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How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems

There was a time when I was overweight, but didn’t want to admit it to myself. I didn’t feel in control of my health, because I couldn’t quit smoking or eat healthier for longer than a few days, nor exercise regularly.

Thinking about my weight made me feel horrible, so I didn’t want to even think about it.

Of course, not thinking about it meant I never did anything about it. Not facing my problems made it worse, which just made me feel worse. It was a downward spiral, and really hard to stop.

I had the same downward spiral when I was in debt (at the same time in my life, about 8 years ago). I couldn’t pay all my bills, so I would stuff them in a drawer so I didn’t have to see them. I had creditors calling me but I didn’t answer their calls (I knew their numbers on the caller ID). I didn’t know how much debt I was in because I never wanted to open the envelopes, much less add it all up on paper. I’d borrow money to pay bills, then owe more. And I’d skip paying lots of bills, and accrue interest.

It wasn’t a smart way to manage my finances, but I couldn’t stand the thought of facing all of it. I felt bad even thinking about my finances, so I’d avoid them, and think about other things. Of course, this led to me seeking distraction in food and entertainment and shopping, which led to worse debt.

Not facing my debt made it worse.

How did I overcome all of this? I’ll share it here, in hopes that it will help others facing the same problem — or not facing it.

It’s also important to note that if you know someone in bad health (or bad financial shape), they are probably also in denial. They don’t want to even talk about it. How do you help them? I’ll share that below too.

How I Finally Faced Things

So how do you face a problem, so you can work on it, when you don’t want to face it?

There has to be a point when you say, “This isn’t good. I need to do something about it.”

In truth, there usually isn’t just one point — there are many. It’s a building problem, where you get many data points over time — you see yourself in a picture and don’t like how heavy you look, you get a comment from someone that’s less than flattering, your pants don’t fit anymore, you breathe heavy when you try to run for a couple of minutes.

But then there has to be a point where you decide that enough is enough. You start to feel some resolve. You decide you can do something — it’s not insurmountable.

How exactly I got to that point, I can’t fully remember. But I do know that there were several things that helped me:

  • Inspiration: Seeing other people with similar situations who overcame the problem — in blogs and magazines, mainly.
  • Do-ability: I didn’t think I could lose all the weight or overcome my huge mountain of debt in a day or a week … but having a small step I could actually do was mentally empowering. If I could do something in a day or two, that was doable. It felt like I could take control again.
  • Motivation: When I saw that my health problems were going to be an example for my kids, I knew I had to make a change. When I saw that my financial problems were hurting my family, I knew I had to make a change. In both cases, my motivation for change was bigger than myself — I was doing it to help people I cared about.
  • Commitment: When I was inspired by others to make a change, I took an easy step that’s actually a very big step — I made a commitment. Making a commitment is actually very easy — you can tell a friend, a child, a spouse, or the world (via social media or email) that you’re going to make a change. Commit not just to “losing weight” or “getting out of debt” but to something specific: “run 3x a week and cut out sweets” is better. So is “make a list of all my debts, then make a payment to the first one”. Those are first steps … you can always “add more veggies” or “make a meal plan” after you get started. But making a commitment is an easy (if a bit scary) first step that will lock you in to further steps.

I have to admit that it wasn’t as simple as making a decision to change, and then continually making progress with no discouragements. Not at all. I would try to make a change, slip up, feel bad, then start again. And again. And make adjustments each time, learning about myself in the process, and over time getting good at the skill of change.

But the first step — facing the problem — was made possible by inspiration, do-ability, motivation and finally commitment.

How to Get Others to Face Their Problems

I firmly believe that you can’t force anyone to change. You can only inspire them to change, if you’re lucky. That’s not an easy task.

If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with health issues, or financial problems, or something similar where they don’t want to face the problem … it’s tough. They probably don’t want to hear it from you.

However, that’s not to say you should throw your hands up and forget about it. You can still help. Just don’t try to force it.

Here’s what I would suggest:

  1. Never attack — empathize. Never tell the person they’re doing something wrong, or imply they’re a bad or undisciplined or lazy person. Assume that they have the best of intentions, that they would change if they could, but they feel bad about it. Assume that you would feel the same if you were in their position — and try to remember a time when you felt that way. Don’t be patronizing, nor “sympathize”. That’s condescending.
  2. Inspire. Set an example, and share what’s working for you. Share stories of other people who have overcome problems.
  3. Suggest something do-able. And do it with them. If you want them to tackle health issues, suggest the two of you go walking after work every day. Just for 15 minutes (at first). It’s a nice way to socialize and bond, but also get active. This is a small step that can be built upon — later you can walk further, or faster, and maybe add some jogging intervals to the walking after a few weeks or months (health permitting). You can also later do some diet challenges. But the key is to make the steps do-able, easy, and social.
  4. Offer to be an accountability buddy. If the other person admits to not being motivated, suggest that they commit to you, and be accountable to you (email you every day or every week to share progress or lack thereof). Suggest that they set a fun consequence (something embarrassing) if they don’t live up to their commitment to you. Or do a challenge, where the two of you are doing something fun at the same time — a pushup challenge, a thousand-steps challenge, an eat-more-vegetables challenge.

Despite your best efforts, this might not work. You can’t force change on someone. They have to want it themselves. And if they don’t, you can’t make them want it. In that case, you’ll have to back off, though showing concern and wanting to help is always something you can do.

Change is possible. Facing problems is totally possible. You just might need a little inspiration to do it.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Chapters
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC