Creating SMART Goals

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)

  1. 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.
  2. $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.
  3. $$$: 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).
  4. $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).
Here, Andrew is showing us how to do a lat pull-down with resistance bands.  Resistance bands are a space savor and versatile.
Here, Andrew is showing us how to do a lat pull-down with resistance bands. Resistance bands are a space saver and versatile.
Miscellaneous Equipment
We have several resistance, loop and flat bands. Some of the equipment is in the bags and the rest is stored on this shelving unit.
Swiss Ball
We recently bought bumper plates to lessen any damage that may occur to the garage floor. Here, you are seeing one of our Swiss balls and one of our benches, which inclines and declines. Ah, and on the left are the kettle bells.

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.

Midway to my transformation challenge for www.bodybuilding.com.
Midway to my transformation challenge for http://www.bodybuilding.com.

Thank you all for following me on my journey.  I hope that my journey helps you in yours!

Friends Don’t Let Friends Make Excuses

“Ninety-nine percent of failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

– George Washington Carver

“We excuse our sloth under the pretext of difficulty. “

– Marcus Fabius Quintilian

There is a small, intricate device that when wound and set into motion can make everything better while changing nothing at all. It can magically make personal failure more meaningful by generating a readily accessible mélange of explanations to answer supporters and critics alike. Interested? All you have to do is reach deep within (mind the elbows), grasp the handle firmly, wind and allow it to go to work.

What incredible machine with such power could lie within you? What machine has the capability to completely wipe out the vivid red feelings of failure and replace them with the subdued, pastel pinks of what-might-otherwise-have-been? Why, your excuse generator of course! It is your safeguard against those pesky, unwanted feelings of failure; it is the trick up your sleeve when you need to distract yourself and others from the success that constantly eludes you; simply, it is the most helpful thing in the entire universe at helping convince yourself and your loved ones that the fates and gods were arrayed against you in impressive formation as you attempted the impossible. Behold the awesome power of the excuse generator!

Let’s face it. Excuses stink. As a parent, it is tempting to make excuses; doubly so to blame kids, spouse, or career for lack of time, unhealthful food choices and neglect for personal fitness. The truth is – at least in my case – when one succeeds in making excuses he or she rarely ever succeeds at anything else.

How bad could it be? Glad you asked. Picture yourself sitting at home harmlessly watching your favorite daytime television series or streaming a few episodes of that new Hulu series everyone is talking about. Then flash forward and see yourself relaxing for a moment on the couch mustering your strength to break down the barriers between you and your goal. Then, catch sight of you wandering the local mall perusing the various and sundry offerings spending a minute trying on a few blouses and that pair of pants you just know you’ll fit in by summer all while preparing yourself for the success you crave. Then, imagine a quick stop by the food court to refresh yourself and regain your energy – a healthful selection of course with a diet soda. Then immediately back home to get right on with the business of digging in and achieving your goals, but, first, some quality time with the family couldn’t hurt and a little ice cream never actually killed anybody. Yawn. Drowsiness and torpor overcome you and wipe out your remaining energy. Tomorrow you tell yourself. Tomorrow you’ll get right on it because today is spent and you just didn’t have the time with all you absolutely had to do and places you needed to go.

Don’t expect to wake up one day and feel motivated to work out or eat healthier when you haven’t created a plan. Remember, motivation isn’t magically felt, you have to get up every day with your weekly plan to work out and eat better consistently, even on the days that you feel lethargic and your excuse generator is at its loudest setting. Key word here is consistency. You will not accomplish your goals unless you throw out your excuses and practice consistency. Find out what is deeply motivating you to embark on this amazing journey. Once you find that motivation, let it fuel your desire to tackle those goals.

In the next few weeks, my Facebook page will be activated. You will see ways you can work out at home with minimal equipment, and more posts on how to recondition your mind to achieve what you truly want. For now, write down your perceived limitations, your goals, your motivation for doing these goals, and some ideas on how you plan to manage your time more efficiently in order to accomplish said goals.

