Category Archives: Inspiration

Why Fitness Resolutions Are So Hard to Keep – And What You Can Do To Change This

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Whenever we make resolutions, it seems we are tested. Temptations, distractions, and old habits spring up from every side. We need to find the inner strength to persevere and to discover ways to succeed.” (from Inside The Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, by Jaganath Carrera)

If you’re struggling already with your New Year’s resolution – less than a month after your intention was set – you are probably not alone. As the above quote illustrates beautifully, keeping our resolutions once they’ve been made challenges almost everyone who happens to be human. We also see this relatively universal experience reflected in the well-known saying “old habits die hard.”

Why is this? What is it about ourselves that makes it so easy to slide back into familiar routines that we perhaps desperately wish to change? The comfort of routine, yes, but why do so many of us persist with comfortable routines that make us routinely uncomfortable in our physical bodies, due to overeating, making poor food choices, neglecting to exercise or get enough sleep – all stressors that can contribute to poor health and suboptimal functioning on all levels of being?

The answer isn’t a simple one, but I firmly believe that we have a deep-seeded natural (genetic/evolutionary) tendency in our bodies that drives us to attempt to maintain our current state of being once our body has learned to operate and function in this state, even if it causes long-term damage and dysfunction and/or shortens our lifespans. In other words, once we’ve established a set point of “normal” functioning for our body in a certain set of circumstances, our body strives to maintain that set point and will actually work against our efforts to change that set point – particularly if we attempt to cause this upheaval on a large scale all of a sudden, which is exactly how many New Year’s resolution fitness/diet programs are undertaken. (Read more about the set point theory here: Weight gain and weight loss difficulties: the Set-Point Theory (part 2)).

This knowledge can seem daunting and discouraging, but actually, I believe it shines a ray of light and hope onto the topic of resolutions, as follows: To make and then successfully keep a fitness resolution, you should work to make small, step-by-step resolutions that involve minor adjustments to your current lifestyle rather than dramatic, drastic overhauls that disrupt your body’s conditioned way of functioning. Make the changes small enough that they will go virtually unnoticed, and make them easy enough so that you can and do succeed. Maybe you eat one more serving of fresh vegetables or fruit a day, switch to whole grain bread for every other meal, cut out sugary soft drinks or do a half-and-half mixture of tonic water and 100% fruit juice in place of sugary soft drinks. Perhaps you add in five minutes of stretching or walking or lifting weights three days a week, and after six weeks, you move this up to six or seven minutes. Maybe you get to bed 10 minutes earlier. All of these are very, very small changes – but they are a start, and if you can maintain them, they are worth so much more than dramatic changes that fall by the wayside after a few short days or weeks.

Once you’ve succeeded for a minimum of six weeks (longer if you want to really ingrain the habit), you can tackle the next change(s) on your list. Or you can try to adopt a small change in several different areas related to your fitness at the same time – but I suggest no more than three at a time. Keep a journal (on your cell phone might be easiest) to keep track of how you do in reaching your goals, and adjust them as needed. The goal is for you to succeed – keep reminding yourself of this – not to set yourself up for failure. Make sure the goals for each six week to three-month period are entirely attainable, and let yourself feel good about reaching them, no matter how small and insignificant they may seem to others (or your unhelpful internal self-judge, who expects you to be swimsuit-ready in three days and also able to run a marathon in the same amount of time).

After several years of making changes this way, you might be surprised to discover real changes in yourself and your fitness/energy levels that you never thought were possible. Another big reason that fitness resolutions and programs fail is because people expect impossibly dramatic results way too quickly. If you can change your mindset to embrace the idea that you’re working toward a permanent lifestyle improvement, not a temporary fix, and that the changes will be gradual, you will be on the way to succeeding via the understanding that the physically visible changes are likely to happen extremely slowly, but that the underlying fitness benefits of improved healthy habits will reap great rewards in terms of your overall health and wellbeing much more quickly…and that physical changes will follow, albeit much more slowly than you might wish them to occur.

Looking back at your New Year’s resolutions now, decide on some realistic, easily accomplished steps you can take during the next six weeks (or longer) to work toward those resolutions. Working to gradually reshape your body’s “fitness set point” will take some time, but if you can stick with it and continually update and expand upon your small, reasonable resolutions, you may be looking back five years from now amazed at how far you’ve come in terms of fitness, rather than discouraged and dismayed by your inability to make a fitness resolution and stick with it.

How to Kick Start Your Workouts & Recommit to Fitness

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the biggest barriers to engaging with a lifelong fitness plan for so many people is figuring out how to stick with a commitment to fitness over the long term. Though getting started on a new fitness program is challenging, staying with it after the newness wears off is even more challenging. This is true for so many people, from the passionate rock climber who wishes to improve at climbing to the now-and-again yoga student who wants to make yoga practice a regular part of their world, but struggles when push comes to shove to make it onto the mat for classes on a weekly or even monthly basis. To make matters worse, missing one workout or class can lead to a domino effect as a cascade of negative self-judgement turns into a reason to disengage entirely from the once-regular (or semi-regular) workouts that marked the start of the recommitment to fitness. And, the more times a person misses, the more negative that person tends to become about their fitness, and the harder it becomes to reengage and try to get back into a workout routine again.

At this point, the honeymoon period is over, and the real work begins.

Instead of deciding that you’re an utter failure for missing so many climbing days, training sessions, yoga classes, or whatever fitness activity you’ve been missing out on that you were once more committed to, decide to work on discovering what works for you and your style of training. Here are 10 hints and suggestions to help you find a more permanent path to fitness, one that may be more sustainable in the big picture.

  1. Start small. Instead of deciding you’re going to work out 5 days a week for a minimum of one hour, try for 2 or 3 days per week for a minimum of 10 minutes. One of the biggest reasons people stop pursuing fitness is that they try to start out with too much, too soon. This is great way to get exhausted, injured, and burnt out.
  2. Look at your calendar and schedule in your fitness activities the same way you would schedule in important work meetings or other life events. Make a commitment to yourself – you are worth it! Don’t let other life obligations rob you of the chance to be a healthy, fit individual.
  3. Choose fitness activities that you don’t dread, especially to start your workout. If you hate a certain lift or exercise, don’t begin your workout with that (unless getting it over with right away gives you a certain sense of satisfaction!). Start with something that is relatively easy, like a brisk walk for 5 minutes, some jumping jacks, cat-cows, or sun salutations.
  4. About that first 5 minutes – one of the easiest ways I find to get myself to start a workout that I don’t feel that into doing is to tell myself I only need to work out for 5 minutes, and then if I’m not into it, I can stop. More often than not, I continue with the rest of the workout. Be aware that starting a workout is often the hardest part of the whole workout. If you can get yourself over the starting point, after 5 minutes of physical activity you might find that you are much more motivated to continue with the rest of your plan.
  5. If you do stop your workout after 5 or 10 minutes, don’t label yourself a failure – consider it a success that you worked out at all. Doing a little bit of something that’s physically challenging is better than doing absolutely nothing.
  6. If you’re trying to add in a training or personal practice component to an activity that you do enjoy, but you’re struggling with it, choose one small aspect of the activity and make a commitment to train or practice that for the next month for a short, concise session once or twice a week. Set aside 5 minutes and do it. Examples of this: for climbing, doing three sets of pull-ups (or one set); for yoga, choosing one pose you like, warm up with some cat-cows, and then work on the pose until your time is up.
  7. Sign up for a class or training sessions, and pay in advance. Commit to yourself and commit to the class or training sessions, knowing that you forfeit the money if you don’t show up. Otherwise it becomes easy to bow out on a day-to-day basis and to make up an excuse each day or week that you don’t attend as to why you can’t go this week, but you’ll go next week.
  8. If #7 isn’t enough to push you into sticking with it, sign up with a friend and/or make a standing fitness date with a friend/exercise partner to be there at the same time, same day, every week. You’re less likely to let the commitment go as easily if someone else’s fitness program is interlinked with your own, and a partner can help you stay motivated and help you push harder during the workout/class, too.
  9. Play music that you like to add pep and vigor to your workout, but try to stay engaged wholly in the workout – don’t put your body on a treadmill and engage your mind with a book or television show. Keep your workouts mindful and pay attention to what’s going on with your body while you work out. Be fully present and make workouts a time when you are fully present and committed to your whole-being health, not distracted by a media barrage. This is your time for you.
  10. If you truly hate what you’re doing to work out, seek out ways to change this. It may take you months or years to find activities that actually motivate and inspire you to stick with them. Don’t give up; there are so many paths to fitness out there! Learn what your community offers and approach each activity with an open mind. You might be surprised to discover what you love is something you never even thought of doing and that you don’t think you’d like. I had no interest in rock climbing at all before the first day I finally got talked into trying it. Little did I know that it would become a major part of my lifelong journey!

