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Maintenance is Work!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Most of us here know that.

And, eavesdropping on an exchange between ONEKIDSMOM and 4A-HEALTHY-BMI, I checked out a TED talks presentation by Dan Ariely on what motivates people to keep on working in the workplace. It's a bit long, but really interesting. And (since motivation is motivation) pretty applicable to the motivation we care about most: motivation for the work of maintaining weight loss.

Ariely talks about a number of interesting experiments. What motivates people to keep on building Legos? When they get paid less for each one? When they get little or no acknowledgment of their work? When their assembled Legos are destroyed in front of their eyes?

What motivates people to keep on circling matching pairs of letters on a page? Because they've put their name on the page? What if the "marker" scans the page and says "uh huh"? What if the marker doesn't even look at their work? What if the marker puts the page right into a shredder?

What value do people ascribe to origami structures they've made themselves -- when the origamis are pretty ugly? When the instructions get tougher and the origamis uglier? And: do those independent evaluators who didn't build the origamis think they are worth as much as the origami makers do? Why do people like the Ikea furniture they've built themselves more than conventionally acquired furniture? Or like cakes more when they have made them from mixes to which they've added their own eggs and milk?

Ariely tells us that motivation, whether negative or positive, depends upon meaning: and that meaning is more than "pay" for work.

I get that. Weight loss maintenance isn't just the number on the scale for me, the "pay". If I'm motivated to maintain weight loss, it's in large part because for me this means I'm doing everything I can to avoid recurrence of estrogen-positive cancer.

Ariely tells us that motivation increases when the task is harder: but that the "Sisyphus" effect is pretty discouraging. You remember Sisyphus, eternally rolling his rock up the hill and then eternally tormented when just near the top the rock rolled back down again. Destroying the Legos had a similar effect. Weight loss can feel like that too: and of course we know that only 5% of those who take weight off keep it off. So: what can we do to avoid or diminish the Sisyphus effect?

Not requiring that we maintain our lowest achievable weight: being realistic about lowest sustainable weight.

Recharacterizing weight loss maintenance within a range.

Expecting that there will be "blips" up and catching them fast . .. before we "roll all the way to the bottom again".

Ariely says we're motivated to work longer and harder, despite pay or discouragement, if we really love the work: if we have an intrinsic joy in building Legos, for example.

And we can learn to take joy in eating healthily. Exercising reasonably. But: experience tells us that excess rigidity (never having an ice cream cone: running 10 km every day and, inevitably, injuring ourselves) are not conducive to weight loss maintenance.

Acknowledgement of our work matters. Even an "uh huh" to the Lego builder will help, or a quick scan of the matching pairs of letters on the page. Ignoring work, from a motivation perspective, is almost as deflating as having our work destroyed in front of our eyes.

We get more acknowledgement during the weight loss phase than the weight maintenance phase. So: if we want to sustain motivation in weight loss maintenance, we'll need to search out and create our own acknowledgment. SP's At Goal and Maintaining: Transition to Maintenance is a wonderful source of ongoing acknowledgment, and so too the comments by individual Spark friends on blogs! But we also need to give ourselves credit, acknowledge to ourselves that maintenance matters. Putting on your spring clothes and having them fit . . . matters. Looking good in a bathing suit . . . . matters

The more effort that goes into work, the more we value the product of the work. That's true for the Ikea furniture, and it's true for the origamis.

My "day job" might seem more prestigious than weight loss maintenance, and I do like what I do. It's most definitely meaningful to me. Getting the job required hard work. Doing the job requires hard work. But: I haven't done anything harder than weight loss maintenance. And so I value it. A lot. (Credibility in my profession is also enhanced, I'm pretty sure, by looking like a person who has a bit of . . . . self-discipline).

Ariely tells us that during the industrial revolution there was a huge focus on increased workplace efficiency: breaking manufacturing tasks into individual steps raised productivity. But: at the cost of alienating people from their labour because they didn't get to participate in the "big picture". That's what modern "knowledge economies" are all about.

Losing weight is a pretty efficient process -- reducing calorie intake, increasing calorie output. It results in pretty direct payout in terms of lower figures on the scales. Maintaining weight loss requires remaining engaged in the process. Maintenance must continue to be meaningful. It will be up to us to create ongoing meaning for ourselves -- both large scale meaning (those reduced health risks, including cancer and diabetes and heart issues) and smaller scale meanings (the increased pleasure in movement! those great vanity moments fitting into more attractive clothes!). We will need to set challenges, own our own efforts, make weight loss maintenance part of our personal identity, and take pride in it.

That's why I joke about my $50,000 body: the approximate annual cost in gym fees and foregone billable hours of sustaining weight loss and fitness. Would my 62 year old, post 90 pound weight loss wrinkly body be worth that to anyone else? Not thinking so . . . but it's worth it to me. I'm happy to be fitter and healthier at 62 than I was at 22 or 32 or 42: and to have sustained the weight loss from age 52 onwards (taking a few blips into consideration over the past decade plus).

