Which Comes First, Motivation or Action?

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… this is basically Newton’s First Law applied to habit formation: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Once a task has begun, it is easier to continue moving it forward.

– James Clear

An important task stares us in the face. We vegetate and pray for supernatural intervention to either complete the task or remove it from existence. We know the task is important to our health and wellbeing. But our emotions undermine us and we avoid the gym, delay meeting with a financial planner, or avoid scheduling an appointment with a doctor or mental health counselor. Or we just hope the lawn will mow itself.

The search for motivation is common to everyone. I’ve spent weeks at a time not posing on this blog but knowing that if I want to be a writer then I must write. The dread and self-loathing builds… I may long to improve my physique and drop some body fat, yet I eat the same: I love a cocktail and some dessert—and those flabby trouble spots refuse to budge! Grrrrr! The inconvenience of it all!

We believe that Motivation, a gleaming white stallion, will gallop in from nowhere and carry us effortlessly to meaningful action—but that doesn’t happen. So there we sit, pining for that magic horse. We got it wrong. Action breeds motivation.

The hardest part is the start. Once you start, it’s easier to keep going.

If we take a small step and find just a little bit of success, then we tend to want to see more success so we take further action. Several writers have discussed the action-creates-motivation dynamic.

Brad Stulberg writing in Outside Online discuses the dip in motivation during the pursuit of a goal:

“But then, when the first rough patch inevitably hits, motivation dwindles. This is when you decide to sleep in on winter mornings instead of go for a run (failed exercise plan), eat carrot cake at 11 p.m. (failed diet), or ignore your romantic partner when they tell you about their day (failed relationship goals). Even though you still want to accomplish your objectives, you may stop caring as much about them. And yet if you force yourself to show up, to take action—do the run, skip the cake, be present for your partner—and if you do this consistently, a strange thing starts to happen: Your motivation increases.”

Dr. Rubin Khoddam writes in Psychology Today explains how taking committed or valued action leads to more motivation to take more action:

“Let me give you a basic example. Have you ever felt like just staying at home and watching TV and not motivated at all to go to the gym? Yeah, me too. BUT, have you also ever noticed that you sometimes went to the gym and not only felt better about yourself but were more motivated to go back again later. That is because motivation does not precede action, action precedes motivation.

“I don’t just mean any action. I mean committed action. Valued action. What is valued action? Valued actions are actions that are consistent with your values in life. These are actions that are consistent with the type of person you want to be. I value staying healthy, so I set a goal for myself to go to exercise at least 4 days a week. My valued action is getting my butt up and going to the gym regardless of whether I am in the mood or not.”

James Clear has written an extensive article on motivation. He discusses common misconceptions about motivation:

“Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.

“You don’t need much motivation once you’ve started a behavior. Nearly all of the friction in a task is at the beginning. After you start, progress occurs more naturally. In other words, it is often easier to finish a task than it was to start it in the first place.

“Thus, one of the keys to getting motivated is to make it easy to start.

Clear also discusses the power of the Goldilocks Rule to stay motivated over the long haul:

“Human beings love challenges, but only if they are within the optimal zone of difficulty. Tasks that are significantly below your current abilities are boring. Tasks that are significantly beyond your current abilities are discouraging. But tasks that are right on the border of success and failure are incredibly motivating to our human brains. We want nothing more than to master a skill just beyond our current horizon.

“We can call this phenomenon The Goldilocks Rule. The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”

Each of these articles mentions physcial movement as a part of motivation. Sitting still saps our motivation. Movement generates motivation. Get up. Move around. Do something that moves you forward, even if it’s just one step. The motivation will follow your action.

Burnout & Harmonious Passion

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Modern living, competition, achievement, and seeking external validation all contribute to burnout. Burnout is more than just feeling tired at the end of the day. It’s a condition that comes with real, negative health effects. Two recent articles discuss the idea and how to counter it.

Burnout

Burnout is not a recognized medical condition in the US but it is recognized as such in France, Denmark, and Sweden. These countries recognize it as a legitimate reason to take time off from work. A Washington Post article discusses burnout with psychologist Sheryl Ziegler:

“Ziegler defines burnout as ‘chronic stress gone awry.’ The big three symptoms are emotional exhaustion, cynicism and feeling ineffective, according to the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), a survey designed to measure employee burnout in the workforce. Other symptoms can include frequent colds or sicknesses, insomnia and a tendency to alleviate stress in unhealthy ways, such as with too much alcohol or online shopping.”

