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Have you noticed that the cover lines on most fitness-oriented magazines seem to alternately channel our inner drill sergeant and our inner seductress?

First come the shame-based exhortations:

“Lose Your Gut!” they bark.  “Drop the Flab!” “Belly Off!” Or my current least favorite: “Lose the Muffin Top!”

And then there are the breathless, come-hither promises:

“Your Best Body Ever!” “Six Pack Abs!” “Slender Thighs in 15 Minutes!” “The Bikini-Bod You’ve Always Wanted!”

As infamous for their dogged repetition as for their split personality, these covers have been known to elicit eye-rolling in certain circles. But they also sell like crazy. Which is why some magic phrases are repeated ad nauseam, month in and month out. [Check out writer John Cook’s recent exposé on how Men’s Health does this.]

In a business where most magazines live or die by their newsstand sales, and where far too many good publications have recently died premature deaths, magazine-makers can perhaps be forgiven for doing what they must to get their copies flying off the shelves.

Surely we readers can also be forgiven for being lured by such blurbs — even if we’ve learned the hard way that they rarely deliver on much of what they promise.

Most of us know, of course, that bellies, love handles and (sigh) muffin tops are neither built nor burned off in a day, much less 15 minutes. And regardless of what the “No Problem!” cover lines trumpet, some part of us is also aware, long before we plunk down our cash, that the actual prescriptions for all those flat abs and lost guts and slender thighs are inevitably going to involve some hard work — work that we may or may not have any intention of doing.

You could argue, I suppose, that sensational blurbs may do us a service by getting our attention and convincing us to dig into the more substantive advice within. The problem is, they can just as easily leave us feeling demoralized and frustrated.

Part of the issue is that these cover lines tend to trigger our own conflicted inner voices. We all have both a “Someday-I’d-like-to“ dreamer and a “Just-do-it!” taskmaster within us. Both these characters have something of value to offer, but when provoked, instead of hearing each other out and developing a mutually agreeable course of action, they more often wind up trading insults and accusations.

Another potential challenge is that every time our attention is gobbled up by a six-pack-abs promise or hyper-perfected image of an idealized body, it can feel like a little of our focus is siphoned away from the goals and priorities that matter more.

But I think the biggest problem is more subtle than that. It’s the whole implication we take away from these covers that if we can just lose the flab or get our glutes and abs chiseled enough, then our whole life will be transformed for the better. In reality, it more often works the other way around.

Back when I relied on conventional magazines for most of my health and fitness advice, it seemed to me that there must be something wrong with me, because no matter how many of these magazines I purchased and read, they just never compelled me to make the changes or adopt the practices they described.

The promises were plenty enticing, the technical advice mostly sound, but I couldn’t figure out a way of integrating that advice into my life over any significant period of time. So instead of quick results, I got no results at all. And that left me feeling like a misfit failure.

Eventually, I came at it from a different direction. Through trial and error, I discovered that the healthy, fit body I’d yearned for was really just the happy byproduct of what I wanted even more — namely, a healthy, active, deeply satisfying life.

Once I realized this, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops: “Hey! Having a beautiful body doesn’t net you a great life. Having a beautiful life nets you a great body!”

As a cover blurb, mind you, that would fail miserably. But as far as I can tell, it’s true.

That’s why we’ve dedicated this whole issue of Experience Life to reality-based approaches and perspectives that help you live a better life and enjoy a healthier, stronger body as a result. If there’s a way we can be of more real help to you in 2010, please connect with us through Facebook, Twitter or here at our Web site to let us know.

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