Do You Really Believe You Can Change?

There’s something about an “against all odds” account that gets people going. I know I love them. I’m a sucker for a good sports tribute or even a good story that circulates on Facebook. Being in the field I’m in, I’ve seen it thousands of times. Heck, look through the MDA Success Stories and see how many are those jaw-dropping surprises you wouldn’t believe except you’re seeing it there in full pixel glory. Behind every one of those accounts is some kind of energy. It’s not unique. It’s just persistent. It’s a belief that you can leave behind old behavior and restriction. It’s a belief that you can walk into a new way of living the same way anyone else can. It’s the belief that you have what it takes to show up for yourself on a daily basis, accomplish the task you’ve set out to do and let the momentum take you to levels of health you desperately want or maybe can’t even envision yet. It’s the concept of self-efficacy.

Research consistently confirms that our sense of self-efficacy will predict short-term and long-term success in behavior change. In other words, if we believe we can make a change, we’re much more likely to actually have success in making change happen. If under the facade of wanting change, however, we ultimately feel we’re incapable of accepting or sticking to the necessary behaviors, we’re sabotaging ourselves from the start.

The concept of self-efficacy was defined by the famous psychologist Albert Bandura in 1986. In a seminal article from that same year, a group of researchers applied the concept of self-efficacy to health behavior, separating it into two parts, namely our “outcome expectations,” the “expectations about the outcomes that will result from one’s engaging in a behavior” and our “efficacy expectations,” the “expectations about one’s ability to engage in or execute the behavior.” Outcome expectations can come into play we can get stuck in thinking, as the researchers suggest, that nothing – not even the most extensive and smart lifestyle change – will help us stave off a disease we fully expect to get, like inheriting our parents’ diabetes or high blood pressure. Unfortunately, in the nearly three decades since this seminal article, I’d say the fatalistic mindset has more of a collective impact than ever. Culturally, we’ve come to believe that disease is normal. We should fully anticipate developing one or more significant health conditions as we approach old age if not middle age. Too many people these days resign themselves to a life of ill health chalking it up to “aging.”

That said, it’s the self-efficacy expectations that undermine most of us. We don’t have a problem believing that living Primally will help us lose the weight, gain the energy, build the physical strength and stamina, and achieve great health as it’s done for so many. Beyond the confidence in the approach, however, we wonder if we ourselves will really be able to hack it – to follow through on all the dietary, exercise and lifestyle changes we want to make. At the end of the day, there’s this nagging old voice in the back of our minds asking if we really have it in us to thrive. Is that kind of success really for us to experience, or do we on some half-conscious level believe thriving is for “other people”? Will we end up dropping our better expectations for ourselves or curtailing our goals in lieu of “more reasonable” objectives that diminish the benefits we allow ourselves to experience? How far will our personal sense of self-efficacy take us? Where do we hit the end of the line – our (too often) self-imposed limitations?

Let’s jump ahead for a moment. The takeaways from self-efficacy research as it applies to health behavior suggest a number of points. First off, we’re generally better off thinking along the lines of a mastery “succession” that takes new behaviors through stages. This is especially important for those who are the types to hurl themselves into the pool, taking on every massive change at once only to get burned out quickly or caught off guard by influences/choices we can’t handle yet. Yes, it can work to accept multiple changes simultaneously, but expecting mastery right away in all of them is a setup for major frustration. Self-efficacy shifts based on a number of factors, including “magnitude,” which reflects the varying levels of difficulty. We can feel a sense of self-efficacy for the early level(s) of an endeavor but not feel it for higher levels of difficulty. Personal experience over time – in addition to the model of others’ successes and verbal encouragement – can convince us later to feel self-efficacy for these further, more advanced demands.

Likewise, the researchers suggest, we need to view our “lapses” through a more productive lens. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we can choose to assess what influenced the detour. It’s that core Primal concept of “no failure – only feedback.”

What hits the nail on the head for me about self-efficacy research are the parameters often assigned to the definition itself: self-efficacy for a particular task at a particular time. Well, we can say self-efficacy for changing health, but in truth we need to get more specific. What is the particular task we’re trying to accomplish? What is the particular time in which we’re attempting to live the behavior change? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with who completely trip themselves up on the fact that they can’t see themselves as the svelte man/woman at the beach. Likewise, they’ll say they can’t look into the future and see themselves as people who run 10Ks or who can lift what other people at the gym. They can’t envision doing five years from now what they can barely motivate themselves to do now. They’ll never lose the weight. They’ll never feel energetic the way they used to.

