Restrictions are lifting, people are heading back to work by the millions, and life is starting to feel (somewhat) normal again. You can finally leave your house for something other than grocery shopping without feeling scared or like you’re doing something wrong. It’s a wonderful feeling and everyday the light at the end of the tunnel grows larger and larger on this COVID train.
As you move toward a semblance of typical life, with it comes a host of new (relatively speaking) situations to navigate. You’ve likely spent most of your time alone, or with your housemates, for the past 3+ months. While this may have been depressing in some respects, especially if you live alone and didn’t see people much, it offered some unique benefits with regards to eating. Most of the eating you did over the past 3 months was likely home cooked, and on occasion ordered in, but in either case you didn’t have to navigate the tricky waters of social eating and drinking that’s soon to become more common and frequent. This adds a difficult challenge to reaching your health and fitness goals.
Many people will decide that eating out can’t be a part of their life while trying to lose weight, improve their health and get fit. And that’s fine if you don’t mind missing out on work lunches with coworkers, delicious dinners with family, or late night drinks with friends. But if you want to enjoy all those things, while still working towards your health and fitness goals, you’ve got to make some changes to the way you approach those meals.
Learning how to grab dinner with your girlfriends, have a drink with the boys or go on a romantic date with your significant other while staying on track toward your health and fitness goals is a skill. It takes practice and over time the more often you do it, the easier and more natural it will become. At first it will feel a bit awkward, like that 6th grade dance where everyone stood on the edges of the gymnasium, wondering what to do next, but as you progress forward and become more comfortable with the skills of eating out and socializing, you’ll find your footing, get used to the new dance moves you’ve learned and bust loose on the dance floor.
I’m not saying that you can go out to eat for every meal, eat anything on the menu and still reach your goals, far from it. But I am telling you that you don’t have to shun eating out and avoid food and drinks while socializing if you want to reach your goals. In fact, not only do I think it’s possible, I think it’s absolutely necessary if you want to not only be successful in your dieting efforts, but also improve your overall health.
A healthy social life is a key component of long term mental and physical health. Humans are social creatures highly driven by the interactions and connections that we create with one another. In fact, the areas dubbed “Blue Zones” by researchers, where they have the highest percentage of centenarians (people 100 years of age or older), show a healthy social life and strong relationships and connections with others as one of 9 key predictors of a long life with good health (1). Though these relationships pertained more to those with a significant other and within a faith-based organization, other areas of research back this up.
A host of studies have shown increases in mortality rate, inflammatory markers, various diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease, a reduction in immunity and even slower wound healing among those with less social ties and lower quality relationships (2). In other words, lower quality relationships and reduced social ties (think social circle outside close friends and family) leads to more frequent and severe illness, an earlier death and a reduced level of satisfaction in life. Social ties and relationships are vastly underrated in terms of a healthy lifestyle, so I not only think it’s possible to reach your goals while eating out, I highly encourage it for your mental, physical and emotional health.
Socializing and human connection is a key component to human life, as is the act of eating out and having the occasional drink as part of a healthy diet and long-term weight loss success. Having dinner out can lessen some of the stress that cooking home meals can bring. Cooking meals at home (as well as cleaning up afterward) takes time, energy, decision making brain power and more, all things that are typically in short supply after a busy day or week. A meal out can reduce this stress and give you a bit of a “break” from this process, making it a beneficial and almost necessary part of any long-term successful diet.
A drink here and there can also levy some of the daily stress that we feel. It can help to “take the edge off”, bringing with it a break from the stressors of daily life. Much like using food as a coping mechanism, alcohol is totally acceptable as long as it’s not done to detriment in other areas of your life and you have other coping skills that you turn to the majority of the time. But in small doses and infrequently, especially in the presence of good friends and family, a drink can help reduce stress, improve mood and increase your overall health.
Not only does eating out save you a bit of time and energy, it also provides mental relief from a typical diet that can become repetitive, stagnant, and bland. Restaurants have something that you don’t: a (usually) highly skilled chef who gets paid to create tasteful, culinary masterpieces designed to wow your taste buds. Restaurants offer you the opportunity to try foods you otherwise wouldn’t and eat in a way you likely otherwise couldn’t, simply for the fact that you don’t have the time, energy and prerequisite skills to cook to the extent and variety that restaurants can. Much like the brief respite from stress that can result from cooking every single meal, eating out also provides a bit of a break from “dieting” itself. This small break from the day to day of dieting and making healthy choices (which can still be made in large part while eating out), can give you just enough mental relief and satisfaction to continue making healthy choices more successfully and dieting for a longer period. This leads to more consistent good choices over the long haul and lends itself to long-term sustainability and success.
While many health professionals will tell you to avoid eating out entirely, or say that a social life doesn’t need to involve food or drinks (it doesn’t but let’s be real, food and drinks are a large part of a social life), I’m here telling you that you not only can eat out, but absolutely should, especially if it provides necessary social interaction or a short break from the day to day of cooking and dieting. The benefits of a meal out, socializing with friends and family, or enjoying a nice drink, and relaxing just a bit, far outweigh the drawbacks that a (possibly) calorie-laden meal will provide. And as long as you don’t base your entire diet, or the majority of it, on eating out, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of a meal out or drinks with friends, without throwing your fitness and health goals off track.
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(2) Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501
It’s been a few days and I’m starting to lose it. Like really lose it.
My mind is racing, my thoughts are muddied and I’m more irritable than anyone has a right to be. My blood pressure is up, my immune system is trashed, and my blood work is borderline diabetic. I continue to push forward despite these effects, and after a few more days the feelings of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts are nearly too much to bear. The last thought I have before falling into delusional thinking, extreme paranoia and deep psychosis is, “this was a really bad idea”.
This was just a simulation of what you would experience if you decided to stop sleeping altogether and shows the drastic effects of sleep deprivation. What it doesn’t show, is some of the less drastic but still important effects that shortened sleep and sleep disruptions can have on your health. Things like increased blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced insulin sensitivity and risk of type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation and internal stress, reduced cognition and memory, increased feelings of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, disrupted hunger hormones and increased likelihood of weight gain and obesity related diseases, and much more. It’s easy to see that sleep should be taken seriously, but with over a third of the adult population reporting less than 6 hours of sleep, it’s obvious that something is missing.
Sleep is the most often overlooked component of health. In a world of waist trainers, fad diets, and extreme workouts, sleep looks boring and doesn’t produce the Instagram worthy photos and videos for the world to see. It isn’t glamorous, it lacks flash, and can’t match up to a sweat dripping workout or #fitspo healthy meal. But what sleep lacks in outward appearances, it more than makes up for in the benefits that it provides. If you’re serious about your health, start prioritizing your sleep and reaping the benefits of a healthier mind and body.
Timing and Routine is Everything
For quality sleep, timing and routine are imperative. Start by figuring out what time you need to be up each day and then work 7-8 hours backward to figure out what time you need to fall asleep. When you have that time set, make sure that you’re in bed and performing calming activities, like reading, writing, stretching or deep breathing, 30-60 minutes before your set time to fall asleep. Build a routine prior to bed that helps to signify that it’s time to sleep, while also helping calm you down and relax you for sleep. Try to fall asleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day. I know that weekends can be difficult, but the more rigid you are with your sleep schedule, the easier it will be to fall asleep, stay asleep and achieve quality sleep.
Switch to the Dark Side
Darkness sends a signal through your eyes into your brain that it’s time to rest. The eyes play the largest role in your circadian rhythm, which manages a whole host of processes that regulate the normal functioning of your brain and body. If you want to improve your sleep, you need to avoid bright lights at nighttime (TVs, phones, computers, etc) and make your room as dark as possible to facilitate melatonin production and quality sleep.
Keep it Cool
To fall asleep your body temperature needs to drop a degree or two. This is why a hot shower or bath before bed can help you fall asleep as your body tries to rapidly cool off after the shower, dropping your internal temperature and preparing you for sleep. You don’t need to plan on a shower or bath each night, though it’s not a bad option, but make sure your room is nice and cool to ensure that your body is primed and ready for sleep. Use a fan, window AC unit, or other tools to keep your room at 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. This will ensure your body is cooling down and ready for a night of rest.
