Scott H Young

If You Want to Be Fit, Don’t Buy New Running Shoes


If you want to get in shape, don’t buy running shoes. Instead, go out and run. There is genuine work and all the activities that feel, smell and taste like work but accomplish nothing. Worse than accomplishing nothing, these feel-good tasks reduce your motivation to do something useful.

Contrary to a lot of self-help wisdom, a study proclaims that telling people about your goals makes you less likely to accomplish them. The reason? Telling people about your goals feels productive. That feeling of productivity reduces the motivation to do something genuinely productive.

Feel-Good Tasks and the Real Thing

Ramit has a similar idea with personal finance he calls the difference between being sexy and being rich. Being sexy is watching your portfolio every day, looking for the best stocks and flopping between six bank accounts to earn an extra three dollars. Being rich is putting your money in an index fund and then waiting 30 or 50 years.

The difference here is the same as before. Eyeballing your portfolio feels like a mental checkmark in the personal finance column. If you give yourself enough checkmarks, then you feel satisfied with your effort–even if nothing was done.

If you want to be fit/productive/rich/in a happy relationship, the best way to start is by avoiding all feel-good tasks. If a task:

  1. isn’t necessary to get started, OR
  2. doesn’t directly contribute to your success

…don’t waste your time on it. You can worry about getting the fancier running shoes after you’ve been running every day for a month.

Instead of Counting Omega-3s, Start By Not Eating So Much

Always do the big things first. Because if you start with the little things, you might never get around to what actually matters.

I hate listening to someone with horrible eating habits making purchasing decisions on whether a food item is low-carb, Omega-3 rich or contains pomegranate juice. The problem isn’t whether the cream cheese you ate with your bagel had Omega-3s, but that you ate four of them.

When you get caught up in minutia, the really important stuff gets left undone. Often simply because in buying the low-carb salad dressing, you give yourself a mental checkmark in the “healthy eating” column and proceed to violate the truly important issues.

Identify Your Feel-Good Tasks

The problem with feel-good tasks is that they often appear productive. It’s only when you really examine them that you realize they aren’t either necessary or directly helpful to your goal.

When I first moved to Winnipeg, I had to completely build a new social circle. After reading a few interesting and helpful articles for improving my social life, I subscribed to a couple blogs and read many articles on the topic. At the time, I felt all the knowledge intake would help me build the kinds of friendships and relationships I wanted.

After a few months I realized that all of the reading was simply a feel-good task. Not only was some of the advice bad, but it held me back from going outside my room and meeting real people. So, at the time, I canceled almost all my subscriptions and stopped reading articles on the topic.

I won’t say universally that articles are always a feel-good task (otherwise why would I bother updating this site?). It really just depends on your personality, and whether you’re using reading as an excuse instead of an enabler.

If you’re serious about any goal, I would create a list of all the activities you do that you associate with that goal. Then go through each item on that list and ask if it is either necessary or directly helpful. If it isn’t, either leave it altogether, or make sure that you only do it after accomplishing the truly necessary and useful work.

Shut Up or Put Up

If you follow the advice of the study I mentioned previously, then telling other people your goals is a bad idea. Instead of telling your friends about your plans to travel the world, start saving quietly for a plane ticket. Instead of telling your friends about how you want to lose weight/get in a relationship/have a better job, start doing some actual work towards it.

I don’t believe talking about your goals is bad, only when it’s done before actually doing the work. Feel-good tasks aren’t harmful if you do them after working hard on all the real work. When I started writing this blog, I read tons of resources on how to make a successful online business. But it didn’t matter because I was actually writing nearly every day.

Leave the running shoes in the store, at least until you’ve put some miles in on your own.


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50 Responses to “If You Want to Be Fit, Don’t Buy New Running Shoes”

  1. Dave says:

    Scott,
    This may be the best article I’ve read by you.

  2. sean says:

    I second Dave’s comment :)

  3. “I don’t believe talking about your goals is bad, only when it’s done before actually doing the work.”

    Best sentence of the article.

    Stop talking, start doing. I like it.

