There’s a chance that you might be dealing with some kind of fitness frustrations. And if not, based on the stats, there’s a chance you may eventually have them or know someone who has them.
I have a message for people dealing with these fitness frustrations that I think you need to hear.
First, let’s lay out some common frustrations related to getting fit:
- You want to get healthy and fit. But it seems like no matter what you do, you always fail. Something comes up, life gets in the way, or you just get in your own way.
- You’ve been “donating” your money to the gym but haven’t showed up consistently or at all.
- You’ve tried every diet, cleanse, and detox.
- You were convinced by a friend that to buy the expensive supplements they told you would make you healthy. But the only thing you lost was money and trust and the only thing you gained was a stockpile of unwanted pills and powders
- You’ve been through every exercise class, tried working out indoor, outdoors, with friends, but couldn’t stick with it.
- Maybe your motivation shifts like the weather.
- Injuries derail your momentum.
- A new job, broken relationship, move, sick loved one, or other hardship distracts you.
Feeling frustrated with losing weight, getting fit, and getting healthier can be demoralizing. This can make you feel guilty, and it robs you of confidence, and most importantly, keeps you from being fit. That in turn can effect your ability to feel independent and strong and participating in necessary and enjoyable activities. It can affect your physical and mental well being. Not good.
There’s a lot of people who aren’t given proper solutions to make sure they succeed.
So I want to fix that. Here are 16 strategies you need to do to avoid getting frustrated and turn things around to make sure you get healthy and strong… and stay that way.
1. Reframe your view of failure.
Failure is often a precursor to success: The most successful people have stories of repeated failures before they eventually achieve success. Usually the difference between success and failure is persistence and learning from past failures.
Remember, bad days are good data. Whenever you fail to get to the gym after work, or blow your diet, take inventory on what specifically happened. Look at that momentary lapse not as an opportunity to validate who you are as a person, but rather an opportunity to provide clues as to how to improve your chances for success next time.
2. Appreciate that Will is a skill.
Don’t fall for the nonsense that you are someone who innately has low will power. The evidence instead suggests that will power is largely related to learning skills that distract us from or altogether avoid temptation. Erickson and Bandura showed in their famous Marshmallow experiment involving kids who would receive a reward for resisting marshmallows placed in front of them. They found that it was not innate willpower of the kids (which is usually low at that age) that helped them resist the temptation to eat the marshmallows. Rather it was the strategies they were taught to distract themselves that helped them resist temptation. These studies have sparked the notion that when we are equipped with the proper strategies and skills, we can learn to better foster will power, or even put ourselves in circumstances when less will power is required.
3. Results breed motivation, not the other way around.
Many people are falsely told that they need to be pumped up, some by repeating positive mantras, other’s by invigorating music, loud coaches, or even by fear. While this can cultivate motivation in the short term, it is rarely sustained and becomes less effective over time. This is usually the problem with those who have exercise ADD. They jump from one gym, class, coach, or trend to another, only to see the same trend of watching motivation fizzle out. Instead of relying on short term motivation to give you results, seek results to give you motivation.
When you see and feel a benefit, you’ll be more likely to take the next step. And that’s all the motivation you need. You just need enough to take the next step. And if during each step you take you experience a result, you are more motivated to take the next action.
While this might sound like the opposite of what most fitness professionals preach, I have good data and experience to back it up. Too often people are told they need to have delayed gratification: don’t expect quick changes, instead appreciate that benefits from exercise and eating take time. While this is true, it still isn’t very effective to breed motivation. Consider the fact that many who struggle with fitness motivation never have felt how good it is to be fit. Others, it’s been so long that they no longer think it is possible. So for them, the idea that someday in the distant future you are going to feel great isn’t a really strong selling point.
I’ve learned this lesson especially with my older folks. As one patient in her 80s put it to me bluntly, “I don’t have a few years to feel better”.
Instead, pick activities that lend themselves to demonstrating positive results quickly.
For example, with resistance training, beginners can experience gains very quickly when the proper exercise and dose is provided. They can often see themselves doing things that relate to something they want to do in real life, like carry the kids or get off the floor.
