How do you start doing something you haven't done before or stopped doing a while ago? What if it's something you want the benefit of, but the act feels daunting, unbearable or just not interesting to you?
I've gone through this process a lot: quitting smoking, becoming a morning person, getting the courage to post my workouts to Instagram, learning new skills, reducing alcohol consumption, losing weight, gaining muscle, strengthening my career... etc.
In every case:
the end goal always felt out of reach before I started.
there were "false starts" and set backs; good days and bad days.
I felt like a failure for a good portion of the process.
success was achieved by taking small steps that compounded over time.
when I "achieved" the change, I told myself I wouldn't be so hard on myself the next time.
In the past few weeks, I've had separate conversations with four people about how to make fitness a part of their lives when it's not their passion or they don’t know where to start. But they want to look good, move well and be strong.
These conversation sparked me to share some mindset shifts and techniques that have helped me along the way. They might help you make room for fitness, even if it feels out of reach.
#1: 5-Minutes to Bliss
When my husband and I don't want to clean the kitchen after dinner, I always say (well, shout, in a motivating sportsball coach sort of way) ... "5 minutes to bliss!" which means as daunting as it seems, we are only 5 short minutes away from having what we want: a clean kitchen.
Does it take more than 5 minutes to clean the kitchen? Sometimes. But it's getting started that's hard. Not powering through a few extra minutes.
This happens to me at work too. I have to start a project. There is a blank page in front of me. The end feels out of sight. But if I tell myself to give it 5 minutes, before I know it, I'm off to the races and what felt impossible is well on its way.
When it comes to fitness, you can put this 5-minute mentality to work. Tell yourself that all you have to do is put on your workout clothes and show up for 5 minutes. If you don't feel like continuing after 5 minutes, stop and move on. Chances are you will want to keep going. I do this myself at least once per week…
#2: Build Plans for Weaknesses, Mistakes & Roadblocks
I used to let mistakes really throw me. Say I was trying to drink less alcohol and I had a "bad day" where I didn't live up to my exceptions. I would let that drive me nuts. Feelings of failure would overwhelm me. It would take days to feel better.
Then I learned this technique that changed the game for me. When I want to make a change, I identify the toughest moments, times when things will likely go wrong and I make a plan in advance.
Sometimes I don't know what the tough moments will be until they happen and then they become a learning experience and a plan gets made.
One of these times for me was when I finally got tired of letting impromptu dinners with friends throw me off track. I want to be social but also stick to my nutrition goals.
After one particularly frustrating night, I sat down and wrote out a plan for what I would be happy eating in a variety of common situations. Since then, the frustration has subsided.
When it comes to getting started with fitness, I recommend identifying all roadblocks you expect to face and make a plan in advance for how you will overcome the roadblock.
If you wait for the moment to hit, your old habits and willpower will likely fail you. But with your plan in place, the hard part is out of the way and you just follow the plan.
#3 Try on a New Mindset
Act as if you are who you want to be. I learned this from my mom. She's written a few books. Her first step in the writing process is to go to a bookstore and envision her book on the shelf.
If you want a habit change book recommendation, I suggest Atomic Habits by James Clear. He also explains the power of acting as if you are [result of your goal] before you are there.
It's not about faking it until you make - that is too reductive in my opinion.
It's about changing your mindset. Instead of saying you want to be fit, try saying I am someone who workouts out and takes care of my body. Instead of saying I want to run a marathon, try saying, I am a runner. And what does a runner do? She goes for a run regularly.
#4 Scale Back Your Expectations of What's Required
I'm saving the best for last. You don't have to spend hours in a gym. You will get results with less effort than you think.
Can you spend 20-minutes on fitness three days a week? That's enough.
A minimum viable strength plan would be roughly 2-5 sets of exercise per muscle group per week. Some exercises hit multiple muscles so you can round down to 8-9 muscles.
Imagine you do 3 sets per muscle group and target 8 muscle groups... that is 24 sets. You can do that over 2 days or 5 days if you want... Recent studies have shown that you can split up your set volume over a week more or less as you see fit.
What matters is that the work gets done over the week and you employ the concept of progressive overload: meaning more weight, reps, sets, or time under tension each time.
You can absolutely see meaningful changes with a couple of sets per muscle group per week.
Can you get even better results with more? Sure. Up to a certain point at which more is actually harmful. But you don't need that much activity to make meaningful strength and muscle building gains if you are new to the practice or coming back from a long break.
So take the pressure off and have fun with it.
My husband does not share my passion for "fitnessing", but he did promise me he would be spry when he was 80 years old. After learning that even a small amount of resistance training can have a meaningful impact, I changed my approach with him and something called Fitness Bingo was born... If you want to know about that... let me know.
My inner lawyer wants me to share that you should consult a medical professional before starting an exercise routine.
What holds you back from training? Do you have specific questions about fitness, nutrition, habit change…? I would love to know what they are. Comment or email me.