The Power of Incentives & How It Can Affect Fat Loss

May 28, 2013

What you’ll learn in this article:
– The power of incentives in human behavior
– Example in biz: FedEx as told by Charlie Munger
– Examples in fat loss: Me, my brother & other weight loss programs
– What I’ll be doing different now to lose lbs: Stickk

“If your why is strong enough, the how doesn’t matter”

Good morning!

It’s 708am here in the chicago area. I woke up sweaty this morning. Glanced over at my temp tracker & saw that it’s currently 70F & 60% humidity.

I guess it’s been raining all night, which is a good thing. And it’s no longer super cold & dry like it was just a couple days ago. My sinuses tend to do better when there is more humidity in the air.

Anyways, this article has nothing to do with humidity & my sinuses and everything to do with the mother effin power of incentives, sucka. Can you dig it?

So much so that this is all I dreamt about & woke up groggy eyed and ran to the computer to write this article, to capture the words directly from the muses.

Incentives Are Everything in Business

As a student of economics in college & as a hobby, I’ve known this for a long time. Incentives are everything.

Charlie Munger is a huge proponent of looking at incentives when something goes wrong.

The classic business example he uses is the FedEx story.

Here, I’ll let Charlie explain it better:

And, as usual in human affairs, what determines the behavior are incentives for the decision maker.

From all business, my favorite case on incentives is Federal Express. The heart and soul of their system—which creates the integrity of the product—is having all their airplanes come to one place in the middle of the night and shift all the packages from plane to plane. If there are delays, the whole operation can’t deliver a product full of integrity to Federal Express customers.

And it was always screwed up. They could never get it done on time. They tried everything—moral suasion, threats, you name it. And nothing worked.

Finally, somebody got the idea to pay all these people not so much an hour, but so much a shift—and when it’s all done, they can all go home. Well, their problems cleared up overnight.

So getting the incentives right is a very, very important lesson. It was not obvious to Federal Express what the solution was. But maybe now, it will hereafter more often be obvious to you.

source or audio version

Incentives in Weight Loss

This morning, I had an epiphany that weight loss really has to do with incentives rather than what we eat.

The first time I ever lost real weight was in 2007.

This after trying since 1999! This time was different. My best friend was to get married in October & I had a target date in my mind. I wanted to lose weight since I’ll be standing up as a groomsman.

This is in hindsight of course. At the time, I just thought I finally cracked the weight loss code w/ nutrisystem. I ate all their meals without fail & resisted every single temptation thrown at me in the form of pizza, cookies & junk food. I just did it. I was on a mission. Laserlike focus.

I kept a food diary. Tracked everything that went in my mouth. And cared about nothing else. I stopped going out drinking. No more binge eating. Every single moment of my life was focused on losing weight. Nothing else.

And I lost tons of weight. Something like 35 lbs in a few months. Felt amazing. Looked great at the wedding of course. And confidence was at all time highs.

After the wedding, I got too cocky from my own success. Started eating poorly again and slowly gained all the weight back & more.

Thinking Nutrisystem was the secret to weight loss, I tried their method another 2-3 different times. Remember each 30 day box of meals cost like $300. So I spent a few thousand on the Nutrisystem experiment without success.

Each subsequent time, I couldn’t focus on the plan. It was weird. No matter how badly I wanted to lose weight, I just couldn’t do it. And towards the end, I got disgusted at how horrid the food tastes.

How My Brother Lost Weight & Became Ripped

In his senior year of high school, my brother miraculously stopped being a chubby kid, lost all the weight & started working out like mad. Became lean and ripped. It was an unbelievable transformation.

Like he would be happy eating super thin slices of turkey breast on the lowest calorie bread possible with nothing other than maybe a squirt of mustard. He was consuming ridiculously low calories per day & was ok with that.

He would drive to the local 24hr gym in the middle of the night to workout. He even taught himself how to run. A fat guy becoming a running addict! He was in beast mode.

He never explained it this way but I suspect something happened in his life to give him the massive incentive to lose massive amounts of weight. To stop being a chubby kid and become ripped.

I don’t know for sure but I assume it was the prospect of going to a new college & wanting to start w/ a new identity. Or maybe something else. Whatever it was, the secret wasn’t the low calorie diet or the late night workouts. It was that the incentive was strong enough to change his default lifetime behavior of being fat.

By now I hope you’re seeing the pattern & power of incentives.

