The Transformative Power of a Single Good Choice
Jonathan Ross encourages clients to turn every goal into a series of small, achievable, easily measurable actions.
Jonathan Ross has received numerous accolades for his work in the fitness industry, including recognition as the 2010 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, the 2006 ACE Personal Trainer of the Year, and the 2003 Personal Training Director of the Year by
magazine. He possesses a rare combination of fitness knowledge and personal experience with obesity, which he acquired while growing up with nearly “800 pounds of parents.” Ross has served as the fitness expert for Discovery Health and hosted its series
delivers a modern, intelligent approach to abdominal training. In addition to owning Aion Fitness, near Washington, DC, he serves as a master trainer for ACE, Tabata Bootcamp and SPRI® and contributes as an expert at numerous fitness conferences and in the media.
ACE: How do you feel the obesity epidemic has affected our society, not only from a health perspective but also from a relationship perspective?
Relationships are strengthened by shared experiences which are mutually treasured. Increasingly, obesity is causing a shift toward more shared experiences that are passive and less interactive—like binge-watching favorite shows. This shift is having societal effects and relationship effects. Getting outside and doing something physical recreationally—going to an amusement park, walking around city streets—used to be the type of shared activities that cemented relationships. The shift away from active, interactive experiences and toward passive, isolating experiences like watching TV or movies promotes a subtle restlessness of the spirit, which is too often assuaged with more binge-watching accompanied by junk food.
Increasingly, people seem to want to lose themselves in a story instead of losing themselves in an experience. I’ve noticed that if I make my up time more up (meaning active), my downtime is more down; it is more restful and restorative. If that restlessness of spirit lingers beneath the surface, it prevents the chill time from actually being chill time.
ACE: Are there any unique patterns of behavior or ways of thinking that you’ve found to be common among clients affected by obesity?
I have consistently found that people affected by obesity engage in small behaviors that lead to short-term reward and long-term erosion of health. For example, people may skip a workout to cozy up and watch TV with a favorite junk food. Conversely, at the same time, health behaviors may not be pursued, since the focus is often on the “big goal” of losing a lot of weight, for example, instead of the small behaviors or actions that improve health. The big goal feels so out of reach and perhaps challenging that it is discouraging, when the reality is that we live in the bodies we get from repeating consistent behaviors. Somehow, good behaviors feel large and unreachable because they stay at the “goal” level, while unhealthful behaviors seem easier since their focus is on short-term reward.
ACE: Can you share a couple of examples of how society has made those affected by obesity feel alone?
It can start with getting chosen last for games at school or getting made fun of while in public, and it just gets worse from there. I remember growing up as an only child. Since I wasn’t fighting with siblings, I was often aware of the reactions of other people whenever I entered a restaurant with my parents. I noticed the stares, finger-pointing, whispering and sometimes laughing. It makes you feel isolated since your identity becomes your excess fat; it’s the first thing people notice about you. This is why many people affected by obesity are “jolly” in public, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that privately they are usually far less happy.
ACE: What are some ways that you feel health and fitness professionals, and perhaps other members of our society, can better lead those affected by overweight and obesity to feel supported in adopting healthier behaviors?
Focus on the transformative power of a single good choice. Has anyone ever felt terrible after completing a workout or even just going for a walk? No. Promote awareness of how one feels (physically, emotionally) prior to an exercise session and then after. I even recommend people record a voice memo with their smartphone describing how they feel before doing anything physical and again how they feel after. It allows them to hear the shift in language and tone of voice, and the results can be a powerful reminder of the transformative power of a single physical effort to improve health behaviors.
Discourage focus on the long-term goal except in the early stages of learning someone’s objectives. Turn every goal into a series of small, achievable, easily measurable actions. Any change we make, for better or worse health, is subject to a simple formula: Big Change = Small Actions + Time.
ACE: What role do you believe obesity has played in your own life, even in relation to pursuing the career field you have pursued?
Obesity is my sole reason for pursuing fitness as a career. Seeing the day-to-day shrinking of my parents’ world and knowing that their experiences were multiplied millions of times over—in people living lives they were similarly experiencing less than fully—is what led me to where I am today. Growing up, I saw powerful examples of how not to live. I often get asked what I’m training for when working out, and it’s not usually anything in particular, as I don’t enjoy endurance races and usually don’t have a big fitness event or goal. I train to be able to do whatever I want with my body and feel good while I’m doing it.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Tony Horton and was fascinated that he is now the same age that my father was when he died weighing 424 pounds. There’s such a contrast between these two men. In our conversation, we talked about choices: Skipping workouts and consuming poor food are choices that speed up the aging process. We discussed how fitness isn’t about whipping yourself into shape; it’s about having joy, happiness and curiosity about life. Movement is freedom, and freedom brings enjoyment to life.