“Doing Is the Hard Part…When It Comes to Eating Right and Exercising, We Know What We Should Do.”

Happiness interview: Adam Gilbert.

I got to know Adam Gilbert and his site, My Body Tutor, because, like me, he’s very interested in the question of how and why people are able to keep resolutions. We’ve all made resolutions, very sincerely and enthusiastically, but then not kept them. Why not? How can we do better? Adam is focused on helping people stick to their resolutions related to health, fitness, and weight, which are certainly among the top areas for resolutions that people make — and break.

Figuring out strategies to make progress with these resolutions makes people much happier, and I was eager to hear what Adam had to say about happiness.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?
Adam: “The monster is never as scary as it seems!”

Resolutions by nature are action oriented which, of course, means a lot of doing. However, doing is the hard part, right? For example, when it comes to eating right and exercising, we know what we should do, for the most part. It’s just too easy to make excuses and procrastinate. It’s even easier to rationalize and justify our poor eating and a lack of exercise.

I think one of the biggest reasons we don’t take the action we really want to take is because we build this monster up in our head. Whether it’s doing all the laundry that has accumulated, making that difficult phone call or getting back into an exercise routine, 100% of the time when we attack the monster, be it the “laundry monster,” “exercise monster,” or whatever else it might be, it’s never as scary as we think it’ll be.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
I’ve realized (and so have you, Gretchen): when there is disconnect between our desires and our actions, unhappiness ensues.

So many people have these desires yet never act on them. Not taking consistent action on something that we want (as much as our short-term and irrational mind tries to convince us otherwise) doesn’t feel good. It wears on us.

I’ve seen it hundreds of times over with people of all ages: after the first week or so of them eating right and exercising consistently they feel incredible. I think many things are at work here; however, I believe a big part of those positive feelings are because my clients are finally taking action on something that’s so important to them.

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
I’ve always been a happy person. However, right after college, not too long into working in Corporate America for a “prestigious company,” I found myself walking to work with a stomach ache every day, absolutely miserable.

I think when we’re younger, without any fear or judgment we create this dream vision of ourselves which includes what we’ll do for a living. I realized I was so unhappy because I wasn’t doing anything remotely close to what my idealistic self wanted me to be doing nor was I taking any action to get there.

So, after 2 years, I quit my full time job to pursue my life-long passions of helping people, health and fitness and writing and married them with entrepreneurship to create my dream company.

Since then, I’ve helped hundreds of people get the body they want and it has been the most rewarding, thrilling and challenging decision of my life.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Absolutely! I believe happiness is a choice. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose to be unhappy. We can choose to focus on the good, or we can choose to focus on the bad. We can choose to read negative stories, blogs and books or we can choose to read positive ones like your blog and book (both of which I absolutely love!) [Awwww, thanks, Adam!].

I choose (more so, try) to focus on what I can control (my attitude, my actions, my habits, etc.) and try really hard to love what is and accept what I can’t control (what’s the alternative?).

By taking action each and every day on what’s important to me, and striving to become the person I want to be, I’m making myself happier.

Albeit I may never reach my exact dream self, the journey of trying makes me happier.

What is a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Every time I find myself feeling unhappy, it’s because I’m caught up in my own head.
Thinking about other people or things always makes me happier. The unhappiest people I know are stuck in their own head.

Whether it’s writing, jogging, helping a client, hanging out with friends/family or playing with my little nephew, thinking away from myself is the key.

Since you help people stick to their health and fitness resolutions, do you have any suggestions for helping people keep theirs?
I think it starts with accepting that the monsters will be there. Essentially, life is about attacking one monster after another. Once you’re willing to accept that the monsters will be there, it comes down to the why.

Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to clean out your closets? Why do you want to have more fun? Why do you want to be happier?

When you know the why, I believe the will to make it happen – or at least the will to attack the monsters – appears.

The challenge is to find a motivation that won’t fade so quickly. For example, if your motivation is to look great for an upcoming vacation that might work, for the time being. But what happens after your vacation? The key is to find something more constant.

* I always enjoy Marginal Revolution to see what Tyler Cowen is reading and thinking about.

* Are you on Facebook? Join the happiness discussion on the Facebook Page!