  4. Hey says:

    I find that the best way for nerdy types to become fit is to become an expert on the subject. That’s how it was for me: before I did a lot of reading I had very low training motivation, now I have zero problems with going to the gym or for a run since I have very good knowledge of what works, what I want and how to autocorrect any deviations. Training has become a part of me, like guitar or programming, whereas before it was just some alien concept that I “had to do” in order to punish myself for being such a slob. Basically, this is your typical exerciser who has to push to get fit, whereas what you want to get to is becoming an athlete (at least psychologically) who is pulled ahead by his training and thus has no motivation issues. This contradicts your advice a bit, since I basically spent a few months just reading and listening to audiobooks 8-10 hours a day.

  5. Hey says:

    However, in the general case I agree with you: first things first, and don’t do any premature optimizations.

  6. Dave Shepherd says:

    Like all things, it’s about balance.

    If you tell everybody about your goals you become less motivated to do them, because to some extent you get part of the reward before you even start.

    “I want to lose 10 pounds.”
    “Good for you, that’s a good goal!”

    Of course, if you tell no one about your goals, then you could miss some major opportunities. If you’re trying to get fit and you don’t tell your friend who is a personal trainer about your goal, you’re (probably) losing out.

    So it may not be about telling people your goals, but rather, who you’re telling? Are you telling someone just to feel good about yourself, or are you telling someone because maybe they can help you or at least force you to stick to it?

    I find if you master the basics everything else comes naturally. Keep it as simple as possible. The greatest difference between people in any area is those who have mastered the basics and those who haven’t. To limit the size of your food portions is a pretty basic skill, but I bet it accounts for the majority of the gap between fit and fat.

    (And slightly off topic, but there was something you’ve said a while ago that I’ve taken to quoting in regular day life — “The desire to swim is greatest when you’re a few feet below the surface.” So thanks for that.)

    All the best

    –Dave

  7. Scott Young says:

    Dave,

    Yes, you may miss opportunities by hiding your goals. But as an example, let’s say you have two new entrepreneurs, Bill and Jack.

    Bill is starting a new company, he informs everyone he knows about it, but he doesn’t do any real work. He spends most his time printing business cards and “networking”.

    Jack starts a new company, informs his friends but works quietly. Six months later he has a prototype and is in a position to look for more funding/beta testing.

    Which person would you rather help with opportunities? In a world where people are full of talk, I’d rather help the person who demonstrates that they are a go-getter.

    Hey,

    I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to fitness/health/business optimizations too, so I can understand the appeal. I don’t think reading is unhealthy, only when it isn’t coupled with action. For example, if I wasn’t going to the gym regularly while I was reading (even just to run or do push-ups) I would commit to stop reading for a month and get my exercise on schedule first.

    Nerdiness is a virtue.

    -Scott

  8. Rondon says:

    Well put there, Scott. Just do what needs to be done.

  9. Luke says:

    yes…Yes…YES…YES!!!!!!

    Great article Scott!

  10. Ravi Moosad says:

    Thought provoking article. I feel telling about goals works for some people. I feel obligated to do what I told to others.

    I completely agree with your views on fitness. People unnecessarily spend a lot of money on buying costly diet friendly food items whereas what they need to do is to reduce eating and start a bit of physical activity.

    Thanks…

  11. Dave says:

    I mostly agree, but there is a catch. If you run in the wrong shoes and injure yourself you will be less likely to run again tomorrow.

  12. Scott Young says:

    Dave,

    True. But there’s always a chance you will injure yourself. Both literally and as we’ve been using the metaphor.

    When you start blogging, there are a billion “fatal” mistakes you can make. Picking the wrong name. Writing the wrong type of posts. Choosing the wrong hosting provider. And, yes, if you have a bad experience with any of these that may prevent you from continuing.

    But my opinion is that, as long as you aren’t trying to do a marathon in sandals, the amount of people who will get injured and stop is less than the people who buy the shoes, feel good and never start.

    -Scott

  13. Doug says:

    This is a really excellent post. It really talks to me directly. I’m looking forward to exploring your archive postings. Thank you.

  14. Anthony says:

    Good article, Scott.

    Another advantage of “Instead of telling your friends about your plans to travel the world, start saving quietly for a plane ticket.” is that you get to surprise people with the progress you’ve made. It can also build your own anticipation at the reward of telling them (for yourself or themselves). Caveat: watch out that they don’t build a bunch of plans around you being here, only to have you announce your traveling the world at some later point in time. Outside of that sort of thing, building up to big results can have some fun results. :)

  15. Sherryl says:

    Great article. Thanks. I have referred to it on my blog (hope that’s OK!).
    I’m guilty of this too – going to the store to buy fancy new stationery or gaze at expensive laptops instead of staying at home writing.