Avoid Sleep Killing Substances
Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are 3 of the most commonly abused substances that negatively affect your sleep.
Though alcohol may make you feel sleepy, it can derail the stages of your sleep and cause you to wake up feeling tired, despite sleeping long enough. If you’re going to consume alcohol, make sure to have your last drink at least 2 hours prior to falling asleep to ensure that your sleep isn’t disrupted.
Nicotine is lesser known for its negative effects on sleep, though it acts as a stimulant and can either keep you awake or have a negative effect on sleep after you’ve fallen asleep. Though I think it’s best to avoid nicotine altogether, if you’re a smoker or someone who uses nicotine in any capacity, avoid it 2 hours prior to bed just like alcohol.
Caffeine is the most widely used substance in the world. And while they’re plenty of benefits to caffeine, a good night’s sleep is not one of them. The problem with caffeine is that it has a long half-life, extending anywhere from 3-8 hours depending on the individual and how much caffeine they’ve consumed. This means that a cup of coffee consumed at 4pm could leave half a cup’s worth of caffeine in your system at midnight and have a major impact on your sleep. Cut your caffeine intake at noon so that your cup, or two, of coffee doesn’t cost you the health impacts of a good night’s sleep.
If you’re someone focused on their health and wellness, but you’re not prioritizing sleep, I hope I’ve done my job to not only show you the important of sleep, but exactly how to ensure you’re getting enough of it (and high quality). If you want to look better, losing more weight and less muscle, feel better, having less anxiety and depression, and live longer, than you absolutely need to make sleep one of the most important components of your health and wellness program.
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I know that a lot of people aren’t worried about gaining muscle (though you should be, muscle is an important piece of health). For most, the focus is on losing weight, specifically fat. Weight loss gets all the praise, while weight gain, especially the “good” kind, gets pushed to the side and ignored. In spite of that, there are some lonely souls out there looking to gain muscle, preferably without gaining additional or unnecessary fat, and it’s for them that I write today’s article because I was (and at times am) one of those people.
Growing up I was scrawny. Not just skinny, but actually scrawny. The kind of thin where you resemble Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, all head and bony limbs.
Like the child who grows up on the heavier side and always desires to be what they’re not, I grew up skinny always wanting to grow big and get muscular like the action figures that I watched on TV and played with. Barbie may have set impossible expectations for little girls, but superheroes like Batman and Superman and anime stars like Goku from Dragonball Z, gave me a distorted view on what big and muscular really meant.
When I got into fitness and started getting more consistent with training, my goal was always to get bigger. I hated the skinny reflection that I saw in the mirror and wanted so badly to change it, I tried nearly everything. I knew that eating was an important part of gaining muscle, so I started to eat to excess on a consistent basis. My weight surely went up, as anyone’s would, but it left me feeling less comfortable in my body than before. Rather than gaining pounds of quality muscle like I had hoped and planned for, I had gained pounds of fluff and fat, with a dribble of muscle here and there.
This is common for those, especially men, who are trying to gain weight and build muscle. Instead of taking a consistent and conservative approach, the tendency is to try to gain the weight as quickly as possible. This never ends well, with most people gaining a ton of fat and very little muscle alongside it. Thankfully, I’ve already been down that road and know the path to gaining weight in the form of mainly muscle. If you’re interested in walking that path, building muscle and shaping your body to your liking, continue reading so you don’t make the mistakes I did and wake up 30lbs heavier with little muscle to show for it.
If you want to gain weight, you’ve got to eat more. That’s an undeniable fact. A calorie surplus, eating more than you burn for energy, is a necessity for gaining weight. The difference lies in the severity of the calorie surplus and where those calories come from. The more severely you increase your food intake, past a certain point, the more likely you are to gain fat rather than, or in great ratio to, muscle. Keep your calorie intake 250-500 calories above maintenance to ensure that the bulk of the weight you’re gaining comes from muscle and not fat.
*If your weight is going up consistently, 1-2lbs per week, then you’re in a healthy caloric surplus. If your weight is moving up excessively (3lbs or more per week), reduce your food intake slightly to get back into the 1-2lb range. If you’re losing weight, kick up your calories until the scale starts to reflect weight gain.
Focus on Protein
You know that protein is an important part of building muscle, I mean it’s basically been the selling point of every protein based supplement for the better part of 30 years, but it has to be stated here because it’s that important. Most people need to increase their protein for their health, but even more so if they want to build muscle. Protein allows you to recover from strenuous workouts and build muscle as an adaptation to those workouts.
*Aim for .75g-1g of protein per pound of body weight. If you’re already very lean that number should be on the higher end, but if you’ve got a decent bit of body fat, .75g/lb is just fine.
Building muscle is a slow and taxing process, so if you’re looking to build a decent amount of quality muscle, strap in for the long haul. If you’re new to lifting weights and working out, you’re in luck and will be able to put on muscle much faster, but for the rest of us, muscle gains happy in the 1-2lb per month range on average. There will always be outliers, those who respond very well or very poorly, but most people fall into the 1-2lb range. So, if you’re looking to gain 15lbs of muscle, aim for at least 8 months and be comfortable with stretching it out for over a year, especially if you’re an experienced lifter.
*Spend at least 12 weeks in a calorie surplus, and if you began on the leaner/thinner side 16-24 weeks is a better place to be
Measure and Assess Progress
It’s hard to give yourself an accurate assessment of your progress simply from looking in the mirror or stepping on a scale. You should be taking monthly progress pictures and circumference measurements of various body parts, in addition to watching the scale, to track your progress. Another good tool for measuring if you’re building muscle is an increase in strength. A strength increase doesn’t always mean muscular growth, sometimes it’s the result of improve neuromuscular adaptation, but in a general sense if the weight on the bar is going up, or you can do more weight with the same reps, you’re on the right path.
*Every 4-6 weeks do a strength test. Pick a compound exercise, like squats or bench press, and then a weight that you’ve performed 8-10 reps with in the past. Do as many reps as you can and see if you can increase the number from the previous test. If so, you’re building muscle, if not adjust your calories or training to improve recovery and muscle building.
Focus on Strength
Cardio and endurance-based training are both wonderful things, but they’re not going to lead to increased muscle mass. That’s because the body works by law of specificity, meaning it will adapt to the specific demands that you place it under. If you do a lot of running or endurance-based exercises, your body isn’t being signaled that it needs larger muscles to perform the tasks, larger muscles will just slow you down with the extra weight. Instead, it’s important to focus on resistance and strength training to build the muscle you desire. Strength and resistance training signal to your body that there is an increased demand for larger muscles to carry out the task of moving heavier weights and more difficult resistance.
*Pick weights and resistance that challenges you in the 5-15 rep range (though muscle can and will be built in any rep range taking near or to failure) and work close to failure as much as possible, occasionally going to failure.
Although many people are looking to lose weight, there’s still a group of people who are looking to gain weight and build muscle. Many of these people are just like me, hoping to outgrow their skinny body, and build confidence in the way they look, but struggle to gain weight, or have difficulty gaining anything other than fat. With consistent effort following the guidelines above, you’ll be packing on dense, powerful and beautiful muscle in no time and be on the road to truly building the body of your dreams. If you’re ready to get started on your journey, but need some additional guidance, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss in-person and online training programs that will transform your body and mind.
One minute you’re going through the motions and the next you wake up 10 years older and without much to show for it. While we can’t slow time down, we can create the feel of slowing time by adding variety and imprinting more value in the moments we have in our time here on Earth.
A study by neuroscientists Vani Pariyadath and David Eagleman demonstrates this phenomenon. In the study, participants were shown a series of repetitive images. Again, and again they were shown a picture of a brown shoe, almost lulling them into a trance. Occasionally though, an image of an alarm clock popped onto their screen and added much needed variety into the experiment.
Afterwards, participants were asked to estimate how long they believed each image showed on the screen. Though the images were all shown for the same amount of time, participants believed that the alarm clock was shown for much longer, up to 50% longer, than the brown shoe. The increased stimulus from and attention paid to the new image caused it to feel like the image was displayed longer. This is known as the “oddball effect” and can be pivotal in spicing up your life, creating lasting memories and making life slow down just a bit.
