Meet Olivia.

Olivia used to look and feel great. Even though she never appreciated it at the time, she looks back at photos and would do anything to fit back in those jeans. She’s always had a love-hate relationship with the gym and her nutrition in her weight loss attempts.

She is either completely on the ball swinging kettlebells on the treadmill and surgically dissecting the skin off her chicken breast or she is slumped in front of the telly with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s. Everytime she tries to lose weight, she just can’t seem to get it right.

One minute she’s up the next minute she’s way down. Always on the lookout for the next piece of advice or trick that will provide an easy way to get what she wants. She’s tried clean eating, detox diets, juice diets, in fact, there are very few diets Olivia hasn’t tried.

She is running out of ideas and she feels like a failure, triggering a whole host of emotions hurt, anger, shame and eventually depression.

Like Olivia many of us have a fear of failure, we actively avoid mistakes and when they do happen we sweep them under the rug. This can make the latest fad seem very tempting. I mean she only has to invest a bit of money without actually doing anything for the safety of her iPad. It’s worth a try, right? Not unless you want to waste your money.

The reality is, magic pills do not and will not exist ever. Period.

an image illustrating what success really looks like.

The truth is failure is inevitable.

“You might never fail on the scale that I did. But some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you have failed by default.”

– J. K. Rowling, Author of Harry Potter.

The majority of us are trying to make changes to our health, body composition and performance, just like Olivia. Whether it’s to achieve a new deadlift personal best or fit into those old jeans (you know the ones we’re talking about).

When we want to change, many of us first respond by attempting more of the same (more money on fad diets, calorie restriction, more frequent weighing, more gadgets, more rules, and so on). If improvement results, it is usually costly and doesn’t last long. At worse it may be physically and psychologically damaging.

Not all change leads to improvement – and that’s ok.

Sometimes our results turn out opposite from what was predicted. Unfortunately many see this as a failure. The success of a weight loss attempt lives in what is learned from it no matter how it turns out. This learning increases the likelihood that the next effort will lead to a change that does achieve weight loss and is permanent.

Many people believe that a person is born smart, strong, average, dumb, weak and stays that way for life. This is an example of a fixed or locked mindset.

Image depicting a fixed mindset

But new research shows that the brain is more like a muscle it changes and gets stronger when you use it. And scientists have been able to show just how the brain grows and gets stronger when you learn. This applies to both physical and mental attributes.

The more that you challenge your mind to learn, the more your brain cells grow. Then, things that you once found very hard or even impossible like cooking, getting organised or squatting seem to become easy. The result is a stronger, smarter brain.

This growth mindset allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

Image depicting a growth mindset

Remember that you are human and failing is a part of life. If you can adopt more of a growth mindset to setbacks and challenges then research suggests that you dramatically increase your chances of success. For example, next time you hear yourself saying you can’t do something, simply add “yet” on the end.

So the big question is, how can you learn from your failures?

For any health improvement effort the central principles are:

  1. Knowing why you need to improve. Try asking why 5 times to get to your real reason.  
  2. Monitor what you want to see improved! e.g. diet tracking apps.
  3. Focus on one habit change at a time
  4. Test the habit to find out if the change is really a good idea or not before risking too much financial or emotional investment.

At Health by Science, we maximise the chances of success by using a science-based approach to find out “what actually works” for that individual, with their goals, in their situation. One thing that’s for sure though, is that they will fail numerous times en-route to mastering their own health. But we are there to help them to fall forward.