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Are These Mindsets Stopping You From Reaching Your Fitness Goals?

It's estimated that every year, about 50% of folks in the United States make a New Year's Resolution to exercise more, lose weight, or improve their physical fitness. 

Less easy to calculate is the percentage of those Americans who fail in reaching their goals. As disheartening as it feels to say, the drop-off rate for fitness-based New Year's goals is likely relatively high. The fact that exercise is a recurring annual goal suggests that folks exploring these goals aren't succeeding in integrating wellness into their lifestyle.

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By the time another year rolls around, they again feel the need to prioritize exercise. 

If your fitness journey is like a rollercoaster ride that peaks in January and February and then tapers off throughout the rest of the year, you may be falling into one of several common trappings. So let's break down some myths, address common pain points, and figure out how you can keep wellness a core part of your daily routine. 

Problem: I Feel Defeated Because I do Not see the Results I Expected

One of the most common reasons folks drop off of their exercise goals is that they end up putting in what feels like a ton of work and not seeing the results they expected. This is particularly common for folks who have goals focused on building muscle or losing weight. 

Both muscle building and weight loss take time when you are pursuing them in a healthy, sustainable way. 

It's important to be realistic about how quickly you can lose weight or gain muscle.

For weight loss, if you're working out regularly and eating a slight caloric deficit of up to 500 calories (please note that dropping your daily caloric intake by 500 calories can be a significant challenge and may be unrealistic compared to a more gradual reduction) below your BMR, your average weight loss will vary between 0.5lbs and 1.5lbs per week. Note that this is also an average, not a guarantee. Some weeks, your weight may fluctuate up or down beyond this range depending upon your stress level, hormones, how well-rested you are, and a dozen other factors that may be outside of your control. 

For building muscle, progress may be even slower. With a caloric surplus that prioritizes protein consumption and consistent weight training, you'll see your most significant gains within your first year of exercising and consistently lifting within 30% of your one-rep maximum weight to the point of fatigue. Beyond that first year, gains come even slower. 

For folks who are newly getting started with weight training, that progress may feel slower than it actually is when you don't feel like the amount of weight you're able to lift is increasing, or you don't see visible muscle definition within the first few weeks or months. 

The Solution: Shift Your Focus to Tracking Consistency

One of the best ways to deal with the trappings of feeling defeated when you don't make progress as quickly as you had hoped is to shift your priorities to being consistent instead of the end results of your consistency. 

The way that I like to think about it, both building muscle and burning fat are byproducts of consistency. You can't get there without putting in the work. Plus, putting in the work is the aspect that is in your control. Focusing on what you can control and letting your goals be rooted in those variables puts you in the driver's seat. 

Rewarding yourself for consistency instead of the results of such consistency also helps you to train yourself to make exercise part of your daily routine. When the wins that you're celebrating are showing up and working out, it's easier for those activities to become ingrained into your lifestyle. When that happens, the other byproducts of exercise will follow.

Problem: I Want to Exercise, But It's Boring

For many folks, walking into a gym and reaching for a set of dumbbells isn't fun. This pain may be even more acute if you're working out at home and have limited access to equipment. 

If you aren't enjoying your workouts, they're more likely to feel like a chore or errand. Unfortunately, when that happens, you run the risk of treating exercise the way we all treat other chores– putting them off or avoiding them altogether whenever you can. 

Solution: Consider the Levers You Can Adjust

Too often, we reduce exercise to consisting of going for a run or walking into a standard gym and lifting weights. 

The types of exercises you can explore are numerous. Within the confines of individual ways of exercising, there are additional levers you can adjust to fine-tune the experience to what you will actually enjoy. 

For me, lifting free weights while listening to music or doing cardio while listening to audiobooks work well. That helps me relax, destress, and creates an enjoyable form of exercise for me. 