How Being “Disciplined” Can Be Undisciplined

Photo courtesy of Jody Sanborn/Jay Em Photography

Photo courtesy of Jody Sanborn/Jay Em Photography

When I was a much younger climber, I truly believed that sticking to my rigid seven-days-a-week training schedule and diet meant that I was a supremely disciplined athlete. No matter how I felt on any given day when I awoke, my training and diet plan provided me with structure and control over my reality, and I had supreme faith that by adhering to this severe program, I would at some point in the future prevail, that I would be able to mold (or should I say, “beat?”) my body into the climber I dreamed of being.

All sorts of evidence to the contrary did not shake my unwavering attachment to this type of training protocol. Never mind that many of the stronger climbers I often climbed with did not do what I did in terms of pitches per day, cardio activities, training approach, or diet. Nope. I had that sort of smug superiority that I think is hard to admit fully to oneself exists, but I definitely had it: a sort of sense that even if all these people aren’t doing what I do, at some point my commitment to restricted eating and rigorous training and a regimented climbing schedule will yield phenomenal results.

And now?

Today is my third rest day in a row, and I slept for 10 hours last night. I still feel tired, and it’s a relief not to be climbing. My shoulders still ache today, so another rest day won’t be a bad thing at all. Why climb? Why not rest? Why not explore restorative yoga more deeply? I find myself drawn to this practice now more than ever…comprehending now finally that the tightness and tension in my shoulders and neck probably have something to do with not managing stress in a life that has the potential to be relatively stress-free; I still overreact to nonemergency situations at times (especially when I’m tired) and overwork myself, too. Calming my mind through deliberate but conscious stillness; this practice of restorative yoga encourages me to open and relax areas of the body so tight from climbing, but not with the forceful (hatha) way that I tend to approach so many things, particularly about my own self and body.

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

And yet, I want to train physically, too – I want to push through some more strength and conditioning exercises soon, but I still feel that I’ve been imbalanced in my approach to this. More activity on days off from climbing is too often not what my body needs. More rest on days off is what it could use, for sure. Restful, mindful, calming yoga practice, not athletic Vinyasa flow practice. Not more lifting or climbing right now. More rest. What a beautiful thing to realize and be okay with! I’m fitter and stronger right now than I’ve ever been. Still as always, I’m not entirely satisfied with where I am; I want to be stronger and fitter yet again. And yet there is a deeper satisfaction with where I am than I used to be able to grasp; is this the start of being content with self as is, in this present moment, while still working toward improving? Perhaps.

Like so many others, I (still) have a tendency to be drawn to that which my body-being needs less of. Like attracts like; we so often resist what we need the most and will argue until we’re blue in the face as to why we need what we love to do so much, and why we don’t need what we actually would most likely benefit more from. Such is the reason why I avoided steep climbing, weight training, pull-ups, and restful practices/enough rest days for so long. And yet, so predictably it’s almost comical, it turns out that all of the above help me more than my old routine – not just in terms of climbing, but in terms of more graceful, balanced living.

