• Kevin Mullins

Real Progress = 2 Steps Forward and 1 Step Back, Really!

Hey look - another fitness article about goal setting, creating lasting change, and finally achieving your desired way of life. Oh, and it's nine days after the new year? It must be aimed at all those folks out there setting New Years Resolutions.

It is.

But really, it is aimed at anyone is not approaching their fitness goals in a way that ensures that they prosper. It is for those who find themselves tormented by the thought of diet and exercise. Lastly, it is for those who can't stop lamenting all the things that you need to "give up" in order to succeed.

A healthy lifestyle is one that requires reinforcement, constant reinforcement, actually. This affirmation can come from friends and family, a local community, social media, and always from within. The actions taken to initiate and reinforce change are critical to the long term success of any endeavor. Nothing exists in isolation and therefore, everything becomes interrelated when examining goal achievement and reinforcement patterns.

Reinforcement can be positive or it can be negative.

Positive Reinforcement - adding something in reward for a performance (doing an extra mile on a run because it is feeling great).

Negative Reinforcement - taking away something as a result of a performance (No carbohydrates during a weight loss cycle).

Positive reinforcement patterns are not inherently better than negative ones, nor are they the only means that a behavior should be modified through. They are critical, however, as adding in more time in the gym, more sleep at night, or more water during the day almost always pan out in the end.

"Taking Away" is not necessarily a bad thing either, especially if we are removing toxic behaviors such as excessive drinking, smoking, or poor food choices that are severely undercutting one's ability to reach a target.

Yet, when change needs to take place it is more often than not that we focus on behaviors that need to be removed prior to behaviors that should be added. This applies across all populations and even includes us trainers and health coaches.

Coaches often meet new clients and are quick to recommend cutting the sugary snacks, skipping the weekend at the bar, or purging the home of all the tempting foods that don't align with their goals. These are also the same actions that are on the minds of every newbie and fitness enthusiast alike. Nothing too novel here.

Yet, what is often left out are the behaviors that build up a person. Instead of focusing on simple changes that are additives into someone's, or our own, life - we focus on what needs to go.

This constant state of removal leaves a void in most people that is either too much, or too uncomfortable to continue, which ultimately leads to abandoning change of any sort.

I liken to this to a game of Jenga, a classic table game that gives consequence to the individual who removes the wrong block from the stack by toppling down. The game is built around consistently removing pieces from the stack until it becomes unstable. Eventually, one final piece tips the balance in the wrong direction and it all comes crashing down.

So many people approach their fitness goals with the same intent. Today they aren't going to eat "x", and tomorrow they are not going to eat "y". Then, they'll stop going out to dinner with friends as often, and get up earlier to go to the gym before work.

They keep playing with the balance in their life until eventually it topples over. They kept removing pieces until they just couldn't stand.

This isn't what anyone wants. Everyone wants to be successful at what they set their mind to, and for the most part, all of us want each other to be successful too. What then, can be done to improve our performance on the whole at making serious lifestyle changes?

Add 2 Beneficial habits, then Remove 1

Any downfall short of serious addictions or substance abuse should be put on hold while you focus on adding two healthy behaviors into your life.

Instead of focusing on taking away something you enjoy, currently, and denying yourself something that has become ritual - we will focus on creating new rituals that are beneficial to you and your body, and will ultimately replace the bad one.

Goals like:

1. Going to the gym 4 days per week

2. Eating a protein-dense breakfast everyday

3. Drinking the appropriate amount of water for yourself everyday

4. Joining a club that gets you playing a sport, competing for fun, or simply surrounding yourself with positive energy.

5. Reading a book at night before bed for 10 Minutes

Only once you've truly embraced these behaviors as habits should you begin removing the unhealthy action. It is through this process of building yourself up to become better will you be OK with taking away something that you've grown attached to.

Referring back to our game of Jenga, we are building the tower to be stronger prior to removing any unnecessary pieces. Just as a the block that bears no load comes out of the stack with ease - so too will your negative habit.

We are building ourselves up instead of breaking ourselves down one piece at a time.

It is so much easier to stop going to the burger spot downtown on Friday's when you know you crushed a morning workout and had a perfect breakfast. You'll ask yourself, "why do I want to make myself feel worse?"

It is easier to drink more water on a weekend night out when you know you have an early spin class to attend.

It is easier to skip the snack foods, turn off the TV, and stop drinking caffeine when you find out just how tremendous you feel living on 7 hours of quality sleep.

Creating Change

  1. Sit down and map out how you are going to attack your fitness goals.

  2. Create two columns. ADDS and SUBTRACTS.

  3. Put two in the add column for every one that you'd like to take away.

  4. Group them together as a trio and give yourself 6 weeks.

  5. Focus on the two ADD behaviors for 3 weeks. Do not blur this by adding anything else, PERIOD.

  6. At the beginning of the 4th week shift focus towards the SUBTRACT behavior, ONLY REMOVE THIS ONE THING.

  7. By the end of the 6th week you should have formed 3 new habits, two of which are things which you did not do previously, and one is the cessation of a behavior you needed to stop.

  8. Repeat as Necessary

It is key to not try and do your whole list at once. Your goal is create lasting change, therefore, becoming great at one or two things at a time is priority numero uno!

Cleaning Up a Thought

I do want to make it clear that it is important to identify any behaviors that are bad for you and causing you risk and harm on a consistent basis. Binge drinking, drug use, and poor diet are all critical risk factors for mortality, the metabolic syndrome, and feeling like shit.

Thus, some individuals may truly need to focus on removing a behavior before anything else can stick, especially in extreme cases that require professional intervention.

For the rest of us, which is most of us, it is important that we focus on adding bricks to our wall before we worry about which old bricks we need to take out. Our overall stability and functionality depends on a sturdy foundation kept in balance. Therefore, blindly removing parts of ourselves without pondering the consequence or the risk to the structure as a whole is a sure-fire way to yell Jenga.

Break the rules and add before subtracting. Take those two steps forward before intentionally taking one back. It may take a bit longer to get where you are going, but you'll get there the right way!


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