Therein lies the vast majority of self-efficacy issues in my mind. The beach bod example isn’t the behavior change itself. That’s self-image. If you’re wrapped around self-image and can’t extricate yourself from the negative messaging, you’ll never get to self-efficacy. The “I’ll never” statements? Those are the old stories we tell ourselves – old self-concept we need to let go of in order to assess our present reality rather than be stuck in a distorted perception that imposes its story on everything. Sure, you could call it generalizing poor self-efficacy. How about we just call it horse (blank)? Extract the all-consuming fiction from momentary fact. You’re able-bodied. You have a kitchen and money to buy food. There’s no place for “I’ll never” in this equation. Fluff – falsehood to be ejected from any further thinking. Likewise, squinting at “the future” and not seeing the ability to keep exercising is irrelevant. You aren’t making a commitment to be exercising five years from now. Who can commit to doing anything five years from now?

Self-efficacy is about your perception of your ability to complete a task – not to become a different person. Neither is it a blanket statement about your character or ability to take on any and all change. It’s about a particular change at a specific time. We live life, after all, in the particulars, in the day to day. Can I eat an omelet instead of Frosted Flakes for breakfast? Can I do 20 minutes of body weight exercise over the lunch hour? Can I get to bed by ten o’clock tonight? That’s really all that matters. When we focus on our capacity for the task, it depersonalizes the process. Suddenly, our baggage can’t rear its ugly head to manipulate or justify. Those negative, self-defeating storylines feed off of vagueness – the collapsing of past into distant future. They lose their intimidating dimensions in the present day.

Research aside now, I’ve said before that who you are tomorrow will decide what you’re capable of tomorrow. Your job is simply to decide today based on who you are and what you’re ready for today. That’s it. None of us can make judgments about ourselves five years from now or even five weeks from now. I’d argue that five days from now is irrelevant. It’s literally today. What can you believe you’re capable of accomplishing today? Scale it down to Grok scope. Yes, there was a sense of larger patterns, but life was lived in the action of the present moment.

I think of those parenting suggestions you read now about how to give your children confidence. Naturally, the younger generation is on my mind this week with the release of Paleo Girl. The experts agree that we don’t foster confidence in our children – whether preschoolers or adolescents – by assigning descriptives to them: “Oh, you’re so smart,” “You’re great at sports,” “You’re a natural leader,” “You’re beautiful and healthy,” blah, blah. Offering them blanket statements imposes blanket truths they can’t possibly live up to all the time. From there, the dissonance inevitably confuses and possibly derails them. The better way is to praise their effort, to note their dedication, to celebrate the time and passion they put into their endeavors.

Funny how what works for the young’uns still works for the older folks. I’d argue we do ourselves a disservice when we trump up self-efficacy as a larger than life confidence or even swagger to achieve whatever we can envision. The truth is, we can build our own sense of self-efficacy by witnessing the evidence of our own dedication to the tasks we set for ourselves. The question isn’t so much “Can I achieve this?” as much as it is “Can I show up for this?” It’s an inquiry into both willingness and readiness. What’s blocking either or both of those elements?

Finally, I’d suggest that self-efficacy is a commitment to self-knowledge and even self-experimentation (you know I’m fond of that). When we choose to get healthy, to get strong, to feel better throughout our day, to enhance our life and longevity, we’re not really signing up for living by a particular formula. Formulas are like “diets”: they’re not sustainable in the long-run. I see self-efficacy as a dynamic force that requires continual investment, that has to respond, live and breathe in the present. There’s no settling for abstractions or living off your laurels. It’s about having the courage and determination to show up for real-time self-discovery. What do you need to let go of to feel up to a task? What influences, messages, people? What positive inputs do you require to maintain the perception of your capacity? We can cultivate true self-efficacy by focusing on the task but appreciating the dimensions of our process in getting there.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What thoughts does the subject bring up for you? How do you invest in your own self-efficacy, and how do you benefit? Share your feedback, and have a great end to the week.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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67 thoughts on “Do You Really Believe You Can Change?”

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  1. One of your best posts ever!! So true…and so needed.
    Thanks, Mark!

    1. I totally agree – one of the best posts! (And that’s saying a lot, as there are many, many I go back to and re-read.) Thanks, Mark!

  2. I completely agree that the “blanket statements” we hear about ourselves as children do nothing for our sense of self efficacy. I heard that I was smart, athletic, and beautiful and yet I felt empty, powerless, and sometimes paralyzed by a lack of true self efficacy.

    I held expectations for myself that did not allow for mistakes, learning, or growth. I have had to work on developing my sense of efficacy by DOING all the things I was afraid to fail at. Setting out to do something scary, showing up for it, following through and learning about myself in the process.

