Patience: A Key Tool for Diet Success

Andy MorganUseful Diet Theory89 Comments

Sands through the hour glass exploring patience

Sands through the hour glass exploring patience

Patience. When to wait and when to make a change? As a coach, this is the hardest part of the job. Everyone wants results now. There’s pressure to make the change, but you can’t bow to it. You have to stay objective. Have to choose the right moment. – That’s what the client pays for.

Lack of patience leads to rushed decisions. Left to their own devices many do stupid things. Throw in a couple of 24-hour fasts, add in some “metabolic conditioning” work, throw in some more lifting days, go “all Paleo” for carbs. The list goes on.

  • Patience, unless on a strict competition deadline, is your friend.
  • Rushed decisions can cost you hard earned strength and muscle mass, at the minimum.

I can’t give you definitive rules on when to make a change. Regarding the value of patience, all I have for you is a client story of mine and a quote from a coach with way more knowledge and experience:

Martin Berkhan, on patience:

“Getting that lean was the easiest diet I ever experienced. It was only testing in terms of patience; but even though the diet was easy, I longed for it to be over so I could try something, anything, else. It was a waiting game, but not a fight against hunger. Many clients have told me the same. If they don’t tell it to me straight, I notice it when discussing what to do after the diet.

“Sure, I got the usual neurotic thoughts once in a while. More frequently towards the end. Most do. “Am I really losing now or have I stalled?”, etc. Water retention tends to screw with your head and you’ll sometimes see that your weight isn’t moving for 10-14 days. That’s when people are very likely to do something stupid. That’s when it becomes very hard to resist cutting calories and adding extra cardio. So most people, including coaches, do that and it backfires.

“They lose strength or just get ravenous, whatever, something happens and they break their diet, binge for a day or two, attempt to get back to where they were by doing another stupid thing once again, and then they are stuck doing that. Or they just give up. It’s like domino bricks falling one after another after a tiny little wind dust moved the first piece. It gets a lot easier when you have someone else, a coach, giving you orders, of course.” (From this post.)

Client Andrew’s Story

When the consultation period was over and when discussing what to do next the topic of patience came up and we had an interesting exchange. Andrew’s words really struck me and I asked him if he’d share his e-mail. Noting how the comments of others had helped himself so much, he kindly agreed. The bolding is mine.

Weight: 170.4lbs -> 166.3lbs, Body-fat: 12.7 -> 7.9% – (via DEXA scan)

Note: You are an individual, your results will vary depending on genetics, adherence, and effort.

I wanted to send you a quick note of appreciation and let you know how you’ve helped me. I considered myself a fairly rational, methodical person. I had read all the Leangains and articles – that’s sort of how I found your site. I put all of that information to use for most of 2011 and I did see some results, but around August of last year, I completely cratered strength-wise. I was yo-yoing way too much on the rest vs. lift days and generally just applied all the rules with no sense, because I didn’t have any experience. Also, I was not tracking the numbers regarding lift stats or weekly body measurements.

Taking measurements just once a week has been one of the biggest mindset changes for me. I’m finally able to relax and just let things happen and more importantly, I got to learn your system for making objective decisions about my own progress and the counting rules helped me to relax the OCD. I’ve splurged almost every weekend, drinking and/or the occasional crap food and I’ve still lost on the plan and that’s been an eye-opener. But beyond splurging, I feel much more comfortable just eyeing food and knowing roughly what I’m eating – no more fears about vacations!

From the DEXA scans I’ve had done, I’ve dropped from 12.7% BF to 7.9% between July 18th to October 26th. At the same time, I’ve gained 1.95 kg lean mass (4.3 pounds). I’d echo some of the other people who’ve written you back – people just need to relax and let it happen. People, especially us modern folk, are incredibly impatient – I was and still fight it, but if they just stick to the plan, as everyone says, they will get there. I spent nearly 6 weeks at a stagnant point, then one weekend, boom, 5 pounds dropped and I was just cut all of a sudden – it was crazy!

Keep on spreading the truth!”                                                (Full version/stats here.)

