The Specific 004: Guess and Test
I am about to show you a picture I took of myself in Feb 2019. That’s about 3.5 years ago.
It’s important I put up a disclaimer right here, right now.
There’s no Photoshop trickery, ok?
I CURRENTLY DO NOT LOOK ANYWHERE CLOSE TO THIS.
I have gone back to my old self.
Skinny fat, with a tan that can only be acquired from being in front of a computer screen all day during 2.5 years of the pandemic.
You okay? Still with me? Can I have your attention please? Good.
I will answer the elephant in the room.
How did I do that?
Simple. Spend close to $7,000 on a trainer to be your sergeant-major over your food intake and exercise regime.
That trainer will make you watch what you eat. Which includes counting your calories and macronutrients. And also make you get more exercises in the gym. Losing body fat is mostly 90% what you eat and 10% exercise.
Let me summarize, losing body fat is mostly 90% watching what you eat1 and 10% exercise more.
Really. That’s it.
It cost more than just money
There’s a drawback to all the accelerated progress. When each training session costs like an expensive dinner, and you’re going close to 3x a week, you’ll end up losing body fat super fast. Like in less than a year2.
Your face will look sunken and you’ll gain years on your face just as fast as you lose inches off your waist.
In summary the costs are:
Take a hit to your pocket to the tune of 7,000 dollars.
Do what the trainer tells you to do.
And look much older on your face.
How I got started
When I first started, I didn’t immediately set out to find a 7,000 dollar trainer3.
I had a Tim Ferriss 4 hour body book. That did not help me. Though one useful thing I did do from that book was to buy a weighing scale and put it near my bed.
Every day, when I woke up, I weighed myself on it. The daily weigh-in served as a daily reminder and helped keep extra kilos off me.
I had hired trainers before at much lower rates. In terms of lifetime total, I have tried at least 4 different gyms and 2 different trainers beforehand.
All these before the expensive trainer.
A year before hiring the expensive trainer, I self-reflected, “Hey, I have hired trainers before. I bought books. I read them. I got a bit stronger and that’s it. I’m just basically fooling around. Let me just go find the very best that guarantees results.”
I went to research4 and found out the costs. (OMG!)
Before committing to the costs, I knew I had the tendency to be flaky. To manage my flakiness, I gave myself a test before hiring the trainer.
The test works like this:
Go to the gym by myself 3 times a week for 6 months straight. If I succeed, then I hire the 7k trainer. Else keep trying until I get to a point of going 3 times a week 6 months straight.
Going to the gym has a minimum standard. As long as I step foot into the gym, it counts. I can immediately turn back and go home and it still counts.
I had a standard exercise routine I downloaded off the internet. I don’t have to follow it.
Once I hit the 6 months straight of 3x weekly gym in mid 2018, I plonked the money to buy suffering for the next 8 months afterwards.
You’re probably now wondering why I still needed a trainer if I can go to the gym 3 times a week on my own.
Three things to note:
If i had gone from cold start to getting a trainer right away, I knew based on my history, i would be fighting on two fronts:
changing my lifestyle to fit in a 3x weekly gym habit
changing my lifestyle to fit in whatever the trainer wanted me to do
So this is about first solving compliance to a 3x weekly gym habit. That way, when I eventually do sign up for an expensive trainer, I have one less hard thing to deal with.
In this initial test, going to the gym still counts even if I did zero exercise.
Having a trainer increases compliance to a higher standard. You’re forced to push past your comfort levels. Trust me.
Lesson Learned: Course Correct is Better Than Perfect Plan
Did I have a clearly thought out plan right from the beginning? Actually, no. Every step of the way, I tried something and then I reflected on that experience. Based on that reflection, I made adjustments to the next step.
You don't need a grandmaster level plan if you course correct early and often.
I’m going to give you a set of principles and an algorithm that serve as the lessons learned from this experience.
The set of principles is:
Progress is not linear.
The path of progress has varying degrees of uncertainty.
Progress is neither linear nor certain
We like to think progress happens in a linear fashion, but more often than not, it looks like this.
