Lessons from a Fitness Challenge

The fitness industry loves Challenges. And at this time of the year, they seem to be everywhere: “40-day build challenge” or “12 weeks to a bikini body.“

I’ve never been very fond of challenges because they tend to reinforce behavioural patterns and beliefs that are not beneficial.

For instance, most challenges are short-lived contributing to the erroneous belief that losing weight (or building muscle) is a fast process. To deliver results in such short period of time, most programs rely on endorsing extreme behaviours that are not realistic (or safe) for the average person. Those behaviours generate an enormous amount of deprivation which could potentially lead to unhealthy compensatory behaviours (binging, purging or over exercising). Besides, most programs don’t expand on how to maintain the results, so once the challenge is over you are on your own.

I’m not saying that challenges don’t work. They do. But only for a very specific type of people:

  • Usually already fit
  • Highly motivated
  • Used to dieting and extreme exercise
  • Hold certain values – health and fitness, appearance – as priority
  • Enjoy being pushed to the limit

People who don’t fit this profile end up feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, discouraged, disappointed, ashamed, and powerless.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Since I don’t like jumping into conclusions, I decided to conduct a little research. I enrolled on a 40-day challenge.

I wanted to understand what drove people into these programs. And if they don’t work for most folks, why were they coming back? Is it some kind mass delusion or is there something I am missing?

So there I went with an open mind in search for answers. Much to my surprise, I was able to find quite a few positives which I am sharing with you now:

  1. Challenges are a group activity that happens inside a community of likeminded people. This  creates a sense of belonging, of being understood, of not being alone which is fundamental for success. People in these communities are supportive and ready to cheer you up when you need it.
  2. The fact that you enrolled in something creates instant accountability. That’s because we tend to tell people around us about the challenge and they will want to know how you are progressing. In my experience, the more people you tell, the better your adherence will be. There is always someone who won’t let you off the hook if you slide.
  3. There is usually a willingness to play at 100%. You’ve made the commitment and you are going to give your best. (Even if it is temporary. In fact, knowing that the effort has a deadline increases ability to use willpower. “I just need to hang in there for a few more weeks.”)
  4. Strong commitment to a program contributes to consistent behaviours. And behaviours consistently repeated over time can turn into life-long habits.
  5. Momentaneous empowerment. Voluntary participation (it doesn’t count if you were forced into a program) on a challenge can shift your beliefs from “this is too hard” to “I can do this.”
  6. Those challenges are full of role models that post their struggles and how they overcame them. This can inspire a change in attitude when facing a roadblock. “What would so and so do?”
  7. Having structure inspire trust (after all, this program was carefully designed by an expert) which eliminates second-guessing (the root of negative self-talk).

The bottom line is that participating on a challenge can be very beneficial if it played right. That’s because these programs can generate loads of positive emotions (empowerment, enthusiasm, positive expectations, optimism and hopefulness) that are necessary to overcome potential roadblocks.

Remember that positive states of mind are more resourceful.

This means being able to use willpower to overcome cravings, looking for solutions rather than excuses, shutting down negative self-talk, prioritising based on your goal, making better choices and so on.

Hold your horses. Before you jump into this bandwagon, be aware that challenges are, as the name say, challenging. If your life is already full of stress, this is probably not the best time to start one.

However, it doesn’t mean that you need to wait for perfect conditions (by the way, there is no such thing as perfect conditions, life is imperfect by default) in order to do something.

What if we could create mini-challenges in our life? I mean, small manageable changes. Would that be helpful?

Bingo! My proposal is engaging in a behaviour-based challenge (rather than a full on all-or-nothing challenge). That means instead of trying to change a million different things at once (which can be overwhelming), we focus on installing one healthy habit at a time (or breaking an undesirable one). For example, a 30-day alcohol-free challenge or a 6-week Zumba challenge.

You will get all the benefits of participating on a challenge, minus the stress and overwhelm of trying to do too many changes at once. In addition, small changes may feel so easy to incorporate in your daily routine that you might be inclined to keep going even when the challenge is over.

How to Stay Committed to Your Goals

You know how people start very excited about a goal just to lose motivation within a few weeks?

This is because it is normal to experience an emotional roller coaster as we pursue a goal. One day, we are super excited and passionate. The other, we may feel overwhelmed and discouraged.

The biggest challenge is to go through the downs without falling off the bandwagon. But how do we do that?

In this video, I share my top tip for staying connected and committed to your goals even during hard times.