With COVID-19 life has become pretty repetitive. Wake up, eat, start working (if you’re currently employed), finish working, have dinner, watch TV, and repeat. Even weekends, which used to be a high point in even the most mundane of lives, has now been reduced to little more than just another day of the week. Time is speeding by, with little to nothing to show for it in the way of memorable events or exciting moments.
Though it can feel like there’s little you can do, the brown shoe and alarm clock experiment shows us that it doesn’t take much to slow down time and create something memorable. In many cases, all it takes is the simple act of changing your routine, being a bit spontaneous and doing something new.
That’s my challenge to you this weekend and moving forward. Don’t let the COVID restrictions dictate your life. Don’t wait for this to end to start living again. Stop letting time pass you by. Life is different right now but different isn’t a bad thing. And with a bit of effort you can get back to living and creating memories even in this new normal we find ourselves in.
I came across a story about a magpie recently that I found interesting and thought I’d share as part of a bigger lesson. I will do my best to retell it in full (with some creative freedoms added in), but if you want to read or listen to it for yourself, head here.
There once was a magpie couple who built a nest for themselves and their children they raised and sent off every spring. For a time, all was well in the nest, but eventually the husband asked, “Will every year be the same as this?”. The wife responded, “Aren’t you happy my love?”. And he responded he was, more to appease her than actually out of happiness. Later that day though, he flew out of the nest in search of something to adorn the nest, which was dull and boring in his eyes. As he flew a shiny object caught his attention and he soared down, scooped it up and brought it back to his wife beaming.
“Look what I’ve found! Something to adorn our nest with!” he said. He took the shiny object and placed it into the wall of the nest. Beaming with pride and happiness, he slept well that night and for a time. As time passed, the initial feelings of pride and joy of the shiny object faded, and it became nearly unnoticeable to their conditioned eyes. The husband once again grew restless and flew out in search of another object. Again, he returned with another shiny object exclaiming, “There! The nest is beautiful and unique once more”. He and his wife were happy for a time, but eventually those feelings faded.
The husband continued to become restless and unhappy with the nest and each time would head out to find another shiny, beautiful object to adorn on their nest walls. Each time he returned, he and his wife were filled with feelings of joy, but those feelings would quickly fade.
The next spring the wife looked around a realized there was no room in their nest for their clutch of eggs and baby birds. The husband decided he would build a bigger nest, fit to equip all their beautiful wall decorations in addition to their children. And so, he did. And it was marvelous, at least for a time, until they felt it needed more shiny objects to fill it’s empty walls.
This continued again and again, year after year, finding shiny objects to fill the walls and eventually needing to build a bigger and bigger nest to fit them in. No matter how big their nest grew or how many shiny objects adorned their walls, the birds were never happy for long. The feelings of contentedness they felt early on, before the first shiny object, would fade quicker and quicker each time, until they stopped having children altogether as the search for new shiny objects and the building of bigger nests took all of their time and energy.
The fable of the magpie is one that many of us can relate to. It’s easy to feel discontent with your home, appearance, life, etc. and want to improve it. Then when improvements are made, you get a massive boost of positive feelings that’s addicting and intoxicating. Overtime those feelings fade and the fall off can be quite dramatic, much like the come down from a high, leaving behind negative feelings that are hard to ignore. To get back to those positive feelings, you turn to what gave you the boost in the first place: change. Again, you’re hit with the feel-good emotions, but they don’t last. The cycle then begins again, and you’re left at the whims of the next shiny object, just like the magpie.
Shiny object syndrome is a plague that infiltrates every space of living. Jobs, relationships, and material possessions are frequent targets, but the health and fitness industry is overwhelmed by shiny objects. The next best diet, the newest training program, or the most expensive supplement or piece of equipment. In the wake of all this is the shattered hopes and dreams of people like you who simply wanted to make improvements to the way they look and feel. Instead, people are more like the dog, Dug, from the movie Up who can’t seem to stay on task, complete a train of thought, or do much in the way of make progress on his journey of capturing a giant bird.
It’s easy to feel defeated and lose the hope and belief in yourself that urged you to improve your health and fitness when you don’t see the results you desire. Pair that with the never-ending onslaught of marketing from fitness and nutrition products and service providers, all promising you the results you so badly want, and it’s easy to see how people struggle to stay consistent with any diet or training program. The pull of the “next best thing”, or shiny object, is too hard to resist. That overwhelming feeling of motivation and desire you feel when starting something new and making a change is a double-edged sword. It can invigorate you to get started on changing your life to better your health, but it can also pull you off path with every “next best thing” that comes along.
It’s not easy to avoid the shiny object syndrome, I should know. This article was the 5th that I’ve written (or started to write) for this week. Every time I would start one article, my attention and focus would be pulled toward something different and new, something that was, in my mind, better. I realized that not only was I spending a lot of time jumping from topic to topic, but that the topic I should be writing about was right in front of me, screaming, “WRITE ABOUT ME!”. Though shiny object syndrome can feel impossible to avoid, there are some surefire ways to keep yourself on track and working the plan toward your goals.
Practice patience as you work to make change. As much as the world loves to celebrate an overnight success, change doesn’t happen that way. It’s the product of many hours, days and weeks of deliberate practice and effort. Give your fitness and nutrition program time to work. I warn clients that weight loss shouldn’t be expected in the first couple weeks as your body is still adjusting to the changes you’re making and will have a lag time. Lay out your plan, stay patient with the results (give it at least 10 weeks), and adjust when needed if your efforts aren’t being rewarded.
One of the biggest issues I see when it comes to people achieving results and shiny object syndrome is a lack of prioritization. When nothing is prioritized, everything is prioritized meaning your attention is going to be pulled in a million different directions and the possibility of achieving anything of worth is highly unlikely. Figure out what you want to achieve, decide the one or two things that are most important for your success and stick with those. Anything that doesn’t fit in or align with those priorities and your overarching goals should be avoided.
I may be a bit biased being a coach and all, but I genuinely believe that having an outside source of guidance and accountability is invaluable. The value that someone can provide who has achieved what you want to achieve is unmatched. They can show you exactly what to focus on, help you avoid common pitfalls, and make sure that you stay patient and on course, especially when you start to struggle or your mind begins playing tricks on you. If you haven’t hired a coach to help you, despite struggling to or not achieving your goals, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Do your research, talk with people who’ve worked with the coach(es) you’re interested in, and start investing in your success. It will cost you some money to hire a quality coach, but it will be worth the cost 100 times over by how much time, energy, and frustration it saves you.
If you’ve ever set out a goal and found yourself weeks, months and years down the road without making any real, tangible progress, you have been a victim of the shiny object syndrome, just like the magpies. If you’re serious about achieving those goals then you’ve got to focus on the task at hand by practicing patience, prioritizing the tasks that matter and finding an outside source of guidance to keep you on track and level headed. It doesn’t matter how big your nest grows, or how many shiny objects it houses if you’re not going achieving the goals that you’ve set out for yourself. Learn to stay the course and be rewarded with success in everything you do!
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I remember the day I truly fell in love with and created an everlasting love with reading.
I was in the airport at 9 years old, getting ready to take off on a flight with no parents, just my younger brother and I, to visit our grandparents in Alabama. I needed something to read, but choices in reading material for children in an airport are slim (or at least they were 20+ years ago). I was left with one choice that seemed remotely enjoyable, and I’m forever thankful for that serendipitous moment.
By pure chance and a stroke of good luck, I stumbled upon the Harry Potter series, book number two, The Chamber of Secrets. Despite it being the second book in the series, I was enthralled and couldn’t put it down. In the short plane ride down and back I had finished the book and wanted more. Like an animal having its first meal after starving for weeks, I was ravenously hungry for more. This began my love and passion for reading, which has not only given me an escape and way to relax, but has also helped me expand my mind, improve my thinking, and become a better person.
Reading is a beautiful thing. Whether it’s a magical adventure through castle laced lands on the backs of dragons, a riveting historical tale of love and survival during a humanitarian struggle, or a self-help book designed to shake you out of your rut and get you back on track, reading holds a value that is hard to describe. It helps relax and de-stress, improves creativity and mental flexibility, and expands your vocabulary and language skills, but I think all of those pale in comparison to the effect it has on the way you think and view world.
