Episode highlights

00:50 – Dave’s background

05:00 – The reason for Dave’s passion and his journey into mindset coaching

08:13 – With mindset, you address the root of negative beliefs

11:45 – People don’t want to be seen as having stress or mental health issues

15:22 – Stigma keeps people from acknowledging a problem

19:58 – There’s no such thing as motivation: there’s only momentum

25:25 – Our inner critic is much louder than our inner coach

28:00 – How to ask questions that lead to improvement

31:20 – Awareness, alternatives, and accountability

40:14 – We are conditioned to expect instant gratification

45:51 – Not everyone has a ‘why’

48:13 – Key actions you can take to master your mind


Fitness Guide


Welcome to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast where you can learn how to improve your diet, lose fat, and get fitter in a sustainable and fun way without spending hours in the gym. Here is your host, Darren Kirby.

Darren: This is Episode 11 of the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about mindset and the importance of having the right mindset to ensure you achieve the results you’re looking for with your fitness and your health. Joining me on today’s podcast is Dave Cottrell from Mindset by Dave. Hi, Dave, thanks for coming onto the show. How are you?

Dave: I’m really good. Thanks. How are you?

Darren: Yeah, very well. Thank you. For the benefit of our listeners, Dave, who maybe haven’t come across you before, can we get an introduction into Dave and ‘Mindset by Dave’?

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. The super quick version of my background is that I basically grew up suffering from both type-2 bipolar disorder and an eating disorder and that led to me becoming obese as a teenager. I was bullied as a teenager and that was what led to the eating disorder. I didn’t deal with looking after any of my health–physically or mentally–until way later. I was way into my 20s by the time I actually did it. I got to the point of being 22 stone or 23 stone six. I’m 6’2” so I could sort of just about pull that off. But I was the type of person that would walk around wearing T shirts that said things like ‘fat people are harder to kidnap.’

I have that suit of armour. As you know, that sense of humour is a suit of armour and a defence mechanism. It was like if I take the piss out of myself, doesn’t matter- no one else can. No one else then can hurt me with it. It wasn’t until I kind of… I want to say failed but I’ll go as far as say ruined. I ruined my first marriage down to full on zero self-esteem. No matter how much my first wife loved me, I couldn’t see it. I ruined my first marriage from that. But I’m the type of person that always puts everybody else first and that was kind of a crunch point for me.

I kind of got to 25, never rebelled against anything, never done anything wrong in my life. Maybe beer drinking as a kid, but never smoked, never done drugs, none of that stuff and then I went into this full-on rebellion at that point. I kind of got fed up of looking after everybody else and decided to look after myself for a little while. Now, I’m glad to say that part of it didn’t last forever. I realized that I was kind of sacrificing an intrinsic part of my own personality. But what I did in that period is I lost the vast majority of the weight. I started looking after my food, looking after my exercise, and I found that my mental health improved as a sort of by-product of that.

It wasn’t until I’d grown up a little bit. I was quite a bit older, coming into my 30s and me and my wife now, and we decided we wanted to have a child of our own and I wanted to change career. I was working in the music industry at the time and I loved it but it wasn’t making me enough money to have another child, so I wanted to move into another career. Coaching is not as lucrative as you want it to be, especially not in the first couple of years but that was the change I made.

Ironically, me and my wife still haven’t had that child yet and that was six years ago we had this conversation. But it was quite possibly the best thing that ever happened to me because I reconnected with that side of wanting to help other people. I started coaching other people as a personal trainer, trying to help them to make similar journeys to what I did and I found that I had a reason, that was my why, I had a reason to get up in the morning, I had a reason to turn up because before that my depression had sort of hit an all-time low. I was spending days, weeks, months crying on the couch, like in a state of absolute woe.

Becoming a personal trainer, I had about 18 months of just being level which has never happened in my entire life. Since then, I kind of got more and more into it and decided I wanted to be a nutritionist and then off the back of doing the nutrition, I started learning mindset. With learning mindset, because of my own history, I’ve been through therapy and counselling, CBT and NLP and all this stuff. I’m the type of person that just pays attention when he’s going through things, so much of what I was being taught in this module, it was ideas that I had already had and things that I already knew about. I define it as the moment that changed my brain from being a shotgun with all these pellets scattered about everywhere, to being a spider’s web with all these points but that are all connected.

I decided to go and just have a go at the mindset coaching thing, which for someone with low self-esteem was a bit of a weird choice. But I thought, you know what? This feels right, I’m going to go and do this, I’m going to do a free seminar at my gym. And I did it. I had 50 people down there and I was hooked off the one seminar because I realized at that point that training, nutrition, that’s fantastic and I will never take any credit away from them, but the changes you can get with training and nutrition requires such a long-term investment sometimes before you even see any results. With mindset, I’m not saying it’s a quick fix, I’m not saying that there aren’t things that you have to work at. There definitely are, but I can speak to someone and have their mindset in a completely different space within an hour which, to me, I wanted to help more people.

It’s like so I wanted the bigger effect, I wanted that thing which allows me to kind of get further with a person. I thought if I do a seminar on nutrition, who knows what things that people might keep on with, what they might keep up with. Whereas if I do a seminar on mindset and each person in that room takes away even one idea of how to maybe think differently, how to visualize things differently, how to talk to themselves differently, how to talk to others differently, that’s going to radically change their life.

