Big Changes are Big Failures

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You want to make big changes.

You decided it’s time to take your fitness to the next level.

There are big goals that you want to hit.

Maybe you want to be a gymnast, maybe you just want to do handstands, but you sat yourself down and said, “OK, I want to do this!”

So you found some awesome resource (like!) and did your research.  You might have even put together a workout plan that addresses every single goal that you want to hit.  Who cares that you’re working on five or ten or twenty things at once?  You want to be awesome and the TIME IS NOW!

You set your goals.  You made your plans.  Now it’s just time to execute!  Go go go!  This should be the easy part, right?

Fast forward one month.  How did it go?  My guess is that, at least once, you’ve probably had an experience similar to another one of my readers…


I get a lot of emails like this.  It’s not your fault.

You get SUPER PSYCHED about taking control of your fitness. You say, “I’m going to be so much better in just one month!”

You take a 28-Day Challenge for your handstands, and 30-Day Challenge for your workouts , and another 30-Day Challenge for your diet.

And then, a month comes and goes and nothing happens.  And you feel like you really tried.

It’s demoralizing and it may have actually left you worse off than when you started – because now you feel defeated.  And being defeated really sucks.

Being Overwhelmed Destroys You


This time, fear isn’t what’s holding you back.

You know that I blame fear for  a lot of fitness, gymnastics and acrobatics failures.  People may say they “don’t have time”, which really means they are afraid that their workouts will take too long.  Or they say that acrobatics is dangerous, which really means that they are afraid of getting hurt.

In reality, hitting your fitness or acrobatics goals doesn’t require more than 5-minutes of training per day.  And its not dangerous, because most acrobatics skills have progressions that can be done very safely – it’s no more dangerous than running a mile or performing a set of bench presses.

But if you’re trying to do too much at once, then fear isn’t your problem.  There is no fear to get over.  Not this time.

You’re just legitimately overwhelmed and trying to do too much.  Your brain just isn’t capable of coping with making so many changes in such a short period of time.  It gives up.  And when the mind gives up, the body follows.  Then you have to face the fact that two parts of your brain are fighting each other.

Brain B:  “I FAILED”

Unfortunately, you need to figure out what happened.  How did you miss the mark?  You did everything right, you knew just what to do, but you never got there…

…so you just assume that you’re a failure.  That you can’t stick with a program.  That you are doomed and unable to stay on track.

BUT that’s not it!

You’re not a failure.  You can achieve your goals.

See, willpower isn’t enough.  The “right tutorial” or magical progression is not enough.  Determination is not even enough. No, you need to understand the psychology of what’s stopping you.  If you got this far, if you’re reading this RIGHT NOW then you definitely want to hit your goals and get to the top of that mountain…

You have determination.
You have the right tools.
You have willpower.

You are just really freaking overwhelmed.  You need to simplify.

The Lesson I Couldn’t Teach Anyone


When I was a kid, I was a little chubby.  OK, scrap that, I was fat. 

By the time I hit 13, I had gotten so fed up with being fat that I begged my mother to help me figure out what to do.

She would try to give me advice on what to eat…but I didn’t change how I was eating.
She bought me a weight set to get started exercising…but I never used it.

I would sit and think about cleaning up my diet and about exercising.  I would say “In just 4 months, I could turn my whole body around.  I know I can.”  But it wasn’t until I was 20 years old, over seven years later, when I fell into a martial arts class that finally turned my life around.

See, taking a class was only a single change to my daily routine.  I didn’t need to think about doing such-and-such workout and hitting this-and-that goal.  From my perspective, I just needed to make one change.  I just needed to show up for my martial arts class.

I got addicted to my classes.  Going to my martial arts classes didn’t just become part of my day.  It became part of me.  I didn’t need to think about exercising anymore – it was on autopilot.

With my exercise dialed in, I didn’t need to think about it at all…and that freed up my brain to focus on another goal – fixing my diet.  I would still show up for training every day, performing my workouts thoughtlessly, but in the daytime I was reading medical journals and websites about diet, and figuring out how to make headway on eating better.

I decided to log everything I ate – and that was it.  I didn’t try to make huge changes to my diet in one fell swoop.  It was one small change.  Within a few weeks, logging every morsel that went into my mouth became part of every meal.  It was a habit.  I carried a pocket notebook everywhere, and compiled all my food into a spreadsheet at the end of the day.

Eventually, it wasn’t just a part of every meal.  It was a part of me.

See, I was on autopilot again.  I set up a system of exercise that was thoughtless, and I just needed to continue going through the motions.  Now I had my diet logging on autopilot, and I could actually start making changes to what I was eating.  Because of my diet logs, I was able to learn how different foods loaded on the calories, and how other foods didn’t.  I was able to get a new perspective on my diet — which led to another set of small changes.

And every change became a part of me…one at a time.  Then, and only then, did I move on to the next change.

But even though I did this for myself, I didn’t actually realize it was the secret to my success for several years.  When people would fail after asking for my advice, I would get up on my high horse.  “They didn’t really want it bad enough,” I would say, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

The problem was actually how I gave advice. See, I was packing every lesson I learned into a laundry lists of changes that someone should make, all at one.

I would say to log all of your food, eat more vegetables, eliminate foods in a crinkly bag, stop eating processed foods, start training at least three times a week, focus on relevant skills, start squatting, start deadlifting, start overhead pressing, get into a gymnastics gym, get your first pull-up, learn proper form, do a back flip, get a muscle up, learn to kip, and a million other things. (Feeling overwhelmed yet?)