It gives you a chance to dive into the minds of the authors, the lives of the characters, and the time and place in which the story takes place. Today you could be traveling the Underground Railroad with a group of runaway slaves in search of freedom, while tomorrow you could be zooming through outer space 300 years in the future, fighting an alien enemy trying to capture your home planet. There are few things that give you the ability to be anyone in any place at your choosing but reading offers this willingly.
It’s this ability to “be” and “meet” different people, experience new places and immerse yourself in different time periods that offers such a powerful benefit. The experiences that you encounter through reading expand your mind, expose you to new environments, people and ways of thinking and help to create a better perspective toward the people and world around you. If you want to improve the way you see the world and grow your knowledge and intelligence as rapidly as possible, starting to read on a consistent basis should be priority number one.
How to Get Started
A lot of people struggle to read consistently, or don’t enjoy reading. I can relate to inconsistencies in reading, as I go through periods where I read 6-8 books per month and periods where I may not even finish a book in a month. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but I attribute that in large part to reading early and often. Much like children who are exposed to sports or vegetables early, those who are exposed to reading early (and thus get more proficient at reading, furthering their love for it by feeling good about it rather than struggling) tend to enjoy reading more than those who were exposed to reading later or more sporadically. If you want to discover the power and joy in reading and improve your ability to read, follow the 3 guidelines below.
Change the Narrative
As much as it may feel like you’re “just not a reader”, or “don’t like reading”, these are usually just thoughts you tell yourself to find peace with not enjoying reading or struggling with it. But these thoughts and statements, stories if you will, solidify that fact and are self-fulfilling prophecies. If you tell yourself you’re not a reader, don’t like reading, or will never be a reader, than that fact will hold true… until you change it.
Step number one is to realize that everyone is a reader, some people just don’t know it yet. Those who aren’t just haven’t exposed themselves to the right books, authors, and genres of reading. Start by telling yourself that you may not be a reader yet, but that you have the desire to read and the capability to develop the habit and skill. After that it’s about experimentation and repetition. Experiment with different genres, authors, and books, and create a habit through daily repetition.
Experiment and Test
There’s an endless amount of books out there spanning across every genre from classics like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, to fantastical masterpieces like The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson and that only covers the fictional side of reading. There’s an entire other half of the reading world that includes biographies, historical accounts, science driven writings and more. No matter who you are, or what you’re interested in, there’s a book out there for you (and more than one, for that matter).
Start by opening yourself up to the childish curiosity that you closed yourself off to when the world started to tell you it was weird, wrong, or childish to try new things and dabble in new adventures. Enter the world of reading with an open mind and reap the benefits that a good book can provide.
Be patient and give books of all types, a chance. This means not only do you need to be patient in working through the various types and kinds of books to find your unique preference and style, but you also need to be patient within each book, as some books start slow and you may give up on something that you could end up loving. Fantasy sagas are notorious for this. They’re typically 3-15 books long, span many years and engross a plethora of characters which requires 100 pages, at the least, to get into the “thick” of the story and really get a taste for what it’s like.
My favorite series of all time, A Song of Fire and Ice (aka Game of Thrones, the books) was like this. It took me what felt like forever to get through the initial stages of the book where the author laid the groundwork for all that was to come on the adventurous journey. I could’ve easily given up then, but I’m glad that I continued picking that book up day after day because the story that unfolded is one that has engrossed my mind and awed me endlessly. Give the books you try a chance to develop and age, much like a fine wine or nice cheese, and once you’ve finished the book (or at least half of it) decide if it’s something you like or not. Continue experimenting with different genres, books, and authors until you find something that matches your unique preferences.
Improve Through Repetition
Much like golf, where the goal isn’t so much to be good, but rather to be good enough to get around the course and enjoy it, art of enjoying reading is being good at it, or at least proficient enough to feel like it’s not work to do. Reading is a skill you must practice and improve if you want to do it more consistently. The best thing you can do to improve how much you enjoy reading, once you’ve figured out what it is that you like to read, is to do more of it. Build it into your day to day, make it a habit, and focus on being consistent rather than perfect in that habit.
If you’re unsure of how to make reading into a habit, here’s a foolproof method for getting you started:
Leave your book out in the open in the place that you plan to do all or the bulk of your reading. If you have a chair you like to read in, the book should be sitting in the chair or on the coffee table next to it.
Pick a time that you can commit to each day to read. Common times are first thing in the morning (my favorite), at lunch, or before bed (this can be difficult if you find yourself tired at the end of the day). You can always add in extra times, like during a wait at the doctor’s office, on airplanes (my favorite place), or on the toilet (another personal favorite). Just make sure that every day you can set a specific time to do your reading and read for the minimum time you’ve chosen.
Set a minimum time that you want to spend reading every day. Start with some small and easily attainable, so much so that it feels impossible to fail. I started with 5 minutes each morning and have slowly stretched that out into 30 but figure out what feels doable to you, do it daily and then build from there.
Find a healthy way to make the process rewarding either during or after. Have a cup of coffee while you read, read in the bathtub, or treat yourself to a food you love (in moderation). Making the process enjoyable during will make it more likely that you get started, while rewarding yourself after the fact will make it more likely that you continue it.
It doesn’t take much to get started reading, just the desire to do so and the willingness to push through some struggles and stay consistent. Whether you want to read to become more learned, to find some relaxation in your daily life, or because you want to expand your mind and the view you have on the world and the people in it, there’s a book out there for you. Get started, don’t stop and I promise the journey will be worth it.
P.S. If you’re still struggling to start reading, or stay consistent with it, how about a bit of friendly pressure and group accountability?
The Strong Minds Book Club is a monthly book club I run designed to help people read more often, expand outside their reading comfort zones and chat about the books we read each month in a fun, friendly and relaxed way. It’s been a great opportunity for everyone involved to get and stay more consistent with their reading, and we’ve explored a wide variety of books including: Educated by Tara Westover, The New Kid by Jerry Craft, The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware and more! We are currently reading Guards! Guards! a fantasy novel by Terry Pritchett and you have plenty of time to join. If you’re interested, click here to head over the Facebook group page where all the details are discussed!
Last week I wrote about how it’s not only possible to eat out and have drink with friends while trying to lose weight and/or improve your health, but that it plays a necessary role in improving health and weight loss. Today I show you how to navigate those situations so that you can enjoy all the benefits that eating out and socializing provides, without falling into the trap of overeating or making poor food choices.
Let me start by saying, eating out daily is not the answer if you want to improve your health and stay on track with your health and fitness goals. It seems unfortunate that I need to state that, but we are living in a time where everything is black and white. Meaning that if I say you can eat out, someone is going to take it as me saying you can eat out every day, for every meal, and eat everything on the menu while still living a healthy life and/or working towards weight loss or fitness goals. That’s not the case, and like most things in life, there’s nuance to it and the key is to find balance between enjoying your life and focusing on your health.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to business (did anyone else read that in tune/pitch with the Mulan song? If not, head here to figure out what the hell I’m talking about). Below are three different scenarios, with strategies for each, that you may find yourself in. Whether you know when and where you’re going and can plan ahead, it’s spur of the moment and you’ve got to adjust on the fly, or your life dictates you eat out constantly, there’s no reason you can’t still reach your health and fitness goals.
