The True Source Of Willpower To Achieve Your Fitness Goals – Borge Fagerli

Content By: Ari Whitten & Borge Fagerli

In this episode, I’m speaking for a third time with Borge Fagerli about some powerful mindset techniques he uses in his coaching practice that will help you achieve your fitness, muscle-building, and weight-loss goals. 

If you haven’t yet, be sure to listen to our first two episodes. In them, Borge explains his simplified but highly effective approach to training, gives us some insight into his history, and explains why he’s now focused on psychology and mindset rather than the common hyper focus on relatively trivial details that tends to dominate the world of evidence-based fitness.

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Borge and I discuss:

  • The number one reason why most people can’t make the choices they know are healthy and continue making harmful choices, instead
  • The art of goal setting: Why your goals shouldn’t be too challenging to attain…but shouldn’t be too easy, either! 
  • Borge’s emotion and identity-based technique for helping his clients achieve their goals—this is a unique, potent process!
  • 2 excellent strategies to deal with the desire to experience pleasure now, like eating tasty junk foods, so we can accomplish goals that might take us years or months to achieve, like building muscle and losing fat
  • The specific, anatomical, and trainable part of your brain that controls willpower…and how you can optimize this structure for more determination and better outcomes
  • 2 major obstacles that hinder people from losing fat and building muscle, i.e., creating a leaner, stronger, and more capable body
  • How to shift from the external validation of compliments and ego to the internal validation of feeling great with tons of healthy energy
  • The best way to balance consistency and routine with novelty and variety to get the results you want from your workouts
  • Borge’s heartfelt, personal thoughts on the best ways to achieve your goals and dreams

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Ari: Hey, this is Ari. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. In this episode, you’re going to be hearing for the third time from my good friend Borge Fagerli who is an expert on all things fitness, mindset, fat loss, body composition optimization, muscle building, and more. He’s a wonderful expert. I’ve known him for over a decade at this point. We’ve had a great friendship and learned a lot from each other over the years of our friendship and even working together. Early on in our partnership, we co-developed a lot of modules for programs related to circadian rhythm optimization and nutrition and the interface of nutrition and circadian rhythm and optimizing body composition and much more.

He’s a brilliant mind and his latest focus is all on mindset. That’s what he’s really been digging into in more recent years. That’s the subject of today’s podcast. You’re going to be hearing a lot of his best strategies and tips for behavioral change, for habit change, and for optimizing your mindset for fat loss, for muscle building, for health more broadly, and optimizing your fitness and body composition. With no further ado, enjoy this podcast. Borge, welcome back to the show.

Borge: Thank you.

Why mindset is critical to achieve optimal health

Ari: What we talked about a lot in the last podcast– well, we’ve done two at this point. The first one, we talked quite a bit about training methods and simplifying all of the complexity around how do we train to reach our fitness goals, particularly strength and muscle building. In the second podcast, we spoke about your background and getting maybe, I don’t know if you’ll object to the word bored, but getting a little bored with talking about all the and perpetually arguing over all of the different nuances of physical training, and that you are now shifting towards an interest in psychology and mindset, and understanding that piece of the puzzle when it comes to fitness, when it comes to changing habits, and reaching our body composition goals, and things of that nature.

Maybe success more broadly, I would imagine, is also tied into that, but take me through what has been your biggest influences in guiding that transition? What has sparked this interest in making that switch, and who have been the biggest influences on your way of thinking?

Borge: Wow. That’s a great question, because it’s probably been ongoing since I first started coaching. I just discovered that figuring out my own inner demons, and being able to find confidence outside of just the aesthetics, and also when working with clients, and you could have the perfect plan set up, and they just didn’t follow it, they didn’t do what you told them. I think it started with NLP back in the days, and Richard Bandler, and reading a lot of that material, hypnotherapy, and I’ve also been into more of the spiritual side of things, a lot of Alan Watts stuff.

Ari: I love Alan Watts.

Borge: Sam Harris, the Zen meditation, illusion of self. I would say probably one of the biggest influences, and the guy that always inspires me to move in different directions is Jorgen Rasmussen, he’s a Norwegian change artist, I think he calls himself. Originally NLP and hypnotherapy, but gradually transitioned more into helping people achieve state changes and habit changes and mindset changes through just exploring not just how we think, but the relationship we have to our thinking. It’s been a gradual process over the last 10 to 15 years, I would say, and the last 5 years working more closely one-on-one with clients instead of before that, it would be in the gym environment.

It would be fascinating to see how these clients would be so motivated when I was there cheering them on, but left to their own devices, some of them really struggle to reach their goals. It seemed to be like a global phenomenon as well, being the same way in different areas of their life, so they didn’t have boundaries, and they had this constant nagging voice inside their head telling them that they were worthless, and all of that. It’s hard to pinpoint the biggest influences, because I read two books a week probably, listen to a lot of podcasts, and then work with clients, but I would say Jorgen is probably one of the biggest influences, because I’ve had a few sessions with him and a couple of mentorships. My change of mind during those sessions, my insights has been like revelations that then caused me to go and search for more answers and knowledge into those directions.