  16. Marshall Jones Jr. says:

    Barefoot running is the way to go. When I saw the headline for this article, I thought it might be about barefooting. I was pleasantly surprised though.

    Thanks.

    Marshall Jones Jr.

  17. Cassy Foltz says:

    Excellent advice. I think I’ll come back to this blog after I finish the essay I was procrastinating by reading it…

  18. Zoli says:

    It was the same for me, with drumming. I thought that the drums that I play sound like shit, and I can’t get any better until I don’t have a premium drum set. Two years had to pass until I realized that my old garbage isn’t actually garbage!

    Nice article! Very nice, I found your blog just about five minutes ago through StumbleUpon, and I think I’m going to feature it close to the top of the list in my upcoming “my favorite blogs” article! Keep up the awesome job!

    Cheers,
    Zoli

  19. Alina says:

    Wow. I liked this article a lot. =)!

  20. Vimarsh Srivastava says:

    HI,
    Scott. I think this is the best article.It is quiet contrary to common belief and yet useful.

  21. [...] If You Want to Be Fit, Don’t Buy New Running Shoes [...]

  22. [...] via If You Want to Be Fit, Don’t Buy New Running Shoes « Scott H Young. [...]

  23. James says:

    Another excellent article! I have to “shut up and put up” about my goals from now on.

  24. Brannon says:

    Don’t buy shoes to go running! Run barefoot. I think Nike has it right with its slogan, Just do it. I get excited about something but wear myself out thinking and telling about it. Then I’m burned out and have no momentum to keep me going. Good thoughts Scott.

  25. Tina says:

    It’s a great article, Scott. Indeed, one of the best I’ve read on your blog. But I can’t totaly agree that it’s a bad idea to tell everybody about your goal.

    If it’s to lose weight, I think it might be helpful to warn the environment to not seduce you with muffins and ice cream any more.

    If it’s to become vegetarian or vegan (my case), I believe it is important to tell everybody about it, because it’s a really tough one and it’s easy to lose motivation. If you tell all your friends and family that you won’t eat animal products any more for this and that reason, it will be easier for you to resist ice cream or grilled cheese, because you will know that if you succumb everybody will see that you’ve got no will power and you don’t stick to what you say.

    As for the running shoes, you have to buy new ones unless your old shoes have a good amortization. My didn’t, so I ended up having an knee injury and not being able to run for a few months. Now I’ve no motivation to run at all.

    Thanks for the article. I truly enjoyed it. There are really good comments to it as well.

  26. AH says:

    Quote : Contrary to a lot of self-help wisdom, a study proclaims that telling people about your goals makes you less likely to accomplish them. The reason? Telling people about your goals feels productive. That feeling of productivity reduces the motivation to do something genuinely productive.
    —————–
    [not totally agree]

    if u told ur plan, and then u cannot finish it, u would feel shame!

    u are motivated in order to avoid failure and then feel shame & embarrassed.

  27. Paul says:

    hey you opened my eyes. ithink I have been reading articles on personal development subjects for a year now, but never applied them, because of the feeling they gave to me: the feeling of an already accomplished task.
    Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon.

  28. Suzanne says:

    “if you want to accomplish your goals….dont read articles on accomplishing your goals.”

    ahaha…..thanks for the slap in the face. and very interesting blog. great topics.

  29. Doc D says:

    Scott, I reread this tonight, more than a year after I first did. It is an excellent post and is in my bookmarks to come back to as a reminder to “just do it” and not just talk about it.

  30. Pikpoq says:

    “Because buying new running shoes is more fun than actually running”
    http://www.43folders.com/node/47254/316671

  31. Perhaps the reason why some people buy new shoes to stay fit would be the comfort being offered to them while doing workouts.But it isnt necessary either.As long as your shoes is in good shape, then it’s a go.96

  32. [...] Another blogger wrote a useful article that advised, “If you want to start a running routine, don’t go buy new running shoes.” The reason is that you will mistakenly consider your new shoe purchase to be a productive activity, when it’s really not. Only running will make you a runner. Everything else is superfluous. This is a very disciplined way to think. [...]

  33. Nick says:

    I also think this is one of the most brilliant things you’ve written yet

  34. Josh says:

    Just commenting here to let you know that you got yourself a new fan :)

    The first 2 articles I read hear on the site = priceless!