If You Know in Advance, Plan Ahead
If you know that you’re going to be eating out, things are a lot easier. You can look at the menu ahead of time, make a decide what you want to eat and then adjust the rest of your day accordingly. There are a few adjustments you should make to give yourself the best opportunity to enjoy the meal and/or drinks to the fullest, while trying to minimize any negative outcomes:
a) Skip your first meal of the day and start your morning by fasting as long as you can. Enjoy coffee and water, maybe chew some gum to stave off hunger a bit longer, and cruise right through breakfast into lunch. Important to note though, longer fasts are not always better and I don’t recommend fasting all the way to the social event, especially if there’s alcohol involved. For some, fasting reduces your appetite, but for others it is simply a dam that holds back an ever-growing appetite that’s hard to control once the flood gates open. Figure out which box you fall into, and use fasting wisely.
b) Have a small meal or snack shortly before the social event, especially one packed with protein and fiber as they’re highly filling. This may seem counter intuitive, eating before you go out to eat, but it works. By having a small meal or snack, you will feel fuller and eat less at the meal itself. Sometimes this means you’ll have leftovers to take home because you don’t finish your meal, but who doesn’t like leftovers?
c) Adjust your day(s) around the meal. If you already know what you’re going to eat, or at least have a good idea, then you can plan your days prior to and leading up to the meal to align with that. Reduce your calories a bit for 1-3 days before the meal (100-200 calories per day, as needed) and adjust the foods that you eat the day of the social event or meal. Knowing that it’s likely the meal will be heavier in carbs and fats, and lighter in protein and fiber, it would make sense to front load your day with tons of fiber and protein to balance your nutrition out. Eat plenty of lean proteins, fill your meals with tons of low-calorie fruits and vegetables and then enjoy your meal knowing that you’ve already hit the majority of your macro and micronutrient goals beforehand.
If You Were Surprised, Adjust and Adapt
Sometimes eating out or grabbing a drink is spur of the moment and there’s no possibility of planning ahead. You get a call, hop in the car and before you know it, you’re sitting at a restaurant with friends and family enjoying a night out. In situations like these, it’s important to be able to adapt your plans, and adjust afterward if needed.
You can take a couple of approaches when you find yourself in a situation like this.
a) Chalk it up as a “night off”. Eat and drink sensibly, then get right back on track the following day. Give yourself a small mental break from tracking or being 100% mindful of your food choices and enjoy the time, food, and drinks with others. This works well if you’re able to make responsible food and drink choices, as well as leave the guilt behind the next day. If you struggle to maintain control with your eating or drinking, and tend to be all or nothing when you diet, this approach probably won’t work well for you.
b) Adjust the following 1-3 days, reducing calories over those days to balance out the extra calories eaten or drank during time with friends and or family. If you had an approximate overage of 500 calories during your social event, you could reduce calories by 150 per day the following 3 days to put yourself right back on track. This is a great tool to use even when you plan ahead, as it still allows you to enjoy the meal out while keeping your calories over the course of the week (mostly) in check. If you’re someone who needs to stay “on track” or has a deadline for weight loss (like a bodybuilding competition or photo shoot), this might be a good solution that allows you to stay on track and still enjoy food and drinks with friends.
c) If you really want to hold yourself accountable and do your best to “stay on track”, simply make good choices when you arrive at the restaurant. Limit the amount of alcohol that you drink (1 drink or less), avoid indulging in the bread, chips and other table snacks they put out (or ask the waiter not to bring them), order something light and healthy, and focus on enjoying the company rather than the food. While I think food is meant to be enjoyed, there’s a time and place for it and maybe you prefer a different time, different place or with different people. There’s no shame in making healthy choices, and if it helps you avoid guilt after eating and feel better, then that’s the choice you should make.
If You Do It Often, Make Smart Choices & Eat Sensibly
If you’ve got a crazy social life or your work has you constantly traveling and eating on the road, the above strategies will work, but you’ll want to start treating your meals out like less of a break, and more of “normal” life. It’s one thing if you eat out once a week and indulge a bit, but if life calls for you to eat out on a consistent basis your strategy and mindset around eating will need to change.
a) Stop viewing these meals as a “break” or “night out” and start looking at them as a part of your daily life, your lifestyle if you will. Approach them the same way you would if you were at home cooking your own meals. Choose meals that offer a hefty portion of lean proteins and veggies, go light on the sauces and oils, and skip the bread or chip baskets and dessert the majority of the time. Make healthy choices 80% of the time or more and you’ll be able to reach your goals despite life circumstances adding a steep challenge.
b) Pick one meal per week to view through a different lens, and use that meal as your chance to eat off script, indulge a bit, and give yourself that mental breather that we all need from dieting, just don’t let that become the norm. The idea isn’t to eat everything in sight, treating it like your “last supper” meal, but rather to choose an item you typically wouldn’t and maybe even eating a bit more than you normally would with the addition of bread or a dessert afterward.
c) Practice eating more mindfully, by slowing down, enjoying each bite and getting in tune with your internal hunger signals. Are you continuing to eat because you’re hungry? Or is it because the food is there, right in front of you and easily accessible? If you struggle to stop eating when you’re full, either choose smaller portions (there’s a “healthier/lighter” options portion on most menus nowadays) or ask for a box and have half your meal boxed up right when you receive it (a tip I learned from my friend and fellow trainer, Alex McBrairty).
It can feel overwhelming to eat out while trying to stay on a diet, lose weight or work on improving your health, but it doesn’t have to be, nor do you have to avoid it completely. If you stay level headed, employ some of the strategies from above and continue focusing on your progress over the long-term versus the day to day, or meal to meal, you’ll be able to enjoy a social life without blowing your progress and having to “start over”. And even if your life consists heavily of meals out at restaurants and drinks with coworkers, you can make quality choices, learn to adjust your lifestyle to one that’s healthier and still reach your goals.
P.S. Are you someone who’s struggling to figure out how to live your life while still reaching your health and fitness goals? Are you tired of killing your nutrition plan, nailing your workouts and then BAM life happens, you have dinner out with friends and throw it all away to just start over again?
If this sounds like you and you’re over the start and stop, all or nothing style of dieting that plagues so many people, let’s talk. Click the link to schedule a no obligation call designed to help you create clarity on how to reach your goals while living your life. Don’t wait until you’ve tried and failed time and again, get the answers and results you’re looking for TODAY!
It’s one of the most common obstacles for people when they’re struggling to get into a fitness routine and start taking care of their health. Now that most people are at home, many with an overabundance of time, it’s obvious that time isn’t the real issue. From the countless conversations I’ve had with people during quarantine, it seems that motivation is the largest issue when it comes to starting or maintaining a fitness and nutrition regiment.
Learning to motivate ourselves and others has long been a point of focus as we’ve tried to grow as both individuals and societies. Questions like, “how can I motivate myself to start working out?” or “how can I motivate my coworkers/employees to complete a task?” are commonplace and have shown up throughout history in various ways. Because of this, a large focus of scientific study has turned to motivation and how to use it to harness human potential both on the individual and group scale.
Why then, with it being woven into societies throughout history and given ample attention in scientific communities, is motivation so difficult for people to come by?
In large part, it’s because the majority of us don’t truly understand what motivation is, how to properly use it to achieve our goals, and are stuck using outdated, self-sabotaging methods. Luckily, you’re in the right place. I’m here to show you exactly how you can avoid the common motivation pitfalls and harness the power of motivation so you can start making progress, continuously check off your to do list and never feel run down again.
What is motivation?
Motivation is the general desire or willingness to do something. It’s the drive for taking action, performing a duty or completing a task. Many believe action is the product of motivation, that without motivation your vehicle for action won’t budge.
This is the first and most fatal mistake when it comes to motivation: believing that motivation precedes action, when in reality there is no true motivation without action.
If you wait for motivation to take action, you’ll be waiting for a while and many opportunities will pass you by as you wait. It’s like waiting for a bus in a foreign, third world country; you don’t know if the bus will actually show up, and when it does it may take you to a completely different destination (this actually happened to me while traveling solo in Costa Rica). Stop believing that you need to be motivated to get started and you’ll avoid the largest pitfall when it comes to motivation.
How do you build motivation?
Motivation is a product of momentum built from action, and the belief in the possibility of a better future because of your actions. In other words, you must take action to build motivation and build belief in that action as having the power to change your situation. Otherwise you will eventually burn out on the feelings of pointless action.
Someone looking to lose weight needs to believe in their ability to lose weight and the actions they’re taking toward it, otherwise when they hit a plateau, or if the weight doesn’t come off quickly and early, they’ll give up because they don’t have the deep belief in what they’re doing and why.
The 3 Levels of Human Motivation
To dive deeper into understanding and using motivation, it’s important to discuss the 3 levels of motivation that drive all of human behavior. Gaining a deeper understanding of the different motivation levels will allow you to harness the ability to self-motivate and become the absolute best version of yourself.