One of my coaches at the time used to love astronomy or astrology, the one that’s actually about the stars and not about your stars. Astronomy. He had a telescope setup in his house and he said the best thing (about) the telescope is you nudge it by a millimetre at this end and you’re looking at a different galaxy at the other end. That’s what I wanted to do for people and that’s what I still want to do for people. So that’s what I do now where primarily, I still do personal training about 20% of the time, but we’re primarily doing mindset coaching.

Darren: Yeah, I mean, that’s fantastic. One of the things that I kind of just want to expand out with that is the fact that once you do start to focus on your fitness and nutrition and you start to feel better, it’s amazing the level of clarity you start to get, and then you have this hunger to get more clarity. For me personally, that’s when the whole mindset stuff kicked in and I realized that I could actually change my mindset and I could actually change this programme that I already had in me to make further improvements.

For me, it’s become almost like a little bit of an obsession because I can make these changes, I can see these improvements and I can just keep going, going, going. And it’s kind of- how far do you want to go with it? For some people that are listening to this, they may not have even considered mindset. I definitely didn’t for like 15 years that I was going to the gym because I wasn’t getting those results. But they may not have even considered that they actually do need to work on their mindset.

I think more and more in the media now is mental health and everything else is being talked about more freely. I think now is a fantastic time to actually take stock and realize that it is mindset you need to work on as well as your diet and as well as your muscles and training and all the rest of it.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. It would be far too self-serving for me to sit here and say that mindset is the most important part about it but even people within the fitness industry, they know that ‘mindset is key’ is one of the most overused phrases at the moment. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s the most important thing, but what I will say is it gives you a bigger investment that leads into the other things. So if you learn the mindset discipline or you learn the mindset of habit change, then that becomes a route that you can then take into food or you can take into exercise, that you can take into a load of different areas.

And I think exercise and nutrition, they all have those little knock-on effects as well, but in my opinion, mindset has the most and that’s like where I like to go with it. It’s like the deeper down I can get with a person: we can look to our actions that are on the surface, behaviours are below that and then you’ve got identity and beliefs and purpose and things like that that are even deeper. If we start with those identities, those beliefs, then you don’t just change a person’s ability to exercise; you change their ability to parent, you change their ability to be a husband or their ability at work, you can change absolutely everything.

The biggest, I would say, issue that I’ve faced with my work is about people for one reason or another not feeling that they’re good enough- if you change that for somebody. We have this tendency to like basically with those labels, make themselves fulfilling prophecies. If you on an unconscious level think that you’re not good enough, you’ll go one of two ways. You’ll either not bother even trying because what’s the point? It’s not going to be good enough anyway. Or work yourself to the ground to try and impress someone else or try and get some validation that’s never going to come because no matter how good the thing is, it’s never good enough.

A perfectionist or a procrastinator, both different sides of the same coin. If you change that root, the things that you change on top of that. It’s like if I’m not good enough, I’m not good enough today. I’m not good enough to succeed in the gym, I’m not good enough to succeed in work. They’re all implied in that. So instead of just saying, right, well, here is the diet, here’s how to change the diet, I’d be like, well, let’s look at the kind of core belief system, let’s look at the core values that you have, and see if we can change them from there. Because if we do, then yeah, it’ll help the problem that the person’s come to me looking for help with but it’ll help six or seven other things as well.

Darren: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we kind of naturally gravitate towards the kind of direct solution to our problems. For example, if we’re not fit, we want to get fitter so we want to go to the gym. It’s having that awareness, I think, to look inside or to look outside, actually, and to look at what other elements could be influencing or impacting your fitness and nutrition and why perhaps you’re not making the progress that you want to make.

I think with all of the mindset coaching and stuff, it’s kind of having the awareness that that’s there in the first place, if that makes sense? Not many people know about it and it sounds a bit crazy. And I think there is a slight stigma around it. Whereas you know it’s kind of in line with counselling and stuff like that. Whereas if you have to go and talk to somebody about your thoughts or your mindset, you might be a bit crazy. Would you say that that’s valid?

Dave: I’d say it’s valid that people think that. I would say that actually, there’s no truth in the fact that you are crazy on that side of things. Because to put it into… Me and you talked briefly before we started recording about the fact that I could go more specific, rather than just calling it mindset coaching. Like let’s say if I called it eating disorder coaching, then it would be in a theory easier to market. People will understand what it is a bit more. I decided to go down that specific route with one of my seminars earlier this year and I created a two-hour seminar just on stress called Me Again because the biggest thing that most people that experience stress say, ‘I just don’t feel like myself anymore. I just want to feel like me again.’

I thought, right, stress. We’re not all willing to accept that we all have mental health yet, even though we do- every single one. Just the people that don’t think they have mental health just happen to have good mental health. Same as someone- we all have physical health. So we’re not all willing to accept that yet. No one’s going to say we all have anxiety, we all have depression. But I think we can all accept that we all experience stress. And I honestly thought that this would be, as a result, the most attended seminar I’ve ever done, the one that the most people related to.

Up until two weeks before, I had practically no one come into it. I had like three people come into it which is the lowest attendance I ever had. Managed to get it up by the day because I kind of did a little bit more pushing and I actually put a post out asking people to send me anonymous messages to say why they think that particular one’s not been popular. Because it completely bemused me at the time. But I got reply after reply coming through saying, well, it’s admitting that I’ve got stress if I turn up to that. And also, I’m going to be in a room with a load of people that are stressed, then if I am stressed, I don’t want to be around a load of other stressed people. I had the same seminar online with the ability to kind of comment anonymously and it went so much better.