Why people often stick with unhealthy habits

Ari: You said something in passing there that I want to come back to and maybe dig into a little bit deeper, which is this idea, I think you mentioned the way you phrased it was somebody would have the perfect program, but they just wouldn’t follow it. I think more broadly than that scenario is we have a situation in society more broadly, in Western society, modern Western society in particular, where lots of people, basically everybody has some familiarity with the right things to do. Everybody knows some basics of how to eat healthy, and they have an understanding that eating lots of processed junk food and McDonald’s is not good for them.

Everybody knows that exercise is healthy, and they should go to a gym, and a number of other things. You could extend that out to, I probably want to avoid this for now, but even scenarios of people know that smoking is not good for them, but they will continue to smoke or drink alcohol or things like that. People do things knowingly, that they know, we have huge bodies of evidence showing that these things are unequivocally very harmful to your health. Again, maybe circling back, zeroing in, leaving the cigarettes and alcohol issue aside, because that could be more context of addiction. Why is it that people have such difficulty doing the things they already know they should do?

Meaning, let’s separate out this issue of, one is an issue of knowledge, and there’s a whole process of acquisition of knowledge to be able to know what the right things are to do, the right way to eat, the right way to train, and other aspects of lifestyle. Leaving that aside right now, how can we better understand what’s going on in terms of psychology and behavior of why people don’t do the things they know they should do? Why do they knowingly do things they know they shouldn’t do?

Borge: Yes, that’s a great question, and it’s probably very individual and context-dependent. I have many different directions I can take this in, but I first want to connect it with something that we discussed last time. There are different levels of knowledge and competence to that client. Because you specifically asked if they know what’s good for them, why don’t they do that? We can address that. First off, going back to that discussion, first figuring out what competence, what level are these clients on, and then provide them with the knowledge and the understanding they need to move to the next level. The Dunning-Kruger effect, do they actually know what they need to know to move forward?

That’s sort of the responsibility of the coach, to clarify what do you know and what do you not know? Getting them to the next level. Some can be experts and really knowledgeable, but they just can’t follow the plan or go through with it. Some lack the knowledge, so just providing them with knowledge can often be sufficient to get them moving again. Let’s define working with a client that already knows what’s good for them and still doesn’t do it. There are many levels to that and I think the typical procrastination is usually due to either lack of internal emotional regulation. At the first sign of something being difficult, they give up.

It’s like the instant versus delayed gratification because getting healthy and losing weight are in the future, but the instant gratification of eating that cake or chocolate overrides that image or that– they don’t really have the ability to feel how they will feel in the future yet, but they know how they will feel for that short-term instant gratification. It’s like you have to make the pain of staying the same way bigger than the pain of not making the change, if that makes sense. That can be difficult for some, but it does help to clarify their values and their goals because the values will be the driving force leading them towards their goals.

Sometimes I don’t spend a lot of time on goals, but I make sure that we can use the SMART goal framework that needs to be specific, measurable, time-bound, and all that stuff. Then we have to break it down into milestones or manageable goals that both me and the client are confident they will be able to do. That’s a sweet spot kind of thing because if it’s too difficult, they’re not going to be able to do it, but if it’s too easy, they will tend to not do that as well because it’s not challenging enough for them. For some, it can also be their internal thinking, their thought process. They’re having low self-worth, constantly saying to themselves that they can’t make it, they’re unable to.

Talking themselves down can be a big challenge and we need to address that. At the level of thinking, we can use typical cognitive behavioral techniques and explore the content of what they’re thinking and challenge that. Moving up towards the next level is their strategy for thinking, how do they actually manage their internal, their emotions and their thinking and their habits. How do they actually build and succeed in adopting new habits? I can often use an identity-based change framework where instead of just discussing their goals, I want them to imagine their ideal version of themselves. What’s the identity they want to achieve? Then to start acting like they’re already that identity.

Instead of, I’m here and to get there, I need to do all of this stuff. That can be procrastination territory for many people. If I have them start practicing, so let’s say for someone smoking, how would a non-smoker actually act? Someone that didn’t smoke, what kind of choices would they make? Some actually have a lot of much higher success rate by beginning to act like the person they already– acting like they’re already the person they want to be. That’s one framework. The highest level is the relationship to their thinking, the fact that they are thinking. That was the most revelatory insight for myself because I tend to think I can solve all problems by just thinking harder.

That can just fatigue me and make me tired and sort of lower my inhibition thresholds. To me, just spending time on mindfulness practices and just understanding when I’m thinking too much and seeing the world through my own thoughts was the game changer I needed to let go of that, or just tell myself something simple as, okay, I’m going to solve this problem. I’m going to allow myself to think all of these negative thoughts about myself, but not until 6:30 tonight. When 6:30 arrived, that didn’t really feel like I wanted to do that. That was a game-changer to me, but I can sort of see the different levels.

