After being in the fitness industry for 18 years, I’m asked all the time, “how do I achieve my fitness goals?”. I’ve been asked for advice on what to eat, how to train, how much cardio to do or not to do, and how to structure life to be “successful” with fitness. The answer is there is no one answer to any of these questions because success does not lie in any one of these issues. The number one thing that everyone needs and yet everyone seems to fail at, is consistency. Consistency doesn’t just mean to set a goal to go to the gym on a regular schedule until your cruise, its means consistently putting heath/fitness/wellness goals first–always. Sometimes this means going to the gym three days a week despite other commitments and sometimes it just means saying “no” after only one glass of wine.
Where people fail at their goals is in their mind, not so much their actions. The act of doing cardio more than weights or eating carbs versus no carbs isn’t a limiting factor in the quest for health and fitness. Its the relationship you have with diet and exercise that determines your success rate over time. The act of joining a gym and working hard for eight weeks to loose weight and get in shape is relatively easy, but its what happens when the holidays roll around or a major life-changing event occurs that challenges you. How do you bounce back from “getting out of your routine”? How do you prepare yourself for the moments that challenge your ability to keep the routine in the first place?
We are constantly counseling clients day in and day out (happily, its our job!) through the process of getting “back on the wagon” after they inevitably, always, “fall off”. These are their words, not ours. In fact, they refer to their food and gym habits in a way that an addict describes their vice. Why is that? The mental game is the same. The lack of self control and discipline feels beyond them. They might feel out of control or incapable of saying no to the pizza, beer, or bread. On the flip side, they might choose to go or not go to the gym appointment based on how they feel about past missed appointments and/or if they feel a need a deep down need to go. The client knows that coming to the gym will be fun, uplifting, and social and that they will feel energized and accomplished after they leave. So why the internal struggle?
I’ve really narrowed it down to six main reasons my clients struggle internally…
Black and White thinking: I know we have all heard the old adage that “life is not black and white, you have to learn to live in the grey.” But what does that really mean? Not every workout is going to be perfect and under perfect conditions and not every day is going to allow you to eat “perfect”. Conversely, a bad day at the office shouldn’t also mean a skipped workout at the gym and dinner at an all you can buffet. Heres why: Mentally, you’re setting yourself up for failure with perfectionistic thinking because life is hard and will throw you curve balls. You’re going to get a flat tire on your way to the gym and your going to work late so pizza will feel like its the only dinner option. So get rid of those expectations of yourself and throw out the word perfect because it doesn’t exist. Unless you’re an athlete in training there is no reason why you should hold yourself to such an intense training regimen and perfectionistic daily operating standards. This is what causes burnout and major mood swings.
Shame: quit “shouldn’t-ing” all over yourself! The internal “I should/I shouldn’t” statements can be condemning! So stop. Yes, we all know that we should exercise daily and we shouldn’t eat fast food everyday but the reality is that sometimes you want a slice of pizza and sometimes you just need to sleep in and skip that morning run. But stop the condemning there. You made the decision not to exercise. That is a decision for today, not always. So stop the guilt and the blame game. You’re not a bad person for skipping a workout. But ask yourself: how you can still work towards your personal health goals without that run? The answer is simple: keep moving forward. Don’t mentally implode. Don’t let that one missed run trigger a domino effect of skipping the run again for the next few days which ultimately causes a pity party and so you also drink beer after work and eat pizza. Its just a skipped run. Move on. Same thing with food. You have the right to choose tacos for lunch. Your not a failure or a bad, undisciplined person. Better men have done worse so move on. Guilt will begin to make your relationship with fitness a negative one.
The need to rationalize: To rationalize is to tell ourselves rational lies. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t rationalize your bad decisions. You don’t need to go out with friends who are drinking because staying home or skipping booze makes you a bad friend. Don’t skip your workout because you’re tired or low on energy and so you might not measure up to your trainer’s expectations. Don’t rationalize the poor food choices because you had to go to a business dinner with your boss. Be honest with yourself. Take moment to think about what is the right choice for yourself and take accountability for your choices. Lack of accountability is what leads us down a bad path called denial. Its not high school, any friend that feels let down because you don’t want to drink, isn’t a good friend anyways. Your trainer just expects that you do your best and your best will vary from day to day and healthy choices are available almost anywhere these days. And you know that. So start finding reasons to support yourself and your goals, not derail your good intentions.
