Good and bad habits, and discipline

I was busy cooking the other morning when it dawned on me: I must be a really boring person, because I always make the same breakfast (see photo above)!

It seemed, to my not quite fully awake mind, that a not so boring person would find all sorts of ways to make a healthy breakfast, whereas all I do is make the same healthy breakfast every morning. And I don’t need to be fully awake to do it.

Actually, when my mind started working a bit better, I realized that I have formed a breakfast habit: I make pretty much the same breakfast every morning, and it is a healthy breakfast. And since when I’m fully awake I’m pretty much always in “coaching mode,” it made me think of the need to talk about habits in relation to the oft-misunderstood concept of discipline. So here’s a post about that.

You see, when you have habits, you don’t need discipline.

Wait, no, let me re-phrase that a little:

When you have good habits, you don’t need very much discipline.

There, that’s better. But wait, don’t go yet; allow me to explain a little.

Habits

We all have them. There can be no doubt about that. Many, as a matter of fact.

Whether it is the side of the bed you sleep on, the time of day when you read your newspaper, how many hours per day you spend reading Facebook, the road you take to get to work every day, or what you eat on a typical day, these are only some of the habits you likely have.

I can almost hear you say “but, those are just routine things we do,” and you are correct. Because that is exactly what habits become: The routine, automatic things we do without really thinking about them.

It is true of things like breakfast, as I illustrated. Most of us eat the same thing day in, day out. It saves time, and it is efficient.

Many of you are probably tempted to respond that you don’t really have a choice in the matter, perhaps by providing the example of the route to get to work, which is what it is simply because of the origin and destination combination. I must, however, put a red light to that train of thought: If you think about it a little, except in some very specific situations, there is always a way to find alternate means and routes that, at some point, you decided against. Route choices were made at some point in time, and you’ve become comfortable with those decisions.

But you could choose to sleep on the other side of the bed, to not read Facebook at all, to read the newspaper at another moment of the day, to use a roundabout way to get to work. It might not be comfortable, and perhaps it would mean a longer transit time, and less recent information to discuss with colleagues at the water cooler (and in the case of Facebook, a lot more free time for other things), but it is possible.

Hence the inescapable conclusion that our lives are filled with habits that we accept. We simply could not function if we had to make every single decision about every action everyday. So we form habits.

The question is : Are they good habits, or bad habits? You see, the key to fitness and health becomes one of having more good habits than bad one.

Good or bad?

So, if you are still here, the idea is to have more good habits than bad ones.

Because I’m such a helpful kind of guy (that’s what good coaches are), I’m going to give you a few examples:

  • Good: To move regularly, frequently. Every day, if possible, even it it is not very strenuously.
  • Bad: To stay idle for too long, like sitting in a chair at the office.
  • Good: To eat real food; meals made from fresh ingredients without extensive processing by machines.
  • Bad: To drink calories, largely through pops, but also by consuming juices, milk, etc.
  • Good: To get off the couch and do physical work around (and outside) the house on weekends, or just to go outside to play with the kids.
  • Bad: To get on the couch and watch sports on TV on weekends, especially if accompanied by lots of liquid calories and NOT FOOD items.
  • Good: To cook your own meals.
  • Bad: To eat prepared meals, either bought in grocery stores (especially in the frozen aisles) or at restaurants (especially fast food restaurants).
  • Good: To read this blog on a regular basis.
  • Bad: To read Facebook for more than 30 minutes per day.

Ok, I think you are getting the point; even if I add a bit of humour around it, you know this is a serious matter.

But keep in mind that I’m talking about habits here. Once in a while, those “bad” behaviours are not a problem. They become a problem, however, when they are automatic, casual, and frequent actions. When that’s the case, something has to be done.

Discipline, what is it good for?

If you are like most folks, you are a little in awe of elite athletes. At the very least, you probably have some admiration for them, as well as for those who manage to train regularly.

You might be telling yourself something like “Wow! I wish I were that disciplined myself…”

At this point, you should begin to understand that training regularly is more a matter of having good habits than of having a strong self-discipline. With good habits, the behaviours that impress us the most are actually easy, because that are automatic!

But don’t get me wrong : This is not to say those athletes (and everyday athletes) we admire don’t have any discipline. They do. It is just that their discipline is used sparingly, and put to work where it works best.

