Tuesday, September 1, 2009

30 Days to a Fitter You: Tips on Getting Started With a Fitness Program & Sticking To It

In my years as a Fitness Expert I have heard it all, "I want to lose 15 pounds in 2 weeks" to” I want to get six-pack abs, but I don't want to give up what I'm eating” Still, other popular goals are “I want to tone up, I want to lose weight or I want to feel good". Although these goals are a good start, the problem with these same goals is that they are not realistic or specific. Research has shown that people who are working towards goals are generally happier and healthier than those who are not. But, research has also shown that approximately 45% of people, who set goals for themselves, usually fall off within the first 3 months of their program, while an additional 20% fall within the 6 month time frame. This "fall off" is usually as a result of individuals setting goals that are not realistic.

So how do I know if I’m setting proper goals? When setting goals, ask yourself the following questions:

Is my goal specific? Know EXACTLY what you want and be specific in your wants. Change "I want to tone up" to "I want to have more muscle definition in my arms, legs, etc. Or, I wear size 12 today; I want to get down to size 10 in 30 days." If at the onset of your goal setting exercise you’re not exactly sure of the specifics, or even if you think that you are certain, go through your goals with a childlike mindset and question everything. Most of us are very familiar with the way a child will ask the question “WHY?” over and over and over again until he or she gets the answer that is agreeable to them. For the adult, it’s quite annoying because to us it seems quite obvious. But to the child, it’s better understood in the simplest of terms. Continue to question your goals until you have broken them down to the bare minimum.

• Sample conversation:

I want to lose weight. Why?

Because I don’t like how I feel. Why?

Because I can’t go up one flight of stairs without feeling sluggish. Why?

Because I’m always winded and short of breath. Why?

Because I don’t have the energy to climb the steps. BINGO!

Specific goal: I’d like to get into enough shape to increase my energy levels to allow me to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

Can my goal be measured? This is important. It is often said that “What gets measured, gets done!” You want to put items in place that are easily measurable and are going to allow you to see your progress and gauge how you are doing against the goals that you have set. This will serve as your roadmap to success. Using the above example:
Specific goal: I’d like to get into enough shape to increase my energy levels to allow me to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

• Can this be measured? How can this be measured?

• Make a commitment to climbing one flight of stairs a day for the next 30 days using the same flight of stairs or a flight with the same number of steps. Take note of your daily or weekly progress. At the end of 30 days, how do you feel?

Is my goal realistic? We often get ourselves into trouble by setting goals that are not very realistic. Going from a size 16 to a size 8 in two months is not realistic from a healthy perspective and neither is running up 100 flights of stairs in 30 days if you’ve been recently living a sedentary lifestyle. It’s best to start small as small successes lead us to big wins. Small successes also provide us with the feeling of accomplishment and let’s face it, the more accomplished we feel, the more likely we are to stick to our goals. So if we take this back to our stair climbing example, climbing up the full flight of stairs might be a bit trying at first depending on the person. The initial thought might seem easy enough, “okay, I’ll climb a fight of steps without stopping”, but depending on the physical conditioning of that person, that might not be so easy to do, the person may have to stop one or two times to catch their breath before completing the task and that’s okay! Each step further that is climbed today is one more step than what was climbed yesterday. Many times we beat ourselves up by solely focusing on the end goal and not the importance of the journey. Revel in the fact that you did more today than you did yesterday, and for that reason alone, you are BETTER today than you were yesterday,

“It is not enough to take steps which may someday lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How much time do I have to reach this goal? Give yourself a timeframe. If your boss or teacher gives you a deadline to complete a report, you'll do what it takes to get it done by that time. The same principle applies here. What I find that always works best, is to use some sort of milestone occasion like a wedding, birthday, vacation or anniversary. Last year before my 20 year high school reunion, the Facebook status updates of my classmates were littered with class reunion style work-out plans such as “Reunion in 2 months, gotta’ hit the gym, or dieting for my reunion” etc. ,they were determined to meet their goals by that specific date. Framing up your goals with a definitive timeline definitely helps to solidify the end goal, but a better way to keep you on track is to break out your timeframe into smaller chunks. Remember what I said about starting small? Break your timeframe into a 30 day cycle. 30 days is a good measure as it typically takes the body about that time to make adjustments to the new changes. In addition, it also generally takes 30 days to change a new behavior into a habit if done on a consistent basis. 

I have my goals so now what? Once you have answered these questions and your goals meet the above criteria, WRITE IT DOWN! The saying goes "the smartest people think on paper". To write something down is to make a promise, and to hold you accountable. This essentially becomes your contract with yourself. Sign it, date it and put it someplace where you will constantly see it. A common place is on the refrigerator or on a bulletin board. I’ve been known to tape things to mirrors just to insure that I will see it on a consistent basis. The one thing that you do not want to do is to put it away. I’ve heard this said many times, “oh, I put it in my purse/wallet so that I can carry it with me at all times”. Though the intentions might be good, in the wallet or in the purse are also out of sight and we all know how that quote is completed…”out of sight, out of mind”. Keep it out in the open! And if you’re worried that someone might see it, don’t. If anything, the sight of your written goals and the commitment that you have made to move yourself towards a healthier lifestyle just might inspire someone else to do the same.

Re-evaluate, Revise, REWARD: Every 30 days do a check-in. Review your progress against your goals and evaluate what you have done and where you are. During this check-in period, you may see that your goals have changed, or they have gotten more refined than when you started. At this time, begin to implement new changes to your routine that you will carry out over the next 30 days. And here’s my favourite part, once you’ve evaluated your progress and re-evaluated your goals, REWARD yourself! Buy that new suit or dress or indulge in a spa day. But whatever you do, not only just feel good about the accomplishments that you have made over this time period, but acknowledge you and reward yourself for a job well done!

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