How to cultivate extreme-motivation for lifestyle change and weight loss: Part 1—Vital Fear [lifestyle evolution series]

Scroll down ↓


We’ve come a long-way, together, in our lifestyle-evolution series as we get ready to launch our 84-day lifestyle renovation quest in 2008!

We’ve looked at the impact of sleep on your mindset, health and weight. We’ve learned how to approach exercise in a way that actually makes it fun. And, we’ve explored a new way to look at fueling your body for weight loss and for life.

The detailed 84-day plan that ties it all together will be available to all my subscribers as a New Year’s gift for free on January 1, 2008 (I’ll send you a link to download The Long Hard Fix which lays it all out and provides a daily journal to keep), so be sure to subscribe before then.

But, there’s still one major chunk of information to convey–

How to cultivate the motivation and mindset needed to succeed at profound lifestyle change.

There’s a lot to share, here, so I am going to do it in two parts. Part 1–Vital Fear–follows and, I have to let you know, it’s a bit tough, but absolutely essential. Because it will “agitate” you to act like never before.

On Monday, I’ll publish Part 2–Visionary Desire, Cultivating belief and Building Your Inner Circle–which will build on today’s article and cement the visionary mindset and support needed to make this journey extraordinary!

Onward, then…

After 35 years of heavy smoking and 25 years of trying to quit, a 62 year old man watches as a woman, struggling with the anguish of emphysema, takes her last gasp, convulses to the floor and dies in front of him. With that, he takes his last puff of a cigarette ever. He quits. Cold turkey. No assistance, no patch. He just stops.

A 30-year old addict rambles mercilessly in and out of rehab for 12 years until, one day, he is overcome by images of his estranged brother, his abandoned three-year old giggling daughter and his addict friend, 10 years further along than he, spasming in the corner of a crack house in the South Bronx. In a moment of unsurpassed resolve, he launches a massive change in behavior, breaks his addiction and stays clean for life.

A woman in her late thirties, struggling with her obesity through dozens of failed diets for nearly twenty years, passes by a dingy street-level apartment and, glancing in, sees a sad, obese woman in her sixties, in a dimly lit room watching television alone. Transposing the face of the woman with that of her own, she is overcome with her own potential for loneliness and immediately commences an aggressive two-year lifestyle transformation campaign that yields a 200 pound permanent reduction in weight.

What was the common element, the astoundingly powerful trigger that allowed each of these individuals to initiate an immediate, profound and sustained change in behavior? The creation of Vital Fear.

Vital Fear, an emotion so deeply rooted, it inspires an immediate and profound change in behavior.

It is not exactly a warm and fuzzy concept. Talking about it isn’t easy and experiencing it is even tougher. Especially when it comes to our health and bodies.

It is not that we don’t know the facts. Rather, it is that, when it comes to steering our choices, nobody wants to rock the boat. Gentle persuasion is the rule. Nurture and befriend. Gradual changes. Don’t use words like morbidly obese, high risk, impotent, depressed or walking heart attack. Keep it friendly. We don’t want to upset anyone, nor do we want to be upset. So, we resort to the age-old alternative, we sugarcoat.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, those who simply tell it like it is. The doctor who sits you down and says, “We’ve got a real problem.” And, there are even unfortunate divergences, like the moronic personal trainer I recently overheard in a gym, urging a client to “get over here, chunky-boy.”

But, for the most part, those whose opinions you hold highest, gild the lily.

Not out of malice or ineptitude, but just because it is easier and it is what has always been done. The problem is, however, that “what has always been done” sugarcoating, gentle persuasion, coaxing and baby steps has also never really worked.

Indeed, it does a huge disservice.

It lulls you into complacency and robs you of the motivational anxiety that, coupled with an effective plan of action, transforms itself into outrageous joy and a life that is extraordinary and vital.

What do you think is the single most powerful motivator for dramatic adult lifestyle change? Tight jeans? No. Big date? No. Recent divorce. Getting warmer. The real big one is a major health crisis, the diagnosis of colon cancer, the heart attack or stroke that is survived or the friend, colleague or lover lost.

