This post covers two ways to overcome mental barriers to exercise: 1) making personally relevant goals, and 2) planning for failure. Using these two techniques will help you stop making excuses and to start exercising more.
How often do you skip workouts?
It happens to everyone. You’ve had a long day at work, you’re hungry, you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, you forgot your gym clothes - the list goes on. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to occasionally slip up and miss a workout.
But what happens when those slip-ups are more than occasional?
When your motivation starts to wear thin, there are a couple of tactics you can use to keep yourself going. These two methods, based on psychology, can help you keep going when the going gets tough.
Make Personally Relevant Goals
Everyone talks about goal setting—for good reason. At its best, setting goals can help direct your workouts, help you focus on the right things, and keep you motivated to work towards them. But to get those results, you need to be setting the right kind of goals.
You’ve probably heard of SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound) goal setting. Each of those elements of goal setting is important, but even combined they fail to tell the whole story.
You need to also ask - why is this my goal?
Why doesn’t your neighbor, or brother, or boss have the same goal as you? What makes this goal uniquely yours?
You aren’t doing this “just because.” You have clear and definite reasons that this goal is important to you, and knowing the answer to this question will help you stay motivated and on track in the long term.
At the same time, it can be hard to confront the real reasons behind the goal. It can be hard to admit that you don’t like your body, or that you don’t feel attractive. To get to the reasons, write down three answers to this question: how will my life be different if I achieve this goal?
With these answers, go deep. Go below the surface. If you want to lose weight to look better, don’t just say “I’ll look better.” How would looking better affect your life? Would it help your relationship with your SO? Would it help you date more, if you’re single? Would it help you become generally more confident in yourself, and happier?
Then ask yourself again: how would each of these things improve my life?
You don’t need to visualize your end goal before every workout, and in fact you probably shouldn’t. But when you’re struggling, it’s helpful to remember why you’re putting in the work to begin with.
Plan for Failure
People are too optimistic.That isn’t to say that optimism is a bad thing, or that we shouldn’t be optimistic. But it’s important to be realistically optimistic, to recognize that not everything will come without effort.
If you’ve ever decided that this time is the time you lose weight, keep it off, and get fit...and then two months later find yourself back on the couch, chances are you had a little too much optimism and not quite enough planning.
When we decide to make changes, we tend to focus mostly on things that we are planning to do. We will work out 3 times a week, we will count calories or otherwise sort out nutrition, we will start meal prepping, etc. But we don’t think as much about what can go wrong, about what we won’t do.
Saying “yes” to working out three times a week means saying “no” to sitting on the couch those days. That seems obvious to read, I’m sure, but it’s something that our minds don’t instantly comprehend.
When you’re tired after work, when you haven’t eaten since noon, when you still need to go grocery shopping and prepare dinner, that couch starts to look mighty inviting. Saying “yes” to that workout becomes so, so much harder. And even if you say yes most of the time, you’ll occasionally start saying no...until you wind up on that couch again.
Instead of this cycle of temporary optimism that results in yoyo dieting and sporadic exercise, plan for challenges and failure. Ask yourself: what are the five biggest challenges I'm likely to face while trying to get fit?
Your challenges will be unique to you, but common ones include being tired after work, not knowing how to cook or exercise, and trying to eat healthy while also going out with friends.
Then, make a plan to prevent or address those challenges. If you’re tired and hungry after work, what about a 3pm cup of coffee? What about shifting to a late lunch? What about shrinking your lunch but adding a small mid-afternoon snack?
When your friends want you to come out, will you go? If you go, what will you be eating/drinking? If they want you to drink more, what are the exact words you’ll tell them?
What if you don’t succeed? Challenges are challenges for a reason, and there’s a good chance you’ll eventually slip up and overeat or miss a workout. Plan for that too. If you miss a workout, can you immediately make it up on the next day? When failure does happen, do a post-mortem. Ask yourself: what made me slip up, and how can I address it next time?
Just the act of writing out your challenges makes you more likely to succeed.
If you can see the challenge, if you know that it exists, and if you remember why your goal is important, your mindset changes from “ugh, I skipped my workout today and I stink at this” to “okay, that didn’t go well. How can I do better next time?”
This guest post was written by Benyamin Elias. He uses psychology to help busy people get results and stop skipping workouts. You can learn more about his approach to getting fit through consistent habits and gradual lifestyle change at http://routineexcellence.com/.