The article discusses the difference between stress and stressors:

“Burnout is caused by chronic stress, not stressors… It’s important to differentiate the two. Stressors are external: to-do lists, financial problems or anxiety about the future. Stress, on the other hand, ‘is the neurological and physiological shift that happens in your body when you encounter [stressors],’ Emily and Amelia Nagoski write in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”

Fixing burnout isn’t necessarily easy. It involves recognizing the condition and making some changes, not just checking more things off of your to-do list.

“To fix burnout, people need to address the stress itself. They must allow their body to complete its stress response cycle. Instead, people tend to focus on stressors. ‘They assume their stress will go away if they’re on top of things, if they’re accomplishing things, and constantly checking things off their to-do list,’ Emily Nagoski says.”

Read the full article for more information.

Harmonious Passion

I’m an enthusiastic fan of running coach Steve Magness and researcher/journalist Brad Stulberg. They are the authors of Peak Performance, an excellent book. Their second book is the Passion Paradox. I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Burnout and what Stulberg and Magness call harmonious passion are the subjects of a recent blog post titled Burnout Runs Deeper Than Too-Much Work:

“Harmonious passion is when an individual becomes completely absorbed in an activity because they love how the activity itself makes them feel. Obsessive passion is when an individual gets hooked on something because of external rewards: fame, fortune, a promotion, or in this day and age, social media followers. Obsessive passion is firmly linked with burnout.”

and,

Harmonious passion requires three main things. This has been studied for over 45 years and the evidence is highly replicable across diverse fields of practice:

1) Autonomy: the ability to have significant control over one’s work.
2) Mastery: the ability to see improvement and progression in one’s craft.
3) Belonging or relatedness: a feeling of connection and community.

If you think about the fields where burnout is especially prevalent (e.g., medicine, teaching, corporate work, and sport) you see that at least one, if not more, of these critical attributes is missing.

Read the article to learn more.

 

 

Truth About Hard Work and Breakthroughs

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Advertising surrounds us and comes at us from every angle. We are inundated all day by interesting/annoying messages designed to tug at our emotions and coax us into purchasing something. Take holiday and fitness advertising. More often than not, both are concocted of contrived platitudes wrapped in a seductively sincere candy coating. I don’t mean to be a grinch or overly negative, but rather I’m trying to see through the haze of flimsey, manipulative nonsense.

Christmas ads for diamonds (aka shiny dirt) and gift-wrapped luxury cars suggest in serious tones that these trinkets are the ultimate expressions of love and devotion. The message: “If you really love her/him, you’ll spend lots of money on this thing that sits there.”

Materialism disguised as love.

Fitness-related messages are similarly emotional and ubiquitous. From running to weights to yoga, pilates, and obstacle races, social media feeds are chock-full with soaring inspirational messages to Just Do It, Find Your Bliss, Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body and all sorts of sappy garbage that I try to ignore—because unicorns, fairy tales, and magic happy miracles aren’t real!

Let me calm down… If you thrive on messages like this then fine.

These messages don’t run to my taste because I find them shallow and dishonest. They imply a quick-fix approach to fitness and health. We are a short-attention-span, soundbite culture that rejects the long-term, patient view of the steady hard work that’s crucial for excellence. My role as a trainer and writer is to dispel some of the misinformation that’s out there and speak honestly about health and fitness.

With all that in mind, two recent articles are worth a look.

Running Sucks Sometimes—And That’s OK comes from running coach David Roche. David and his wife Megan are both successful, experienced runners and coaches. They know of what they speak. David discusses the idealized social media version of running:

“Let’s start this article with an assignment: open Instagram and click on the ‘Search’ button. What do you see? To start, you probably see at least a few mostly naked people. It is the internet, after all.

In addition, if the almighty algorithms think you are a runner, you’ll probably get photos and videos of people running with glorious form, on glorious trails, with gloriously big smiles. The captions? You guessed it . . . glorious.

“The perfect day…”

“Running is amazing…”

“I owe it all to [insert brand here]…”

“If we programmed a computer to use machine learning to understand running via social media, it’d probably think running was a mostly perfect, amazing activity. #brand #brandmotto. I am guilty, too—it’s just how social media works. No one wants to hear about your heavy legs and sore feet. It’s a highlight reel by design.”

Roche observes the ugly truth of running, something that every runner both new and old has experienced: Running ain’t always a bag of fried rainbows.

“Even if you do everything right, training consistently and intelligently for years on end, running will still suck sometimes. I’d guess 10 percent of my runs feel rather unpleasant, down from 30 percent when I had been running for a few years (and 100 percent when I first started). Not only is that okay, it’s an essential part of the adaptation process.

“If you felt perfect all the time, you’d probably be selling yourself short in training, not pushing your limits at all. So embrace the suck. It’s something we all share, even if we don’t always share it on Instagram.”

