Like most Americans, I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life playing fitness musical chairs. Weight Watchers, 24 Hour Fitness, yoga, counting calories, workout videos, spinning classes, Barre class, online newsletters, Curves… you name it and I’ve tried it. Sometimes, I was lucky and got limited results, but none of it stuck or made a meaningful difference in my overall health. This is the trap that we fall into with fad diets, free trials, unrealistic expectations, and short-term goals. So how do we really change our lives and make healthy habits the new norm?
Answer: Be realistic. Brutally realistic.
Step 1: Be Realistic about Your Plan
Most people aren’t going to be able to sustain an immediate total overhaul of their lifestyle long-term. The passion of our New Year’s Resolutions or fear of the bridesmaid’s dress fades, and we go back to our normal routine. Unless you have superhuman motivation or willpower, you have to be more realistic with your fitness plan and your ability to stick with it. Start off by committing yourself to one lifestyle change and make it something measurable so that you can hold yourself accountable. Remember: It’s better to make one permanent change than five changes that you can’t sustain.
For me, it was deciding that I was going to find a way to be physically active at least twice a week. I’ll be honest, it was difficult at first. My busy schedule didn’t leave much room for anything new, but I could see my body was wasting away from sitting at a desk all day. Movement had to be my first priority.
Step 2: Be Realistic about Your Implementation
This step can also be called “Be Brutally Honest about Yourself.”
So I decided that I was going to be active twice a week. Great! Now I had to figure out how I was going to make that happen. That started with really looking at what had caused me to fail so many times before. Why hadn’t I been able to stick with anything? I warn you, this isn’t always a flattering experience, but being TOTALLY honest about yourself allows you to make a plan that you can actually stick with.
On reflection, I found that I am a cheapskate, unwilling to drive very far, competitive, unable to change my work schedule, need an authority figure (coach/teacher) to please, and am motivated by the opinions of my peers. Super confidence building, right?
But seriously, each one of these things contributed to my previous failures. I’d join a yoga studio when they had a half-priced deal and then quit when the price changed to $200 a month. I’d try “do it yourself” programs (Weight Watchers online, workout videos, and online newsletters) or mega gyms (24 Hour Fitness) because they cost less, but I was just a credit card number to them and there was nobody to coach me, cheer me on, or hold me accountable. I’d sign up for some trendy new fitness class only to find myself unable to make it to their limited class schedule (the spin class), be discouraged because of an inconvenient drive (Barre class), or find that I wasn’t being challenged (Curves). After making my new plan, I went looking for a gym that worked with all my faults – er, personality quirks – and eventually found one that was the perfect fit for me. I really feel that is why, nine months later, I have successfully gone from going to the gym twice a week to going four to six times a week and am LOVING IT. (Shameless plug: NerdstrongGym.com)
Your implementation may not be a gym. Maybe it’s joining a softball team, or signing up for dance classes. Maybe it’s prepping your weekly lunches on Sunday so that you don’t have to think about it before work or starting a salad club at your office. Maybe it’s finding a workout buddy or getting a personal trainer. The possibilities are endless! Be creative, but be true to yourself. Don’t be afraid to try something, evaluate, and then switch to something else if it isn’t working for you.
Step 3: Be Realistic about Your Expectations
The media has poisoned us into thinking that impossible results are the norm. We see infomercials with insane before and after pictures, celebrity exercise videos that promise to completely change us in a few weeks, and magazine ads for diets and supplements that will melt away our woes for a credit card number. DON’T BE FOOLED! These things are designed to make us feel inadequate and like fitness failures because they are trying to sell us crap. The fitness market is a multibillion dollar industry that DOESN’T WANT US TO SUCCEED, because once we are in shape we will stop buying what they sell. The worst part is that their tactics work. Our self-confidence plummets and we start looking for the next miracle elixir that will fix us NOW.
Real fitness improvement takes time and dedication. We are talking months or years, not days or a few weeks. Keep your expectations realistic! Stay patient, and keep at it! Do not give up!
My trick for staying motivated has been keeping track of my progress in multiple ways. Recording my improvements at the gym (weight lifted, number of reps, speed) has been my #1 measure, followed by body measurements and clothing size/fit. Our bodies change and fluctuate based on tons of factors. Multiple measures mean that I constantly see progress in some aspect of my fitness, even if some measure plateaus or regresses. This strategy really works for me and has helped keep me motivated through my holiday “setbacks”! Just make sure it is something quantifiable so that your progress isn’t subjective. Running farther without walking, dancing for more songs, lowering your cholesterol level, waist and arm measurements – there are so many things you can track! Be sure to keep a written record of whatever your measures are so that you can really see your progress!
Please note: Weight is an unreliable measure of progress. I am working to cut off my relationship with the scale because it doesn’t truly measure fitness or health. You can get stronger or lose inches and still weigh the same or more! I suggest that you don’t use weight as one of your measures!!
Knowing what path to take is the most important part of any journey. Fitness is no exception. The latest fad or what worked for your best friend may not be your path. Don’t be afraid to try different things until you find what works for you. Eventually, my twice-a-week exercise schedule became as routine as going to work, and I was ready to create Kimi’s Fitness Plan 2.0. Once your first change becomes the norm, you can focus on taking another step. You can do it!
Have a fitness plan that really worked for you? Help your fellow geeks by sharing your experience in the comments below!