This is the typical trajectory that someone has when they get started on a fitness or health kick: 1. Get motivated enough to get into the gym. 2. Do a long workout. 3. Get really sore. 4. Miss your next workout. 5. Maybe get another workout in a few days to a week later, maybe not. 6. Get overwhelmed with other priorities. 7. Settle back into your old routine. You’ve probably done this multiple times in your life, maybe dozens.
Substitute workouts for starting a diet or a stretching routine or any other wellness or health kick and now maybe you’ve done this hundreds of times!
And of course, you’re not any better off than you were. There is no significant transformation. The power to change doesn’t come through motivation.
It comes through patient and relentless commitment to daily practice. If an objective is too big to achieve or reach swiftly, then you must build a road to it, brick by brick.
Herein lies the flip side of the coin to success. You must pick an appropriate goal to practice. Something based on your current skill, ability, and consistency level and build a streak of unbroken practice. It could be as simple as a 15 minute walk every day or it could be as daunting as working towards an elite calisthenics move.
Then, find a rewarding way to track your practice. I personally prefer a simple “X” marked in my calendar. As a caution, though, don’t get hung up if you break your streak. Just get back up on the horse and practice again.
80-90% adherence to an “ideal” unbroken streak is actually optimal. It gives you enough grace to feel human, and enough effort to actually make progress. De-emphasize whatever you think perfection looks like.
DEFINITELY de-emphasize motivation.
Emphasize taking a meaningful, daily action whether you feel like it or not. P.S. This is why a habit-based perspective used in in-person sessions can be so effective. The standing appointment to show up and practice strength and conditioning ensures that you get total-body work each week. Now, on top of that buy-in level of consistency, we can add ONE thing to work on at a time.
In 2014, I was frustrated. I had a gym membership and went 5 days a week for a year. During that time, I made very little progress. Part of this was because I had no idea what I was doing, and lacked awareness of my lifestyle habits that were impacting my progress. Part of the issue was that I fell into what I’m going to call “the trap of the elliptical.”
You had better believe I was on the elliptical every day for at least half an hour “running.” I traversed a mile in 8 minutes, or so the screen told me, and my heart rate didn’t break 120! Then, I’d go to play soccer or volleyball with my friends and not be able to last very long actually running around on the actual ground.
How could I be doing so well in the gym and so poorly in real life?
Here’s the thing: a lot of the time, the elliptical is attractive because it is easy. You can take out the resistance and impact, and still feel like you are doing something. Not to say that you can’t get a good workout on the machine, but you actually have to really work at it. Most of the time, you will see the ladies hop on an elliptical, usually next to their gal pal, have a chin wag for about 30 minutes to an hour, then leave the gym without breaking a sweat. And they, like me in 2014, will keep coming back to the gym 5 days a week, and making no progress.
“Hey, you’re being pretty negative! At least they are exercising!” I hear you.
And you’re right, getting your heart rate up a little each day is not a bad thing. It’ll at least keep the ol’ ticker pumping enough to sustain basic life. However, if you want to get beyond just sustaining basic life and make actual progress, the fact is: if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.
The reason I wasn’t making any progress is because it was easy. It was a way to placate the voice in my head that said I should exercise. But, the exercise was the cheesiest, easiest thing I could do and still say I was “working out.” It didn’t challenge me, so it didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t keep up with actual exercise. I get it; we like our creature comforts. Of course we do! We’re only human after all. But imagine that your teacher in school never pushed you to do anything that challenged you. Chances are, unless you have a natural proclivity toward some subject, you would have flunked the first grade. You can’t make it to college or get a degree without being challenged in your academics. You are going to have to put your nose to the grindstone, turn off the TV, and study or you won’t pass. You won’t get that promotion if you do the basest level expected at your job. You’ll never be given new levels of responsibility if you just get by. If you want to be successful in life, you are going to have to embrace challenges. Because the fact is, going through a challenge changes you. It changes how you think, it changes how you prioritize, it even changes your opinion of yourself. You need a shot in the arm, as it were? Overcome a challenge. It will rock your world. Now, you should feel challenged, not crushed. When you start working out, the guy you're doing bicep curls next to might be curling 40lbs. That weight might be a crushing weight for you just starting out. That is his challenge level, not yours. Yours might be 10lbs, and that’s okay! Because if that 10lbs challenges you, it will begin to change your muscles and your body chemistry. Keep in mind that the 10lbs that challenged you today may not challenge you next week. Keep finding the challenge level! Keep chasing a little more, a little better. If you refuse to settle, the sky's the limit to what you can achieve.
