What Bob Wiley Can Teach You About Losing Weight

One of my favorite movies of all-time is What About Bob.

It’s about a neurotic but well meaning psychotherapy patient named Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) who drives his psychiatrist crazy on his route to sanity.

He’s lovable, caring, but oh-so-screwed up.

Here’s the clip about the issues he has whenever he walks outside:

Dizzy spells, nauseau, and debilitating fingernail sensitivity.  Life’s tough for Bob Wiley.

Bill Murray has spent the better part of three decades perfecting his deadpan schtick, but none of his characters were easy to relate to. Bob Wiley rings home because there’s a little part of all of us that neurotically attaches ourselves to things we shouldn’t and yearns to be loved.  (And even if you’re not slowly losing your mind surely you have a few friends or relatives who have skidded off the tracks and drive you crazy with psychotic neediness).

Bill Murray’s always been brilliant but he’s never really been about playing people we might run across at our local bar, workplace, or park bench.

When I think of Bill Murray’s career I divide it into three parts.  In the seventies and early eighties he got started at Saturday Night Live and made his mark at the edges of movies playing edgy characters that blended his now famous deadpan style of comedy with a don’t-mess-with-me kind of wackiness that made all his parts memorable.

This began with his SNL skits, carried over into films like Caddyshack, Stripes, The Missing Link, Tootsie, and finally culminated with the mega-hit Ghostbusters, which ushered in Bill Murray epoch #2.

Bill Murray’s coming of age after Ghosbusters transitioned to a more moderate-but-still-punchy style that was less psychotic and more lovable.  After Ghostbusters he was usually the protagonist, took more mainstream roles, and artfully toned down his act to give you just enough of his Bill Murray-ness to leave you wanting more and never feeling like it was too much.

The big movies from Bill Murray epoch #2 were as follows:

  • Scrooged
  • Ghostbusters II
  • What About Bob
  • Groundhog Day
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little
  • Space Jam (the movie’s an embarrassment but Bill Murray was its lone bright spot)
  • Kingpin and Larger Than Life (I’m including these as one entry because they were half-hearted efforts that weren’t bad, but come off as throwaways)

Bill Murray epoch #3 starts in 1998 with Rushmore and continues to the present day.  The Wes Anderson movies set the tone (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and the Darjeeling Limited) but the basic artistic gist of these movies has carried over into his other roles, such as his character Bob Harris in Lost in Translation and most recently with Monuments Men.

In epoch #3 Bill’s decided to relax his characters a bit and delve into movies that are more understated, eccentric, and artsy.  His most outrightly comedic parts usually exist to pay homage to his comedy from the 80’s and 90’s.  Most notably demonstrated with his cameo in Zombieland:

Why Bob Wiley?

So, as we humbly bow at the alter of Bill Murray’s brilliance, why can we use Bob Wiley as a role model for accomplishment?

How can idiosyncratic obsessions about tourette’s and an intense need for familial connections shed insight on how to get to the gym, shed extra pounds, and stay the course?

The answer lies in the form of therapy he used to nurse himself away from his psychological crutches.

The power of baby steps.  

In the movie Bob has an epiphany when Dr. Marvin tells him about his new book called Baby Steps, which focuses on the power of using small, incremental steps to eventually accomplish large tasks.

If you’re trying to get out of a building, first focus on getting out of a room, then walking down the hallway, then going down the elevator, and so on.

Baby steps.

The advice had a magical effect on Bob, and its basic message should be internalized by you.

Grit, Goal Setting, and Getting Results

Deferred gratification is a big obstacle for most people trying to make large changes in their life.  Immediate stimulation is wired into our DNA and simply pointing out the importance of doing one thing or another is usually not enough to alter decision making.

Most people need some sort of sugar as a reward for their good choices with a combination of peer monitoring and stakes so there are consequences if they fail.

Mental health is a big issue too.  Chances are one out of five of you reading this suffer from one of dimentia, depression, bi-polar disorder, mania, or schizophrenia.  If that’s you you’re more than twice as likely as the rest of us to die young, be homeless, a victim of violence, or chronically unemployed and have an even more difficult time with enduring behavior change.

Baby stepping is probably the most basic heuristic we can all follow to maintain the right sort of behavior when it’s the middle of the week, the night before an exam, the moment you realized you bounced a check, find yourself on the wrong end of a breakup, starting a new job, feeling guilty about the food baby kicking in your stomach, fighting self loathing when you look in the mirror, or wondering how you’re going to pay off credit card debt that’s more than you make in one year.

It’s simple, easily digested, gives immediate results, and removes the cognitive overhead that comes with elaborate planning and uncertainty.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s an incredibly convenient psychological anchor.

What Weight Loss Actually Looks Like

Peter Attia has a useful article on what meaningful weight loss actually looks like.

He used this graph, which illustrates the weight history of one of his patients who was able to permanently keep off the pounds:

typical weight loss of someone who successfully keeps off the pounds

The graph sort of looks like a picture of the stock market in reverse.

There’s a steady downward trend punctuated by a lot of little ups and downs in-between.  A LOT.

This patient was able to drop about 5-6 pounds a month, but he still had to endure many weeks when his progress stalled or even began to reverse.

To let this point sink in it’s a good idea to gently close your eyes and imagine what it would feel like to fix your diet, start making your own food, exercise everyday only to find out…..that you gained weight.  And that’s if you were doing things right and on your way to success!

This happens all the time to people and it’s usually enough to get lots of them (even those with strong wills) to give up.

It’s been established that your body likes to settle on certain “set points” for itself that allow it to figure out how much food it thinks it needs, fat it has to store, and calories it wants to eat.  Moving from one to another can really be a bitch.

In the article he makes the excellent point that people who successfully lose weight accomplish success by continually finding lots of small ways to keep themselves going, as opposed to stellar motivation or relying on good genes.

They baby step.  Baby steps go to the gym.  Baby steps take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Baby steps skip dessert.  Baby steps relax a little bit at the end of the day, and so on.  Even if it looks like things are going backwards.

It’s Better Than Death Therapy

Almost anything worth doing is really hard.  Your self-discipline is a scarce resource that waxes up and down everyday.  Big visions are good for an occasional shot-in-the-arm, but it’s the everdayness of baby steps that makes big chances possible over long periods of time.


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