Motivation and a System

“What was your motivation? Can you give us a few tips?” asked one of Swami’s friends to my broker friend Jigneshbhai when we met him last weekend. It was a slightly different coffee meet last weekend as some of Swami’s and my friends had also joined us for a coffee session with our broker friend. One of them had met Jigneshbhai over a year back last time and on seeing him was obviously surprised.

Reducing 25 kg is a lifetime achievement for someone who has been overweight for most of his adult life, and for Jigneshbhai who was a self-proclaimed foodie and someone who did not have a special talent for any major physical activity or sport, it was a doubly commendable feat.

“This is one question that nobody has missed asking me whenever I have met them over the past month or so” Jigneshbhai remarked nonchalantly on hearing that question from Swami’s friend.

“But the funny thing is I don’t even remember what was the motivation for me to get started” he continued.

Swami and I had got into this type of conversation with Jigneshbhai a couple of months back when we had seen him reduce his weight substantially, get fitter and look younger over the past 6-8 months. He had told us then that at some level, the starting point was some kind of feeling that life was probably running out. At another level, it was perhaps about setting a healthy example for his son.

Eventually he also told us that it was also about trying out something new and seeing where it goes. He also remembered having a conversation over coffee with another mutual friend who had embraced the healthy lifestyle, that had provided the spark for him to start down the fitness path.

“But honestly, motivation is overrated beyond the start. Motivation is a pretty unreliable partner” my broker friend asserted, continuing his reply.

Swami and I were slightly surprised with this answer from Jigneshbhai. We generally tend to think that someone who has done something remarkable probably had a huge motivation. Or some special secret. Even our mutual friend felt the same. And hence his question on the source of motivation and tips.

But Jigneshbhai continued with his different view.

“Motivation fills you with hopes of tomorrow, only to disappear the next day morning. It fills you with possibilities about the future, only to disappoint you when you need it most.”

motivationhabit

While Swami and I were thinking about it, our broker friend continued.

“Don’t get me wrong – motivation is pretty good to get you started, motivation gives you the initial ‘why’ of anything, but that’s about it – don’t depend on it.”

Swami was listening to this with a sense of surprise. And as usual, was the first to counter Jigneshbhai. Not with anger this time – unlike our discussions on investing – but with a sense of curiosity perhaps.

“So if not motivation, what do you depend on?” Swami finally asked.

Jigneshbhai broke into a smile on hearing Swami’s question. He more or less expected Swami to intervene at some point I think. And now that Swami had spoken, he felt a sense of familiarity maybe.

“Well – what I have learned over the past year is that whether it is wanting to build health or to build wealth, the rules are not very different. All that you need is a system. And once you have figured that out for yourself, that system is what you can depend on.”

This was not what Swami and I were expecting.

We were talking about health, and here our broker friend had somehow managed to connect it with his pet topic of investing. And while we were hoping to hear some motivating stories about his journey to fitness, he was telling us about some kind of system. Obviously not something that could keep Swami silent.

“What is a system?” he blurted almost as soon as my broker friend had finished, and while I was trying to absorb what he had said.

Jigneshbhai seemed to have an answer – almost a definition of sorts – ready.

“A system is something that determines what actions need to be taken, builds a plan around them and structures them into regular habits to increase the probability of producing an outcome.” He defined a system almost as if it was from a book on physics.

“And the rules of the health system aren’t very different from those of the wealth system” he added, leaving both Swami and I a bit lost.

Health, wealth, rules, system – it was all getting a bit confusing. Specially when all that we had asked him for was what was his motivation to get fit. And perhaps share a few tips on it so we could follow them.

Sensing the usual look of confusion on our faces, our broker friend was more enthusiastic than usual to remove it. So he clarified.

“Well – the system is a set of habits that remove the need for motivation every time. And I realized that the top few rules of health and wealth systems are simple and very similar.”

“Firstly – you need to save calories, what they call as a deficit, if you want to reduce weight – essentially the difference between what your body spends and what you earn from food. Unless you have a deficit, everything else is irrelevant. Pretty much like investing starts with savings – the difference between income and expenditure.”

“Second – you create the deficit by allocating calories between a bit less food and a bit more exercise of different types, so that you can manage it. In this process, you figure out the foods and exercises that work best for you without losing sleep and within the calorie budgets. A bit like asset allocation.”

“And Thirdly – you build habits in your life that let you do this day in, day out, week after week, month after month without need for a surge of motivation every time. A bit like setting and automatically following your investing plan via a set of methods that work for you, irrespective of where the market is going.”

“That’s all there is to it. Of course, there are finer aspects of what you eat, when you eat, or what you exercise and how much – running or cycling or weights, and such things. But those are techniques that each must find for oneself – a bit like which stocks or mutual funds to buy and sell.”

Finally, Jigneshbhai had told us – in black and white unlike his investing wisdom – the things that he learned regarding his fitness journey over the past year. There weren’t any specific tips we were looking for. But maybe it was better to learn fishing than get a fish.

While we were absorbing what Jigneshbhai had learned from his one year journey to fitness, the old man in the sprawling bungalow who had been listening to our conversation walked over to our table.

This time he looked at all of us and left us with food for thought – the healthy variety.

“Find your motivation and build a system. Motivation will make you feel like doing something, and a system will make sure you do it even if you don’t feel like it.”

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