How to Successfully Get Fit

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August 10, 2014 in Peak Performance
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Like millions of other Americans out there, you just don’t have time to exercise. You work too much, it’s hard enough finding time to spend with your family. You’re just too tired after work, and if you do get extra time, you’d rather be golfing. How do other successful people get fit? Where do they find the time?

I know the feeling, believe me, sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day to fit in everything that we should. But shouldn’t only the most important things fill up the top of your to-do list – like making that thing you live in, AKA your body, as healthy as possible?

You desperately want to be a champion of your own body, but after a dedicated 3 week stint in the gym you end up back at happy hour – or on the couch watching SportsCenter.  You don’t want to get sucked into the excuse syndrome – but no matter how hard you try, you just keep going back to your old way of doing things – work, eat, sleep, repeat, and party on the weekends.

So the hourglass turns and turns, we keep going until our body says it can’t handle anymore of this crap. Sometimes we get lucky and it fights off disease into our 90’s. But often poor habits catch up with us and cut us down a lot earlier.

So how do we change this? Is there a proven way to get out of this rut?

A few years ago I met a motivated woman who came to me to get some personal training. She had exercised for several years before coming to me, but wanted to push herself to the next level. Without any hesitation on her part we jumped right into a 3-day-a-week schedule.

She would often come in complaining about work, how much she disliked it, but she made decent money so it kind of balanced out. She was about 45 years old, maybe 5’6–5’7, she had a rather thick build but wasn’t really overweight at around 150 pounds. But what made her different from all my other clients is that she had already lost 150 pounds.

How did she do it?

This is a question that pushes people to spend millions of dollars on fitness products every day. They all claim to have the secret sauce to losing weight the quick and easy way, but really they’re all just marketing to your weakness – hopelessness.

I actually remember asking my client “what was the moment you decided to turn your life around?” It turns out that my client had a bit of an epiphany that sparked her to make a change.

She smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, would pound fast food on the way home from work, and devour snacks like cookies and chips at night while she was watching TV. She wasn’t much of a drinker, but boy could she take down a big Mac. She was a self proclaimed emotional eater. If she had a stressful day at work, family problems, or just an overall bad day – she would take it out on the refrigerator.

Her epiphany was when a friend told her to try an exercise class with her. She thought, no way I can’t do this. After weeks of her friend bugging her, finally she gave in. Within the first 15 minutes of the class, she felt like she was going to keel over and die. She ended up running into the women’s locker room and vomiting all over the stalls. Embarrassed, she grabbed her things and ran out.

She had always known that she was out of shape, but this is like a giant slap in the face. It was like somebody grabbed her and screamed “wake the hell up”! She decided she needed to get motivated and make a change quickly, or as her doctor put it, “you won’t make it to the next visit sweetheart”.

Read our article on how to get motivated to do anything –> here.

So she began small. At first she got rid of all the snacks in her house. This would make it harder to crush a can of Pringles every night. Then she started to walk every day. By just adding a little bit at a time it allowed her to build the habits into her life without overwhelming her. And the constant improvement of how she felt every day was astonishing to her. She was less stressed at work, she felt less tired when she got home, she even felt less angry life.

She began to start taking fitness classes, and even got a trainer. She kept doing a little bit more, and a little bit more, improving her fitness and eating healthier.

So what was the secret sauce that kept her from falling back into a rut? It was simple really.

First she identified the cues that were causing her to live unhealthy. Then she developed a routine for when these cues were initiated. Then she was rewarded for completing the routine. In even simpler terms, she developed habits.

Our lives are made up of various habits. Every day, all day, the things we do are little itty-bitty habits that shape our lives. Brushing your teeth when you wake up, grabbing breakfast on the go before work, checking email before we get into our daily work. These are all habits that we’ve grown accustomed to. And they go even deeper than that. Biting our nails, smoking, grabbing fast food on the way home from work, having a beer when we get home, turning on the TV for dinner – these are all habits we’ve developed at some point or another in our lives.

Each of these habits are set off by a cue. Something that triggers our brain to say “okay it’s time to do this”. For instance stress makes us but our nails. Smokers often smoke a cigarette after they eat. We stop at McDonald’s after work because we notice a hunger pang.