But even with the stress side of things, people weren’t even willing to sit in a room that might suggest that they have stress. When I did it more sort of broad mindset–it was like mindset coaching–I did one that was on visualizations, language and a few other things and I did another one that was called Only this Moment which was all about how to bring mindfulness into many different practices like we talked about before. Bringing it into listening to music, eating food, having sex, whatever it may be. Those ones which were a little bit more generic across, like a little bit more broad in terms of their topic, they did extremely well. But this one that was specific on stress didn’t.

All the feedback pointed towards people saying we don’t want to say that. It’s like mental health awareness is doing fantastic compared to where it’s been: compared to where it was sort of six months ago, 12 months ago, it’s doing fantastic. Compared to physical health in terms of it being shared on the internet, compared to kind of cat memes, … Because the thing is, if you watch, you know, you can share the crap out of a cat meme that you can look at for five seconds and you’re ‘Ha, that’s funny.’ But if you watch a mental health video and it’s a minute long, you need to watch the whole thing just in case there’s something in there that you don’t want to be associated with.

Sharing that video… We need to get this into people’s mind that if they’ve got good mental health, they can share one of those videos and just be seen as a supporter of mental health awareness. It’s not about getting everybody to stand up and talk about it. It’s not about getting everybody to admit their own problems. I will quite readily admit mine because I believe that the best way to dissolve the stigma is to talk as if there is no stigma. So I introduce myself quite happily to tell you that I’m bipolar. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t think anyone in this world thinks that I’m weak because of it and if anybody does, I don’t really care. Because it’s just part of me, it’s as much a part of me as being a Liverpool fan or being a dad. It’s not something I’m embarrassed by. Stigma is two ways.

I think the stigma is one of the big things that keeps people thinking, Oh, I can’t go and handle this, particularly men. Men are the worst for this because what they will do is either, they will say my problem’s not very big, I won’t bother. It’s like, if a weed in your garden’s not pretty big and you don’t bother, it gets bigger. At the same time, thinking that, ‘Oh, I can’t tell the rest of my friends; they’ll think I’m weak.’ Now, here’s what happens with that situation: you hide, you put that fear to one side, you put that problem you’re having to one side, and it grows and grows and grows until the point at which you actually will have a breakdown.

Now breakdown doesn’t necessarily mean like Michael Douglas in Fallen Down or anything. It doesn’t mean a full-on psychotic break. It means your own version of that. For some of us, that could mean going to drugs, for some of us it could mean turning to alcohol. For other people, it could mean kind of getting into a fugue state and walking down the main road, whatever it may be.

The thing is, you’re worried about people seeing you as weak and the thing is, what we do is we push it to one side to the point at which when that weakness- and it’s not weakness, but I’m labelling it as it just for the sake of the story. When that weakness does show itself, it shows itself huge. When that problem shows itself, it shows itself massive and if you think about a person in a particular position of authority, like a policeman or a teacher or even a coach for me, certain people within the industry think that I shouldn’t share my bad days. I completely disagree.

Because I think if I felt that, okay, I’ve got to have… I will always probably have bad days. Now, if I’ve got to hide them and pretend that I’ve got it all sorted because I’m a mindset coach and therefore I should have it sorted, then what’s going to happen? Oh, right, well, I can’t reach out and ask for support. I can’t do this because it’ll discredit me. Then what’s going to happen? I’m going to get worse and worse and worse until the point at which I have a full-blown meltdown. And then I end up getting- I like to quote Kung Fu Panda on this. There’s a line from the first one where they say ‘Often you meet your destiny on the path you choose to avoid it.’ You don’t want to be a burden to people? Actually, talking early, talking when the problem’s small and having it dealt with, you will actually be a lot less of a burden to people than if you leave it unchecked and you end up going down a dark abyss.

Darren: I definitely agree to that. The whole kind of macho element of it is, I think, so profound because men are seen to be weak if they admit that they maybe need to talk to someone about their thoughts or if they’re feeling very stressed. Men are very quick and find it very easy to tell people they’re stressed but if someone then would say to them, ‘Shall we talk about it? You want to talk about it?’ It’s, ‘Oh, no, I can deal with it because I’m the man.’ I actually would say that that’s a weakness if you’re not able to talk about it.

But you know, it’s such a massive topic and one which I think is only really being publicized now and with the advent of social media is becoming more and more mainstream. I completely agree, it’s light years behind the physical fitness and all the rest of it and there’s so much more that needs to be done.

Coming back to kind of fitness and nutrition, if somebody listening to this has been going to the gym, they’ve been doing all the right things at the gym but then they’ve been going home and they’ve been eating kind of right but then maybe their diet’s not on point or sometimes they deviate or sometimes maybe they don’t go to the gym or they lose motivation. How do you think, talking about mindset and dealing with your mindset, we can improve that scenario?

Dave: Okay, there’s a lot of different ways but the one I’ll probably go with, first of all, I think that motivation doesn’t exist. I think that there’s no such thing as motivation: there’s only momentum. I talked before about how I want to help the people. I want to be the spark, not the fuel. I don’t like the spark that gets someone going because if you look at motivation, you’ve got this massively shrinking middle class and if you’ve got the motivated people that are out there saying, ‘Yeah, let’s go smash Monday.’ And then that same thing will either get someone who’s ready to smash Monday ready to smash it even more, or it will make someone who really can’t be out smashing Monday feel even more insignificant or even more incapable.