How to Avoid the Emotional Roller Coaster

The journey towards any goal is seldom a straight line. More often than not you will face challenges. It’s a normal part of the process.

But the problem is that these challenges may have a direct effect on your mind, creating a turmoil of emotions. Emotions that if not taken care of, tend to escalate to humongous proportions preventing you to reach your goals and dreams.

Let’s take a closer look at the emotional roller coaster that is a fitness journey.

Stage 1 – You have just decided to embark on this journey. Motivation is high as a kite. You can’t see any obstacles so you overestimate your own abilities, creating an ambitious plan that may not be realistic on the long run. But you are excited and you go with it.

Stage 2 – You are two weeks in and still can’t see any visible results. Decide to do some research and get overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. You get confused and start to second guessing your original plan. You feel compelled to make adjustments.

Stage 3 – Still no results and life catches up with you. You feel impatient and frustrated. “I am doing so much. I should be seeing some difference by now. Why is it taking so long?”

Stage 4 – Start feeling overwhelmed with everything you set up to do. It feels hard to keep up. Motivation starts to waver.

Stage 5 – Now, you are second guessing everything. “Am I on the right path? Am I capable of doing this? Do I even want it?”

Stage 6 – Negative self-talk starts. Can’t see anything good about this journey. Blame game starts.

Stage 7 – As the internal pressure rises you feel discouraged. You are on the brink of giving up.

Stage 8 – “Can’t take it anymore.” You jump off the band wagon. Experience an initial feeling of relief, followed by guilt, unworthiness and dis-empowerment.

Stage 9 – Go on with your life. Try to justify your decision to quit. Use other things to make you feel better but it is too late. The whole experience left a scar in your self-esteem.

Have you gone through something like that before? Well, you are not alone. It is estimated that 73% of people who starts a fitness program give up before seeing results. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As I mentioned on my previous post (click here if you haven’t read it), to be successful you must learn to deal with negative emotions. Otherwise, you will quit before even starting.

Why is this important? Because we make decisions are based on emotions. The truth is that negative emotions trigger a response from a primitive part of the brain which tends to underestimate resources and overestimate threats. It’s a survival instinct.

But you are not here to survive. You are here to thrive, right?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to control emotions in order to make decisions from a resourceful state, not biased by fear, guilt, insecurity or other negative emotions.

Take willpower, for instance. Willpower is a resource that can only be accessed when you are on a positive state of mind (from joy to contentment). The moment you go down on the emotional scale, you reach an unresourceful state and can’t rely on willpower anymore.

A negative state generates negative self-talk, bringing up limiting beliefs based on past experiences. In those states, the mind start looking for reasons why you can’t succeed. And the more you allow the negative self-talk to grow, the deeper you go into a negative state.

Therefore, learning to manage emotions is fundamental if you want to achieve any goal. Emotional intelligence doesn’t prevent negative emotions to arise but it allows you to recognise when you are getting into  an emotional spiral so you can stop it before it’s too late.

The good news is that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a skill which can be learned and strengthened. You just need to start.

Intrigued?

Click here to book a complimentary consultation call and discover what coaching can do for you.

Three steps to achieve anything in 2020

Another year is over. There is something about new beginnings that fill our hearts with hope. Hope that this time everything will work out. That things will be different.

But the truth is that it will only be different, if you are willing to do something different this time.

No, this is not another post about setting New Year’s Resolutions. We know very well that they don’t work. It’s also not about setting SMART goals. And while I do like setting goals, I also know that they are easier said than done.

People don’t fail because they can’t set goals. They fail because they can’t follow through.

So that’s where we need to start. And making superficial lifestyle changes is not going to cut it. You might have already discovered that adopting behaviours that you are not ready for,  simply don’t stick.

My point is: to make sustainable changes, the transformation must happen from within.

Here are three things to kickstart your transformation:

1. Ditch the negative self-talk

Do you know why most people fail? That’s because they allow their own mind to talk themselves out of their goals. To achieve anything, we will need to act consistently towards what we want but it is very hard to do that when we have a negative committee inside of our heads.

So, what is the difference between people who achieve their goals and people who don’t?  Emotional intelligence. Successful people face the same challenges that you do. They go through ups and downs, they question their choices, they may lose motivation from time to time. However, they know that this is temporary. A setback, not the end of the line.

2. Fire the perfectionist in you

Do you know what get you results? Action. Moving towards your goals even if it is just a little step.  