Next, track incremental progress. The body adapts slowly. It’s like sitting on your lawn all week watching the grass grow. The change is imperceptible, unless you either leave and come back to it in a week or have something objective to measure it against. Same goes for your body.
Almost any resistance training exercise allows for tracking incremental progress. For example, measure how high the surface you are doing incline pushups from is off the floor. Progressing from 36 inches to 34 inches is big progress that you can measure. Or what is the height of a chair you can squat from 10 times? Tracking weight and reps is an easy metric as well. For body composition, it gets trickier, as body mass fluctuates so much depending on a variety of factors. But the weight scale, skin fold thickness, and girth measures are good options.
But don’t exclusively rely on these results metrics because we don’t have direct control on those things. Your mood, amount of sleep, time of the month, etc. can all cause those things to temporarily change or not change. Rather, be sure to also use behavior trackers. For example, put an X on the calendar on the days you have exercised. Or put a circle on your journal for all of the good meals you had in a day. Seeing these X’s and O’s accumulate over the weeks can be very gratifying.
Finally, there’s something else important you should know about quick results and weight loss. People are often discouraged from losing weight quickly, fearing it will come back on just as fast.
But that isn’t what the science says. At least 5 studies show that those who lose weight quicker sustain weight loss longer as compared to those who lose more slowly. Other studies show that quick and slow weight loss is equally effective.
That doesn’t mean that you have to or should lose weight fast. It’s not for everyone. But it definitely is for some. And if you think you would be motivated by seeing quicker weight loss, then don’t let people discourage you on false pretenses. If done right, it can be a very powerful option.
4. Change your Surroundings.
It is amazing how few people realize that their problem isn’t with their discipline, focus, or will power. Rather, it is the things and people they are around that is placing them in a no-win situation. Few people are equipped to consistently overcome the constant temptations and distractions we are bombarded with, especially when it comes to food and activity. These will power abilities are even more taxed when we are tired, stressed, or using our brains for cognitively demanding tasks. Failing to realize this is why so many don’t see results with fitness and exercise.
Here’s the truth about the buff healthy folks whom you hold in such high esteem for their iron will power and determination: Most really aren’t focused or disciplined people at all. When you praise fitness people for their discipline, they will soak it up, and righteously indulge the praise by claiming with pride how they have always been a focused determined person.
But I don’t think this is the truth.
I should know, I’m one of them. People often tell me I look like someone who was born with a dumbbell in one hand and a kale smoothie bottle in the other. The perception is that I’m a naturally focused, disciplined person. Those who know me are amused by such characterization as I’m a highly distractible person. The reality is that a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups has a life span of about 13 seconds if within sniffing distance of me. I am constantly distracted by social media, people, and will find myself for nearly an hour watching meaningless nonsense when I need to be doing something important. I’ll scroll through emails on my phone for 30 minutes procrastinating in the parking lot of the gym.
But I’ve identified these problems and figured out solutions. I’ve dispensed with the self-loathing nonsense; “what the hell is wrong with you man? God you are lazy! Get a damn life and get back to work”. That narrative corrodes the soul and sucks the life out of you.
Instead, I’ve realized that many good successful people are just like me. And I decided to do what they do. Change the environment. So I now have an app than blocks me from using social media during crucial times throughout the day (Focus Me. It’s free and simple to use). I block out 2 times a day and make a rule that I only check email during those times. I have 2 gym memberships, plus a home gym, never workout at work (because I’d rather talk to clients and employees), and listen to podcasts only while working out.
Changing your environment takes many forms. From the foods in your house, to where you leave your gym bag, to where your gym is located, to what container the candy dish is in at work, to who you hang out with.
This is the major secret that fitness fanatics rarely reveal or understand. If you need more help with how to identify environmental barriers and make effective modifications, our Body Balance Challenge focuses exactly on this.
6.Pick the least effective dose
Many people struggle because they are continuously looking for the most effective program. They want the perfect prescription. But perfect programs only work for perfect people with perfect lives. And this is why so many plans go off the rails. They plan for perfection, which rarely happens, instead of accounting for the inevitable obstacles and requisite detours. Having a plan to manage these obstacles and detours is the secret to long term progress.