I have to have some discovery sessions with my clients and see where they’re at, get to know them, how they think, how they act, what are their habits, and then work from there. Because if I connect it to something deeper, their identities and their beliefs, then we have a higher chance of success versus just, this is the plan. This is me telling you what to do. Because to many it’s, well, I need discipline and I need willpower. That has negative associations to a lot of people. It’s like, that means I have to restrict myself and deny myself things that are good, that are tasty, that are pleasurable. If you instead manage to connect it to something that they truly want, then it’s not perceived as a sacrifice.

It’s not perceived as a restriction. Again, using myself as an example, I’m going to turn 50 now in 3 weeks. I want to be the healthiest and strongest 50-year-old alive, just being highly ambitious about being that identity. To me, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to not have that piece of chocolate. If I’m already that identity, skipping a workout for me is just not an option because that’s what the healthiest 50-year-old in the world is doing on a daily basis. It’s just part of who he is. To me, that framework has been way more successful as long as I can get the client to willingly connect to that identity. I’m not providing that identity. I just explore and ask and dig a little deeper and have them actually imagine their ideal version and then begin to act like that. That’s been really powerful.

Taking the first steps to change your unhealthy behavior

Ari: I was just going to ask, what is the process that you take people through in order to help them come up with the identity they’re going to try to embody in order to guide their decision-making and behavioral choices? Is there a specific line of questioning or do you let it happen organically? How does that work?

Borge: Yes, both. I just begin asking questions. Some just have this, a lot of, well, if I could, I would, but I don’t think I can. I just allow them to dream and to really imagine, even if it seems impossible. Then we together try to create that ideal version of themselves and perhaps calibrate it according to where they are. It’s not completely out of reach. I wouldn’t want like the 60-year-old housewife or something to imagine being a world fitness champion or something, unless they were already– been training for 40 years or something. It must be connected to their own values, their own value system and who do they want to be instead of who do I want them to be or the world around them.

Yes, it’s like a discovery process, but also an organic process where we check in and calibrate and recalibrate their ideal self so as to chunckify that goal or that vision into something that’s manageable. We can have that intention and that goal, but we also need to have a process-oriented mindset. It’s not all about something in the future, but it’s also, how can we also enjoy the journey there? It’s more about the process than the end goal.

Ari: What are some examples of identities that some of your clients have come up with for themselves that they use to help guide their behavior? Is there any particular example of a client that you’ve worked with or multiple clients that stand out in your mind as something that was highly effective as far as somebody was very successful in creating this sort of alter ego, this other identity to guide their behavioral change?

Borge: Yes, I have plenty. It’s across the spectrum. I had like the 16-year-olds that his father wanted me to work with him and he just wanted to feel strong and confident and have lots of energy. He was a gamer and he was stuck inside watching YouTube videos instead of actually implementing habits to become that ideal version of himself. It’s obviously some planning and it was probably a four to six-month process of actually getting to a point where he started to feel really confident in himself by just having these small milestones that we could see he had continuous progress.

Also recently, this Friday, I had a session with someone. She’s a CEO managing a huge company and she was just always tired, never had time to take care of herself. She felt like she was always constantly trying to take care of everyone instead of herself, so putting everyone first. We just had that identity of, since she was already a CEO and a quite successful CEO and a leader professionally, but she was unable to be a leader in her personal life. We just worked on that identity of being that same leader that could be– like the charismatic leader that could inspire others to take care of themselves and become independent, including her.

She had two children that was really dependent on her for doing everything because she always did everything for them. She had a husband that always came to her for business advice and for running his own business. They just kept getting into arguments. We started off with just creating that identity of being a strong charismatic leader, full of love, because she didn’t want to– That was the thing that held her back, that she didn’t want to hurt the people she loved. Instead of always being tired and always feeling like she couldn’t do enough, she needed to step up and become more of an inspiration and someone that challenged everyone to become the best version of themselves.

She actually took that identity-based change that we implemented with her and applied it to her own family and helped them to become more independent, thus freeing up more time and energy for herself. That was also a very fun, organic process. On our last call, she had really taken care of a lot of those relationships in her life. Implemented and adopted a regular workout routine. Her diet was getting much better and on point, and she didn’t feel like when the weekend rolled around, she had to just lay flat on the couch and eat a lot of junk food to pacify herself. It’s been a huge change in probably nine weeks or something that she had spent the last nine years trying to figure out.

That just shows the power of the mindset shift and, again, beginning to act as if you already are that person because she had all that knowledge and understanding professionally, but she didn’t use it in her personal life. It was like she was two different people. That’s because she was stuck in habits, thinking habits, and actual habits of managing her personal life. That was quite– I’m getting goosebumps just talking about it because it was just so great to see the physical and energetic change in just talking to her and obviously, losing a lot of weight and becoming way stronger in the gym as well. It was really great.