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • The mention of setting and keeping goals reminded me of an article I read just yesterday in Scientific American Mind. It’s entitled “The Willpower Paradox.” Gretchen, you and your readers might find it interesting:

    • gretchenrubin

      Sounds like a great article…off to read it right now. Thanks!

  • Polly Campbell

    I like the way Adam thinks. There will always be monsters and how we live with, manage, respond, to those monsters determines how happy we feel and ultimately our quality of life. I totally agree that “When there is a disconnect between our desires and our actions, unhappiness ensues.” My life and focus is really about making sure I’m taking inspired action to support my needs and desires. I don’t always succeed. And it is not always easy, but it is always worth working on.

  • Sheenalindahl

    It’s so true that when our desires and actions are connected, happiness follows. It’s all about being authentic to yourself. And I think what Adam has to say about how to make those actions happen is right on — by breaking them down into pieces. It’s not necessarily about accomplishing the desires… even just seeing yourself make progress on the path there that matters. Great interview!! Thanks for the post.

  • Great interview Gretchen! I like Adam’s realistic approach on happiness. So many times the focus of happiness is on how good things feel vs. doing what’s meaningful to you and confronting the monsters on a daily basis. The idea that confronting our monsters will lead us to happiness is really powerful.

    In the end of the interview, Adam talks about the importance of finding an enduring motivation. I’d be very interested in his thoughts on how to do that.

  • Spatialrelationsconsultants

    Someone once told me with running it is 90% mental. Knowing that has made it that much easier to keep putting one foot in front of the next.

  • This is a wonderful interview. I love the line “when there is disconnect between our desires and our actions, unhappiness ensues.” It’s interesting how many of us don’t work towards achieving our desires. It’s certainly a practice that requires mindfulness and discipline.

    I also love what Adam says about happiness being a choice, a choice of what to focus on. If anyone is looking for a positive blog about relationships, especially how to deal with a break up, please check out my blog. I started it because I felt that there were so few positive role models about how to deal with divorce in a loving and friendly way.

  • Laura

    I’m so glad to see Adam on this blog – his daily feedback and messages are just like this – he is always thinking and researching on ways to be happy and to look at and get past things that keep people from achieving what they want, and also on ways to put in structures and practices that have people get results in the area of health and fitness, which ultimately produces greater happiness.

  • Jim Philips

    I start every morning run facing “the monster”. I tell myself I’ll finish the first mile and then see how it feels. And by that time, it feels like a piece of cake.

  • Adam

    Gretchen – thanks so much for interviewing Adam! Over the past few years Adam and I have exchanged countless emails on topics ranging from happiness to entrepreneurship and everything in between. He truly is infectious to be around. I love reading his daily inspirations blog. You can’t help but eat better and exercise more when you have him around!

  • Danee

    Since I ran into Adam’s blog a year ago I’ve been a huge fan! It’s so great to see him getting his message out there! This is a wonderful interview that really gets to the heart of happiness, it’s a choice and you have to choose that state of mind… brilliant

  • Annedesoleil

    It’s so exciting to read Adam’s Daily Inspirations and to see him on this distinguished site. He is a pretty wise thinker and motivator. For him to inspire people on a daily basis and to vary his messages with his keen insights and gratitude for what it feels like to be so helpful to his clients, is what makes his work so special. It is in the giving that he receives so much joy and this translates to the many successes he has achieved. He is a positive, realistic and sincere model for change.

  • Skylar C.

    I couldn’t agree more with Adam’s approach to being happy. I think Adam’s habit of looking at WHY we want to achieve certain goals is key to getting there. Following Adam’s blog and applying this to my own life has helped me become happier on a daily basis by peeling away goals that really aren’t important to me and focusing on the goals that are important.

    I thoroughly enjoy his blog and look forward to his new posts about his philosophies on life and working out. Excellent interview!

  • I’ve known Adam for about a year as we have journeyed in parallel on our entrepreneurial journeys and I can validate that he practices what he preaches, he is the real deal. I first learned of him when he helped my cousin be consistent and, as a result, much happier. His approach works well and, at least in my experience, works – especially considering our happiness is so often linked to physical activity or appearance.