First Level Motivation: Primal Motivators
The first level of motivation is the most basic of the 3. It’s built around our most basic biological needs like food, water, shelter, sleep, reproduction, etc. These are primal motivators that are the foundation for much of what we do. For many of us these needs are largely taken care of and almost an afterthought, so motivation from this first level is low. Ensure that your basic needs are met and you won’t need to worry about level 1 motivation.
Second Level Motivation: Carrot & Stick Rewards/Punishment
The second level of motivation is the carrot and stick, reward and punishment style of motivation. It’s what the majority of the 20th century was built upon and the way that many businesses, parents, teachers, and society members focus on as a way of motivating themselves and others. Punish the bad behavior, reward the good behavior, and over time you’ll prune your behavior garden so that only the good behaviors grow, and all unnecessary behaviors are weeded out. This is great in theory, and for certain situations it works wonderfully, but in many instances this sort of motivation is severely lacking and can even negatively affect motivation, especially over the long haul.
The Problem with Reward-Based Motivation
External, reward-based motivators, like overtime pay and are carrot and stick style motivation. They dumb people down to basic beings who wouldn’t accomplish much without the threat of punishment or the allure of reward. They can be extremely useful in certain situations and for specific types of motivation needed, but they can also destroy the intrinsic motivation and derail your progress long term if used inappropriately.
External rewards are great when used for a task or habit that you haven’t started and/or aren’t interested in or excited about starting. By rewarding yourself at the beginning, you can make the process of starting easier, hopefully build interest and help solidify the habits that you may not enjoy. This will work effectively in the initial stages, but over time you’ll need to move those rewards internally as rewards lose their power and effect over time and exposure.
External rewards have a negative, motivation draining effect in situations where you enjoy the tasks. This is because of something called the overjustification effect where instead of focusing on the task itself, we focus on the reward and almost detach from the task. If you’ve ever enjoyed something and then moved into a position where it became your job and you were paid for it, over time the joy you found in that activity likely faded until you lost all joy entirely. This is the overjustification effect in action and can destroy the internal joy and motivation that is necessary for long term success.
External rewards also have a negative effect if used too frequently or for too long. Rewards are most effective when they’re sporadic and randomized, as this works on a process called reward prediction error. We receive a bigger bolster of motivation and feedback from unexpected or unpredictable rewards rather than those that we know are coming. Receiving an unexpected cash bonus at work has a more powerful effect on your motivation than the annual bonus you receive at Christmas. One is unexpected and reinforces the hard work you’ve done, while the other is expected and taken for granted.
Use external rewards to build initial interest in a task to help you get started and sporadically during the beginning phases of building a habit or changing behaviors. Over time move those motivators internally and focus on intrinsic factors, like the grand purpose of your goals, the impact your actions have and the control you have over them, and working towards daily mastery, to ensure that motivation doesn’t wane and progress continues.
Level 3 Motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose
The third level of motivation moves away from the externally motivating factors like rewards and punishments and turns motivation inward. It focuses entirely on intrinsic motivation, the internal drives for why you do something, and uses that to create lasting, overflowing motivation. It focuses on 3 primary areas that define and drive motivation: purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Understanding what these 3 areas encompass and learning how to use that information on yourself and the world around you will give you the ability to manifest motivation nearly at will.
Autonomy means self-government. It’s the idea that we are driven by a need to feel in control of ourselves and the choices that we make. It plays a major role in motivating individuals, but beyond just feeling like we’re in control of our lives and the choices therein, we must feel like the choices we make and actions we take have the power to make change. It’s this belief, this feeling of hope for a better future based off our actions that provides us with the motivation necessary to make change.
To use autonomy for yourself, it’s important that you decide what goals to pursue and how to pursue them. This doesn’t mean that you need to go at it alone, but rather that you should be the one guiding your journey. Realizing the control you have over your situation, coupled with the belief that you can make a change, is one of the most empowering and motivating feelings you will experience.
As a health and fitness coach I approach goal setting, as well as individualized fitness and nutrition components from this same perspective. I act as a guide to help people in achieving their goals, but ultimately the goals that they choose to pursue and the ways in which they pursue them come down to their own needs, wants and drives. I could outline exactly how to reach a goal for every client, but in doing so would remove a large degree of control they have in the process. The lack of control and personal input in the process would drain motivation and derail progress swiftly. Instead, I focus on ensuring that the client retains control, autonomy, over their health and fitness journey so that they stay engaged and motivated.
Humans have a desire to work towards mastery of themselves, and their lives. This eagerness to work towards mastery provides us with a challenge and the feeling of “play” which can take mundane tasks from boring and uninteresting, to intriguing and enjoyable. Pursuit of mastery provides a video game-like experience that allows you to continuously face and overcome challenges, providing reoccurring motivation.
The key to using the component of mastery properly is to set up adequately matched challenges. Using the Goldilocks Paradox and finding a challenge or goal that’s not too hard (which feels overwhelming and pointless), or too easy (which gets boring and repetitive) builds engagement and energizes you toward your task. Figure out what you want to achieve over the long haul, take note of what you’re currently capable of, and then set goals that are just a step or two above where you currently are. This will allow you to feel empowered to succeed in achieving your goals without becoming overwhelmed or bored.
I know it’s not glamorous to take mini steps and make small progress towards your goals. It doesn’t garner the attention or excitement that a major life overhaul and grand goals might, but it leads to far more success. Anyone who seems to have achieved “overnight success” is actually the product of consistent, small achievements that culminated in a massive amount of success over time. Start with your overarching goal(s) as guidance, but then focus on breaking them down into manageable, bite-sized pieces that are appropriately challenging.
Purpose is your “why”. It’s the reason that you ultimately do something. It’s at the deepest level, the “something bigger than you” level, where it connects us to the process in a way that goals themselves cannot do alone, especially ill-formed or misguided goals. When you start to figure out the goals you’d like to achieve, you need to dig deeper and figure out why you have a desire to achieve them.
Why do you want to achieve this goal? Why does it matter to you? What need does this goal satisfy for you and why is that important? How does this connect to a larger purpose than the goal itself?
In answering these questions you’ll gain a clearer picture about who you are and what drives you, and figure out if the goal you’ve set out is something that truly matters, or if it’s just another goal that you’ll pursue for a short period and eventually give up on. Figure out the purpose of your goal, build belief in the reason why you want to achieve that goal, and fuel your motivational fire from within.
If you want to lose weight, why? What purpose does it serve?
Maybe you want to feel more confident about yourself, improve your health, or be able to challenge yourself physically by running races. It’s important to dig deeper than simply wanting to lose weight, because at some point that alone won’t be enough to keep pushing you forward when the journey becomes difficult and your dedication wanes. Figure out why you want to achieve your goals, and focus on that purpose, especially when the process becomes difficult or progress becomes stagnant.
Motivation is Internally Driven
To truly motivate yourself, not just to get started but also to continue in pursuit of a goal, you need to move your focus away from external motivators, like rewards and punishments which can negatively affect motivation, and turn it towards internal motivators. You can use external motivators to begin a task and build interest, but eventually the power from those rewards and punishments will fade, so finding internal motivation, or a drive and reason within yourself for what you do, is the ultimate goal. Harness the power of internal motivation by finding purpose, retaining autonomy over the process, and creating challenge through mastery. In doing so you will find that you never have to wait for motivation to strike again and your ability to achieve goals will never be an issue.
Many of these ideas are based off the work of E.L. Deci and R.M. Ryan, the pioneers of Self-Determination Theory, and the book Drive by Daniel H. Pink. For more information, check out selfdeterminationtheory.org, or read Daniel Pink’s book. And if you need help implementing this new style of motivation into your life, so that you can live a happy and successful life, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the coaching process I’ve used to help people turns dreams into reality and make life-altering changes.
Change is going to happen. Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or what you do, change is inevitable. Many people struggle with change. The struggle occurs because the change happens to you, rather than for you. You are forced to change, rather than choosing to transform, and that lack of control can be uncomfortable, unnerving, and frustrating. It’s like being pulled by the undertow in the ocean; Fearing that you may never regain control and reach the surface again becomes very real.
