Billy's Thoughts

Becoming a Fit Person

Posted on Apr 15, 2024 — 11 mins read

All my life I’ve struggled with losing weight and working out consistently. My motivations have varied from parental pressure, to self-pressure, to wanting to look good naked, to wanting to jump higher when I play volleyball so I can absolutely slam down the ball. But I was never really able to make significant progress.

I was stuck. Two years ago I thought I’d found a path to cutting weight consistently and I was optimistic about the future again. But it’s been two years, and at least in terms of the numbers I’m still in the same place, oscillating around 185 lbs. (I was not, in fact, able to stay consistent with my plan, for a variety of reasons.)

While the numbers may have stayed the same, recently there was a big shift in my resolve. After returning home this past February from a bunch of travel, I somehow suddenly decided that I was going to make my health and fitness my #1 priority, and therefore I would start going to the gym consistently. And it happened! I’ve been consistent now for 8 weeks and counting.

I used to perfunctorily say “oh yeah, of course fitness is important to me”, but based on my actions I didn’t truly mean it. But now I actually fully believe it and am living it. I’m not able to describe how this feels, but it’s significant. It’s like the desire to get fit has fused into my bones and is now flowing out from within me. (Which has then made execution much easier.)

WTF happened?

I’d heard of this kind of thing before, from other people who’ve tried making big changes in their lives.

“I tried quitting smoking for years, on and off again. Then one day I just woke up and decided it was time to stop. And I haven’t touched a cigarette since,” is a common one. Change happens slowly, then all at once, as the saying goes.

But what is actually happening here? Is the only way to change to just keep plugging away even when it feels like you aren’t making any progress, until one day, you don’t know when, it all finally clicks? Fake it till you make it? (But is it always guaranteed that you make it?)

Or can change be made more predictable, and less of a battle?1

Disclaimer: I don’t have great answers myself. A lot of my thoughts here are a mish-mash of theory, conjecture, and post-hoc rationalizations. My view as of now is that there is no silver bullet to jumpstarting change. But maybe there is a way to learn how to craft your own silver shovel of sorts–custom-made by you, for you–that helps you dig through the rough patches to make it out the other side. (A lot of what other people say may not work for you.)

In my case with fitness, going to the gym consistently seemed to come easily once I wholeheartedly committed to making my fitness my top priority. I wanted to become a fit person, and so I took action to further that goal. I’ve heard this generalized as “making an identity shift” which then begets action. But this is (most often) too abstract and not actionable, as it usually just reduces back to the original problem of “how do I change?”. Identity shifts, I suspect, are just byproducts of a process of change that has already been in motion.

What I’m left chewing on is mainly meta-advice, and developing meta-skills. Change is a process, and it’s going to take a while no matter what. What you do have control over is how you view the process and experience it, e.g. forcing it, resisting it, or flowing with it.

The stages of change

I’ve been obsessed with transtheoretical model of the stages of change (“TTM”) ever since I learned about it a few years ago, which presents change as:

1. Pre-contemplation, 2. Contemplation, 3. Preparation, 4. Action, 5. Maintenance; from the wiki page

This model also suggests that the bulk of the time and effort spent making a change is spent in the Contemplation and Preparation stages, which is what I want to dissect here.


To me, this means something like: mulling things over, and getting my emotions and priorities aligned. I ask myself questions, narrow down what I want, and come to terms with potential trade-offs.

Here are some areas I focus on:

What is most important to me?

What do I really want? Why do I want it? Why do I want that underlying motivator? What are the pros vs cons of trying to change X? Ideally I want to get to an end state of “I want to do this, for myself”, vs “I should do this”.

What are my mind and body telling me? If I feel some amount of internal conflict, some knot in my gut about a decision, that’s usually a sign that something is still out of alignment. I might be holding onto something that I haven’t fully digested yet, and it’s making me hesitate.

But if I happen to be clear on my #1 priority, then what I want to do also becomes clear and easy to execute. (This level of clarity is rare though, IME. Or maybe it’s more like: getting to this point is a result of prior contemplation.)

Minimize coercion, and minimize beating myself up

More realistically, change is hard. I’ve been working on losing weight for 10+ years. It takes time.

Forcing myself to do something that I have some resistance toward might work in the short term, but almost always fails in the long-term. And then I might get upset at myself for failing, which affects my next attempt at making change, and the cycle goes on.

Beating myself up about progress only hurts me, and slows me down. It’s time to try being kind to myself, and giving myself grace.

Accept losses, and mourn what could have been

What are the costs of changing? Vs what is non-negotiable, something I’m not willing to give up?

Every choice is a trade-off. But when I’m clear on what’s most important to me, paying the cost of the “best” trade-off (to keep in line with my values) becomes a little bit easier.

But costs are still costs, and choosing my #1 option may mean giving up entirely on my #2 and #3 options, letting go of potential futures that I’m also excited about but now may never come to pass. It’s sad; and it’s OK to be sad. Take time to properly mourn. And then life must go on.