The article normalizes the reality of running and points out that even the best runners don’t always love it. (BTW, you could sub the word “running” for cycling, swimming, weights, or any number of athletic and non-athletic activities.) Roche gives practical advice on adopting the right mindset when the going gets tough. I most appreciate his discussion on how to mentally process the discomfort of a hard run. We can change our perception of pain and exertion.

“Solution: aim to perceive discomfort as a neutral observer. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but no, you don’t have to stop. And when you let yourself document it, running-induced discomfort actually isn’t that bad at all.”

Alex Hutchinson makes similar observations in this Wall St. Journal article titled The Mental Tricks of Endurance Performance. This process of perception is a crucial component of endurance performance. I use this process in my own workouts and it makes a difference. Definitely, read both articles if you want to change your relationship with exertion.

The second article is titled What Lies Behind Every “Breakthrough” Performance. It’s from Brad Stulberg at Outsideonline.com. He examines the underpinnings of sudden breakthrough performances. The reality is that sudden breakthroughs are built on consistent hard work and gradual progress.

Stulberg quotes habit researcher and writer James Clear:

“Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change,” says Clear, who researches and runs workshops on habit development. The problem: “People make a few small changes, fail to see a tangible result, and decide to stop. Once this kind of thinking takes over, it’s easy to let good habits fall by the wayside.”

The message here isn’t just applicable to athletics. It applies to any type of work from writing, to music, to painting—probably to preparing taxes.

“A similar path to progress happens in other endeavors. A recent study published in the journal Nature found that while most people have a ‘hot streak’ in their career—‘a specific period during which an individual’s performance is substantially better than his or her typical performance,’ the timing is somewhat unpredictable. ‘The hot streak emerges randomly within an individual’s sequence of works, is temporally localized, and is not associated with any detectable change in productivity,’ the authors write. But one thing just about every hot streak has in common? They rest on a foundation of prior work, during which observable improvement was much less substantial.”

Essentially, the article extols the virtues and necessity of punch-the-clock work, work that isn’t transcendent or worthy of soaring language. The bread of performance is buttered with these types of workouts.

The War On Metatarsalgia

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If there’s a foot problem then I’ve either had it or I’m going to get it. Currently, I’m battling a tasty little bit of metatarsophalangeal joint pain in my left foot. My symptoms are described to a T in this article from Merck.

I am frustrated but I can overcome it. I’ve overcome a host of other frustrating aches and pains. On that note, I’ve found a series of strength and mobility drills that I’m going to play with and see what happens. It’s from the innovative people at GMB.io. The full article is here. There are three videos in the article. I’m exploring this one now:

New Year’s Resolution Part VI: You’ve Achieved Your Goal! Now What?

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The end is nigh for this dissection of the always popular yet often daunting new year’s resolution. The real key to a successful resolution isn’t a particular workout or diet, it’s getting your mind right. The target isn’t your butt or you gut, it’s your brain. To recap, I suggest you consider the following:

From where you are, to where you want to be

  • Ask yourself why exactly you want to achieve your resolution. You must connect to your goal on an emotional level. It must be meaningful to you.
  • Motivation is crucial to your success. Motivation is the only thing that will keep you moving forward. Intrinsic motivation (motivation from within you, not without) is optimal.
  • Have a plan and set SMART goals. This will allow your motivation to drive you in the right direction.
  • Set objectives. Objectives are the steps that take you to your goal. If you focus on the objectives then you focus on the process. The process will take you to your goal.
  • Get specific about details. If this resolution is important then it’s worth taking some time to think about when you’ll exercise, where you’ll exercise, what you will and won’t eat, how much sleep you’ll get, plus several other vital questions.

Now the journey continues.

If you’re one of the diligent few who actually perseveres and reaches your new year’s resolution, then congratulations! I hope you’ll pat yourself on the back and revel in your significant achievement. Your motivation, your planning, and your hard work have all payed off. My bet is you want to maintain those impressive results. If so, please recognize that the resolution must continue!

My sincere hope for you is that you’ve not just gritted through an arduous, monotonous process, but that you’ve taken on a healthy lifestyle comprised of enjoyable, sustainable habits. Recognize that fitness is an ongoing project that’s never finished. It’s worth reflecting on the emotions that motivate you. It’s a good idea to revisit your fitness plan and revise it so you can achieve another exciting goal.