Add to your knowledge toolbox

It can be tricky to know when to make a change, for sure. Is the stall one that’s natural or is there a need to adjust things to keep things moving? There are many variables that don’t fit nice and neatly into a blog post. For the coach, it comes down to being able to look at the whole picture and make a decision, for people to trust in your ability to spot the patterns. For you, the individual making your own decisions, all I can say is that just because your tracking method isn’t showing progress, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.

As I gain experience I hope to share those lessons learned in a meaningful and useful way with you. For today, let’s add “Patience” into your diet toolbox.

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I'm an online nutritional and training coach living in Tokyo, Japan. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, racing around Suzuka circuit, or staring at watches I can't afford. (Read more about me →)

89 Comments on “Patience: A Key Tool for Diet Success”

  1. Andy hi,
    I’ve been cutting based on the calculation I’ve made from your site for almost a month now. Progress is good and I plan on doing this for 12 weeks before I have a diet break. Do I need to recalculate my macros based on my new measurements (weight & BF) sometime during that 12 weeks period or complete it with macros as calculated in the beginning and recalculate them after the diet break ? Thanks a lot for your great advice and info they are really great.

  2. Hi Andy,

    Not sure where to ask this and I have decided to try it here. Would you recommend short cut cycles 2-3 weeks?
    My current life doesn’t let me commit to the long cut regimen? Will appreciate your advise!


    1. “Would you recommend short cut cycles 2-3 weeks?”
      No. I’d recommend getting your life priorities straight first, then if this is one of them, chase it with zeal instead of half-arsing multiple things and struggling to get ahead with any of them.

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  4. Hi Andy,
    Found a typo for you: “add in come “metabolic conditioning”” (some?)

  5. Hi Andy, I have been following your plan for awhile but due to the late arrival or the measuring tape, I have to push the update back by 3 weeks? Nevertheless it seems that my waist measurement have not dropped since my first measurement and has actually increased between the week I got my proper measuring tape! I know I might sound abit impatient but it is worrying me that I am doing something wrong

    1. Chris, if you are comparing with the 4 weeks ago with the different tape then bear in mind that I’ve given you a free four week extension exactly because the data of the first four weeks wasn’t comparable with the new measuring tape you’ve decided to buy. If you are comparing this second week of data with last week, then there is nothing that can or should be read into four weeks of data due to the initial fluctuations. Please stick to the plan.

      1. Hi Andy, just wanted to apologise for coming off a little doubtful or anxious. Thanks for taking the time to calm me down 🙂

  6. Hi Andy,

    Great site very good information and well presented. This may be a separate but related question on sudden weight loss from likely water retention. What is your opinion on daily water consumption? 1 Gal/ day? Does this help for initiating those sudden losses? I’m chilling at about 10-15 lbs above my ‘ideal’ weight for around a week now and I honestly feel thirsty all the time.. Roughly 11.4% bf. lost 11 lbs since I started 1 month ago. Thanks

  7. Hi Andy.

    This post has proven valuable not just for diet and training, but life in general. I have been prone to being impatient with many things in the past (physique, martial arts, being a musician). This post has helped me cut down on doing stupid shit and staying consistent in the pursuit of all my goals. Oh, and my diet has improved substantially 🙂

    Just wanted to share my appreciation. Thanks for your site, keep up the fine work.

    1. Sean, thanks. Glad it’s been so useful. Welcome to ask anything in the comments if you need help at any time.

  8. Hey Andy.

    Hope everything is well on your end.

    Just wanted to send a quick update. As you suggested, I’ve been incrementally increasing macros every two weeks. When we last spoke, I was at: Training: 200g pro, 280g carb, 40g fat Non training: 200g pro, 0 carb, 60g fat.

    I’m now at: 200g pro, 400g carb, 40 fat and non training: 200g pro, 30g carb, 105g fat.

    I have started gaining a little weight (3-4pounds) so everything’s going well.

    Problem is I injured my back doing deads on sunday. I’m off for 3 – 5 weeks. Would you keep macros the same as we’re rebuilding metabolism or should I do something different?