Emergencies happen, don’t neglect the self: We have all been there–you’re on track, so to speak, with your diet and exercise and there is a family emergency. You have family in town for a week and your house is full. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this happens and how awful the setbacks are for clients who fall prey to this. Having family in town will not actively force you to drink alcohol, eat shitty food and skip exercising unless you allow it to. Those are just excuses we tell ourselves to rationalize choosing the easier route or neglecting the self for whatever reason. If you normally train with us three times a week, come in twice or even once. Come in a little late and leave a little early. Get in a good thirty minute sweat session and get your mind right, take that time for yourself. Don’t be ashamed of saying “exercising is what I need to feel good’. Instead of making exercising “one more thing you have to worry about”, pop those head phones in, head to the nearest LA Fitness and sweat it out on the treadmill for twenty minutes. Set your alarm early before anyone else is awake and take time for you to get your head right. That workout could be the one thing that de stresses you, energizes you, and gets you through another rough day so you can be a rock for your family in a time of stress.
Set realistic, sustainable goals: This journey is life long. Look, social media is lying to you. The media is lying to you. Your friends are lying to you. Its not as simple as follow this strict plan or that strict plan and workout like a savage for eight weeks and BAM! Sexy body for life. Realistic goals are gong to be your best friend especially as you age. Babies, vacations, illnesses, etc will make their way into your life and f*** up your program. Get used to be a wellness chameleon. If you can’t run anymore, try the bike. If you injure your shoulder, take up hiking & backpacking. Are you burnt out on the gym? Try hot yoga or workout with a friend. Put your wellness first, not just your physique. Realistic goals are not abs. Sorry, guys and gals, but they are not. Abs can be a very temporary thing based on water retention, sodium, what you ate that day and if you did or didn’t poop. Ladies, your monthly cycle affects abs. Abs year round are a sign of peak physical shape, but life is lived in-between those peaks. You will find abs on an individual who has prioritized fitness and healthy eating to point where they choose fitness year round and forever. Its part of their everyday life. You can do that too, but be realistic. If os, it is not an end game but rather an ongoing aspect of a goal. Peaks and valleys will happen, just don’t give up and throw in the towel.
Stop living in the past: Nobody cares what you weighed in high school when you played football. Nobody cares what you looked like before you had your baby. And neither should you. That was your past. It was a different time then and a different life then. For whatever reason, choices that you made lead you to the point where you are now. Working on becoming your best self ever, in the future, is not going to be more easily accomplished by dwelling on what you once had in the past. You’re comparing yourself to your old you, and who knows if that old you was even truly healthy? Essentially, you’re constantly comparing yourself to another person in your head, all day, everyday. How exhausting! How defeating! How are you ever supposed to feel good about yourself or what you’re accomplishing today? Most of the time, what worked for you years ago will not work for you the same now and by trying to fight that reality, your wasting precious energy. Let go and accept where you’re t and get fired up and excited about where you’re going.
Love yourself first: Its not selfish. Its actually about where in you’re personal moral code you rank your wellness. If you (your happiness, your confidence, your health, and your vitality) are of the utmost importance to you, it will be easy for you to constantly rise and fall with the tides of life that will get in the way of your gym time and diet. But if you value external validation, partying, acceptance, and other people above yourself, its going to make it way harder for you to find the joy and the internal drive to constantly better yourself. The key is loving yourself and valuing how you feel so much so that you are constantly striving to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Set goals and reach for them. Hold yourself accountable. Follow though. These are a couple things you can do to better your relationship with you. It’ll make you better for everyone else in your life. We have all had moments where we look inward and realize we just aren’t happy with ourselves. We are in control of changing that and keeping our relationship with ourself strong by pushing ourself to be better and stay the course.
Andrew and I have both fallen prey to each of these pitfalls. What we have learned over the years is that fitness/wellness and just general taking care of the self with a healthy diet and regular exercise is something that is part of our everyday life. We’ve had our peaks and valleys as well, but the valleys get more and more shallow and further and further apart. Beware of the above mentioned mindsets that hold you back. Be honest with yourself. Choose wellness and happiness and celebrate the fact that you are in control.