A friend asked me Wednesday night what was special or different about me that I was able to succeed at something that has such a low success rate – namely, why was I able to maintain a large weight loss when so many others can’t?
I gave a fairly flip answer at the time – I have more self-discipline than the average bear – but the question has lingered and I think it deserves a longer answer, so indulge me for a minute as I try to pin this down.
Now, obviously, if we could figure out what’s different about my personality and bottle it, I’d be a millionaire without delay. So whatever that X-Factor is remains a little murky and mysterious, and possibly something that can’t be taught. But I’ll give it a shot.
First things first, when I said I had a lot of self discipline, what I mean by that is that I am completely on board with the concept of delayed gratification. I have absolutely no problem whatsoever delaying a small pleasure now to indulge in a larger one later. I don’t know if that’s something that is intrinsic or learned. What I do know is that had I been one of the subjects of the Marshmallow Test, I not only would have earned my second marshmallow, I probably would have volunteered to wait an hour in exchange for the whole dang bag.
Delayed gratification is probably the biggest part of the puzzle. It’s also something that you pretty much don’t need to embrace whatsoever in our modern culture. Think about how often you actually, truly have to wait and work for something in your normal daily life. Our society has made it almost completely unnecessary if you just can’t bear it. I blame it on easy credit. Back before easy credit, if you wanted something big like a car or a house, you had to wait and save and earn enough money for at least a down payment. Now you can buy a house without even 5% down if you look hard enough (or have a broker look for you – look, another thing you didn’t have to expend any effort to do).
Further, if you need some money you don’t have to wait for your paycheck or (heavens!) swallow your pride and ask to borrow from a family member or friend, you can just whip out your credit card. Don’t feel like cooking tonight? We’re going out – let somebody else do it! Don’t feel like going to the grocery store? They’ll deliver! Need some new clothes? Online shopping with overnight shipping! What I’m saying is that modern society and the internet have engineered things so that you don’t really have to work or wait for anything anymore, so it’s a skill that has quietly atrophied for a lot of people.
How do you learn delayed gratification? In my case the only thing I can pin it on is learning music as a child. Musical training is the ultimate delayed gratification – you practice and practice and practice for YEARS before you have anything worthwhile to show for it whatsoever. I was made to practice whether I felt like it or not. But, I think that anything you are made to do regularly as a child may be helpful in instilling an ability to tolerate delayed gratification, but I’m not sure. (There’s so much I’m not sure of).
Another quality that I think is a big part of my success is that I am very particular. Taken to an extreme some might say that I have compulsive tendencies. I actually think that one of the better upshots of the 18-month maintenance program that I underwent at the end of my HMR weight loss phase was that the behavior modification aspect of the program successfully installed in me the right triggers to direct my compulsions towards my health. That was only possible because I wanted those compulsions to be there. I actively engaged with the program as presented to me, and followed it to a letter, because I desperately wanted to adopt the behaviors and skills laid before me. It was important enough to me that I worked with the staff to rewire my brain and use the existing hooks already there (compulsive tendencies) to work for me rather than against me.
Which brings me to my final personality quirk: I have an overdeveloped sense of respect for and trust of authority. I’m a rule-follower and I always have been (to the eternal frustration of my husband, who is a bit of a scofflaw). Because when I went to the program I had already tried everything else out there, I walked in with the absolute conviction that I was incapable of managing my weight on my own. Since they were The Authorities on the subject, I was willing to give my will over to the program and exactly follow the rules because I trusted their authority. Time and time again I’ve seen people fail because they try to customize the program (whatever that program is). That’s not how it works. Why would you pay so much money for something that works and then change it to suit yourself when the reason you’re there is because you have a failing record at this? What makes you think you know better? If you did, you wouldn’t be there in the first place.
And I think that’s it. That’s why I’m a perfect storm of personal qualities for succeeding at weight loss and weight management. And now for the bad news: I don’t know if these are things that can be learned. So where does that leave us? I know there are other people with completely different personalities who have succeeded. I’d love to hear from you about what you think made the difference for you!