How to Turn Your Commitment to Change into Action

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Last week I wrote about how you decide to make a change. Once you’ve acknowledged the need to change a behavior and have made a commitment, you need to move from planning to some action.

Your life will be no better than the plans you make and the action you take. You are the architect and builder of your own life, fortune, destiny. —Alfred A. Montapert

When taking steps to bring about some desired change, you need to look at what has or has not worked for you in the past. You also need to be open to new ideas and be willing to change your course of action as you try new approaches. There is no right or wrong way to succeed in your goal; you need to discover through trial and error what works best for you.

One of the classic examples is losing weight. There are hundreds of diet and exercise plans and by combining these into a plan of action, there are likely millions of ways for someone to decrease their body weight to get to a comfortable number on the scale. Keep in mind that once you reach your goal, you also need to maintain the behavior. Maintaining your desired weight will likely require that you continue some or all of these activities for an extended period of time so you need to find options that are sustainable for you. For example, you might use a strict meal-plan system where all of the food is provided for you to drop some pounds. However, how likely is it that you’ll want to remain on that diet for the rest of your life? It probably wouldn’t be very enjoyable and would be expensive too.

For lasting change, consider the long-term maintenance of your desired behavior when creating a plan of action. Try to change your mindset to get to the root of the issue instead of using a quick fix that won’t last. There are two practices recommended by Prochaska that I pass along to coaching clients that can help bring about this mental shift; countering and environmental controls. Countering is replacing the undesired behavior with a healthy, more desirable one and environmental control means manipulating your setting or avoiding a location to prevent the behavior. Including either or both of these in your action plan will be helpful.

For example, let’s say you’re prone to snacking through the day. You can consciously replace that activity with another. For me, I started doing push-ups whenever I wanted a snack. This countering helped in two ways. I burned some extra calories and the activity usually made me forget the urge to snack. Over time, I began to crave physical activity when I was bored or restless and that has served me well. I also worked at a company that had a cafeteria that served cheap but gourmet quality meals. It was easy to overeat. I could have avoided the cafeteria but I would have also missed out on the social interactions that took place there. Instead, I simply started bringing my lunch. As everyone was in line getting their food, I’d eat my lunch. By the time they got to the table with the gourmet meal, I’d already be half done and fairly full. Once the conversation started, I was no longer tempted to get more food.

Once you have your steps in mind, I recommend the following:

  1. Write your plan down.
  2. Share your plan and goals with someone that will hold you accountable.
  3. Review your plan DAILY and note how you’ve done.
  4. Review your progress WEEKLY to see if your actions are working. If not, try something new.
  5. Finally, don’t give up. You’ll reach your goal over time.

There’s no single “magic bullet” that anyone can provide you to create the change you desire. All change has to come from within and you are the only person that can make it happen. Be strong, ask for help and stick with it. You’ll get there!

Photo credit: waynesutton12 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Are You Setting a Healthy Example?

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We often see celebrities say that they shouldn’t be looked up to as role models when they’re caught doing something wrong. They claim it’s not their responsibility to “raise your kids” or that it is unfair that they are held to a higher standard because they are in the spotlight. Their actions, however, do have the potential to impact more people because of that exposure. Do you realize that you have that same power of influence within your own circle? Is the example you set for others important?

Yesterday, I was at a hospital visiting someone. I had to wait a bit so I sat in the hospital’s cafe. A group of nurses came in (I could see their RN badges) and they each ordered a “serious (large) double-caramel chocolate macchiato with extra whip cream.” Each of these nurses was overweight to obese. To make matters worse, this particular building housed the cardiac care unit. These were the same nurses that would be going back to talk to their overweight patients about the need to lose weight to prevent another coronary event.

How much impact do you think those conversations will have? We lead by example whether we like it or not. “Do as I say, not as I do” didn’t work when we were kids and it definitely doesn’t fly as an adult. If you’re in a healthcare position and you’re trying to persuade others to take better care of themselves, shouldn’t you do the same for yourself? If you’re overweight and talking about nutrition or smell of cigarette smoke and talking to a cancer patient, there is a disconnect that simply won’t allow you to be effective in delivering your message.