As part of this wrap-up, I want to re-emphasize the power of being process-oriented in the pursuit of your resolution. This concept is discussed in Big Goals Can Backfire. Olympians Show Us What to Focus on Instead. It’s an excellent article. Here’s part of it:

“A process mind-set creates daily opportunities for little victories, which help sustain the motivation required to accomplish long-term goals. A handful of studies, including one in the prestigious journal Nature, provide insight into why this is the case. Researchers have found that when mice accomplish micro objectives on the path to distant goals (e.g., making a correct turn in a maze), their bodies release dopamine, the neurochemical associated with motivation and drive. Without hits of dopamine, the mice become apathetic and give up. Although these studies cannot be safely replicated in humans, scientists speculate we operate the same way. Process promotes progress, and progress, on a neurochemical level, primes us to persist.”

Finally, please let me know if you’d like to discuss your fitness goals. I would love to help you get moving in the right direction. I’m available for a free consultation. You can contact me at DenverFitnessJournal@Gmail.com.

 

New Year’s Resolution Part V: Putting Rubber On the Road

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The prior post discussed planning for your new year’s resolution and the need for objectives, or specific measurable steps, that will result in your successful achievement of your goal. I also introduced the idea that in planning for your resolution, your plan needs to be couched in the reality of your life.

I can’t say it enough: You need to be honest with yourself and set objectives that are realistic and manageable for you.  You can definitely achieve your goal but it must be broken down into manageable steps. I’ve said it before in this series and I’ll continue to hammer on the point that you must be patient and persistent. It’s imperative that you focus on the process—the process, the process, the process!—of getting to your goal. Focus on what you can do right now, today and don’t get obsessive about the end goal.

I’m not going to give you specific objectives. Rather, I’m going to give you some questions and details to consider when forming your objectives. First, look at the motivation scale. Keep it in mind as you consider your course of action. If, on a particular action your motivation is 8 or higher, then get to it! If your motivation is below an 8 then don’t consider the action. For example if I ask you how motivated you are to join a gym and start working out X number of times per week and your answer is 9, then you’re ready to get going. If I ask you how motivated you are to start cooking X number of meals a week and your answer is 4, then you’re not ready and you should perhaps revisit the idea at a later time. Be honest with yourself or there’s no point in doing any of this.

motivation-scale

What are you ready to do?

Start an exercise program? Change your eating? Go to bed earlier? All of the above? Not everyone is ready to address all the details that go into a fit, strong, healthy body. Maybe you’re ready to start lifting weights but you’re not ready to make dietary changes. Maybe you’re open to starting a walking program but not ready to join a gym.

If you’re new to fitness and exercise, or if you’ve struggled with resolutions in the past, then I suggest you start with one thing. Find some success early where it’s easy, then address other needs when you’re ready. If you try to do too much too soon then you may become overwhelmed and give up. Can you start with one or two days a week of exercise? Can you start cooking one meal per day? Can you pick one or two days per week to either go to bed early or sleep in?

(Have you found time to do the homework in these other posts? If not, then you may not be ready to move on.)

What activities do you enjoy?

If you can build your exercise routine around an activity you like to do then it’s likely you’ll do it. If on the other hand you hate to run then building your weight loss resolution around running (or anything you can’t stand to do) is a bad idea. What physical activity or activities are you ready and willing to undertake?

What type of exercise?

We typically discuss “strength training” and “cardio.” The truth is, physical activity exists along a sliding scale. Lifting heavy things for short durations has its benefits as does prolonged, lower-intensity work. Do you know what type of work your resolution requires? Do you have any experience lifting? Going back to the question above, is there a type of activity which you enjoy the most? Beyond that, do you know how much you should lift for how many reps and sets for your goal? Do you know how often, for how long, and at what intensity you should engage in cardio-focused activity for your particular goal?

What time of day to exercise?

Figure out what time of day is best for you to work out. If you’re not a morning person then going to the gym before work may not be a great idea. Working out after work or at lunch are options to consider. Your work schedule, family obligations, and what time of day you prefer all pertinent factors. What time of day works best for you?

How many days per week to exercise?

Optimally, you’re going to engage in some sort of physical activity of varying intensity on most days of the week; but if you’re not currently exercising at all, then aiming for five, six, or seven days per week might be unrealistic. Can you start with one? Two? How many days per week will you realistically do something called “exercise?” Further, most fitness plans should have hard days and easy days. Exercising hard every day isn’t a good idea. Hard work must be balanced with rest and recovery.

Where’s the best place for you to exercise?

Ideally you’ll exercise in a place where you feel comfortable, confident, and welcomed. A gym? Outdoors? A class? Yoga or Pilates studio? Strenuous yard work and manual labor count as exercise too.