If you try to apply discipline to make yourself do your training sessions, or eat better, you will run out of steam before very long. And you will fail. The good habits you seek will not be created.

You must first set your lifestyle, your daily and weekly routine, so as to make the good habits possible, instead of trying to wedge good behaviours into a routine that is not built to accommodate them. You must have a Purpose, and align your activities accordingly. Discipline comes a distant second, or even third if you include a good dose of motivation, towards building good habits that will serve your purpose.

Then, and only then, do you use discipline to eliminate bad habits. And to make sure you don’t go overboard in your training, like doing too much, too soon.

What does discipline at work look like?

You are tempted to read Facebook? Get up and go for a short walk. You feel like having yet another large coffee with lots of sugar and cream? Take a tall glass of water instead (and for crying out loud, don’t take it out of a plastic bottle!).

Simply put: Say “no” to the bad habit. You know how to recognize it when you see it…

If you use discipline to limit the behaviours you wish to do away with anyway, while you have set the stage for good habits to form, you stand a better chance of succeeding. At least, according to my life, and coaching, experience.

Saying “no” to the “free” pop with a meal or during a meeting at work, not picking up a fast food meal on your way home after work, or refraining from doing “just a few more kilometres” when in fact your training session is completed, that’s what discipline is good for.

The heavy lifting is done by establishing good habits, by being mindful of what your Purpose is, and setting the stage correctly. That Purpose might be something like “To be healthy and fit so as to live a long, active life” or it could be something else; what matters is that it must be explicit.

Choose your own, and be clear about it. Then set the stage for the good habits that will support your Purpose. And only then, when you really need it (and not all that often), use discipline to stay on course…

Photo credits: Sacha Veillette

So you want to lose weight. Why? (Part 2)

Health, Fitness, Exercise, Diet, Movement, Weight Loss

Are you losing (weight)? Are your reasons Good, Bad, or Ugly?

Last time I covered what can be considered the “good” reasons for wanting to lose weight.

That part is not controversial at all, and based on pretty solid scientific evidence.

This post, on the other hand, will cover the “bad” and the “ugly” reasons for wanting to lose weight.

As such, you have to understand that these are my opinions, and that they may not be pleasant to read for everyone. Yet it might be a good idea to read on, and comment on the post. A healthy dialogue might ensue. (Stranger things have happened.)

The Bad

The single bad reason I can think of for wanting to lose weight is also the most common one: To look a certain way.

We are bombarded by images of men and women that look very slim, or very buff, or very both. Never mind that they are largely doctored images, fabricated by an untrustworthy industry; we’ve come to associate such looks with fitness, and desire.

And, sadly, as others have pointed out, even looking strong is actually looking very slim. There is no room in those images for being strong and fit but not looking like a model. And that’s really bad.

You cannot stand for fitness and health and insist on looking like a model. While it is natural for a very small portion of humanity to look that way, for the vast majority it is simply not healthy.

Even fitness models, perhaps one of the weirdest inventions of our modern age, are not to be trusted. They are a contradiction in terms, with their fake nails, fake tans, fake… you name it.

Fitness is a naturally occurring state of being when one is very active and eats well (see my post on the definition of fitness if you need a refresher). And, in a slight leap of meaning, we could think of what is natural for a body, in terms of shape and looks, as being fitness. Allowing your body to be shaped the way its own genetic code programs it for is more akin to fitness than forcing it into a specific shape through dieting or excessive exercise. And silicone implants.

“But wait,” you want to tell me, “what if looking a certain way (i.e. like a model, or a fitness model) is going to make me feel good? Isn’t feeling good something you filed under ‘The Good’ in your previous post?”

Health, Fitness, Weight Loss, Exercise

Looks can be deceiving. Do you really see what you think you see?

Feeling good based on how we look exclusively, instead of how our bodies actually feel (and what they are capable of) is exactly the same as thinking we are going to be happy once we get rich. For those who go down that road, the destination is never reached: the richer they get, the more they compare themselves to yet richer folks, and the less satisfied they are with the wealth they have.

Basing your self-esteem, your “feeling good,” on looks alone is one sure way to never have much self-esteem, or feeling good for more than a fleeting moment, because you’ll always find yourself wanting in some way. And that’s definitely bad.

