It’s that time of year again, where people magically assume that a lifetime of bad habits can be magically transformed because we “resolve” to. As if! We all should know by now that life doesn’t work that way.
Full disclosure, this is a lengthy post. But, I think it’s worth your time to read, it could mean the difference between a healthier you this year versus more of the same old same old.
I’m going to assume you want something more out of your life than you have now, at least in terms of health and fitness.
Unfortunately, research shows that just 8% of people who set health and fitness goals actually see them through to completion.
I readily admit I’ve had my share of unmet goals over the years, but failure can be a great teacher if one is willing to do some honest self examination.
I have examined, and I have learned. I’ve come away with five basic principles I follow that have helped me tremendously, and I’m sharing them in the sincere hope they help you as well.
Ambition is usually a good thing, but plans need to be rooted in reality to have a chance at being accomplished.
If you’ve been a couch potato all year long, don’t suddenly set a goal of running a marathon or having “six-pack abs”.
These things are certainly achievable, but the effort required to meet them can easily overwhelm someone just starting out.
It’s much better to start off with smaller milestones.
Want to run a marathon? Commit to training for a 5k to start with, or even just to running once around the block every day for a month.
Want those six-pack abs? As a first step, commit to eating and drinking less and moving more.
The idea is to leverage the snowball effect, where small achievements give you the physiological boost you need to tackle larger challenges.
He who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones
It may be tempting to sign up for a membership at that hot new gym everyone’s talking about, but research indicates you probably won’t make much use of that membership.
In fact, the typical Globo-gym is counting on you signing up for a long-term membership but rarely using it – that’s part of their business model!
Don’t ever commit to a program you can’t fit into your existing schedule with just a few minor adjustments. New fitness pursuits that requires drastic changes to a schedule or lifestyle are much more likely to get dropped.
Personally, I like fitness activities that don’t require a lot of specialized equipment and I can practice in the comfort of my own home or office gym.
The key is to find yourself a fitness pursuit with a low barrier to entry, in order to guarantee you can devote enough time to it to succeed.
Simplicity is the key to brilliance
– Bruce Lee
I sometimes talk to people about exercise, and I hear “Ugh, I hate being on a treadmill, it’s so boring!”
Who ever said exercise could only ever be done on a treadmill?? As if people had no way to exercise before the invention of the human hamster wheel!
Exercise doesn’t have to be boring!
There are so many ways to get your move on there’s bound to be something that fits your particular preference. The trick to sticking with a fitness plan is to make sure it lines up with something you already like to do.
You never achieve real success unless you like what you are doing
– Dale Carnegie
No matter what you do, consistent, diligent effort is the key to success. You’ve got to keep at it, week after week and month after month if you want to succeed.
This is why enjoying your exercise is so important – if you like what you’re doing you’re more likely to stick with it for the long haul.
Having said that, finding time to exercise during the day is usually a large stumbling block for most people. I recommend getting it done as close to first-thing-in-the-morning as you possibly can. Get your exercise out of the way first, before the distractions of the day take hold.
Believe me, it’s much easier to consistently start your day with exercise than it is to consistently end your day with exercise, especially for those of us with busy lives. And let’s face it, who doesn’t have a busy life these days?
Even if you can only devote a small amount of time every day, do something. Deliberate, focused effort over time has a better chance of success than rushed inconsistent effort.
The slow blade penetrates the shield
– Gurney Halleck (Dune)
This is possibly the most important piece of advice I can offer you, and it runs counter to mainstream goal-oriented advice.
You need to change your focus from achieving short term goals to setting up long-term systems of success.
Allow me to explain.
Suppose you set a goal of losing fifteen pounds in time for your best friend’s wedding three months from now.
To the mainstream fitness world, this would be a S.M.A.R.T goal – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
However, consider that until you actually drop the 15 pounds, you are in a continuous state of failing to meet your goal.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Whenever you set a goal, you are automatically in a state of not meeting your goal (i.e. a state of failure) until the moment you reach it. It’s a subtle mental state, but one we’re all familiar with.
Consider the weight loss example I cited above since it’s almost universally relatable. Think about how stressful it becomes trying to lose the excess weight the closer the goal date comes.
Although it’s probably not something you consciously thought about, at some level you understood that you were failing at meeting your goal.
Furthermore, the joy of meeting a goal is fleeting, often leading to post-accomplishment depression. This is a real thing, Google it if you’ve never heard of it before.
I say to heck with setting goals! Rather than set fitness goals you’ll end up stressing about, implement systems that will ultimately give you the results you want over time.
In the case of weight loss, rather than setting a goal of losing fifteen pounds, a system would look like a commitment to healthier eating and 20-30 minutes of mildly strenuous exercise a day.
Over time, these changes would result in the loss of fifteen pounds or more as long as you stuck with them.
A system is also fault tolerant – if you mess up one day on your healthy eating plan or miss a workout, no big deal! Tomorrow is another day and the system rolls onward.
Structuring your life in terms of systems instead of goals is much less stressful and much more applicable to everyday life.
Do not fear going forward slowly – fear only to stand still
– Chinese Proverb
There you have it, the five best tips I’ve learned that have helped me improve my overall fitness. If you’ve read this far, good for you! Your attention span is long and strong.
If you’re looking for equipment recommendations to use while putting these five principles to good use, I’ve put together a page that consolidates all the best stuff I’ve reviewed in 2017.
If you found this writeup helpful, please share it with others!
I'm a software engineer with a full-time job, family, and a desire to stay strong, mobile, and fit. I separate fact from fiction to find the most effective and affordable options for home fitness. If you'd like to build your own home gym, start here.
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