The issue lies in the fact that we’ve never really been taught how to create positive change; We’ve never been taught that it’s a process that we can take control of it. During your schooling years from preschool all the way through college and post graduate studies, much of your self-development and growth occurs as a result of others guiding you through the learning and transformation processes. It teaches and conditions you to that change is done for you, rather than by you, making you feel like a passive participant in your own growth and development.
As you work your way out of school and into traditional life, the responsibility of personal growth and learning falls squarely on your shoulders. No longer are people intentionally guiding you to acquire more knowledge, build your skills, and develop yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is where most people stop developing almost completely and become stagnant in their life. They no longer consistently learn and grow, struggle to create positive change, and find themselves merely treading water. This is a scary place to be because it goes against our natural human desire to stay in motion and work to grow and achieve more. Even though change is scary, being stuck feels worse. Without that growth, without the positive motion moving us forward, we feel lost and struggle to find ourselves.
That’s where Intentional Change Theory can play a pivotal role. It’s a structured approach to self-development and personal transformation created by Richard Boyatzis. It was theorized and designed for use in the development of employees and growth in the business sector, but can work for everything from career improvement and emotional development, to physical transformations, relationship building and skill acquisitions. It helps guide you from where you currently are to where you want to be through 5 key steps:
Connecting to Your Ideal Self
Understanding Your Real Self
Creating a Learning & Growth Agenda
Implementing and Experimenting with New Behaviors &Habits
Developing & Maintaining Close, Personal Relationships
With these 5 steps you will discover important things about yourself that will help you achieve personal growth and transform your life. Diving deep in the questions below, you will begin to uncover the truth about who you are; Your strengths and weaknesses, your dreams and aspirations, and your fears and personal obstacles will all be brought to the surface . This insight will guide you through building a structured transformation process and help you grow into the person you have always wanted to become, to develop the life you’ve always dreamed of living.
If you’re ready to take control of your life, seeking out and creating change intentionally rather than waiting for it to happen to you, continue reading this guide that will have you on your way to living your best life and becoming your truest self.
What do you want out of life?
Don’t think about what you’ll tolerate, or what you think is possible; what do you truly want and desire out of life?
Who do you want to become? What does the very best version of yourself look like?
Most of us tend to live small. We plan small, dream small and live small. It’s safe and it keeps us from feeling the anxiety and fear of being truthful about our dreams and goals and chasing them feverishly. It keeps us from being let down if things don’t work out.
But living safe isn’t living life to it’s fullest. It’s living below your potential and accepting less than what you truly want and deserve. It leaves you always wanting more, left with feelings of dissatisfaction and irritation.
Your ideal self breaks through these societal and self-imposed limitations, smashes through the idea that you’re not worth the effort to go after want you want. It helps you tap into your deepest desires for yourself and the life you live. This is the part of the vision building process which works on something called “Positive Emotional Attraction” to create hope and inspiration for individuals to create change. Rather than focusing on external limitations and factors that can lead to feelings of negativity, visualization allows you to look at yourself and your situation in the most positive possible light.
When going through the questions above, it’s important to be aware of any of the limiting stories or ideas that come across your mind. These are the stories that the world around you has told you for years, driven by their own fear and limitations, that you’ve adopted as your own. If you start thinking, “I can’t achieve that”, “I’m not good enough for that”, “I’m not X, Y, or Z type of person” or anything sounding remotely similar, understand that’s not your own true thoughts and feelings, but rather the thoughts and feelings you have absorbed over a lifetime.
This section is where you let those feelings go, be truthful with yourself about what you want and need out of yourself and your life and start visualizing what that would look and feel like. Put aside your preconceived notions about what’s possible based on your current skills, characteristics, attributes, etc.; Turn your focus to what you want your life to look like if there were absolutely no limitations and anything was possible (hint: in many ways, it is possible).
This is who you truthfully are right now. How do you act? How do you see yourself? How do other people see you and feel about you?
Your real self is the person that you currently are. It’s the way you act and respond, the characteristics you embody, the skills you currently possess, and the life you’re currently living. This is a difficult area for people to dive into because we all have our own biases and protections for our egos. We struggle to see ourselves honestly, without outside influences or personal opinions distorting the truth about ourselves. However, if we are afraid to look in the mirror, we can never change the things we don’t like. Embrace the “ugly”. Be honest. Put aside your ego and take this dive into who you truly are as an opportunity for reflection, self-awareness, and growth.
As you work through the questions above, it can help to reach out to other people to gather their opinion on who you are. Choose people who know you well but aren’t afraid to speak their mind and be honest, without fear of hurting your feelings. You must also be open to the constructive criticism these people may provide and welcome it as a self-performance review. It will show you where you excel and show you where you can improve. if you adopt a mindset that sees honesty and growth as a positive opportunity, the ability to improve is invigorating and energizing. These people will play a pivotal role in your growth and development over your lifetime, so getting them involved early and often is important.
Ideal vs Real Self: Your Personal Balance Sheet
Compare your ideal self to your real self. Where do they align? Where are there gaps and differences between the two?
Where does your real self live up to your ideal self? These are the strengths that you’ll continue to build on and use to your advantage.
Where does your ideal self outpace your real self? These are the weaknesses or shortcomings where you will focus your attention and put energy into improving.
This works as a personal balance sheet designed to compare where your strengths lie, and where opportunities for growth can be found. It’s important to approach this process entirely judgment free, focusing on unconditional acceptance of self. Look at is as a chance to improve yourself and your life, rather than beat yourself up over your weaknesses or areas in which you aren’t living up to your potential.
It can be helpful to set up a Venn diagram comparing your real and ideal self and putting the overlapped areas in the middle to show where they align. You can then move onto the next section and start building a plan to bridge the gap between your ideal and real self, using your strengths to get you there.
Your learning agenda is the plan you develop that guides you step by step from where you currently are, to where you want to go. It’s the map that leads you to the treasure chest of wealth that is your ideal self and life. It’s important to build a clear outline with goals that are broken down further into skills and practices/habits. This ensures that you’re giving yourself the best chance to succeed in transformation.
What do you need to learn to become your best self? What skills do you need to develop?
In what areas to you need to grow physically, mentally and emotionally to become the best version of you?
How can you take the information from above and break it down into manageable steps that can be achieved through daily action (habits and behaviors) over the course of weeks and months or even years?
The learning agenda is a guide; it’s the Yoda to the Luke Skywalker that is your personal growth and development. It acts to not only show you the path to your highest self and form of living, but also to motivate you by proving that it’s actually possible to achieve. Focus on the key aspects of your personal growth, the areas that will bring you the most drastic change the quickest. Then, narrow your lens view as you achieve those major changes.
A large portion of your focus will be on bridging the gaps between your ideal and real self, but attention should also be paid to strengths and areas in which you are already succeeding. This works to reinforce those strengths and to ensure that you continue to maintain them as you move forward. This gives you a boost of motivation by working in an area where you already excel. Working on weaknesses and constantly struggling to build upon them can become a grind, so it’s necessary to affirm your strengths.
But while it is important to focus necessary attention on those areas, don’t become lost in that. It can be easy to be absorbed by the good feelings and comfort of the “pat on the back”. Acknowledge what you’ve done well, and what you will continue to do, but don’t let it take you away from the process of transformation.
Practice and Experimentation with New Habits and Behaviors:
This may be the most important step in this entire process. Without the previous three steps, however, it will fall far short of its potential. This is where you take the planning, motivation, and insight built over the first three steps and put them into action.
What habits and behaviors must you adopt if you wish to become your ultimate self?
How can you implement the practice of those behaviors into your current life?
How will you ensure that failure in practicing or creating a new behavior doesn’t end up in you quitting the improvement process entirely?
It’s important to understand and accept that change doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t just decide to become a better person, to live a better life, and then wake up expecting it to happen. It takes hard work and a level of dedication that gets you through the low points. But if you keep your eyes on the end goal while believing in your ability to achieve it, the work will come naturally. Though difficult at times, it will be well worth it. Focus on what you do daily as a way to weigh your success in the process, working for consistency rather than perfection. Measure those habits up to the check points you’ve set for yourself, and continue to do this process over time.