The Ugly

What could be worse than wanting to look a certain way when it comes to reasons for wanting to lose weight?

Well, perhaps not “worse,” but definitely an ugly trend, and a pet peeve of mine: Losing weight in order to better perform during races.

Some otherwise fairly fit folks get convinced by coaches, or perhaps by reading too much so-called training advice out of context, to lose weight in order to reach an “ideal” racing weight. To “make their numbers,” like power-to-weight ratio, better.

Yes, if you were not familiar with this, it is true. And very sad.

Granted, when you watch the pros racing in Kona, or running the Boston marathon, they sure don’t seem to carry any extra weight. And their numbers look great on paper.

But they did not get that way because they followed a regimen destined to make them lose weight at the last minute so that their numbers would look great. They got there through years of intense training, and gradual adaptation.

While it is true that shedding a bit of weight will make VO2max (the weight-normalized version, not the absolute number) and power metrics look a little better, which on paper would appear to indicate a better potential racing performance, that is a very, very ugly reason for losing weight. And it is no guarantee that the performance will ensue (except perhaps through a bit of placebo-like effect).

Because the new, lower weight, is not natural for your body, even if you are fit. Going on a crash weight loss regimen in the last few days, or even a few weeks, before a race is a bad idea. Your body might very well interpret it as a famin situation, and curb your performance in order to make energy reserves last longer.

Instead, we are all much better off improving the fundamentals of our bodies; work on the “top line” part of the performance equation (power, speed, economy) and let your body find a natural fitness equilibrium over time. At a weight it is comfortable with.

Health, Fitness, Power, Weight, Exercise, Training

It is not just running and triathlon where this applies. Any sport where the body has to be moved is subject to abuse of power metrics.

The bottom line

You still with me? Nice. There’s hope.

Talking of hope, I hope you understand this pair of posts is only partially based on science; namely, Part 1, about why too much fat in the wrong place is dangerous for your long-term health. That’s well established.

The rest is in part psychology, part training advice of dubious quality, and some of it is still the subject of much conjecture.

The bottom line is that you should trust how your body feels as you use it. Move, move some more, and appreciate what your body can do. You should start with that, not just with an aim to lose a certain amount of weight.

Don’t pay attention to how people look; looks can be very deceiving. And unhealthy.

And by all means, steer clear of any coach who starts by saying you should lose weight. Or uses that reasoning to suggest better performance can be attained…

Pictures from Pixabay

So you want to lose weight. Why? (Part 1)

Health, Fitness, Diet, Weight Loss, Exercise

What’s your reason? Careful: Even this picture might be misleading.

I don’t mean to be nasty with this short series of posts, but let’s face it: Most people will probably not like it.

In fact, most people who think they need to lose weight will just stop reading pretty soon. After this post, to be precise.

Why?

Because of that very question. Asking “why?” hints at a re-assessment of one’s actions or motivation. In this day and age, questioning actions, and the thoughts behind those actions, is often seen as a critique of the person behind the thoughts and the actions. Even though they are not the same at all.

Something as important as weight, and actions taken for losing some or maintaining a “healthy weight,” must be considered carefully.

You see, weight is an extremely important predictor of long-term health.

Well, actually, some indicators related to weight are important predictors of long-term health. All too often, we take the short-cut of using weight alone, but in fact those indicators are far more important.

Take BMI, for instance. Nope, bad example; BMI has been widely discredited as the indicator to use. Which is actually a good example of why it is important to question what we are being taught, and what we think, about weight.

The current thinking is that abdominal fat (mid-section circumference measurement) and body composition (percentage of fat) are more accurate indicators. So we should all keep an eye on those.

But chances are pretty good that, if you are reading this and are trying to lose weight, those are not the indicators you are trying to change. And long-term health, deep down, is not what you are after. It should be your Purpose, but you probably have different answers to the question “why?”.

Don’t get me wrong: There are many good reasons for wanting to lose weight. And then there are some bad ones. And there are even some ugly ones.

Let’s have a look, shall we? Starting, for now, with the “good” reasons… (You still there?)

The Good

As already stated, without a doubt, maintaining a healthy weight that keeps our waists and fat percentages in the “correct” range is the best possible reason for losing weight. If you are not currently in that range.

