For most people ‘getting in shape’ is a life long journey that never quite ends or has a clearly defined finishing point. The goal posts often change or get moved over time. This usually happens for two reasons: 1) you reach a goal and then realise it wasn’t all you were hoping for so you extend it a bit more or 2), you realise you set your sights too high and have to lower your ambitions slightly. So although this journey never ends there are lots of stop off points along the road where you can slow down and appreciate what you’ve gained whether that be an awesome set of guns, a 120kg bench press of just looking good naked. But in order to reach these vantage points of self-reflection there are some stages we all have to go through to get started and keeping going on the right route. Remember the first step is always the hardest so why not take it today?
Stage One: Denial
Like all bad things that happen in life getting out or shape or realising that you have gotten out of shape is often met with denial from the person who is afflicted with this soul-sapping condition. Until this stage is dealt with and your head if no longer burred in the sand you cannot move forwards towards getting back in shape and reaching your health and fitness goals. Like some other conditions that are self-inflicted, sometimes you just have to hit rock bottom before you reach a turning point and wake up and smell the coffee (with three sugars) and decide enough is enough. The day you take a look in the mirror and admit you are overweight or not in the physical condition you want to be in is the day you can start to get your life back on track. Until you truly realise where you are in terms of fitness and how you look then you can’t really move forward and get the ball rolling. While still in denial you can work out and watch what you eat but if you keep telling yourself things aren’t so bad then you won’t be motivated enough in your endeavours to really make a difference and start getting in shape properly.
How I was in Denial
The moment I realised I was out of shape was when a rotund friend of mine kindly pointed out I was beginning to develop man boobs or moobs which meant that I was no longer slim. Being slim or skinny didn’t really bother me, it was just how I was and as far as I knew, at the time, there was no way to change this. But when it became apparent that I’d crossed the line and was taking the first steps towards being fat and that I had already become skinny fat I almost instantly joined a gym for the first time in my life and started exercising regularly also for the first time in my life with a goal to losing the fat I’d started to accumulate over the past few years and more importantly make sure I didn’t put on anymore unwanted pounds.
Stage Two: Other People Trying to Discourage You
When you try to improve yourself whether it’s by joining a gym, taking a self-study course, spending more time at work to impress your managers or taking a break from unhealthy foods for a while, other people will feel threatened. Although what you are doing doesn’t directly affect them at all you can still ruffle plenty of feathers by refusing to accept the status quo and deciding to make some changes that are in your best interests and at the expense of no one else.
Why do your new positive actions cause so many problems for others? Simply because it forces other people to look at how they live their lives and what they could or should be doing to address the problem areas in their lives. It also forces some uncomfortable subjects to raised and talked about which some people would rather not be mentioned. Let’s say you are at a big family meal, Uncle Geoff is there and is looking even more overweight than ever and is starting to feel the negative aspects of all that extra weight but is still tucking into his dinner with abandon. As you have started working out and want to get in shape for your upcoming holiday you decline the offer of dessert from your host. When asked why you reply that you are trying to eat a bit more healthily at the moment this answer is met with derision from fat Uncle Geoff as he knows it is something he should be doing to turn his life around but just doesn’t have the will power. You’ve just mentioned the elephant in the room and now all eyes are on him.
But whatever forms the discouragement from your associates takes and whatever the reasons behind it are try not to let if put you off your goals and prevent you from staying focused.
How Other People Tried to Discourage Me
When I stared making more of an effort at the gym I stopped drinking as much alcohol as I did before as booze can severely hamper your progress due to reduction in testosterone, all those empty calories and the fact that it can put you off eating and training if you are suffering from a brutal hangover after a heavy night on the town. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stop drinking entirely but I went from four or five big nights out a week to perhaps three or four. Friends got annoyed that I could no longer be counted on for a midweek night out but in the end they understood and some of them even began cutting down how much they drank.
Stage Three: Early Results to Spur You On
When you first join the gym or start working out at home and have decided to start making some positive changes in your life you are usually full of motivation and are brimming with PMA (positive mental attitude) but after a few weeks or months this wears off and you can begin to start skipping sessions and even doubting whether the time you have invested has been worthwhile. Lots of people drop out at this point and hang up their running shoes with resignation but quiet relief that the journey is already over. If you don’t want to be one of those people that quit so early in the game then one way to make sure it doesn’t happen is to achieve some sort of early results or victories to keep you motivated and allow you to recognise all the hard work you have put in.
These victories or positive results can come in many forms and depending on what your goals are could be anything from losing 5 lbs., being able to do 30 push ups or running 5 km in 30 minutes. In order to recognise this progress you need to start taking down some key data as early as possible such as your weight, sporting prowess or my favourite motivation tip: taking some before photos to look back on and laugh at when you’ve been at it a while and no longer look like a starving refugee with a pot belly and moobs. Having meaningful data to compare whether it’s cold hard numbers or photographic evidence can help you recognise your achievements and keep you on the right road and in the direction you want to be heading.
How My Early Results Spurred Me On
When I first started training and going to the gym no one gave me this piece of excellent advice I have just shared with you so I didn’t make any notes apart from that I weighed 12 stone / 76 kg / 168 pounds and was as weak as a kitten. What spurred me on however and kept me motivated was comments from other people about the change in my physique. My friends knew I’d started going to the gym but I didn’t tell my co-workers as there seemed no need to share this information. Then one day at work someone else who was a regular gym goer commented on my new muscles and then word got around and people began asking me how long I’d been working out for and when I started going to the gym etc.
