When it comes to fitness, we have been conditioned to expect dramatic physical changes at the beginning of a new regiment.
On one channel it’s a talk show pushing a miraculous “all natural supplement” that will help you lose 40 pounds by next month. On another channel it’s a weight loss reality shows where contestants lose hundreds of pounds over the course of a season. Magazines are covered in photoshopped images with headlines about getting a 6 pack in 6 weeks.
In real life, not everyone sees drastic progress when they start training. This annoying thing called reality keeps getting in the way.
A while back, I had a client who we will call May.
She worked a desk job 40-50 hours per week. Her diet was ok, but not great, with a decent amount of fast food for convenience. She hadn’t exercised regularly in a few years.
A client with this (common) health profile usually sees great results in their first month. May was not so lucky. After the first 4 weeks she hadn’t made any progress.
She started to question whether training was worth it. She lost enthusiasm, becoming less and less motivated.
May felt let down, but things changed as she learned a valuable lesson.
Adopt Realistic Expectations
I heard a great analogy – “If you walk 10 miles into a forest, you have to walk 10 miles out.”
Expect getting in shape to take as long as you spent getting out of shape. 6 years of bad fitness habits won’t get fixed in 6 weeks. Or 6 months. Or maybe even 6 years in some cases. Real life gets in the way at times. There will be struggles. This is normal and acceptable.
In everyday life, no one has ever gone from obese to a 6 pack as fast as a reality show contestant. Don’t expect the ridiculous.
Commit to the Process
Often, fitness motivation is constructed backwards.
People are motivated by results. It’s easy to go to the gym when you’re seeing progress on the scale. Unfortunately, this sets you up for disappointment if progress stalls.
You see, fitness progress is hardly ever linear. Let’s say your goal is to lose weight. You won’t see the same number of pounds drop every week, or every month. Real results happen in spurts. You’ll work hard for a month and drop a few pounds, then grind until you reach the next drop. At times, you’ll gain some weight in between drops. The graph is less of a straight line and more like a richter scale.
The fix to this unpredictable rate of progress is to commit to the process. Build a fitness habit rather than chasing results.
How to Build a Habit
Habit building is just a way of breaking a goal into small actionable items.
For example, with a weight loss goal you need to focus on good nutrition and higher levels of physical activity. A good start to these habits would be to set the goals of eating a chicken salad for lunch every day and going to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Don’t bother checking the scale. If you commit to a salad and 3 workouts per week for 4-8 weeks you will see results. Period.
Only work on one goal at a time.
Extensive research has been conducted on habit forming. It has shown that when a person focuses on building one habit, compliance to that habit is roughly 80%. So at the onset, a person will stick to their goal 80% of the time. This improves until a habit is formed. When 2 habits are pursued simultaneously, compliance for both habits drops to 20-30%. That’s a failed habit.
I know, I used 2 habits in the example. You can build these habits one at a time.
Break these habits down to the smallest piece you’re 90% sure you can follow.
If you know you aren’t ready to eat salad for lunch every day, start with one day per week. When you are 90% sure you can consistently eat salad 2 days per week, do that. Eventually you’re up to habitually prepping, bringing, and eating salad for 5 lunches per week. Apply this strategy to everything and celebrate you compliance to your new habit based goal.
May and Aristotle
Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” May changed her approach and the results were nothing short of excellent.
Her motivation went from results driven to habit based. She was eating well without having to think about it. She hit the gym for a streak so long it would make Joe DiMaggio jealous.
6 months later her goals were met. She lost the weight she wanted (all from body fat) while building functional strength. The best part was, she hadn’t checked the scale in a month. She was totally focus on her awesome new fitness habits.
Motivation was no longer an issue.