    Those blanket statements mean nothing and don’t help. Now with 3 kids it’s a struggle to balance the urge to tell them those things with letting them have more meaningful experiences, that sometimes include failing and learning from it.

  3. Years ago, I was a fairly strict macrobiotic vegan. That gives me the confidence that I can do any diet I set my mind to do. I started Primal with the attitude that Mark had to prove to me that every step was necessary. He did. It took a couple years to get to about 90% Primal. The results are excellent. But if, when I first heard Mark speak, he had made a shrill strict Paleo rant, I would have written him off from the start.

    1. I like the idea of an 80/20 Paleo approach. It makes a person realize that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Some days you can do more, or, on special occasions, you can do less. Knowing this takes the pressure off and removes the guilt. Often just the knowledge that you can cheat if you want to is enough to satisfy.

    2. On my website (see my signature) I have an article about getting someone to go Primal/Paleo/etc. Various suggestions I have gleaned from MDA.

  4. I want to change – every single day I get up thinking today is the day I’ll get my eating back on track (no dairy, lower carbs, better meat choices)…however, I’m more concerned with hubby – he has psoriatic arthritis, A-fib, over 6′ tall but weighs only about 180 lbs. He eats “lowfat” and at his age (over 60) seems to have suddenly lost a lot of muscle mass – his arms are “skinny” – he works out every single day – runs and lifts weights and is committed to that. However, his food choices are not good – he loves his sugary orange juice, sugary cookies, sugary yogurt and eats a salad every day with lowfat raspberry dressing (sugary – bad oils!) and lowfat turkey/ham/processed cheese. I want him to move to a primal palate and he is thinking about it – but will that change help him develop the muscle mass again that he wants — I know it should reduce the pain from the arthritis and have mentioned that to him time & again.

    Lots of questions — just need to know what direction to go in to really help him since I do most of the cooking. Thanks for any suggestions.

    1. DJ, I have a spouse in a similar situation. He has no intention of changing his lifestyle. I have ceased encouraging him to take better care of his health and just do what I have to do for myself.

      1. Please don’t give up trying to help your hubby change his lifestyle. Losing him will break your heart and make you wish you’d focused more of your attention on his health while you had he chance. Being a widow is heart-breaking.

    2. DJ, don’t try to change everything at once. If you do the shopping and cooking you can stop buying the sugary sweets. Try buying plain yogurt and adding your own chopped-up fruit. Obviously, you can buy real cheese instead of the processed stuff. You can also bake and slice chicken or turkey breast instead of buying commercial coldcuts, which contain a lot of unnecessary chemicals and preservatives.

      Read the labels to find healthier salad dressings or make your own. It’s easy enough if you have a blender. It’s also easy to slip more healthy fats into the meals you cook. Make these and other changes gradually so hubby gets a chance to get used to them a little at a time. Whey protein is supposed to be good for building muscle mass. MDA has info on this; check the archives. As for arthritis, eliminating most grain products, particularly wheat, might help the most.

      1. I agree completely. I’m slowly, slowly winning over my husband. I serve him his pasta, while explaining why I don’t partake. I purchase full fat, organic dairy (still trying to find raw milk). I make my own full fat yogurt, mayo and salad dressings with real ingredients. I serve 2 or 3 vegetables at dinner every night.

        Above all, I do NOT fuss or nag at him to change. His choice are his to make and my choices are mine. I explain the science behind why he should eat this way, and let him choose.

    3. How does he normally respond to your suggestions to change your (collective) diets? What if you just made something different for dinner (seasonal roasted veggies, fatty meat) and served it? Would he complain about what you serve, or is it more about the add-ons (yogurt, cookies, etc)?

      For my husband (who is, admittedly, much younger that yours, at 26), it took me explaining why exactly I stopped eating gluten (eczema, inflammation), why wheat/excessive grains are not good (blood sugar spikes, weight gain), and why more fat is better (fullness). AND showing him the resources I use and letting him to do his own research. Once he read about the studies, he was convinced and willing to start making changes (and when we’re out w/ friends, he eats whatever he wants, no guilt from me). There was a study awhile ago citing a correlation between protein intake and longevity in “older” people (over 55 I believe) so at the very least, changing his diet could have a good effect on his lifespan.

      Talk w/ him, explain your reasoning, give him the resources to learn (if that’s how he is motivated), and start cooking healthy for both of you. Your grocery bill may rise, but at least it’ll be with quality foods rather than $6/lb deli meat (ick).