A desire to be healthier, sexier and more energetic is always there. But, in adults, the pursuit of radical lifestyle change capable of redefining your body and existence is almost always launched, plain and simple, not out of desire, but out of a certain vital fear.

And, far too often, when the fear fades, so too does the lifestyle.

This lifestyle-evolution series builds upon that realization to immerse you in what most others avoid. Much like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future, it takes you by the hand and leads you through a sensory experience of your own fate that cultivates your vital fear and inspires an immediate change in your lifestyle choices.

Some might view this approach as unforgivable or even plain mean, somewhat like the experience of the New Jersey teens during the infamous 1978 Scared Straight documentary in Rahway Prison. And, but for a critical distinction, I would wholeheartedly agree.

Where Rahway fell short was in failing to realize the experience was only a beginning and not a complete means. It did not provide these kids with a believable, innovative, highly-effective plan of action to transform their lives after the prison experience. It left them hanging and, in that, there is little justification. This very lapse, however, is can be remedied allowing vital fear to become one of your greatest assets.

We can use your vital fear to create an immensely powerful jumpstart experience.

Step 1: Consequences & Reality

To cultivate your vital fear, we need, first, to take an honest look at the real-world consequences of your current choices.

As a little kid, you believed you were physically invincible. Weight was not much of an issue. Then you moved into your teen years and became acutely aware of your weight during virtually every waking moment. If you didn’t chide yourself, others were sure to jump in with the old, “Hey lard ass!” or “Fatso!” Today, however, the problem is even worse.

Physical education is vanishing from schools. Team and club activities are being dropped and computers, TVs and video games are taking center court. An increasing number of kids are eating more, exercising less and becoming heavier at a younger age. So much so that diseases previously thought to have dogged only adults, like Type-II or “adult-onset” diabetes, are quickly trickling down to the younger generation.

Even more frightening, recent research has shown that the process of atherosclerosis, or the deposit of our body’s equivalent of sludge in our arteries, begins during childhood. While kids are quite aware of their excess weight, however, the negative consequences that consume their thoughts are almost universally more social and psychological. Being picked last in gym, being called names, hiding in the corner at dances and never getting kissed.

As you age, these same psycho-social consequences linger, but now health challenges and consequences also begin to sneak into your daily experience. Your blood pressure drifts up, your arteries begin to narrow, your blood glucose becomes elevated and your level of baseline stress builds. You pant or sweat easily while playing with your kids, you tire quickly and wonder why the dry cleaner keeps secretly tightening your clothes.

Inevitably, you acknowledge the things you can see on the outside, like getting fatter, and you believe in the consequences you can see, like looking worse in clothes and feeling less attractive.

But, for some reason, you still view the internal “health-related” impact, the one you can’t see, with a suspect eye. You refuse to acknowledge it exists and, as a result, just don’t buy into the negative health consequences. They are simply not real to you. Since you cannot fear something that you do not believe is real, you never allow yourself to experience the vital fear necessary to change your behavior.

The problem is that your downside, the combined physical and psycho-social consequences of your lifestyle choices, is terribly real. In fact, it intrudes upon virtually every aspect of your life and, with each year, will limit your abilities and your happiness on every level. “If these things are so real,” you ask, “then why, in a nation full of bright people, won’t anyone acknowledge them and do something to change?” Two reasons, futility and invincibility.


There is a pretty good chance that, after years of failed attempts, you do not believe anything will ever truly transform your body and health. Why, then, should you face your unpleasant reality if there is no way to fix it? It’s futile.

So instead, you to simply pretend the problem does not exist. It’s easier that way, less painful. It may even inspire you to excel in other areas of your life to take the focus away from your unhappiness. And, who could blame you after a lifetime of letdowns.

Now, what if you stumbled upon a way to succeed, to recreate your body and health that actually worked? What if you were given the tools to use your discontent to fuel a transformation that was real, that you could touch and see and feel? One that would last?