Motivation After the Holidays

Today I thought that I would begin with three quotes that have served to inspire and motivate me; especially, when I doubt my resolve.

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” – Confucius

“When a thing is done, it’s done. Don’t look back. Look forward to your next objective.” – George C. Marshall

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

Everyone suffers from a lack of motivation at one point or another. It’s not for lack of trying, but can be caused by many things. My personal motivation begins to slip when I forget to remind myself and celebrate daily victories (e.g. calories consumed, protein/carbs/fat in balance, workout completed); when I lose sight of the goal I’ve been visualizing: in this case how great I’ll look and feel like when I complete this self-prescribed “be awesome” regimen; and even when I momentarily lose control of my diet – sometimes a girl just wants cookies!

At points during my postpartum quest for the body I knew I had in me, my motivation seemingly abandoned me; usually, at the worst possible times. My family traveled during the holidays to see my in-laws, my parents and my sister, and it was as if forces against me – lack of sleep, road weariness, no access to a proper gym or equipment, and a veritable bounty of mouth-watering, calorie-dense, sugar-laden foods – conspired to help me succumb to temptation while offering only token resistance.

Prior to our trip, as a self-admitted recovering food-addict, I had been working to master my cravings and felt that I had adequately prepared myself for all that the holidays had in store – boy was I mistaken! My house – for the most part – is free of things that my husband and I consider junk food. My husband has been amazingly supportive in keeping the house free of my major temptations (e.g. chocolate cakes, baklava, and tiramisu – my mom makes the best) and we have kept minor temptations (e.g. boxes of chocolates, candied nuts and fruit, cookies) to a minimum: enjoyed sparingly. In this environment, I felt that I had full control my cravings and impulses, but I made a classical blunder: I made it too safe and never found myself exposed to conditions that would cause me to want — to need — to “cheat”. Sure, sleep deprivation was a constant companion, but I was relaxed at home and my son and I had a daily routine.

During the trip, however, the variables which kept my cravings in check must have diminished in strength because I felt almost powerless to rein in my cravings and stop from indulging in foods that I normally wouldn’t give a second thought (sniff). There were cookies and cakes and all manner of delectable sweets presented to me and made readily available. Once, I even snapped at my husband when he asked, “Are you going to eat that?”. Really! You’re asking me that question! It was only when I realized he was simply trying to bring my attention to the fact that he was surprised at the drastic change in my eating habits that I forgave his comment – an apology and explanation of the message behind said comment helped a little. It’s funny what upsetting a routine and the added stresses of traveling with a child can do to you and your behavior. I found out exactly how much after we returned.

And now for a word from our sponsor…

I used to accept excuses: for not losing the weight, for overindulging in the sweets, for not accomplishing the goals that I set. I even had people around me that I loved and respected helping me invent reasons for my failures to reach my targets; they even offered platitudes with the hope of cheering me up. I can’t believe these shallow tactics worked! I was able to overcome my feelings of guilt and convince myself that I was just being too demanding; “One day, I would accomplish what I had set out to do.”

If help inventing excuses wasn’t bad enough, I was given liberal helpings of all manner of misinformation and unsolicited advice – breastfeeding will help you lose weight; eating this type of diet is the key to weight loss; this exercise regimen is guaranteed to turn you from “this into THIS” (visualize the picture of a beached whale next to that of a scantily clad model); or, my personal favorite at the time, a home-gym will help you maintain your focus and motivation: everyone knows that our species has a predilection for indulging in weight training activities — easy access to weight training equipment makes people just want to just go lift heavy things so they can be sore the next day. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the well-meaning people in your lives offering help but falling short of the mark with their misguided efforts.

Nowadays, I am not a person who offers or accepts excuses easily or accepts information at face value – no matter who delivers the message. I have come to realize that doing so puts me on a slippery slope. Make an excuse once and it’s easier to do it again. Sure, excuses help you feel better about not doing what needed to be done, but at the end of the day excuses get you no closer to your goal or dream. If you do it for someone else, then you have done that person a disservice by not giving the feedback they need to improve: you let him or her know that it’s okay to fail without truly investigating why. Some days, I marvel at the fact that people around me can willingly accept excuses and still feel great after failing to achieve SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) goals; this is a mystery to me, and I feel bad for those people who accept excuses without question because I know I was holding myself back when I behaved this way. Furthermore, I verify sources and analyze the material in the light of existing evidence and expert opinions.