In Physical Therapy, they refer to this as using self-management strategies, such as coping planning. The patient and therapist work together to determine obstacles and challenges that are likely to come about on the future, and then specific strategies for handling these issues. The evidence suggests that when we come across an unanticipated obstacle, we are likely to default to our prior behaviors, which for many is stopping their exercise plan or abandoning their diet. However, when the obstacle is predicted and an alternate path is rehearsed, the detour is often chosen, and progress continues in spite of the obstacle. This is huge. With each obstacle successfully navigated around, you become more resilient and proud. This fosters more confidence and changes the self-narrative from an undisciplined fitness failure to unstoppable fitness bad-ass!
My favorite example of using coping planning is for tackling the biggest obstacle: NOT ENOUGH TIME! For this problem, I use the BTN strategy: Better Than Nothing. Rather than throwing up your hands in despair when an unexpected meeting, sick child, or snow storm throws off your plans for a hour long training session, instead you deploy your BTN strategy. Here’s how it works.
- Pick 3 exercises that you can do just about anywhere with minimal equipment.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes.
- Do 10 reps of exercise 1, followed by 10 reps of exercise 2, followed by 10 reps of exercise 3.
- Take a brief rest.
- Repeat the same thing until the timer goes off.
- Record how many reps you performed in total.
- Next time you deploy your BTN, strive to break your record. You can do a BTN for 5, 10, 15 minutes.
Here’s another way to do the BTN:
- allot 5 minutes for 3 different exercises.
- See how many reps of one exercise you can get in 5 minutes. (start and stop the exercise as often as you’d like).
- Record that.
- Do the same with the next exercise, and the next.
The point is that you can get quite a bit done with little equipment and time if you have a simple plan laid out ahead of time. By using the BTN, you reinforce that you are successful at getting your workouts in, even when faced with challenges. It makes you feel proud and halts the negativity that commonly accompanies the missed workout. Is the BTN a perfect plan? No, but is certainly better than missing a workout.
Avoid the temptation to think that such short workouts aren’t “doing anything”. The research shows you can improve a lot with very little exercise, especially for beginners. For example, while it may be more optimal to perform 3 sets of a strength exercise compared to only 1 set, 3 sets are not 3 times more effective. In fact, one set helps people achieve significant improvements. Other studies show that performing isolation exercises (think leg extensions for the quads or bicep curls for the arms) doesn’t have significant improvements in muscle size and strength compared to doing compound exercises (think squats and pull downs). This means that you don’t need to do one exercise for every muscle, but rather pick an exercise that works many different muscles, saving you lots of time. Other studies show that you can maintain strength with only 1/3 the amount of exercise needed to build strength. Even more studies show that improvements in metabolism and cardiovascular health can be realized with sessions as short as 5 minutes.
This isn’t to say that you should always strive for the minimum dose, but rather realize that when life doesn’t allow you to do the optimal dose, don’t think that just doing a little will be meaningless. Psychologically and physiologically, doing a BTN or least effective dose strategy can be crucial for fitness success.
6. Kill many birds with one stone
As mentioned above, many people struggle with time. How do I squeeze exercise into my crazy life? Even those who make time for exercise struggle to figure out how to find time for all of the health goals they have. What is best for improving strength, flexibility, bone density, heart health, fat loss, reducing injuries, lowering blood pressure, etc.?
This often leads to paralysis by analysis. Fortunately, there is a good amount of research to show that one type of exercise will simultaneously improve all of the issues mentioned about, and more: RESISTANCE EXERCISE. This may be shocking, but resistance training is the only type of exercise proven to do this. The good news is that you can do resistance training anywhere and it can be infinitely modified to accommodate any fitness level, from someone with terminal illness to an Olympic athlete.
Whether it comes to improving longevity, how you function, and how you look, resistance training is the most important and should be the foundation of all health and fitness pursuits.
