The Secret

Note from Sarah: Please enjoy the latest post by Jason Seib and be sure to check out his soon to be released AMAZING book – The Paleo Coach, now available for pre-order here on Amazon!

In my line of work – as a gym owner – I have been asked at  least a thousand times for the “secret” to creating a great body.  In truth, there is not necessarily a “secret” formula; but after reading this post, we might all agree that we are coming closer to figuring out the answer.

If you follow my posts and/or listen to our podcast, you know that a common theme in my work is that sustainable fat loss happens only through improvements in health, and that purely aesthetic goals can make success very difficult.  Today I would like to give you a little more insight into the minds of the people who make full body overhauls look easy.  Once again it’s all about perspective.  These people aren’t genetically superior to the rest of us.  They simply have more powerful motivators than most.  Their goals are supercharged by passion instead of inhibited by desperation or halted by self destructive behavior.  These things are choices, not character traits, and there is no reason why anyone should be exempt from changing their perspective to something more healthy and productive.  Allow me to explain.

Think of everyone you have ever met, seen, or heard of who was a fit and healthy example of paleo lifestyle success.  They may come from different walks of life, they may range from young to old, and they may have various levels of physical capacity depending on their goals, but they all have one thing in common – they look and feel great.  Most are generally happy people, too.  But there is one more thing they all have in common that is absolutely essential – they all love the process.  They enjoy eating paleo foods, they enjoy exercising in a way their bodies understand, and the way they live their lives clearly demonstrates their respect for their bodies.  Eating right and exercising are not things they do as chores.  These people revel in every step of the journey.  Healthy food is a gift and exercise is therapy.

Let’s compare this mindset to that of the other extreme – people with purely aesthetic goals and no consideration at all for anything but escaping a body they hate (please understand that there is plenty of gray area between these two examples and I am not claiming that everyone falls in only two categories).  These people just want to change the way they look because they are convinced that a change in appearance will come with more approval from others and less self loathing.  Eating healthy paleo food is something that is done in order to “earn” cheats (also called moral licensing) because it is not enjoyable to them.  Negative emotions are often answered with highly palatable junk food as they eat to try to feel better.  Exercise is forced, often skipped whenever they have a bad day, and they regularly cut workouts short or struggle with adequate intensity as they go through the motions.  These people also change their plan a lot, usually after far too little time has passed to elicit any real change, because their desperation to escape the body they so despise makes them impatient.  After all, if you hate every step of the journey, there will be no celebrating with each little success and it will be difficult to stay the course.  “I feel great and my psoriasis cleared up, but I don’t care because my butt is still too big!”  Nothing short of major change is considered a win.  Unfortunately, you can’t fix a body you hate, so success is temporary and goes largely unnoticed.

When you look at those two examples, it should be crystal clear that one of these perspectives is miserable.  But here’s the rub: all of these people are doing, or at least attempting to do, the same things.  The only glaring difference is why.  I know this sounds like a load of “it’s all in your mind” self-help guru bull doodie to some of you, but there is real, measurable psychology behind it.  A paper titled Motivational Predictors of Weight Loss and Weight-Loss Maintenance (full text here) explores this subject in more detail.  Researchers speculated:

“…successful weight loss and long term maintenance would not result from dieting if the reasons for dieting were controlling (e.g., because your spouse insisted, or because you would feel guilty if you didn’t)… Instead, successful, maintained weight reduction is theorized to result from people’s dieting because they personally value weight loss and its health benefits.”

And that is exactly what they found.

“In conclusion, the results indicate that patients’ autonomous motivation to participate in a weight-loss program is positively related to their staying in the program, losing weight during the program and, perhaps most important, maintaining their lowered weights.”

In other words, those who do it because they love it tend to find success.

All of this stuff boils down to something called Self Determination Theory (SDT).  When I first began learning about SDT, I felt like all the patterns I had seen in my clients over the years had suddenly been scientifically categorized.  Over the last couple of months I have had the pleasure of learning from the amazing positive psychologist Robert Biswas-Diener (check him out on Amazon here, and on his site here).  He has helped me find a deeper understanding of a great many aspects of the fitness and nutrition game, especially motivation and change.  The intrinsic vs. extrinsic concepts explained by SDT are at the heart of my epiphanies.  According to SDT, there are 5 basic categories of motivation.  Here they are in order from most inhibiting to most beneficial for fitness/health/fat loss goals (or virtually any goal, I imagine):

Amotivation – Not motivated.  Not trying to get fit and helathy.

Extrinsic Motivation – A completely external source of motivation drives you.  For example, your significant other tells you he/she will leave you if you don’t lose weight.  Your goal is not at all autonomous and you would not even have this goal if it were up to you.  This is largely a prescription for failure when it comes to fitness and health goals.

Introjected Motivation – This is where nearly everyone with purely aesthetic goals falls.  This type of motivation is the self imposed misery we find in those who believe they need to change the way they look in order to improve their lives somehow.  Robert described it best when he said, “It’s like that little devil on your shoulder telling you what to do.”  In this case, your devil is telling you you are ugly and fat and people don’t like you.  You don’t have anything tangible to base any of this on, nobody is actually telling you any of these things, but you have convinced yourself that changing the way you look is the only thing that will finally make you happy.  Therefore, you have no love for the process.   The only reason you take action at all is because you are desperate to escape an imaginary external pressure.  Unfortunately, this is where the majority reside (in my experience), and this is why major change remains so elusive to so many people.