If you go and search #motivation on Instagram, if you are already motivated, you’ll become more motivated. If you’re not, you’ll become less motivated. The thing with motivation, or as I call it, momentum, momentum can go in both directions. It can go up and it can go down. The vast majority of the time, particularly if we’re not in an environment where we’re being coached by someone, the responsibility for that momentum is going to be in our own hands. The person that we need to kind of motivate us or give us that momentum is us, but it’s like we’ve got two little voices at least, living inside of our head. You’ve got your inner coach and you’ve got your inner critic.

Your inner critic has had your entire life’s worth of practice at telling you why you can’t do things and what’s wrong with you and all the rest of that. If you miss one gym session, oh my god… It’s going to just be like, ‘Oh, well, you’ve missed one gym session. I guess you’re a slacker now, I guess you’re this…’ And it will tell you this big long story that’ll send the momentum to the toilet.

Problem is, the inner coach, when we go and hit that first gym session or we hit our diet for the day, instead of it jumping up and saying, ‘I’m so proud of you,’ what it does is the critic jumps in and then goes, ‘Oh, well, you only made one day today. You only got your day right for one day, or you only made it to the gym for one session. So what? You’ll probably go back to be on the couch tomorrow, or whatever it may be.’

How we learn… First of all, learning that just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s true. Like our thoughts are opinions, not facts. I like to think of the two voices in my head as being two mates down the pub. I can agree with bits and pieces of one of them or both of them or I can agree with neither of them and I can have my own entire opinion on it. We have the same ability with the voice in our head and how we deal with both our successes and our failures will very much dictate the momentum.

Let’s say you have a success. I get people to celebrate every success. And not just the success, as in the result you get off it, but celebrate the action. Because–your podcast’s aimed at more of dads–the analogy I like to use is if you remember teaching your kids to walk. When your kids turned around and walked, like they crawled over to the couch for the first time and climbed up and they turned around, they’re about to take that monumental first step away from the couch. You know, as their dad, that they’re not going to make it across the whole floor. They’re going to fall on their ass in a couple of steps but you don’t run up and give them a slide and tackle and say, don’t bother doing that until you can get across the whole floor.

You pick it up like crazy. You act as if that child has just won the London Marathon. You say, ‘Oh my god, you’re so amazing, you’re so special. You’re going to go on and do this.’ And that sends a signal to the child that the thing they just did was good. If we’d have gone and done the slide and tackle, it sends a signal to the child that it’s bad. Now, we like to think of ourselves as grown up and that we’ve become beyond that point but we haven’t. We’re still waiting for someone to tell us ‘well done.’

And going back to the self-esteem thing, we had our parents do that. If we were lucky, we had a decent couple of teachers but most of us didn’t have that. In fact, most of us had that inner critic as a teacher. And if we’re lucky we go beyond that and we take up a sport or a martial art and we have a decent coach that tells us ‘well done.’ But it’s called self-esteem. The person we need to hear it from is ourselves. Now, it seems weird because again, we get brought up to like don’t brag, don’t boast, don’t do this. But the thing is, we’re automatically doing the opposite. Instead of not bragging and not boasting, we’re not just being neutral, we’re being crappy to ourselves.

We’re doing the slide and tackle, we’re telling ourselves don’t bother doing that again. So we have to get this into our heads that when we actually do something, we need to know immediately that that thing was the right thing to do. If we tell ourselves, ‘Well, it was only one session,’ that is going to send the momentum through the floor. If we tell ourselves, ‘You know what Dave I’m so proud of you…’ I literally do a full 80s reaching grab, I wish you could see it. It’s like you know, reaching up, grab that little thing and do a happy dance, whatever it may be.

It can seem a little bit conceited or even smug or whatever, but the thing is, it’ll get you where you want to be. It’ll get you going back to the gym the next day or having the nutrition the next day. That’s how I deal with the good action. It’s almost the flip side for the bad action. Again, yes, we tell our kids off, so I’m not going to say we never tell our kids off for doing something we don’t want. But let’s imagine you’re a teacher or a coach where you’re not allowed to tell them off as much as you do your own kids.

It’s like, let’s say you’re a karate instructor. You’ve got this particular student that is terrible with their kicks and they come up and throw one really good kick at you. You don’t turn around to them and say, ‘You’ve only just done one good kick. You’ll go back to your old style of kicking before.’ At the same time, if you’ve got the kid that’s usually so good, on the day that they’re bad, you don’t go, ‘Oh, I guess you can’t do it anymore. Looks like you’re not going to be able to participate anymore,’ or whatever it is. But that’s how we speak to ourselves.

If someone let’s say goes overboard on their diet, tends to binge, and they’ll go ‘Oh, well. I knew you were going to binge again. You always do this. This is part of you, this is who you are, so I guess you’d best go back to binging.’ That person now might go six, seven days, weeks, whatever, depending on where they actually reset these things. They may go for that length of time actually thinking, well, I’ve got to do that again. The guilt is there for a reason. It’s there to stop us from doing it but the thing is, you actually probably went to that binge because you were stressed. You went to that binge because you felt out of control and you thought that having that food would relieve that stress or having that food will give you a bit of control. And now you feel more stressed and more out of control than ever.

We take a step back from that for a second and it’s so obvious to see that, okay, if I ate the food because of stress and that eating the foods relieves the stress in the short term, but gives me more in the long term, then it’s only going to lead me back to it. I call it boomerang, which is you throw it forward. You get something positive in the short term only to get something negative afterwards. You’ll actually go in and have that extra food. You’ve got 99 problems, you have the food or the drink, whatever it may be, and you’ve got no problems for about 15 seconds. That’s the positive. That’s the stress relief. That’s the boomerang going forward.

