Remember that everything we do in life, we had to do for a first time. Now, sure, the first time may have been when you were a very young child and you may not remember it, but it was still a first time.
If you’re struggling to get started, and really believe that it’s impossible for you to lose weight because you’ve always been “chubby,” “husky,” or “heavy,” you certainly are not alone. I hear it fairly often – “I’ve always been big,” “No diet has ever worked for me,” “The last time I exercised was in high school gym and I hated it.” These may all be true, but they are all excuses. It’s OK to make excuses – I’m not here to criticize you in any way – but just because you’ve “always been big” doesn’t mean you “always have to be big.” If a change in your fitness and health is something you want, then you’ve got to go and get it. If you believe that you can change your status, then your chances of being successful increase significantly.
The path you start out will change over time, morphing from one interest to another, finding a lifestyle that works for you, and what works for you when your circumstances change. The one thing that has to stay the same is belief that you can change your body, that you are in control of it, and that you can achieve what you want. I know, corny, right? The linked study above indicates that, no matter how corny it is, it works.
Believe that you can achieve whatever you set out to do, and lean on that belief when you struggle.
I am starting with this one because it is probably the hardest thing to achieve – a belief in yourself. Self efficacy is the fancy term, and a higher levels of it have a direct link to success for everything from improved gymnastic performance to management of type 2 diabetes. This particular step is 100% psychological – there is no physical boundary preventing you from believing in yourself.
Use your past successes to motivate you
One of the most important ways to change your belief in yourself is to look back on the successes you’ve had in life. Graduated any level of school? Success. Completing all of the achievements on a quest in your favorite game? That’s a success. Impressed the boss with that presentation you gave on widget manufacturing? 100% success.
These are all things that other people find difficult, and yet you were able to achieve them. Find what you can be proud of in your life and use that to support your confidence.
Read some success stories. That could be you.
And why couldn’t it be you? You’ve succeeded at many things in your life, so why can’t you be like the people in those success stories? Let them inspire you. They aren’t any better than you, so why not chase that dream?
Listen to your friends
When your friends tell you that you’re good at something, soak that in. Take it to heart. They are your friends. They are people that you trust and have a relationship with – they’re not going to tell you something that isn’t true, so believe it. These people are also your support group – if you’re struggling with your belief, talk to them about it. Let them remind you how awesome you are.
Goals. How do I know what is realistic?
I’ve always been of the opinion that the best types of goals don’t revolve around a specific weight, or clothing size, but rather an achievement. If you’re just beginning and haven’t ever been interested in fitness, a goal could be as simple as walking for 5 hours a week, or cutting back the amount of times you get take out this month. Once you achieve that goal, take that as a success, put it in your self-efficacy bank, and start plotting out your next goal. You just walked 5 hours per week for 4 weeks straight. Maybe you want to start jogging, or a couch to 5k plan? Maybe you’re happy with the progress you’ve been making and want to join a gym, or start an at-home workout program? I strongly suggest for people who are just starting their journey to begin here.
If you decide to take a more calculated approach, where weight or size is a goal, keep in mind that the average realistic, healthy weight loss is roughly 2lbs/week. Yes, initially, you will lose weight faster. And yes, on The Biggest Loser they lose 8-12lbs/week. That is an extreme circumstance and one that can lead to the feeling of failure if you’re only losing 2lbs/week. You aren’t a failure – every pound lost is a step in the direction. Try to look at your weight and size completely without emotion – it is a number, or a set of numbers, and indicates your progress, not who you are as a person or your success rate. If you find the numbers aren’t going the direction they should be on a short term trend (4-6 weeks, minimum,) then it’s time to re-evaluated and adjust accordingly. This is not an indication of who you are as a person or your ability to complete your goal – they’re just numbers and a way to track your progress on the path, not a determining factor in your worth to society.
Once you have achieved your short term goals, start looking at mid and long term goals. You’ve got a wedding next year and you want to fit into that beautiful dress? Keep that in mind. Whatever you do, never lose your goals, whether they are “complete a triathlon,” “deadlift 500lbs,” or “not feel like I’m going to die when I walk up the stairs to my office.”
