Stop right there! That’s right, you. Check your hands. Are you holding a cup full of your favorite refreshment? If you answered yes, feel free to read on; if you answered no, I’ll wait right here while you run to top off or get a cold one. Ready with what I hope is water. Let’s talk about goals: setting them and building the successful process you can use to reach them.
I’m sure by now that you have enough experience to realize that shortcuts (no matter how alluring or promising) do not exist when it comes to long term success in maintaining the healthy, sexy you that you want to see in your full-length mirror in the morning. Anyone who has yo-yo dieted and lost weight only to gain it back and find that she or he is making the same resolution as last New Year can attest to this. I will not offer you advice regarding any special pills you can take or any specific foods you can eat or even any goofy inventions you can shake vigorously while sitting in your favorite easy chair. None of the miracles offered on late-night television will work to get and keep you where you want to be health-wise – that will help you magically shed your unwanted fat and tone your butt and arms.
The reason I offer no magic bullets is because they will not help you attack the real issues that are insidiously and unnecessarily preventing you from meeting your goal. What I offer you is a system that works: a system that I employed to go from 208 pounds (right before giving birth) to 148 pounds (and counting) in the course of a year and a half all while raising a child, studying for my ACSM certification (personal training and later this year the ACE nutrition certification), and working to start a business and women’s support group promoting healthy lifestyle choices. I’m not pitching a system secretly developed in my garage – despite the amount of time I spend pumping iron in there — nor am I promising you that you will reach your goal (you alone have the power to determine whether you’ll reach your goal and with great power comes great responsibility). What I am promising is that if you follow the advice below you will be successful in reaching ANY goal you desire (healthy body in this case). The tactics I discuss below have been proven to work and are based on the psychology of human behavior and motivation — consider them best practices in a strategy aimed at developing the habits that will lead to you to success.
If you, like I, find yourself pressed for time with your hectic schedule and list of daily commitments, then you already realize how crucial effective use of your time is simply to do the things you need to do as a mother, wife or entrepreneur. Squeezing in a workout to maintain and enhance your health seems like a no-brainer to me and yet I constantly hear the following excuses: “I’d love to exercise, but I just don’t have the time”; “Easy access to a gym or equipment just isn’t available; I can’t fit a trip to the gym into my hectic schedule”; or, my personal favorite, “I am too tired to go work out!” My answer to these is the same: “You make the time and put in the effort for what matters to you and that’s that.”
“Okay,” you might say, “so with my schedule so jam packed with commitments, how can you propose I take a time out to exercise?” Before I answer (I know you thought it was a rhetorical question), let’s step back and analyze this statement. There are some harmful hidden assumptions, and the first two that immediately jump out at me are: 1) you believe all your commitments – if they are commitments – are equally weighted and 2) you assume you have to work exercise into your schedule rather than schedule around your exercise. Firstly, all commitments are not equally weighted and you need to determine your priorities. Secondly, your health and happiness should be important enough to rank higher than an after-thought in your list of daily activities; after all, what’s more important than your health! Fear not, helpful advice is on its way.
I am going to discuss how you’re concept of a gym and exercise may be incorrect and help paint you a better picture of what they should mean to you. Then, I am going to show you tools you can use to determine your real priorities and act on them while using your time effectively. Yes, exercise can be a regular part of your schedule and it doesn’t take much effort to make it work: it just takes your willingness to stay with it until it’s a habit.
Picture a gym. Most of you probably are holding in your mind a sprawling weight room filled with muscular men and women posing in front of mirrors or yelling while they lift impossibly heavy weights above their heads with what appears to be a complete disregard for their self-preservation and welfare of those around them; you’re probably also picturing an equally sized cardio room where avid stationary bicyclists and treadmill warriors are pumping their legs as they attack their planned marathon cardio sessions. Sure, that’s one type of gym, but by no means does such a picture encompass all gyms. Did you know that practicing Taijiquan, “the ultimate martial art”, and Qigong, “energy exercise”, (both great workouts) is said to require no more than the space an ox requires to lie down? Now, consider the fact that someone who practices these exercises uses no equipment (body only), requires no special space or even a very large space (no membership fees to a warehouse health club or long drive), and can finish a session in 30 minutes or fewer. Okay, so maybe martial arts and Eastern mysticism aren’t for you, but you too can exercise when you want where you want even without any equipment if you so desire. How? Glad you asked.
Your Gym Could Be
(These options cascade – each option is contained in the next)
- FREE: You and just you doing body weight exercises when you want wherever you find yourself. Exercise is cumulative and the calorie burn will add up over the day if you can only manage to squeeze in five to ten minutes here and there. Managed effectively this can be a great way to exercise when you’re really pressed for time.
- $250: A very minimal home gym consisting of a set of exercise bands, a door frame mounted pull-up bar and you could even toss in a kettle bell or set of adjustable dumbbells with appropriate assortment of weight plates. Congratulations, you’re P90X ready if you meet the fitness requirement.
- $$$: An upgraded home gym (I confess my husband got excited when I told him I liked to work out) consisting of a proper power rack for squats and bench pressing, Olympic weight set (bar and bumper plates to save the concrete and your weights), bands, dumbbells, curl bar, kettle bells and a good flat bench for bench pressing and a second smaller bench for inclined pressing with dumbbells. This is probably best for when you get serious, and you don’t have to purchase it all at once. I went for months with no rack or proper bench and instead went to the local gym to do squats and bench presses when the weights became great enough. Used Sporting Goods Stores and your local Craigslist are great places to shop for equipment at reasonable prices (contact me if you want).
