I walked into my local starbucks the other day to begin my daily writing sesh.
I’m a simple dude, a black americano with a sprinkle of cinnamon and I’m good. But, today I was in the mood for something new. So I stood at the counter, eyes browsing the menu board.
Have you ever done that ?
Actually stopped and read the starbucks menu board ; because if you have, you’ll have understood my dilemma.
‘What do I choose?’
There’s a myriad of coffee’s to choose from : Mochas, frappes, lattes. The list goes on.
5 minutes later, having made my choice, I turned and nodded at the barista ; signalling to him that I was ready to order :
‘Can I get the usual please ; Grande Americano [black, of course]’
What happened ? Was I not in the mood for something different?
Well, I was….until I fell victim to the paradox of choice.
The Paradox Of Choice
When was the last time you went grocery shopping ? I’m going to assume not too long ago. I’m also going to hazard a guess that you went into the store, equipped with your shopping list, yet you still ended up spending longer than you had planned on deciding on what to purchase.
Do I get the ‘lite’ version?
OH look, they have peanut butter flavoured coffee. That’s new….
But wait, they also have zero calorie hot chocolate now…
Will I be able to fit this new Ben & Jerry’s flavour into my macros?
Oh, these rice cakes are lower calorie than my regular ones….hmmmm…
And on it goes, as you weigh up what product is going to win the battle for a place in your shopping basket.
We’re fortunate enough to live in an abundant and affluent society ; we have access to anything and everything we want at the click of a button, but all this affluence is also our downfall.
This downfall is called ‘The Paradox Of Choice’. When we’re given too much choice, we end up not choosing for fear of making the wrong decision.
In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a study titled ‘When Choice Is Demotivating’, illustrating this paradox.
The study was based in an upscale food store where researchers set up tables with samples of high quality, exotic jams. Customers who sampled the jams were given a coupon for $1 off any jar of jam if they were to go ahead and make a purchase.
The researchers had 24 different varieties of jam on offer one day, and only six varieties the next.
Now the interesting part was that even though the larger display attracted more attention from customers, when it came time to make an actual purchase thirty percent of the people exposed to the smaller variety of jams actually brought a jar, whereas only 3 percent of the customers who were exposed to the larger variety of jams made a purchase.
The study demonstrated that excessive choice produced ‘decision paralysis’.
You’re now beginning to get an idea of my Starbucks dilemma. The amount of choice I had available sparked decision paralysis and instead of making a new decision, I decided to stick with my regular order.
The researchers also speculated on something else ; A large[r] amount of choice reduces the attractiveness of the choice we made.
Barry Schwartz, author of ‘The Paradox Of Choice’ explains that ‘a large array of options may diminish the attractiveness of what people actually choose, the reason being that thinking about the attractions of some of the unchosen options detracts from the pleasure derived from the chosen one.’
Say if I had foregone my usual Americano, and decided on the ‘skinny caramel latte’ ; the enjoyment would have been reduced [and short lived] because well, what if the ‘skinny chocolate mocha frappuccino’ tasted better ? Or what about the ‘honey and almond hot chocolate’ ?
The Paradox of Choice On Steroids
Nowhere is this paradox more prevalent than in the world of health and fitness.
Google the term ‘fat loss’ or ‘muscle gain’ and google will promptly return to you a fuck-ton of websites promising to hold the answer.
Amazon has over half a million books in it’s health, fitness and dieting section.
Then you have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, fitness blogs, Youtube. The fitness world is the paradox of choice jacked full of steroids [pun intended] :
‘Do high carb’
‘Are you crazy? We all know carbs make you fat, do low carb’
‘Don’t listen to them, you wanna try this fasting thing’
‘Muscle gain? C’mon bro, do THE DUP, everyone knows that’s the best’
‘Nah man, we all know it’s about 5/3/1’
This conflicting and overabundant information is what causes us to freak out. With all these choices available to us we’re afraid to make a choice in case it’s the wrong one, but that’s not all, we also have a tendency to look around and see what other people are doing. If someone is getting better results than you on another programme or diet, well, damn it, I want whatever they’re doing!
Sound familiar ?
