Defeat the Ostrich: Go For Goals Without Getting Stuck in the Sand

Forming a new habit or reaching a goal is hard. Data can help. So can other people. Neither one is nearly as powerful as combining them.

As we’ve been working on WeAchieve for over a year now, we’ve been immersed in the world of motivation, habits, and change. Using WeAchieve as a personal playground, we’ve explored many aspects firsthand, alongside reading the latest research.

One of the biggest issues has been dubbed “The Ostrich Problem” by leading behavior change researcher Dr. Thomas Webb. The Ostrich Problem is the act of someone facing adversity while reaching for a goal putting their head in the sand in order to avoid the reality of a situation or failure. By doing so, we fool ourselves and avoid an unpleasant truth about our progress toward reaching any goal.

many ostriches
Ostriches aren’t pretty, but they are important for the analogy, so let’s run with it.

Have you ever found yourself doing this? Fortunately there’s hope for you. Copying the ostrich is human nature, but research is uncovering techniques that you can use to combat your natural tendency.

Use Data

When it comes to any habit, the research is clear: if you don’t track it, you have little hope of making it happen. Of course that tracking can be as simple as checking off a calendar if you, say, meditated for 10 minutes each day. Without doing so, it’s simply too easy for your brain to stick your head in the sand and plead ignorance rather than face an uncomfortable reality. “Am I doing better at keeping to my morning routine? Yeah, it feels like it!” Would be a common mantra you could feed yourself that, without data, isn’t likely to change if and when you do start falling behind.

As noted, research backs the power of tracking as a way to combat the Ostrich Problem. A large meta-analysis of over a hundred goal attainment studies found that recording progress made it 39% more likely that the subject would achieve a goal, and that more frequent tracking was also correlated with more success.

While this shouldn’t shock anyone, it is a good reminder that you aren’t alone in needing help to stay on track. Adding data is one powerful step, but it doesn’t solve the ostrich problem. You can simply choose to stop tracking your progress and bury your head right down into the sand. What can one do to solve that?

Work With (Other) People

As Webb notes though, tracking alone can still be subverted. Anyone falling off track of their goal can simply stop tracking it. Out of sight and out of mind, it soon becomes an afterthought. So what else can be done to solve the Ostrich Problem? We don’t need to over complicate this one: you need to have other people around to pull your head out of the sand!

teamwork hands in the middle

Again, research backs this assertion. Multiple studies have shown that selectively sharing a goal or habit increases the likelihood that you will achieve it. This small group should be people who have a vested stake in your success: this can either be because they care about you (friends, family, significant other), or because they share a similar goal.

Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous rely on this and keep a mentor-mentee structure within the group to further enforce the power of other people to help you stick to the targets that you set for yourself.

Let’s Combine Them!

Taken alone, neither data nor other people fully solve the Ostrich problem. Tracking alone is not too hard to just stop doing, and simply telling a white lie to friends or family “Yes, I’ve been meditating regularly,” is also a bit too easy to do relative to the work it takes to build a habit.

But put together, it’s a lot harder to bury your head in the sand. You’d have to fake the data and lie to your friends. For most people, that’s a bit too much (and if not, it should be too much!).

tell the truth

Indeed, the power of this effect can be seen in some areas. Strava’s social features are a proof point of social and data being combined in an additive way. And from personal experience I can attest to pulling up Strava on a Saturday morning to say “well, Kevin has already run 18 miles and Will has run 25, so I guess I should get out there and run at least 9 for myself.”

But even with Strava, there’s still a gap to what can be done to merge data and people in order to increase goal attainment. And of course there’s a huge subset of habits and behaviors we can hope to develop outside of running, biking, and swimming.

Long story short, we believe there’s still a lot of work to be done in bringing data and people together to achieve goals. Small groups can be created to share goals around any subject. Games and contests can be introduced in order to incentivize people further. This should link to various data sources and any goals that you do wish to keep private. And so much more!

We started WeAchieve (and named it as we did) because we believe that bringing people together with data can yield incredible results. What we’re finishing up now will be the most powerful way yet for people to unite around achieving goals. Stay tuned for more!

A fun fact to close: Ostriches don’t actually bury their head in the sand! But it’s a good analogy so we’re running with it.

Everyday Achiever Profile: Brian

Achievement Oriented is sharing profiles and the routines of everyday people who set out for a goal and do something great. No celebrities, just everyday achievers.

Today we’re talking with Brian, who decided to change his lifestyle in 2018 in order to live healthier. As a result, he was able to lose 50 pounds over the past year. It hasn’t been easy, balancing his approach with those of a demanding job, but it’s been impressive to see, and has a bunch of friends and colleagues asking how he does it.

We sat down with Brian to get the story on how it all started, the details of how it went, and what he’s planning for 2019.