If that doesn't work for you, consider what else you can try. For example, have you tried a group fitness class like Crossfit? Have you tried a competitive form of exercise like kickboxing or karate? If you're lifting, have you tried experimenting with upper-lower splits versus isolated muscle group splits

While you're exercising, you also have a few ways you can tinker and experiment. Try listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, YouTube videos, or nothing. Try recording your workouts in a notebook with a pen versus logging them in an app on your phone.  Try aiming for a HIIT workout versus a slower-paced workout. 

If your workouts bore you, then you're not doing the right workout. The best workout for you is the one that you can do consistently, so don't be afraid to experiment.

My day job is in software, and in software, we live by the software development lifecycle, which starts by rolling out a minimum viable product that you then iterate upon and improve based upon what you find to work well or not work well. Treat your workouts similarly– get started and then be willing to admit where you were wrong, what you can improve, and so on. 

Problem: When I Get Out of My Routine, I Feel Defeated and Struggle to Start Again

Falling off the workout wagon is a hugely annoying problem. Many of us start our workout routines with enthusiasm, but then life gets in the way. Whether it's an unexpected illness or injury, a bad night's sleep, or even something as mundane as a traffic jam, it's easy for life's hurdles to through us off course. 

When we fall out of a budding routine, we often

  • beat ourselves up over failing to be consistent,
  • use it as an excuse to start again later (i.e., the "diet starts Monday" trope),
  • let less productive habits take the place of the ones we're trying to form, 
  • or, most often, we let ourselves slip back into our old habits– our comfort zone for how we allocate our time. 

As a result of any of these ways of thinking, getting back into our new routine often feels like we're having to start all over again. This feels like a huge undertaking and puts us on that rollercoaster mindset of cycling through ups and downs. 

Solution: Avoid All or Nothing Mentalities by Creating Accountability and Feedback Systems

Feeling like you've failed or have to start all over when you get out of your routine is a trademark characteristic of having an all or nothing mentality. You feel like you're either doing great or doing terribly without giving yourself any middle ground of just doing alright. 

The truth is that unless you take several months off from exercise and eat an absurdly high surplus of calories every day for quite a few consecutive days, you're not going to "undo" the progress that you've made. Getting off schedule for your routine isn't a reset– it's a recalibration. 

In order to get over that mental block of feeling like you have to start all over, consider ways that you can create a system of accountability or feedback for yourself. 

Working with a personal trainer would be ideal– having someone who knows what they're doing and who can answer your questions or generally give a pep talk when you're not feeling it is a huge asset. It can also be prohibitively expensive for some, so it may not be an option for everyone. 

Outside of working with a trainer, connecting with a friend or group with similar goals can also be beneficial. Simply having a way to voice your concerns or get cheered on when you get back on track can be a huge boost in confidence. 

For me, I've found that wearing my WHOOP strap on a daily basis helps with this. Fitness monitors can help you zoom out and see the bigger picture. Rather than getting caught in the weeds of "I didn't work out this day or that day," you can see your trends in activity levels and identify patterns and opportunities for regaining consistency. Additionally, being able to see how much I've activated my cardiovascular system each day gives me insight into other types of exercise I'm doing that may not be a part of my predefined routine. You can check out my full review of WHOOP and why I use it here. 

You Are In Control

In fitness, as in so many other areas of life, focus on what is in your control. Be realistic with yourself and consider the ways you can hypothesize, experiment, and iterate with your workouts until you find what will work for you. 

A healthy dose of realism goes a long way, as does avoiding the temptation to compare your progress to the progress of others. 

On that note, please (please, please, please) remember that fitness influencers are touching up their photos prior to posting. All of them– even the ones with pseudointellectual captions about being authentic. And that celebrity that went from average to ripped in a few months for a film? Yeah, he could only do that because he's wealthy enough to have a trainer dictate every hour of his day for weeks on end and a studio doctor to hook him up with steroids. 

Muscle soreness can be alleviated with over-the-counter pain meds. The real struggle with staying on track is developing the mental fortitude to tough it out and get past the mental roadblocks we inadvertently build for ourselves. 

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