But our habits aren’t all bad either. For instance in the 1930s Pepsodent toothpaste got us to start brushing her teeth when we woke up every morning. They did so by getting us to notice the film that developed over our teeth throughout the night. Ever since then we only feel “clean” if we brush our teeth first thing in the morning. This habit has turned into a cultural staple. Because we were raised brushing her teeth first thing in the morning, it’s a habit that’s drilled into our everyday life. The cue – the film over teeth. The routine – brushing our teeth with minty fresh toothpaste. The reward – the smooth, clean feeling over teeth when we’re finished.

It’s habit.

So how do we develop the habit for becoming healthy and fit? How do we develop habits to lose body fat?

Well, the first thing you need to realize is that the trigger for change is different for everybody. As I stated in my article, The 3 Most Powerful Ways to Get and Stay Motivated, having some sort of epiphany (like my client); taking baby steps on a daily basis; and being surrounded by people who are after the same goal as you – are the best ways to trigger motivation. But the exact moment that you tell yourself “okay I’m going to do this” is going to be very individualized. But understanding how these habits develop, can greatly improve your chances of making it happen.

So let’s use the example of my client. First she quit smoking, that was the largest hurdle to jump. And that epiphany that she had after vomiting during her first workout ever, helped push her over that hurdle. But once she did, the ball was rolling. And from then on she developed a small habits every day that grew into large change.

So let’s learn from her. The first thing you should do is identify how your lack of health and fitness is impacting your life. Are you a smoker who is starting to notice your teeth are yellowing, or your breathing is weezy? Do you drink too much and are noticing a beer belly, but you shrug it off as having a good time? Do you eat fast food after work everyday, maybe you are putting on some serious pounds, but it’s so much easier than cooking – so you keep doing it? You know all of these things are bad for you, you have even seen friends and family affected by it; but it still doesn’t trigger you to change.

So here’s what you do: find one small thing that you can do him to replace your bad habit. But I can’t just be anything, it has to be something that rewards you immediately. For example, you know smoking yellows your teeth, destroys your lungs, hardens your blood vessels, and a host of other things. You know that you probably “should” quit. So to start the process, you decide to try to quit smoking after you eat.

Because you know it’s likely that instead of smoking, you will probably reach for something sweet like a piece of candy, which gives you immediate satisfaction. So you need to find a healthier alternative. Because exercise has been proven to increase endorphins, you decide to try a set of push-ups immediately after dinner in place of your cigarettes. This will take a little bit of dedication, but if you drop and do 10 push-ups right when you’re about to grab a smoke, your body’s endorphins will give you that momentary reward in place of sucking on a cancer stick.

An added side benefit is that you will start to burn calories from dinner immediately by doing is push-ups. Maybe those 10 push-ups eventually turns into 20 push-ups and 20 lunges. Or maybe instead of doing push-ups and lunges, you take your dog for a walk outside, or maybe even a light jog if you haven’t eaten too much.

I know it sounds so small and insignificant, but you would be surprised at how the small change can grow into huge results. What starts with a few push-ups after dinner, could grow into a five day week workout regimen which builds a muscular body, and sheds that unwanted fat.

By giving yourself a cue, like dinner; a routine, like physical activity; and the reward, like a boost in endorphins – you can build a series of habits and change your life.

Don’t defeat yourself before you even try, if you want to live – I mean really live a great life – you can’t keep doing what you’re doing today and expect to get different results tomorrow. Small steps to quit smoking and exercise more might only improve your health at the beginning; but these habits will spill into other areas in your life. Medical studies have shown that small lifestyle changes which improve health, often lead to improvements in other areas such as professional careers and relationships with the opposite sex.

If it’s time for a change, then it’s time to establish some new habits. You will be surprised at how successful you will be in a year, if you just do a few pushups today.

Stay awesome!

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John Timmerman
About the author

John Timmerman

John Timmerman is the founder of Good Monster, a digital agency in Syracuse, NY. He is a former strength & conditioning coach and personal trainer who has trained NFL, MLB, NHL, PGA, UFC athletes, executives and everyone else for 10 years. When he's not burning the house down trying to cook up healthy ways to eat bacon, he's traveling and enjoying life to the fullest!