Let me be clear: I’d not turned into some muscle bound freak but had simply gone from skinny fat to looking slightly toned without anyone noticing which in some workplaces never happens despite peoples best efforts. Despite not being one to let comments go to my head and just casually laughing them off this did get me over the first hump and keep me motivated to continue going to the gym when otherwise my dedication might have begun to waiver. In fact from that point onwards I got used to the attention and against my character, I began to look forward to receiving it. Although chasing external validation and approval from others is not a road you want to go down a little bit of positive attention for doing something well is never a bad thing and let’s be honest, the second reason most people want to get in shape after feeling better about themselves is that other people won’t find them too unpleasant to look at!
You don’t have to rely on your friends, family or co-workers to encourage you, try joining up to one of the fitness, health or weight training forums and starting a progress journal where you can state your goals and record your progress while interacting with other people who share your objectives and can related to your struggle as well as provide words of encouragement and helpful tips and advice. Writing down your goals online where people can see them makes them real and the other members of the website will hold you to account which can be a great motivator. Some websites even have ‘shape-up challenges’ where people can enter to win prizes which can also help you stick to your training and diet regime as a bit of competition brings a whole new element of enthusiasm into the proceedings.
Stage Four: The Long Haul and Staying Motivated
During the honeymoon period of your new found health and fitness regime, which can last up to six months as you find your feet in the gym and get a good routine and diet sorted you should notice some positive changes in your appearance and on the scales, however once the initial burst of muscle growth and strength increases known as ‘beginner’s gains’ begin to dry up and progress slows down it can become hard to keep going. If it appears you are not making any progress towards your goals then why would you carry on?
The reality is that at this point you need to get serious about your diet and start being consistent with your exercise routine and sticking to it making sure you aren’t missing training sessions or going off-diet on a regular basis.
If you want to keep the momentum going you had in your first few months then you need to put in a new level of commitment and factor your new way of eating and your levels of activity to keep reaping the rewards. Most people who embark on a new health and fitness campaign will have given up long ago so give yourself a pat on the back for getting this far. Staying healthy and in good shape is a never rending process and requires a change in lifestyle on a permanent basis if you don’t want the gains you’ve already made to fade away. Over time working out, exercising and eating the right foods becomes second nature but until it does just hang in there and keep your eyes on the prize.
My Approach for Staying Motivated for the Long Haul
As I’ve been training for about seven years now regular exercise and being conscious of what I eat is something I think about every day. I might not be as consistent as I once was but I know what is right and what is wrong and I try to stick to the right end of the spectrum wherever possible. One thing I find that really helps to keep me motivated and kicks me into gear when I’m slacking off is looking back at holiday photos when I’ve not be in great shape.
In the photos I can tell that at the time I thought I looked OK and perhaps back then I did look OK for my goals at that time but now a few years on I can see that was not the case! This makes me realise that I probably don’t look that great now even though I’m in better shape and that I need to keep working out and trying not to eat any junk. Basically, take lots of photos whenever you get the chance so you can keep an eye on where you’ve come from but also how far you need to go!
Stage Five: Reaching your Goals and the Ever Moving Goal Posts
Part of the human condition is never being happy with your lot and in some ways it can be frustrating but in other ways it’s not so bad. If we hadn’t strived for more food, better health and improved living conditions all those years ago we wouldn’t have climbed down from the trees in search of pastures new and started the transformation from monkeys to man.
However, this means that more often than not reaching your fitness goals isn’t as satisfying and rewarding as we hoped and can even lead to a feeling of emptiness and disappointment. Sometimes the journey is really better than the destination and reaching that goal of a 100kg bench press, getting a six pack or losing those bingo wings feels more like a bump in the road than reaching the top of the mountain. Life rarely changes when personal goals are met and the only way to deal with it is to set new ones and keep going!
How I Dealt with Success Fatigue
At first the victories came thick and fast: 60kg bench press, adding 5 lbs. of lean muscle mass and with each new goal that was crossed off the list another one magically appeared in its place. When you realise that no one else really cares how much you can lift or how far you can run then the amount of importance you put on reaching targets changes and you begin to look at more open ended goals. We all need goals and targets to stay motivated, after all, dreams are just goals without a timeline. But as you get more into training and the healthy lifestyle your goals change and mine too began to mature. I stopped chasing numbers and my goals become less specific but just as important. Although my goals change from time to time they tend to be focussed around a couple of key areas:
- Be fit enough to do what I need to do
- Stay lean
- Keep training
As you can see there are no numbers there and you could say they are all very subjective and it would be difficult to know when any of them are achieved.
My Goals Explained
When it comes to the first one on the list, ‘Be fit enough to do what I need to do’, it’s all about being fit for purpose and having enough energy to keep going all day. I’m never going to run a marathon so putting in endless hours on the treadmill isn’t necessary. My main fitness challenges at the moment are chasing after my increasingly fast toddler and making sure, in a few years’ time, I can kick a ball around with her and go on bike rides and things like that. That is what I mean by being fit enough to do what I need to do.
For number two I was going to put ‘not get fat’ but that would be focusing on the negative aspect of the goal so I switched it around to ‘Stay lean’ instead as it’s a positive phrase. This goal does what it says on the tin and is simply about keeping off the unwanted pounds that come with over indulgence. If I get a six pack along the way then so be it but now I’m into my 30s my long term goal is just to stay lean.
Finally, ‘Keep training’, simply refers to keep on keeping on. I’m no longer chasing numbers looking for a 200 kg deadlift of a 120kg bench press. When I reach those numbers I will be pleased but they are just stepping stones along the path. I As long as I ‘keep training’ in one way or another all will be well.
Phew, that was a long one: nearly 3000 words! I wonder if anyone read it all. If you did leave me a comment to let me know this keyboard workout wasn’t for nothing!
Did any of those stages resonate with you? What barriers of obstacles have you encountered on your journey?