    1. Mike, thanks for the comment.
      Just 3-4lbs gain for such a large increase in calorie intake is excellent, and good news for your metabolic health and will make cutting from here much easier. People don’t want to hear that they need to diet up first before dieting back down and they rarely do. You listened and took a leap of faith and now you’re going to reap the rewards Mike.

      It’s unlikely you’ll be off completely for the 3-5 week period, more like 1-2 weeks and then gradually making weight increases from there. (Check this with your doc.) So I’d consider taking a complete diet break till then (is as simple as it sounds, details though in the next article coming) and then get back on with your current macros.

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  10. Hey Andy,

    I have a question about the diet break and wasn’t sure where to address it on your website.

    So I’ve now done my second diet break. I experienced roughly a 10lb gain in weight like your guide below said but my waist measurement went up 2″ as well (basically all the stomach/hip measurements are up while legs and arms stayed the same). I had the exact same thing happen on my last diet break. Is gaining 2″ on the waist normal for a diet break or did I blow it?

    The first diet break I went crazy with the food but this time around I was more careful with my eating and still ended up with the same results? It took seven weeks last time to get those 2″ off. I’ve only been back on the diet for almost a week now and lost 5lbs of the weight gain but only 1/4″ off my waist.

    Is it likely that I just ate too much on the diet break or is there something else wrong? I’m beginning to think that my body over reacts to carbs. Perhaps I should cut future diet breaks back to 10 days.

    Any insight you can give would be much appreciated!

    Thanks Andy

    1. If you think about it Jason, the 10lbs of water has to go somewhere right?
      It could be that you ate too much, or it could be water. The next couple of weeks you’ll know as you resume your diet and you’ll see if the weight comes off again.
      Don’t cut back to 10 days for the reasons Lyle said. You may consider cutting back the carb intake, but you’ll want to keep to Lyle’s 100-150g guideline.

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  12. Hey Andy. Have been on your cutting program for about a month now and I have lost around ten pounds. But recently I have noticed a halt in my weight loss and I have even been gaining a pound or two. My lifts have been around the same and there is not much change in my physique according to my progress pictures. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you.

  13. Hi have tryed -10 on work days -30% on rest days been doing it for 3 weeks. With shifting hig low fat/carb. Havent had any waight loss or cm loss. Should i keep on or is it normal to start slow to? Im 180 cm 90 kg bmr 1900.

  14. In dropping weight and increasing muscle, does it make sense to change macros for the new weight and BF %? I have dropped 4-5 pounds over the course of 3 months, and I feel like my BF % is stalling out right now (cosmetically). A change may come soon, but would a macro recalculation help?

    1. BMR is dependent on lean body mass. Thus, you don’t really need to adjust because of this. Refer to the Katch-McArdle equation for determining BMR.

      Note: Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is affected to an extent by fat mass, but will not have changed to any significant degree by a 5lb drop, presuming you dropped fat and not muscle. (You can get a good idea of that by whether your lifts were maintained or progressed.)

  15. Hey Andy. A buddy of mine is probably in the 20-25% BF bracket. His real goal is just to get leaner, not necessarily to get stronger, though he’s not against it. He hates cardio and likes the idea that he can diet and use strength training to reach his goal.

    What’s your thoughts on reducing recovery based carbohydrates on a cut? I can’t find heavy scientific supporting documentation, my thoughts are that since he has a fairly high body fat% that his body will prioritize a higher fat burn compared to a lean person who would see a large catabolic reaction. As he gets sub 20% bring the carbs up to a more typical “cut” macro.

    1. You’re focusing on the wrong thing here. Just get him to start lifting and calculate his macro needs. Tell him to give himself a little more fats relative to carbs as he’s more likely to have insulin sensitivity issues, for now. This will get better as he gets leaner.

  16. Okay, I count Sundays as the start of my week cause I train on a Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday schedule. I started the week of 1/27/13. It’s now the week of 2/17/13 – I’m looking at my numbers and honestly they look rather random, yet very similar week to week if that makes sense….

    As of 1/27/13, I weighed in at 192lbs. By 2/3/13 I was @185.3lb – As of 2/17/13 I’m @190lbs – Now, here is where it gets weird My measurements since the big drop that occured 2/3/13, have been more or less the same week to week except for this week my belly to hips area are all clocking in a about -.1 less.