The parent-child relationship holds even more importance. If you have kids, are you setting them up to succeed and to be as healthy as possible? Are you keeping healthy food in the house or buying processed garbage because it’s just easier? Are you encouraging activity by playing with your kids and staying active yourself or do you plop in front of the TV for four hours every night? Children aren’t in a position to make well-thought decisions so they rely on your wisdom. They also watch everything you do. Yes, they may “want” the sugary cereal with the prize in the box but who is actually bringing that into the house? More kids are gaining weight and developing health problems at a young age. How can you turn this around? By setting a good example and taking responsibility for your own health.

I work with both men and women on this exact topic. I know it’s not easy. Some have tried to get their eating under control for years and they want to be more active but can’t seem to stick with a program. One of the most powerful motivators I’ve found is when they discover the impact they’re having on the health of others. It seems obvious, but for some it’s not real until someone holds a picture up in front of them. In one instance, I mean this quite literally. One father couldn’t stay committed to getting back in shape. He said he wanted to do it for his young son but just couldn’t make the connection between his actions and desires. We came up with the idea to put a picture of his son on the refrigerator and all of the cabinets. He even put a small one on his lunch bag and in his wallet. This made a huge difference. It forced him to reconsider his food choices and realign them with his goal to set a better example for his son. He’s doing quite well now.

Setting a positive example isn’t just related to health. Look at the way you treat yourself in all regards and compare that to what you tell others; particularly children. Does your message match your deeds or are you being somewhat hypocritical? What can you do right now to be a better example to those that you guide? Maybe you can even be an inspiration?

Photo credit: mikebaird / Foter.com / CC BY

Self Acceptance

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I recently had a talk with a woman about an emotional experience she had at a gym. It was her first visit. She’s overweight and she felt really self-conscious being at the gym. She felt everyone was watching her, thinking why was she there and that she wasn’t good enough to be there. She worked herself into such a negative mental state that she stopped her workout after only a few minutes and left the gym in tears.

A similar incident was mentioned in my post about fear. The same false evidence was coming into play for this woman but the issue went deeper. As we talked, she uncovered that she felt unaccepted. She also couldn’t accept herself.

Acceptance is the basis of compassion. To truly empathize with another, you have to accept them for who they are instead of trying to change them to what you want; that’s simply manipulation. When people think about self-acceptance, however, the thoughts are less charitable. For some reason, we equate acceptance with “settling” and they are completely different.

Look at the incident at the gym. She obviously wasn’t settling for her current physical state. She was in the gym doing something about it to better herself. At the same time, this desire for change also interfered with her accepting who she is right now. She saw herself as less than others. A little coaching got her to realizing she is equal and simply a person in a state of transition. It was a very subtle change in perception, but the discovery allowed her to return to the gym and start working towards her new level of fitness.

Accepting yourself for who you are in the moment does not mean you’re giving up any vision of a better you for your future. It means you’re acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses and allowing yourself to grow and progress without any false, negative self-judgement. You’re showing yourself the same compassion you would have towards anyone else.

How might accepting yourself for who you are allow you to make progress towards what you’d like to become?

Photo credit: Jon Newman / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

How to Approach Mid-life Rediscovery

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I work with a lot of people, mainly men, that are in or nearing those years that we sometimes call “middle age.” Our society still places a stigma on age through a stereotype that older means less energy and creativity. Sometimes, people will go out of their way to restore or regain their virility, worth, liveliness and energy. This is sometimes given the derogatory label of a “mid-life crisis.” It’s not a “mid-life crisis;” you’re simply rediscovering yourself!

Let’s say you’re in these “mid-years” and think “That’s it, I can’t take this anymore. I’m doing something about this.” A common roadblock at that point is often a strong sense of guilt. At this age, you likely have a number of responsibilities; family, career (maybe more than one) and social commitments. I’ve worked with quite a few people that felt they simply couldn’t take the time to get some exercise, learn to eat right or spend time on creative pursuits because too many people are depending on them and they simply don’t have the time to do something for themselves.

Let’s highlight a phrase here: other people are depending on you! If you’re not at your best, you’re hurting more than yourself. You’re likely robbing the people you truly care about from being with the best version of you that you have to offer.

