Fitness Monday is a community series for health and fitness support. None of the hosts or diarists are professionals. Please consult your own general practitioner if you have questions.
Fit Kos-friends have more energy to elect more and better Democrats!
A few decades ago, I overcame severe agoraphobia.
That story is for another diary.
However, there were some important lessons to be taken away from that experience that have proven useful in a lot of other settings, and are especially useful in developing new, healthier habits. I'm not always successful (right now I'm struggling with biking consistently), but the framework itself allows for the tweaking needed to finally break old, unproductive habits.
My treatment was grounded in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The core concept: Actions change thoughts. Rather than focusing on why I wasn't able to leave the house, we instead worked on (drum roll) ... leaving the house.
The strategy is simple: Set reasonable goals, small at first, then bigger. Work on doing, not on thinking or understanding. For those of us who spend a lot of time in our heads, analyzing and theorizing, this approach is a revelation, breaking us out of mental habits that aren't working too well.
If you're reading Fitness Monday, your ultimate goal is probably to be healthier. This might mean eating better, exercising more, sleeping more consistently, or even avoiding rage.
But these are abstract ideas. Healthier? Better? More? What do they mean? What exactly do they mean? As abstractions they're really great ideas, but they're not terribly useful for taking action. They give no clue as to what you should DO.
In addition, too often these straightforward goals get mixed up with self-esteem issues, and this is where many will give up entirely. They'll find they can't reach their twenty-mile a day goal, or can't give up sugar entirely, and because they can't reach the ideal, will give up and think about something else because it's a terrible thing to feel out of control.
Very few things in life are all or nothing. Imperfection is not the same thing as total crap.
Instead, focus on what you CAN do.
Not reaching a particular goal doesn't mean you've failed as a human being. Instead, it often means that your goal was unreasonable for where you are now. Reset it a little lower. Reset it to a place that you can actually achieve. Don't worry about what you should be doing, or could be doing, or what other people are doing. Don't set your ultimate goal as the only goal worth reaching. When I was overcoming agoraphobia, my first goal was to sit on the front step for a few minutes. And.... I did it. My ultimate goal? Walking through a large department store filled with people. If that had been my first goal, I'd still be sitting in a small room, waiting for the day when I'd be ready.
Start with reasonable goals. Know thyself. Be honest with what you're capable of at this moment.
When that goal is easy to achieve, crank it up a little higher next time, but keep it reasonable. The important thing: Set up goals you can actually achieve.
And here's where the magic starts: Rather than beating yourself up for reaching a goal that was unreasonable to start with, you can start congratulating yourself for making progress. You didn't set out to feel better about yourself, but it ended up being a great side-effect. Your steps toward change make you feel good, instead of giving you a reason for beating yourself up because you didn't measure up. Generally, we do things that make us feel good, and avoid things that don't.
To sum up:
Goals should be
Reasonable: Be honest with yourself. What can you actually DO, right now. If you can't plan out for a week, plan out for a day. If that's too much, figure out an achievement you can reach in the next half hour. Start with where you are, not with where you ultimately want to be.
Concrete: "Lose weight" is not concrete. "Not having a Snickers instead of lunch" is concrete. "Biking more" is not concrete. "Biking around the block once a day" is concrete. Be specific so you know what you have to do.
Measurable: Set things up so you know you're making progress. If you need an extra boost, write your achievements down. If your reasonable, concrete goal is to "Walk for fifteen minutes after lunch instead of sitting at the computer," write down every day you do that.
Small successes lead to greater successes.
It's simple, but not always easy. I'm struggling right now with trying to put this strategy into place. I'm having a hard time settling for the small goals, but it's all I'm capable of right now because I'm so out of shape. Sometimes I have to relearn what I already know, because knowing isn't enough. DOING is what's required.
Knowing and doing are not the same thing.
So what will you DO today?