It has been shown repeatedly that many chronic illnesses, diseases of affluence as they are sometimes called, can be avoided or their odds greatly reduced by keeping our weight in check: type 2 diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and even cancer are less prevalent, to name just the most impressive ones.

But there is a second reason, not studied the same way, that also should matter: Feeling good about your body and its ability to “do stuff.”

By maintaining a healthy weight, everyday actions are just routine, not a major chore, to accomplish. I’m not just talking about fitting in the confines of a car’s driver’s seat or airplane passenger’s seat, but the general, normal feeling, of being able to move about unimpeded. Of not having to worry about whether you can go up a flight of stairs. Of not feeling like you have to take your car to go to the corner store.

There is a lot to be said about just feeling good about your body and its ability to move.

In today’s world of energy saving, and of considering physical exertion something to be avoided, we have lost track of how good it feels to move. That is something that slowly goes away when we become sedentary and gain too much circumference and fat.

It’s as if we’ve reset the discomfort threshold over time, so that now even the slightest effort becomes difficult, and we feel terrible as soon as we try to do something that was once routine.

Resetting that discomfort threshold, recalibrating our bodies, and re-gaining that good feeling that comes from movement is an essential part of why it may be a good idea to lose weight.

My next post will explore what I call the Bad, and the Ugly, reasons for wanting to lose weight. Stay tuned.

And keep on moving, no matter what your current weight might be.

Fitness, Exercise, Health, Movement

Move. And focus on how good your body feels when you do.

Pictures from Pixabay

Keep you Purpose in mind, question the Purposes of Others

Purpose, Exercise, Diet, Advice, Health, Fitness

Purpose is what keeps us all moving (each in our chosen direction).

It all boils down to Purpose. Everything.

There, I’ve said it.

Everything you do, everything you read, everything you come across on a daily basis. They all stem from one thing: Purpose.

Some of it is your Purpose. A lot of it, especially what you encounter around you, is the Purposes of Others. But it is all Purpose. To truly make sense of the world, you need to remember this.

If you want to keep on target, to keep moving regularly and eating well, you have to keep your Purpose firmly in mind.

If you want to avoid being taken for a ride (i.e. being taken advantage of, or negatively affected by what’s going on around you), you need to remember the Purposes of Others.

(If you need to remember what Purpose means, you can go back to some of my previous posts. But the common meaning of word purpose is also a good proxy, so feel free to just read on.)

Perhaps it is not always clear what those Purposes might be. Or perhaps you are starting to think I’m a conspiracy theorist of some sort. Quite the contrary, I assure you.

As a matter of fact, thinking about what you read, see, experience on a daily basis in terms of the Purposes of Others goes a long way in explaining things without resorting to some kind of conspiracy theory. It’s simply no longer necessary.

How so? Funny you should ask. (You did ask, didn’t you?) Because I’m going to devote this post to providing a few examples.

The Purposes of Others

The sections that follow are generalizations. Not absolutes, but generalized tendencies as observed by me (and doubtless others). They might upset some people, which is not my goal. I simply want to draw attention to some very real possibilities. Keeping these possibilities in mind could help you make sense of things…

Corporations

What is the Purpose of a corporation that makes sporting goods, apparel, nutritional supplements, etc.?

This one is terribly easy: to make money. No, they are definitely not there to help you perform at your best. They are not there to prevent you from getting hurt.

They have one driving obsession: to sell more products. In general, and against their competitors. After all, the “supply” of money from would-be buyers is not infinite. So they have to present what they offer as being better; better than what they sold last year, and better than anyone in the category is selling today. And they have studies to prove it. Everybody pretty much does.

Which means you should not trust those studies, right? It is not quite that clear-cut. But in case of doubt, we all had better take what we read from corporations with a grain of salt. (Keep the salt-shaker handy, because we’ll need it again.)

Magazines

A magazine’s Purpose is to make money. How do they achieve that? By selling as many copies as possible, month after month. How do they achieve that? Sometimes by exaggerating, but, mainly, simply by always having “new” things to publish.

But you can’t have new things to publish every month for years, at least not at a general public level in a field like fitness. So the same stories come back repeatedly. Like how to choose a pair of shoes this year. And other stories are simply variants on the same theme, like advice from multiple sources over time.

