When I was in high school I was known to get myself into some pretty hot water every now and again due to my “independent” nature. I remember distinctly one time when a buddy and I decided, while on the bus to school, that learning wasn’t exactly the way we wanted to spend that spring day. We jumped off at the next stop and spend the day walking around downtown Chicago and seeing what kind of trouble we could get into. The next day when I was called into the Principal’s office, I got an encouraging speech about how miserable I would turn out if I continued hanging around with hooligans and was told I would be suspended from school for three days. It seemed counterintuitive to me that my punishment for skipping school would be to miss some more school. They wanted me to do more of what I was being punished for doing initially? After an additional three days had passed without hearing about the fall of the Prussian Empire or Pythagoras, I learned how much I truly appreciated my free time and really started disliking school. It didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense to me now.
Does the logic seem a little flawed to you as well? It’s equally as ludicrous to punish yourself for slipping on your diet or missing a workout by doing more of what you’re trying to avoid. Ever been on a diet and during a temporary moment of weakness you give in and have a cookie or two? What happened next? For a lot of us, we felt guilty and threw up our hands and said “The heck with it” and two cookies turned into a whole box and then we sprayed whipped cream into our mouths straight from the can. Okay, maybe the last part is a stretch, but you get my drift. You made a small, virtually negligible error and instead of correcting it when we recognized the transgression, we exacerbated the situation by doing more of what we felt bad about, and then we felt worse, so we ate more cookies, and felt even worse, and yadda, yadda, yadda.
Lots of people are either in the gym every day or six days a week, or never. They’re either eating miso soup and steamed carrots three times a day, or cold pizza for breakfast and beer for dinner. Black and white, on or off, there’s a better way.
Children crawl before they walk and walk before they run. Know why? Because it’s a universal principle, but we keep trying to avoid it? Every January 1st people flock to the local gym and skinless chicken breasts sells out of the grocery store by 9AM. What makes people think they’re going to transition from couch tater and Ding Dog eater to a strict lifestyle requiring Buddha-like discipline literally overnight?
Get gradual about things.
I know lots of self-improvement books tell you major paradigm shifts and massive action is the best and quickest way to change. Maybe in some instances this is true, but not when starting diet and exercise. How about you try something like going to the gym three days a week to start with, or two, or taking a walk everyday? Maybe you could eat a healthy breakfast and work on lunch next week or the week after. Have fruit with that greasy burger instead of fries. Baby steps. Don’t go into the gym on January 1st nursing a hangover and try to bench double your bodyweight. Take a jog, go light, get used to being there. Take the first couple weeks to just ease yourself into the lifestyle, crawl before you walk and walk before you run.
Quit beating yourself up over slips, do you think I never go off my diet or skip workouts? Sure I do. So does everyone else, including professional athletes and Olympians. What makes the difference between success and failure is not how often you fall but how often you rise. Next time you’re chewing that second cookie and you realize it’s not what you planned on and feel guilty for it, stop.StopDon’t eat any more. Don’t make yourself feel worse by doing more harm. Don’t let a slip turn into a slide. Two cookies every now and again won’t make any difference, an entire box can negate everything you’ve done all week. Make your correction and get back on course. Maybe you got tied up late at work or your kids were sick or you just plain blew off your workouts for a few days. This doesn’t mean that you should worsen the situation by getting discouraged and depressed that you failed again and take another week off from exercise, or a year. Correct it and get back on course.
When Tom Brady throws an interception does he go mope on the sideline, eat some doughnuts, and sit the rest of the game out because he made a mistake? Nope. He learns from it and the very next play he’s trying again. He has great successes and great errors every game. He’s constantly correcting until the impact of the successes outweigh the impact of the errors just a little. Remember when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX and Brady was voted MVP and all the players lifting him up in a celebration of victory? Remember how many interceptions he threw that game? Me neither. When you’ve reached your goal and you’re standing victorious nobody is going to care that you had 2 cookies you shouldn’t have once in awhile either. Get over it and start again.
Prevent the yo-yo effect
I want to be clear that I’m not saying it’s ok to constantly skip your workouts and eat junk. Far more often than not you should be busting your butt and enduring what you need to in order to achieve your goal, but we must be realistic. You won’t always do it right, you won’t always do the best you can, and life will give you knocks that will mess up everything. When these inevitabilities happen, let’s not lose sight of reality or abandon our health completely. We’re trying to prevent the yo-yo thing. Slimming down and fattening back up again and again. You can’t make a temporary change have permanent impacts. So often we start an eating or exercise plan and make it so terribly strict that we just count down the days before we can return to our old ways of behaving. Is it really surprising that the weight comes back when you return to what you were doing before?
Everyone wants everything RIGHT NOW. Everyone scoffs at 2 pounds a week. They read about the “diets” where they can lose up to 5 times that amount the first week! Go ahead, see if you don’t bounce right back where you were. Nobody wants to creep along at 2 pounds a week and I admit it doesn’t typically impress. If you tell somebody you’re losing a pound and a half a week they’re not exactly pounding down your door to know your secret. But tell them you lost 100 pounds last year, and their ears perk up. Do most things right consistently and you can do anything. Forget about 30 pounds in 30 days, I’ll take the consistent 2 pounds every time. The tortoise beat the hare in the end remember?
In closingThe message is that you don’t need to kill yourself and do everything absolutely perfectly, you’re not either “on or off”. Start working out, don’t put it off until you have the time to “do it right”. Go ahead and do it wrong, halfway is better than no way. Do you have a big stain on your tie from that Arby-Q you ate for lunch? Doesn’t mean you can’t have chicken and veggies for dinner and minimize the damage. Start having a diet soda with your pepperoni double crust pizza, I don’t care if it doesn't intuitively makes sense. Do something in the right direction. Small changes stack on top of one another and eventually become major changes. Above all, when you slip and fall, don’t stay there, rise again.