“Life is a mixture of good and bad things.” Every day, you are faced with good circumstances, happy occasions, and less than pleasant occurrences. Things we are happy to be a part of, and things we wish we could avoid. In every situation, we have a choice of responses.”
The quickest way to disappointment, frustration, and resentment is through trying to control things that are not you.
As humans, we are created with the instinct to rule. It is completely natural. Babies cry to get what they want, to control people around them (not maliciously of course, this is by design). For the rest of our lives, we try to control things and people. But, as so many philosophers have pointed out, control is often an illusion.
If we are truly honest, the only thing we can control is ourselves (and even that proves tricky sometimes). People with great power and money may have an illusion of control over people, but when you boil it down to brass tacks, they can never be completely sure that people are going to choose what they want. In the same way, you may feel in control of your life, and then some outside force imposes itself on you, and you discover, in fact, that you have very little control over most things.
Just consider the weather. You have no more control over the weather than you do the neighbor's cat.
What you can control is how you react to each and every situation with which you are presented.
What does this have to do with fitness and nutrition? Great question. I’m glad you asked. Have you ever had the experience of starting to make changes to your nutrition, and all the sudden, everyone is asking you out to lunch, your coworker brings in a box of doughnuts, someone leaves candy in the breakroom, and your mate asks you to go for a drink.
Temptation is quite literally around every corner, and it is a trainwreck waiting to happen.
You can’t control the behaviors of others, but you can control how you respond to them.
One strategy we teach is to go in with a plan. You know that there is a good chance there is going to be candy in the breakroom, so before you even go in, you make a plan to eat the apple you brought from home, no matter what's on the table. You make a plan for healthy options at restaurants your friends are likely to ask you to go. You make a plan to have one drink with your pal, and take a walk around the lake after.
Now, if you can’t stick to the plan you make, don’t intentionally put yourself in situations that you know are going to influence you to make unhealthy decisions. If you know that you can absolutely not turn down fries when they are on the menu, suggest a different restaurant to your friends. If you know you can’t stop yourself at one drink, suggest an outdoor activity instead.
And this is where influence comes in. You may not be able to control people or situations around you, but your choices can and do influence them.
Your suggestions and visibly eating and working out more mindfully will influence people around you, if you will speak up. In the opposite direction, if you are just going around the motivation-guilt wheel, you are more likely to be influenced by others' decisions, like the doughnut guy.
Side note: don’t be “that guy” that is always clobbering people over the head with how amazing he eats and how fit he is and how you should be more like him. Those beefcake guys often don’t have any friends aside from other jerk-face beefcake guys. Don’t be like that.
Invite your friends on that hike. Cook a meal for your friends. Learn how to have fun without the need for alcohol. Invest in deep relationships. Control your responses and your influence.
This question, in one variation or another, comes up pretty regularly when I’m intaking a new client, and it’s a fair, albeit misguided one.
And I’ve noticed a curious trend: if someone is being genuinely curious, they have a better chance of long-term success than someone who is asking in an accusatory, “what are you going to do for me?” way.
That second guy’s chances of flaming out are much higher to the point that it almost seems like a rule.
Why is that?..Because he’s expecting me to do the work for him.
Let’s dig into it: How do you want me to hold you accountable? What are you expecting? If you don’t measure up to an artificial performance standard, do you want me to yell at you? If you miss a session do you want me to give you a call to make sure that you’re feelings aren’t hurt? Do I need to hold your hand and help you re-arrange your schedule to make sure that you’re in the right head-space before, during, and after your workout? Do you want me to fire you, write a bad review about you, blacklist you with other gyms in town?
It should be clear that all of the above is nonsense.
Real accountability starts and ends with you. Just like I can’t actually do the workouts and burn your calories for you, I can’t ultimately be accountable for you.