Gyms and studios are much like restaurants. They cater to different clientele with different tastes. All gyms and studios aren’t the same. If you don’t like the feel of one then visit another.

(One observation: Most people need to leave the home to get a worthwhile workout. Virtually no one develops a successful exercise habit at home. Home exercise equipment typically turns into an expensive laundry rack. The home has a million other diversions and strangely, with the option to work out anytime, you’ll never actually work out.)

Injuries

Aches and pains are serious roadblocks to fitness goal. If you hurt while lifting weights, running, hiking, swimming, etc., then you may need to see a physical therapist, chiropractor, or some other type of injury rehab professional. The sooner you get help with injuries, the sooner you can get at your goal.

Have you considered sleep?

There is strong evidence that lack of sleep contributes to obesity. Sleep is also important for athletic performance. If your resolution has anything to do with weight loss or athletic achievement then sleep is crucial to your goal. Many Americans don’t sleep enough. Most of us need 8+ hours of sleep per night. More coffee isn’t the solution, nor is “just getting used to it.” Won’t work!

Can you start going to bed earlier? Or sleep in on certain days? Maybe you can sleep more just one or two days (preferably more) days per week? Can you turn off the electronic devices an hour before bedtime? It’s important!

Food preparation

If your resolution is physique-related (fat loss and/or muscle gain) then your food intake is of tremendous importance. You can’t out-exercise bad eating habits. There’s no way around it. Studies show that if you prepare your own food then odds are you’ll have a healthier diet than if you eat out or eat convenience foods. Do you prepare any of your own food? Do you grocery shop? Do you know how to cook? Do you own some pots and pans? Are you willing to start preparing more of you own food? If so, how many meals are you willing to prepare? If you currently prepare none of your own food, then starting with just one meal per day—or even one meal per week—is a starting place.

Two things to remember: “Prepare” doesn’t necessarily mean “cook,” and I’m not advocating a particular diet here. I’m asking if you’re ready to get involved with feeding yourself.

Your support system

Getting help helps! Tackling a big goal by yourself is tough. Evidence suggests that accountability and positive social support are important factors in successful weight loss. Do the people around you support your efforts? Are you willing to enlist an accountability partner? Can you find allies at home and/or in the work place who can facilitate your new year’s resolution? Enlisting a personal trainer is one powerful way to stay accountable. It’s even better if you can bring friends to your cause.

Examples

Here are some examples of measurable objectives that one might take as steps toward his or her fitness goal(s):

  • Meet with my trainer twice a week at the gym
  • Prepare breakfast five mornings a week
  • Turn off electronic devices an hour before bed every night
  • Walk for 20-30 minutes four days per week
  • Add in a yoga class to my current fitness routine
  • Schedule a visit with a physical therapist to get my knee/back/shoulder/whatever pain figured out.
  • Start eating a piece of fruit every day
  • Cut back on fast food from four to two days per week

This is a very short list of ideas and suggestions about objectives. Each individual will have his or her own specific needs.

Finally

A few things to remember:

  • Focus on the process more than the end result you want. What can you do right now, today that will help move you toward your goal?
  • The most significant fitness results (including your resolution) don’t come in a few weeks. It’s an ongoing process that takes patience and persistence. If you reach your goal, and if you want to keep those results, then the journey continues.
  • Don’t expect to be perfect. No one is, including those models, athletes, and those Internet fitness celebrities who give the appearance of perfection. You won’t make every single workout. Not every bite of food will be “healthy.” One slip-up doesn’t wreck all your work. Your motivation is huge here. Do you remember why it is you’re working toward your goal?
  • New, healthy habits are made over time. You won’t be highly motivated every day. We’re not always highly motivated to go to work either but we go. Some days we must simply punch the clock.

 

 

New Year’s Resolution Part IV: Objectives & What’s Realistic?

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In terms of your health & fitness, there’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. Your new year’s resolution is your attempt to bridge that gap. That gap—or perhaps a yawning void—can be intimidating and confusing. But if you’ve figured out exactly why you want to embark on your resolution, you’re properly motivated, and your resolution has been put through the SMART process, then you’re ready to put together a plan.

Why do you need a plan? Isn’t just walking into a gym and starting on the latest diet enough? I don’t think so. Any significant achievement has a plan behind it. Planning for retirement, opening a business, building a house. None of these things happen without a solid plan. Making significant changes in your life that result in better health, more strength, a leaner body, and better movement is no different.

Objectives

Objectives are a series of measurable steps that lead to your goal. This is the work that must be done to see your resolution achieved. Objectives should be written down and you should have a solid grasp of what your objectives are from day to day. You probably don’t need many objectives. Just a few is fine. Better to have a few that you can achieve rather than too many which you fail to achieve. Also, by focusing on the objectives—by focusing on the process, not just the end point—your resolution will become a reality.