Persistence really goes hand in hand with self-efficacy. If you believe in yourself, it will be easier to persist through tough times, and as you find yourself coming out on top of a bad situation, your self confidence grows. With regard to health, persistence with so called “healthy habits” has shown to produce a substantial decrease in mortality rates, no matter what the initial status was. Think about that – no matter where you are now, if you adapt health habits, your mortality rate goes down. Your odds of living a longer healthier life goes up. The one caveat is that you can’t do them in the short term and have long term benefits – this is a new lifestyle. It doesn’t mean you have to become a runner, or a gym rat, in order to live a long life, just that you’ve got to pick up a few things, like move more in your every day life and make sure you eat as many vegetables as you can.
Another type of persistence is one that no one likes to have to deal with; injury recovery. Injuries are inevitable, whether it is the rare major injury, like a broken bone, or the minor overuse ache’s and pains that we all get. How you recover from them, and even work around them to continue your active and healthy lifestyle is a matter of persistence, and of course, your strategy to deal with them. Injuries are just bumps in the road – not road blocks. Been through rehab and exhausted all reasonable medical channels only to find you can’t run anymore? It’s ok – start biking, or strength training, or rowing, or swimming, or…
Build A Strategy
The best way to achieve any goal, or to make it through any kind of hiccup in your plans, is to have a strategy laid out. Just like you’d use a GPS, or a map, to find your way to your destination, your strategy will guide you toward your goal. It will also help you stay focused on what you are trying to achieve, and will keep you on track rather than allow you to be distracted.
You’ll also want some strategies to deal with stressful situations, injuries, or even just simple deviations from your planned food intake. This is a quote that I actually took from my NASM certifications that I like to apply to many situations. Whether it is that I went to a party and ate some cake while I’m getting ready for race season or if I do something stupid and injur myself.
Just because you slipped once does not mean that you are a failure, have no willpower, or that you are a hopeless addict. Look upon the slip as a single, isolated event, and as something that can be avoided in the future with an alternative coping response.
Have a contingency plan for injuries – leg injury? Time for some upper body work. Upper body injury? Perfect opportunity to get some walking in. Work with your medical professional, whether its a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or doctor, and develop a plan to work around your temporary or long term limitations and
Reduce Your Anxiety
Now, I know, physical activity is a great way to reduce your anxiety, but it can also cause you to cope with some not-so-good tendencies, like overeating, and unfortunately, you can’t out train a poor diet.
Finding ways to reduce your anxiety, including your workout induced anxiety (like fear of injury, soreness, etc,) is key in succeeding as you take on a new life. Everything from meditation, to Yoga, to a fishing trip can be used – find what works for you to reduce your anxiety that fits into your health strategy.
Build Your Team
Your team is the people that will carry you through your journey. They are the people you surround yourself with that will not only encourage you, but help you, and even hold you accountable for the things you’ve set out to accomplish. Speak with your doctor, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you feel like you aren’t getting the treatment you deserve or that your doctor is not on board with your proactive health approach, find a doctor that is. If you get injured and need rehabilitation, don’t just take the first therapist that is suggested – go speak with them, find out what their specialty is and how they approach treatment, and if it doesn’t fit in with what you believe will work for you, find one that does.
There will always be people in your life that will try to bring you down, whether it is intentionally or not. Unfortunately, sometimes, there isn’t much you can do, but if you’ve got a great team of people that build you up and support you, then no amount of negativity will derail what you really want out of life. Finding a fitness partner, whether it is online, at your gym, or in a trainer, provides a great deal of motivation to continue on your path but also a sense of fulfillment that you’ve been able to contribute to their life as well.
Recap (Or, this was way too long to read all of it.)
1. Believe in yourself.
2. Set realistic goals, and strive to achieve them.
3. Persist in your journey toward those goals, no matter how many speed bumps pop up.
4. Have a strategy for dealing with those speed bumps, and for your transition in general.
5. Relax, in a healthy way.
6. Find your team, and stay loyal to it.