Then that thing comes whipping back and hits you in the face and now you’ve got the negative long term. When that happens, the quicker we can turn around to ourselves and say, ‘Okay, I didn’t get that one the way I wanted it. How can I do this again tomorrow?’ That question… I’m going to say that you’ll probably recognize the two questions that normally come up. The first one is, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ Hidden in that question is ‘I can’t do this.’ And then we like to answer questions in specific ways. So as soon as you ask yourself, why can’t I do this? Your brain will go ‘Because I’m lazy, because I’m undedicated, because I’m a failure, because I’m this that or the other.’

But it goes worse than that and the follow up question to ‘why can’t I do this,’ is often ‘What’s wrong with me?’ Coming back to momentum, the second you ask yourself ‘what’s wrong with me.’ your momentum is in the toilet. Because your brain has got, 20, 30, 40 years of practice of what’s wrong with you. Everything bad you’ve ever thought about yourself, everything bad anyone else has ever said about you, those things are queuing up, waiting to actually talk to you and answer that question. When they all turn up, your momentum is gone completely. So I get people to actually switch that question out for two different questions. The first one is ‘How could I do this?’ Not why can’t- how could.

How could? When you fail at something, ‘How could I do this better?’ Because that then gives you an opportunity to come up with ideas yourself and learn self-efficacy, which is important. But then the bigger question to that is ‘What can I do?’- underlining I. And then right now–underlining right now–to help with this? If you’ve gone over on your diet, what can I do right now to help with this? And that answer might be ‘Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll prep my food for tomorrow morning.’ That answer might be ‘I’m going to throw out the crisps or whatever it is in the house,’ which people go a little bit (gasp!) when I tell them to throw out food. But let’s put it this way: if you keep on pouring petrol into your car when it’s already full and that petrol goes over the floor, it’s more of a waste. The same with food. If you eat something, if you’re eating things that you don’t want to or need, it is more of a waste than throwing them out.

That could be your answer. The reason I ask the right now part is it brings into play context. If you ask ‘What can I do right now to lose weight today, at seven o’clock in the morning?’ It might be I’ll go for a jog before work or I’ll prep my food for work or whatever it may be. Whereas at seven o’clock at night, it might be a different answer. It might be I’m going to get to bed early so I’ve got enough sleep. I’m going to do some reading, I’m going to come off my phone. And the thing is, when you do that, you start to realize just how resourceful you are. Your mind comes up with these answers.

I call what I do the world’s worst business model. I literally try and make my clients need me as little as humanly possible. And it’s by understanding this that you can come up with all of these answers yourself and then it’s just a case of trusting that, committing to that and actually allowing your self-esteem to grow when you realize you know what, I did this. Having that moment of celebration, like I said before, it’s like okay, I made that choice and it was the right choice and I feel really good about making the choice. Because a long term ‘feeling good’ about the choices we make, feeling good about the outcomes as well, is going to be so much more satisfying than skipping that gym session one morning or having that food.

Darren: I think some of this, though, is when you were talking about people turning to food when they’re stressed and things like that, I would argue that 99% of the time that that’s happening or when we’re having these negative conversations with ourselves, whilst all of that’s going on, the consciousness around that is probably not there. They’re raiding the cupboard for the bad food or they’ll chastise themselves when they don’t go to the gym. But they’re not actually aware of what it is that they’re doing. Does that make sense?

Dave: Yeah. 100% like written on the board next to me and my coaching model is what I call the three A’s. It’s awareness, alternatives and accountability. We have to start with awareness. It’s not automatic; it just feels like it in the same way that basically when you’re driving your car on a route that you’ve done a million times, you can get from A to B and then think, shit, how the hell did I get here? Now if a child was to step out in front of you while you’re having that, you’d be present, you’d slam on the brakes and everything will be fine most of the time, hopefully. Same is true here is that once we bring awareness to it, there’s four different stages of competency in a skill.

It starts off with unconsciously incompetent, which is I can’t do the thing but I’ve never tried it so I don’t even know I can’t do it. Then you very quickly, as soon as you try it, become consciously incompetent. It’s like I’ve had a go at this; I know I can’t do it. Then after a bit of time, you become consciously competent which means I’m competent at this, but I need to think about it. Like I’m reverse parking so I’m consciously competent at that. I need to turn the music down so I can concentrate better, or I can’t have a conversation with someone while I’m doing a particular point in a recipe or whatever. Then finally, we move into unconsciously incompetent, which is you can do the thing and do other things at the same time. You can play piano and talk to someone or you can drive the car and change the radio station at the same time, whatever it may be.

My number one rule is we get better at the things we do often. That’s really, really cool when it comes to driving a car or playing a piano or looking after your kids or whatever it may be. It’s not so cool when it’s reaching for the food you shouldn’t, reaching for alcohol, becoming anxious, becoming depressed, becoming stressed. We get good at those things too, because we do them often. Now the thing is, the first few times that we get a person to walk away from it, it’s super hard and I said to you before we started recording, my coaching method is simple but not easy. I like to put things in simple ways. Doesn’t make them easy. That’s where this whole the accountability side of it comes in.