What’s realistic?

I emphasize this point to you. Be honest with yourself in terms of what you’re willing and able to do with regard to lifestyle changes: diet, exercise, rest… New year’s resolutions are notorious for being dramatic, grand, and severely too ambitious. I’ve seen it over and over again that someone ignores reality and picks an arbitrary goal for which he or she is totally totally unprepared.

As you plan I suggest you take a step back and look at your life as a whole. Look at your relationships, family commitments, your work schedule, and what you enjoy doing. As you plan, I’d like  you to have in mind this motivation scale:

motivation-scale

In the next post, I’ll discuss the following issues and how they should inform your objectives.

What are you ready to do? Start an exercise program? Change your eating? Both?

What do you like to do? What can’t you stand to do?

What time of day to exercise?

How many days per week to exercise?

Where’s the best place for you to exercise? A gym? Outdoors? A class? Yoga or Pilates studio?

Have you considered sleep?

Food preparation: Do you know how to cook?

Support system: Do the people around you support your efforts?

What else is going on in your life?

Please stay tuned!

New Year’s Resolutions Part III: Setting Your Goal(s)

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In part I of this series I gave an overview of two key components of a successful resolution, motivation and planning. In part II I discussed different types of motivation, why proper motivation is crucial for a resolution, why you should focus on the process rather than the finish line, and I gave you a task to explore the reasons why you want to achieve your goal. (If you haven’t done the drill then I suggest you stop right now and either do it or give up. I’m speaking honestly with you.) Now I’m going to dig deeper into the planning process. We’re going to discuss goals. In order to get you from where you are to where you want to be you will need a detailed roadmap, a step-by-step process to move you forward.

SMART goal setting

At the end of Part II of this series, I asked you to write down your “whys” or why your resolution is important. I wanted you to develop emotional buy-in and motivation for working toward your goals. Now I want you to get specific with exactly what you want to achieve. Weight loss? Muscle mass? Strength? Mobility? More energy? Some combination thereof? You need to be very specific so that your time and hard work will deliver you directly toward your goal. Otherwise you may do the wrong kind of work and never approach your goal. As with figuring out your “whys,” this is a brain exercise. You need to think. You need to connect to your goal on several levels. You may be familiar with the SMART goal setting concept. It works very well for setting and planning for fitness goals.

Specific:

To make your plan specific to your needs and wants, you need to be very clear on how you define success. What does a successful resolution look like to you? This information will dictate such details as exercise selection, dietary modifications, exercise frequency, and rest habits.

  • You want to be “in-shape.” Define in-shape. What does that term mean to you? A different physique? What does that look like? More muscle? Less fat?
  • You want to “feel better.” What does that mean? How do you know you don’t feel well right now? Describe what feeling better will feel like.
  • You want to “be stronger.” How do you know you’re weak? What tells you that you’re not strong? What tasks are you unable to perform due to weakness?
  • You want “better balance.” What tells you you have poor balance? What tasks and activities would you like to perform as a result of having better balance?
  • You want to be “more flexible.” Why? How do you know you’re not flexible? Give a specific example of how your lack of flexibility limits you.
  • “I want to run a 10k this year.” That’s specific.

Measurable:

Once you’ve described your resolution in specific terms, we can determine how to measure progress. You need to keep track of certain metrics to make certain that what you’re doing is working and that you’re progressing toward your goals. Tracking progress will do a lot for your motivation. If you’re not seeing progress then your plan needs adjustment. If you’re not assessing then you’re guessing.

  • Lbs. lost or gained
  • inches lost or gained
  • body fat % up or down
  • amount of weight lifted
  • exercise proficiency (perform a good pushup, squat, or kettlebell swing for example)
  • exercise frequency
  • ability to perform a task (climb stairs, run a given distance, work in the yard, or pick up a child for instance)

Attainable:

Is your goal realistic to your skill level, experience, and ability? It’s important to shoot for a goal that’s appropriately challenging. People often aim too high and set an unrealistically difficult goal. Failure then kills motivation. It’s also possible to pick a goal that’s too conservative. It’s not a huge problem but it may not provide much motivation to you and if you reach your goal then you won’t get the sense of achievement that you want. A trainer or a coach can help you set a proper goal.