The same reason why women are able to shed pounds before their wedding day. They have massive incentives to look good on their magical day when all eyes will be on them & this moment will be captured in picture for the rest of eternity.

Fat Sick & Nearly Dead:
If you’ve never seen that documentary on netflix (or amazon prime), I highly recommend it. For motivational reasons.

In it, a rich fat australian businessman decides he’s sick of being fat. He travels to the United States with a full camera crew. Decides to go on a full 30 day juice fast & record every moment. He also travels from city to city interviewing regular folk who are fat & telling them the benefits of juicing.

Do you smell massive incentives here to succeed? I’ve tried juicing in the past & I could never stick with it. This dude was able to stick with it because he was being recorded, traveled to america & playing the expert to fat americans. How many of us have had a documentary made to showcase our fat loss? Do you think that would build massive pressure to stick with the diet this time around?

DDP Yoga:
I’ve talked about this before. The main testimonial for DDP is the super fat veteran dude who couldn’t walk without crutches but now can do headstands with the help of the DDP Yoga program.

This is true. But after spending hours listening to different DDP interviews, that dude had personal help from DDP. If a famous wrestler & creator of the program personally coached & trained with us, would that be incentive enough to work harder?

I don’t know what other incentives that dude had but I believe he had a young family & he was reaching critical levels of fatness. Having a wife & especially having young kids is often a huge incentive for most folks to lose weight or stop smoking. Kids that you love are a HUGE incentive.

Four Hour Body:
Tim has examples of how he lost weight, his dad lost weight & has a bunch of case studies from the private group he ran to test his diet. These folks chatted with Tim & got help from the group = support incentive. Plus we don’t know what other incentives these folks had in joining this test study. My guess is they had important reasons.

Weight Watchers:
A support system is a huge incentive – that’s the main premise behind their program. Weekly meetings, weighins with a team leader etc. Accountability, support system, social pressure of the group, social proof of others losing weight, etc play a bigger part of losing weight than strictly the points system.

I know because I’ve tried weight watchers a bunch of times, on my own, without attending any meetings. I can lose a couple of lbs before I get derailed.

Here’s a great article by a professor from Yale & the creator of talking about how Charles Barkley really lost weight on weight watchers: hint massive amounts of $$$ provided massive amounts of incentives for Sir Charles.

Could we lose weight if we were promised millions of dollars & they came to our house every couple weeks for the weigh in? They made everything super easy for him because his celebrity testimonial means massive marketing + signups for their program.

Long Story Short:
I’ve known about incentives for a long time when it comes to business. And I’ve heard from Charlie Munger & Warren Buffett that incentives affect all human behavior. When the banking industry made mistakes, we have to look at their incentives. Humans aren’t typically evil or good. Everyone works according to the incentive system. Change the incentives & change behavior.


Why the hell didn’t I use this to help me lose weight?

People have lost weight on all kinds of models: starvation diets, juice fasts, green shakes, weight watchers, nutrisystem, atkins, paleo, slow carb, the zone diet, chipotle diet, subway diet, the hackers diet, liposuction, gastric bypass, supersize me, fat sick & nearly dead, fathead, whatever else.

There are also people who DO NOT lose weight on these models. If something works, why doesn’t it work for everyone?

I’ve spend like 16years trying to figure this out.

I N C E N T I V E S.

With the right incentives, even an all twinkle diet will work. Like that scientist dude who wanted to prove that a calorie is just a calorie by losing weight on this.

Some forms of incentives:
1. anticharity where money gets donated to your worst nightmare charity if you miss a goal
2. Posting your fat photos publicly on your blog (tamer version: on your fridge)
3. Publicly declaring to friends & family that you’re going to lose weight (results are meh with this one)
4. Get married (high risk venture just to lose weight! :)

I will be using #1 and you can follow along if you’d like. (Link)

If it doesn’t work, means the incentives were not high enough. I’ll keep reraising stakes until I do this (or die from old age).

1. Charlie Munger & Warren Buffett
2. Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss – he mentions Stickk as a cool tool for his DiSS learning method (the last S stands for Stakes, as in put something on the line)

Oh yea, my brother again lost like 40lbs in a matter a couple of months last year. Out of nowhere, he became laser focused. This was while I was just losing a few lbs a month doing paleo & he was losing like 20lbs a month.

What was the difference maker?

He just started dating a new girl who was much skinnier than him.

They broke up a few months later & the weight has come back.