Then it would be alright to acknowledge the true state of your body and to feel the fear and anxiety, because you would have the ability to transform it into joy, vitality and health. In the book, The Long Hard Fix (which all my subscribers will get to download free on January 1st), I will guide you through just such a program, so be sure you are subsribed.


There is still something else that stands in the way, however, a lingering fantasy from childhood. You don’t feel sick, unfit, unhealthy or depressed at the moment or more likely, you ignore the slowly increasing signs. You cannot see the changes occurring inside.

You’ve accumulated a lot of toys, money or power that make you feel like you can do anything. You are adored, admired, revered or respectfully feared by others. You have, in fact, become invincible once again! You walk through life believing those “things” happen to other people and jest that, even if “the big one got me, I’d have lived life on my terms.”

Cameryn Manheim, in Time Magazine (Nov. 8, 1999), wrote, “I would rather live 60 years of epicurean joy than 120 years of ascetic misery. You could give me eternal life, but if it were in a world without chocolate, I’d pass.”

O.K. So that was tongue-in-cheek, but it touches a nerve. It is, without a doubt, better to be larger, fit and confident than smaller, unfit and depressed. But, more often than not, a growing beltline goes hand-in-hand with a creeping decline in your ability to devour life’s abundance. Cameryn’s remark concerns me on two levels.

It ignores the possibility of deriving “epicurean joy” from healthier choices. Indeed, the fitness industry has done a less than stellar job of inspiring this revelation. You can, in fact, love exercise.

It also belies the fact that, as a general rule, you don’t live out your fantasy for 60 sixty years and then simply die at 60 and a day. The process of decline is far more insipid, slowly leeching your ability to experience epicurean joy’ with each passing day.

Thanks to modern medicine, you don’t often go out in a bang the way you used to! Oh, it may start with a bang that you live through and then, day by day, wish you had not. Or, it may take the more stealth approach, slowly gnawing at your ability to do the things that made life so joyful.

It may not begin until you are 40, 45 or 50. But, be assured, it will begin. Things will happen inside your body that you cannot see and do not want to admit to feeling. Your arteries will slowly stiffen, become inflamed, constrict and thicken with plaque. Your cells will begin to mutate.

Your lungs and heart will begin to work a bit too hard and these “things” will slowly transform those little moments that made you giggle into longer moments that make you wheeze. Playing with the kids, walking up stairs and searching for your sexuality in the mirror becomes increasingly more challenging.

Eventually, wheezing, sweating and button popping sessions converge to create one of those major crises that leave you very much alive, but asking the question, “how could I have been such an ass?”

It is time for a reality check.

Your lifestyle choices DO create very real changes in your body that lead to very serious consequences. So, hold onto your hats. Here we go.

Here is what these changes will do:

  • Every 53 seconds one of you will suffer a stroke.
  • Every 3.3 minutes one of you will die from stroke.
  • If you survive, 29 percent will die within 1 year and half will die within 8 years.
  • Every 29 seconds, one of you will suffer a coronary event.
  • Every 55 seconds, one of you will die from a coronary event.
  • More than 2,600 of you will die EACH DAY from cardiovascular disease.
  • 1 in 10 of you who are women will develop heart disease before age 60.
  • 1 in 3 of you who are men will develop heart disease before age 60.
  • A third of you who smoke will die from it and it won’t be a pretty death.
  • More than 1,500 of you will die EACH DAY from cancer.

Moreover, in the next 12 months:

  • 1.1 million of you will suffer a heart attack.
  • Of those, 250,000 will die within 1 hour of onset of symptoms.
  • 500,000 women will die from cardiovascular disease.
  • 600,000 of you will suffer disabling strokes.
  • 50 million of you will struggle with high blood pressure, edging toward a crisis.
  • 798,000 of you will be diagnosed with diabetes.
  • 12,000 to 24,000 people will lose their sight from diabetes.
  • 77,000 of you with diabetes will die of heart disease this year.
  • 5.4 million of you will walk the streets with undiagnosed diabetes.
  • 129,400 of you will be diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer.
  • 56,600 of you will die from colo-rectal cancer.
  • 179,300 of you will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
  • 37,000 of you will die from prostate cancer.
  • 171,600 of you will be diagnosed with lung cancer.
  • 158,900 of you will die from lung cancer.
  • 19 million of you will struggle with depression.
  • 10 million of you, 80% of whom are women, will feel the impact of osteoporosis.