      1. I really really appreciate all of the suggestions and ideas! He does listen to me somewhat – but doesn’t really agree with the high fat/lower carb idea and is entrenched in the lowfat dogma – did I mention his father was a physician? Anyway I am going to try to incorporate some different ideas in his dinners slowly without being judgmental if he decides he still wants some carby sides to go with. As for his crap-lunch – I will have to literally prepare it for him every day but I can certainly do that!

        1. I “prepare” lunch every day for my husband – leftovers + some nut-based granola bar (Kind, Trio, whatever is cheap at costco and doesn’t have *too* much sugar) and unsweetened nuts. Sometimes it’s a pile of refried beans, cheese, meat + a bag of tortilla chips. Pack in the evening, throw in lunch bag in the morning. Quick and easy, and better than spending $5-10 every day to eat fast food.

  5. A person close to me has hit his own personal wall, and at 6 ft 3′ and 400+ pounds, 26 yrs old, is going to try Primal. We will cook together (been primal for 6 months myself, going great), and this post comes at the perfect time for him to start this journey of 10000 + steps. Community support is appreciated; my dearest wish is to see him on a Friday success story one day. Thank you Mark, you may have just saved another life.

  6. Would you say that self-efficacy is related to the concept of resiliency?

    When I was recovering from a near-fatal accident I woke up each day in pain and in a sad state, but even then I knew that I had to get through the day, that I had to do my physical therapy, do my occupational therapy. The thought of not doing those tasks, of not making it through the day never entered my mind.

    Only later did I come to know from doctors and my wife, a nurse, that that mindset is not always the case with people recovering from accidents. Or, in what you’re talking about, making a life change. I think the two are related. Believing that you can do something is not too dissimilar from the idea that there is no other choice. That failure is irrelevant.

    Can self-efficacy be taught though? That’s what I wonder.

    1. I had a similar experience after a car accident as a teen, then later with an emergency surgery in my 30s. I pushed through every pain and did what they told me because I expected full recovery and that was the path forward. I saw myself as a fully functioning person, there was no other option. I know that methodical drive is in me, but it hasn’t translated to weight management yet. I wonder how to get to the place where there is no other option…to the place where I see myself as a strong, lean, healthy person and take the daily steps to get there.

    2. Thank you for sharing your story! Wow! What an incredible journey to come through. I totally believe that self-efficacy can be taught. I have seen chronically depressed and suicidal people teach themselves to think positively instead of negatively. It is hard work but it can be done. People just need their “aha” moment to realize that they need to change their way of thinking and that it’s possible.

      1. My sister is currently recovering from a massive stroke, & whenever I’m tempted to slack off my exercise, I think of her & how she has had to relearn how to sit up straight & walk. It takes a lot of guts & determination to fight through that kind of pain & physical weakness.

        She does have incredible motivation, though!

      2. It most definitely can be taught. I’m reading Murray and Fortinberry’s “Raising an Optimistic Child” after reading Seligman’s ‘The Optimistic Child”. Really, the whole Positive Psychology/Cognitive Psychology movement is based on the teachability of self-efficacy.

  7. Really enjoyed this one. It is hard to stay in the present moment and not get discouraged by the bigger picture.

    “What can you believe you can accomplish today” that really brings it home! That’s what’s really gonna matter. Good stuff

  8. Hi DJ:

    The first thing he should do is read Nora Gedeaudas book Primal Body Primal Mind. I think people have to figure this stuff out for themselves before they are able to commit. I don’t believe that you can simply tell someone who’s been used to adhering to conventional wisdom that this ‘new, completely backward’ way of eating is better, they have to come to it on their own. My husband read this Nora’s book – while, coincidently, I was reading David Pulmutter’s Grain Brain.

    That combination was pretty compelling. I was extremely resistant to eating all that animal protein. I wasn’t a vegetarian – we mostly eat salmon, and steak was a naughty treat we indulged in about once every couple of months at the most. However, after reading both the books I mentioned, I decided to experiment.

    We are now – after 9 months for him and 5 months for me – 100% Primal eaters. I could go on to describe in detail some pretty amazing physical outcomes thus far, but suffice to say that after three years with his blood pressure hovering in the 140/90 zone it has dropped to consistently 120/80 in the past six months. No other lifestyle changes were made, so I’m 100% convinced that has been a result of Primal eating.

