By now the hope is you are well on your way to creating that exercise habit. As the days turn into weeks and you get close to the end of Month 1 you may be thinking “what’s next?” This is where things will start to become a bit vaguer due to your personal goals, but there are still some universal truths to be had.
The first question to ask though is, have you reached your Month 1 goal?
If you set out to exercise 4 days per week for 1 hour each time have you nailed it, is it more nailed then loose, or is it still a work in progress? If the answer to that question is the latter two responses then your Month 2 is a progression of Month 1. Keep building that consistency habit. Remember it is meant to be a lifetime habit so one month may not have been enough time. For BeneFIT PT owner, Brian Ireland, he wanted to put aside almost 2 hours towards exercising which took him 6-7 weeks to finally accomplish. Do not forget research from our habit blog post also indicated it takes four times per week for six weeks for people to acquire the work out habit. Once you have nailed the Month 1 goal and you are now consistently exercising, let’s discuss how to move forward from here.
Pick your goal. At this point the the following months will become more divergent. Think back to the post on goals and revisit the specific goals you had established for yourself. This now starts the journey towards them. Whatever the goal is (weight loss, run a 5k, be able to pick up your grandchildren, tolerate a walk from the vacation condo to the beach without shortness of breath) now is the time to create the timeframes and specific steps.
Set the timeframes. Sometimes that is very easy to do. Let’s say you want to run in a 5k. The first step is to register for the race you picked. That race date automatically creates the timeframe for you. If it’s three months away, you now know you have roughly 12 weeks to progress to running straight for 3.2 miles. From here it is a simple calculation to figure out how much distance you will need to add each week to easily maintain the mileage you need to accomplish your goal. In this example, you would have to increase your mileage by .26 miles every week to get to the 5k distance in time for your race.
Sometimes there is no deadline. It makes setting a timeframe a bit more challenging for some, but ultimately the process is the same. For example, if your goal is to loose 20 pounds, but there is no event, a planned vacation, wedding, reunion, or other gala, that creates a set timeframe you just have to make an artificial deadline.
Weight loss research indicates that loosing 1-2 pounds a week is a healthy amount to lose and maintain without the rebound yo-yo issues. Simple math would mean it should take you 10-20 weeks to achieve that 20-pound weight loss. But when first starting out, base your goals on a model that will set yourself up for success. You could aspire to the 2 pounds/week goal, but too many people can get easily frustrated in the beginning if they are not seeing the results immediately. That frustration could lead to giving up. However, if you set the “easier” goal of 1 pound/week and give yourself the 20 weeks, early small gains will still be encouraging and will continue to inspire confidence in yourself and the plan. Besides no one gets upset if they achieve their goals earlier than anticipated!
Keep Tracking. As always write everything down. Regardless of what stage you find yourself in towards your goals keep tracking as many aspects of that goal as possible. Remember tracking will help with your accountability, build/maintain your consistency, help identify trends throughout your week and month that may be beneficial to accommodate for and keep you on pace towards your goals.
Goals within Goals. As Ireland started to expand his goals into different aspects, he began to realize that the more simple the goal, the easier for him it was to achieve. Hence the success he had with the goal of Month 1—just get to the gym! The success of accomplishing these simple goals can help build confidence to subsequently more challenging goals. This is truly the secret of the plan. Start with one small change, once you are consistent with that, make another small change, and so on and so forth.
Often, it is figuring out how to take a large goal and break it down into small chunks to slow play that is most problematic. To illustrate this point, an example of this is Ireland’s diet goals. If you remember from the setting goals post, he gave an example of someone going away on vacation in 3 months time and wanted to loose 20 pounds. He did the calculation and determined he had to loose 1.76 pounds per week to hit that goal. However, there are so many factors that you could play around with to lose the weight: increasing the work outs, fad diets, liquid diets, low carb diets, intermittent fasting, removing processed foods, not eating out, drinking more nutrients, etc., etc. etc. It honestly can be overwhelming.
You have to break down your diet goal down into steps you can manage, focusing on one thing at a time instead of All or Nothing it. Think about your eating habits and focus on the ones you want to “fix.” For Ireland, the first that kept coming to “my mind was how often I snacked throughout the day, especially while I was re-heating/preparing my meals! Using the Power of Negative Thinking, I made the goal no random snacking between meals over the course of a month (1. No random snacking between breakfast and lunch. 2. No random snacking between lunch and dinner. 3. No random snacking while prepping/cooking/reheating my breakfast/lunch/dinner).”