    My Chest has been the only area of my body to increase since that rapid decline the second the week and that increased by an inch & some change.

    Squats have gone up 40LBs from 155×5 -> 195×5
    DeadLifts have gone from 285×6 -> 295×5
    Bench remains at 165×4

    I have kept my macros rather consistent and only cheated this prior weekend which just amounted out to just a few extra oranges/Cashews/Nuttella Sandwich lol. I am just not sure what to make of these numbers. Even my thighs remain the same oddly enough even though I’ve added 40lbs in a months time via squat – I thought the jump back to 190 may have been attributed to squats/muscle memory.

    192. 1/27/13
    185.3 2/3/13
    189.4 2/10/13
    190.0 2/17/13

    Its my first assessment coming up this Monday(2/25/13), but in the mean Andy I’d gladly appreciate some feedback adding perspective to these results.

      1. Well im not looking for a full blown analysis

        But if not an analysis you’d probably say either read through comments, patience, maybe a change to my macros but that would be assessed at the assessment….and i’d guess its too early to do a diet break. Im just trying to get a grasp at what the numbers are saying

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  18. Hey, Andy:

    I started up Leangains again back in mid-August and was having great success, losing about a pound per week for five weeks straight. That took me from 195lbs to 190lbs with all of my lifts going up and my body starting to show small changes in my definition. All was well. Then I hit the wall–the wall that has been referred to numerous times with clients of your’s like Kennith N. and Andrew P. in terms of the stagnant weight and measurements for weeks. I was stagnant around 190lbs for about six weeks until I decided to cut back my macros. Two weeks after I did that you came out with this article, which then lead me to Martin’s article that you referenced. After reading those two articles, and realizing that I was doing exactly what Martin said one would–and shouldn’t–do when this situation arose, I went back to my original macros.

    It’s been about another six weeks since then and I’ve still been stagnant, and even having my weight slowly start to creep back up even though my macros are the same.

    My questions are:

    1) Is it normal for weight to creep back up before a woosh? (I’m almost back at my starting weight)

    2) When waiting for the woosh to happen, how long is too long? How long do you think one should wait before they honestly say that it’s time to switch it up?

    If you could just shed some light on those two questions for me, I’d appreciate it as they were the only two things I couldn’t find addressed in either article.


    1. Hi Ron.
      1. Not really, though I can’t speak for everyone.
      2. Good question. There isn’t an exact point. It could be you need a diet break or it could be that you need an adjustment to the macros. Don’t just go by scale weight though. See the tracking post.

  19. Hey Andy,

    Sorry to bug you with what may be an “if you have to ask, you already know” question, but I want to make sure I am doing things right. I am going later this week to have all four of my wisdom teeth out. I’ll have my last workout the day before (squat day, baby!) and my last day to eat fully. My question is, since I am on a cut currently, for the following several days afterward – since I will be unable to workout – where should I keep my food intake at? I know protein will be key. But should I eat at the normal rest day amount (eg -30/-35% of maint.) or lower (or higher)? I figure as soon as the dentist says go, I’ll be on track for a deadlift day. Also, would you recommend eating extra the day before the dentist? Thank you for your time and help.


  20. Hey Andy,

    I understand the whole concept of patience, and this post does make it very clear. Last week i felt very cut, but since this weekend i feel like i gained 10 pounds or something, while my diet is strict and i am in a deficit, so its impossible to gain weight. Probably i’ve waterretention. I know that waterretention is a cause of stalling, but since i feel i gained weight.. Is it also possible that waterretention can make you look ‘fatter’?

    Peter – Amsterdam

    1. Yes of course mate. It will pass. You probably just ate a lot of carbs on the weekend, or if you swear you didn’t then… did you go drinking? Cause you may have sunk 6 burgers at 3am and don’t remember. Check the back side of your pillow for sauce stains.

      1. Thanks for the quick answer! I guess i’m a little bit constipated. Didn’t had this feeling before. Today i mixed some dried prunes in my quark. After a few hours it was a war zone in the toilet, but i think it did the trick :-).