  • Simi

    Whenever I’ve come across this blog in the past – I’ve always thought of Adam – and it’s amazing to see him here! I’ve been a client of Adam’s for the past 3 years and where I have seen great results in the realm of my physical health, appearance, and fitness I think that the greatest change I’ve noticed since meeting and working with Adam is in the way in which I think about my life and what I really need to do to be happy. He uses simple and important things like diet and exercise to get us thinking about the bigger things in our lives and has ingrained in me the importance of a day-to-day approach to being happy. The best thing about what working with Adam is that he is relentless – he gets that we are all human and that we all make mistakes – and even (especially) when I mess up or I stray off track – he’s always there to remind me of what I have accomplished to date, what I can do to turn things around in that moment, and never harps on what I am doing wrong. He has really taught me what it means to make a few sacrifices today to be where I want to be tomorrow.

  • A suggestion for Michael, who commented earlier…

    For me, there’s nothing like lab results to let you know how your health is doing. Your fasting blood sugar, insulin levels, and HDL, for example. Knowing these keep me going with my own health program, and boost my motivation for continuing to make healthy choices at the dinner table and getting to the gym!

  • LivewithFlair

    I love that definition of unhappiness: when there’s a disconnect between our desires and our actions. I’m trying to remember how good I feel when I wake up early, go to the gym, and have my prayer time BEFORE the family gets up. I’m on week 2 of the 5:30 AM wake up, and it’s been incredible. But I literally have to rehearse my entire happiness narrative in order to get out of bed! It’s like, “Come on Heather, you will be SO HAPPY! Get out of this bed and move your body! You will LOVE it!” I should make motivational alarm clocks for 5:30 AM wake ups! http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/

  • Aidan Donnelley Rowley


    Thank you for this insightful introduction to Adam and this compelling philosophy on life and happiness. I was struck by many of his ideas but a couple in particular. First, the idea of the monster seeming more scary than it actually is. I think this is so wise. I believe, and fervently, that our imaginations and fears get the best of us and we often become paralyzed because of how things appear. Second, the idea that doing is the hardest part. Absolutely. I am constantly coming up with ideas and goals – and good ones – and then I get stuck and stand still when I would be so much happier if I just did these things (however imperfectly). Third, I relate 100% to Adam’s description of the malaise of being immersed in a quintessentially prestigious world that does not come close to satisfying our ideals and passions.

    Thank you both for this eye-opening interview!

    Insecurely yours,

  • Jayne C

    Kudo’s !! What a good way for me to start the day- thinking about happiness !

  • Elaine

    Everyone is struggling with something- kudos to Adam for supporting and simplifying the health and fitness struggle for so many people. What a great concept!

  • Johnny

    Adam is the real deal! I’ve followed and worked with him for the last 3 years and he has helped me and many others tremendously in our quest for self-improvement in health and fitness and well as life in general. Keep up the great work!

  • Adam calls them monsters, which I like and which makes sense. Along those lines, I always keep in mind this quote from Mark Twain:

    “I’ve suffered a great many tragedies in my life. Most of them have never happened.”

    The tragedies he’s talking about are stressing / worrying about problems that, once attacked, are never as bad as we make them out to be. Love it.

  • Kathryn

    The two statements below that Adam made really resonate with me. It took me a LONG time to figure this out, but now thank goodness I finally get it, and I am doing everything in my power to keep doing regularly those things that are important to me:

    When there is disconnect between our desires and our actions, unhappiness ensues.

    Not taking consistent action on something that we want (as much as our short-term and irrational mind tries to convince us otherwise) doesn’t feel good. It wears on us.

  • Michael Li

    It’s great to see Adam interviewed here. His inspiration is truly undeniable. I actually learn about the Happiness Project through reading his blog. I’ve learned numerous things from the both of you on becoming a happier person, thanks.

  • mondurvic

    It is VERY hard to be fat and happy in our culture. I’ve lost 45 pounds working with Adam, am below 200 for the first time in 19 years, and believe me, I’m a whole lot happier now! As a life-long dieter, I knew everything there was to know about losing weight, but knowing and doing are two different things, and Adam helped me actually stick to it. I am grateful to him and happy to see him getting the recognition he deserves.

