talk or even know how to fix cars yourself. You could be able to recite most of the traffic laws in your town.
That doesn’t mean you know how to drive, or drive well.
If you haven’t been trained as a driver; if you haven’t practiced and refined and continuously reassessed your driving skills under the direction of an expert coach, you are almost certainly not a great driver.
Same with eating well and exercising.
You may read fitness and nutrition blogs. You may follow sports or watch cooking shows. You may hang out in organic grocery stores or farmers’ markets. You may own a juicer or a treadmill.
But knowing what to buy and knowing how to cook it is not the same as having the skills required to pull all of that off, week after week and month after month, in the context of your hectic modern life.
Just as you’ve needed guidance and practice to develop your skill at singing or software development or teaching elementary students or regulating your emotions or getting your kids out the door in the morning… you need coaching to learn how to eat well and stay healthy.
If you can’t do the things
Well, you actually can.
You can fix whatever is currently annoying you — your eating habits, being out of shape, a nagging sports injury, those damn pants that won’t zip up…
The only reason you haven’t been able to so far and “keep ending up back here” is that:
- You’ve probably missed at least one step, trying to do Thing 2 before Thing 1 (or Thing 17 before Thing 1). And/or…
- You may not yet have the skills to do the things that come before the thing you want to do. You may need to practice getting better at doing Thing 1 first. You may need to get some coaching or instruction.
So it’s just a matter of process and skill acquisition — not a personal failure.
A couple suggestions:
Engineer in reverse
To map out how to do a thing you want to accomplish, first think of the outcome you want, then work backwards.
See if you can imagine all the steps — each teeny, tiny individual step — you’d have to take to create that outcome.
Draw yourself a thing-by-thing map, or try filling in the blanks several times:
“In order to ____, I have to ____.”
Outcome I want: Get to the gym three days per week.
- In order to get to the gym three days per week, I have to stick to a regular routine.
- In order to stick to a regular routine, I have to build that routine and put it on my calendar.
- In order to build that routine and put it on my calendar, I have to figure out how much time I’ll need for each gym trip.
- In order to figure out how much time I’ll need, I have to add up how long it takes me to pack my gym clothes, get to the gym, work out, and get back home.
- In order to put the gym on my calendar, I have to find three slots per week that offer the amount of time I just calculated.
And so on.
You’ll notice that there are a lot of things that have to happen here — things you probably never thought of at first.
Keep it simple; don’t get overwhelmed or try to attack this all at once.
All you have to do is tackle ONE small thing at a time, ideally the earliest, most fundamental step.
For instance, if your goal is getting to the gym, try just getting into the habit of using a calendar to plan your time this week.
During this initial skill-building period, you might not even make it to the gym. That doesn’t matter; you’re working on the calendar thing right now.
Next week, you’ll be able to do the next thing.
Here’s a little diagram we use from our Precision Nutrition Coaching program. It shows how what clients do today will eventually add up to the goal they set for themselves.
Get a good coach
The quickest way to accurately assess your skill and performance — and to do things better — is to get help from an expert coach.
Remember how important it is to check your mirrors and blind spots? Yeah, coaches help with that. None of us are born experts at anything.
Coaches are sort of like your instrument panel and visibility. They provide useful information to guide you in the right direction and provide ongoing feedback on how you’re doing.
Just like a speedometer or a fuel gauge, they don’t judge you; they help you make informed decisions about what to do next.
What to do next
If you’d like to get better at a thing, don’t try to tackle all the things within that thing at once.
Start small. Here’s how.
- Be coachable. Accept feedback. Have “beginner’s mind.” Be open to the idea that your perceptions may be inaccurate.
- Let yourself be “imperfect.” It’s completely OK to suck at things. If you want to get better at things, you can. It just takes learning, guidance, and practice. No biggie.
- Review and plan out ALL the steps involved in what you’re trying to do.Then subdivide those steps… because you’ve probably missed several that you weren’t even conscious of.
- Keep working backwards and looking for links in the chain. Every time you get stuck, do a “reverse-engineering analysis.” What needed to happen before the thing you were trying to do?
- Work on ONE thing at a time. Don’t try to do all the things. Just do ONE thing-before-thing at a time.
- Measure and assess. You may think you can or can’t do a thing… but how do you know? Figure out how to objectively measure what you’re doing: Use timers, measuring tapes, photos, or other ways of tracking and documenting facts and data.
- Get feedback, instruction, and coaching. Look around. Who can help you get better at the things? (Hint, hint: We’re pretty good at that.)
Take the first step. Then let us take over.
For most people, getting started is the hardest thing. Figuring out what to do first. Overcoming inertia. Taking that first step into the unknown.
At Project Body Smart, we know that all too well. In fact, through our work with clients, we’ve helped people move from “all or nothing” to“always something.”
But the first step always begins with you. If you’re ready to look, feel, and live better, we’re here to help.