Your body and ability or lack of ability to perform will hold you accountable. Your health, mental and physical, will hold you accountable. Your family (missed moments, example set) and career (especially if you are in the military, a first responder, or a fitness pro) may even hold you accountable.
So what bills do you want to pay now, and what bills do you want to pay later? That’s the real math.
As for me, I can shine a light for you. I can be your adventure guide. I can bring you into an environment where making good decisions for your health and body is a lot easier. As for any sort of “hardcore” accountability, I’m not your dad.
Here’s how I’ll hold you accountable:
If we’re working together, we have regularly scheduled, recurring sessions. I’ll know, just like you will, if you make them or not. So make them.
I’ll make sure you get the right mix of improving your lifting and movement quality and sheer effort. Don’t expect to be doing super-sexy Instagram-worthy stuff. It’s all about the basics: for strength, if you can’t move well, you can’t lift heavier. For cardio, if you move too slowly, speed up. If you think I can’t hold you accountable to that in a session, try me.
If you’re ready for homework, you’ll get trackable homework, either workouts or nutrition to practice. If you don’t or won’t do your homework, or don’t perform well in your sessions, I won’t waste time writing you individualized homework. If you don’t or can’t track your assigned nutritional practices on a weekly basis, then I won’t coach you in nutrition.
Lastly, I’ll also give you a perspective outside of your box that will either call you out on your B.S. or confirm that you’re on the right track.
If we are honest, we know there are lots of things that could be working better in our bodies, minds, and lives in general. We know we have a lot to work on. You can hear this come out of anyone’s mouth if you talk to them for more than thirty seconds, “I really need to start…” “I really have to..” “I should be lifting…” “I really need to work on…” You get the idea.
Our modern society is awash with hacks, tips, tricks, gimmicks, and self help literature.
“Just do these three things two minutes a day, and your life will be magically fixed.”
We love a good hack, because, truth be told, we don’t really want to put that much effort into fixing things. Or, we are looking for instant gratification. I don’t want to have to wait months on end to see some results, I want it now.
So, with all these tips, tricks, and hacks, why are we still such a mess?
The thing that trips us up so much of the time is misaligned priorities. All too often, we get fixated on secondary or even tertiary details or issues to the neglect of much bigger problems.
It is the fitness and nutritional equivalent of mowing the lawn while your house is on fire.
You might think that you must be able to bench press 200lbs. However, if your core is all wibbly wobbly when you try to stand straight up, focusing on loading your bench press should not be the first priority. You might spend hours and hours researching and picking out the best of the best branch chain amino acids with which to supplement, all the while eating nutritionally thin super processed foods, and a lot of them. BCAAs are great, but they won’t help you much if the rest of your house is still on fire.
C.S. Lewis once said very aptly “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in. Put second things first, and we lose both first and second things.”
If you try to bench your 200lbs without first addressing core stability, you will hurt yourself and not be able to lift anything. You’ll lose both first and second things. The key to making the kind of progress we desire to make, and start fixing, bit by bit, those things that can be working better in our life is to prioritize appropriately.
When a new client starts training with me, I take them through what I like to call a go-slow-to-go-fast period. A period of 3-6 weeks where we deal with foundational movements, form, mobility and stability, and corrective exercises that allow us to build on a very firm foundation. Once we have this foundation, we look at appropriate goals (see our previous blog post about setting appropriate goals), and identify foundational elements that need to be addressed to progress toward the goal.
Similarly, when addressing lifestyle habits such as nutrition, we need to first build foundational habits such as mindfulness and define our some red-light and green-light foods before we ever dive into supplementation. If you’d like to know more about these kinds of habits, reach out to us about nutrition and lifestyle habit coaching!
Let’s forget the hacks and gimmicks and put first things first: put out the house fire, then we can focus on the yardwork.
You get up in the morning, look in the mirror and are dissatisfied with what you see. Or, as you go about your day you are dissatisfied with how you feel.
You just don’t have the energy you should, your stomach isn’t playing nice, and you're not making the progress you feel you should.
You just don’t understand it!
You’ve read all the blogs, heck, you even got a gym membership. You are convinced you are doing everything right!
So what gives?