I have a 7-hour course that I’ve been presenting nationally to thousands of clinicians over the last 8 years that details the evidence supporting the above. So If you are looking for a place to start, assuring that you will get the most bang for your buck, start with a resistance training program 3 days a week. Doing more than that with different types of exercise would be amazing, but make sure that resistance training is at the core of your routine.
Remember that resistance training can incorporate weights, your own body, bands, and be done with countless movements. So the selection, dosage, and execution are critical. If you start with resistance training, it will give you the best opportunity to address a broad range of health and fitness goals.
7.Practice compassion and gratitude
Studies show that the more compassionate you are, the better you are at regulating your own behavior. And this means not only being less harsh and judgmental of others, but also being less judgmental of yourself.
Doing so will make it more likely that you look at yourself as someone who is worthy of patience and capable of learning, rather than a hopeless failure.
Related to this is that those who are more grateful are better at controlling their own behavior. Mindfulness practices that encourages people to reflect on what they are thankful for, big or small, has shown that they have greater self-control.
The good news is that you can practice having more compassion and gratitude. Dr. David DeStanos writes more about his research on this and provides good strategies that you can deploy in his book Emotional Success. We distill these principles into simple strategies as it relates to diet and exercise in our Body Balance Challenge.
8. Find your why, and your why not
The famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said “He who has a why can bear any how”. There seems to be good evidence to support this. Those who are purpose driven tend to live longer, be healthier, happier, and more productive (Alimujiang A, et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2019, Rosso, BD et al Res. Organ. Behav. 30 (2010), Terrill, A. L., et al Rehabilitation Psychology (2015).
Also, visualizing or putting into writing what your future would be if you accomplished your goals increase your chances of success (Conroy, Dominic, et al . PsyArXiv, 2017, Stadler et al., 2009, 2010; Houssais et al., 2013; Christiansen et al., 2010, Cross, et al Health Psychol Rev. 2019). Even more so if the results of your behavior are easily visualized and charged with deep, visceral meaning. For example, if your why behind loosing weight is because your doctor said so and you want to get your wife off your back, that will be a weak motivator to keep you focused and persistent. However, if your why is related to wanting to see your granddaughter get married or be able to be strong enough to take care of you child with a disability, then this will help keep you on track when motivation plummets.
But don’t just think about the positives of taking action. Be sure to think about the bad things that will likely happen if you don’t act. Again, make this visceral and vivid. Imagine what will happen if you become weak and decrepit because you failed to do everything you can to maintain your strength. Leaving your kids to struggle and resent taking care of you. Or never seeing your granddaughter walk down the aisle because you perished from a preventable chronic illness.
Admittedly, this is a tough step, and isn’t really pleasant. Put taking the time to think about this and write it down so you can frequently revisit it is exactly the strong ammunition you need to fight the difficult battle of maintaining focus and motivation.
Here’s what to do:
- Spend 5 minutes writing your positive future: what things will look like and feel like when you take action consistently to get fit and healthy?
- Spend 5 minutes imagining the obstacles, effort, and resources required to make this a reality
- Then take 5 more minutes to write your negative future: what things will be like if you don’t act? This is a powerful step that will help break you from the fitness failure cycle.
9. Hold yourself accountable
This is likely the most researched strategy and least utilized. People feel uncomfortable with accountability likely because of how accountability has been used as a punitive measure in the past. That’s unfortunate because the point of accountability is to make things easier and clearer, not to shame people and make them feel bad.
Hopefully this will help to rid the negative connotations of accountability.
First, let’s appreciate how strong accountability is. A great study by Gail Matthews in 2007 asked people to write out their goals and contemplate many aspects about their resources to accomplish their goals. Those who went through the exercise were successful 43% of the time. Another group was asked to do the same thing, except they were also asked to report to a coach on a weekly basis regarding their progress. This group was successful 76% of time.
A similar effect was found when researchers explored strategies to help diabetics lower their blood sugar. One group was given and educational booklet, the other given a $500 reward if they were successful, and a third group given a coach to report to weekly. The group that reported to a coach weekly was more successful. (Long JA et al 2012)
Multiple other studies showed that those who exercised with coaches worked hard got results quicker, and better improved attitudes and behaviors about health. (Mazzetti , et al.. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Gentil, P. Bottaro, M. JSCR 2010 McClaran, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2003) Coutts AJ, J Strength Cond Res. 2004 )
So the simplest way to hold yourself accountable is to get a coach.