How to move away from seeking instant gratification

Ari: One of the biggest obstacles to habit change is something you alluded to earlier in this conversation, which is sort of dealing with the impulse towards instant gratification and needing to start to train yourself to choose more nebulous, difficult-to-directly experience longer-term goals that maybe you haven’t even yet experienced ever in your life, like being lean or having a six-pack or having muscle mass or being able to bench press X amount of pounds or whatever the particular goals are, being at X percentage body fat. Needing to choose those kinds of distant, very long-term goals that take months or years to attain over the pleasure of this ice cream or this pizza or this hamburger or these French fries that are going to give me very real, very directly experienceable, if that’s a word, pleasure in the next few seconds. How do you help people start to make that change?

Borge: There are two ways I tend to work with that. One of them is implementation intentions. There are ways of bridging the gap between the intention and the action, because instead of having, I want to have a habit of eating healthy, or I want to have a habit of working out, we need to connect it with some sort of trigger. Usually, when I get home, I want to put on my gym shoes and go to the gym and add on like, because I want to achieve this. It becomes very clear that this was developed just for–

One example I heard was, if you want to start flossing when you brush your teeth, then you have to connect it with the actual picking up the toothbrush and brushing your teeth, because it needs to be anchored to something you’re already doing, a habit you already have. If you decide that whenever I brush my teeth or put down the toothbrush, I will pick up the floss so that I can clean my teeth properly. Now that’s like a really silly example, but there’s a ton of research in this that just shows that the probability of that person actually going through with the new habit formation is way higher than just having a smart goal or setting an intention to do or implement the habit.

Connecting it to some environmental trigger is always a good starting point. For instance, we can connect it to the triggers that tend to cause them to overeat. For instance, if I’m low on energy, and I’m really hungry, instead of resorting to chocolate, they just have an implementation intention of whenever I’m really hungry, I’m first going to have a protein shake, or I’m first going to have a huge bowl of fruit before I decide whether I want the chocolate because it’s important to me to be healthy. Now we have a three-layered implementation intention that tends to be more successful when they actually meet the situation in real life where they’re really tired and hungry. That’s the first part of it.

The other part is actually exploring the way they deal with their internal emotional state. Just being tired or just being hungry, do they just go straight from the trigger to the action? Because that’s a sign of just having poor emotional regulation. I try to teach them to add a little posture. Before going from the trigger to the bad habits that they have, I tell them to first take a deep breath and just tell themselves, okay, that’s the hunger or that’s the low mood or that’s the, there’s the thought again, that I’m not worth it or that I will be unable to lose weight. I’ve had that thought before. What do I actually need or want?

Remind themselves of their actual goals, their identity, because here enters the identity-based change framework again, which is why it’s so powerful. Actually exploring and looking at their internal emotional states, instead of trying to avoid it and going in the direction of instant gratification, just going deeper into that emotion and becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s actually a huge and major learning to many people because many are so used to the first sign of some difficult emotion or thought, they immediately go to something that can make it go away.

If you instead teach them how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable with the pain, exploring the pain, and even using it for something, that’s going to be a game changer to many people. We tend to spend some session just exploring that and going back to memories of difficult times and going deeper into that, being with that emotion and that feeling, trying to connect with the underlying goal. Because the goal might be as simple as I just want to feel good, okay? Are there other ways of achieving feeling good and coming up with alternatives?

Again, you just want to create some space between the trigger and the action so that the rational brain can come in and this is from the thinking fast and slow Daniel Kahneman’s and there’s many models of the same chimp versus human part of the brain, the instant gratification versus the delayed gratification. We all have that emotional chimp inside of us that just wants to avoid pain and seek pleasure at all times. Then we have a more cognitive, rational, forward-thinking part of the brain that’s able to plan and strategize and connect with our deeper values and goals.

Those two parts need to, instead of fighting each other all the time with the monkey very often winning in these people that are unable to expand their comfort zones or go beyond their comfort zones, we actually make them work together as a team if that makes any sense. It’s a very interesting process to explore with clients because it’s like they’re big children caught in an adult’s body that they haven’t really learned that ever before. They haven’t really tried that, explore that. It’s usually very transformative when they see that I can actually be with this feeling. It’s not dangerous to be hungry. It’s not dangerous to have these thoughts about me not being good enough because all humans have them.

It’s not your thoughts. You can’t claim that thought because all humans have them. It’s just learning how to deal with it in a more productive way that’s going to have a higher chance of you achieving your goals instead of always going into these destructive behaviors and habits. Just really getting to know themselves through that process is usually what it takes to get there.


Ari: I’m curious how you see the role of willpower fitting into all of this discussion because I’ve been actually writing a lot about willpower lately for one of the chapters of my upcoming book. One of the things that I find is interesting is, in a way, we all admire people with lots of willpower, but at the same time, willpower gets a bad rap. Because in popular culture, we all have this feeling like, oh, well, I don’t have enough willpower to do that. We’re constantly being bombarded with these marketing messages like, and you can lose fat on this magical diet or just take this pill and it doesn’t require any willpower.