Identified Motivation – This is the type of motivation you have for brushing your teeth or changing your baby’s diaper.  You don’t really love doing these things, but you would never not do them.  Your reasons are internal, you act because you personally value the result, and you accomplish what you set out to do.  This type of motivation can absolutely get you fit and healthy, but you probably won’t be cheering with every step.

Intrinsic Motivation – The ideal situation.  Intrinsic motivation is why we have hobbies.  For example, you have probably never assembled a puzzle because your were forced to do it or because you thought it might improve your social status.  If you are intrinsically motivated, you can be described by our example above.  You are the person who loves health and fitness for completely internal reasons.  You would do all of this stuff alone on a desert island because no shred of your motivation is based on what anyone else thinks or any other external factor.  I have never seen intrinsically motivated clients find anything but easy, unobstructed paths to their goals.  And make no mistake, these people end up with bodies that look great, too.

I believe I can safely call intrinsic motivation the secret to successfully changing your lifestyle with ease, but identified motivation can get you there, too.  I offer multiple detailed examples in The Paleo Coach, but while you wait for March 5, you can revisit the examples I have already given you on this blog (here, here, here, and here).

Are you tired of struggling?  Maybe it’s time to look at the big picture.  Maybe the problem is not that you haven’t tweaked the knobs and dials just right to finally get the results you want – maybe the problem is in your perspective.  Why do you want this?  That question deserves a detailed, heartfelt answer – one that isn’t grounded in desperation and self abuse.  You owe it to yourself to try to internalize your motivation.  If you are solely driven by your unsubstantiated (or even substantiated) perception of how the world is judging you, you will probably always struggle.  But if you come to the realization that you are valuable, you will see that your health, your vitality, your mood, your ability to participate in life, and your longevity are all much bigger reasons for change than the size of your jeans.  That realization will set you free.

Go forth and be awesome.


  1. Steph says

    While I completely agree with your perspective, turning off a switch and turning on another can take years. I have struggled with compulsive eating my whole life. Food was always the one thing that was consistently there for me when the things that were supposed to be there for me weren’t. Your post makes it sound a little too easy if there are deep psychological issues underlying why one can not find the intrinsic motivation. This is a good starting point but the detailed, heartfelt answer can take years to develop. I’ve come a long way in trying to develop my answer, and often had to take a break from trying to find the answer because it was too much to face at times. I refuse to believe that my compulsive eating is simply answered by an attitude adjustment… Because the eating is not the problem- unfortunately, the eating is only a symptom…

    • Jason says

      I agree, and I certainly never meant to insinuate that any of this would be easy for everyone. My only point is that if your perspective is wrong, it might not make much sense to focus on the next plan for getting to someplace you probably can’t reach. Like you said, the eating is a symptom. If eating were the problem, anyone could simply change their habits and get amazing results. Some do, but those tend to be those with intrinsic motivations. Other go in circles because they can’t really have what they want, at least not until they change their reason for wanting it.

      • says

        I’ve just found this article and I love it :) And I don’t think the article meant to say changing your motivation was easy, because anything mind related is never easy. I think it was more about first taking a look at yourself and why you want to do it (eat healthy and exercise). And when you know that your motivation is introjected type, you can change other parts of your life (or try to change them) in order to finally feel worthy and valued and simply “enough” so you could enjoy what you do and do what is best for you and your health, not just appearance.

  2. Diane M says

    Goodness, Jason, you get better and better at your messaging all the time. For the first time, I can’t wait for Paleo Coach to come out. I don’t suppose you have any ideas on how one could move across the motivational spectrum?

    • mali says

      I just found mine in the post on how to motivate myself. I did some self help work and I am came to the conclusion that I see myself as someone who is worthless, a zero even though on the outside I appear as a strong and powerful person. It was a hard and painful conclusion to come to but when Jason wrote the last paragraph were he said ” but if you realized that you are valuable and you deserve good health……. it hit home so powerfully… I will use that sentence each and every time I get that stupid feeling of I am worthless. For me it is such a motivation and inspiration. Hope it helped. And Jason- thanks a bunch!!

  3. Mayanne says

    Thank you for your deep and mindfull post. We saw so many girls struggling… Here is some great help.
    Can’t wait to have your book in my hands!

  4. NJ Paleo says

    Jason, this is such a well-written post with great content! It’s so true — we tend to repeat doing the things that we love most. I see this at the gym all the time as people come and go. Those of us who are there consistently are all people who love what we’re doing. The people who come and go are generally the ones who are worried about their butt, thighs, etc.

  5. Amy says

    What a great post! The puzzle comparison really struck a cord with me and it’s something I think I’m going mull over for a while.

  6. says

    Love the psychological angle. I’ve been listening to the podcasts too. I love that Paleo is a lifestyle and philosophy, it makes me feel positive just telling people about what I’m doing now. I’ve still got heaps to learn, but I’m excited about that.

  7. says

    I really enjoyed the post. I can really resonate with finding your “why”. It’s the difference between success and failure. When your “why” has true meaning, success and transformation will follow. Keep up the great work.

  8. Shannon says

    Hi there. I really liked this article. I just bought your book and finished it in a couple days. I like the statement you made about BMI. It had helped me get out of the self loathing stage. I am losing weight and inches for my health. I would be a list if I said I didn’t have a second goal in mind Erich is to look fantastic, but that it’s my SECOND goal. My health comes first. How I will look when I have achieved optimal health is going to be my bonus. Thanks again for all the posts and support you give us.

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