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  22. Hello Andy , great post as always.
    You are the only fitness site I can read.
    You allways get to point with no bs lies.
    Keep up the good work.
    I am on vacation and currently applying all your secret methods described on this site,

  23. This is great, Andy. For me, patience is a tricky one, and the desire to just change things up and do something, anything different is a constant mind game. One that I am winning, I am pleased to say.

    Question on a slightly unrelated topic – we know that overall macro balance in the day is the most important thing. If a person didn’t want to go leangains and just ate whenever they felt like it, but still got the correct macro balance to match their goals, what do you think is the likely difference in results between that vs leangains style (ie skipping breakfast)?

    1. Incorrect, the overall calorie intake is the most important thing. Macros are next.
      Re. macros same but bf vs. non-bf group: Presuming their timing regarding nutrition around workouts was fine then the likely differences in physical change are minimal.

    2. Richard: Assuming calories are held constant, and macros held constant, there will likely be no difference in bodycomp between eating 8/16 vs. eating otherwise “normally”. Nor is there a proven superiority in altering calories and macros based on training/non-training days, in my view. It can be all done much simpler, and has been for decades. To wit, it is almost entirely about *what* you eat and *how much* over time—calories, and thus laws of thermogenics, likely being the primary driver by far, assuming anything like a reasonable food selection. The rest (manipulating the sub-variables) is simply a matter of preference.

  24. Hi Andy thanks for the post but I dont understand how you can lose body fat and still gain lean mass? Surely if you want to lose body fat you need reduce your calorie intake and if you want to gain lean mass you need be on a caloric surplus

  25. Its so fascinating what great timing this article was posted at. I had been at a 2 week stall at 156 and just today, seemingly overnight, I dropped down to 153. Gotta love those “whooshes”. I almost debated doing some “Stupid shit”, until I read your article that gave me the motivation to wait a while longer. All in good timing :). Thanks Andy!

  26. Do you find that a tendency to retain water changes at all as one leans out? I.e., if someone goes linearly (no retention) from 25 to 15%, would you expect them to also continue linearly to 8%, or can the tendency change as one gets lean?

  27. This is the main thing that has lead to my lack of progress. I begin training and eating well, but after seeing no progress in 2-4 weeksI get impatient, think whats the point and spend the next few days eating awfully until I feel bad enough to get back on track :/

    Do you have any advice for this?

  28. Patience is key – and its so easy to forget sometimes if you think you aren’t making the progress you expect. The mind loves to play tricks! 🙂

    Great site btw, really enjoy coming here.

  29. That’s a ridiculous degree of water retention, 5 lbs. What’s the biggest you’ve ever seen in one of your clients andy? Any good stories?

  30. great article! very good timing, since what i call the mind dagger of doubt and fear “if i am doing this plan right?” is always in my head.
    so thank you so much for sharing, truly appreciate it. 🙂

  31. Timely article for sure – also looking forward to the next one. My weight hasn’t moved in weeks – but I am getting stronger and meas. are down a bit so I guess it’s fine…it’s got to be more difficult for us girls. Waiting game… patience I guess is not my strong point. Thanks Andy!

  32. Points about cardio, alcohol and patience taken, still, if cardio is going to help me get cut, I’m going to do it, right? I’ve been running 40-70 min on a majority of rest days (600-1000) calories fasted before my first meal so that I can eat or drink that many more calories later or simply just have a greater deficit. But how much is “safe” before I’m probably losing muscle? 45 min? 1 hour? 2 hours?

    After I I read the “how to keep abs during holiday season article” started doing 1 and occasionally 2 40-hour fasts per week since I realized it’s not hard for me to endure. But, again, when is it safe and when am I probably losing muscle? Thank you.

    1. “Points about cardio, alcohol and patience taken, still, if cardio is going to help me get cut, I’m going to do it, right?”

      Clearly, you haven’t taken the point. Have a re-read of the cardio article Jon.

      1. You’re right, I’ve read your articles and Martin’s and I still don’t get it. I certainly get diet is most important and that cardio isn’t NECESSARY to get ripped – it’s the fasting and calorie deficit that matters.