Diet, Advice, Exercise

Have some salt. Just not too much in your diet…

Which is why the advice can appear contradictory over time. My favorite example is the back and forth over how to do long runs (if you are a runner or a triathlete); one time you read that you must do it slow and steady, and then a few months later you read how you must spice it up with some speed. And then back again a few months later.

Because when you train, you are interested in having the most effective training program, you are bound to want to read what appears to be the latest best advice. Which is what they are counting on to sell their next issue of the magazine…

Diet Pushers

The Purpose of someone who comes out with advice on how to lose weight is probably to sell you his or her own newfangled way of doing that. That’s just simple fact.

It may be disguised at scientific truth, accompanied by a plethora (that’s an abundance, just to be clear) of scientific papers, but you can be pretty sure that it is there to convince you to buy something. Otherwise, that advice would be free for all to obtain, and it would be widely supported by others (as opposed to being published in a book, because “nobody else has that truth”).

You guessed it, there is a money-making Purpose in there. So beware.

Journalists

Without denying that many are genuinely interested in making a difference in the world by reporting on important matters, journalists need first and foremost to make a living as journalists. In essence, they need to sell pieces to newspapers or magazines; if they are staff, they need to make sure they are read regularly. They need to ensure their articles, columns, opinion or editorials are read and talked about. The more buzz, the better.

In order to achieve that, they resort to tried and true methods like talking about controversial topics, reporting sensational information. The vast majority verify their facts before publishing, but as we’ve seen examples of recently (the Rolling Stone magazine fiasco), they don’t always.

Sometimes, in an effort to appear “balanced” in their coverage, they frequently will present opposing points of view, even if it is completely unreasonable to do so. Sometimes, they will simply ignore the Purposes of Others in order to generate a lot of buzz, and play into the hands of diet peddlers and corporations. Whatever works at the time.

So it is no surprise that you often encounter what seems to be ground-breaking new facts about fitness, completely different from the ones you read just last week. And it is no wonder that headlines about such “new” facts are frequently deformed well beyond what the scientists said in the first place.

Advice, Fitness, Health, Exercise

Have some more.

The facts are often far less controversial or ground-breaking than they might appear in newspapers and magazines. But lack of sensational words don’t make people want to read the article. (Which in turn don’t help sell the magazine or newspaper…)

Fitness/Health Bloggers

This is a more difficult one to generalize. There are so many bloggers, and so many different reasons why people take up blogging on this topic. (Including mine, of course.)

For the most part, people want to share their own experience. Let’s face it, it both validates said experience, and could prove useful to someone else. If someone has come a long way from being sedentary, perhaps even of poor general health (or feeling that way), that life lesson and the efforts put into improving could prove extremely beneficial to others. But they may not apply generally. A success story may not turn out to be the best advice for your specific situation.

At that end of the spectrum of bloggers, I’m afraid, are many who are trying to turn what has become their new way of life, not to call it an obsession, into a money-earning activity. Those think they are applying the “turning one’s passion into a livelihood” approach, and to some extent, that is fair. But one’s personal experience may not be applicable to others. Be careful of any such person selling their services based on their own personal success at getting fit, healthy, or slim (or any combination of these very different things).

Others still are doing it to promote themselves and the services and/or products they sell. The are at the other end of the spectrum; they typically start blogging with the clear Purpose of, once again, making money. (Bring out that salt shaker again.)

Don’t get me wrong: Not everyone that sells something is necessarily bad. Many believe they are genuinely providing something that will help others. (That’s definitely where I’m located.) Yet you should be very careful when following the advice of anyone who sells something. Especially if they claim you cannot possibly get the full effect of what they promote without buying some sort of product or supplement.

Advice, Health, Fitness, Diet, Exercise

Keep the salt shaker nearby at all times.

Coaches

The Purpose of a coach is to help you achieve your own goals as an athlete. Even as an everyday athlete. Unless the coach is a crappy coach, in which case the Purpose of the coach might be to increase his or her reputation. Or perhaps simply to make money off of people who want to perform in a sport. Such coaches leave behind them a trail of broken, injured, and sometimes abused athletes.

How do you go about recognizing the Purpose of a coach?

