What if there was an easy way to lose weight that guaranteed you would show up to the gym multiple times a week; make small, permanent changes to your diet; and change the way you thought about health and fitness (from a temporary challenge to a lifetime of experimentation and enjoyment) without guilt, shame and ever really having to “try?”
Well there very well might be. And no, this is no silver bullet or magic pill. It’s just about how human beings learn things.
Humans are social animals. It’s baked in. From how to walk to how to share, we learn just about everything by watching the people around us. We even have special brain cells called mirror neurons packed into our prefrontal cortex for learning from creatures that look like us. Now that’s baked in!
One of the most enduring models for how we learn is called “Social Cognitive Theory,” which was developed over decades of experiments by Dr. Albert Bandura, a professor of social science at Stanford University. At the root of whether or not we do something and keep doing it depends on how confident we are that we can do it. Here’s how we assess whether or not we can do something (like diet and exercise):
- Personal Experience: “Have I done this before?”
- Vicarious Experience: “Well if that person like me can do it, I can do it.”
- Social Persuasion: “These people cheering me on seem to think I can do it, so I bet I can.”
- Physiological Factors: “Is my body up to this? Are those butterflies in my stomach good or bad?”
The power of self-efficacy as explained by Social Cognitive Theory is what health psychologists call the phenomenon of “a new normal.” That’s when you meet new people and start viewing your own capabilities differently. Or when you decide to do something with friends and learn confidence from each other’s struggles. In my opinion, this is the most powerful collection of forces someone new to health and fitness can exploit for themselves. The ultimate bio-hack is simply doing new things with others.
And I know this because it’s not only how I work as a coach, but also how things worked for me. In 2007, I lost 60 pounds in 292 days just like I described above. I met new friends at a gym in San Francisco’s Castro district and although I worked hard when I was at the gym, all the other choices in my life started to become easy. I would talk about them with my new friends; they would ask me about how I was doing; and I could see how well these healthier choices were working for them. It was like I was cheating, but it was just self-efficacy. It was just learning a “new normal.”
Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So make that choice wisely and, thanks to Social Cognitive Theory, everything else might just get easier.
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