A Great Workout
Recently I was approached by Petro at ETB Fit to describe my current workout and what I do before and afterwards to maximize success. They feature different bloggers on their social media sites each month so I was happy to oblige when they reached out to me. If you're in need of pre workout supplements, check them out.
My workout continually evolves, but I am currently doing an upper/lower body split routine, 3 times a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I do resistance training. Tuesdays and Thursdays I do cardio. Saturdays I typically fit some kind of exercise in, but it is usually fun and different. I would classify this workout routine as "intermediate" level, as I have been workout out regularly now for a couple of years. If you're just beginning, I would suggest looking at this post.
I put together the following routines after reading the principles on the web site A Workout Routine, coupled with my own knowledge and experience. This approach seemed to be one of the most effective for gaining strength and losing fat.
This is an upper/lower body split routine, 3 times a week. For example, on Monday I might do an upper body routine. Then on Wednesday I would do a lower body routine, and Friday upper body again. The following Monday would be lower again, so basically I just alternate between upper and lower body, 3 times a week. Some weeks will have two lower body workouts, some will have two upper body. But I'll never go more than 5 days without working the upper or lower body again, usually 4. That gives the muscle groups time to repair, but not too long. My workouts typically last about an hour - if I finish early, I usually do some sort of cardio intervals to fill the remaining time. For variety, I have 3 different upper body and 3 lower body routines defined.
Upper Body 1
So putting it all together, my workout schedule would look something like this:
Mon Upper Body 1
Wed Lower Body 1
Fri Upper Body 2
Sat Light Cardio/Other Fitness Activity
Mon Lower Body 2
Wed Upper Body 3
Fri Lower Body 3
Sat Light Cardio/Other Fitness Activity
And then repeat.
Here's a downloadable version of the workout:
Resistance Training Notes
These I like to change up more frequently. Lately I've been taking a spinning class for an hour Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The spinning class is usually a pretty intense cardio workout, and includes sprint and resistance intervals. Sometimes for variety I will stay home and do an exercise video - Fitness Blender and Befit on Youtube have some great choices. I also have the set of original P90X workout DVDs. On Saturdays sometimes I rest, sometimes I will go to the gym with my son and swim for an hour, play tennis or some other form of cardio activity.
I usually drink a protein shake before my resistance training. Currently, it's a scoop of whey protein and a teaspoon of creatine powder in 8 oz of milk. I also currently take an NO2 pre-workout supplement that contains Arginine, Beet Root Extract, Citrulline Malate, Ornithine, and Vitamin B-3 and B-12. Nothing magical about that formula - but it does tend to give me an extra boost early in the morning to work out a little harder. The protein can be any high-quality brand. I like to consult Labdoor.com and view their rankings for supplements, but they don't have an exhaustive list so do your own research and use what works for you. With breakfast I usually take a few additional supplements, like Vitamin C, D and Fish Oil.
I usually only have water before my cardio routines. Primarily because I feel like it will maximize calorie and fat burning. Then I have the protein shake, breakfast and supplements mentioned above following my workout.
I always listen to tunes during my workouts, they always give me more energy. I use Spotify premium, which for $10 per month gives me access to just about any artist and track available. I usually put together a fitness-specific playlist that I edit over time as I run into new tunes and weed out old tunes.
My diet is about 2200 calories per day diet comprised of about 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fats (including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains) with a cheat meal on the weekends. My breakfast is pretty much the same each day - 2 eggs plus 2 egg whites, scrambled with 2 or 3 strips of turkey bacon and a piece of multigrain toast with jam. I have healthy snacks three times a day - morning, afternoon and evening. For lunch and dinner it's usually veggies with some kind of lean protein (usually chicken) and a healthy starch.
Obviously I didn't start out with a program like this. When I was 75 pounds heavier and unhealthy, I started out slow. Something more like this routine. Then over time my workouts became more intense. I really look forward to my time in the gym each morning - it's a time where I can focus on myself, my health and it gives me a great boost of self-confidence as I start each day.
If you ask me again in 6 months, I'm sure that my whole routine will be different, but this is a current snapshot and it's working well for me at the moment. All of this adds up to me being able to maintain a healthy body weight and 15% body fat which is considered in the athletic range and is maintainable for me.
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You’re just getting started on your weight loss journey. How do you plan what to eat so that you can lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way? In this post I give 5 steps to get you going.