First, ask about the coaching philosophy and the approach to training. Question also how much time a coach can really devote to each athlete he or she coaches. Be very weary of “secret sauces” and “special techniques” that no one else knows about; don’t assume that because the coach was a great athlete he or she knows what will work for you. And run away as fast as you can (there’s a good training session for you!) if the coach wants to sell you supplements or special equipments…

There would be more to say, but I’ve already gone on too long. And it sounds like I have a chip (or a bag of chips, salty ones at that) on my shoulder. I confess: I’m often frustrated by what I see. Too many earnest folks being taken advantage of, too much pixie dust being thrown into the eyes of unsuspecting (or willfully suspending critical judgment) people who want to pursue their own Purpose.

It is not that complicated, as I’ve tried repeatedly to explain on this blog. And it should not cost you a fortune to pursue your Purpose.

As long as you keep in mind that we all have a Purpose…

Image credits: Post picture by Sophie Tremblay-Paquet, at the Shipyard Maine Coast Half Marathon in 2015. Other images from Pixabay.

Take a good look at Future You

Exercise, Future You, Sedentary, Movement, Daily

When something is done well, you might as well use it. But make sure to credit the source.

Why don’t we exercise enough?

Is it because we are too lazy? Not disciplined enough? Unable to stay motivated?

If you’ve read my most recent post, you know those are essentially the questions we were left with at the end. Because we have all the evidence we need about why we should exercise.

If you’ve read anything else on this blog in the past, you know the answer is not in motivation or discipline, two strategies that will fail you eventually, or drive you (and many around you) nuts.

It is pretty clear that only the strongest Purpose can keep us going in the long term. Yet for most this sense of Purpose remains elusive.

So while it seems we have tendency to be lazy, the truth is slightly different. You could say we are “wired” to be lazy, to economize our efforts, and only the strongest of wills can hold firm on their self-commitments.

By the way, this is not a figment of my imagination, or some wild theory I just came up with. It comes from research in behavioural economics, which others could probably explain better than I can.

But I’m going to explain it to you in my own words. With the help of visuals from a really good talk I recently watched on YouTube. (Even if you think you don’t have time, if you are serious about understanding fitness and long-term health, you should be watching that talk. After reading this post.)

The Truth

Most of us have a strong discounting rate when it comes to our “Future Selves”. (That’s a term borrowed from economics, and it is highly accurate in meaning. However, most of us are not bankers and economists, thankfully. So…) To put it more simply, I hope, the problem is as follows: when you think about the way Future You will be, the possibility of a healthy and active Future You is not seen as important enough because it is too far into the future.

Even though you want to be healthy and fit (who doesn’t?), the Future You is too remote, too distant, too hard to see clearly. The present, and very near future, occupy all that your mind can really consider and act upon. No, I’m not saying we live only for the present, but we have a strong bias in favour of the short-term instead of the long-term.

Those of us who have a much stronger Purpose typically enjoy a stronger sense of that Future Self. In essence, to them it is easier to keep their eyes on the prize. (Back to our economics/finance terminology, a stronger sense of the Future You comes from having a much smaller discounting rate). In other words, a strong Purpose can be understood as considering the distant future as equally important, or even more important, than the present or near-future.

Let’s see how this works

Look again at the image at the top of this post.

You have two pictures of Future You: one that is healthy and fit, and one that is frail and, probably, suffering from some illness(es). The road to each Future You is a series of short-term actions, choices that happen everyday, with their specific consequences:

Exercise, Daily, Health, Fitness

Two images of Future You…

Although there is no absolute certainly about the outcome, we know for sure what the odds are:

Exercise, Fitness, Health

Feeling lucky, punk? It is all about playing the odds… I know what my money is on.

Take a good, hard look at those two Future You. Can you see them well? Which do you want to really be Future You? I bet I know.

So what happens? Why is it still not a complete no-brainer to exercise regularly?

Well, each of us considers those futures against the present. It is a decision process in which you pit Present You against Future You. At least in terms of enjoyment:

Health, Fitness, Exercise, Daily

If the future appears not important enough, you are likely to pick doing nothing.

Conversely, if the Future You is clear enough, and important enough, your choice would be otherwise:

Health, Fitness, Exercise, Daily

If Future You is “important” enough in your mind, you will act accordingly. Most of the time. Well, often enough.

That’s basically it. How well you can see Future You, and how you manage to keep Future You in mind on a daily basis, influences how you behave. How much you are eager to exercise regularly.