But if a coach uses your feedback as a tool to shame you, or give you boorish feedback, then this accountability can backfire. The accountability process should not merely raise your awareness of the need to stay focused. Also, it shouldn’t only serve to get you to act out of fear for disappointing your coach or embarrassing yourself by missing an assignment.
Rather, accountability should serve as a critical tool to identify crucial moments related to behaviors you want to change.
This allows you and your coach to work together and design tailored strategies specific to the data you gathered from tracking. Doing so is much more effect than just trying random strategies. Being accountable by tracking the outcomes also allows you to reevaluate and tweak the strategies overtime to make them more effective. This collaborative, supportive, and individualized form of accountability is more effective and sustainable than a generic, punitive, fear based top down approach.
So if you’ve feared accountability, it is probably because you haven’t had the right kind.
But there are more things you can do as well besides having a coach.
First, keep in mind that simply tracking, even if it is not shared with a coach, can be effective. Of course, its effect is multiplied when you collaborate with a skilled coach.
I strongly recommend writing out your workouts. Record the day, and track your sets, reps, weights, etc. This can be a strong motivator. As you see the workout pages fill up, it reinforces how much you’ve accomplished. Each page is concrete evidence that shows you are farther along on your journey. Also, it helps encourage you to live up to or exceed past performances. When you feel like taking it easy (which is fine sometimes) and then you look back to see what you did last week, it may nudge you to try to see if you can meet, or maybe eclipse your past performance.
Also, writing out your program helps to save time, as it takes the guess work out of how much weight to use, which exercises, or how many sets. Just follow suit from your prior workouts.
Perhaps most important is that it helps you to determine when or how to change your workout. Even more so if you seek help with your workout routine. Just like a physician needs to see your list of medications, or an accountant needs to see your banks accounts, a good coach will be able to help you more if they have your workout logs to evaluate.
I encourage you to go old school and use a pen and notebook. If you are anything like me, using your phone to track is a swipe away from your work apps, text messages, and social media which can turn a 90 second rest period to a 5-minute-deep dive into a rabbit hole. If you have a strong aversion from paper and pencil, then use a fitness tracker app. My favorite one is Fit Notes.
Do a food log. Recording what you eat, when, and how much is a proven practice to help facilitate weight loss. As mentioned above, it can often turn people off as it exposes their bad food choices and also leads to shaming and nonconstructive judgement. However, when done with the perspective identified earlier, food logs are the most effective tool to change eating behaviors.
The best way to use a food log is to first help identify “good” and “bad” choices. While few struggle with this, misinformation still makes this a common problem. Taking time to talk with a nutritionist to assure you have proper notions of what good and bad food choices are can be helpful.
The next way to use the food log is to produce a general sense of awareness. For example, you might think you get plenty of vegetables, then when seeing a typical week’s meals laid out on one sheet of paper, it becomes more evidence that you are not. After that use the food log to identify general patterns. Are you eating enough protein? Do you snack with junk food in the evening? How much do you eat out? Are there big gaps of time between meals? Are there times or days where your meal choices go off the rails?
Once you identify these patterns, determine which ones you would like to address.
Then determine the times and locations where the food behavior that you would like to change occurs.
After you make the action plan (more on that below) then continue tracking to see how that plan is working. If it is working well, move on to the next change. If not, adjust the plan, track, and reassess.
To accomplish all of this, I think a simple paper and pencil food log works best, having columns for each day, fitting one entire week on one sheet of paper. That allows you and your coach to see an entire week spread out on one sheet. This is so important, in that patterns tend to jump out at you. For example, if you see large vacant blocks in the middle of the sheet where lunch should be, followed by large dinners with poor food choices, it becomes clear that potentially the 6 hour gap between meals from skipping lunch is making it harder for you control hunger and make better choices in the evening. This is something that you can not do with most apps.
