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The Tortoise and the Hare

October 8, 2009

I never quite got this fable growing up.  I still don’t. In fact, I don’t get Aesop’s Fables at all (you can find them all here).  It isn’t just the fact that about 90% of them deal with the Ass as the main character (I don’t know if I have ever seen an Ass to be honest, so it doesn’t really resonate well with me as a main character of a story).  I never got the Ant and the Grasshopper either.  I do get the idea that if you don’t work and you choose to have fun rather than get the things done you have to do, things will go very poorly for you.   That makes perfect sense to me.  What I don’t get is the whole grasshopper thing.  Are grasshoppers lazy?  Do they die of starvation every winter?  I agree ants appear to be tough workers, but still, why malign the grasshopper?  Am I wrong, but aren’t locusts grasshoppers and don’t they work really hard (like scare the crap out of farmers hard)?  I guess my confusion with the whole Aesop thing is that half the time he is saying, it is just the nature of that type of animal, you can’t fight it, and then the other half the time he is giving these animals crazy natures.

Think about the Tortoise and the Hare (reprinted below):

Once upon a time there was a hare who, boasting how he could run faster than anyone else, was forever teasing tortoise for its slowness. Then one day, the irate tortoise answered back: “Who do you think you are? There’s no denying you’re swift, but even you can be beaten!” The hare squealed with laughter.
“Beaten in a race? By whom? Not you, surely! I bet there’s nobody in the world that can win against me, I’m so speedy. Now, why don’t you try?”
Annoyed by such bragging, the tortoise accepted the challenge. A course was planned, and the next day at dawn they stood at the starting line. The hare yawned sleepily as the meek tortoise trudged slowly off. When the hare saw how painfully slow his rival was, he decided, half asleep on his feet, to have a quick nap. “Take your time!” he said. “I’ll have forty winks and catch up with you in a minute.”
The hare woke with a start from a fitful sleep and gazed round, looking for the tortoise. But the creature was only a short distance away, having barely covered a third of the course. Breathing a sigh of relief, the hare decided he might as well have breakfast too, and off he went to munch some cabbages he had noticed in a nearby field. But the heavy meal and the hot sun made his eyelids droop. With a careless glance at the tortoise, now halfway along the course, he decided to have another snooze before flashing past the winning post. And smiling at the thought of the look on the tortoise’s face when it saw the hare speed by, he fell fast asleep and was soon snoring happily. The sun started to sink, below the horizon, and the tortoise, who had been plodding towards the winning post since morning, was scarcely a yard from the finish. At that very point, the hare woke with a jolt. He could see the tortoise a speck in the distance and away he dashed. He leapt and bounded at a great rate, his tongue lolling, and gasping for breath. Just a little more and he’d be first at the finish. But the hare’s last leap was just too late, for the tortoise had beaten him to the winning post. Poor hare! Tired and in disgrace, he slumped down beside the tortoise who was silently smiling at him.
“Slowly does it every time!” he said.

Okay, I get that a hare is faster than a tortoise.  That is their nature.  As well, I can see the hare being a bit of a braggart about it.  But when the hell did the hare get narcolepsy?  This hare sleeps constantly…  isn’t that more of a trait of cold blooded animals, like…say… the tortoise?!?!?  As well, the slowly does it every time?  The hare still almost beat the tortoise.  Apparently he spotted him the entire course but one yard and still almost won.  If I ever pulled that off, I still think I would be bragging.  Isn’t this really a case of ‘Put First Things First’, the 3rd habit of Highly Successful People as explained by Stephen Covey?  Seriously, the Hare could have slept, eaten and slept again, if he had just run the race first.  Wasn’t that obvious to everyone?  Don’t sleep when there is work to be done.  Isn’t that the lesson, not slow and steady wins the race?

I am saying all of this, and I think it is very important because the lesson, ‘slow and steady wins the race’ is a very, very good message.  It is a necessary message for health and fitness.  It really isn’t the slow part that is important, it is the steady part, but typically you will be able to be more consistent (ie steady) when you aren’t pushing yourself to your limits (ie slow).  There is an entire industry to short term fixes.  Some of them are brutally hard short term fixes.  The diet books include: 21 pounds in 21 days, Making the Cut, 30 day Diet and Fitness Plan, The Abs Diet: 6 weeks to flatten your stomach.  The magazine covers include: 30 Second Secret from Muscle and Fitness Hers, Shape (July), Blast Belly Fat, Firm Flat Abs in Just one Month, Shape (July also).  The magazines are of course the most egregious in this area (In fact they are the most egregious in every area, but that is for another day).

The thing that got to me this time was the cover of Life & Style magazine.  I was getting my morning coffee at the 7-11 like I usually do and this magazine cover stood out to me.  I am used to the celebrity diet covers.  Look who lost 25 pounds this month, or learn tips from this celebrity who has the most beach ready body of the season, or whatever (I talk a lot more about the utter stupidity of showing anything more than contempt at celebrity weight loss in the book, ‘You Are Not A Fit Person’, so I won’t bother getting into that here).  Instead of the my usual reaction of hatred for the magazine editors who push out celebrity weight loss cover after cover, I instead reacted to the headline, “Slim Down Super Fast”.