Even if progress is non-linear and looks like this squiggly line, it would be great if I can know in advance. But, real life doesn’t work like that. Real life is more like driving a car at night, with no front lights, and only your rearview mirror and tail lights are working.
You know for sure what the path is but only in hindsight. It’s hard to see ahead with the same certainty.
Weird segue, I know. Do my illustrations annoy you? If so, one way is to subscribe, and then email me to tell me how to get better. 😅
The Algorithm to Making Progress Under Uncertainty: Guess and Test
We all want to make progress, but progress is non-linear and the way forward is uncertain. So how can we still make progress?
You essentially have to take guesses and course correct quickly once you realize your guess is wrong.
You only have 3 outcomes for your guesses:
your guess is correct and you make progress
your guess is directionally correct but you don’t make progress because that next step is too big for you right now
your guess is wrong
Outcome 1 has an obvious follow up: take the next step; make the next guess.
Outcome 3 also has an obvious follow up: try something else.
People often give up when they encounter outcome 2. But, the solution is obvious once you write it down or say out loud what the obstacle is.
If you encounter outcome 2 where the next step is too hard, you simply repeat the same guess, but you lower the difficulty. That in turn will generate a new iteration. It’s essentially a loop.
Let’s relate this back to my own fitness journey.
Guess: Reading Tim Ferriss 4 hour body book will help me achieve 11% body fat
Test: Outcome 3, guess was wrong
Guess: Hiring a entry level trainer will help me achieve 11% body fat
Test: I got stronger, yes. But the trainer didn’t focus on my diet. So, outcome 2 in terms of strength, but outcome 3 in terms of lower body fat.
Guess: Getting a high price trainer will help me achieve 11% body fat
Test: Too big a step
Guess: If I commit to going to a gym 3 times a week for 6 months, a high price trainer won’t seem as daunting
Test: Outcome 1, success
Guess: Getting a high price trainer after I nailed down a 3x weekly habit
Test: Outcome 1, Success!
You get the idea.
Guess-and-Test Is Feedback For Your Goal Pursuits
Guess-and-Test doesn’t just work at the tactical planning level where there’s uncertainty. It can also help you at the strategic-goal level because your various guess-and-test iterations will provide you with feedback.
Feedback about whether your goal is worth pursuing. Or whether the price is really as high as you thought.
I’m aware how none of this is particularly catchy or memorable. But, at least I found these to be more solidly reasoned than most of the banal yet popular stuff I found on the internet.
In the context of publishing on the internet, I have tried writing banal, fortune-cookie style short musings. They don’t seem to have caught fire.
So, this is me trying a different guess. 😉
Elsewhere on the web
I came across this and sad to hear that Gmail penalizes emails with too many headings.
I add headings liberally to make my newsletter more readable.
So, sadly I have to do the typical newsletter author thing and ask you to move my newsletter to primary tab. AWAY FROM PROMOTIONS.
Wow, this issue I am grateful to so many people for giving feedback and reading drafts of this.
P.S. you can respond directly to this email. I read every reply. I'd love to hear from you.
If you like to give me feedback on my drafts, email me back so I can add you to my list of beta readers.
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Caloric deficit, measuring body fat, etc I group under “watching what you eat”. Fitness nerds, I know I’m simplifying. But, I also want to avoid over-complicating. :)
I wasn’t purposely aiming to lose body fat in such a short period of time. I was paying something like 2500 for every 18 sessions with the trainer. And the trainer enforced accountability at a high degree. I cannot help but lose body fat, fast!
Again, this is spread across 3 or 4 tranches of payments. Each was tied to a set number of sessions with the trainer whom I met about 3x a week. Occasionally, I met him 2x a week. Things happen.
More than one person who have read my drafts have expressed interest in this research. The research was rather simple. It had more to do with the emotional acceptance that most trainers on the market focused on exercise and not on dietary requirements and what you’re really paying for is not the instructions on how to do the exercise. You’re essentially paying someone to hold you to a higher standard. I will write out this research in greater details in separate post when my personal website is ready, so email me (kimsia At oppoin DOT com) and I will put you on a list to inform when it’s ready.