  9. This was a serious gut check for me. I’ve been trying to go Primal for 3 years and I keep self-sabotaging. Depression and anxiety aside, it’s hard to see myself as anything else other than what I am, i.e. stronger, healthier, faster. And I guess that’s what the article is trying to say. That we don’t envision ourselves as something other than who we are, rather that same person doing something different than what we normally do. Brings to mind the old quote, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had.” (paraphrasing)

    1. I think that quote is from the great American philosopher Waylon Jennings.

  10. While I was trudging through a workout today, I was thinking about the results I wanted and wondering why I just can’t make myself get there. I dabble, but am not consistent enough to see results. I decided that I focus too much on the results (which leads me down the road of self-doubt). I’m going to focus more on the process, the daily habits that I need to put in place, and let the results take care of themselves. When I look out too far in the future, it seems like I’ll never get there. When I chunk up my day/week, I can manage it better. Very timely post, Mark. Thanks for the insight.

  11. Not living off our laurels. That’s a great line Mark. So many hit their so-called goals and think they have made it, and then they give up! This human existence is not all that easy, but keeping our nose to the Primal grindstone makes it much more healthy and enjoyable. Or dare I say, almost easy.

  12. Excellent article. It’s so interesting and true that we can be our own worst enemy. Even though we might see the value in something like a specific diet/workout routine/ etc, we might keep putting it off. Most of the reasons I grapple with for not doing things I know are effective are:
    I’m afraid to commit to it
    I don’t think I can follow through
    Don’t think it will work for me

    Lately, I’ve been working on acting on my desires instead of just letting them sit in limbo. I’ve began weightlifting regularly, watching what I eat more, and have even started up my own blog that I hope to eventually turn into a source of revenue.

    The Primal Blueprint, and a handful of other sites, has really refined my beliefs on nutrition, fitness, and the ability to aspire to something more.

  13. EXCELLENT post! Because none of us are even guaranteed a tomorrow. All we really can do is be the very best ME for today. Make every moment count. Make the best decisions for the best reasons just for today. The tomorrows we can face when/if they get here.

    My last ‘weak’ area is how I handle extraordinary stressors. I still want to knee-jerk to sugar for comfort. I get better at it all the time, and I try and remind myself I’m re-learning behaviors after decades of doing it wrong. I can’t expect overnight success any more than we expect kindergartners to perform surgery.

  14. This is what my brother-in-law (who is a recovered alcoholic, etc. for probably 30 years), when I asked him how he gave up sugar (permanently, no cheats): “It’s a process.” I’ve been trying to work on “the process” now for 4 years, the last 2 of which I found Primal. Primal was really tough for me, the carb and sugar withdrawal, we so intense, I could never make it 3 weeks. Then, I gave up! Yup. But I couldn’t go back to eating grains after everything I’ve learned, so I just added starches for the carb kick I needed. This lasted about 10 months. But I got tired of needing to eat so many meals and my gut never healed, so I’m now nearly 4 weeks starch-free (thanks, in part, to the recent “heal your gut” series) and adding more coconut oil and grassfed butter. Even today I had a blood-sugar moment (and I thought I was past that) and I get frustrated that “it’s not working”. But I tell myself “it’s a process” – metabolic, psychological, habit-oriented, etc. So, my advice? If you fall down, just get up and keep going. Sounds juvenile. But the alternative is to give up entirely and that doesn’t lead anywhere. Am I better off today than 4 weeks ago? Than 10 months ago? Than 4 years ago? Absolutely! Am I where I want to be, is it happening at the speed I want it to? Nope, but it’s a process.

  15. “If it is to be, it’s up to me,” and “As you dream, so shall you become.” Both of these truths became apparent to me years ago and I still carry them with me daily.

  16. This article came as an encouragement to me. Sometimes, I feel discouraged on my journey. I lost 86 pounds and am now at 115. I’ve been working to become more athletic, stronger, but it is a slow process at my age – 61. I do an excellent fitness and self defense program but often still feel like the goober I was in high school – labeled non-athletic, last one to be chosen for teams. My trainer is not very encouraging and uses criticism in a military style to motivate. I sometimes need to find some mode of encouragement. Mark was at least a marathon runner – I’ve been fairly inactive except for some treadmills, ellipticals, weight machines that failed to make me strong and swimming for the last 20 years. I’ve found weakness in all parts of my body and sometimes feel like I am restoring an old car. I sometimes feel so overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. I keep working bit by bit and am two years into it. If I mention that in five years I’ll be stronger, my trainer says, “Just remember where you’ll be then” meaning my age. Any words of wisdom for me? Mark? Am I chasing rainbows or can something be done?

    1. Vicki–I’m not Mark, but my words of wisdom would be “find a new trainer”. You should be working with someone who motivates and excites you, not someone who does just the opposite. 61?? My dad would say “you’re just a kid”. He’s 88, very close to primal (we trade CW articles, just for laughs) and going strong.