Which group might you be in?

Do you think any of these people looked or felt that much different than you might before joining the list? Or, were they your neighbors, friends, colleagues and lovers? And, what of the more subtle aspect of your downside?

The uncomfortable tightness in your clothes, the lack of confidence, feelings of insecurity, mounting discontent and inability to squeeze the passion out of each day. These too are very real. The common element in all cases is that inactivity, lifestyle and dietary negligence play a substantial role in whether you make the list or not.

Here are just a few of the ways the choices you make contribute:

  • You increase your chances of getting colon, rectal and prostate cancers dramatically by remaining physically inactive and eating a diet high in saturated fat diet, low in fiber and deficient in fruits and vegetables.
  • Living an inactive life has the same risk for lung disease as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
  • Your body sheds 1/2 pound of muscle a year after age 30. This causes your metabolism to slow, your weight to rise and your ability to stay active to deteriorate. The only way to stop this is exercise.
  • Smoking is estimated to be responsible for approximately 47% of bladder cancer deaths among men and 37% among women.
  • Women become more likely, every year they approach menopause, to fall prey to osteoporosis, falls, hip and other fractures. Hip fractures are the biggest reason for admission to “old folks” homes. Most residents never check out . . . until they check out.
  • Postmenopausal women who remain inactive are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes than those who exercise regularly.
  • You double your risk of getting colon and rectal cancer if you are a man and your waist is over 36 inches or, if you are a woman and your waist is over 32 inches.
  • Failure to do even modest exercise, such as walking two miles every day, doubles your risk of heart attack.
  • Without intervention, the average person gains 1 1/2 pounds of fat every year after the age of 30.
  • If you have diabetes, you have a 200% to 400% greater chance of dying from stroke and/or heart disease.
  • If you are a woman who does not exercise between the ages of 35 and 55, you may expect to gain about 27 pounds of fat during that time and lose 8 to 10 pounds of muscle.
  • Your choices may destroy your kids’ health and confidence. Inactive and overweight children are more likely to become inactive and overweight adults. This puts them at higher risk of premature death and disability from a myriad of diseases, let alone social alienation and depression. Parents, not friends, have the greatest influence over a child’s acceptance of activity and healthy lifestyle behaviors. And, children respond to actions, not to words. Failure to lead by example may have devastating long term effects on your child’s health.

Supporting information, statistics and studies may be explored in greater detail at,,, and

The Ghost of Vitality Future.

“Ghost of the Future,” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
– A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843 –

We have one more step left in your journey to belief.

Remember the classic show Scared Straight? A group of kids who were potential career criminals were taken into a maximum-security prison to witness firsthand their potential futures. I have my own version of that. So, turn off the television, find a quiet spot, grab onto my hand and read on. These few minutes will not be fun, but they are quite necessary:

The night pours down around us as we push through the scarred, gray swinging doors, into the frenetic drama of the cardiac ICU. You take a breath in and the acrid mist of antiseptic and ammonia wash over your palate.

Stand here, next to me against the yellowed wall as the cold permeates through your shirt. Just stand and watch as sallow fleshy bodies sprawled along gurneys with tubes pulled out of blood-encrusted punctures bathe in sweat, gasping through nose tubes. Fluid filled lungs aching to inhale. Some awaiting the ghastly crack of the rib spreader, others returning with massive, stapled zipper scars bisecting their chests and running the length of their thighs.

Now . . . glance down at the gurney before us as one of the faces slowly changes to yours. My God, you think, these are not faces of old men or women. Where are my children, you wonder . . . .

