When I was in college ten years ago, “follow your bliss” was a popular rally call of many professors and commencement speakers as we all prepared to enter the real world. It was one of those pithy bumper sticker phrases that felt profound and insightful, especially to young idealistic college kids wet behind the ears. Penned by renowned author Joseph Campbell, it was essentially a call to follow one’s passion.
What you may not know is that later in life, Campbell regretted the popularity of this quote, eventually saying, “I should of said, follow your blisters.” Campbell’s original intent was hijacked. He was implying that you should follow what makes you come alive, but what was heard is, do whatever makes you feel good.
People have a tendency to avoid hard things. We’re inclined to want to do what gives us pleasure and keeps us well within the confines of our comfort zones. Such is the case with fitness. We are usually up to do anything for two- to six-weeks: a new diet, a cleanse, some new workout program. This is about how long a spurt of motivation tends to last.
This is the “bliss” zone. Because here you’re excited, you and everyone around you is motivated, and the approach you’re trying feels new. The scale moves quickly, pounds are coming off. Here, everything still feels good.
Just beyond that, however, is where Campbell might say, the blisters lie. Because the further away you get from the shiny luster of a new diet/workout plan, the closer you come the edge of who you are now, and who you might be. The Discomfort Zone.
It’s here where you are faced with the fading sparkle of your new diet that now just feels boring and monotonous. The workouts are hard and the scale hasn’t moved in two weeks. You’re starting to doubt if this is the magic solution you thought it was.
It’s here where you’re forced to give up instant gratification and have to make actual sacrifices, where patience, resolve and determination are truly a virtue. This is also where most people turn back, give up, or sabotage themselves. Your self-image is like gravity and it will pull you back, with surprising force, to wherever it is it thinks you belong.
This is why many people gain and lose the same twenty pounds over and over again. You’ll notice it whenever you achieve any success with your body, suddenly there’s a little voice telling you, “Go ahead eat the cupcake. You’ve worked so hard. Relax.” It’s also why many eat worse on a diet than when they’re not. It’s like they’ve upset their inner Mr. Hyde and can’t control themselves.
It reminds me of a quote Jim Rohn used to say that I use to scratch my head at, “Success is not something you get, it’s something you attract by the person you become.”
It sounds like New Age foo foo until you watch yourself or others on the cusp of success, only to completely sabotage and throw it away. This is because an inner transformation is absolutely unavoidable if you want to get in shape; and it is the scariest, most avoided aspect of getting fit.
There is a very interesting trajectory I’ve seen many of the most dramatic fitness transformations follow. Person gains weight. Ignores it. Then gains some more. Still, ignores it. Years, perhaps decades go by. It isn’t until one day when an “inciting incident” forces them to act.
A sobering doctors appointment with a scary prognosis.
Seeing a do-I-really-look-like-that?! picture of oneself.
An offhand a-little-too-honest comment from a relative.
Then they snap. Suddenly they seethe with determination. They don’t avoid the hard things anymore. In fact, they hunt them down. I can always see when this has happened and I know that for this person, nothing will stop them.
Because for them, in the moment of the inciting incident, the why became clear and powerful. When the why becomes strong enough, so will you.
We tend to stay in our comfort zones until something lights a fire in us and torches the limiting self-image and habits that keeps us stuck.
So, if you’re on a yo-yo dieting hamster wheel, first ask yourself why you want to leave the place you’re in, then follow the blisters.