This works whether Future You is simply a healthy and active Old You, or an incredibly fit and muscular Two Years From Now You, or Winning A Race in 6 Months You. Future You is what you envision yourself to be like at some point in the future. Personally, the only Future You I think is truly worth having in mind, having as a Purpose, is Healthy And Active Old You. Which should make You exercise regularly, and in a reasonable way…

Future You, which becomes the source of your Purpose, is not the only contributing factor to exercising regularly, as we’ll see next time. But it is a necessary beginning. Without it, you must fall back on motivation, or worse, on discipline.

The good news is that you can improve how Future You influences Present You. You need to look at Future You regularly.

So keep a picture of Future You where you can take a good look at it everyday, just as you head out to exercise…

_____________

Image credits: All images in this post were shamelessly lifted from an excellent lecture given by Michele Belot, Professor of Economics and Director of the Behavioural Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh (BLUE), as the third lecture in the 2014 Our Changing World series, entitled “Behavioural Economics and Health Behaviours“. It is a really good lecture, about which I will talk again in my next post. And from which I will shamelessly lift more images.

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 5

Exercise, Discipline, Everyday, Training, Sports

Find ways to find it fun to exercise. At times, it won’t be easy.

Find your fun!

There: That’s it. That’s the fifth Practice of Discipline. Nothing more to add.

Ok, maybe a few things to add.

Find your fun is an essential practice of discipline because, contrary to most people’s view about discipline, you should not drag yourself through unpleasant activities day after day after day…

That old view of discipline must go out the window.

But you must make an effort, at times, to find the fun in what you are doing. Especially when you are doing it everyday.

What does that mean, practically speaking?

Ways to find your fun

I’m a big fan of traveling and visiting places I don’t know, even in my own city. I always find that pleasant, be it on a bike or while doing a long run. Even if it is in my own city, I enjoy taking detours that I have not taken before. That, for me, is fun.

To some, it could be always doing a very nice loop (walking, running, rollerblading, biking, etc.) in a beautiful park, or in a particularly nice residential area. Perhaps to notice doing it faster each time, but that should not be necessary.

To others it might be exercising on a stationary device (bike, treadmill, elliptical) while watching a favourite show, or a “guilty pleasure show you would not be caught watching otherwise, or listening to a podcast series on an interesting topic.

Perhaps it is to pick up again a sport you used to like doing when you were younger. Think back to then: How about badminton, tennis, basketball, water-polo? Sure, it might require finding a group to have fun with, but they exist, you just have to look for them.

It could also simply be a thought while you walk/run/cycle/swim: “I’ll be in better shape for the next time I… (insert activity for which you want to be more fit).” That’s OK as well, though it is better to find your fun in the situation you are in while exercising, not just in some future version of you.

The best fun, in my experience, comes from appreciating how your body feels as you exercise, and observing the environment around you. Especially in the environment, you can find ever changing and renewed fun everyday.

I also enjoy talking to people while I run. Especially long runs, or marathons. This is my fun, not necessarily the fun of those I talk to. You have to be careful about how you find your fun, because the fun invariably ends where someone else’s NOT FUN begins…

The best fun is solitary fun

The point is, no matter what it is, you need to find some.

Many resort to finding a training buddy, or joining some sort of team or “fitness” class. Nothing wrong with that. However, a word (or two) of caution:

When you become dependent on a partner, or on a group, for your fun, you risk stopping whatever activity it is that you’ve undertaken. For instance, if your partner does not show up. Or if the class comes to an end.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding fun within yourself. More to the point: within your own attitude towards the exercise and the world around you.

Fun for two

Fun with a partner is, as indicated earlier, acceptable.

More than that: It is an excellent way of having great fun. The closer the partner (spouse, close friend, etc.), the better the fun, and the more likely the fun will be reciprocal, and repeatable.

Be it chatting while walking/running/stationary something, or playing doubles tennis/badminton/etc., sharing a fitness-increasing activity can enhance it.

However, as noted earlier, you should not rely on an exercise partner: What if your doubles partner does not show up? What if the exercise itself causes tension with your significant other.

Better be careful, and make sure you can find fun by yourself.

Group fun

Group fun is also acceptable. It can be an excellent way of finding fun in the beginning.