The awareness is ‘what am I doing?’ Ultimately, achieving any goal isn’t just about the steps you take towards it. It’s the balance between the steps you take towards it and the steps you take away from it. If you put £100 a month into savings, but you take £95 out of it every single month, you may as well just put a fiver in there. Understanding that, understanding why we do the things that we do. Yes, I reach for that food because it relieves stress. For me, when I was bullied, it was control. I was so out of control in the day that I’d go and have a bucket of biscuits at night. Now, I was in control until I had the first bite of the first biscuit and then I handed the control over to the biscuits. They were now controlling me.

This is the awareness. The first step is why am I doing this for? And the second step is alternatives: how else could I scratch that same itch? That itch needs scratching, that stress relief needs scratching. That element of control needs scratching. Some people eat or drink for connection because their friends they only ever see them out for dinner, or their partner they only ever have good conversation when they’ve had wine or whatever it may be. How else can I get that connection? Identifying the positive that’s underneath the behaviour rather than just yeah, I’m lazy, therefore I do this. No, what is it giving you? What’s the positive? Then we go into an alternative with that.

I call it the takeout menu. I get people to write this list of alternatives and then what they do is they place it somewhere like if it is a drink thing, they place it on the wine fridge. I’ve got the occasional very middle-class client that has a wine fridge. Or you place it over the treat cupboard. Or even if it is takeouts that you go for, you place it with all your takeout menus. And there’s a reason I call it a takeout menu. It’s because you want to have like 10, 20, 30 items on there. Read a book, have a bath, whatever. It needs to be as well what’s right for you, not what’s right for me or what’s right for the person down the street. What fits right with you. And as we were saying earlier, some men they walk away the second you say meditation, but some people on that takeout menu, they’ll have meditation.

The reason I call it the takeout menu is we don’t want it to be a to do list. If you suddenly go, ‘shit, I need some stress relief,’ food can do that in one fell swoop. Whereas if I look at that and go, well, this is my takeout menu, and I’ve got more on my to do list and I’ve got to do 20 items. No, that’s not how we want to deal with it. It’s a takeout menu and on the takeout menu, we go through it for a bit of inspiration. We go and pick an item or we pick two items or we have a banquet or whatever it may be. We don’t go and go ‘right, challenge accepted; I’m going to do the whole damn menu.’ We just go and actually it’s a reminder. When your brain is on the autopilot and things are feeling automatic, it’s an interruption to that. So that’s the alternative stage.

And then the accountability is kind of tying right back to what we just said about like how we talk to ourselves when we do that. What I want everyone to do is as soon as they choose an alternative that needs to be as soon as. I know I’ve already said that our brains are like children, but they’re also like dogs. If my dog shit on the floor last night and I told him off about it this morning, he’d be like, what the hell have I done this morning? He doesn’t identify with the thing that he did last night right now. The same for us. It’s like, if you wait till you get the results of the weight loss or the muscles or this T shirt that fits better before you can congratulate yourself, you don’t associate it or attach it to the work you did.

You attach it to the results and then we become craving after the results. What you want to do, if you attach that good feeling, I’m going to feel proud of myself for doing that training, I’m going to feel proud of myself for swerving that pizza and making myself like chicken and veg. I know there’s less boring meals out there! But if I’m going to feel proud of myself for that action, then what we do is we store a little picture in our brain that that action is good, it made me feel good. Therefore, the momentum goes up and I want to do it again.

It’s as simple but it’s not as easy as that. Because the not easy part of it is going to be the fact that you will find it hard. Because the old ways come natural to you and when the new ones don’t, if you’re like, ‘well Dave said that I’ve just got to do this and I tried it and it didn’t work,’ it’s like oh, yeah, of course it didn’t work on the first go. Just like eating the first pizza didn’t put a stone on me. I have to be consistent. I have to go back and eat pizza after pizza. It’s such hard work. It’s like it doesn’t happen on the first go and it wasn’t natural. It’s just that pizzas are freaking enjoyable. At no point was that natural to me- that many pizzas. No point was it natural for me to drink four litres of Tango a day or whatever I was doing. That’s not natural.

So when we tell ourselves, this isn’t natural and therefore it’s not coming easy to me and therefore, obviously I just can’t do it. No, no. There’s an expression I like to use and I actually push everyone to look at this video and it’s called You are not Weak. It basically says you are not weak; the journey is just difficult and someone somewhere told you that it should be easy. And when it wasn’t, you blamed yourself. You said ‘Why can’t I do this?’ Or maybe even ‘What’s wrong with me?’ It goes on a bit longer than that.

It goes back to a lot of the stuff we’ve already talked about. It’s like: No. When you struggle, and you will struggle, that’s the point at which… I don’t know if you’ve ever watched How I Met Your Mother, but I like to channel like my inner Barney Stinson. Basically, one of his catchphrases was ‘challenge accepted.’ It’s like, okay, this is the hard point now. Okay, it’s fine. It’s okay, that it’s hard. It’s all right, that I’m finding it difficult, but I’m going to do it anyway. And then I’m going to feel extra proud of myself afterwards for the fact that I did.

Darren: Exactly, and I think one of the other things as well I find is that we are in this world now of instant gratification. The analogy that I use is we can be sitting at home, we can want something, we can go on Amazon and in less than 24 hours, we get the result. It’s at our door or whatever it is we want. And I think that, particularly in the world of social media and all the rest of it, when people might see fitter healthier people or people that are eating great diets and they look amazing, in that instant, they think that that’s just happened to them.

What we don’t kind of realize and associate with… And it sounds very cliché, but you need to go on this journey and you need to accept that it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen instantaneous and you need to be prepared to put the time and effort in, and not many people are conscious that that needs to happen these days, I don’t think.