Routines can be helpful but also damaging; conditioning the body to an exact and predictable routine might settle the monkey-mind’s jabbering about “losing fitness” and such, but in actuality, too much routine leads inevitably to stagnation and plateauing, again, in any area of life, not just climbing. It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint; bodies adapt. That’s what they do! They’re built to adapt and to use less and less energy to perform the same tasks as they adapt. Carry on with the exact same routine for long enough, and you may actually start to lose some fitness, strength, or other type of growth as your being becomes adjusted and capable and efficient, needing to expend less energy and effort to perform what once was a challenge. Stagnation and plateauing ensues, but the comfort of the routine remains, like a security blanket not to be pried from clenching hands, determined to hide under the comforting shroud, even as the comfort slips away more and more.

Climbing 10+ pitches of vertical technical climbing per climbing day, four to five days a week…running six days a week for at least three miles per run with at least two runs of six+ miles…having the same basic personal yoga routine done from age 10 through age 38…bouldering in the gym for 4 to 6 hours per session during the off season in the hopes of developing more power and strength…sleeping six to seven hours a night regularly…stressing out about mundane mistakes…dieting by counting calories and restricting food in the hopes of taking magical pounds away to improve climbing performance and body composition…not resting according to how the body feels but according to a set schedule…

The above are just some of the dysfunctional routines I have engaged in in the past, routines that maybe served me somewhat well on the grand scheme of living life, but definitely warranted a closer look and adjustment to start reaching toward a deeper level of contentment (santosha).

For me, true discipline has come from understanding that it’s only my mind that wants a rigid routine; it’s actually more likely a smarter and more effective approach to have a less linear and predictable approach to training and climbing, as the supremely adaptable body tends to plateau with enough time spent on any given exercise regimen or routine; the more the same it’s kept without variation within the consistency, the more likely a plateau (or even a backslide due to adaptation and more efficient performance of the routine as movements become refined and less energy/effort is expended to perform those movements) is to happen.

Don’t get me wrong here. I still like routines and tend to want structure and to want to cling to routines, for sure. But awareness of this helps me mess with them more readily; knowing that regularly messing with the routine schedule or training plan will probably help push my body in a new direction, whether I change how many days or how intensely I train or where I climb or what I climb. Resting more can be good; there’s not a set number of days per week that a person must climb or train in any given week in order to achieve their optimal potential. Weeks are merely constructs that help us structure and schedule time, but a week is arbitrary in terms of the body. In fact, I strongly believe that the best way to improve at anything is to strike that delicate balance between consistency and variation – making sure things are never too routine and predictable, but that the same pertinent themes are repeated often enough to encourage whatever areas need the most improvement to improve.

Again, I’m not just talking about climbing or training here – I’m talking about the process of making changes for anyone, whether the desired changes are mental, emotional, physical, or a combination of the three. Adaptation takes time and persistence; a flexible, sustainable, and intelligently thought-out approach can help expedite the process more than a rigid structure with no wiggle room and no allowance for changes to goals as you go. As you change, your body-being’s needs will change, too, no matter what you do and where you are in your life’s journey. What serves you well today may not benefit you in the same way tomorrow. What served you well yesterday may not be ideal for you today. True self-discipline does not revolve around blindly following a routine no matter how you feel. Rather, it involves developing an awareness of these often subtle changes and a comprehension of how to manipulate your training or climbing approach (and your life approach) according to what’s ideal for your body-being on any given day.

Studying oneself (swadhisthana) with an open mind can help provide the feedback needed to creatively and adeptly respond to one’s changing needs and growth in any and all areas, as can asking for outside input from others, particularly those who know you best and/or are more informed on whatever topic you’re looking for guidance on than you are. Resting, looking inward, and pausing, or stilling the fluctuations of the mind (chitta vritti nirodha), can help you tune into your own inner truth, enabling you to embrace a productive and fulfilling approach for yourself in the present while also shining a spark of light onto your future path that has yet to be illuminated. Step by step, it will light up, shining ever more brightly as you fall into living more fully and embracing your own truth.