Meta-Improvement (or: How I Lost 10 Pounds in 30 Days)

In my first blog post, I said I would fill you guys in on the strategies and tactics I used to drop 10 pounds in 30 days.

(I’ve been using those words a lot lately, “strategies” and “tactics.” Let me clarify what I mean: tactics are highly specific action steps, while strategies are overarching approaches.)

It would be fun to jump right into all the cool tactics, but I think I’d be doing you a disservice.

Because when I started, at the beginning of the month, I didn’t even have all of the tactics myself.

Actually I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

I hand-drew a 30-day calendar, and – again, not knowing how I was going to do it – decided I was going to get in shape and lose weight during the next month, keeping track of what happened.

I, like you, have heard lots of weight loss advice from various sources, much of it extremely contradictory.

And I, like you, have tried many, many times to lose weight….largely unsuccessfully.

(At least, I’m assuming you’ve tried to lose weight. But who knows, maybe you’ve always been effortlessly thin. Anyway.)

So while I’ve been at this “weight loss” thing for a while – and you would THINK I’d have it FIGURED OUT BY NOW – I didn’t.

So I decided to start fresh. Forget everything I “knew” to be true. Try to find out what really worked, for me, and what would be healthiest for me.

NOTE AT THE OUTSET: I do think that was an important distinction. I knew that I wanted to lose weight, but I didn’t want to sacrifice health, or well-being, to do it. (In other words, I didn’t want to over-train or kill myself – or sacrifice any overall happiness at all, really – to lose weight.) So I did make that promise to myself before diving in.

(Does that make sense? Ok good, because shit’s only gonna get crazier from here on out. Strap in.)

30 days, and no tactics.

But I did have a strategy.

One simple overarching approach going into the month. And I did feel pretty smart about what I had in mind:

Meta-Improvement.

The idea of getting better at how you get better.

Let me explain my thinking. I’ll start from the beginning.

The way I see it, most people are “outcome oriented.” Let’s call that a “Level 1” improvement mindset.


If you’re outcome oriented – and, for example, you want to lose weight – you’re focused on stepping on the scale and looking at the numbers. You want the numbers to go down. (You have a vague idea about what your approach is going to be, and whatever that is, you do it as hard as you can). But as soon as possible, you get back to the scale, checking your number.

And when it doesn’t go down, it’s devastating. When your approach doesn’t work, you start to feel like you’re stuck, permanently. You start to think, in a defeated tone, “I’m just _____ .” (Insert weight here).

“I’m just the type of person who’s overweight”

“This is just in my genes”

(Notice the specific way in which the word “just” is being used. It JUST won’t happen for me. I’m JUST an overweight person. That’s JUST how it is. That should be a bit of a red flag for you, if you ever hear it used like that. It means that someone isn’t currently thinking with a growth mindset. Don’t EVER talk to yourself like that.)

So that’s Level 1. You’re outcome oriented. You focus on the numbers on the scale – on the results – and if what you’re doing doesn’t bring results, well, your situation is permanent.

Supposedly.

But there’s a whole next level to looking at improvement:

“Level 2” thinking – being Process Oriented.

This is an enormous upgrade from Level 1 thinking. If you’re process-oriented, you’re focused not on the numbers of the scale, but on consistently following the steps you’ve decided to take to improve. For example, you’re making sure you hit the gym a predetermined number of times per week, eat predetermined healthy foods, and stick to positive habits.

Instead of focusing too much on how much you actually weigh – which will drive you crazy – you focus on doing the things you’ve determined you should do to ultimately make you healthier and thinner.

Got that?

You avoid the emotional turmoil of the numbers not always being what you want them to be. You get much better at following through on your plan.

This is because your entire goal has shifted:

It’s not “lose weight” anymore, it’s now “follow this process really well.”

This is an enormous upgrade in thinking. If you’ve never thought like this before, then start. Try it. Get here, nail this, you’ll be a thousand percent better off. Seriously: habits and consistency – being process oriented – pay off IN MULTIPLES compared to simply being “outcome oriented.”

This type of thinking is ultra achievable, and ultimately leads to much better results.