Ariely isn't talking about motivation for weight loss maintenance. I've made these connections here, and he might not agree. Or might have no interest at all in such connections. But what Ariely has to say about workplace motivation is transferable to this maintenance work of ours.

And: weight loss maintenance IS work. The hardest work I've done. Requiring eternal vigilance. So I'm happy to grab onto any motivational techniques that look useful.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Great blog- thanks for sharing!
    1512 days ago
    I love what you have written here. Very well put. I agree maintenance is so much more difficult than the weight loss was. I am going to write down your quote "Not requiring that we maintain our lowest achievable weight: being realistic about lowest sustainable weight." I need to share this with my husband who is just starting his weight loss journey due to his age and doctor's recommendation. Keep Sparking!!
    1512 days ago
    Thanks for this great blog!

    Motivation is everything.
    I believe that while we are still losing the weight, reaching our goal is what motivates us.

    And once we have reached that goal - if being slimmer and feeling healthier doesn't feel as good as we thought it would, then there could be a problem with continued motivation and maintaining the new lower weight.

    Or... if those new habits of eating and exercising feel too much like punishment compared to the old habits, there will be a problem then too.

    I agree - it is so important to genuinely embrace our new habits if we are going to continue them for a lifetime.

    We have to find ways to enjoy the process of losing weight and maintaining a lower weight -- almost as much as we enjoy the results of that process -- because it is the process that will have to continue indefinitely.


    1513 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Ah the lifestyle we choose.
    You are an inspiration to us all. Life is all about what we choose and what you have chosen brings you the rewards you seek.
    1513 days ago
    Thank you! Great blog and something I can draw upon as I approach maintenance and in my work life.

    1513 days ago
  • KANOE10
    That is an excellent commentary on motivation and maintenance. I think "making weight loss part of you personal identity and taking pride in it, " is so true. Yes, the big picture of disease is a motivator as well as the little ones such as increased energy and being so much happier. I agree with you about the value of support in motivation from others is important, but also know that you must set your own goals and celebrate your own successes.

    In Refuse to Regain the authors comments that reversal days will be frequent. Dealing we blips is a part of maintenance. Immediate correction is so necessary.

    That is an interesting comment that motivation increases when the task gets harder,
    Keeping a realistic sustainable weight is one way to stay motivated and on track. Using the range is also another great tool.

    Berkeley said that only 20% of the people who try to climb Mt. Everest reach the top.The percentage for people climbing Mt. Maintenance is even lower.

    You have successfully made maintenance an important part of your life. Ten years is an amazing and inspirational accomplishment! Congratulations! You inspire all of us here and offer so many insights and tools to use. Thank you.

    I also am happier and healthier in my 60's than I was in younger years!


    1513 days ago
  • JIBBIE49
    Keeping it off is the hard part, but Dr. Beck has done it for over 20 yrs. She looks great.
    1514 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    emoticon emoticon
    1514 days ago
  • _LINDA
    Nothing is so rewarding then that which you have worked very hard to get.
    Congratulations on ten AWESOME years of keeping what you have achieved!!
    Very well done! You are an amazing inspiration!
    1514 days ago
    Wonderful! Keep at it!
    1514 days ago
    Great blog, Ellen! Maintenance is hard, but rewarding, work. Keeping that goal in the forefront of my brain when the temptation of treats and foods entice is very hard. Actually liking my body is a huge positive reward. I'm "relentlessly determined" to be one of the successful maintainers over the long haul.
    1514 days ago
    You are so right. I find maintenance harder than losing the weight to begin with. There seems less reward in keeping the scale numbers the same, or fitting into the same clothes, than in watching the numbers and the jeans sizes fall. Oh well, what else can I do? A heavier me just isn't a healthier me.
    1514 days ago
    A measurable goal which takes measurable effort to achieve is amazing! I love measuring my exercise, nutrition, and weight. All those measurements add up to acknowledgement. :D
    1514 days ago
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    1514 days ago
    Great blog; a lot to think about! I am slowly inching my way down to a "maintenance level" for me, and I think it's going to be higher than what a lot of people might think is right for me. But I have to be willing and ABLE to maintain it; if I can't, it's just a rock I can't push to the top of the hill. Just call me Sisyphus!

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking blog.
    1514 days ago
    1514 days ago
    Love that you got sparked to add to the conversation. Loved this bit: "Not requiring that we maintain our lowest achievable weight: being realistic about lowest sustainable weight."

    Sustainable weight or sustainable lifestyle, this is really a key thing: "my $50,000 body: the approximate annual cost in gym fees and foregone billable hours of sustaining weight loss and fitness." While it may not be directly translatable into cash amounts, I have had a similar "transfer of importance" of profession (work) versus health maintenance (also work, but of a non-cash paid sort).

    Don't know why it takes some of us so long to get to this A-HA... or why some folks don't get there this side of the grave... but I am SO GLAD to be here NOW. And hope the glow of motivation remains, because this part of life has to be the best part... when we know enough to appreciate it... and hopefully are doing enough to feel good as we do!

    Spark on, my friend, Spark on! emoticon
    1514 days ago
    Great blog. Stay motivated!
    1514 days ago
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