    2. Hey Vicky, all that needs to be done is what you need to do today. Make mostly good food choices today. Enjoy your workout and work hard today, and don’t cheat yourself by thinking about 5 yrs as an unattainable goal. 5 yrs from now is just 1825 TODAYS strung together. Make most of ’em good, and you’ll get there.

    3. I’m not Mark either….but I’m 62…and I always get a shocked look when people find out my age…I’m far from perfect and I wouldn’t wan to look like I did in high school….I wasn’t strong then…now I am very strong. I struggle with the fact that I was stronger in my 50’s than I ever was in my life ( I was working as a banquet waiter 8-10 hours a day…talk about “carry heavy things”

      I still have the muscle but definitely don’t feel as strong as then….I can still carry very heavy things (I carry heavy groceries over a mile….people stop to offer me rides every few blocks usually….and look at me strangely when I tell them it’s intentional for my health….LOL!

      But I realized recently I am stronger than most men I know… I have to be patient with myself

      Firs thing…DUMP THAT TRAINER….YOU KNOW YOU ARE GOING IN THE RGHT don’t want that kind of abuse associated with your god health

    4. Vicki I’m a trainer and I strongly suggest you find a trainer who coaches differently! They do exist 🙂 I think you’re amazing already!
      If you live in the US, Canada, UK or Australia you could try finding someone who uses PTA Global methods – giving clients what THEY want in an encouraging, supportive way, not imposing what the trainer thinks they need in a forceful way.

  17. Hi vicki, this post was made for you! Congrats on ypur weight loss. That shows you made a daily goal for eating and acomplished it. You say your class is excellent…but the teacher is a drill sargent and you are not where you want to be with your fitness. My papa passed at 96yo. He loved snow skiing until he was 89 and golfed well into his 90’s often scored his age! He recovered from a subdural hemotoma and broken leg in his 70’s. The point, create daily goals around what you love. I love my cossfit, yoga, eliptical and walking in my neighborhood. I call it “street hiking” to make it more badass. I may not be the fastest. My goal is to finish based on how I feel that day. Will you teacher still be teaching the class in his 60’s? I know I want to be moving unitil they take me out of the gym feet first!

    1. Love that; create daily goals around what you love! I love to swim and have been swimming 30+ years and have some small tears in both rotator cuffs as a result. I have cut back some swimming and also bike and walk to mix it up but have a hard time with the “lift heavy things” part. I’d like to try Crossfit but at 65 with several herniated discs and the shoulder issues, wonder if that’s not a smart choice. I know they scale it to your level and all that, but a physical therapist told me not to lift anything above my head, which seems kind of dumb because I do that just in daily activities.

      So I can see myself as stronger and more athletic and sometimes chomp at the bit to try something like Crossfit that would really challenge me. But what’s realistic for a 65 year old body with some overuse injuries? I don’t want to need surgery because I tore my rotator cuff further, but I’d like to test my limits and get stronger. How do you temper “go for the gold” self efficacy with “don’t get hurt” realistic goals? I’m a caregiver for my hubby so can’t afford to be injured or “out of commission”!

      1. Laurie there’s no reason you can’t do Crossfit movements, but an actual Crossfit gym may not be the best place to learn them. I would suggest working with an experienced (5 years or more) trainer to learn the movements used in Crossfit workouts first. Once you’re comfortable and you know what weight you can lift in those movements, you could go to a crossfit gym without fear of being pushed too far. Good luck! 🙂

        1. Great advice, Krista! Many thanks! I just need to find a trainer who knows Crossfit, and someone I can afford. I’ll ask around.

  18. The power of how strongly we internalize our self-efficacy beliefs cannot be denied. My best friend comes from a family of overweight people. Her father and one sister are/were overweight, and another sister and her mother are/were obese. I have watched her go from normal weight to obese over the last 20 years and it is so hard to watch. The sad part is that she is adopted – she is not even genetically related to her adoptive family! Even her degree in nutrition has been no help against that powerful belief that there’s nothing she can do to change her health. I had a serious sit-down with her about 10 years back when I started my own lifestyle changes, and now I just try to be as much of a role model as I can without knocking her over the head with it. It’s not easy!

  19. Beautiful article.

    This post is well timed for me. I’ve been diving back into a self-discovery phase since and have revived an old dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ve wobbled between believing it’s totally possible and totally impossible for years now, partially due to finances and other responsibilities, but mostly due to my “bad back” that I’ve had since I was a teenager. I have such a hard time believing it’s possible for me to hike 10 miles with a pack on my back, let alone 2k+, without finding myself in misery after the first ten minutes of every day. I haven’t even attempted training because of this–but maybe it’s time I try to tackle it, one day at a time.