We walk solemnly to the oncology ward. The elevator opens and we step out. Slowly, we shuffle along the pitted linoleum, glancing into rooms to catch a glimmer of the frail bodies in their final moments of life. Their minds struggling to figure out whether they want to die now to end the pain or live a few more hours to talk one last time with their children.

You peek at the faces and, once again, these are the faces of people just like you. And then, in the last room, you come upon a child of 14, stricken with cancer through no cause of her own. So close to the beginning and yet so much closer to the end. She is pale, her translucent skin holding in her living remains.

And you hang your head, ashamed that you have been given the gift of a healthy body and you choose to offer it up to these same ravages when she received no such choice. These are the things you have chosen to embrace.

As we walk, I tell you stories of people I’ve known, just like you, who have left families fatherless, motherless, or ripped apart because of the care and attention that was demanded to take care of a disease ravaged parent or partner. Maybe you already know some of these people, I ask?

If you do, I ask you to close your eyes for a moment and place yourself in their or their families shoes. Maybe they were a friend and you’ve lost them. Remember how it felt. Close your eyes and feel it.

We leave the hospital and walk over to Central Park to sit and watch. We see an older couple walking silently, slowly, hand in hand, basking in their own history. Two others, younger, full of life, sit across on a bench, joking, bantering, supposing to inadvertently touch now and again.

A mother saunters by, her young daughter clutching at her finger, looking around in wonderment. A woman in her fifties sits, content, gently smiling as she takes in the sun. All of this unfolds in front of us. And all of this, you already know, is what you risk never having or slowly destroying because of the choices you have made.

We return home to your bedroom where you lie, eyes closed, recalling that intense confidence and sexuality that bubbled out of you in leaner, fitter times and that now drifts further and further away.

You picture yourself in your mirror slowly becoming heavier with each passing year, watching your vitality slip away. And then, your focus turns to your children, who have learned from your actions and behaviors to follow in these same footsteps.

A chill trickles down your spine as you begin to understand that each passing day bestows these same unfortunate sorrows upon them.

Now you just sit for a moment and ask yourself if this is what you want . . . . or what you fear.

If you still refuse to believe, even just a little bit, in your downside, repeat this phrase, “I accept responsibility for refusing to take actions that will allow me to lead a life of sustained joy, passion and vitality and for further teaching my children to emulate my actions and refusal.

I also accept responsibility for the impact of my choices on my health, confidence, sexuality and career, my lover, my spouse, my children, my nieces and nephews, my colleagues and my friends. I just don’t care enough to make the effort.” The choice is yours. Make it knowingly.

Step 2: Personalize Your Downside

We arrive here one step closer to flipping your vital fear switch. But the words downside, consequence and harm are still too general to inspire true vital fear. Don’t worry, we will soon move on to embrace the excitement of your massive transformation in my next article.

Bear with me for just a few more minutes. You need to define and personalize your downside. Look at your life today and ask these eight questions:

  1. How old am I?
  2. How do I feel about myself?
  3. How does my health, inactivity and weight limit my life personally and professionally?
  4. How does my health, inactivity and weight hurt my family and friends, the people I care about?
  5. How does my health, inactivity and weight diminish my sexuality and desirability?
  6. How does my health, inactivity and weight deteriorate my state of mind?
  7. How does my health, inactivity and weight impact the lives of my children?
  8. What do my inactivity, weight and choices teach my children?

ACTION SECTION: Create a very vivid picture. Now answer the questions in your mind and then WRITE YOUR ANSWERS DOWN:

Now, go one step further. Very few of us have reached a balance in our health and weight. We are very likely in the midst of some trend in our physical state. It could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few decades old.

Chances are pretty good, also, that if you have read this far, you know the trend is not a happy one. This trend is part of your downside. It represents not just what your life will be like tomorrow if you don’t do something dramatic, but what it will be like years from tomorrow. So, look ten years ahead and answer those same questions:

ACTION SECTION: Move 10 years into the future. Assume you have not made any changes in lifestyle and the trend you are in now has continued. Create a very vivid picture. Now answer the questions again, projecting 10-years out:

This is your detailed downside. It the underbelly of your physical state today, tomorrow and in the distant future if you keep on your current course. Now ask the questionóis it the outcome you desire or the outcome you fear?

