Contrary to popular fitness PR mythology, health success is produced from finding, and implementing, principles, not through discovering the "perfect" exercise or workout.
Your exercise choice will evolve in tandem with your fitness level (for example, over time you'll need a weighted vs. body weight squat), but the principles that get you moving are constant!
Principle One: Create "systems" that protect you from your lesser self
Know your triggers so you can protect yourself from yourself!
When one is motivated, energized, happy, not exhausted, not in a social situation, at the grocery store, etc, it's easy to say, "I won't drink at the party," or, for me, "I won't eat the entire box of fudge bars." Now, following through? Not so easy.
In the grocery store I can tell myself, "Buy the bars; have one every few days," but I know from experience that at 11 p.m. I will eat the entire box. So, I built a system where I can have them — in safe spaces. My mom keeps a box so I can visit her to have a chat and a bar. I save myself from my lesser self, but I don't feel deprived (deprivation is health death — see Principle Two.)
Basically, create a safety net; don't give yourself the opportunity to "go there."
Become aware of your habits; you can't guard against your lesser being if you're not aware of your triggers. Journal your food intake and have "mindfulness moments" before eating. Ask, "Why am I eating? Am I hungry? Tired? Bored?" Maybe you always eat while watching TV. Possible solution? Knit instead; keep your hands busy.
One way the past replicates itself is through lack of presence; if you don't become aware of your thought loops and habits, you will just replicate them.
Live by the equation "awareness + preparation = success!" Know your triggers. Have a plan. Then a back-up plan! Plan doesn't work? Learn from the experience. Tweak the plan.
Principle Two: Feeling deprived is the kiss of health death
Never replace a "positive" with a negative "have to!"
Find a healthier, yet still enjoyable, substitution, or re-frame the situation.
New habits won't stick until you figure out what the original habit offered and find a healthier way to get a similar effect
If drinking with friends provides a "social high," don't simply state "I am staying home." If your 3 p.m. treat offers you a moment of peace, don't just say,"No afternoon treats." Walk and socialize with friends. Have herbal tea during your afternoon "me" moment.
If you can't find a healthier substitute, re-frame the new option as a positive.
Instead of being frustrated "having to" have a salad, feel grateful that you "get to" make the choice. Replace "I can't eat cake," with, "How lucky am I that I get to eat berries?" This re-framing is empowering since it involves ownership, which helps fight feelings akin to adolescent rebellion; no one likes to feel forced or deprived.
Principle Three: Realistic expectations are the seeds of happiness and success
Unhealthy habits were not formed overnight. New healthier habits will not form instantaneously.
Stop setting the bar impossibly high! Give yourself time to establish new patterns.
Set the success bar to an appropriate height. Embrace "little wins." Expect three weekly workouts, not five. Expect less sugar, not no sugar.
Expecting the impossible, such as overnight success or perfection, simply sets one up for failure. Often it produces a mentality that justifies "snowballing," where when we deviate even slightly off our impossible course (which is inevitable), we let one small unhealthy choice snowball into multiple unhealthy choices. One cookie turns into five, which turns into a bottle of wine and no workouts for a week. Why wouldn't we? We have framed the slip as a "failure" rather than an opportunity to analyze our goals, program and expectations.
Let small victories domino into larger victories until all of a sudden you have more healthy habits than last month. Trend positive.
Principle Four: Re-frame "failure" as an "opportunity for growth," BUT don't mistake "failure" for simply not trying!
Learn from every experience. Every "fall" is an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. If you overeat or skip a workout, aim to understand why. Did you get too hungry, then scarf down everything in sight? Did you skip a workout because of a lack of advanced planning?
Life is your laboratory. Keep what works. Ditch what doesn't.
The caveat is, failing and growing is not the same thing as being lazy, sloppy or simply not trying. Don't justify a "fall" with something akin to, "Kathleen said falling is good."
You have to care, to learn, to be aware.
Principle Five: Stop finding problems for every solution! Find solutions for every problem
Stop focusing on what you can't control and what you don't have. Start focusing on what you do have and what you can control!
If you always focus on what you don't have and what you can't control, of course you won't be successful.
Put another way: stop focusing on if the glass is half empty or half full. Learn how to fill your cup. Take ownership. Take control.
There is always a solution — you just have to be aware enough and care enough to find it!
Frame every day as your "birthday" — a time to begin again. The day will pass regardless; you may as well do something good (and healthy) with it when you can!