If you would like a copy of the one that we use, send an email to me at Mike at spectrumfit dot net (written to avoid being spammed by bots)
However, there does become a time where the apps provide a distinct advantage. Many people get to a point where they know what to eat and how to control behaviors that lead to making better choices. But they’ve reached a stage where they now need to simply track how much. In essence, they need to have tighter control of calories. No matter what voodoo logic people try to tell you, you cannot and will not lose weight, ever, unless the calories you consume are less that you are spending. In short, if you are not losing weight, it’s because your calories are not low enough.
This is the big advantage of calories tracking apps. They make the process more accurate and easier. The best one is Lose it. Although the have a free option, go for the paid version. It allows you to share your weekly log via email to any one you designate, adding another layer of accountability. It is super easy to log foods, especially if you travel and eat out a lot. Sometimes you just need to take a picture of what you are eating. It’s pretty awesome. Another good one is My Macros +.
So here’s what to do right now:
- Start tracking your workouts with a notebook or Fit notes
- Start tracking your nutrition with an entire week on one page, or use lose it if you are more advanced and just need to rack calories.
10. Identify crucial moments
Crucial moments are the times before critical action could decide whether things would go off the rails or not.
For example, let’s say you always eat well most of the week, except for lunches during the week. Your office is located between two restaurants that are teeming with irresistible dishes that will blow your calorie budget out of the water. You always pledge to get the chicken salad, but the chicken parm is just too tempting when you get down there to eat and are too hungry and tired to resist. But if you would bring your own lunch and eat in your office, you would have a far healthier option that tasted great, saved you some money, and helped you get home earlier as your lunch would be shorter. You always say that you are going to make your own lunch, but you are too tired once you get home to do it and instead want to chill out with your husband before you shut down for the day.
In this instance, the crucial moment seems to be when you are wrapping up dinner and about to shut down for the night. At that moment, since you are both together in the kitchen, it’s a perfect time to work together and spend 5 minutes putting together a healthy meal for your lunch. That way, you can have a healthy lunch for the next day, stay in your calorie budget, and even get home a little earlier.
Once you find your crucial moment, you just need to make a specific plan to change behaviors around that time. We’ll get to that next.
11. Use implementation intention plans
This is the clearest and best supported strategy I’ve seen for facilitating habit change. Luszczynska, A., et al .(2007), Chapman, J., et al. (2009) Schweiger Gallo, I., et al (2009).
Habits are mostly automated behaviors in response to a stimulus or cue. If you can identify the crucial moments when and where the behavior that you have to change occurs, then you are more likely to changing that behavior. By becoming more conscious of the cue, then predetermining the associated positive action that you will take when the cue presents itself, you’ll be more likely to change the behavior.
The process involves making an implementation intention plan. For example, let’s say whenever you leave from work, on your drive home you go right by the gym and pledge that you will go home, get changed, and head back out to the gym before dinner. But as soon as your get home, your dog is excited to see you, your kid tells you she desperately needs help with a school assignment due the next day, and now you are too exhausted to get dressed and head out again, skipping another workout. You identify the crucial moment was when you left work you didn’t have your gym bag with you, so you couldn’t stop off at the gym. Accordingly, you can make an intention implementation plan: If I am getting home from work, then I will first have my daughter help me pack a workout bag for the next day and put it on the front seat of my car.
Implementation intention plans have shown to be very effective in facilitating both behavior change and shielding goals from unwanted thoughts and feelings (like cravings and distractions) Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Achtziger, A., et al. (2008).
They follow a basic pattern: If… (time, places, scenario) then (behavior you want to occur).
It’s important to realize that implementation intention plans require experimentation to see what works best for your given situation. It’s also important that negative behaviors do not work well. For example, saying if it’s nighttime and I’m watching TV, then I will not eat ice cream is not a good implementation intention plan. Unfortunately this will often cause you to crave the action you don’t want to occur, and increase the chances that you will eat the ice cream.
What to do now:
- Identify a behavior you want to change.
- Find the associated crucial moments.
- Write your implementation intention plan to modify your habit.
