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5 Things That Prevent You From Being a Consistent Exerciser – And How to Fix Them

chickstrength

Have you ever heard the phrase “consistency is key”?

It’s true. Especially when it comes to improving your body composition, your performance, and your health. It may seem like no big deal to blow off your workouts, but over time, those who reliably put in the time do far better than those who are, well, all over the place. I’d even go so far as to say that WHAT you do matters less than how well you stick to it. Let’s take two workout programs: one really excellent, and one mediocre;  the mediocre one done on a regular basis will likely bring better benefits than the perfect plan that only gets done sometimes.

OK – so you know that it’s important, but you still keep struggling to get ‘er done? I feel you. The hardest part when you’re doing something new is sticking with it long enough to see some benefits that would actually make you feel excited to keep going. It’s those early hurdles that are the biggest. I tripped over them about a million times, by the way. But just like I did, you’ll get over them too.

What I first want you to do is read through these scenarios: you may see your own situation in one or more of them:

  1. Accept that you must practice. You’ll also have to reshuffle and rebuild the life you now lead. Knowing this with your eyes open helps. Makes sense, right? You’ve been going about your life. Now you’re asking yourself to squeeze in a new thing. You’re not accustomed to having to accommodate things like meal prep, calorie logging, or weight lifting sessions several times a week. So first of all, be kind to yourself. But then start building that ritual.

The fix: take a cue from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Let’s take building the workout ritual as an example. You can tie the things you need to do to things you already do.

10

  • Every morning after you drink your coffee, you put on your gym shoes. That’s one step toward getting out the door.
  • Every evening after you brush your teeth you set out your workout clothes and put together your gym bag. This takes away barriers that may make it feel harder to get to your gym session.
  • You can also try making an appointment for it that holds as much weight as any other commitment. If someone wants to meet, it had better be *really* important to bump the gym meeting you set for yourself.
  • Other tricks include tracking your gym workouts in a log or an app – it feels great to see your progress right in front of you, which in turn helps you keep going.

2. Stop hitting the reset button. We often say “I’ll start next week.” Or Monday. Or even tomorrow. Instead, do something sooner. Maybe it’s improving your next meal. Missed your gym workout? We all have 2 minutes to do a set of pushups at home. When you do something positive for yourself, you reinforce the fact that it’s what we do repeatedly, over time, that makes the biggest impact.

photo credit: Sujan Patel

photo credit: Sujan Patel

The fix: ditch the guilt. Instead, learn from this – ask yourself what got in your way, and what might make that not happen next time. But today is not a loss. Action begets more action.

3. Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. When we set very high standards for ourselves, excellence can happen. But there’s a difference between striving to be our best and crashing and burning because we fall short of unrealistic expectations.

If you’re skipping workouts because you don’t have time to get in a full session, it wipes out your movement for the day. If you’re setting goals that overwhelm instead of inspire, you may be shortchanging yourself of the opportunity to improve your body, your mind, and your health.

You can train to be awesome without nearly ending yourself.

You can train to be awesome without nearly ending yourself.

The fix: Sometimes when you ease a little pressure off of yourself it can feel way more fun to do those things that will bring you success. When you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be more consistent. And when you become consistent… well, we talked about how awesome that’ll make you. Scale back with some challenging yet realistic goals that enable you to take pleasure in achievement yet don’t set you up for near certain failure.

4. Ask yourself if you feel confident about what you’re doing. In a study of employee motivation, researchers Nohria, Grohnsberg, and Lee found that people are driven by four central needs. 1 One of them is the desire to comprehend. I’ve found that my clients who skip gym sessions regularly are often not too busy to get them done: instead, they either lack confidence or enthusiasm. Often, the enthusiasm comes once they feel like they know what they’re doing.

Log enough time with your new skills and you too will walk like swagger cat.

Log enough time with your new skills and you too will walk like Swagger Cat.

The fix: scale back to tackle what you can absorb right now. Master one workout. Or one new skill, like meal planning, finding new protein sources, or even getting in regular walks or eating an extra veggie per day. Those small successes give you a boost of success and make you physically and mentally feel the benefit of doing good things for your body.

5. Enlist support. At the Strong Fit Pro Summit in Toronto recently, Mark Fisher of Mark Fisher Fitness said “change happens within the context of community”.

Another basic drive we have is one of bonding with others. We want to connect; to be able to get ideas, support, affirmation, and a feeling like people get what we’re trying to do. Besides the bonding of a fitness community, you’ll find accountability. Knowing that people will wonder where you’ve been may make you more likely to get to your regular class or meeting.