We’re sort of drawn to and we are constantly marketed to based on the message that relying on willpower is sort of a bad thing or is too difficult and can’t possibly be done. I’m old school. I’m like a Luddite and my experience, my observation of most highly successful people is they have a lot of willpower to make the right choices in many aspects of their life and continue to make the right choices. What’s most interesting to me about this as I’ve been digging into the science and there’s a lot of emerging science in more recent years, is that willpower isn’t this thing that’s sort of like a fixed immutable personality trait. It’s something that’s highly malleable and highly trainable.

In fact, they’ve sort of zeroed in on this part of the brain called the anterior mid-cingulate cortex. What they found is that people who are athletes, for example, have a much larger, physically larger, more robust, more active area of the brain, the anterior mid-cingulate cortex. People who, for example, are obese have a much smaller one. This is true of also like meditators, grows the anterior mid-cingulate cortex.

What’s most interesting is just how fast that effect occurs because they’ve actually done experiments both in animals and in humans where they can start to see changes in the structure and function of the anterior mid-cingulate cortex, literally within a few days of starting to do things that require some willpower, successfully doing something that was difficult, that was uncomfortable, that was challenging. If we start to see things from that perspective, we realize that this is very much like a muscle.

The more you practice doing these things, the bigger and stronger the willpower center of your brain gets, and essentially the easier and more efficiently you can continue to do what maybe used to be difficult things that required a lot of sort of effort and willpower to get done. I’m just curious how you see that whole picture of willpower fitting into your model and if you have any particular approaches to cultivating more of it.

Borge: Yes, amazing. I’ve been reading a lot about willpower myself and the mental muscle perspective is very fascinating to me, that it’s actually trainable. Because as you said, many have the illusion that while it’s sort of fixed, it’s genetic, I’m not made out for this, I’m not cut out for this, I just don’t have the discipline or the willpower. I often just tell people that it’s actually trainable. You just have to be willing to explore pain and become familiar with pain. That goes back to the whole internal regulation thing where having the incentive that becoming friends with your pain and still being able to go through with your plans will build confidence. Action builds confidence.

People think that they need to sit around and wait for motivation to become strong enough to actually go through with things. Sometimes you just have to start doing stuff. Through doing stuff and seeing that you’re taking one step at a time that builds the confidence and creates willpower, trains that part of your brain that’s able to go through with things in spite of, and even because of, something that’s uncomfortable or painful.

A good example with athletes, because if there’s something athletes are good at, it’s having clear intentions and goals, and they just want to be the best, or they want to excel at their sport, and they’re willing to go through brutal workouts where it’s really painful, everything is hurting, but they do that because there’s something bigger than themselves that they’re striving for.

They see it as in army personnel, where if they’re really patriotic, or they have a strong sense of purpose for the goal in mind, they can jump out in parachutes in the middle of the nights in spite of having extremely high cortisol levels and stress levels. They have become friends with the stress, with the pain, with the uncertainty, because they’re doing it for a greater because. From that, like you said, we build parts of the brain, and we build the internal emotional regulation that allows us to take action even though it’s uncomfortable and even because it’s uncomfortable. Exploring that, becoming familiar with that, understanding that, and knowing that, and often just working with regular people.

If you look at willpower depletion, I’m sure you’ve also seen the research on this, that if everything in their life is based off of willpower, at the end of the day, they have depleted whatever resource they have until they have built the capacity for more willpower.

Sometimes just some sort of time management, or planning, or looking at– I tend to use the Eisenhower matrix for planning, so looking at where are they spending their time, and are the things they’re spending their time on really moving the needle for them? Are they just wasting a lot of energy, and trying to multitask, and spreading themselves thin in all areas of their life, so that once they get to something that’s really important to them, they just don’t have any resources left to go through with that.

That feeds into a negative self-destructive thinking habit of not being good enough or worth enough, but they just made it difficult for themselves from the get-go. Sometimes some type of planning, and elimination, and delegation of their daily tasks, and chopping their to-do lists down by 80 to 90 percent, can often be the ticket to creating the environment that they need for cultivating willpower and discipline to go through with and actually fulfill their dreams and aspirations.

There are two parts of that, where it’s setting the stage for this to actually happen, training themselves for the emotional challenge it is, and the discomfort, and the pain, and becoming friends with that, and becoming mentally stronger to pursue that, and then actually seeing that this leads them somewhere. They’re getting through process-oriented thinking, seeing that this is part of the journey.

I believe we’re here to solve problems. We’re not here to necessarily just be happy. In fact, we have this baseline happiness where winning the lottery, we imagine that we’re going to be forever happy, but it goes down to the same baseline again. Instead, we can see these moments of happiness once we have successfully solved the problem, or overcome some sort of challenge in our life, and reminding people that they’ve had huge problems in their life that they don’t even think about, consider as problems anymore, because they have solved them, gives them more proof that they’re able to solve problems, and that at the other end of that problem, they’re going to feel better and have a higher chance of happiness.

Instead of always chasing that elusive happiness, happiness just arises as a consequence of actually solving problems. That can also be quite a shift in the perspective of many of my clients.