  • Interesting interview, and he seems like a guy I want to know better.

    I’m not as sold on the “monster” idea, because it makes it sound scary and mean and nasty. For me at least, getting to a long-term healthy weight without stressing out about it and obsessively watching each calorie in and each step taken means I need to not see diet & exercise as monsters, but rather friends and partners in achieving & living the life I want.

    Still, my own experience in my lifelong struggle with this is that huge attention gets huge results, less attention gets less results, and I suspect that getting to a healthy weight for me will mean periods of huge attention when I lose (currently trying to do this) and long periods of less attention when I maintain. I’m finally learning no attention (and regaining) is one of those areas that creates unhappiness for me.

  • Alannah Dibona

    As a long time disciple of Adam and My Body Tutor, it’s so fantastic to see him featured on this blog (a favorite!). Thanks again!

  • Jctwig

    Wonderful interview with Adam to add to your Happiness Project page! I have been a client of Adam’s for a while now and his infectious good humor and positive attitude are the motivation that keeps me on track. He is truly happy doing what he does and he wants you to feel happy in your life too. By finding the consistancy that allows us to attain our goals we can’t help but feel content and happy! On Adam’s My Body Tutor site he asks clients daily about not only their diet and exercise habits, but to looks for three things to be grateful for each day and three outcomes to pursue tomorrow. It is humbling and makes you sit still and really be grateful and make positive plans for the next day too. Way to go Gretchen and Adam – Thank you!

  • Al

    Adam’s way of thinking is incredibly powerful and it inspires me every single day as I set about my day of eating and exercising. As a client of his, every single message/feedback, and thoughts motivate us to focus on the moment. I think this interview is a great addition!!

  • Matt

    Adam Gilbert shows up in another blog post! Awesome.

    This guy is the real deal. I love that this interview doesn’t just focus on Adam’s views on diet, health, and fitness, but on his core philosophy as well. I’ve worked with him for the past year and a half, and when we started it was all about losing weight and getting in shape. Over this time though, it has become more and more about pushing myself to achieve my goals (of course it doesn’t hurt that I’m much stronger and 40 lbs lighter now). He’s so on point about choosing to be happy. At any given moment, we can choose our emotions. We can choose to take action. We can choose to change a situation we are unhappy with. Life is about choices, and Adam has consistently been there to help me make the ones that are best for me. I’m a happier, more fulfilled person as a direct result of working with Adam.

    Great blog, btw Gretchen! I wasn’t even aware of it until now.

  • Al Pittampalli

    Fantastic post. I especially appreciate the importance of they “why” when trying to accomplish a goal. When I look back at all my successes (or failures) it always came down to an urgent sense of purpose.

  • NoGluten

    Some diabetics call the monster, the Diabeastie.

  • Great interview Gretchen! I like Adam’s realistic approach on happiness. So many times the focus of happiness is on how good things feel vs. doing what’s meaningful to you and confronting the monsters on a daily basis. The idea that confronting our monsters will lead us to happiness is really powerful.

  • Allan

    This is where it is at! Great interview. I really, really like the realistic no BS, easy fix approach that Adam has. I absolutely agree, its small steps all the way – accumulating good decision after good decision and facing our monsters in whatever shape or form they may take. Its choice by choice made on the basis of the acceptance that happiness is a feeling state we visit and that we have to consistently make our own right choices to visit that state.

    I have worked with Adam now for a year and a half and I have felt the significant changes on my own body and more importantly in my mind.

    Am I a happier person? – yes absolutely, because you cant beat the feeling of having all your inner parts working with fluid congruency – nothing beats a day of having eaten well and exercised – its so simple really – the power of accumulation – doing the small things day after day after day….

  • Thanks for this great interview. I love the thought that the monsters will always be there, and it’s a matter of realizing that and figuring out the “why.”

    And yes on focusing on other people and getting out of our own heads to shake off our unhappiness. Even just being around other people, whether it’s at a coffee shop or wherever, helps me.

  • The Midwest has been one big windy mess lately, making outdoor workouts nearly impossible. I’ve seen garbage cans, flower pots, small trees and the occasional small child blow past my window, forcing many of us into the gym for less scenic workouts.