Step 3: Tap Your Vital Fear

If you have defined a clear, honest downside and you believe it is real, then, provided you are of sound mind, you cannot help but deeply fear its impact. This fear is your vital fear and it is an immensely powerful tool. Now, what do you do with it?

Vital fear gets you off the couch. It shakes your soul a bit, makes you realize what is really at stake and fills you with the desire to change course. To leave you here, however, would be unthinkable.

In my next article, we’ll compliment this vital fear with extreme desire, an extraordinary adjunct that rebuilds your belief in your ability to achieve what has eluded you for a lifetime. We add readiness skills, a personal support team and an immensely innovative, highly-effective approach to exercise and nutrition.

Then, in my book, The Long Hard Fix (available in e-book format for free, when you subscribe to this blog by January 1, 2008), we’ll tie it all together in a step-by-step, detailed 84-day plan of action that redefines your body, your health and your life.

Now, the fun begins

Vital fear gets you up off your couch. Now what? If you jump right into the nuts and bolts of your exercise plan, you are more likely to succeed than before. But, this year, we are looking to deliver “profound” results, not small changes.

To do that, we need to further strengthen your drive with the addition of vital fear’s compliment, Extreme Desire. You know what you don’t want, now you need to find out what you do want and why. Then, you need to believe you can get it.

Stay tuned for Monday’s article on Extreme Desire, Creating Belief and Cultivating Your Inner Circle. Then, we’ll launch the year together with an 84-day lifestyle transformation!

I know this has been a very tough article to read for many of you. It was not easy for me to write this. But, our base motivation for nearly everything in life is survival, so when we couch declining health and vitality in terms of risk to survival, we become armed with a massively powerful motivational tool.

As always, please feel free to share any thoughts, stories or ideas in the comments below.

Join our Email List for Weekly Updates

And join this amazing community of makers and doers. You know you wanna...

9 responses

9 responses to “How to cultivate extreme-motivation for lifestyle change and weight loss: Part 1—Vital Fear [lifestyle evolution series]”

  1. Adeline says:

    Wow Jonathan – you write a very vivid picture of what life is like for all too many people and even those of us who are health conscious are not immune to the downside of complacency.

    I have worked in the industry as a personal trainer for many years and what strikes me is how disconnected people become from their physical bodies. You allude to the fact that many of us become so preoccupied with attaining the great job, house, car, etc. to boost our morale, that we lose ourselves in the process. Many 45 plus clients said they “don’t know how this happened” -how they became so overweight and let their health fail. They are exceptional in every area of their lives, but give nothing to themselves.
    Physical activity, especially weight training, seems to immedidately help those who are inactive and obese “feel” their body again and begin reconnecting…this is a place for many to start.

    I would also like to add that even many normal and even underweight individuals are unhealthy and need to take a good look at their lifestyle – if they are inactive, smoke, don’t eat fruits and vegetables,rely on medications to sleep, etc., then this program is just as important to them. They also need support – many individuals comment on “vanity” when a thin person makes healthy lifestyle choices. It is just as hard and just as vital for them.

    Lastly, you may cover this in your program and book, but everyone should start by knowing their numbers (medical assessments). A yearly physical will let you follow your blood pressure, sugar levels, thyroid, cholesterol, c-reactive protein, etc. Don’t rely on your physician – ask for a copy of the report and get educated on what to look for. I just picked up my “normal” report and found that my Ferritin (iron level) is extremley low…my doctor saw no issue with it even though it is precursor to anemia…I need to take control of correcting it – she’ll wait until I’m sick so she can write a prescription.

    Everyone embarking on your program needs to take control of their life. This is about being able to live your life with vitality and joy – being able to do all that you want to do.

    Thank you for making that clear and for leading the way.

    Wishing everyone a great 2008 and the best of health and happiness!