Dave: No, definitely not. I mean, we are very much conditioned to that. Like think about Netflix encourages binge watching. It releases things all in one go so that that becomes… And it’s a phrase. It becomes part of the culture, it becomes part of what’s expected of us even before that when Sky was like loads of box sets for you to binge watch over Christmas, or whatever, that type of behaviour is encouraged. Apps and games on phones are designed to keep us on there for as long as possible by giving us a certain amount of instant gratification and a certain amount that we have to work for.

It is very much there. It is part of the culture. It’s been something that’s been growing for a long time and we just want it quicker and quicker and quicker. If you look at kind of what’s going on in terms of fitness in India and parts of Russia at the moment, you’ve got people that haven’t got much muscle at all injecting crazy amounts of Synthol or getting implants so they look like they’ve got the muscle. It’s like okay, we are looking for shortcuts. We always are.

And to a degree, I often say to people, if you’re looking for the quick fix, then the quickest quick fix is to stop looking for quick fixes. Because looking for the quick fix and always wanting easy results has left you so much like yo-yoing. It’s left you so disappointed in the past. That actually, if you would have spent the same amount of time just being consistent at something really moderate and probably quite boring, then you’d have had the result from the quick fix that you were looking for.

Darren: I think that’s why what you mentioned about earlier, about celebrating your small successes, is so, so important.

Dave: That is the instant gratification that you can give to yourself.

Darren: And I was particularly like this. It was almost like, well, when I get to X, I can celebrate then. Or when I get to Y, I’ll celebrate then. But actually, celebrate the fact that you’ve just spent five minutes on the treadmill. Celebrate the fact that you’ve just shunned a dessert because you want to focus on your diet. Celebrate those little things.

And some people listening to this might think well, that sounds a bit ridiculous, but actually try it. Try it for two weeks, try it for a month, and you’ll find that you’ll get so much more… I don’t want to call it motivation because I agree with you. I don’t think motivation is a thing. But you’ll get so much fuel in your fire if you like so that you can carry on with what it is you want to achieve and where you want to get to.

Dave: Yeah. The way I like to put it across to anyone who just looks and says ‘that won’t work,’ it’s like: Right, the negative version of it has been working for you so well, so long. Why wouldn’t the positive version work? It’s like my biggest criticism that I ever get from trolls is people saying, ‘Oh, why are you bothering putting all this positivity out there? It’s never going to do anything.’ To which I always reply, ‘So why are you bothering putting your negativity on my feed? If my positivity is not going to do anything, then your negativity is not going to do anything or they both work. Either they both work or they don’t.

Self-criticism. There’s a positive intention behind self-criticism. It wants us to do better. The problem is, the best way I can describe it is I’ve got these two friends. One of them will phone me or can be like, ‘It’s days since I’ve seen you. Really love it when we get to hang out. Have you got any time in your diary coming up?’ Whereas the other friend will phone me up and be like, ‘Ah, you never make any time for us. You’re always busy. When am I going to see you?’

Now, both of them are asking, ‘When am I going to see you?’ One of them is asking it in a way that makes me get my calendar out. The other one is asking it in a way that makes me dig in my heels and feel defensive. Same is going on inside your own head for everything, practically everything I teach. I’m trying find the exceptions to this at the moment that’s why it’s not one of my rules yet. But one of my upcoming rules is going to be that everything I teach is the positive version of the negative stuff we do on autopilot. Visualizations. ‘People have positive visualizations- that’s never going to work.’ Really?

Have you never looked ahead at something and got anxious about it? Something and just looked at the worst-case scenario and felt anxious right now. If it works that way, then actually look ahead at something that you’re excited about and feel excited right now. Totally works. If ever someone walks past with your ex’s perfume on, within a split second, you remember the bad stuff about that ex. Maybe sometimes the good stuff about the ex, it depends on which one. But as soon as we go through that, that takes us back to that and we soon go down memory lane and we suddenly find ourselves depressed. The exact same thing can be done by putting a positive memory on there as well. But that actually pushes it in the right direction. Negative self-talk has kept you where you are so far. Positive self-talk can take you to somewhere completely different.

Darren: That’s very valuable. I talk a lot in our community about the reason why and I’d be interested in your thoughts around this. I’m very much into people really identifying the reason why they want to get fitter. The reason why they want to change their diet. Not just for the actual outcome, but for a longer-term reason why. Is it because they want to be around for their grandkids? Is it because they want to be more active in later life? And the reason I say that, Dave, is because I believe you have to have a bigger why in order to cope with the days of you know… We’ve been talking about around the negativity around the not feeling like it, around the negative self-talk and all the rest of it. Do you think that this ‘why’ is valid, or do you look at it from a different aspect?

Dave: I think it’s definitely valid, I think it’s one component. I would slightly disagree with the fact that you have to have it in order to get through. I would say you need to either have that or structured routine and discipline, or maybe something else. One of my big beliefs is that there’s no one way to anything. Because the thing is like nowadays, when we say you’ve got to have a ‘why’ and then someone comes along and say I’ve not got my why therefore I’m not going to succeed. We’re told to follow our passion in terms of our jobs now. It’s only going to work for a small percentage of us, really. Probably more of a percentage of us than the people who are on the negative side of that spectrum think, but almost certainly less of a percentage than the people who think that everyone can follow their passion.