Step 1: Calculate your BMR
Your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate, is the number of calories your body expends just to get through a normal day. It can also be referred to as your RMR, or Resting Metabolic Rate. Here's a place to get a rough calculation and further explanation. For me, I was at 290 pounds and 35% BF, male and 73", so the average is 2650 calories per day. Good to know! You get those calories through the food you eat.
Step 2: Factor in your weight loss goal
For me, my goal was to lose 2 pounds of fat a week. It takes 3500 calories to burn a pound of fat, so each week I would need to burn an additional 7000 calories beyond my BMR in order to lose. So for a week my calories from BMR would be 2650 times 7, or 18550 calories. Factoring in my weight loss goal, I would need to burn 7000 calories less than that, so 18550 - 7000 = 11550 per week. So my daily caloric intake would need to be 11550 divided by 7, or 1650 calories.
Step 3: Factor in your exercise
I haven't discussed exercise yet, but if you plan to exercise, you're burning extra calories. So if my daily caloric goal is 1650, if I'm exercising I would be burning additional calories. So whatever number of calories I'm burning from exercise would need to be added to that total. To get an idea of how many calories you're burning from exercise, check this out. I'll take a simple example. My exercise goal was to work out 5 times a week, 1/2 hour of cardio (like the elliptical) and 1/2 hour lifting weights. So checking out the calculations, I would be burning about 600 calories per day from exercise. But it's not every day, just 5 days a week. I could either average the exercise calories over the week, or just figure I get more calories on the days I exercise. I guess I'll take the extra calories on the exercise days, so Monday through Friday I get 1650 + 600 = 2250 calories, and on Saturday and Sunday I just get 1650 calories.
Step 4: Plan how to balance your calories
So all calories really aren't equal. I could figure I have 2250 calories to spend each day and choose to fill it with my favorite junk food - doughnuts, ice cream, chips, etc. But that doesn't work except for perhaps extreme athletes. For the rest of us, the quality of our calories really matter. You could call the concept "clean eating".
Basically, the idea is to avoid foods that contain sugar or refined carbohydrates. All the good stuff - soda, cookies, ice cream, pizza, chips, candy, white bread, etc. fits into this category. Avoid anything that has a label with more than about 4 or 5 ingredients (twinkies have 37). See this site for a more complete list. Don't feel like you can never have these foods. The idea is to eat them in moderation. If you tell yourself you can't have them ever, then that will just make you crave them more. So give yourself a cheat meal or two a week where you can splurge a little (don't eat the whole pizza!). My go-to cheat meal is pad thai. I love pad thai, and have it about once every other week.
In terms of what you should eat, you probably know already. We're talking whole foods mostly. Veggies, especially green veggies. High protein meats like chicken or lean steak, and whole grain products. Healthy fats like avacados, nuts and olive oil. Fruit a bit more in moderation.
There are varying opinions on grains in general, some people successfully swearing them off with great health results. For me, that change would have been too drastic, so I still have some whole grain bread, pasta, tortillas, etc. in my diet. See this site for a good basic list of healthy kinds of foods.
Again, there are many schools of thought surrounding healthy eating, but if you just avoid the unhealthy foods and eat mostly whole foods you'll be headed in the right direction. Do your own research, experiment and do what feels right for your body and health.
So now that you know what to eat, what to avoid and how many calories you should eat, you need to know how much of each type of food to eat. Again, I'm not a nutritionist so I can't really give you specific advice for your situation, but I can tell you what worked for me. In the beginning, I ate about 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fats. Now it's more in the 30% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 30% fats range. Here's a good basic post regarding the subject, and you can do your own research on the Internet. In future posts I will give ideas for daily meal planning that worked for me.
Step 5: Track your calorie consumption
The remaining mystery is how much protein, carbs and fat each food contains. You sort of need to know in order to plan your meals properly, and to track how you're doing. I use My Fitness Pal - it has a ton of foods in its database and it can help you plan and track your calorie and macronutrient consumption. You can use it on the Web, on your smart phone or on your tablet. There are many other apps and sites that do the same thing, so you can search. You don't need to feel like you have to track your calories forever, but you should do it for a few weeks until you start to just know how to eat healthily naturally.
These are the basics, see my other weight loss blog posts for more tips on how to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable manner. If you like what you read on my blog, please click on an ad or two which helps me keep it going. Thanks!
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