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The Innovation of Steve Jobs And How It Can Change Everything About Weight Loss

October 8, 2015

In the lead up to today’s release of the Steve Jobs biopic there’s been an increasing stream of discussion about the man many consider the greatest inventor of our generation. For those of you attempting to sustain weight loss it might seem like there’s little to extract from the story of Apple’s iconic CEO. Yet, I urge us all to look a bit closer.

I’ve dedicated my career to understanding and treating the psychological elements of drastic weight loss as both a licensed therapist and academic research. When I speak to audiences my biggest plea is often encouraging us all to consider scrapping the current approach we’re using for sustained weight loss.

After losing weight, 95% percent of people end up gaining back all the weight within 5 years or less. Clearly these brutally honest numbers speak for themselves. While there are endless ways to lose weight it seems keeping it off is an entirely different story that we apparently know little about.

Part of the issue in solving the conundrum of weight regain is that we seem to spend the majority of our time looking for the answers in the same box that produced these poorly sustained results. We often point to the trendiest new workout regiment or calorie restrictive fad diet that claims it will hold up over time. Certainly most of the options are not sustainable long-term producing results with short shelf-lives. 

In order to discover a new approach to sustained weight loss we must think outside the box all together. And, that’s precisely where Steve Jobs comes in.

Jobs’ innovative Apple products like the Macintosh, iPad and iPhone were all ground-breaking inventions that forever changed the way we work, communicate, and explore the world. Yet, before they were brilliant time altering inventions they were merely considered radical ideas because they existed outside the realm of possibility. These outside the box inventions were birthed out of Jobs’ unparalleled spirit of innovation.

Jobs didn’t just create something outside of the box, plenty of successful companies do that. Jobs invented something revolutionary, and then followed it up with something that took things a step further. And then another step further. And, well, you get the point. In other words, Jobs never never stopped innovating. Once he created something revolutionary he immediately fixed his eyes on the next unimagined invention.

This approach of tireless innovation–re-tooling, forward thinking, rinsing and repeating–is believe it or not contrary to many approaches of major corporations once they experience initial success in ingenuity. In his biography Jobs listed some of the books that were most influential in developing this uniquely innovative approach. Unsurprisingly, Clay Christensen book The Innovator’s Dilemma made that list. In his text Christensen explains that many companies stop evolving and eventually fizzle out after experiencing initial levels of success because they become too fixated on protecting what they’ve created. Going into protection mode eventually disconnects them from the creative spirit that led to their initial innovations. Instead of focusing on creating the next big thing, like Jobs did with Apple, many companies crumble at the point of being presented with Investor’s Dilemma. They focus too much on protecting profit margins and taking precautions to make sure no one steals what they just had created rather than plowing forward to dream up the next big thing.

Yet, if we take a big step back isn’t this obsession with protection the same approach many of us implement once we’ve accomplished our weight loss goals?

We work so hard to lose the weight in pursuit of creating the body and the life that we always desired. Yet, once we get to the finish line our strategy quickly switches from one of innovation to full on protection mode because we become terrified of gaining the weight back.

Could it be that our strategy of protecting our weight loss is the real reason that 95% of us eventually fizzle out on our journeys, just like so many of the big companies who fail in responding to The Innovator’s Dilemma?

The Innovator’s Dilemma could easily be dubbed the Weight Loss Journey Dilemma. During weight loss we barrel through the grueling workouts, the clean eating, and in the process shatter countless mental barriers all in the name of re-inventing our bodies. We plow forward like Jobs, motivated day after day by the vision of our prized innovation. The vision of one day seeing our goal weight appear on the scale. To fit into that dress or pair of pants that had collected dust. To walk through the world with our chests puffed out a little higher, proud and oozing with confidence.

And, when we finally see that number on the scale we put on those outfits, and we sure do take a few more high angled selfies (it’s a better angle for jaw lines) in route to strutting through life a much more confident version of ourselves than before.

Yet, after the confetti and streamers eventually hit the floor, and the compliments and congratulations fade out, many of us are left with a sort of lost feeling months after the celebration.