I would say yes. The why, having both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations is extremely useful. The extrinsic motivation being like so I can see my grandkids or so I can do better in this race, or so I can receive that trophy or so I can fit better in these clothes. And the intrinsic motivation then is well, just because doing it is the right thing. Like to look after my body is right for the sake of looking after my body and nothing else. If we can balance, I think we need to have both of those things, ideally. Or your own balance of both of those things. You might be 90% of one, 10% the other or vice versa. But I would say definitely, if you can make it about more than just weight loss.

My actual first big video was called It’s Not Just About Losing Weight, and it never was. It was like it was always about finding what that extra reason is. I would say that you can still achieve success without the why but I would say that the why makes it so much easier.

Darren: I’d agree with that. It definitely did for me. I try and encourage that so that people… Like you say, not everyone has a why, but I think it helps in the dark days.

In terms of key actions that the listeners could take away today, Dave, to make a positive change, or even just to bring the awareness that mindset is key to their successes, what five key things would you suggest people can do?

Dave: The first one is definitely down to the self-talk. Understanding that your inner coach is someone who needs practice, someone who needs kind of actual a bit of airtime and that you can control that. You can actually say, you know what, when the inner critic pipes up and is being annoying, to actually disagree with it. I would say that’s one part.

Second part is look at the labels that you place on yourself in terms of your identity. Like, if you’re calling yourself fat, if you’re calling yourself lazy, the thing is, we have an ability to live up to those labels. Let’s say, there was a period that I did CrossFit. When you call yourself a CrossFitter, you buy the CrossFit shoes, and you do the walks and you talk in all those words. It’s like when you you’re a dad, you act in a certain way; when you’re a coach, you act in a certain way. We act in a way that fits those labels. If you’re labelling yourself as I’m fat and lazy, you’re going to act like a fat and lazy person, which is actually going to be the thing that keeps you being fat and lazy. You don’t have to turn around and say ‘I’m an athlete,’ ‘I’m the world’s most dedicated person,’ but even just changing to saying, ‘I’m on a health journey,’ ‘I’m dedicated to improvement.’ I’m this that and whatever, putting a label on yourself that is useful on those lines.

The third thing, maybe look up something called The Four Tendencies, which is a book by a woman called Gretchen Rubin. There’s a test for it online. This one book taught me more about kind of understanding your intrinsic and extrinsic motivation than any other book I’ve ever read. It talks about whether or not we respond better to intrinsic or extrinsic. I’m a dandelion so I will meet external expectations way easier than I will meet internal ones. Finding that about yourself, I’m not really mad into all the personality tests out there but this one has been extremely useful to me both as a person and as a parent and as a coach.

Outside of that, off the top of my head, I don’t really know. The one I will probably mention is I said this was the thing that I would like to bring up and offer up to your listeners, is I’ve run this project called A Life a Day. It’s an hour of me for free. I’ve three rules. One, I don’t ever sell anything on those calls, I don’t upsell, I don’t try and get you onto a programme, I don’t even get your email address. It’s like I don’t put you on a mailing list, none of that stuff. The second one is completely confidential. And the third one is I don’t treat it like it’s a free call: I treat it like it’s one of my paid clients. I try and help that person as much as humanly possible in the hour. It’s called A Life a Day because I do 365 of them a year. If anyone’s resonated with what I’ve been chatting about today and wants to spend a full hour chatting to me, they can do that for free and go into MindsetByDave.com to do that.

Darren: Before we wrap up, I was going to ask you what I didn’t ask you that I should have asked you but I think the 365 was obviously one of it. Unless you have anything else that you think?

Dave: No. I think I’ve just brain-dumped enough, I think, actually. When you said five things and I can’t even think of a fifth thing right now. It’s not like me to actually be short of words so I think rather than kind of just grasping for something, I’ll say we’ve brought up some great stuff.

Darren: It’s been a great interview. Like I said prior to our starting recording, I could speak to you for hours, Dave, around mindset and on what we can do to improve. I just think it’s a massively under tapped kind of resource that we have, and how we can kind of improve ourselves, our lives, and other people’s as well. How can people connect with you, Dave?

Dave: MindsetByDave everywhere. MindsetByDave, all one word. @MindsetByDave Instagram’s is my most active. Facebook and MindsetByDave.com is the website. If you go and find me on Twitter and you try and message me on there, you’ll probably get a much more delayed response because I go on there about every three days or something. Whereas I’m on Instagram and Facebook far more than I’d be happy for people to know. I sort of live there between clients- I had a day off on the phone yesterday and it was bliss, because I’m running, a Mindset, a monthly challenge where each day has got a different task on it.

If people find me now and they want to join in on that, you don’t have to do it in line with the month in the days that it was. It’s just 30 different tasks that you can do that can actually literally just get you curious about it and see what happens by doing this one task and see how by changing such small things, we can do that. It’s really cool because you can see–if you use the hashtag, which was #MBDMonthOfMindset–you can see all the posts that other people have done. Like they’ve done their takeout menu like we talked about. Today everyone’s task is to write something and then reach out is coming up in a few days and stuff. It’s a cool thing to get involved with and you don’t need to have been in it from the beginning.

Darren: Awesome. I highly recommend you check Dave out on Instagram. Thanks very much for your time today, Dave. It’s been a fantastic interview. Like I said, one which has been hugely valuable to me personally. I appreciate your time and look forward to catching up with you again soon

Dave: No worries. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

Darren: Thanks for listening to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe and I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes. All the links mentioned in the episode will be in the show notes and a full transcription is over at FitterHealthierDad.com.