  • Overly aggressive goals:
    • Losing more than 2 lbs. per week.
    • Adding more than 1-2 lbs. of muscle per month
    • You’re never completed a triathlon but you want to race an Ironman.
    • You don’t hike or climb mountains and you want to scale Mt. Everest.
    • You currently don’t exercise and you’re not a morning person but as part of your weight-loss goal, you resolve to work out every morning before work.
    • You hate to run but you decide to lose weight through running many miles.
    • You decide to lose weight by eliminating your favorite foods. Now you’ve set yourself up for an arduous struggle that you will lose and then you’ll feel guilty. Better to reduce certain foods, not eliminate them.
    • Making the Olympic team in a sport you don’t play or just started to play.
    • Become a pro athlete at any sport. (If you have the potential to be a pro then you’re already competing at a very high level, you’re a microscopic fraction of the population, and you already have excellent coaching.)

Relevant

Is your resolution relevant to your values? Do you have a strong emotional connection to your resolution? Are you making this resolution of your own free-will or is someone pressuring you? Is now the right time in your life to pursue your resolution or are there significant obstacles to reaching your goal? A strong connection of your resolution to your values and emotions is immensely important in developing and maintaining your motivation. You must be honest with yourself here.

Time-bound

Your goal should be set within a timeframe. A ticking clock will help ensure that you actually do the work necessary to achieve your goal. Checking the measurable metrics of your goal in a timely fashion will ensure that you’re on track to reach your goal.

“I want to lose weight,” is not only non-specific but it’s also an open-ended in terms of time. Open-ended goals can be done anytime, which means they can be done later, which means they’ll never be achieved. In contrast, “I want to lose 20 lbs. in 15 weeks,” puts your goal in a definite, attainable timeframe. Now it’s far more likely that you’ll get to work.

Homework

Your first homework assignment was to flesh out and determine your reasons why you want to achieve your resolution. Now I want you to apply the SMART concept to your resolution. BTW, you should do these assignment away from distractions. Get away from the phone, the TV, and other people who need your time. Find some time and a location where you can think clearly. Bonus points go to you if you put pen to paper instead of pecking on a laptop.

If you’re confused by some of this then now is an excellent time to contact me or another certified fitness professional and we can sit down and figure this out together. Stuff like this is why I have a job! I’d love to help you get off on the right foot and see measurable success.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll continue to plan by discussing objectives. Objectives are a little different from goals. Objectives are measurable steps that lead to the goal. They’re a vital consideration for succeeding in your resolution.

 

New Year’s Resolutions Part II: Motivation

Standard

In Part I of the New Year’s Resolution series, I said that motivation is crucial for success. Let me say it another way: If you aren’t sufficiently motivated then you will fail at your resolution. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m being realistic. Here’s a discussion on motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

If you say, “I want to look better,” then why? Do you want to be more attractive to others? That means you need validation and a sense of approval. (Dare we say you’re looking for love?) Or maybe your workplace is having some sort of 10-week new year’s weight-loss competition. The winner gets a prize and adulation! These scenarios are examples of extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation may work well in the beginning. It may keep you working out and eating better for a few weeks but it won’t sustain you for the long haul. What happens when it’s February and you don’t look like a cover model? What happens on week 11 of the 10-week weight-loss challenge?

Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation often involves guilt and shame. If someone feels pressure to live up to a certain physique standard, then he or she may feel shame for not living up to that standard. External motivation may make someone feel obligated and burdened to exercise and eat right. Those who are exercising due to extrinsic factors may feel forced to exercise. It’s very difficult to feel positive and optimistic in this situation. No one should live that way.  You must find and cultivate intrinsic and/or identified motivation if you want to win at this thing.

Intrinsic & identified motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from inside you. With intrinsic motivation, there’s a strong emotional bond that connects you to your efforts. For example, many of us simply enjoy lifting weights, running, skiing, cycling, swimming, hiking, etc. It feels good and it’s fun. The activity is the reward. We like the way we feel when we eat right and get enough sleep. The energy and vigor we get from a healthy lifestyle keeps us coming back for more. If you can find a way to enjoy your efforts then you’ve found gold!

Identified motivation is similar to intrinsic motivation. I used this example in Part I of this article where I described a mother’s love and devotion to her child as a motivator to exercise and eat right. She doesn’t love exercise. She’s not motivated by the pure enjoyment of working out. She is absolutely certain though that exercise and healthy eating will not only give her health, energy, and longevity but will also set a good example for her child so he or she will grow strong and healthy too. The mother’s motivation is tied strongly to her values, so the hard work gets done even if the hard work isn’t fun. If your closely held values are linked to a healthy lifestyle, then you’ll  succeed at your resolution.