Most importantly, when we go to a gym or participate in a program where we feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, we take pride in that. We cherish it. And it helps form our new identity that includes our new actions.

my gym family <3

my gym family <3

The fix: find your people. They may be at a physical gym that embraces newcomers. You may find them in a running club or on a powerlifting team. Or you might even find them in a Facebook group filled with people who are into what you hope to get into more. For me, I find my support, caring, and accountability from my team gym as well as from my coach. My communities have made a gigantic improvement in my commitment to my workouts.

Some might say “you just have to suck it up stop making excuses. But I’ve never much liked that advice. Because as you can see, usually when we make excuses there are underlying needs we have that just aren’t being met. If you’re struggling with building consistency in your fitness routines, take a moment to find your underlying reason – and then start working toward change from a more informed, positive place.

I hope these help you. My fixes are by no means the only useful ones, but they’re some of the “biggies” that I’ve found really make a difference in helping people over those hurdles. The hurdles, which, by the way, you’ll be sailing over in time if you give yourself the opportunity to learn.

Want to get the skills to pay the bills (and make this year your fittest ever?) Sign up below for my newletter to get workouts, recipes, and insider fitness info to help you rock your fit goals. 

 

Notes:

  1. Nohria, Nitin, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee. “Employee motivation.”Harvard Business Review 86.7/8 (2008): 78-84.

Practice Makes Better: Reaching Your Goals By Honing the Skill of Fitness

 

Elliott Recorder

Who remembers playing “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder in elementary school? It seems like a rite of passage. I majored in vocal performance and spent years working as a musician. When my oldest son brought home his packet of songs, I couldn’t help but feel excited for his own foray into music.

He dove right in, and the phase where his instrument sounded like a dying animal was mercifully short. My budding musician was tearing through songs. Atta boy! He was determined to become a rock star at the recorder. However, before long, as the songs became more complex, I heard him yell in frustration. He would play a difficult piece over and over again, missing the same notes each time. I realized that he hadn’t learned how to practice. 

We looked at the song again. There were only a few notes that he consistently struggled with playing. So instead of trying to swallow the entire piece, we tackled only the problematic phrases. He practiced two notes at a time until they came naturally. Then we put them back into the entire phrase. When that felt good, we tried the entire song again and boom– he nailed it.

Here’s the thing: tackling a fitness goal works pretty much like practicing music. When we find that attaining our goals has failed, it’s often because we haven’t learned the skills necessary to reach them. Learning how to practice at fitness will set you up for success.  Here’s an example:

“I want to gain muscle and decrease my body fat”

This is the most common “outcome goal” that I hear, and yet it’s usually the most elusive for people. Everybody’s starting place is different, but for many people, gaining muscle and decreasing body fat will require becoming adept at the following skills:

  • Expending more calories than taking in
  • Learning how to lift weights in a safe and effective manner
  • Following a strength and conditioning program
  • Getting adequate nutrients for goals
  • Learning how to create meals and snacks that support goals
  • Creating a schedule that allows for fitness goals
  • Working on other issues like sleep or stress management
  • Re-learning how to manage patterns that impede progress, like stress eating, restrictive habits/reactive binging, etc.
  • Portion education and awareness
Kitteh has a headache.

Kitteh has a headache.

What do you think would happen if you threw all of those behavior changes at someone who was just beginning to develop these habits? Yikes!

Practice the line, then play the song.
Chances are, if someone has been struggling to get results, they haven’t mastered the skills required to get them. Each one of those skills needs to be learned, with plenty of practice along the way.

Case Study 
One of my clients was frustrated because she couldn’t seem to lose weight. We looked at her nutrition, and one red flag emerged: she drinks a large amount of soda; enough that it totals almost 1,000 kcal a day. Just knowing this hasn’t led to change. She has had to take the time to try different strategies: Going cold turkey failed. Swapping soda with seltzer water was unsuccessful. Eventually, she was able to find that giving herself a modest daily allowance of her favorite treat was livable. It allowed her to still enjoy something she loved without allowing it to derail her goals.

She needed to practice the skill of changing this habit in a way that worked for the long haul. Her failed attempts weren’t really failures: she was practicing the skill until she was able to succeed. 

Make it Work for You
Take one habit you want to improve. Break it down into parts. Is there a particular component that is tripping you up? Set your laser focus to that one small part and practice.

pew pew lasers

pew pew lasers

The great thing about practice is that you don’t fail. You just note what worked, what still needs work, and then revise your strategies from there. Eventually you’ll learn the lines, and the whole song will fall into place.