Common mindset issues for people who want to lose weight or gain muscle

Ari: I have a two-part question. You can address this in whatever order feels natural to you. I’m curious about specific mindset-related issues that pop up in people who are interested in muscle gain. That’s part one. The other part is fat loss. What are the biggest obstacles, or I want to say mistakes is probably the wrong word, but issues with mindset that get in the way of people being successful with fat loss and with muscle gain?

Borge: I would say there are two different obstacles here. One is the unrealistic expectations, where they have this, it’s like everything is going to happen so quickly and so soon. The first red flag is when people send me, “This is my dream physique. This is my ideal physique. I want to look like that.”

Ari: How many days will it take? Seven, 14?

Borge: Exactly. It’s like, well, that’s identity-based change. You have to look at yourself and how you want to feel more so, how do you want to look because the looks will be the side effect of going for the actual health benefits and the feelings and habits so shifting from the goal of the aesthetic. Also, I would say like the extrinsic motivation, which is more externally based, validation based from, getting admiration from others, from the way they look, and instead of trying to connecting with an internal state of just feeling great and doing things for yourself.

Shifting from the goal orientation, which is external to more of the internal journey process-oriented step-by-step thing, because I’ve had clients that are always so impatient. It’s like, well, nothing is happening. Oh my god. I didn’t lose weight this week. I want to give up. It’s like they used a number on the bathroom scale to regulate their internal life, their feeling of success instead of just as an indicator, a metric that needs to be considered in the larger perspective where we use different indicators of moving forward or not.

The mindset shift from that number, telling them something about themselves and instead switching over to that number along with the totality of the indicators we have is telling us something about whether the process needs to be adjusted or not. That’s really something that I have to emphasize. I can see that as a pattern in those that have been unsuccessful before we started working together. They’re so obsessed with lifting that bench press weight or weighing that specific number. A lot of them always have this number in their mind that if I just weigh that body weight, I’m going to be happy. They just freak out whenever they haven’t lost weight that week.

If I instead manage to shift their mindset over towards, okay, so what daily habits, what does the training log and the weight log and the measurements and all of these indicators for your energy levels and sleep and your environment and what actually happened in your life this week, tell us about the process so that we can adjust the strategy? That tends to connect them back towards, okay, let’s just get back to the plan and make some adjustments so that in the end, there’s a higher probability of success.

I can even see this in competitors that they have this, I want to compete in bodybuilding or fitness and that’s the competition dates, I need to look my very best, have my dream body, dream physique, win that contest. Sometimes they win and they get on stage, they receive the trophy, and it’s just this huge anticlimax because it was great in that moment, and once that is over, what now? It’s like, they don’t have any fallback mechanism. They don’t have anything to catch them when that whole thing is over.

That also requires some artwork when it comes to the mindset shift and how it’s more about, that was just one milestone, like one confirmation that what you did was working, but this needs to be sustainable, this needs to be a lifestyle, not just a trophy and then we have to set another ambitious goal or you’re just going to feel completely depressed and unmotivated to do anything at all.

Some of these competitors have these huge swings where they look like the pinnacle of health on stage, and then two weeks later, they’ve gained 30 pounds and don’t even want to go to the gym because the drop is so huge. Those are the most common ones I see, that they have either too unrealistic goals or they don’t have anything sustainable to catch them whenever that goal is reached.

Ari: Do you think that’s applicable to both fat loss and muscle gain or would you say there’s any others that come to mind for maybe muscle gain specifically? The mistakes people make with their mindset or something like that?

Borge: I would say it’s applicable to many areas. I work with athletes as well and they tend to rack their own self-worth according to whether they win competitions or not. It can be endurance-based goals. I have one ultra runner that was just– we had to run that distance in this time, he had to win that competition. It can be other goals as well. It’s a global pattern in these people that they have more of a goal orientation than the actual enjoying the process.

Even in athletes, they started doing that because it was fun and they were good at it. That was all they needed to progress and become really great. Then they started getting attention for it and they started understanding, “Wow, I’m really good at this, I could be the best.” That’s when the internal pressure and thinking starts going. They have performance anxiety and they start to calibrate their own self-worth according to their performance on the field or on the track. We need to connect it back to, okay, but what do you enjoy doing? Because it stopped being fun a long time ago.

Again, going back to willpower and discipline, it shouldn’t always be about pain and restriction and denying ourself life’s pleasure to achieve something that’s going to bring you a moment of happiness until you have reached the next goal and next milestone, it needs to be more of an internal exploration and process of getting to know yourself better and always evolving and always learning and always challenging yourself and solving problems.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations

Ari: I think this discussion ties into the concept of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations too.

Borge: Definitely, yes.

Ari: I think when we talk about this whole realm of fat loss and muscle gain, there’s two big aspects of this whole pursuit that are sometimes joined and are coalesced into one thing or are sometimes very separate. Those two things are aesthetics and external validation from other people. The other one is health and energy and feeling good.