    You guys are always helpful–anyone have any tips for back strengthening exercises for someone without access to a gym? I was thinking of starting by just walking with a backpack a few miles every day and gradually adding weight.

    1. Check out the guest articles here on MDA about bridges and planks for help with strengthening your back.

    2. check out foundation training by eric goodman easy to do excercises, 15 minutes every other day. many people reporting extraordinary results

  20. I was one of those people who never believed they’d have a beach body, but my body knew better and delivered it for me! I was quite content with a curvy (but slimmer) figure because I never believed I’d be a size 4. But I liked the great feeling of energy from eating clean and moving more, and the weight loss was a by-product.

  21. Another Great write-up Mark!

    Currently i am 57 years old, i recently told a friend that i was seriously thinking of starting Cross Fit, to which he responded, “Don’t be ridiculous; act your age!” I though about it for a couple of days and came to this simple conclusion: I have a choice to make: either “act my age”, or transfer my body! I joined Cross Fit last week 😉

    1. My partner and I opened a CrossFit gym 3 years ago – I was 53 and he was 57. If we ‘acted our age’ we wouldn’t be in this fantastic place right now. Our members (average age 30) keep us honest and young and hopefully they’re learning that age is no barrier. Go for it! You’ll inspire others I’m sure.

      1. Hi Lynn!

        Good for You! You are inspiration for me to keep going!
        Byw, last night’s “On-Ramp” kicked my fat butt 🙂
        Thanks for saying Hi!



  22. Very thought provoking article. Something like that we probably all need from time to time.
    My own way of entering into Primal living has been coming over a couple of years but only the last five week have I really taken it on board and I feel I thrive and have much more energy. My reason for choosing this lifestyle is for my health, I am 58 with all the aches and pains that follows this age bracket. Should I happen to lose some weight along the way, well that will of course be great too.
    My own technique to overcome stumbling points is to stop and think what is the easy option? And then I will take the complete opposite option which invariable is a bit more difficult, but that way I feel I “win” and my subconscious nagging voice lose HA! I am also a firm believer in “baby steps” and as Mark often mentions “not being too hard on ourselves”.
    This lifestyle is for the rest of my life so I don’t regard it as a diet and therefore a battle. I simply love it and the good food that comes with it.
    I still have to change some minor things but they will be changed when the time is right. Baby Steps.

  23. Very topical article for me. I’m back on primal eating (for the last month) and while I’m about 90% primal I’m still overeating. I’m overweight and I have a refrain in my head that goes “even when I lose weight I won’t have the body I want” (due to age etc) which makes seeing where I want to be, and acting to get there, very difficult.

    Just focussing on the tasks (move more, eat less, keep sleeping well, find what my sustainable behaviour point is, ignoring the sabotaging voice) would be much easier.

    Great article!

  24. It’s good to understand what the problem is; I’ve been struggling with these exact issues for years. On the other hand, it would be great to understand how to fix the problem. Sure, there are all sorts of concepts of WHAT we need to do; now HOW do we do them?

    This reminds me of a blogger and ex-teacher who wrote of finally understanding his job when he met a wiser and more experienced teacher. The wiser teacher explained that unruly and failing students are told to “pay attention”, “cooperate”, and to “listen and take notes”, but they don’t know what any of that means.

    The same applies here. How do we “witness evidence of our own dedication”? How do we “continually invest” in self-efficacy? What does that mean? Sure, we need to do that. How?

  25. I needed that! On my 49th birthday I was asked what do I want for my 50th birthday. I said, “To be in better shape than I was on my 40th birthday.” Moving to 70/30 paleo has got me to within 1lb of my weight at 40. I think the key to the process is to set attainable short term diet and exercise goals that are easy to achieve. For example, set a goal to not eat any grains at the office this week. When this becomes habitual it is easier to drop grains altogether. Same with exercise. Set a simple goal to do X pushups and 2X sit-ups and walk around the block at least 4 days a week. When this short term goal becomes diminutive, one will be motivated to increase the sets and gradually add more activities. As for us older folks with rusty joints and/or past injuries, indoor rowing is a low impact, full body, cardiocentric activity. It’s suitable equipment for recovering bypass patients and olympic medalists alike. It’s great for sprints for those of us who cannot run and the electronics log excercise activity in seconds and meters. Positive incremental progress is the key to getting our bodies to convince our heads we are doing the right thing.