I’m going to be brutally honest with you for a moment, most people, even the morbidly obese, often really do think they are doing “everything right.”
When I first started my fitness journey, I made a resolution, got a gym membership, and consistently went every day! And after an entire year, I had made very, very little progress. I was doing everything right!
Spoiler alert: No, I wasn’t. But I didn’t have enough awareness to know what was breaking down and where. I was not very aware or mindful of my habits, and how they were influencing each other, which is precisely where most people find themselves.
You will often see celebrities who are sponsored by various companies tell their followers that all you need is 1200 calories a day and exercise an hour a day, and you can be just as thin as they are! One (whose name rhymes with Peneth Daltrow) told her followers to fast until a bone broth lunch, followed by a 1 hour workout before eating veggies for dinner. As an aside, I hope everyone can recognize just how disordered and unhealthy that is. These celebrities, and groups of their followers, track every morsel that goes into their body obsessively. They weigh everything and meticulously track calories. On this end of the spectrum, eating and exercising take over every detail of life. Hopefully you can see that both ends of the spectrum are extreme and not exactly helpful. We need enough awareness to know what we are actually doing, but not so much that it takes over our lives.
Journaling and tracking is a great way to build temporary awareness.
If you find yourself in the first group of people, convinced that you’re doing everything right, but not making any progress, tracking can be a useful way of laying bare some habits that are not supporting your (appropriate) goals. You may find that your macros are all out of proportion. You may find that you are eating significantly more (or fewer) calories than you think you are. Through journaling, you may find a pattern of feeling cruddy every time you eat a certain food. You may find that you leave the gym feeling like your legs are going to fall off every single day, and not recovering. You may find that you are overloading one muscle group and not working another enough.
Whatever you find, the key to this being successful is for it to be temporary. Tracking constantly is exhausting, and in extreme cases, can even turn into a form of disordered eating called orthorexia. Tracking calories and journaling are a way to increase awareness, highlight some actionable next steps, and set appropriate goals.
One week (minimum)-one month (maximum) is more than enough time to get valuable data.
Once you have increased your awareness, and mindfully set some habits and goals, ditch the calorie calculator for a while. After your habits are established, choose a week here or there to check in, and make sure you are still on track. In this way, you build mindfulness and awareness that will support your progress without creating a monster. Now, for this to be effective, you are going to have to be absolutely honest with yourself and with your journal or tracker. Tracking won’t do you any good if you are cooking the books. Keep that in mind. Keep this tool in your belt, and make it work to your advantage.
Imagine you are walking through a jungle. Look around you, take in the smells and sights.
What do you see? Lots of beautiful colors, vegetation, fruits, a veritable rainbow of beauty and flavor.
Now, think about what you eat on a given day.
Even if you are (or think you are) eating pretty healthy, I’ll take a stab that the palate is pretty brown and green, maybe a bit white.
Fruits and vegetables, even meats, come in a variety of colors. God’s design doesn’t just look pretty, it also serves to help identify vitamin properties contained inside.
Fruits that have the most striking colors are also the richest in nutrients.
Red fruits have vitamins C and A, as well as antioxidants. Orange and yellow have potassium, and help support eye health. Green vegetables contain iron, vitamin K, and fiber that help support healthy blood and digestion. Brown and white support heart health and cholesterol. Blue and purple support urinary tract health, and supply antioxidants.
Every color has a purpose.
We talked previously about using journaling for temporary awareness. To recap, journaling what you eat along with your workouts helps shed light on your actual habits. It is very easy when you don’t document anything to convince yourself that all is right in the kingdom. Journaling helps lay bare some of your defensive breakdowns.
During a week of tracking, I made an interesting discovery in my own diet. I was pretty good at eating green, and not good at eating literally any other color. For some reason, I even shunned fruit altogether. Probably something about being too sugary and high in calories (remember that disordered eating we talked about? Yeah, that was me too). I avoided anything but white and green. A fact that I honestly did not recognise until I put it down in a journal.
The truth of the matter is that loads of people fall into the same boat: good at eating green, no good at eating other colors. How boring would a just green rainbow be?
