I went to a Products That Count talk a few months ago, where Tara-Nicholle Nelson, VP of Marketing at MyFitnessPal, spoke about the personal disruption conundrum – we know what we want to do and we know how to do it, but we need help doing it. We often even know why we fail or why we can’t start… but we still need help when it comes to acting on that knowledge.

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I was interested in this topic for personal reasons, but also because of the questions we’ve been asking writers for TheRightMargin. From our user research, it seems that many writers want to write more regularly and write better. They know how to do so. Even still, there is space for technology to better help writers do so. So how can TheRightMargin help writers achieve their goals? (Read about one approach we took here.)

While I highly recommend checking out her talk for yourself (full video here), here’s an overview of what I learned.


Tara-Nicholle talked about seven tenets for personal disruption — basically, a few key guidelines for how to reform a habit, in the context of fitness.

1 – Start from love.

Stop comparing yourself to others, and experiment with what works for you. MyFitnessPal is diet-agnostic, because they wanted to affirm that each body is different; you should find out what works for you, not just follow that which works for others.

2 – Focus on one thing.

Even just active tracking alone (of meals, exercise, how you felt each day) creates action and behavior change. Start with one thing first. Then build.

3 – Understand the power of pattern-spotting.

Seeing our living habits as they are and deciding what we want tweaked can change our perspective. Take into account Food, activities, exercise — Tara-Nicholle said she began to think about meals as ‘I better make it count. It should either work towards my goals… or else be incredibly delicious.’

4 – Reset your presets.

E.g. go to parties already full instead of hungry; don’t have kryptonite food at home; make standing rather than sitting the default. Tara-Nicholle said that if she goes out to dinner with friends, she also has her friends accompany her to spinning or dancing class. So now the default is that, if you want to get dinner with her, you should plan to do a physical activity with her too.

“This is just about… developing habits and rituals that are your default behaviors that pull in the direction of the life that you want to have, the practices you want to have.”

5 – Tell yourself a different story.

This piece of advice is what resonated with me the most. My inner dialogue–that I would be better in whatever metric if I did this or that–is actively working against myself and my goals. The attitude of subtly or blatantly putting myself down can make the negativity become a reality. Take the opposite approach: visualizing success can help you believe it, which can help you do it.

6 – Share your journey with “Safe People”.

“People who have one friend on the app lose 2x the weight. People who have 10 friends on the app lose 4x the weight. People who have 10 friends on the app and are active on the app for the first 30 days on it lose 22.5 lbs on average…”

Sharing your journey can give you the motivation, support and/or competition you need.

7 – Take a strategic sabbatical.

Press pause to get direction, refocus, and get away from your ordinary day-to-day.

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Tara-Nicholle’s tenets inspired me to think about what to remove from my life. Some goals need to be rephrased, reprioritized and refreshed — but others compete for my attention, and are “nice to have” rather than “extremely important / must have” goals.

Her talk also reminded me of Marie Kondo’s book on tidying up. One of the key things I took away from that book was replacing the question “Okay, what do I get rid of?” with the more powerful default of “Okay, what do I keep?” when evaluating my belongings. Similarly, I think that change in paradigm is a powerful way to think about goals. Cut out the unnecessary and focus on what will bring joy; pursue the goals that have a “spark” that motivates you towards personal disruption.