  26. Long-time reader, first-time commenter.

    This post was exactly what I needed to read today. I often start to feel depressed because I don’t see myself as what I want to be. I don’t see it in my mind’s eye or in real life.

    One of the things that always gets me down isn’t my ability to envision myself, but it is comparing my current “self” to my past “self.” I had my third child 5 years ago, lost my baby weight, then I had my fourth child 3 years ago. My fourth pregnancy was difficult due to problems with my pubic symphysis. I gained 35 pounds (not an extraordinary amount of weight), but have never lost it. So, now, 3 years after my fourth was born, I’m still carrying “baby weight.”

    I get frustrated when I see myself because I see someone that I don’t expect. This derails me more than anything else.

    I love the idea of not taking a step back and looking at the big picture (I do that too much), and instead focusing on the day to day.
    Thanks for the article!

  27. “Your job is simply to decide today based on who you are and what you’re ready for today. That’s it.”
    Sounds kind of like a Gandalf quote.

  28. Great article. Personally, I agree some of the other commenters on the 80/20 rule. I think many people try to go “all in” or 100% – not just with primal/paleo, but with anything. Then if they slip a little and hit 80/20, it feels like a failure. Then it’s easy to keep slipping. Hey, a little failure is a part of the human experience. Don’t strive for it, but if it happens, deal with it, master the experience and move forward. On the other hand, sometimes it’s okay to go all-in. Be strict. Strive for the best.
    I try to think big picture. I generally live like this:
    100% for a while
    80/20 for a while
    100% for a while
    80/20 for a while
    Over the course of year (or lifetime) that’s still an “A” grade in life – not too bad.

  29. One of the fears when i try to change my life always was: i feared to become “somebody else”, not being “me” anymore. Took me time to understand, that, first, i don’t alter my personality, but my thinking and acting; and that, second, this changes do not distract me from myself, but, in the contrary, brings me closer to my real self. I don’t become somebody else, i become a better me. The task is not to put in more force, but less – for to let go bad habits and get back or forward to the natural behaviour. One problem for me is, the old habits are partly really old, so they feel quite “natural” at first…the transition phase is most critical one. But, i succeded to stop smoking, so i’m confident to succed too with paleo:-)

  30. “When we focus on our capacity for the task, it depersonalizes the process. Suddenly, our baggage can’t rear its ugly head to manipulate or justify. Those negative, self-defeating storylines feed off of vagueness – the collapsing of past into distant future. They lose their intimidating dimensions in the present day.”

    “Formulas are like “diets”: they’re not sustainable in the long-run.”

    Wonderful post Mark. The 2 quotes above really stood out to me.

  31. Wonderful information for losing the weight, gaining the energy, building the physical strength and stamina and achieving enormous health.

  32. For me it’s not about a beach body or a number on the scale. Sure I have a picture in my head what a vital, healthy 54 year old woman looks like. I also have a picture of that same woman at 70 or 80 and there is not much difference other than a few more wrinkles and gray hair.
    From my journal very early this morning. I agree with the article and I’m on the right track…
    Day 9
    I’m feeling better already. If I am not losing weight but eating right, I need to be honest about how much I am eating and how much I am moving, etc. I don’t want what I eat and how many (fill in the blank) I ate today to be the focus of my life, my self esteme. If I am sincere about mindfulness and lifestyle change, my approach is focused on the journey not the goal. Choices in all PB areas become natural, part of who I am. I don’t want a daily routine that includes being obsessed with “numbers”. If I can be a person who naturally eats unhealthy food and moves like a slug, I can also become a person who naturally makes healthy food choices and has vitality no matter what my age. To me it really is all about the journey, finding balance and making changes in a positive direction that will last for the long haul. I’ve been Primal before but didn’t embrace the benefits long term. It was all about the goal. It didn’t last once I met the goal. Today I am finding balance in the journey. Can’t wait to see where I am at the end of 21 days, 21 months, 21 years and beyond.

  33. What can you believe you’re capable of accomplishing today?

    That’s pretty powerful, so thank you Mark! I have no issues with primal/paleo – call it what you will, eating. Indeed I love this way of eating so much I spend more time taking photos and blogging about the food I cook up, than I do eating!

    But I’m stuck in the sloth groove when it comes to exercise. There is always an excuse not to do anything, and the negative self talk is quite strong as I used to love going to the gym – not so much the cardio part but the weights were cool. So looking at what I can achieve today really helps.

  34. The pain and incongruence of wanting to change and figuring out why you’re not changing is where I am in this journey. Do I believe I can change, emphatically YES! Do I believe I have a right, need, and desire to change, emphatically yes! Yet, I wrestle the enemy in ME.