You see the jacked dude or ‘toned’ fitness chick on instagram, flaunting their shredded midsections and you read how they used ‘X diet’ plan and training protocol to achieve their physique ; or you watch the ‘fitness guru’ on Oprah lamenting how a certain food gave her a debilitating disease and she healed herself using a secret dieting trick learned from a Tibetan Monk that involved using a supplement harvested from Tiger’s blood [don’t worry though, you too can learn all these secrets; by picking up her new book – postage and packaging is free, of course].
So you run out to try these diets, or purchase these supplements and download these programmes, in the hopes that they too will deliver to you these same results.
But this only makes things worse as dissatisfaction kicks in, Barry Schwartz explains :
‘Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from. And there are several reasons for this. One of them is that with a lot of different options to choose from, if you buy one, and it’s not perfect it’s easy to imagine you could have made a different choice that would have been better.
And what happens is this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made, and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction you get out of the decision you made, even if it was a good decision. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.’
Andy want’s to drop some fat and achieve that elusive six pack.
He does what any bright eyed and bushy tailed, aspiring student of the fat loss game would do at the start of his fitness journey – consult the interwebz. He spends his day trawling through websites, forums, facebook pages. Finally, after a hard day’s worth of interwebbing he downloads a programme, does the necessary calorie math and begins.
A week goes by ; no changes.
A week later, Andy is perusing Instagram, his mindless scrolling brought to an abrupt halt by the image of a guy flaunting his shredded midsection. This ‘fitness model’ claims to do Crossfit and advises eating the diet of our paleolithic ancestors.
Now Andy thinks maybe that’s what he need’s to do. Besides, he’s getting sick of tracking food intake, and not only does this guy look good, he’s also a sponsored athlete ; clearly he knows wassup.
So Andy joins his local Crossfit Box, and begins crossfitting the shit out of himself.
A few months pass and now Andy doesn’t feel too good, he’s constantly tired and sore, and he’s looking worse than what he did at the start.
One day, Andy runs into one of his friends from school who’s totally jacked now. He tells him he’s been doing this thing called ‘powerlifting’ while chugging a gallon of milk a day.
‘AHA! That’s what I need to do’ Andy exclaims excitedly, rushing home to download the new recommended programme.
A few months pass, then a year and Andy still hasn’t made any progress as he jumps from one program to another, one diet or nutrition approach to the shiny new one that just landed on the market.
And then there’s all these fancy terms that are being thrown around – ‘carb cycling’, ‘muscle protein synthesis’, regulating my auto, wut? I was told I need to do an accumulation phase ? Periodisation ?
WHAT. THE. FUCK.
By the end of it all, Andy is so exhausted, confused and frustrated that he gives up.
So what is going on? What causes this dissatisfaction with what we chose ?
=> The Escalation Of Expectation.
The escalation of expectation states that our rate of expectation goes up with every new addition of choice.
If you only had one option you wouldn’t have as much of an expectation because you have little, to nothing to compare your choice with [like say if your crush was the only woman on the planet]. But when you’re presented with a plethora of options ; now, ‘good’ is no longer good enough, and you’ll be damned if you don’t have perfect [now you have your crush, the hot chick from across the street, Mia Khalifa….wait…].
Let’s welcome back B-dawg to explain :
‘Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that’s going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they’re good results. Whenever you’re choosing one thing, you’re choosing not to do other things that may have lots of attractive features, and it’s going to make what you’re doing less attractive.’
When you decide to do a programme or follow a diet protocol your favorite fitness celebrity did or recommended, you automatically create a level of expectation of what you will achieve.
Now when you don’t see the exact same results [or any results], your results didn’t match upto the expectations you had at the start. So even though the programme you were on could very well have been the right programme [given enough time], the expectations of the programme didn’t match up to the [unrealistic] expectations you had, which leave you dissatisfied and searching for something else.
This is only exacerbated when you see someone else getting better results than you from another programme or diet.
Thus the vicious cycle [of ‘No Gainz’] begins :
Start > lack of results > not happy > new programme and diet > restart > not happy > new programme and diet
== > Repeat Ad Infinitum.
What To Do ?