My clients in my psychotherapy practice often describe this feeling similar to the one they had after graduating from high school or college. A “NOW what do I do with my life?” kind of sinking, confused and lost feeling.

Some of us become rebellious youth at this stage of our weight loss journey. At our goal weight, and free from the confinements of restrictive diets and workout regiments, we spend many a-nights flirting with the life that was recently off limits when we were losing weight. Some of that flirting exists in our social lives but for many of rebellious youth at this stage of their weight loss journey it’s primarily a flirtation with long lost “friends” (you know, the burrito supremes and pizza types). Before long that pattern of food flirtation becomes all too powerful, shame kicks in as the pounds creep back on, and we hide in isolation from the community that helped support our weight loss transformation. 

The more studious, structured types watch the rebellious teens with their noses up in the air judging from afar. They instead often become paranoid dieters after reaching their weight loss goal. Terrified of losing what they just lost (funny dilemma isn’t it?) they turn into hyper-vigilant and obsessed gym rats and farmer’s market bloggers determined to do anything it takes to protect their weight loss. Some (maybe it’s the five percent who keep the weight off long-term) manage to keep this up for their entire post-weight loss lives. Yet, many run out of steam a year or two into this stage of their journey, eventually joining the rebellious youth.

Both groups inevitably gain the weight back and become destined to start their journey all over again. A little more hopeless and discouraged each time then the one before.

Whether we are rebelling from protecting our weight loss or obsessing over protecting our weight loss neither approach works long-term.

Yet, if we consider Steve Jobs’ approach to the Innovator’s Dilemma it should hardly surprise us.

Jobs success proved to us that you can’t move forward and protect something at the same time. It’s simply impossible.

Jobs’ career teaches us that if we are to make a choice in which response to have in our Weight Loss Journey Dilemma it should be the decision to never stop innovating and moving forward, even after we’ve lost the weight. If we adopted Jobs’ approach to our weight loss journeys it just might change the entire way we view weight loss.

Instead of protecting our weight loss once we hit a goal weight we could consider the achievement to simply be our first big innovation in our weight loss journeys. Our Macintosh, so to speak.

If we truly lived out Jobs’ spirit of innovation in our weight loss journeys once weight loss was achieved we’d ditch the panic, anxiety and useless energy wasted in protecting what we built, and instead continue cultivating the spirit that carried us to our goal weight, using it to pursue of our next great innovation.

For some of us that might mean running that first half marathon would become our iPod. Stepping out of our comfort zone and embarking on an emerging dating life our iPad. Mentoring and encouraging someone else in their own weight loss journey our iPhone.

Adopting Jobs’ spirit of innovation in our weight loss journeys would ensure just that–that it’d actually be a journey. A journey without an end point, or final destination. Just more trails to blaze, more terrain to explore. The journey would seem exciting and endless. Never dull, boring or overwhelming.

Heck we might actually be invited to enjoy the journey a bit more even. With the pressure and fear of protecting weight loss removed from the equation maybe continuing the journey wouldn’t seem so overwhelming? So do or die? Maybe that’d even eliminate some of us from joining the rebellious youth?

Bumps in the road, times where we got off track with food or missed a few workouts might even look different when using this approach. As Jobs put it, “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

That sure sounds like a different response than what most of us are used to when we are caught in a web of protecting our weight loss.

Finally, implementing Jobs’ forward thinking approach to weight loss might also allows us to focus more on the real reasons we set out to lose weight in the first place. Sure it’s about wanting to be healthy and to have a new body. But for most of us it’s about more than that. It’s about wanting to create a radically different life. A new identity. A new level of confidence. A new way of interacting with the world and being in relationship to others. It’s about rewriting our stories and finding the courage to do things in life that we’ve always wanted to do but have been simply too afraid to try.

If we really capture Steve Jobs’ approach to The Weight Loss Journey Dilemma our journeys might start out all about the invention of weight loss, but they’ll likely evolve more into the innovation of living the life we’ve always desired.

If only we could manage to do what Jobs so effortlessly did. Resist the urge to protect what we have created and focus our eyes on what we might be next to achieve.