From a biological standpoint, there’s nothing that says we have to decline substantially physically as we age. Most of the change I see is all mental. As people get older, they can start to lose confidence in their ability to be fit, healthy and happy. They lose their edge. If they have health issues, they get trapped in a spiral of despair and worry instead of taking control of their health and doing what’s needed to restore the healthy life they deserve. Is it easy to turn that ship around? No. But you have a choice (you ALWAYS have a choice) you can either live the rest of your life unhealthy and unfulfilled or you can make the choice to live the life you were meant to live. And most likely the one that the world needs you to live.

If you make that move to restore your gusto, do it knowing you have the right to be healthy, happy and vibrant. Just hit 50 and you want to start a rock-band because it’s what you’ve always dreamed? Awesome! If you’re in your 60s and lifting weights, good for you! Nearing 70 and just starting yoga? Very cool! Never look at these opportunities to rediscover yourself as some sort of “crisis” and never feel guilty. This is your life to live….and you still have plenty of years to rock!

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What if you had to lose a few inches to keep your job?

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Getting in shape, improving your diet and regaining your health can be tough. Like any other change, you have to want it for it to happen.

Everyone goes through the same cycle: you first realize you need to make a change, you decide to make the change, you create a plan of action and then you get working on that plan. All too often, people simply never make it to that last step. The main culprit, often cloaked in “it’s too hard,” is really “I’m too scared.” People are afraid of failure not realizing that failure is a natural part of the process. It just takes some determination and grit to pick yourself back up and keep going. I often use the analogy of learning to ride a bike as a child. You fall a few times but you’re so excited to be learning to ride and you have such strong visions of riding off with your friends and having fun that you just keep getting back up; skinned legs and all. The process of weight-loss really isn’t any different but it often makes people shut down and give up hope.

Yesterday, I read an article about an Airforce Colonel that threw away his military career instead of losing two inches. Now, there may be more to the story, but this really struck me. To meet the minimum requirement, he had to drop his waist size by two inches. It varies by individual but, for me, that would have been about 12 pounds. I’m assuming the colonel knew the requirements and was likely aware of his upcoming fitness test. He couldn’t find it within himself to prepare and shed a few pounds? Was the choice to do so that threatening that he preferred to simply step down?

It’s scary but if you really want to take control of your life and create a healthy lifestyle then know that you can do it. Like learning to ride a bike, you just need to have a clear picture of your goal. Break it down to smaller goals if you have a long way to go. One technique I use with my coaching clients is called dialoguing. I walk them through the process of clearly visualizing their new, healthy self then we have a conversation that takes place six months in the future. We talk about how they got to their goal, how their life has changed and where they’re going next. I’ve seen this exercise completely change the mindset of people that just couldn’t quite get into full action mode. It gives them that vision they need to get back on the bike.

If you look in the mirror and feel like you need to make a change then move forward with the confidence knowing it’s completely within your power. If you really want it, it’s yours!

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Choose Well and Just Keep Going

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My wife came home from her yoga class the other day and she was really excited.

Wife: “I did really well in class today!”
Me: “Really, what’d you do?”
Wife: “I was doing baddha konasana [bound angle pose] and I went to my usual spot and stopped. Then something told me to ‘just keep going’ and I did!”

My first thought was, wow, it really is that simple. What if we did the same more often in our lives? What if, every time we reached some self-imposed limitation, we simply “just keep going?”

Think of how often we create our own barriers in our careers, relationships and personal care. You’re not going for that promotion because “you’re not smart enough.” You’ve stopped looking for the right person because “you’re not attractive enough.” You just aren’t getting to the gym because “you’re too tired.” Motivation, determination and will-power are great—if you have them. The “something” that we all can use to move forward, and you’ve heard me say this before, is choice.

We’re choosing machines. Our lives are full of choices, big and small. We can fairly easily decide what to wear each day, what we want for lunch and whether to watch TV or read a book in the evening. These are easy choices because there’s little risk. What makes some choices really difficult is fear. Fear of failure and disappointment.

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Our fears of failure and disappointment originate from some twisted reality we’ve created in our mind. Let’s take the gym thing as an example. Quite often when working with clients, together we uncover that the “I’m too tired to go to the gym” is really “I’m afraid to go to the gym because everyone is looking at me and I’ll be embarrassed.”