With all these choices available to you, if you don’t focus you’re going to go from one programme to another, one diet protocol to the next, searching for that proverbial magic pill in a programme or diet, getting nowhere and making no progress before finally quitting.
Focussing on what you want will help you dial in on the select few actions you need to take to get to your goal, also helping you sift the crap from the things that actually matter.
Escaping The Paradox :
1. Establish Your Main Goal
The first problem is that you think you know what you want.
Do you, though?
I mean, really ?
You want big biceps, but then you also want to be 5% bodyfat shredded to the bone, you also want to deadlift 4x your bodyweight, and hey, olympic weightlifting seems pretty badass, I’m gon’ chuck that in too. Oh, I also want to run a marathon, cos’ fuck it, why not.
Slow down bucky, while having goals is great – having too many goals at once that are not congruent with what you really want is setting you up for a one way ticket to the barren lands of no gainz.
> Want abs? Fat loss should be your goal
> Want bigger biceps? Eat more food, and curl more.
> Want to run a marathon? Make that the focus of your training
Point : Establish your biggest goal first.
Working on one goal will help you clear away the clutter and focus on everything you need to do to get to it.
Which leads nicely on to point two….
2. Basics, Man
While every fitness guru is repackaging ideas that have been around for decades and simply giving it a cool sounding name, the truth is, under all the glitz and glamour and marketing hype, there lie the basics that work, have worked, and will continue to work for years to come.
Focussing on these basics will stop you from going off track and wandering down the rabbit hole of intermittent fuckery :
- Are you eating the right amount of calories to support your goals ? if you’re wanting to lose fat are you eating less, and if you’re wanting to build muscle are you eating more ?
- Are you getting enough sleep and giving yourself ample time to recover between workouts?
- Are you employing progressive overload in your training? consistently improving over time by increasing the weight or adding more reps.
- Are you using correct form ? I see so many guys using things like chains, and ‘fat gripz’, ‘bicep blaster belts’ and a host of other pieces of equipment before they can even squat their own bodyweight to depth. Learn how to perform the basic barbell movements first, they will give you the most bang for your buck and allow you to progress the most.
While there are numerous nuances and strategies that can be used within your training and nutrition, they won’t make an ounce of a difference if you don’t get the basics down first.
‘A few simple techniques well presented, an aim clearly seen, are better than a tangled maze of data whirling in disorganized educational chaos.
– Bruce Lee
3. Limit your options
This whole article has been about an excess of choice. So it’s only fitting for me to talk about limiting this excess.
I know flexibility is all the rave these days, but the truth is that you need to reduce variability and giving yourself too many options.
This comes down to mental reserves. You may start off extremely motivated but each new option/choice on the roster takes a chunk out of your motivation.
You go from : Hell yea! I got this!
To : Fuck. What do I choose?
Stick to the few basics [see point 2] and focus on those. The more options you expose yourself to the more your motivation begins to dwindle and eventually decision paralysis kicks in.
Having Microsystems in place and automating your life as much as possible so you don’t have to think too much during times when stress is high or willpower is low [like during a diet], the more you can reduce your chances of being overwhelmed with too much choice, the less chance of you screwing up.
Things like preparing your meals in advance for the week, having a select few meal choices and then rotating them day to day, having your gym bag ready the night before etc. all things that make it as easy as possible to do what needs to be done without thinking too much or weighing up different options.
5. Have Realistic Expectations
As mentioned earlier in the article, one of the reasons we are left dissatisfied with our choices [even if they were the right ones] is because we start with unrealistic expectations of what we can achieve.
Setting realistic expectations from the start will help you be more satisfied with the results you are getting
Don’t compare your chapter 1 with someone else’s chapter 10.
‘As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.”
– H. Emerson
There is always going to be some new training system that will come out, sooner or later. Dietary fat is having it’s 15 mins of fame currently, but will become the enemy once again and carbs will be our saving grace.
These ‘systems’ are always going to come and go, but the principles – the basics that these systems are built on are always going to remain the same.
Want to lose fat ? eat less
Want to build muscle ? eat more, and progress over time
Learning the principles and keeping things simple will set you up for success.