  2. sarena says:

    Yeah J
    That Vital Fear is what pushed me to a major lifestyle change including correcting my nutrition and fitness. I dont like the “d” word as in Diet. I tend to think of food now as fuel. If you wanna drive a Mazzerati, you are sure not gonna fill the car with economy. I too want my body to perform and have energy so I fill my tank with premium high grade! It works!
    Thanks for all the great input. Have a Happy 2008. I just envision 2008 as better than 2007 and that year saw many positive changes for me.

  3. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Adeline – I agree that a lot of people put off starting lifestyle change, because it’ll mean taking a real, hard look at where they are and for a lot of us, that’s not a comfortable. And, I can totally empathize. But, it’s a critical element in creating the mindset needed to sustain a lasting change in behavior. Thanks for your always thoughtful comments and, wishing you a giant 2008, too!

    @ Sarena – Vital fear is the part that nobody likes to look at, but, it’s so incredibly powerful when you do. Mazzerati, eh? got a new shopping list for ’08 ;-)!!! Have a wonderful New Year!

  4. Jim says:

    I feel my vital fear and look forward to learning how to keep it closely in mind, and about extreme desire, and about the 84 day plan that can transform my life, if what you have to say is true. I believe that it may very well be true. Can’t wait to find out.

  5. esther says:

    maybe you’ll answer this in the “extreme desire” section, but i just don’t know that “vital fear” will get me there. see, it’s not cardiac arrest i’m facing down, just the 10 lbs i’ve wanted to lose since… well, college (and i hate to tell you how long ago THAT was). in other words, nothing drastic is really going to happen if i don’t do it, and it’s not actually THAT excruciating being 1 size over where i want to be, it’s just a long-standing (though possibly not extreme enough) desire. tell me doctor fields, am i a candidate for your 84 day transformation, even in my semi “whatever” state?

  6. Adeline says:

    Hi Esther,

    I am sure Jonathan will have a great response to your post. I thought I’d comment since I am in a similar situation to you. You might want to take Jonathan’s challenge on as a means for evaluating your overall health and vitality, as I will be doing for myself. All of us can benefit from taking the time to review our total wellness and see if there is an area that needs our attention. While I am in “apparently” good health currently, I did discover that I have very low-iron – that will be my focus early this year and I hope to improve it through improving my nutrition profile to include iron-rich foods such as figs, dark greens, teff flour, etc and reducing caffeine which reduces iron in the blood. I too have let 10 extra pounds (not normal for me)creep on over the last 3 years…

    Early on, Jonathan alludes to the fact that he too seemed to put his own self-care on the back burner and while not “Vital Fear” yet, it kinda creeps up on us when we aren’t looking. This really isn’t about weight, weight can just be an visible indication that we are not taking the best care of ourselves that we can.

    We are all bound to benefit from taking part in this lifestyle evolution. It should be a fun learning experience.


  7. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Esther and Adeline – The good news is that the less vital fear is a genuine motivator, the more likely it is that you’re in a good enough place to move out of Maslow’s bottom level–survival–and start to move up toward the “attainment” of certian highly specific positive goals as a prime source of motivation. great questions and thoughts, more to come tomorrow! 🙂

  8. esther says:

    well, that’s cheery news! thanks guys!

  9. Mark Riffey says:


    The 3 stories at the beginning truly are things that everyone can use, but will we? Are the rest of us in denial? Of course.

    How many people get a diagnosis of and then make themselves become experts on the cause, advance and reversal/treatment of some condition? Plenty.

    Why do we (collectively) wait until that moment? Because, as you say, the fear doesnt truly arrive until that time.

    Vital Fear is accountability in the form of death and disease is the ultimate nagging finger waved in your face.

    Accountability is quite often the difference between success and failure. It’s why Weight Watchers succeeds. People are afraid to show up at next week’s meeting heavier than they were this week. Powerful stuff.

    I read a Vonnegut short story the other day and it struck me from so many angles (including weight) that it was in my blog today.

    The short story is on a university site at It’s short, sweet and a great read. Think about the weight bags in the story as your own…

    Great start to 2008, Jonathan. Keep it up.