False Evidence #1- What’s the likelihood that everybody really is looking at you? What’s their purpose for being at the gym?
False Evidence #2- Whose choice is it to be embarrassed?
False Evidence #3- OK, what if everyone was looking at you and you did feel embarrassed? What choices do you still have?

It’s that third one that really instills the fear. Many people feel they wouldn’t have the fortitude to stick it out and they’d chalk it up as one big failure on their part.

It always comes down to choice. Are you going to stop at your usual spot or just keep going?

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Don’t Let Your New Year’s Resolution Wreck Your Image

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With the start of the new year, there are going to be a number of resolutions made to “get in shape.” For some, this means losing a few pounds. For others, they might want to build muscle. One area of concern for guys is the tendency to over-compensate for a “skinny” body image by deciding to do some “body building.” This often creates eating issues of its own. To add muscle fast, you attempt to take in more calories than you burn. (To make this sound cool, we call it “bulking.”) That might be the exact same behavior you just worked so hard to change!

I’m a strong advocate of adding resistance training to any weight loss program but particularly for men. If you have anxiety about the gym, now’s as good a time as any to work through it. Lean mass helps you burn fat. It also has a huge impact on a man’s body image. When a guy loses a lot of weight but hasn’t built much muscle, there’s a chance that they still won’t be satisfied with their appearance. They’ll want to “bulk up” and they end up putting on a lot of unhealthy weight again. When weight training is added to weight loss, the final result is a trim, fit and athletic build.

What’s a bit ironic is that being bulky isn’t even the preferred look any longer. According to a CNN article on the new ideal physique for men, cultural preferences are trending towards lean and athletic. Looking naturally fit and healthy without having spent your life in the gym or wasted money on countless supplements is what’s favored in the media and fitness magazines. It’s also being popularized by fitness trends like MoveNat. It’s a look that many men can actually achieve and maintain.

If you think you’re too skinny now, pick up some weights before you pick up that extra meal. A man with moderate muscle mass but low body fat can look a lot more “buff” than a bulky guy with no definition. You’ll be healthier and you’ll prevent yourself from entering a cycle of yo-yo dieting that can do more harm than good.

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Instead of Toughing it Out, Be Smart and Treat Your Sports Injuries

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You’re a healthy, fit person now and you enjoy being active. As you up your efforts at the gym, there’s more potential for injury. The occasional twist or pull is to be expected. A lot of guys will try to play off the injury, “push through it” and not get proper treatment. That can cause greater harm and permanent damage that can take you out of the gym for a long time; setting you back in your weight loss maintenance. If you do get injured, get treated as soon as possible.

Below is an entry I made in a personal blog a few years back. I’m reposting it here because it contains information that some might find helpful.


Apparently, a human shoulder is engineered to only provide so much force over a period of time. Like a lot of guys, I stupidly exceeded this limit. To literally add insult to injury, I ignored the pain thinking I’d “tough it out” and that it would get better over time. It didn’t.

After months of pain and watching the quality of my workout steadily decline, I went to my primary care physician. He did a few tests and told me there was something wrong with my shoulder and sent me to Grayhawk Family Chiropractic for evaluation and treatment.

During my first visit, Dr. Frank Sorrentino (he prefers to be called Dr. Frank) performed a series of movements with my shoulder that I would later learn is called Active Release Technique or ART. These seemingly gently movements actually did a lot to improve my flexibility and range of motion. He next pulled out this metal rod and started scraping the tissue around my shoulder. Yes, it felt like this sounds. This is referred to as the Graston Technique. My simple understanding of this is that a lot of pain and range-of-motion limitation is caused by scar tissue or improperly healed injuries. The only way to get the tissue to heal correctly is to break it back down. While this hurts like a son-of-a-gun while it’s being performed, I can tell you there is a payoff later. Treatment ended with 20 minutes of electrical muscle stimulation. Dr. Frank gave me a few exercises to perform throughout the day at home and I was done.

This series of treatments continued over the course of eight weeks. Dr. Frank closely monitored my progress and was attentive to my feedback. You could tell he genuinely cared. As time progressed, we slowly added more activities and eventually got to the point where I could go back to the gym. After working out for a few weeks, Dr. Frank sat with me and reviewed my workouts line-by-line and gave me feedback as to what was going well and where I maybe needed to be more careful. I have to say, no other doctor has given me this kind of personal attention! I also need to note that during the whole time of my treatment, Dr. Frank was always upbeat. Anyone that knows me well understands that I appreciate a sense of humor and I usually left Dr. Frank’s office laughing my a** off- even when I wasn’t feeling great.