- $10-50 per month: A membership to the sweat factory above. Do your homework on these because they are not all created the same: some offer access to equipment only, others offer personal trainers at additional cost (whether they are competent or not is another discussion), and some offer on-site services of chiropractors and masseuses and masseurs. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting for your money and that you’re willing to put in the time it takes to make the investment worth it (in time, not money; you can always make more money but you never get back your time).
Now that we’re over the hurdle of gym availability — where you need it when you need it — let’s talk about effective use of time and choosing to work on those things that matter to you while managing those that don’t; consider this a short course in how to choose the vital few from the important many and pointers on how to manage them to achieve your goal.
First, I would like to cover what a goal is. I can just hear the objections that you already know what goals are and we can skip this and get to the meat and potatoes of time management. Let’s not be too hasty. Not all goals are created equal and some are just statements about desires masquerading as goals. A goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) and when you’re setting a goal it should be aggressive but possible. The following are some examples of bad goals: 1) I want to lose weight, 2) I want to lose ten pounds, 3) I want to lose 30 pounds by 1 March 2015 (today is 20 February 2015), 4) I want to lose 30 pounds by 17 November 2015. The first meets none of the SMART criteria; the second is specific, measurable, relevant, and might be achievable but there is no time frame; the third meets all criteria except achievability – I don’t know anyone who could eat and exercise in a sustainable manner and lose that much weight in a week; and the fourth meets all SMART criteria, but I would question the aggressiveness of your schedule (270 days for 30 pounds). A good goal might be: I want to lose 30 pounds by 21 May 2015 (today is 20 February 2015). Let’s check this goal against the SMART criteria: it is specific (lose 30 pounds), measurable (hop on the scale and voila), achievable (you don’t depend on anyone or anything out of your direct control for the most part in order to achieve it), relevant (weight loss is important to you), and time-bound (21 May 2015 is the date and gives you 90 days for 30 pounds which is time-bound; you want to be somewhat aggressive here and pick a time you think you’ll make your goal with 80-90% probability). When you set all your goals in this manner, you know exactly what you’re aiming for, how you’re going to verify you made it and when you intend to make it; anything less, and you’re going to frustrate yourself chasing a dream.
Of all the qualities of a goal above, relevance stands out in my mind as being the most important. If the goal you pick is not important to you, it’s not going to make you want to jump up and run after it day after day. Think about a time when you set a goal that didn’t really inspire you; how easy was it for you to maintain your enthusiasm for pursuing it? Did you simply give up and strike it off your To-Do List or maybe just stop mentioning it in the hopes that others would forget? This happened because you didn’t choose something important to you. When you choose a goal that is meaningful to you, you find it easier to prioritize it above all the other things that demand your time – you make time for it. You will know when you have identified one of your vital few among your important many: when you won’t let anything get in your way in achieving it.
So, you’re midway along in your journey and you’re noting your progress but you’re not seeing the results that you want. What is going on? The answer depends on how you’re tracking yourself. When you weigh yourself you’re seeing a “lagging indicator.” This is something you see after the fact when it’s too late to act (you weigh what you weigh). Keeping track of the intermediate values of your weight on your way to your target weight helps to ensure you’re on track and that’s a good thing, but this alone isn’t enough. What you need is another tool to help before you see the result: a “leading indicator” is something that you can monitor that should change before you see corresponding trends in your weight during your periodic weigh-ins. Some good leading indicators that I have tried are: 1) Daily Caloric Intake (with protein, fat and carbohydrate breakdown, which are called macro-nutrients), 2) Daily Workout (Completed/Skipped), and 3) Hours Sleep per Night. You might choose these or you might choose your own set, but make sure that you choose things you can completely control and track. Sometimes some experimentation is needed to select good leading indicators, but the three here have worked for me: I know that if I track my calories (a nutritionist can help you determine how much you should be eating and offer appropriate food choices if you’re willing to listen to reason), my workout completions (I write my own programs and can help you too) and my sleep (rest is important in recovery; adequate sleep helps prevent making poor food choices during the day) that I am most likely going to stay on track to achieving my weight loss goal – I say most likely because these leading indicators don’t totally predict weight loss but instead correlate very well with it. Another benefit in tracking the four items above (intermediate weight, daily caloric intake, workout routine completed and sleep) is that you can see trends in your eating, exercise and sleep and how they affect your weight: this becomes important during maintenance. Make sure you keep track of your leading and lagging indicators and your goal weight on a scoreboard. Try to find someone to hold you accountable if you feel you have trouble holding yourself accountable!
Now, what can you use to track progress? Two of the best methods I have utilized are taking progress photos and using a tape measure. The scale might be helpful if you have a lot of weight to lose initially, but the more weight you have lost while strength training, the more deceiving those numbers on the scale can be. This is assuming that your nutrition is balanced. Below are my progress photos I recently posted on Bodybuilding.com’s Facebook page as part of their midway (6 week) challenge. There is only about a five to seven pound difference in these 6 weeks. I won’t be seeing dramatic changes in scale weight any more, especially while adding muscle. Also remember, I’ve been strength training and eating balanced meals, so the change might seem a bit drastic to some, but I’ve been building muscle for the last two years. To me, the change looks normal. I keep my calories between 2,300-2,500 a day because I lift weights four days a week, do sprints and breastfeed.
My best tip for you right now is to ditch the scale for a while and start measuring your calories so you know what proper portions for you are. Start high with calories and slowly and safely decrease over time until you are at your maintenance goal for body composition. Lastly, measure your progress through photos and the tape measure.
Thank you all for following me on my journey. I hope that my journey helps you in yours!