It’s also necessary to remember that your ultimate self is probably unattainable– meaning, perfection is something that will never happen. You will never do every single thing you set out to do daily. It’s about a majority win. When good habits prevail 90 percent of the time, you’re winning. The idea that your ultimate self won’t be 100 percent achieved shouldn’t dampen your emotion but rather keep you level headed as you work towards it without ever truly achieving it.
Development and Maintenance of Close Personal Relationships:
Humans are built for connection. It plays on our need for survival. Those who are connected with others and work well in groups typically survive better than lone wolfs. It also works with our desire to reproduce, as connection is a vital component to create relationships and families. Though our needs for survival have drastically changed throughout human history, there is still a large need for human connection and support in achieving anything of worth, especially a massive transformation. You can go at this journey alone, but your chances of success and the speed at which you succeed will fall greatly without the assistance from people close to you.
The relationships that we have with individuals and groups work two fold. They work as a support system, providing feedback on your progress, and helping you through your struggles so you don’t revert back to old behaviors. They also help develop your identity. Because of this, it’s important to surround yourself with people who will be honest and challenge you, those who believe in your vision for your life and live their lives in a similar manner. Working toward personal growth and aiming to live the best life possible is so much easier when done together.
Your personal relationships include friends and family, but expand outside of that small circle to encompass people you wouldn’t normally expect. Bosses and mentors, coaches who have already achieved what you wish to work for, and anyone else willing to invest in your process of change are all people you should keep close to you. Start looking within your life to find people who fit the criteria of being a supportive member on your journey, and then expand outward searching for coaches or mentors who can help guide you where others cannot.
Remember that the relationship should be mutually beneficial. You will be gaining something from them, and giving something in return. Enter the relationship in such a way that ensures you’re not simply taking.
Change is Your Choice
Change is going to be tough no matter how it happens. Whether you change as a result of difficult times that force change, or simply decide that you’re going to dedicate yourself to the betterment and improvement of your life, it’s going to be difficult. The difference between intentional change and the change that happens to you and is forced upon you, is that the former makes you feel empowered with the ability to create change, while the latter leaves you feeling out of control and at the mercy of life. It’s your choice and responsibility to decide who you want to be and the life you want to live, and it starts with your approach to your own development and growth.
Do you want to accept life as it is, always at the mercy of the inevitable difficulties that life throws at you? Or would you prefer to grab the reins of change, take control of your life and grow into the person you’ve always been capable of becoming?
Ultimately the choice is yours and I can’t fault you for not wanting to put forth the immense amount of effort it takes to create change for yourself and work toward a better life. But the truth is that your time on earth is limited and you’ve already been living a small, underwhelming life, so isn’t it time to try something new?
P.S. If you’ve been struggling to make a change in your life, especially if it’s related to health, nutrition, fitness or mindset, contact me at email@example.com to discuss my coaching process and how I can help you implement some of the tools from this article and ensure you make the changes you desire and start living the life you have always wanted!
I remember getting the notification about gyms closing due to COVID-19 and being both worried and upset. A place that I considered a second home, was being closed down for 2 weeks (which turned into 4) in an effort to flatten the COVID-19 curve. I felt like I had lost a best friend, something that has been a daily part of my life for over 12 years, and I wasn’t sure how I would get by.
Writing it out like that, it seems silly. The gym, my best friend? But in many ways, no matter how sad that sounds, it’s true.
The gym was the place I went to when times were good, bad and especially when they were ugly. It was the place I felt most comfortable and free. It was always open, always available, and always gave back more than I put in. When I had no one else, I always had the gym, so the loss of it left me grieving. As such, I went through the various stages of grief.
Denial, anger, depression, and bargaining.
Finally, I came to acceptance and realized that regardless of how I felt, the situation was not going to change and the change that needed to happen was in the way I looked at and approached the situation. Sure, I didn’t have the same equipment that a commercial, or even private gym has, but I did have some equipment and that was far better than nothing. I may not be able to workout in the same way or capacity that I was used to, but I could still workout and get many of the same benefits.
By changing my mindset I went from worrying about losses in muscle and strength, to focusing on the gains I would make in other areas of fitness. I thought about how this setback could be an opportunity to become a more well-rounded athlete and a better fitness and nutrition coach. I went from angry, anxious, and depressed about the situation, to excited, energized and hopeful about what could come of it.
If you want to change your mindset about your fitness and training during this time and go from complaining about what you lost to focusing on what you may gain, continue reading. If not, do your best just to “grind through” until the gyms open, whenever that may be.
The New Status Quo
The most important step in making the most out of this situation is treating these changes like they’re the new “normal”. Stop waiting for things to get back to normal, stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead, adjust and adapt to the situation as it is, rather than how you’d like it to be. This is not only going to be a powerful mindset shift for your training, but for your life as we learn to operate within the guidelines. It does you absolutely no good to put energy into and dwell on what was or what could be. Instead, focus on what is and what still can be.
How can you make the most of the situation as it stands? If this situation was permanent, or at least for the next 6 months, how would your approach to training, nutrition and your daily life change?
These are important questions to answer if you want to change your approach to your fitness during this time and make the most out of a poor situation.
Work on Weaknesses We’ve all got them. That side of your body that isn’t as strong, that exercise that’s a massive struggle for you, or the area of fitness you’re lacking. Use this time to not only build awareness of your weaknesses, but attack them ferociously so when you get back to your typical gym routine you’re stronger and more resilient than ever before.
Where do you biggest weaknesses lie? What exercises and/or types of workouts give you the most trouble or do you avoid (because they’re hard or “suck”)? What have you been avoiding because it isn’t fun, sexy or doesn’t play up to your strengths?
Answer those questions and then get to work!
Get Creative Challenge yourself to find creative, new ways to workout. Maybe you decide to use heavy objects around the house, like laundry detergent, milk jugs, or back packs loaded with books or cans. Maybe you have weights but need to find ways to challenge your strength because of the limitations of equipment or amount of weight you have access to, like using offset loads or training unilaterally. No matter what your specific limitations are, take it as an exciting new challenge rather than a setback.
What objects do you have around your house that you can use for exercise equipment?
Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, turn your sights on what you do have and how you can make use of it.
Try New Types of Exercise Is there a workout class or fitness program you’ve been curious about trying? Now is a great time to jump in and give it a go! Find free workouts online through Google of YouTube, join a live class (I run 3 each week live through Zoom, if you’d like the info comment below) or reach out to a coach or trainer you trust who specializes in the type of exercise you’re interested in. Expand your fitness knowledge and improve the way that your body moves (while working on likely weaknesses from #1) to become a more well rounded human and athlete.
There’s no better time to try something new, and the internet offers you a great opportunity to find all sorts of free or inexpensive options from the comfort of your home. Figure out what interests and excites you (or challenges you), head to YouTube or Google, and find exactly what you’re looking for (and more).
Focus on Mobility and Recovery You probably have been meaning to get around to fixing that knee pain, improving the depth of your squat, and working on your mobility for years now. You’ve had all the right intentions and may have even found a routine that you started, but I’m going to guess that you’ve never actually put in consistent, intentional time on your mobility. I get it though. It’s not flashy, it doesn’t show as well on social media or in conversations the way a deadlift PR or longest run does, but it’s a necessary component to a fitness program and your physical health. Take this extra time (and likely lack of equipment) to focus on an area that will benefit you not only immediately, but also over the long haul.
For my daily mobility routine that you can do anywhere and anytime, follow this link. It can be done in 20-30 minutes and will touch on every joint and muscle in the body to ensure that your body moves and feels better than every. Start taking care of you body and improving your mobility so that when you get back to your normal training, you’ll be stronger than ever before.
If you want to spend your time upset about the loss of gyms and the change in your typical workout and routine, that’s your choice, but you’re far better off accepting the situation as it is and choosing to find the silver lining. You’ll be happier, healthier and much more productive as a result.
P.S. I am opening up spots in my group coaching program to anyone who is looking for accountability and support in addition to some awesome workouts and training resources. If you’re interested, leave a comment and let me know so I can get you signed up. The best part: it’s entirely FREE! Join today!