Epilogue: It’s now been several years since this injury originally occured. I haven’t had any further trouble with my shoulder. While I’m not lifting as heavy as I used to and a few lifts remain off my list, Dr. Frank kept me from needing expensive and potentially damaging surgery for which I’m thankful.

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

8 Ways to Be More Confident at the Gym

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I recently heard one guy explain that his greatest issue after having lost weight was that he “felt like a fraud in the gym.” The only way you can be a fraud is if you’re trying to be something that you’re not. Here are a few tips on how to exercise your confidence at the gym.

Go with a Plan

 If you get to the gym and just wander around trying out different machines or picking through free weights, you’re going to look like a newbie. Have a workout plan in mind (or better yet, in hand) and complete each set with purpose and conviction. Record your workout in a paper journal or on your phone. Keeping track of your workouts will allow you to continually progress and prevent you from doing the same thing week after week. It also makes you look serious and dedicated; which you are.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Look, everyone’s body is different. There are guys that live in the gym, put a lot of money and effort into building their physique and, maybe, just have the right genes. Can you aspire to be as disciplined and hard working? Sure. But never feel less than them or unworthy of being in the same gym. There’s always going to be guys that are in better shape. Constantly focusing on keeping up with everyone you see at the gym will cause you to miss the opportunity to develop other aspects of yourself that make you unique.

Know Your Limits

When you work out, don’t try to impress anyone other than yourself. If you try to move more weight than you can handle, you run the risk of hurting yourself. If you’re using terrible form, you’re likely to call negative attention as opposed to wowing anyone. When you plan your workout, make sure you start out with weights you can handle and increase them over time. When a weight gets too easy for me, I’ll usually go up by about 10% but drop the number of repetitions in a set. Each workout, I’ll increase the repetitions until I can easily handle that weight, then go up. Not before! And for gosh sake, don’t drop or throw the weight—that just makes you look like dork. It also shows that you didn’t have proper control of the weight to start.

Take a Friend; There’s Strength in Numbers

If you can, get a workout buddy. Having someone to spot you, check your form and suggest new lifts is helpful. Plus, you’ll automatically feel more comfortable being with someone you know.

Dress to Impress

I don’t mean this in a shallow, show yourself off way. However, you can increase your confidence by feeling good about how you look. Don’t wear ratty, torn and stained gym clothes that are now 6 sizes too big. Find clothes that fit correctly, are designed for working out and make you feel good. Save up for better brands; my favorites are Lululemon or Under Armour. Better brands last longer, are designed to make you look good and you’ll feel like you belong in a gym. Also, the added investment is another incentive to use them.

Be Friendly, not Flirty

Smile and don’t be afraid to talk to people but don’t make the gym a pick-up joint. Most people are there to workout and the advances will be unwelcomed.

Don’t Create Your Own Discomfort; No One is Looking Anyway

While you’re going to act like you belong there, in reality, no one is going to notice you. People go to the gym to workout. They might catch you in a passing glance but there really isn’t any reason to feel self-conscious. Be a good gym citizen and you’ll be welcomed.

Corrolary to the Last Two

OK, some gyms ARE pickup places and everyone MAY be checking everyone else out. If that’s what you’re into then you probably don’t have any confidence issues. It’s important to scope a gym out to see if it’s right for you. Most gyms will offer a free or discounted week pass. Check out the place during the times you’d typically workout. If everyone is into their workout, people are friendly and you feel comfortable then you’re good. Family oriented gyms seem to be the least intimidating. If you’re really new and the idea of going to a gym freaks you out, try starting at the YMCA or the gym at a community college. They’re used to people just getting started and will be most helpful.

Some use a gym to lose their weight while others simply don’t feel comfortable until they’ve gotten close to their goal. Don’t let anxiety, or the feeling of being a fraud, keep you from having a fun and productive gym experience. You’re doing this for yourself and only you can give yourself the permission you need to succeed.

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