        But…cardio burns calories, and you’ve said overall calorie balance matters, of course. If I run an hour and burn 800 calories, that’s 800 more calories I can eat/drink on my rest day and still keep the same caloric balance. So how is cardio not valuable there when it’s allowing me to have “a little extra” that’s compatible with my lifestyle? What am I missing here? Thank you.

          1. Sorry, the article really doesn’t address the question I’m asking so I’m still a bit confused as to what I can and can’t do. But thank you for a great site nonetheless.

            1. Of course you can do Cardio. It’s pretty clear on this site that cardio is fine – as long as you have the time to do it and enjoy go for it. If it fits your goals / lifestyle then do it. No need to overthink it. 🙂

            2. Thank you. It’s not about what you can and can’t do, it’s about what you need to do and don’t for long term success. If you use fat burners to lose weight, then you will be stuck using them to keep it off. Same with cardio. Learn to lose weight without it or you will be stuck doing it.

            3. Thank you Nick and Andy again. But the original question wasn’t whether I can do cardio. It’s how long I can run before I am indefinitely burning muscle. Obviously 3 hours every day would be way too much. Or would it, if my macros for the day balance out to my target? What is the rough “safe” limit for cardio in terms of time or calories? 1. 5 hoursr? 45 minutes? 1000 calories? I’m not relying on cardio but I would like to know how much of it will unavoidably cause muscle loss.

            4. Think more in terms of the weekly deficit and less in terms of the actual calories burned from the running. So, if you set yourself up for a “standard” diet without running, then add in the estimated calories burned on the days you run so that the weekly deficit is the same. Don’t overestimate as people consistently do.

  33. Measurements dont lie and its also about patience.. and I’ve always been taken surprise by my own photos and measurements. I cant wait for summer to come Andy.

  34. Patience is absolutely crucial when getting into low body fat territory. Losing fat when you have a lot of fat is a very simple process, and results are seen week in week out, whether that be the scale, change in the way your clothes feel or how you look in the mirror.

    The game totally changes once you get lean and want to get extra sharp. Most people will add in a ton of cardio, slash there calories even further and this will work to a certain point but at the expense of losing muscle which is not what you want.

    I personally take a diet break every 6-8 weeks when I get into this territory, just to reset my hormones and raise my metabolism a tad. It also gives you a bit of relief knowing that you can eat a bit more for 10-14 days.

    The whole water retention deal can be a real pain in the ass, but a few strategies exist that deal with this which Martin explains on his own site and a diet break can also help with this.

    Anyway, great article, I know human beings are naturally impatient and probably wont listen, but trust in Andy’s advice, he is very experienced at body recomposition and for what it’s worth listen to my two cents.

    Go get them abs for life guys.

  35. that stagnation points… driving me mad, but if he was there for 6 weeks.. what about 24h fasts, sometimes i cannot help it and i dont eat for more than 18-20h, just because of unviersity stuff etc, i cannot eat earlier, lost almost 17kg, but still needs to lose some weight, hope that moment will come

      1. I’m not doing 24h+ fasts, its like sometimes i just cant stay strict to 16/8 and it changes to 18/20h, if i wanted to keep that 16/8 window, i would have to cook at home day before, well, maybe i should

        1. Consistency, along with preparation, are important. Alot of what Andy says is about remaining objective, so that you can access objectively what’s working. If your eating window changes randomly, that won’t allow you to do that as easily.

          In my exam periods while following IF, i used to make my meals for the day and put them in the fridge, ready to eat. When the time came along, there was no reason NOT to eat. This goes alot back to something called ‘Clearing for Neutral’. Get in the habit of making things easier for your future self (NoCite: studies have shown that the future self is actually concieved as a different person by the present self).

  36. Thanks Andy! This is very timely, and I appreciate you sharing it. I’ve been making decent progress on my own, but it’s been hard lately, and I’ve fantasized about doing some stupid stuff. This is JUST what I needed. And I would LOVE to read more on some of the stupid stuff we do, and why it can backfire. Keep up the good work!

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