Other people eat loads of colors! Especially lots of orange and red! Sometimes even bright blue. I hate (not really) to be the bearer of bad news, but eating Skittles, Cheetos, Doritos, Takis, and whatever other unnaturally colored processed food you can get does not, in fact, count as eating the rainbow, no matter what the commercial says. A blue skittle will not benefit your health. Sorry. Actually, you know what? I’m not sorry. These foods so full of artificial junk are not helping you! In fact, there is research to suggest that the dyes they use in food may actually be harming your health. They are cheap, addictive, and may also be breaking you. Now, I am not going to go making a law that you can never eat those kinds of things. However, making them a mainstay of your diet is straight up bad. Fact.
If you want the benefits of eating the rainbow, you need to eat them as they naturally occur in nature. Have a banana! Eat a whole orange (not just the juice! If you want to know why, talk to me about nutrition coaching). If you are worried about cost, I understand. It is a ludicrous fact in our society that eating crap is often cheaper than eating well.
But let me ask you this: do you want to invest in good food now, or medical bills later?
There are also lots of options that are economical. Oranges, bananas, berries to name a few. Eat red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.
You can eat well without breaking the bank.
Want some extra credit? Plant a garden and grow some of your own.
I will tell you, it is very rewarding to eat food you grew yourself.
The rainbow isn’t just pretty to look at; it's also tasty to eat, and good for your body.
Most people, when they start their fitness journey, have a lot of initial success! They see several pounds melt away (usually due to a quick loss of water weight), and start to feel more energetic and are excited to start lifting. Life is good!
At some point, inevitably, we all meet the dreaded plateau. Things seem to stagnate for a while. Weight loss slows or halts, movement patterns settle in, and the picture of what they think they should be achieving starts to differ from reality. How each person handles this moment is extremely important. Not to sound too dramatic, but it very well may have an impact on the rest of your life.
Here is the most important truth of “plateaus”: Just because it is taking time doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Think of it this way, your body has spent the last however-many years getting to where it is now. It may take some time to turn that ship around.
Most people believe they are on a plateau because of an image of perfection they have conjured up in their minds. If they are not there, or getting there as quick as they want, it's a plateau. They have a specific achievement goal, and their whole focus is on getting to that point. As we have talked about, achievement goals are not bad things in principle, but they must be tempered with behavioral goals. When they become the main focus, achievement goals often translate to a fixed mindset. Behavioral goals, conversely, foster a growth mindset.
If you have an achievement goal for your fitness, you should ask yourself a few questions:
What does perfection look like to you?
Say you get there. Then what?
Are you willing to pay the price of discipline and lifestyle that perfection demands?
Is that place sustainable?
Honestly, if your goal is a pinnacle, there is nowhere else to go.
Do you spend the rest of your life right in that spot? That sounds kind of boring.
Or do you decline? Also not a great option.
This is why you see so many young Olympic athletes completely fall apart when they stop competing at that level. Their goal was 100% to get to and win the Olympics. When that was over, they had nothing else. That should give you a bit of pause.
If you live for a pinnacle, you have to know that it is pretty small up there, and falling off is a pretty big hazard.
If we're honest, most of us are not willing to live the kind of life a pinnacle requires. It is demanding and all-encompassing.
Sometimes, what others call a plateau is actually a pretty good place. You are performing well, you look and feel good, and your body is pretty happy in that place.
That is not a bad thing.
You might find that you are willing to do what it takes to live on that plateau, even if you don’t want to chase the pinnacle.
Now, if you are not satisfied with the strata on which you find yourself, then we need to focus on a few things.
I reiterate: just because it is taking time does not mean that it's not happening.
You may be laying a foundation of form and activation that your body needs to continue to the next level.
You may need to continue adjusting your habits to foster continued progress.
“Progress not perfection- you can't perfect everything… but you can gain progress on a daily basis.” -Court McGee
Have you ever wanted to start a new diet program, exercise program, personal growth journey and a few days, weeks, months maybe even years later you haven’t started it?
Did you ask yourself why haven’t I started yet or why am I not making any progress?
Or Let's say you did start it, but shortly after you quit. If you are like most humans, this has probably happened to you. Typically, we are too focused on doing things perfectly instead of making any type of progress.