I can speak from my own personal life. I started training when I was 13 years old and my older brother was a personal trainer. We got into bodybuilding from a very young age. My goals at that time through my 20s were, “I want to build muscles, I want to be ripped, I want to be the biggest guy in the gym, I want to lift more weight than everybody else, I want to get girls.” It was all about aesthetics and social validation and ego, really.

Now I really find– of course, I still like to look good. I still like to be a picture of health. I still enjoy aspects of if I take off my shirt, I like getting compliments. That’s a nice thing. Especially if I’ve been training for– At this point, I’m 40 years old, I’ve been training for nearly three decades. It’s nice when people notice that you’re very fit. Just the other day, some guy at the gym was like, “Hey, how do you get a body like that?” Still, I find those things make me feel nice. It’s still nice to get social validation.

Yet I find there’s a big transition that I’ve noticed where I do way less stupid stuff in the gym. I’m not concerned with ego lifting and how I compare to other guys in the gym. There’s certainly guys that are stronger than me that are lifting heavier than me, especially, I don’t do steroids and there’s tons of guys on steroids these days. For me, it’s become more about feeling good, my body feeling good, because in my 20s, I used to be causing myself tons of pain and back pain and neck pain and injuries all the time because I was lifting such crazy weights.

Now it’s all about feeling good, feeling super energetic, which is also something I was doing wrong for many years, constantly overtraining to the point where I was fatigued all the time because I was pushing myself with way too much intensity and volume in the gym.

It’s about feeling good, feeling energetic, feeling lots of vitality and health and performing really well. Being able to move my body really well through all the different ranges of motion, being able to go for a hike or a bike ride, go rock climbing, go surfing, go swimming, being able to run around and play soccer, being able to play tennis really well. Actually, that’s a big motivation for me right now. I’ve started playing tennis a couple of years ago and I’ve fallen in love with it. Now I’m training to be an athlete so that I can perform better and have more fun and be more competitive playing tennis at a higher level and learn the skill sets and evolve my game there.

It’s really been fascinating for me to see my own transition of, I still train, I still go to the gym, I still work out almost every day, but the motivations are so different for me now at 40 than they were as a teenager or in my 20s.

Borge: I couldn’t agree more. It’s just describes myself there. I spent way too many years just chasing aesthetic goals. Again, I’m also interested in looking good and getting compliments for that, but it’s not the same driving or motivating factor. Now it’s more of, you need to fall in love with what you’re doing and it needs to be more of a journey of exploration and curiosity. I try out different training techniques and exercise and it’s more like more playful.

Every time I go back to, okay, now I need to follow this program, this plan and this strategy and chasing aesthetic goals. I have signed up for a competition this autumn in September, Classic Bodybuilding just to have some sort of goal and a process, a journey of getting there. I have these shifts in mindset. I can see every time, okay, but I need to prove to someone or myself that I can win that contest, and I start doing stuff in the gym that’s too much. I stop listening to my own body. That reminds me, okay, now I’m getting really fatigued and tired and my shoulder is aching again. What’s going on here? Oh, yes, of course, and go back to the gym and just find the joy, find the fun, the energy.

You should train to be stronger. You should train to be more energetic. You should train to feel better. You shouldn’t train to be exhausted and fatigued and tired. That should be perhaps unavoidable consequences of being in the gym and training that sometimes you will feel that, but consistently, over time, you should be improving somehow, some way, not necessarily adding weight to the bar, but perhaps finding new angles and ways to improve your technique or something, just different types of metrics that are not so aesthetic or numbers-oriented.

I was afraid that if I let go of this lifting a certain weight on the bar or looking a certain way, those types of goals, I would stop training altogether. Instead, it was this newfound joy in just exploration, getting to know my own body and how I could improve myself in many different areas at the same time, instead of just those one or two.

That completely resonates with me. Even being a beginner in something, I’ve tried archery. I’ve tried tennis, I tried badminton. I tried to not just go to the gym and lift weights all the time, but have that more as a complimentary thing to– I even started trail running just to do something different with my body and see, “Wow, I can actually do that as well.” Yes, I couldn’t agree more.

Ari: I feel like also what intersects with what you’re explaining here is novelty. I think this ties into mindset as well, because our brains really like novelty or another way of saying that is they hate doing just the same things over and over again, and being stuck in the same old routines that you’ve done a million times before. In a way, we have to be playing, be experimenting, be introducing some novelty or putting new goals in front of ourselves to try to create some aspect of novelty to get us motivated and excited about something.

How do you recommend people play with– Let me introduce one more layer of this which is, in training to get results, of course, we also need consistency and systematic progression. One of the mistakes that are made when people are constantly overly concerned with novelty, and you go too much to the extreme of novelty, is that you miss out on the aspect of consistently providing a particular stimulus systematically and progressively such that you stimulate adaptations like muscle gain, for example. You miss out on that aspect of things if you have too much novelty.

On the other hand, if you’re too much focused on the same routine over and over again, a million times, it gets boring to your brain, you lose motivation. How do you help people deal with those two aspects of things and finding the right middle ground?

