Motivation, Daily Action and Self Talk
By John P. Hussman, Ph.D.
All rights reserved and actively enforced.
George Eliot wrote: "It's never too late to be what you might have been."
Discipline in one area tends to spill over to discipline in another. When you set goals for your fitness program, set some for other areas of your life as well. The daily pursuit of your fitness goals will give you the clarity of thought, the energy, and the discipline to take deliberate action in other areas of your life. The quality of your life will improve as a result. Trust me on this.
As I've written elsewhere, I really do believe that DAILY ACTION is the key to success. You find a set of actions that you know will produce great results if you follow them consistently, and then you follow them consistently. The focus should be squarely on the present - "What are the actions I can take today that will bring success?"
Once you've set your goals for the future, you absolutely MUST boil them down to a set of daily actions. If you keep your goals in the future without making them live in the present, you'll never reach them. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "The future will be made up of the present. By taking good care of the present, we take good care of the future." Focus on the actions that you can take today - the results will follow. If you do the actions you planned to do, the day was a win. Far too many people set goals without being mindful of the daily actions needed to achieve them, or they place too much focus on short-term results (like scale or caliper readings) rather than trusting in well-planned daily actions.
What's your motivation?
If you're going to transform your physique, you've got to decide why. The first week goes by pretty much on enthusiasm alone. After that, you start to notice more ways to sabotage yourself by eating improperly or missing workouts. If you haven't decided why you're doing this, now is the time. When you're determined to succeed, you'll be much more firm about passing by Twinkies and other potential hazards, you'll squash the temptation to skip workouts, and you'll seize more opportunities for physical activity.
So what are your reasons? You have to figure out what works for you. For me, it's simple. I lost both my father and one of my dearest friends to the complications of diabetes. When that happens, it hits you that whatever gifts, hopes, and dreams you have, they're all being carried around in this one chariot. It can carry nothing, either for yourself, or for the service of others, if it falls apart.
As they say, a problem well articulated is half solved. Same is true for your fitness goals. You have to know where you want to go, when you want to arrive, and exactly what you'll do on a daily basis in order to get there. As Zig Ziglar says, "You'll never make it as a wandering generality. You have to become a meaningful specific."
Regardless of how successful you are, you are more than you have become. Your job is to bring that potential to the surface.
Now, if your health is fairly good already, you might be tempted at some point to think, "Why not skip this workout - it's just vanity at this point anyway." Look. If you are vain, then yes, this is about vanity. If you're not vain, then this is about demonstrating that you can commit to a goal and reach it. Make your fitness program an example of your integrity.
Everything is created twice - first in thought, and then in reality. The Buddha taught that "with our thoughts we create our world." The apostle Paul wrote "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." Guard your thoughts - they produce your reality.
If your goal is to change your life and your body, you have to set your mind on that vision again and again and give energy to it. Whether you believe you're a failure or a success, you're right - the energy you give to your thoughts will tend to bring about the result. Arnold Schwarzenegger once said "I made a picture in my mind of who I wanted to be, and then I lived into that picture."
Most of us walk around quietly talking to ourselves all day. Our "self-talk" is that little voice telling us that we're valuable or incompetent, that we're strong or that we "just can't take it anymore." Our self-talk is also the voice that decides whether we encounter people thinking "how can I help?" or whether we're quietly asking ourselves "what's in it for me?" Our self-talk chooses, by default, how we experience our world, unless we consciously choose our self talk instead.
When you're trying to change your physique, two things will threaten to throw you off most often. One is the urge to skip workouts. The other is the urge to have treats. Your self-talk is very important when you deal with these. If all the voice inside your head can come up with is "Aaaahh, what the heck", you're in trouble. Instead, you've got to have a repertoire of answers ready in advance.
For instance, one of mine is "The thought of exercise is only painful when you aren't doing it." Once I'm working out, it's actually very pleasant. Or if I'm just beat and I'm tempted to skip a workout, my self-talk is usually "Alright, I'll just do 5 minutes." I know by now that once I've worked out for 5 minutes, I'm in for the duration. But that little bit of self-talk has often turned a potential loss into a win.
The same is true for unauthorized treats. It might be helpful to look at a treat and ask "Where exactly on my body do I want this to show up?" But figure out what works for you. In any event, try to get away from what's tempting you if possible, and be prepared with self-talk. Most importantly, don't treat these temptations as something evil and outside of yourself - things to be fought and struggled with. Otherwise you give them power. Your attitude should be "Hello temptation, how are you today?" And then walk away, or rehearse a little bit of self-talk, or think carefully about your goals and reasons, and reschedule the treat for your free day.
Plan your Response to Obstacles in Advance
Which brings us to stumbling blocks - things that get us off track. One of the other things you have to do is to PLAN for stumbling blocks. Resolve in advance, for example, that if you get sick for a few days, you'll stay on your nutrition plan. Or if you have an "unauthorized" treat, you'll leave it at that, rather than turning it into a self-destructive binge.
Should you skip a workout when you're sick, or just stick to your fitness plan full throttle? I get this question a lot. So let's think about it logically.
If you've ever visited an intensive care unit at the hospital, you've probably noticed that a lot of the patients look kind of thin and gaunt. What can we learn from this? Clearly, getting yourself critically ill is an EXCELLENT way to lose fat! This is particularly true if you can also give yourself a screaming high fever, which is of course, thermogenic. This is what Body-for-LIFE author Bill Phillips calls a " high point " - I just call it "going for the burn." You know the old saying - starve a cold, feed a fever. For that reason, you should also go way off your nutrition plan so you can really get the heat pumping.
Once I've been admitted to the ICU, I like to keep a couple of 90 pound dumbbells on either side of the hospital bed, so I can blast out a few extra reps after being defibrillated. This is the kind of determination that will keep you fit and active until you die.
Seriously, listen to your body. As a rule of thumb, if the cold affects your respiratory system or leaves you weak and exhausted, skip the workouts until at least the day after you start feeling better. If it's just a sore throat and you feel fine otherwise, there are a few studies suggesting that workouts won't delay your recovery. If you do work out, be absolutely sure to get plenty of sleep, and to take your Vitamin C and daily allowance of zinc.
When you miss a workout, don't add insult to injury. There's no need to go off your nutrition plan and take a whole string of extra "free days." It's OK to eat a little less if your appetite isn't strong, but try to keep as much of your nutrition program intact as possible.
Oddly, many people have written noticing that after a few days off due to sickness, their body composition seemed to have improved. As far as I can guess, the reason seems to be that the extra rest allowed some additional muscle repair. Meanwhile, the combination of lower appetite and a body working hard to fight off a cold probably resulted in a caloric deficit and some loss of fat. It's certainly not something I'd recommend as a strategy, but you shouldn't be concerned about destroying your progress if you take a few days off to get well.
If you happen to strain a muscle or injure a ligament, it's clear that you have to ease back on training that area. Fortunately, the nervous system seems to be wired so that, for instance, working one arm will actually convey some benefit to the other. For instance, it is well known that when people have one arm or leg in a cast, training the other arm or leg with weights substantially reduces the atrophy (loss of muscle) in the casted body part. EAS Champion Everett Herbert fell off of a ladder and injured his arm during his training, but kept going to the gym, knowing that by working the other muscles, that work would convey benefit to the injured area as well.
The bottom line is this: plan for something to go wrong during your fitness program. It may be a cold, or a strained muscle, or some kind of difficulty at work or home. But whatever it turns out to be, resolve ahead of time that you'll stick to as much of your plan as possible.
As always, if you're pregnant, the baby comes first (a few more comments on pregnancy are on my Q & A page).