I have been pursuing fitness most of my life. I've done martial arts, paddle sports, rock climbing, yoga, weightlifting, kettlebells, TRX, CrossFit, and dabbled in lots of other fitness activities. During my lifetime, I have been a fitness trainer and have identified 3 common denominators for people that will accomplish their health and fitness goals and what holds people back.
While there may be additional factors, these 3 are at the core of success. Whether you're at an unhealthy weight and striving to get fit for the first time or you are looking to compete in an ultramarathon, these will be the pillars that indicate your ability to accomplish your goals.
Key #1 – Discipline Over Motivation
We live in an era of an overload of inspiration and motivation. Social media feeds us lots of inspiring memes with catchy phrases that give us little emotional boosts meant to help us meet our desires and accomplish our goals. Maybe you put them on your phone screensaver, write them on a sticky pad, or just embed them in your memory. But, these are like empty calories compared to the discipline your goals will require. Here is the difference.
Motivation is getting a really awesome pair of shoes, a great piece of gear, or a shirt that says “Crush It”. Discipline is getting up a 5 a.m. regardless of how you feel to get out on the trail and walk, run, or ride. Motivation is getting your iPod playlist with lots of heart pumping music. Discipline is pre-planning for success – prepping your meals ahead of time so you don’t have an excuse to eat poorly, laying out workout clothes the night before so you are ready for your class, workout, or whatever you have planned. Motivation is ‘wanting’ to get it done; discipline is getting it done, even when it’s not easy.
When I was 40 lbs overweight (yeah, that happened), I got up every day (every, not most) at 5 a.m., went into the bathroom where my workout clothes were waiting from the night before, got dressed, had a cup of coffee, and hit the trail for a 4-6-mile walk, six days a week. Every day – that meant hot, muggy Ohio days or cold, snowy and icy days. Without failure, I was walking. Ask my friends – I didn’t miss my walk even if I had to do it at night. If I traveled for work, I got my walk in. It’s the same for you and your goals – don’t sabotage success with empty motivation. Develop a strong discipline to get the work done. Anything worth your time will require the discipline to accomplish it. Remember, we all make time for what is important to us! Your fitness and health should be high on your list of importance.
Key #2 – Reframe Your Thinking
Your attitude does play a role in your ability to succeed and accomplish your goals. While your body does not care if you like exercise or not to succeed, your brain does.
When we tell ourselves that by changing our habits, diet, or lifestyle that we will ‘miss out on _______[insert silly excuse here]’, we are missing a critical key to success in achieving our goals.
Try this instead. Change your mindset to look at things by what you gain, not what you lose. Instead of saying, “Oh no, now that I am eating a plant-based diet, I can’t have ice cream, bacon, or chicken nuggets.” Instead, reframe the message to something positive, like ‘now that I am eating a plant-based diet, I have opened up new foods and nutrition I wasn’t getting before’, ‘now I can work toward wearing the clothes I want to wear’, or ‘I am investing in my health to live longer, move better, and feel more vibrant.’
Exercise and fitness is not torture. But, it is a life long journey. We don’t do it once or for a time. Give your thinking process a reboot and start thinking about what you gain from your decisions and how good it will feel to achieve your goals. For me, some of my goals were fitting into the same jeans I wore at 20, wearing a medium shirt comfortably, and being able to do 20 pullups. Your goals should be your own, but you get the general point. Not drinking alcohol while you are losing weight is not a punishment; it’s a necessary step you are taking to getting where you want to go. No one is holding you hostage, so make the best of it and enjoy the process.
Becoming vegan was not a means of ‘giving up meat, bacon, and butter’; rather, it was an adventure and a challenge to explore new foods, a new way of living, to see what my body would feel like without those things. I didn’t see it as a loss, but as a gain. Whether you are looking to drop a few pounds or one hundred, reverse a health condition, or get in the best shape of your life – the path is the same. One of the mentors in my life was reading Marcus Aurelius who stated “You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Find your strength and you will succeed.
Key #3 – Have A Practical Plan
When I have done fitness coaching in the past, one of the key questions I ask clients is ‘what do you want to achieve?’ The answer is often something vague like ‘I want to lose weight’, ‘I want to be stronger’, or ‘I want to be in shape’. These are not specific and as a result, are not overly achievable. It is the rare person who just keeps going for a blurry goal of being ‘in shape’.
Be specific about what you want and how you know you have succeeded. Set goals for yourself (this is applicable to every area of your life) that are specific – ‘I want to weigh 185 lbs’, ‘I want to be able to walk a mile without stopping or running out of breath’, or ‘I want to make it on the basketball team.’ You get the idea. So, what happens next? You work toward that goal. When you achieve your goal, you can set the next goal. Maybe you want to learn a new skill, sport, or something else that your previous limitation provided.
Your plan should include what you are doing (walking, lifting weights, yoga), how & where you are doing it (home gym, fitness center, personal coach, nature), when & how often (6 a.m. 4x per week, after work, 5x per week, etc.), and how you know you have succeeded.
Here is a success hint – don’t weigh yourself daily – your body composition will fluctuate and a daily weigh in will be an emotional roller coaster (which you don’t need). Once a week, under the same circumstances (i.e. in the morning on an empty stomach) will give you the best understanding of your progress.
If you are an unhealthy weight and have other conditions that may affect your fitness journey, I recommend that you walk. Walking is what I call ‘low suck, high impact’ exercise. It’s undervalued, but I have gotten myself and many others in the best shape of their lives by simply walking. I will cover more on this and other specifics in another installment.
So, make a plan for what is going to get you to your goal. Start implementing these keys to your fitness success and watch as obstacles of the past become a distant memory. This is a pursuit that you can only do yourself. No outside motivation or inspiration will get you there. Make it a discipline, reframe your thinking to see the glass all the way full and don’t allow you to be your own worst enemy. Instead, take the opportunity to push the reset button on your perspective and consider what pillars you need to succeed. By integrating these three keys, you will build a foundation for success in fitness, as well as, any other area of your life. And most of all, remember, have fun. This is your life – shouldn’t there be a lot of enjoyment and living your life to the fullest?