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The 3 Phases of Weight Loss Motivation: Resistance, Treading Water, and the Horizon


Have you ever talked to someone who’s a regular exerciser or someone who’s really achieved a goal that you want?

You see them and they have this kind of superhuman discipline where they seem to magically have no problem going to the gym every day.

You wonder how on earth they became that way – you start thinking that maybe they’re just special, and you’re not like that.

Well, any goal’s really a three-stage progression. Almost nobody wakes up and just loves going to the gym. I was never like that, and I don’t know a lot of people who were like that.

For me, and many others, we’re driven by emotion. I hated being skinny. Someone else may hate being fat.

In today’s article, I want to share with you the three steps that basically anyone goes through – from starting a habit, to the point where we love doing a habit.

The Struggle of Starting Something New

There are three phases you go through when setting a goal. It doesn’t matter if you’re dating, trying to get fit, or looking for a new job.

Typically, these three phases are present in almost every situation. The first phase here is the resistant phase.

In the resistant phase, you know what you need to do, but you just can’t seem to get off your butt to do it. For instance, you want to get fit. You know that you need to go to the gym, but the first thing you think about is how painful it is inside.

There’s a knot in your stomach. You struggle to make the first step, and you’ll do anything else BUT do it.

You know you should, but there’s a lot of internal resistance. It’s like pushing a wall, so you procrastinate.

It’s the same thing in the beginning of a relationship where you have to put in a lot of effort, and you’re not sure if the other person’s going to give it back. It requires a lot of energy.


It’s the same thing if you’re playing a sport. Let’s say you want to learn tennis. At first you can’t even hit the ball. Then eventually you hit it over, but then it flies out of the court. You hit it again, and it goes into the net.

The first phase is really painful. It kind of sucks when you just want to play a game of tennis, but the ball keeps flying into the net or up behind you.

All this stuff is the first phase of going after any habit or any goal. There’s the resistance. It’s not that fun when you’re pushing against a wall. It requires a lot of energy and patience.

Phase Two: Not Sinking, but Barely Floating

The second phase is treading water. In this phase, you feel like you’re just, well, treading water. You’re paddling and struggling to keep yourself afloat. You’re not sinking, but you’re also barely making any progress.

In working out, this is the phase where you can get off track easily if you miss a couple of days. Miss a couple of weeks, and you’ll sink pretty quickly.

It’s the phase where your actions are erratic. You go great for a couple of weeks, and then get off track the following weeks.

In a new relationship, the scenario could be that you’re texting each other or are going out frequently. There’s lots of back and forth, but you guys aren’t sure if you’re going to be a thing yet—if you’re going to be official.

It’s also a time when you’re afraid what they might think of you. If you don’t respond to their texts or calls, they might think you’re seeing other people.

There’s still this weird sink or swim feeling, whether it might work out or not.


It’s the same thing when you’re just beginning to learn how to play tennis. When you’re not hitting the ball out as much, you start to think that maybe you should try hitting the ball at a different angle for it to go over the net.

You get a few nice swings in, and things are going better, but you’re not good enough to really play a match yet because it’s still very hit or miss.

This is the treading water phase. The process is very delicate. It changes; it goes up and down. You get off track easily, but you’re still improving quite a lot versus the resistance phase.

All this weird stuff is present in any new effort, whether it may be about getting fit, starting a new relationship, or learning a new sport.  It’s that moment in between that could make or break your goal.

Phase Three: The Horizon – It Gets Better

The third phase is what I call the horizon. Imagine you’re on a boat and you see the horizon as the sun rises and sets. It’s a beautiful and inspiring thing, and it’s awesome to see everything lining up for you.

At this phase, you begin to actually like what you do. You no longer dread hitting the gym, which could be six months or six years in. Working out is just what you do and you love it.

It’s the phase where I am now, where I’ve been doing it for ten years, and I crave it when I don’t work out.

I go through a full day working nine hours, and I have to go to the gym or else I’m a grumpy old bastard. It’s just what I do and who I am now.

I was never like that. There’s nothing genetically special about me that allowed me to do that. I’ve just been doing it for so long that I’m now at the horizon stage.


The same thing goes in a relationship. The horizon stage is where things are just working out nicely. You guys have clicked, and now you’re official. Things are going well, and it’s easy and effortless.

The right relationship is just fun. Things work out, you go on adventures together, and you’re laughing and having fun. There’s not much uncertainty or insecurity anymore, and it just works. It’s just a solid habit and everything’s going well and going happy.

In the tennis example, this is where playing becomes fun because now you can play back and forth with your friends. You don’t have to worry about missing the ball or shooting it out of the park and losing all the balls again.

You’re no longer that person. You can actually play a match and have fun.

There’s consistency with how good you are and overall, you’ve gone through the three steps here.

Everyone Goes through Different Phases—but They’re All Worth It

Tiny Habit for Today Thumb

Whenever you go to create a new habit or achieve a new goal, there’s almost always multiple phases.

There’s the resistance phase that everyone goes through, like trying to wake up in the morning or trying to adopt a new diet or do a new workout plan.

It kind of sucks at first, and there’s nothing fun about it. You may feel good or you may start looking better, but it takes a lot of energy.

Then eventually you move into the treading water phase where treading water is your habit moving up and down. You don’t have consistency yet, and it’s very delicate because you can get off track easily.

Finally, you will reach the horizon phase. If you persist long enough, you will get there.

The horizon phase is awesome, whether you’re trying to lose weight, start a fitness habit, get into a new relationship or try a new sport. If you persist long enough with the habits, they become normal rituals or routines for you.

If you’re feeling really discouraged right now, always think about this kind of three-phase approach.

It’s not easy at first, and the habits are very hard to keep, but you will eventually get to where you want to be if you persist.

What phase are in right now? How far away do you think you are from the horizon phase? Share your thoughts below.


 Images: runner, tennis, couple, looking into sky

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  Read more about this in my book Master The Day. You’ll learn the nine daily success habits I learned interviewing people that lost 100+ pounds and kept it off in a healthy way – by changing their habits. Plus, you’ll get a free $100 bonus video course if you show me your receipt. You can get the audiobook here too.

4 comments… add one

  1. It took me around 3 years to be in the horizon phase. Right now I am in a place where I look forward to sweating out and my day feels incomplete if by any reason I have to leave my workout for the day. For a person who loves to sleep in late, if I wake up at 5am to get in my workout means I have for sure got a glimpse of the horizon. I am at a place where I can say with my heart, “I exercise…not because I hate the way my body looks right now, but because I love myself…it is all in love”

    1. Exactly!! That’s the end goal Rashmi, for sure.

  2. Definitely fluctuate between first and second. For exercise, I’m at the first 100% and I’ve barely ever even made it into the second. For diet, I’ve definitely made it into phase two but never quite phase 3. How can I when birthday cake Oreos exist ….

    1. Hahah, I hear you Audrey. Keep going.


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