How to Recognize, and Cope With, Success-Related Losses

Success isn’t some kind of simple nirvana, but a complex experience with positive and negative aspects. The positives to losing weight are obvious: you’re more attractive and healthier, and it feels sublime to achieve a difficult goal. The negatives are less obvious, but could include that the new, skinnier you becomes the target of envy and other unwanted attentions.

Another reason to fear success is that it often takes you from a limited, but relatively simple and easy, existence to a more satisfying and rewarding, but also more complex and challenging, one. A graduate student who finally finishes his Ph.D. thesis, for instance, often has to face tough critiques of his work, a difficult job market, having to move if he does get a job, and greatly increased responsibilities once he does. Small wonder many students drag their heels. Likewise, those seeking to lose weight must often give up a comfortably sedentary and passive “cocoon” lifestyle in which they have the “freedom” to:

  • Spend many of their leisure hours on a computer or watching television
  • Do little or no exercise
  • Deprecate non-exercise bodily needs including hygiene and medical checkups
  • Devote as little time as possible to food planning and preparation
  • Live comfortably in their “food rut” (and other ruts, like a social rut or job rut)
  • Always have the option of overeating when stressed or unhappy, and,
  • Live an unbalanced life in which they far overvalue one element (e.g., work) over others (e.g., relationships or fitness),

Their new, healthier life may initially be less comfortable but, over time, it yields far more health and happiness.

In Passing for Thin, Frances Kuffel describes the many non-food-and-exercise related steps she had to take to escape her own cocoon, including learning to speak up at Overeaters Anonymous meetings when she would have preferred to remain silent; getting a new wardrobe (“You’re never going to get real about life if you don’t get real with your clothes,” her sponsor tells her after seeing her in yet another badly fitting, drab outfit); cleaning out and upgrading the apartment she says came to resemble an “addict’s crib”; and leaving the exploitative, degrading job she had endured for more than a decade because, “Who was going to hire someone who looked like me?”

Make no mistake: there is a sense of loss, and even grief, in leaving behind comfortable old habits. There can also be fear and anger and resentment at having to do so. (These latter emotions often reflect the grandiose assumption that you shouldn’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else.) Fear of failure and success thus often lead to a profound ambivalence which, in turn, can foment procrastination.

Compassionately objective (nonperfectionist) people work to prepare themselves for success, including its inevitable losses and compromises. They also understand that there is no such thing as a pure failure or success, and that most failures contain elements of success (at least, as a learning experience), and most successes, elements of failure or compromise. Finally, they farsightedly recognize that failure and success are not show-stopping, life-defining events but merely transient states one moves into and out of while following an ambitious life’s path.

One of the best things you can do to move ahead on your weight loss, writing, or other project is to list all of the losses associated with success; then give yourself tons of understanding and compassion around them.

For more information on this topic, see my books The 7 Secrets of the Prolific and Productivity is Power.

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