Why is perfection the Enemy?
Cambridge Dictionary defines perfection as, “the state of being complete and correct in every way”.
This is an illusion- a recipe that sets you up for failure.
Waiting for the right time to start a fitness program or making sure you know everything about a new diet and eating healthy before you start is a demonstration of procrastination. Since there is never going to be the perfect time to begin a fitness or diet program, you will never have to take the next step of starting.
Now I’m not saying to lower your standards and to do the “hot, new diet, everyone is doing.
Focusing on progress means being persistent with learning, growing, and evolving.
How do you expect yourself to do that if you never start because you are worried that it isn’t going to be perfect?
1. Correct Your Mindset Something is Better than Nothing. Let's say that your squat gym PR is 190 pounds and your new goal is 200 pounds. Your first attempt you round your back or your knees caved in, and it looked ugly. Hey, give yourself a break. It’s the first time you have ever squatted 200 pounds. It isn’t going to be perfect. Now that you have squatted 200lbs I bet your 190 lbs squat looks a lot better than it use to.
This is what progress looks like!
From here you figure out why your form was ugly. Maybe it is a technique issue or a strength issue. Regardless of what it is, it’s all part of the journey. Focus on the small victory that your 190-pound squats look amazing and how you are going to make your next rep of 200 pounds better.
2. Momentum over Motivation Being motivated is an uplifting feeling that pushes us to achieve our goals and dreams, but after a while that motivation slowly fades. You get started on a new exercise and diet program and you are feeling great about it because you are following it and kicking butt.
Then there’s that one day where you feel like being lazy. You binge watch Netflix and indulge in pizza, ice cream, brownies… whatever your poison is. You begin to slack off and come up with reasons you can’t go to the gym. A few weeks go by, or maybe months, and you start to feel the urge to get back on track and you have the motivation again. And then the cycle begins again.
While motivation is a feeling, momentum is an action. When we take action, we create momentum. With momentum comes progress, and with progress comes a sense of accomplishment, which can then create motivation. Instead of hoping that moment will just appear out of nowhere, start by taking a small step every day to create action and momentum
It's 3pm, you are in the middle of a huge project, feeling that midday slump, frustrated with coworkers, and all of the sudden you just know that you’re dying of hunger. “I have got to get something to eat NOW!” You tell yourself as you dash to the vending machine for a bag of chips or a Snickers Bar, because you’re just not you when you’re hungry, right?
We have been conditioned by ad campaigns like Snickers and loads of others to believe that the moment we feel a grumbly in our tummy, we must reach for the quickest, most immediately satisfying option, like chips or candy. You may know somewhere back in the corner of your mind that the chips and candy are not the best choice, and likely you will end up feeling even more slumped, more on edge, and your stomach will not thank you.
This is because, despite everything we have been told by commercials, a little hunger is not an emergency.
I know that statement may come as a bit of a shock, but it is the truth. According to some in the medical community, an average person can theoretically survive without food for 1-2 months!
Trust me when I tell you, if you don’t eat that Snickers bar right now, you will by no means wither away. Sometimes, it isn’t even that you feel hungry, you just feel uncomfortable, for a variety of reasons.
Take the example in the first paragraph:is it actually hunger or is it discomfort? What is creating the feeling of urgency? Is it actual hunger or general ennui?
Spoiler alert:Discomfort is not an emergency either.
Am I saying you should not follow your hunger cues? Absolutely not. You should tune in to your body systems and follow your hunger cues. However, in this American culture, people are often so out of tune with their bodies, they have no idea what their hunger cues are, or how best to satisfy them. When we treat hunger like an emergency, we typically end up eating way more processed and less nutritional foods in way larger quantities than we actually need. When you feel hungry, it is a great time to take a quick 5 minute action and ask yourself some questions:
What is happening in my mind right now?
How do I feel emotionally?
Who is influencing me right now?
Am I really hungry?
What does my body need?
Once you have taken a step back and conducted a quick inventory of your whole self, then you can make a conscious decision about how best to fuel your body. I recommend this quick protocol:
Take an inventory
Figure out what your body actually needs
Fuel it with the right amount (only eat to 80% full, don’t stuff yourself).