You see, there’s a big difference between being successful and learning how to teach success.  You don’t need to be examine yourself and your processes to successful.  You can fall into a great set of processes – a great set of “autopilots” – and wake up a superstar in a few year’s time.  But to TEACH SUCCESS you need to learn how to analyze success and the psychology that enables success.

And from all of that analysis; from working with thousands of people; do you know the one lesson I learned that I couldn’t teach for nearly 8 years?

Simplify. Focus on only one change at a time.

The “Just One Change” Rule


Keep it ridiculously simple and focus on “Just One Change” at a time.

Even though you did all of this really hard stuff like creating a plan and setting goals, its really easy to completely ignore simplicity.  A lot of people fall into this trap – but its the keystone of making any major life change.

When you focus intently on only one thing, and ignore all of the other noise, it becomes part of your day…then it becomes part of you.  Once its part of you, it becomes natural and thoughtless.  And that’s when you tackle the next change!

If you have a goal that you want to hit, then break it down into the smallest and most digestible steps as possible.  If you can’t do this, or you don’t know how, then find someone who knows all of the steps and turn to them.  That might be an instructor, a great book with progressions, or a pre-made workout plan. Just make sure that whoever/whatever you turn to has a track record of success.

Once you know WHAT to do, then you focus on squeezing that one thing into your daily routine.  One thing.  No more.

If it’s the handstand, then focus on your 5-minutes-a-day for 28 days in a row.  Don’t worry about anything else.  (And certainly don’t focus on doing three different workout challenges AND starting a 3-day-a-week workout program!)

The bottom line if that you made really huge progress just by sitting yourself down and saying, “I want to do this!” Don’t waste that huge step by trying to focus on too many things at once.  Pick the goal that is the most important to you and focus entirely on that.  Even if its not one of the goals that I write about, like getting your first handstand, or learning adult gymnastics.

Case Study: Mike’s Story


Mike, my brother, has been a big guy for a while.

He wasn’t exactly happy about it and he knew that I had my fitness dialed in…so he would ask me for advice.  But whenever we had a conversation, I would rattle off the hundreds of things that he needed to do to turn his life around.

Eat better.  More veggies; less crap.

Move more. Exercise a lot; squats and deadlifts; run sprints.

Year after year would pass but nothing would happen.  Mike would make no progress.  It was frustrating for both of us, and he had seemed to have hit a wall…resigned to his fate.

This was before I realized the power of small single changes, though…so my advice was pretty useless.

Then he told me he found a DVD Yoga program that really sung to him.  He had been doing it for the past few days and he really enjoyed it so far.  This time I was smarter, though.

I told him, “just focus on doing the program solidly for one month…ignore everything else”.

And he did.  Now he’s been sticking with yoga for several months, is down over 30 lbs. and feeling great.  His exercise regimen was on autopilot, so he started paying more attention to his diet.  He’s now feeling great and looking better (and I’m sure its just a matter of time before I can convince him to get on his hands!)

Now, his yoga program doesn’t have a “special sauce”.  Sure, its a great program to help people get introduced to Yoga and fitness…but nothing about the program is particularly revolutionary.  Just like there is nothing magical or innovative about The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide, Starting Strength, the Nerd Fitness’ Rebel Fitness Guides or Gold Medal Bodies’ Workout plans.

Magical workouts and progressions don’t exist.

The secret here is that these programs and resources make it really easy to put your training on autopilot.  Once you find a program that speaks your language and addresses the person you want to become, you just need to follow it and not think about it.

Then the habit just becomes part of you, and you can easily swap out DDP Yoga, Rebel Fitness or the 15-Second Handstand out for something that meets your new goals…like becoming a powerlifter, distance runner or gymnast.

Small Changes are Small Successes


Small changes create small successes.  Small successes turn into big wins.

But what do you think?

What is the one goal you want to work on that can change everything?

Have you found one small change that has become part of you?

I want to hear from you!


photo credit: change, defeat, pole climb, focus, can’t stop

5 Responses to “Big Changes are Big Failures”

  1. Marcelo September 17, 2013 at 8:54 am #

    So true! Kkkkkkk The important thing is ‘DON’T QUIT!’
    Always have a right time!
    Regards from Brazil!

  2. Salvatore September 17, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    Hi Chris!
    Nice article! I really recognized myself and the stress I often put myself into trying to do/start thousand of things at the same time.
    I usually manage to plan them and start right after but then my levels of stress start to raise drammatically when something unexpected disrupts my superbusy schedule. Or when my mind and body feel too tired because they don’t have enough time to recover.
    Another issue is tha fact that when I focus on just one thing, I start thinking of what I am neglecting rather than the imprvemnets I am gaining. For example: I start focusing on pull ups and I am thinking that I should care of my legs, abs, cardio etc etc. so after few weeks I find myself practising 10 different things and still thinking of what I am missing to do 🙁 What a silly mind 😀

    • Chris Salvato September 18, 2013 at 4:42 am #

      Hi Salvatore! I totally agree – it’s a trap we all fall into, especially once we get passed the “just starting” phase and move into the “lets get really freakin’ serious” phase.

      It took me a while to learn this lesson, and I still fall through the trap very often myself!


  3. Michael J September 19, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Thanks Chris great information love your work down to earth and keeping it real with this sort of mindset I myself have been slowly but surely making progress

    • Chris Salvato September 20, 2013 at 4:28 am #

      Awesome Michael. I am glad that the message hit close to home for you. 🙂