Motivation killers

  • The resolution is too aggressive. For example:
    • You don’t run but you decide the way to get in shape is to run a marathon. Running is a great way to get fit but perhaps aim for a 5k instead. (Most importantly, you should focus on the race training—the process—not just on the race. More on this later.)
    • You hate mornings and you don’t work out, but now you intend to wake up early every morning before work and go to the gym. How long will that last? Probably best to look to lunch or after work to visit the gym.
    • In order to lose weight you decide to completely eliminate  all your favorite foods (sugar, bread, pasta, booze for example). What happens when you transgress? The guilt monster will come for you! Might be a good idea to reduce some of these foods, not ban them all outright.
  • Unrealistic expectations: This is similar to a resolution being too aggressive. Fitness takes time, persistence, and patience. This is fact. If you expect quick miracles (dropping 20 lbs. in three weeks for example) then you will be disappointed. You will reach your goal and you will do yourself a massive favor if you focus on the process rather than the outcome. Put another way, you should focus on what you can do right now over what you don’t yet have. Trust me on this.
  • Trying to do too much: A wholesale overhaul of your lifestyle can be overwhelming, and that’s understandable. It’s absolutely fine to start with one thing. Maybe you’re ready to start exercising but not yet ready to change your diet, or vice versa. Maybe you’re ready to start walking but not yet ready to join a gym. You can and should take one step at a time.Taking on too much and failing will derail you. Succeeding at one small thing will keep you motivated.
  • No support system: If you’re surrounded with people who hate exercise, only want to go to happy hour, eat poison, and play video games then you’re going to have a tough time of it. Do you have friends, coworkers, and/or family members who are on board with your efforts? Enlist their help to hold you accountable and give you encouragement for your goals. Also, hiring a trainer (like me!) can be a valuable investment.
  • The wrong environment: As it relates to working out, if you don’t like the place then you won’t go. While gyms are simply buildings filled with workout equipment, they may be aimed at very different clientele. When looking at gyms, you should visit several. Get a feel for each place. Do you feel comfortable there? Does the staff seem friendly? Maybe you don’t need to be in a gym at all. Perhaps the outdoors, a pool, a dance studio, yoga studio or some other non-gym environment is best for you.
  • Comparing yourself to others: Someone will always be leaner, stronger, faster, wealthier, funnier—something-er than you. Looking for “fitspiration” from photoshopped Internet fitness celebrities is not a healthy endeavor. An article from the National Academy of Sports Medicine titled
    Social Media and Body Image: #Fitspiration at Its Worst says,

“Social media messages aren’t typically backed by science. And self-taught fitness gurus are not health professionals. Unfortunately, seemingly innocent messages can do unintended damage including bad mood and body dissatisfaction (Brown & Tiggemann 2016). You’ll find militaristic posts (“You can have results or excuses, not both.”) that grab attention but also breed inadequacy. A more compassionate post might read: “You can totally improve your health and fitness and occasionally make excuses not to work out every single day. That’s fine and normal” (Van Hare 2016).”

Find and feed your motivation

We’d love to believe that one word, one phrase, one picture of George S. Patton standing on top of a Sherman tank would light off a magic nuclear motivation bomb inside us. That’s what happens in the movies doesn’t it? What do you think? Don’t believe everything you see in movies. Motivation doesn’t always drop out of the sky like an angel. A successful resolution won’t be built on one uplifting saying that fits on a t-shirt or Facebook meme. If you’re not already intrinsically motivated to live a healthy lifestyle then understand that you will need to put in a little bit of work before the motivation engine gets going. Here’s a way to start.

Take a moment and write down your “whys.” Here are some questions you should think on:

  1. Why do you want to be in shape? Why is it important?
  2. Why now? Why didn’t you start this journey three months ago?
  3. What event has sparked your fitness resolution? A health scare? You saw yourself in the mirror or saw your weight on a scale? A friend or family member decided to get in shape and inspired you?
  4. If your answer is, “I want to look better,” then WHY???? Just looking better by itself isn’t enough.The real question is what/how do you want to feel? You’re looking to change the way you perceive yourself. Get under the hood and explore those feelings.
  5. Fast forward several months or a year. You’ve achieved your resolution. What does that look like? How do you feel as a result? Describe yourself and your feelings in detail.

Why would I suggest this exercise? Because it’s of paramount importance! You need to know this stuff. You need to feel it. To achieve your fantastic goal you need significant emotional buy-in. The reason(s) behind your resolution need to be clearly defined and crystalized in your mind. This project is going to take a lot of work. It’s not going to be easy. Don’t take it lightly.

(A note to your conscience: If you can’t find the time to write down your “whys” then it’s a clear indication that you’re not ready for this resolution. Truth.)

Next, I’ll discuss planing.