Most of us don’t like change. Permanence is what most of us aim for, whether because it is human nature to find stability or something encouraged by society.
No, you might argue, change is common when it comes to fitness and health! Isn’t that the goal of your popular 12 week transformations: change your eating habits, exercise regimen and eventually your body composition? Be honest, though, we all expect the ‘After’ picture to be the one that marks our identities forever, frozen a state of peak physical perfection. That we wouldn’t want to change.
I won’t preach to you (too much) about self-love and body acceptance. Instead, today’s post will deal more with the mindset of accepting change after, even leading up to, your goal.
Let’s face it, a lot of the lifestyle habits that lead up to that lean and shredded body transformation aren’t sustainable in the long term for most people. For the select few born with the right genetics, maintaining extremely low body fat will be a piece of cake (figuratively, obviously). The sad reality, though, is that a lot of the images we see in the media of men and women with gleaming muscles and next to no body fat have gone through a period of intense training and strict dieting to reach that point, after which they will probably back off and go through a less rigid cycle before starting again.
Work With Change
Although the general population won’t have the need or urge to push themselves to the extremes that athletes and body competitors do, we can still borrow a trick or two from them, specifically with regards to that mindset of going through cycles.
Our bodies are not machines programmed to function the same way every day, so the first step will be getting comfortable with that idea. No, really, take a second to wrap your mind around this, because it’s often the case that you judge yourself more harshly than other people will.
There will be days when you feel bloated and lazy and unmotivated.
There will be days when you feel fresh, when that reflection in the mirror looks great and you can breeze through a workout that felt like a drag before.
There may be a block of time – weeks or maybe even months – during which you feel strong and fast, and that is satisfying enough to warrant eating more and caring less about appearances.
There might also be a block of time when you want to cut back on the treats and maybe compromise a little on performance to focus on aesthetics, and that’s fine too.
All of these feelings are normal because that’s what it is to be human! There are discoveries surfacing even now about the mystery that is the human body because our biology is something that is alive, that adapts and evolves and changes and ages. Maintaining the status quo can be mentally as well as physically stressful because change is just part of our nature.
Check out this infographic from Precision Nutrition for more in-depth information on why our knowledge of nutrition and the body is always changing.
Aim For Long-Term Consistency and Short-Term Goals
Now this idea of going through cycles doesn’t mean a cycle of crash dieting and death-by-cardio versus binge eating on your couch. Rather, it’s being kinder to yourself and tweaking your expectations the way that your life demands it. Unless you are an athlete and it’s already part of your job, you will be juggling a full-time job, a social life as well as personal needs, so don’t expect yourself to perform at 100% in every single category.
Start by giving yourself a few short-term goals. It’s always a good idea to limit yourself to a few quality goals rather than a long, overachieving list, since that towering mountain of achievements will feel pretty impossible to climb. When it comes to these goals, aim for short and sweet rather than grand. Since these are short term, you can set them according to what your life looks like that month. Simpler, more realistic goals for the busy season at the office and more challenging ones for a laidback month.
Dan John summarizes this mindset perfectly with his traffic light idea:
My first idea is based on the traffic light. This works well for some people. The problem is that while green means “go,” the other two colors have a few issues.
Green works because during the months you highlight as “green months,” you can focus on challenges and programs that demand focus, drive, and intensity. If you need to toss down some Spike® Tablets or extra caffeine to do the 21 Day Challenge or whatever, do it. It’s not a lifetime commitment!
Yellow is the problem. On traffic lights, it means caution, but I use the color to refer to those “punch the clock” workouts that people who’ve been around a while understand very well.
I think that most trainees miss this opportunity to understand that there are times, perhaps for long stretches, where you need to get your workouts finished, eat fairly clean, and take care of basic recovery.
Red, of course, means stop. I used to think that divorce would be a red light training time, but since then, I’ve met women who use training as a means to attack the demons.
Surgeries, life altering problems, and a few other things are red light periods. I’d still argue to move, eat well, and check your recovery, but I also understand how difficult even minimal training can be to do in certain situations.
Beyond that, when you zoom out to the big picture, aim for consistency – for example, making exercise and movement a part of your routine and committing to four days a week, or making sure that in the long run the majority of your diet is composed mainly of whole, nutritious foods.
In short, make a habit of watching the scale. Not the weight scale, in this case, but rather keeping an eye on how you are scaling your workouts and diet plans up or down based on the other factors in your life!