12. Learn to love the things you hate.
Sometimes there are things you know you need to do, or should do, but you just don’t like doing it. Some people simply don’t like exercise, sweating or working. That’s ok.! This is totally normal, and WAY more common than you think. Not all fit people like exercise. Most instead like the result, but loath the process. Yet in spite of that, they still stick with it. How?
I’ve found there are 2 ways that work best:
First, reframe it. Lennon and McCartney were once asked how they go about writing songs. Lennon told the story of how he and McCartney were struggling to write anything. Around that time Lennon was hoping to remodel his house. Thinking about that process, he told McCartney, “let’s write a swimming pool”. Not too long after that, they wrote “help!”
This is an example of re-framing the process. Don’t look at working out as lifting weights. Instead, look at it as forging a retirement policy to allow yourself to travel when you retire. Look at your food log not as tediously scribbling out what you eat, but rather a contract you are writing to grow old and healthy with your spouse.
Second infuse something you love into something you hate. For example, let’s say you hate working out at the gym. But you love listening to music with your new headphones. Make your workout a regular appointment to jam out to your favorite music through your awesome headphones. Or you hate doing core exercises, but you love spending time with your daughter watching Netflix. Do 2 sets of planks with her for each episode you watch together.
These are simple options, but they really do help with fitness failure.
13. Watch others succeed.
The literature clearly shows that one concept is at the heart of behavior change, and that is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to ones perceived ability to overcome personal, social, and environmental barriers to change. The higher one’s self efficacy, the higher their exercise compliance. So how to you increase your self-efficacy?
One way is through vicarious experience. By witnessing someone else achieve success, it is likely that you will begin to believe that you can achieve success too. This effect is stronger when the person you are witnessing is more similar to you. For example, if you are a middle-aged woman who is overweight with chronic knee pain, and you see that another middle aged woman also with knee pain who was overweight has been successful with changing her diet and exercises, you are more likely to think “well if she can do it, maybe I can too?” thus increasing your self-efficacy.
Here’s what to do:
- Pick 2 “models”. They should be people similar to you.
- One is an “aspirational model. It’s someone similar to you (likely in age and gender) who has already achieved what you hope you will achieve. But don’t stop here. Holding an inspirational model on a pedestal can backfire, as inspiration can fade and they may seem unrelatable because they are so much farther in their journey that you.
- So that’s why you also pick a relational model. This is someone who is like you in almost every way, and although they haven’t hit their final goal, they are a little further than you are in the process. Thus, you can more easily relate to them and see more clearly what is ahead through observing their journey.
Don’t underestimate the power of vicarious experience. Albert Bandura famously demonstrated that this technique was able to cure people of disabling snake phobias using vicarious experience in a study at Stanford.
14. Become a master, one small step at a time.
Staying with the theme of self-efficacy, the most effective way proven to increase self-efficacy is through mastery experience. This is when you demonstrate that you are becoming more competent. This can occur through tracking and documentation.
Workout logs, simply showing that you have worked out 12 times in a month is an example of this. Logs that detail increase in weight lifted is a more specific example. The documented ability to go from walking on crutches with a limp to walking unassisted for 1 mile is a very clear example of mastery.
The more aligned the documentation with a high meaning task to the individual, the stronger the effect in perceived mastery, and thus self-efficacy.
The same is true for how vivid the improvement. That’s why before and after pictures are so influential, as are videos showing progress. Also, the more difficult and lengthier the expected change, the more discrete and incremental the documentation should be.
This is where practicing as a physical therapists is a distinct advantage. Many times, healing occurs slowly and incrementally. But the ability to document this and demonstrate meaningful change is vital not only to keep the patient’s motivation high, but also to prove to third parties that treatment is working so reimbursement continues. Thus, we can be very creative to show you ways to see progress that you might otherwise have missed. This can be the difference from feeling inspired to charge forward versus feeling defeated and wanting to give up.
So here’s what to do:
- Document your progress. Be as discrete as possible, pick a task that is meaningful to you, and use visuals and video when possible. There is nothing more effective at facilitating long term adherence than seeing evidence of yourself making progress.