With fitness, I chose to prioritize: (1) going hard at the gym, three times per week, and (2) doing volleyball training on Sundays. This has meant saying no to other activities that I’m also interested in (e.g. dance classes), or limiting myself when I do sneak in another activity, so as to not hurt my recovery for the gym and volleyball.

I wish I could do everything I wanted! But I’m at least happy that I can enjoy two big things I’m excited about.

Take breaks

Everyone says this, and yet it’s one of the hardest things to get yourself to do.

Change is one of those things, like creative work, where bashing your head against the wall for longer does not necessarily lead to faster results. Take breaks! Rest, reduced stress, breaking out of patterns and routines, and having empty time for contemplation and diffuse thinking all help a lot.

(My big mindset change happened to come after a 1-month long vacation in Asia.)


After Contemplating and reaching a level of internal consensus, Action should come easily… right?

But sometimes there’s still a gap between the internal world and the external world. Action, I think, then comes through either:

  1. Courage (to jump the gap); and/or
  2. Confidence (to reduce the gap)

You can’t think your way out of a courage deficit. But also there’s a limit to how much courage you can muster up at a given time. That’s where I think confidence comes in–the belief that you can roll with whatever the world throws at you–and it’s something that can be cultivated and grown.

As for what specific actions to take, you probably already know what you need to do. So just go do it! And keep at it. Specifically:

Get the small W’s

50% of the battle is just showing up. Naive practice >>> no practice, even if your naive work is suboptimal. Done is better than perfect. Doing the thing, even just getting started, will give you more insight than any planning can. You’ve probably heard this all before. Just do it.


Contemplation and Preparation are crucial in order to take action. But also crucial is Maintaining the Action afterward. Specifically: making sure you don’t burn out! (If you burn out, then you won’t be able to do the thing you want to do 🙁)

Here’s how I try to manage:

Reduce mental strain, activation energy, stress, etc.

If an activity is annoying or time consuming, that adds resistance that makes me way less likely to do it. So making things less annoying is a priority.

With drawing, I lay my sketchbook open on the table so that every time I walk by I see it, and it makes me want to draw.

With fitness, I’ve loosely embraced the 80/20 rule:

Minimize coercion, and minimize beating myself up

Round 2 of this one, because for me it’s crucial.

I regularly fail, slip up, underperform, miss, etc. Beating myself up about progress only hurts me, and slows me down.

So I’m always thinking about how to manage my psychology better–how do I not smother a spark that’s trying to grow? And how do I learn from my mistakes, and then let them go and move on?

Focus my time on what I want to see more of

What do I do in my free time? Who am I hanging out with? What content am I consuming?3
How is my life structured, and how am I spending my time and energy?

Find what you enjoy doing, that’s in line with your goals, and do more of that.


I don’t really know where to fit this into the larger post, but I want to talk about it so we’re sticking it here.

I suspect that a large factor of my failing to achieve my fitness goals of the past was my low self-esteem. Looking back, it really feels like a part of me almost thought that it was fitting that I was overweight. A reflection on the outside of how I felt on the inside, or something. There’s probably some cycle or feedback loop here.

Regardless of my guesses, I do think things started to change when I started to like myself more. (Which started with 1. realizing I didn’t like myself, and 2. deciding to change that.) With my fitness in particular, one key moment I remember was the first time I thought “oh I’m actually hot” after seeing that I had developed some muscle definition.

I started liking myself more and wanting to take better care of myself. And now here we are in the present day, where my health and fitness are my #1 priority.

This is not generalizable advice, I think. Many people have sufficient self-esteem to go get stuff done. For others, going down this self-esteem rabbit hole might be too much at the current moment, and would paralyze them. But I think I needed to go down this path, personally.

Which is why I think the most generalizable advice is to just:

Do what you can today, keep at it, and check in with yourself regularly to make sure you’re still doing what you want to do.

If you’re interested in chatting more about this stuff, or if you’re thinking about making a specific change in your life, I’d love to talk! Shoot me an email at [email protected], or book some time on my cal (free).

  1. Of course not all instances of change are plodding-and-then-out-of-nowhere like this. Sometimes you’re able to just decide to change and then immediately start living differently, with relatively little contemplation or resistance. But then such cases aren’t the ones we struggle with. ↩︎

  2. The 6 compound lifts I prioritize are: bench press, shoulder press, rows, pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts. I do 2 per session, 3 sessions per week, to hit them all. My current config is: bench + pull-ups (+ some sprints) // deadlifts + rows // squats + shoulder press. These are the main exercises I’m there to do, with the largest pay-off. ↩︎

  3. A huge hack that I use: making my Content Feed work for me. Much of the content I follow on IG and YouTube now is just stuff I’m passionate about. So a lot of my screen time ends up being fun and at least somewhat useful to my larger goals. E.g. videos on: psychology / how to change / interpersonal relationships / high protein meals that are easy to cook / minimalist fitness training / drawing inspiration. It’s kind of like an auto-feeder for my brain, giving me +Wisdom, as opposed to causing psychic damage↩︎