A before and after for Brian: From the end of 2017 to end of 2018

Q: So, let’s talk results first. What’s changed between 1/1/2018 and 1/1/2019?

Over the course of the first half of the test I dropped about 50 pounds, going from 205 down to 155. The second half of the year I maintained my new weight while cutting additional fat and adding muscle mass (as measured via DEXA scans). 

Brian’s weight over the past four to five years. No advanced analytics needed to figure out where this trend started to change!

Q: Wow, that’s incredible! How did this all come about? What made you decide to start to live healthier?

Well it all started with read The Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung in November of 2017. The book really crystallized for me how traditional diet advice fails to help people and that “Eat less, move more” is destined to fail in frustrating ways. His suggestions focus on cutting sugar and artificial sweeteners, and paying attention to the timing of your eating.  I had slowly been gaining weight since my mid-20’s and just felt like I needed to do something. 

Q: So once you made that decision, how did you go about coming up with an approach? What perspectives influenced you the most?

I really just followed the guidelines from the book. There are a number of other people who I follow on Twitter that have provided helpful perspectives on things, notably Dr. Tro and Dr. Ted Naiman. They are big fans of “eat densely, move intensely”

Q: Okay, getting into the details, what was your approach? How did it go?

Cutting soda entirely was really important. I’ve found that “no” is a lot easier than “low”. Same thing with cutting snacking. 

The other thing was moving to time restricted eating. I slowly transitioned away from breakfast and now generally eat between noon and 8 pm. 

Other than that I didn’t really change my workouts at all. I was working out a bunch while I gained weight, and I now know that exercise is super helpful in a lot of ways but doesn’t do much for weight loss. 

Q: There’s a lot of advice out there on how to lose weight. Is there any conventional wisdom or pervasive beliefs that you feel are just dead wrong?

Breakfast being the most important meal of the day or that you should eat lots of small meals. The insulin hypothesis of weight gain argues against both of these points of conventional wisdom and I haven’t seen any rationale for them.

Q: Lastly, what are your plans for 2019? How much of the routine are you sticking with and is there anything else new on the horizon?

People often ask me what the hardest thing has been. I honestly think it’s been super easy. Once you know what does help and what doesn’t it’s much easier to be less strict about your diet. I’ll have birthday cake or chips and queso, I just follow it up with a fasting day. 

2019 is about maintenance. If I can keep my gains for a full 12 months I’ll know that I have a sustainable path in my life from a diet perspective. 

Do you want to give Brian’s approach to weight loss a try? It’s easy to start by tracking just five metrics in WeAchieve. No need to meticulously track calories, carbs, fat, or more.

  • Time of first eating
  • Time of last eating
  • Number of Sodas
  • High Intensity Workout Minutes
  • Weight

With each of these, you can then set goals to fit your own lifestyle. You can start with goals to:

  • Don’t eat before Noon 3 days of the week
  • Never eat after 9pm
  • Do 60 minutes of High Intensity Workouts per week
  • Have 6 no soda days each week

And of course, don’t forget to set a milestone to reach a new weight, say 10-15 pounds lower than where you are today so that you can celebrate your success!

Of course, feel free to customize and experiment. Every person is certainly going to have their own experience. But by tracking key actions in WeAchieve, it’s easy to see what is making a difference and make adjustments as necessary.

Need help getting this setup in WeAchieve? E-mail us at and we’d be happy to help you get started!

Destroying the 4 Great Goal Barriers

Last week, we covered why goal setting matters more than ever. Hopefully that resonates even if it comes with a rose-tinted view of how goals work. The sobering fact is this: reaching any worthwhile goal is HARD. No matter what, you are going to face unfamiliar landscapes, obstacles large and small, and will suffer setbacks large and small as well.

We’re building WeAchieve to provide the best possible ways to overcome these challenges. Just because it is hard to achieve a goal doesn’t mean nothing can help. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite: certain approaches can lead to dramatic improvements. WeAchieve seeks to help people find the ways that work for them to avoid some of the common challenges or pitfalls that people tend to fall into.

Walls as a barrier to success
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How to Use Peer Pressure to Achieve Your Goals

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”  – Bruce Lee

In today’s society, peer pressure often gets a bad rap. It’s usually associated with why we make poor decisions: everything from alcohol abuse to excessive spending can be caused by peer pressure. We are taught from a young age to resist peer pressure; that we should be ourselves and not bow down to pressure from others.

Unfortunately, it’s a battle that most of us will never win. Humans are social creatures by nature, and peer pressure will always play an important role in how we interact with each other. However, the good news is that there is more and more research out there showing the positive effects of peer pressure. Because peer pressure is such a big influence, we can use its influence to promote healthier and better behaviors, such as achieving our goals. Below are a few techniques using peer pressure that you can use to help you achieve your goals.

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