15. Know Pain, No pain.
I’ve found that the more people understand what pain is and how to manage it, the better the performance and the happier they are. Pain should be respected, not feared or ignored. So get rid of the “if it hurts, don’t do it” and “no pain, no gain” mantras. Both will lead you astray: the former is linked to increasing chronic pain and disability, while the latter may help cause unnecessary tissue damage.
Understand that pain is complex. It is rarely as simple as most believe. But it isn’t so mysterious that we can’t make sense of it and use it to guide us. Inevitably, we will all experience pain, sometimes due to exercise, and often due to injuries or conditions. The important thing is to realize is that exercise can be done in spite of having pain, and many times exercise will help alleviate either the experience of pain or the cause of pain. When pain does arise, it is important to interpret it to decide if we should proceed, modify, or halt our exercise pursuits.
I’ve found that 2 simple models will help guide us answering whether we should exercise in the presence of pain. This is such and important issue, because often pain can derail us from exercise completely. Compounding the pain with decreased health and fitness.
The first model is the pain grid below.
The left column allows you to order the task in question based on whether you have to do it/love to do it OR don’t have to do it. The top row asks you to determine if the task in question is higher risk or lower risk.
Placing the task in the proper box with determine your next actions: avoid the task, move forward with the task, or modify the task. While you can certainly do this on your own, a skilled coach is best to hep guide you with the using the pain grid.
For example, you love to do squats, but once you do deep with a heavy weight, your back gets flared up. Should you give up squatting? Let’s apply the pain grid:
In this instance, we find ourselves in the proceed with caution space, which means we must modify. That would usually mean changing the weight, range of motion, technique, sets, reps, and frequency of training. It facilitates an optimization vs avoidance strategy, which is more logical physiologically and psychologically.
The second model is the pain traffic light.
This is best to help you in determining how the intensity and duration of your pain affects next actions. It is also best when an exercise bout is suspected to have caused pain to increase and you are unsure how to proceed.
If the pain is 1-3, proceed without worry, as the risk of tissue damage and irritation is low proportionate to the benefits of movement. As you will see, it fall in the green light zone.
If the pain is 4-6 and dissipate within a day of the exercise bout, that puts you in the yellow light zone. It’s ok to proceed but do so with caution. Consider tweaking the form and don’t try to increase the intensity just yet.
If the pain jumps to a 7-10 or lingers more than a day after the bout, more than likely you will need to significant modify after irritability returns to baseline. That means the tweaking exercise technique or dosage. It may also mean you consider eliminating the suspected exercise in question and choose another one. It is rare that one exercise is so vital that another substitute cannot be found.
Although it takes a skilled expert to thoroughly evaluate and guide you regarding your pain, these 2 models and perspectives are excellent ways to help get you to move forward.
Here’s what to do:
- Make a list of things that cause or contribute to pain, if any.
- Track the intensity and duration.
- Use the pain traffic light and grid to guide you.
- See a Physical Therapist (link to OP) or Fitness Therapist (link to Spectrum)to evaluate your pain.
16. Dr. Seuss or Tolstoy?
It is amazing that people walk into gyms and classes expecting to know what to do to get their bodies strong and healthy. Doing this is like dropping your kids off at the library, expecting them to get smart. If I did this with my girls, 8-14 years about, they would not know what books to read, which subjects to focus on, for how long, etc. Of course they need a curriculum and teachers to assess their abilities and guide them. Should they be reading Dr. Seuss or Tolstoy? Addition and subtraction or calculus?
No wonder why so many people fail with their fitness pursuits.
It’s not too different for you at the gym. You need to know your unique abilities and needs, then tailor a program specific to addressing those. You should always assess, not guess. Even better to have a guide teaching you proper execution, prescribing the correct amount, reassessing you and modifying the program as you progress, and giving you support and accountability along the way. This is why a coach is so vital and supported by research to enhancing behavior change to get results fast, that last.
If you would like a coach, click here. It’s the surest path to convert you from a fitness failure to a lasting success.
Meanwhile, this guide should give you plenty to move forward with.
Be sure to reach out and let us know if you have questions and how you are doing.