Accountability in the form of a punishment for not reaching your fitness goals is just as valuable as having a positive reward, as we discovered in last day’s post with John Berardi, author of Precision Nutrition.

After all just merely showing up to workout is half the battle in itself. Today, the doctor shares his thoughts as to why people make excuses to toss in the towel and suggestions on what we can do to change that.

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CRAIG BALLANTYNE:  What’s the typical point at which someone drops off?  Does it tend to be like four weeks, two weeks or would you say it varies too much?  You also mentioned quite a few things of how this can be avoided.  Is there anything else, looking at it in terms not just keeping motivation? How can we avoid people dropping out and how do we get them  back?  Is there any insights that you’ve come across there?

JOHN BERARDI:  Yeah, absolutely. I always feel like people’s first response is to say, “People drop off for all different reasons.”  But that’s actually not true. If you have 20 or 30 clients at a time then you don’t really have enough data points in the big picture to understand when people are dropping off. However, when you do something like Lean Eating where we have 2,000 clients every year and some years more, we actually do get to see trends in when people typically dropping off if you will.

Seth Godin has a great blog about this. For people who aren’t familiar with him, he’s an accomplished author that runs a really, really cool blog. In his blog, he talks about the actual drop-off point.  It’s this point in time where the hassle of a new activity is greater than the joy we get out of it.  He actually demonstrates this with a really simple three part graph.

So the first graph shows how much joy someone gets out of a new activity. It’s like a linear thing where for each unit of time (weeks / months) that goes by the joy increases.  We get better at it, our satisfaction increases. You start to feel additional joy at getting good at something.  However, at some point there’s this bump where we get quite good at it so it sort of jumps up, that when we have a drop-off point.

So you get this linear graph that’s climbing, climbing in terms of joy over time.  And then we have this sort of downward turn in the graph. That downward turn, it’s sort of a fading of joy because we just get bored.  We sort of get as good as we’re going to get, unless we invest a crap load of time into it, and then we just kind of get bored and our joy drops off.  So there’s a dip in the graph.  So that’s our joy.

Then you look at hassle. It’s the opposite of joy, so hassle starts high and then drops off over time as we get better just like the joy gets bigger over time as we get better.  So you’ve got this overlap. When you put the two graphs over each other where for the first initial part of any new habit or hobby or lifestyle or whatever, the hassle outweighs the joy.  However, there comes a point where that two curves cross and the joy is greater than the hassle, but it’s a while down the road.

Now you can see the problem, right? So with someone who starts a new fitness journey they’re following. it and for the first one month, two months, three months the hassle is greater than the joy.  That’s the point when people drop off.

But what Seth does is he has this great thing.  He puts a little green dot on the point where that crossover occurs, where the joy becomes greater than the hassle.  And that green dot is basically a representation of the people who’ve made it, who’ve not dropped out early on, who stuck with it until they get to that point.

Seth’s whole contention is that the only reason we ever get through that initial phase, that initial gap where the hassle is greater than the joy is that there’s someone on the other side of that little green circle that’s rooting us on or telling us stories of how great it is if we just hang in there and we get to that joy place where the joy is greater than the hassle.

And I don’t know about you Craig, but I actually love that concept.  And I think it’s supremely true.  By keeping your blog, by keeping my blog, by telling stories about our transformation winners we’re actually making them the green dot.  We’re actually saying, “Hey look, here’s a person who went through all the hassle being greater than the joy and made it on the other side.” And they can tell you how awesome it is and how worth it it is.

Now think about the opposite scenario.  Someone is going about this alone.  They want to get in shape, maybe the buy a book or get a DVD or something.  So one month, two months, and three months down the road they just want to drop out because it’s just too much hassle and they haven’t really seen a great result and there’s not a lot of pleasure or satisfaction in that. Then you have this other scenario where you actually have social support, where people are a little further down the road than them cheering them on.

So to your question, at what point do people drop off?  Well, it’s at the point where the hassle is greater than the joy.  It’s where in the initial phases, let’s say it’s the first two to three months of a new lifestyle intervention, particularly when they don’t have someone cheering them on.  And that’s why I think things like coaching programs are really essential.

One thing we do with our coaching program is we partner experience Lean Eaters with inexperienced Lean Eaters.  So people who’ve done our six month program and have come back for another six months, we’re partnering them with the new people.  So presumably the people who are in the six month plus phase are the green dots.  They’re cheering on those people who are just getting started and are in that risk for drop-off phase. So that’s kind of my thoughts on when someone drops off and how it can be avoided

CRAIG BALLANTYNE:  That’s really great.  And it’s almost like you’re reading my mind with your answers.  They flow right into the next question, which you kept on talking about the person on an individual basis and then you talked about the all-important social support.

We’ll get into more discussions about social support in part 4 of our expert interview series.

Craig Ballantyne

Craig Ballantyne is the author of The Perfect Day Formula: How to Own the Day and Control Your Life. Craig has been a contributor to Men's Health magazine for over 17 years. Today he teaches his gift high-performing entrepreneurs how to squeeze more out of their days, increase their income, and make more quality time for their families in his Perfect Life Workshop and Work-Life Mastery programs. Craig used his own advice to overcome crippling anxiety attacks in 2006, and he'll teach you his 5 Pillars of Success so you can increase your income, decrease your work time, and live the life of your dreams. Learn more about Craig at craigballantyne.com