Just like the plan for working out, he wanted to get some type of consistency when it came to his weight loss goal; and just like the “Just Get to the Gym” mantra he had, a “No Snacking” mantra that boiled down to a yes/no goal. Did I not snack today, Yes! Then I nailed it. No, I got work to do. To track this, create a separate checkbox calendar underneath your work out calendar in your work out book. On one line, create a row of 30 boxes numbered every 5th day corresponding to the number of days during that month. Label it Diet. Every day you achieve your goal, place a check in the next box.
This checkbox calendar can help to identify trends as well. Ireland said, “I found that the days I worked the most I snacked the least and was on point. However, the days that were my turn to pick the kids up from school and get dinner on the table I noticed I snacked. Thinking back to those days I knew I broke down right after getting home when my kids would be eating their post-school snack as we would all talk about our day and I would help them with their homework. Thinking more honestly I also noted once I started snacking that trend would then carry over to when I was preparing our dinner as I would be snacking right on through until we sat down to eat.”
He continued to say, “As the month progressed, and I was more conscious of my trends, I was able to achieve my first simple goal of no snacking. That confidence that came with consistently achieving that first simple goal helped propel me into my second-month goal of meal prepping for each week.”
Flexibility. To be able to maintain the long-term success you desire, flexibility must remain a key component to both your goals and your plan. Nothing should be set in such rigid stone that you would rather have it all fail and crumble down around you then make a subtle change here or there. This plan has worked for me and has worked for some others who have asked me how they could start working out, but that does not mean it shouldn’t be changed up a bit to accommodate you.
In this case, flexibility means to acknowledge and realize when something isn’t working well for you and to make changes on it, mid-month, mid week, or even mid day. Once you begin to track everything by writing things down, you will easily be able to see how well you are reaching your goals and expectations; especially over the first month when all you want to build is consistency.
By retrospectively looking over your calendar to see how consistent you have been you should be able to identify trends that could be presenting road blocks. For example, if you planned on working out every Monday morning but realize you missed the last two as you were prepping last minute details for a weekly Monday morning sales meeting than perhaps a little change is necessary. Instead of getting down that you weren’t able to be consistent those Mondays realize that more than likely Monday morning isn’t going to work for you and be flexible enough to change the time on Monday or change Monday’s workout to another day.
Having talked to a lot of people, we know that the above example could have easily led to giving up the workout plan. Especially early on when trying to establish consistency. However, by thinking of the plan like an experiment, one where both positive and negative results provide data points we can utilize to reach our goals. Using this view point can take our emotions out of the equation; so instead of feeling frustrated or guilty we didn’t work out and allow the “here we go again” to creep into our conscious we can take a step back, analyze the data, realize that Monday mornings are not going to work, be flexible enough to make a switch, and continue to build our consistency.
Have flexibility in your goals. If you are beginning to have recurring thoughts of giving up because the goal you have set before yourself is becoming too daunting has the flexibility to break that goal down into smaller chunks that are not over bearing. Change the focus from the month down to this week or even day. If after a couple of weeks a weekly goal continues to be no closer to completion perhaps that weekly goal was a bit lofty in the beginning. Realize what you currently can achieve and add one as your new goal for the week until you are consistently achieving whatever it is you are doing plus 1. Then repeat.
Have flexibility in how you track progress. If any one aspect of how you are tracking your progress could be fine-tuned, do it. Make it work for you in a way that keeps you excited to achieve your goals. Brian Ireland said, “When I first started tracking my snacking habits I would only place a check in a box if I did not snack that day. That box did not correspond to a certain day but just to a day where I didn’t snack. After about ten days or so I soon realized that I had a representation of the number of days I didn’t eat snack (and days I did), but I had no idea which days they were. I just had seven checked boxes despite the day of the month is the 12th.”
Ireland had an idea, so he changed how he was tracking his snacking that same day, the 12th. Moving forward for the rest of the month, he would place a check in the box that corresponded with the day in the calendar. Now after another 10-12 days when he looked at his check marks he began to see that he had checkmarks pretty much every Mon, Wed, and Fri when he worked long hours but on Tues or Thurs the checkmarks were spotty at best. The weekend in between had no checks whatsoever. By being flexible with how he tracked his progress, he was able to identify which days he struggled with more and make the requisite changes he felt he needed to continue towards his goal.
Check back next week for our next blog post in our new BeneFIT PT’s Guide to Working Out Blog Series!