And we’re back…

After the long road trip home, after the unpacking, but before the eating, I made my way upstairs, and went directly to the bathroom scale to assess the damage the festivities has wrought. I stood on the scale, and, as the digital readout flashed my “score”, I was reminded in no uncertain terms to the tenth-of-a-pound that I had been eight full pounds lighter before the vacation. This meant two things: I had not only gained weight, but managed to erase my prior month’s progress all in less than a month. Who said I couldn’t multi-task? I walked away from that scale: not defeated, but with a renewed feeling of purpose growing inside me. My honest little friend had told me the cold hard truth and snapped me out of my holiday daze; I promised myself (okay, first I cursed) that I would reach my weight loss goal no matter what challenges I faced.

Flying high on the wings of fresh motivation I was ready to get directly to work, but where on earth was I? I decided I needed to get clear on where I was and where I was going. I started by taking stock of what I had learned since becoming a mother. I learned that breastfeeding is not an activity that I can start and stop whenever it pleases me: it is a full-time job that gives me about four hours of uninterrupted sleep a night now that my son is twenty months old and nurses regularly throughout the day and several times during the night (it was one to two hours at best for the first ten months).  I have learned to appreciate just how difficult working out, preparing for certification exams, developing a business plan and networking professionally are for a work/stay-at-home mother responsible for raising a toddler: after feeding and then nursing my son in preparation for his afternoon nap, I get about an hour to do one of the four aforementioned activities.  Children can be extremely demanding.  The days of spending hours on a laptop working or reading without interruption have long since passed into the land of myth. Surprisingly, I also learned that a home-gym does not a workout enthusiast make. Finally, I learned that a distant weight loss target can seem like a daunting challenge even to the most highly motivated!

After my self-assessment, I decided I needed a plan. The first thing I did was begin using a calorie tracker (My Fitness Pal) and start regularly measuring all my portions on a kitchen scale. Working out at home wasn’t working out for me, so I got a membership at a decently priced local gym with a two-hour per day child care limit. Some days I work out in my garage, some days my son and I make it to the gym by 10:30 am. After almost three weeks after the holidays, my weight has gone down about one pound below my pre-holiday weight. With consistency in the gym and in the kitchen I am ready to continue pushing through my perceived limits and obstacles to create a stronger, faster, healthier version of myself.

What is your motivation? What are your goals for this year?

I’d like to hear from you!

Stay tuned for the next blog post on my most humbling experience posing for the first time for my fitness photo shoot. It’ll be a fun read!

On the left is me at 2 months postpartum at 200 pounds.  On the right I am 148 pounds and about 20 months postpartum.
On the left is me at 2 months postpartum at 200 pounds. On the right I am 148 pounds and about 20 months postpartum.

Elements of Change

For those of you who don’t already know me, my name is Romina Sines.  I am a work-at-home mom passionate about taking care of our rambunctious toddler, cooking, working out and helping friends and family achieve a FITT lifestyle through understanding, contemplating and changing the behaviors that may be preventing them from reaching their potential.

My goal for this blog is to educate readers through evidence-based research by learning to utilize tools to help you eat healthier and create time to work out.  Please bear with me on this first post because the details and step-by-step information on how to change your lifestyle one element (ex. diet, working out, behavioral changes) at a time will be posted in subsequent weekly posts.

It has taken me a long time to build the courage to create this blog because I want this blog to be truly helpful and not just another health and fitness blog.  Your feedback will be appreciated and crucial to me to understand how to help others.  In the next few weeks I will be writing about my progress on my ACSM personal training studies while working toward the exam, my upcoming fitness photo shoot, how I lost 50 pounds after my pregnancy, and some other projects I’m involved in.

Looking forward to an amazing and healthy 2015!