What can we learn about personal and professional change from the popular reality show “The Biggest Loser”; a show that focuses on losing weight? How do these ordinary people go about losing amazing amounts of weight and in so doing change their lives in such relatively short periods of time?
Learning #1: No deep and lasting change can come about without a deep and heartfelt motivation.
Why would anyone put themselves through the trauma of life change (in this case weight loss) without a strong motivation, a deep purpose? Most of the contestants are motivated by health concerns, if they don’t take action to change they will die prematurely. Some are motivated by wanting to be alive for their children and families. Others are motivated by wanting to be able to do things that other people are doing, things that their obesity prevents.
The motivations vary; but when the work begins, once every ounce of commitment the contestant has, is called for; the “for sake of what” they are doing this, becomes their pillar of strength. It keeps them going when their bodies say “Quit.”
Learning #2: Having a coach who knows what it takes to make change happen can help you through the process and increase the chances of your success.
It is the coach who educates the contestants about nutrition and diet. It is the coach who gets to know the individual’s motivation, their weaknesses and strengths, and sets up a regimen of weight loss for them. It is the coach who reminds the contestants of their motivation, their “for sake of what” when they feel like giving up. It is the coach who encourages them, comforts them when they fall short of their goals, and celebrates even the smallest victories with them. There is no doubt that this can be done alone; but the coaches definitely increases the chances of success and help things happen more quickly.
Learning #3: Creating collegial teams that support each other as we experience the trauma and difficulties of change is an important element of success.
Contestants bond with their fellow team mates who are experiencing the new diets, the new workout regimens and the aches, pains, and pangs of hunger that go with them. Having a team to support them also allows for the hugs and words of encouragement that contestants need when they get homesick, tired, or discouraged. It is a different type of connection than that given by the coach. The change team is sharing common emotions and common experiences from the learners point of view.
Learning #4: Nothing is more important than adopting new practices.
Simply put, without creating new eating habits and new exercise habits, the contestants will not lose weight. No matter how much they are motivated to lose weight, it requires a deep commitment to take on new practices. Highly motivated contestants can practice without a coach and, although it is more difficult, can succeed. Contestants can lose weight without team mates. Contestants can lose weight without being on the Biggest Loser Campus…but they cannot lose weight if they continue eating and exercising the way they always have.
Learning #5: By “being the change” we inspire others to change.
The contestants who participate in “The Biggest Loser” transform their lives spiritually and physically. Those that entered with damaged self-images, lack of confidence, and a general feeling of being “less than” other people; leave appreciating what they have done, the sacrifices they have made, the commitments they have kept, the discipline and will they have demonstrated, the perseverance and courage they have showed. Interestingly, these are some of the fundamental qualities of leadership!
Not only have they lost weight but they have changed their perceptions of themselves from “losers” to “winners”. Yes, the weight loss is the outer success; but the inner success is even more important because now they have learned that they can apply these inner qualities to other things. They know that they can accomplish anything.
And the additional beauty of this is that by changing themselves, by demonstrating that they could do this…they inspire the rest of us to try.
If we apply these 5 elements of weight loss success to our own development as leaders, to our own journeys as agents of educational change; we will make a huge difference to ourselves and those we lead.
Note: For another twist on the theme of weight loss and leadership transformation see Miguel Guhlin’s post: Transforming Education: The Diet Leadership Approach.