Here they are trying to sell you exactly what you don’t want.  You don’t want to slim down super fast.  In fact, I will go out on a limb here and say that the faster you slim down, the less likely you are to stay slim.  Slow, consistent change is the most likely to stick.  Organized people (of which Fit People are a subclass) have a 30 day rule.  That is if you do something for 30 days, it will become a habit.  I call this the Fit Persons Habit Rule.  We don’t have the same rule.  It takes us longer than 30 days, and some habits will always tend to go back to their initial state, no longer how long we have been doing it:

You can never forget what you have learned here.  You have to remember this spot so you don’t slip.  Slipping is easy.  Like laziness it is endemic to us unfit people.  The second law of thermodynamics says that unless you put energy into a system it will go to hell (that is paraphrasing).  What that means to you is that unless you have some ways to measure what you did exactly, and you are willing to put some energy into keeping at that level, you will slowly slide back to your most slovenly state (and yes, if you are a physicist you might want to point out that the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply so much to people, but I would argue it does.  We can call it the second law of unfit people).

-Chapter 9, You Are Not A Fit Person

I can’t make you change your perspective on this issue.  You will have to learn it for yourself.  You need to think in terms of years here, not days.  You need to realize that getting fit really is a process of first not getting less fit, ie. stopping your slide, and then turning it around and getting fit.  You need to change the lens in your brain that focuses on goals.  Instead of asking, can I lose 10 pounds in a month, or 20 pound or 30 pounds, you need to say, can I make this change or that change to my life.  When I hear ‘can I lose 20 pounds in a month?’ (you would be amazed how often I hear questions like this), I know this person isn’t even looking at the problem properly.  When you frame a problem incorrectly, you vastly decrease the odds of solving it.  My blog entry about Fitness and Outliers can be found here, it talks a little about 2 people who have made a career out of looking at standard problems in a new way and their success in doing so.  When I get asked the question about losing 20 pounds in a month, my answer is always, ‘Yes’.  You would be amazed at how fast you can lose weight, or if you watch the Biggest Loser like me, you wouldn’t be amazed, you would just know how fast you can lose weight.  So, the answer to the question is yes, but if the question was instead, ‘Do you think I can get fit by losing 20 pounds this month?’, the answer would be a resounding ‘Not a chance’.  In fact if you are even thinking in terms of time, you will probably not succeed.  You have to think in totally different terms.  You need to have a healthy goal that is aligned with your work.  If I asked you to do the hardest thing you have ever imagined, something that most people battle with their whole lives, you might say you could do it.   What if then I told you you only had a month to do it.  You would think I was just setting you up to fail.  I would be, just as anyone who puts a timeline on fitness is setting you up to fail.

Some trainers think that the number one problem with people sticking with exercise routines and diets is that they don’t see results fast enough…  This couldn’t be more of a falsehood.  The only reason people quit a diet because they aren’t seeing results fast enough is when authors offer ridiculous claims in their diets.  If I tell you you can have flat abs in 30 days, I wouldn’t blame you for quitting a diet after 2 weeks because you only lost 4 pounds and you were 60 pounds overweight to begin with.  They should quit your stupid diet because you lied to them.  You made the most ridiculous claims, claims that when they don’t come true, have the quality of blaming the person who failed.  Yet, they had 4 pounds of loss.  What did they do to get that weight loss?  What did they do that they didn’t find difficult, or a chore?  Could they keep that up?  Did they enjoy any activities, any fitness elements?  Can we find ways to incorporate these or explore others?  That is what healthy, intelligent people who approach problems with the proper mind set do.  Once you get this, you will look at the entire weightloss industry with new eyes that see the utter foolishness of almost everything we are doing.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anamaria Grabowski permalink
    October 8, 2009 3:54 pm

    I’ve lost 72 pounds. It took me 2 1/2 years to get here. I still want to lose another 10. I don’t HAVE to lose these 10…I just want to. When I run into people I haven’t seen in a year or two they marvel at my new look and ask, “How’d you do it?” The answer is always the same, “Portion control and movement.” The response is usually, “Ohhhhhhhhh” followed by my all time favorite question, “How long did it take you?” When I tell them it was over 2 years the responses are varied … from rolled eyes to “I don’t have time for that” to “You could have lost it faster and easier with diet pills and vitamin shots.” Mind you, these comments are coming from people that are standing in my old, unhealthy, unfit shoes.

    When its all said and done I usually give them the “slow and steady wins the race” line because I KNOW IT IS TRUE!!! I used to look for the quick fix and I never found it. I found success…real success when I practiced healthy habits. Little changes added up to a monumental outcome.


  2. October 9, 2009 4:17 am

    I’ve had too many doctors tell me there’s NO WAY I can lose 120+ lbs by myself, that my only salvation is gastric bypass. NO WAY. I get hit by alot of setbacks but I keep going. That’s going to get me farther than losing it all in a few months.

    I think too many people see TBL as THE way to lose weight. Last season I think Bob mentioned how a season 1 winner would up gaining it ALL back and then some. That’s my one problem with the show. Aside from the whole recent Jillian thing.

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