Except for when it doesn’t.

Because sometimes, you dial in an excellent process – and you focus on it – and at the end of the month, you check the scale (or the body fat percentage reader), and nothing significant happened.

Fvck.

(And we’re back to square one, feeling like “this JUST isn’t for me….”)

Well, here’s the thing: your process, while it might’ve sounded excellent – while it might’ve even had some great qualities – probably wasn’t actually as ideal as you thought. Maybe it wasn’t the perfect approach for your specific body. Perhaps it even could have been a lot better.

And we were so focused on STICKING to the process, that we didn’t even bother to really consider that.

Welcome to level 3 thinking: Process-Improvement.

In other words, Meta-Improvement. Not just improving, but improving how you improve.

(Sorry, I know that’s confusing. Did anyone take Calculus? Something about this is making me flashback to derivatives….)

If your orientation – your goal – is NOT improving the number on the scale, and not even sticking to a process, but instead IMPROVING your process as much as possible, you are unstoppable.

Sure, you’ll probably start out by coming up with what seems to be the best process you can think of, with whatever knowledge you have at the time. And you’ll stick to it really well. Sort of “Level-2” type stuff.

But as you go, your entire goal will be to improve the process as much as possible.

Let me say that again:

The ENTIRE goal becomes NOT to lose weight, NOT EVEN to rigorously follow a process, but to IMPROVE THE PROCESS as much as possible.

(You may notice, at this point, we’re so removed from the actual scale number now, we’re like three levels deep. This is Inception type stuff).

Your goal, when you’re focusing on Level-3 thinking, is simply to improve your process as much as possible. You’ll remove things. And add things. And tweak things. And keep coming at everything with the rigor and consistency we learned back in Level 2, from Process-Orientation, but now with your mental energy directed towards noticing things you could do better.

You’ll find yourself consistently asking broad questions such as: “How could I make this more enjoyable?” “How could I make this more effective?” “What tactics am I not implementing that would be useful?” “How could this be easier?” “What should I cut back on?”

(Often just literally just posing these questions, out loud, patiently waiting for an answer to come to mind – even if nothing does.)

Because ultimately, by focusing on improving your process as much as possible – by simply asking these questions a lot – your process will improve.

And if your process improves, then your results will drastically improve.

And this was my secret weapon during my 30-day fat loss experiment in which I dropped ten pounds.

I used level 3 thinking to improve the rate at which I improved.

The difference between Process Orientation and Process-Improvement Orientation is sort of like the difference between linear growth and exponential growth:

So, recap:

30 days, a blank calendar, a couple of priorities, and a simple strategy: Meta-Improvement.

(I can give you my specific tactics later, if you want them – they’re kinda exciting too.)

But what’s really cool, is that this overarching strategy Level 3 Process-Improvement thinking – can be applied to anything you want to improve.

Instead of focusing on the results, instead of even focusing on the process (which is still much better than focusing on the results!), focus on IMPROVING the process. Improve the rate at which you improve. Get better at getting better.

Consistently take action, but consistently improve how you’re taking action.

It’s meta, and cerebral, I know. And you won’t have all the answers.

Just start doing your best to think like this.

Notice things, write stuff down, track everything you can, ask yourself open-ended questions, and try out new approaches and tweaks.

And know this: any time spent in Level 3 thinking translates to many multiples of output in the lower levels.

(Again, kind of like Inception – I really hope you’ve seen that movie, so you’re getting these references….)

In other words, any small amount of time pondering how you can improve your weight loss process will ultimately translate to many actual pounds of fat lost.

And if you do that a little bit every day for 30 days – while consistently taking action – the results are incredible.

Meta-Improvement.

“You musn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” – Eames (Tom Hardy), Inception.

P.S. – if you really want to get lost in the Limbo of self-improvement, try improving your ability to improve how you improve. In other words, Improving your method of process-improvement.

Or don’t. It’s too hard to think about.

Published by Dolan

Relentless self-optimizer, biohacker, traveler, reader.

One thought on “Meta-Improvement (or: How I Lost 10 Pounds in 30 Days)

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