Let’s talk slip-ups. The reason most people fail, at pretty much anything, boils down to one of three things.
1) Analysis Paralysis
There is an abundance of information on health and fitness available on the internet. Much of this information is free and easily accessible. However, it’s precisely because there is so much information—much of it contradictory—that causes mass confusion. What is the right diet? What is the best workout? When should I eat? What foods should I avoid?
Having a good amount of information is important for making informed decisions. However, there is a threshold where too much information leads to inaction. How can we use this information to help us succeed?
Putting it into practice:
1. The importance of planning ahead and meal prep. You literally have endless options for food choices limited only by your preferences. Yet, these decisions are often very taxing on our mental energy—a limited resource that, once used up, more often leads to poor choices. Planning ahead and having food ready to go can eliminate the need to make the decisions when you’re already mentally taxed from the day.
2. Self-limit choices. Studies have shown that those who are most successful at losing weight were more likely to eat the same thing everyday. Pick a few meal options that are easy and healthy, and make them your staples. Most people eat relatively the same foods day-to-day anyway, whether they realize it or not.
3. Pick a plan and stick to it. Whether a diet or exercise program, most of these programs will work if you stick with it long enough. (Given that they aren’t inherently dangerous.) Consistency is the key to success, yet with so many options it’s easy to “program hop” too often. My recommendations is give any eating or workout plan at least 4 weeks of serious, consistent effort before deciding whether or not to abandon ship.
2) Faulty Mindset
The most important trait a person can possess to be successful at anything is the belief that they are capable of being successful. Once you recognize that you have control over your behavior and decisions (in spite of external influences), you can then take responsibility for these decisions and improve them. Exerting control over your actions is imperative to changing your daily behaviors, and is a prerequisite to establishing the routines that will ultimately lead to your success.
Putting it into practice:
1. Focus on what you can control. You step on the scale and realize you haven’t lost as much weight as you wanted. You can easily get down on yourself, or question what’s wrong with your body. (“Why isn’t it cooperating?”) However, this is likely to lead to discouragement and disappointment. Instead, focus on the things you have direct control over. Are there moments when you could have made a better food choice? Perhaps you could’ve skipped one less workout? Identify where you can improve and adjust the next time around.
2. The power of positive thinking. Even if you were just shy of a goal, it is unlikely that you had zero wins over the past few weeks. Don’t forget to celebrate the small victories that you have on a daily basis. Maybe you only ate 1 cookie instead of 3, that’s a win! Maybe you did an extra five minutes on the elliptical at the gym, score one for the good guys!
3. Confidence builds over time. If you’ve ever played any sort of role-playing video game then you know you start as a character new to the world; no powers, no good gear, and you probably barely even know how to move the character around in the virtual world. (Think of your first time playing Super Mario World, you probably died because you didn’t know how to jump). Yet, as you get more comfortable by defeating the small bosses and beating the easier levels, your character’s abilities grow and your understanding of how to manipulate the controls gets better. In short, you get better at the game.
This holds true in life too. The more small victories you have, the more accomplishments you accrue, the better you get at attempting more challenging tasks. Your confidence grows as your abilities grow. Don’t expect to beat the game in your first try, but take comfort knowing that every setback, challenge, and win is preparing you to reach mastery-level.
3) Lack of Good Systems
In this context, I’m referring to systems as the routines you create to enable the good, productive behaviors to occur. Just like a business has numerous systems to ensure its smooth operation, your life needs systems to ensure the smooth execution of these good behaviors. This is where things like meal planning and prep, creating a regular workout schedule in your calendar, and purposefully crafting your daily routine can support your success. These routines can ensure you “have enough time for exercise,” you prioritize effectively, and you prevent the little nuances of life from getting in the way of your progress.
Putting it into practice:
1. Schedule workouts and meal prep like any other appointment in your schedule. This will ensure you have enough time to get it done, will hold you more accountable, and help get you into a set routine. You could ask me what my workout is any day of the week and I can tell you exactly what I’m going to do. It only very rarely changes and this helps me navigate time constraints that may arise.
2. Create a “go-to” back-up plan for when life gets hectic. When you get too busy and forget to meal prep, when you don’t have time for a full workout at the gym, or whenever life gets in the way, having a back-up plan already in place allows you to simply “initiate back-up protocols.” When this can be done automatically it will eliminate the stress of figuring it out when you’re already super stressed to begin with.
I’ve referred to this in the past when discussing travel. I called it a M.A.P. – Minimum Activity Plan. This is the minimal amount of physical activity you can do daily to feel good about knowing you accomplished something. For example, whenever I get in a bind or don’t have access to a gym for a normal workout, my M.A.P. is a two-mile run. I know I can do this anywhere, don’t need any special equipment other than workout clothes, and it doesn’t take too much time from my day. Yet, as long as I complete this I can relax knowing that I’ve done something active that day.
Note: This MAP will be different for everyone. You’ll have to decide what is sufficient for you. Maybe it’s a ten-minute walk, or perhaps it’s a quick bodyweight circuit at home. Whatever you choose, having it planned ahead of time allows you to simply “initiate MAP protocols” when life gets crazy.
The key takeaway is that in order to prepare yourself for success in the long-term you need to have the ability to cut off the endless stream of information to make a decision (and stick to it), focus your effort into the things you have control over, and create a good plan or set of systems that establish good habits and prepare you for all of life’s inevitable chaos.
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