But careful if you come to rely of the stimulus offered by a group (and/or a cheerleader-coach) for your fun: That’s a pretty much certain sign that your fun is teetering on the edge of not being enough to sustain your activity level.

As we all know, too much stimulation leads to a saturation, and an inability to find the fun in more mundane situations (like fun for two, or fun on your own).

To be sure, get started and use whatever means to find the fun at first, but make sure to branch off and find the fun on your own as soon as possible.

The key thing is to move a lot more.

Your body will enjoy that.

It’s up to you to bring your mind around to enjoying it as well. And that’s where discipline comes in…

Image from Pixabay.

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 4

Discipline, Training, Exercise

Starting is easy. Following the plan the whole way, that’s another matter entirely.

Discipline Practice 4 is the simplest of them all, but perhaps the most difficult to do.

Imagine a simple analogy:

You are planning a road trip to go see New York city. Three days before the date you had set, you decide not to wait, and leave immediately. You pack the car in a hurry, and forget to bring the camping gear you were hoping to use to save on motel rooms. Half-way to New York, you see a signpost for Philadelphia, and figure you have enough time, so you’ll go there as well. You spend a large amount of money on a hotel room you find very late at night because you’ve driven too far and are by then exhausted and can’t drive any farther.

The next morning you drive around Philly a bit and finally head towards New York. You get there to realize the main thing you wanted to see, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is closed, opening again only two days later (which would have been fine had you gotten to New York on the expected date). Having few other options, and to make yourself feel a bit better, you once again splurge on an expensive hotel, and the next morning drive back home, where you end up disappointed about your trip because you did not see what you really wanted to see, and spent way too much money…

I can’t put it any plainer than this:

Stick to the plan.

Yes, this one is really called “stick to the plan.”

This holds as much for training as for racing, though it is perhaps more noticeable in the latter case.

Whether you are training with the help of a coach or by yourself, you must have a plan for reaching better fitness. It can be a simple plan, like what No-brainer Fitness is recommending (moving more, on a daily basis), or it can be a detailed training regimen to reach some particular goal (like participating in an Ironman triathlon). No matter. A plan is a plan. Everybody makes them.

You don’t need to be a project manager to understand the proper way to plan for something.

  • Step 1: First, you figure what your objectives are, and where you currently are with respect to those objectives. This allows you to figure-out what is missing, and thus what needs to be done.
  • Step 2: Then you make a detailed, phased approach, a Plan, for bridging the gap.
  • Step 3: Next, you execute the Plan. You do what was planned, step by step, day by day.
  • Step 4: Finally, after the conclusion of the Plan (your fitness event, race, or simply the end of the season of activities), you review the results, and assess whether anything needs to be done better next time.

Because there is always a next time: another season, another event, another goal.

The same holds true for a race plan, but in much more condensed form. You have a goal, there is a starting line; you race, following an established plan, and then you cross the finish line. Whether you cross it after the expected amount of time depends in large part on your training, but also on how well you followed the plan for the race itself.

But here’s what almost invariably happens: at some point, perhaps on many occasions during the execution of the plan, you diverge from what the plan said.

This could be during a training session in which you decide to do something different (typically, more, or simply completely different training), or during a preparatory event, when you decide you feel really good and will go full out instead of keeping the planned pace. Or during the race, where you go too fast, too soon, because you are really excited and think you can do better than planned.

You’ve gone through Step 1 and Step 2, but then you don’t follow Step 3 properly, often leading to a lesser result than hoped for. And when you get to Step 4, lots of reasons can be found to explain what happened (a.k.a. excuses), but seldom do you recall that Step 3 was not followed properly. And you may even blame the Plan itself, or the coach, when in fact it was your Step 3 that was the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having some flexibility with respect to following plans. In particular when listening to your body clamoring for rest, or having to deal with unexpected conditions like the weather or unforeseen family obligations.

And perhaps the Plan was not a good one, or not good enough.

But here’s the thing: If you don’t follow the Plan as closely as possible, you cannot claim that it is not a Good Plan. And you don’t really know how to make it any better.

In training and exercising just like in life in general, we’re supposed to keep learning. Or at least avoid making the same mistakes more than twice (see how much leeway I give us?). The planning process is there to facilitate that learning.

But the only way it works is if you have the discipline to stick to the plan.

Picture from Pixabay.