  35. Wulph says:

    This made me realise what I’ve been doing with studying the Russian language. I often mention it to people or I look up articles, or I spend hours looking up effective ways of learning a language, and this is all time I could spend actually LEARNING the language.

    On the flip side though, I’m trying to lose weight. And having massive social anxiety I dusted off my Kinect and an old fitness game so I could exercise in the solitude of my own study. It was a good workout, but I invested in a larger TV and the newer version of the fitness game. The TV because standing across the room I couldn’t see what was going on properly, and the new game because it had a lot of new features that would keep me motivated.

    Well, now I’m exercising every day and will keep doing it for the forseeable future but I need to focus more with the Russian! Thanks for the great article!

  36. ponna says:

    Thats exactly what i am..i am almost 50% towards my goal in no time…and telling others that i am halfway thru…satisfied and then i go bk to 90% left…effing psychology…thx tho.. iam really into somethg now and not gonna tell anyone abt it until they find out…thx bro!!!… truly an eye opener…

  37. Nicola says:

    I really enjoyed this article!! I am the worst at telling people about a new goal and never actually putting any action into it, just get the excitment out of telling people. Also I go out and buy the new “shoes” etc to start my new goal off with something new and fresh and again never get through the goal, just admire the new “shoes”. Your whole website has been helping me alot and is something I’ve been looking for. Many Thanks :)

  38. DeLine Blog says:

    [...] enjoy the frankness of this “mental checkmark” statement because it helps cap off the idea of Pause nicely, bringing home the idea of why it is that [...]

  39. Kevin Guo says:

    I believe that we are social creatures and that it is fine to look up infomation, and ask other people about it so long as we apply what we learn. I’m currently having trouble applying it, and have run into a bit of trouble. I don’t know. I think I know what I have to do, it’s just that my fear of failure is holding me back.

  40. Islam says:

    One of the best articles I’ve ever read, you got into a point I was just thinking about, I have a plan with a lot of objectives; but i find myself lost between all those objectives while what really matters of them are not that many. Thank god this is my first article for you. I’ll keep coming here from time to time :D
    Islam

  41. [...] hope this is all making sense so far….Have a read of the article here if you’d like….or [...]

  42. Darien says:

    Thank you Scott. Due to a move and other life events, I put off running and working out–although I was an avid fitness buff for the last two years. After coming across your blog and reading this article, I just put on my old running shoes, a busted pair of shorts and “just did it.”

    Thank you.

  43. Ace says:

    Hey Scott,

    I find this to be very true. I’ve noticed that whenever I announce anything in the middle of it being completed I typically stop short and ‘save it for later’. I have ruined many opportunities just because I stopped short out of a complacent attitude. This also speaks to me in another way. I’ve noticed that I watch motivational clips on Youtube, but never actually get anything done. It makes me feel good, but I don’t get anything accomplished.

    Ace

  44. [...] you want to be fit… November 4, 2012 By Chris Don’t buy new running shoes. Instead, go out and [...]

  45. Livonor says:

    This makes me totally remember of that post:
    http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/the-ajatt-7-step-victory-formula

    I guess it’s time to stop reading all this stuff and get out of my chair

  46. Venu says:

    Hi Scott,

    A wonderful article from your pen. Your article reminded me of Daniel Kahnemann’s book “Thinking: fast and slow”. It is very important to remember that our mind works by auditing the mental accounts it maintains and not by actually assessing how much work we are getting done.

    I always enjoy your writing and wish you good luck in your new endeavour.

  47. […] I know that my regular classes at school and my herbal classes need to be my main focus right now in terms of traditional classroom learning. But I am formulating some ideas about other aspects of my life that I want to improve and how I can use my time better. I want this to stick, so I will wait until I try out a few things before I talk about it here. I can be bad at sharing my goals with everyone and not following through. Telling people about your goals feels productive. That feeling of productivity reduces the motivation to do something genuinely productive. -Scott H Young ‘If You Want to Be Fit Don’t Buy New Running Shoes’ […]

  48. Wayne says:

    Scott, I like your blog. I can what you have said in your book Holistic Learning: You have a lot of models which describe your meaning. And a lot of links to your other articles. I enjoy the way you are writing.

  49. […] I enjoy the frankness of this “mental checkmark” statement because it helps cap off the idea of Pause nicely, bringing home the idea of why it’s important. […]

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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