Borge: Great question. Another one. It’s really tied to personality types. Some just hate change and need some type of consistency over a long time, some predictability. We allow for that but still teach them how to measure progress correctly because the neurotic types hate change because they want that predictability, they also tend to be very goal-oriented. I have to lose this amount of weight or I have to–

For those, I just try to gradually shift them towards the process orientation and also teach them how– That information tells us whether we should change something or not because if something is painful, if something is uncomfortable, if something is stagnating or regressing, then introducing the change needed to move forward again is an absolute necessity. That’s the way we can have those adopt and accept it.

Those who just want everything to change all the time, they think they need a new program every week and they’re really prone to program-hopping. They will follow a program for two to four weeks and become bored with it and jump to something completely different that they found online. We have to first teach them how progression tells us whether the program is working or not. Always changing stuff is not a good idea. We need to have a core program, a framework of exercises that we can measure and tell us whether what they’re doing is working, and then we introduce novelty through switching out some exercises, switching out the rep range, the training method.

Instead of doing sets across, we can do drop sets. Instead of doing drop sets, we can do myo-reps. I can introduce some type of novelty on a weekly basis or something is changing, but the rest of the program that informs us that they’re moving in the right direction, that they’re progressing, it’s a constant.

Over time, over a six-month period, the novelty seeker will have a sufficient amount of change throughout the time period. The program after six months may look completely different, but we have ensured consistent progress through staying with the core set of exercises for long enough to tell us something about the intensity, volume and the frequency combinations. Now we can safely switch out some exercises and even enjoy a full sense of progress because we have switched the neural pattern.

For the more neurotic that needs the predictability, we have also introduced change but we have done so more out of necessity, out of informing them that now it’s time to change. Now they can begin even to enjoy the change. I’m doing that exercise and my shoulder isn’t hurting anymore. That’s good, and build a motivation from that.

Then the rest is usually in between, the bell curve distribution, but you have the extreme harm-avoiders and novelty-seekers that I’ve written about in an article that needs separate tactics.

Ari: Borge, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I’m curious if there are any final words you want to leave people with, or maybe alternatively offer one or two key ideas that you want people to take away from this conversation.

Borge: That’s a really great question. I think just going back to it’s not like the strongest that will survive. It’s the one that’s best able to adapt and evolve and grow that will survive or even have fun in life. I think just being comfortable with discomfort is a way to uncover everyone’s potential. I believe we have way more potential than we believe. Some statistics show that at any point in time, we probably only reach 40% of our limits. There’s always more room to grow, to explore, to become better in some direction.

Spending the time to get to know your own internal processes instead of just chasing something or running away from something is just extremely worthwhile. It’s going to be a game changer.

I definitely have underrated or undervalued some type of meditation practice for many years. I actually procrastinated on something that was really good for me. Just finding a way to implement it into my own life has definitely been something I can just warmly recommend to everyone. It doesn’t have to be 30 to 60 minutes of meditation or a 10-day silent retreat or something, but just a 5 to 10 minute sitting down and exploring the inner silence that’s actually always accessible.

Our natural state is peace. What disturbs it is the constant rumination and thinking that’s going on all the time. The identification process with those thoughts is usually what makes it seem as if we always need to solve it and always need to chase or run from something. That was a long winded way of just encouraging people to get to know them themselves better and understanding these very fascinating concepts about the human mind.

Ari: Beautiful stuff, my friend. Let people know where they can reach out to you and what kinds of services you offer and the best way to follow your work, get in touch with you if people are interested in working with you or buying products or services from you.

Borge: my website, the I have a YouTube channel and an Instagram. I haven’t been very active there lately because I’ve been finishing up the Myo Reps ebook, which includes nutrition and mindset stuff. That’s going to be a way to tell people that I’m not just a training expert, but also someone that can help them feeling better about themselves. That will be released probably when this– in the process of being released in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, your listeners will check out that book as well.

Ari: Beautiful, and the website is just, it’s Thank you so much, my friend. It was an absolute pleasure. I’m so glad that I reached out to you so that we could reconnect after many years of not being in contact. It’s been wonderful doing this three-part podcast series with you. Thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge and wisdom with my audience.

Borge: Thank you for having me. It’s been a great honor and I really love to reconnect. It’s been great seeing all the success you’ve had and the things you’ve done for helping people with the energy blueprint and all your content. Thank you so much for connecting again.

Ari: Thank you so much, brother. I really appreciate the kind words and the feeling is very mutual.

Borge: Thank you.

Show Notes

00:00 – Intro
00:57 – Guest Intro Borge Fagerli
02:23 – Why mindset is critical to achieve optimal health
07:23 – Why people often stick with unhealthy habits
19:12 – Taking the first steps to change your unhealthy behavior
27:00 – How to move away from seeking instant gratification
36:16 – Willpower
46:03 – Common mindset issues for people who want to lose weight or gain muscle
54:44 – Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations


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