Sometimes, we can get caught up creating the “perfect” plan and waiting for the “perfect” opportunity to make a move. But you know what? Life is not perfect. If you are waiting for perfect conditions to start, you may not start ever. That’s procrastination.

And procrastination comes from fear. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of failing. Making mistakes is not a bad thing. That’s how we learn. In reality, there is no such thing as failure. Only feedback.

3. Don’t rely on willpower

You may think that the reason you haven’t succeeded yet was because of lack of willpower. That if only you can have a stronger will, then you will be alright.

But I’ll tell you right now that willpower is NOT a long-term strategy. This is because willpower is a limited resource that requires conscious effort and can only be used when you are at top notch condition. Meaning that when you need it the most (like when you are sad, tired, stressed or bored) you will not be able to use it.

So no. You are not weak. You are just using the wrong strategy.

Like what you read here?

Why Willpower Is Not Enough To Create Real Change

Do you know anyone who went through a full transformation? I mean, someone who has drastically changed his/hers habits? A complete overhaul.

What do you think happened to this person? Do you think that he/she has an enormous amount willpower, determination and self-control?

Well, I assure you that it was more than that.

You see, willpower is a conscious decision that requires a lot of energy and effort, making it a limited resource that can only be accessed when you are at the top of your game. This means that when you are felling tired, stressed, sad, angry or even bored, you will not be able to use your willpower. (can you remember a time in which you were resolute to wake up early to go to the gym, for instance, but in the morning when the alarm went off, you simply convinced yourself to stay in be?)

The truth is that all change happens on the subconscious level because that’s where our habits, patterns and addictions are stored. Willpower, on the other hand, is part of the conscious domain and the conscious mind is only responsible for 5% of our mental capacity. The other 95% is run by the subconscious mind.

To explain this concept I like using the following metaphor.

Imagine that your conscious mind is a tiny little person. This person is supposed to ride on top of a huge elephant. The elephant is your subconscious mind.

Now, the rider is smart and has the ability to guide the elephant through the path he wants. However, because of the difference in size, the rider doesn’t have the power to control this elephant. If the elephant for some reason gets scared, distracted or impulsive, it take off in the opposite direction, and the rider will not have the strength to prevent it from running away.

This means that to make permanent changes, you will need to learn what motivates your elephant, so your rider can easily guide it through the path you want.

Fire the “fat” mentality

Let’s talk about body image. How do you feel about your body?

If you are dissatisfied with your appearance, you are not alone. Take a look at the following statistics from Eating Disorders Victoria.

  • In Australians aged 11-24, approximately 28% of males and 35% of females are dissatisfied with their appearance (NEDC, 2010a).
  • The Mission Australia National Youth Survey has revealed that body image has been listed in the top 3 concerns for young Australians from 2009-2015.
  • The Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, found that only 22% of women within a normal healthy weight range reported being happy with their weight. Almost three quarters (74%) desired to weigh less, including 68% of healthy weight and 25% underweight women (Kenardy et al., 2001).
  • Poor body image is associated with an increased probability of engaging in dangerous dietary practices and weight control methods, excessive exercise, substance abuse and unnecessary surgery to alter appearance (NEDC, 2010a).
  • Beyond Stereotypes, the 2005 study commissioned by Dove surveyed 3,300 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 64 in 10 countries. They found that 67% of all women 15 to 64 withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks (Etcoff et al., 2006).

Weight loss is the most common fitness goal. In any given time, there are lots of people obsessing about their weight, size or shape. It is the single biggest reason why people start exercise programs.

It is also a very lucrative business. The weight-loss industry makes millions off people’s insecurity. According to Ibis World:

  • Australians are expected to spend $309.9 million on industry weight loss counselling services and related low-calorie foods and dietary supplements in 2018-19.

And because it is so profitable, it doesn’t really want to provide a definite solution. So it keeps feeding people’s insecurities so they can have a customer for life.

Weight-loss industry tells you to worry about your weight, obsess about your food, follow the newest trend, exercise to burn calories and look for a short cut (the easiest and fastest way to lose weight).

And if you have been caught up on this mentality, look at where it has taken you. You are probably feeling defeated, broken, frustrated, confused, and believing that there is something wrong with you.

So it’s time free yourself from this type of thinking, fire that old persona and adopt a new avatar.

The avatar of a healthy and fit person who is committed to feeling great inside and out. For that you will have to become a different person. And to become a different person you will have to think differently. Because if you think differently you will behave differently and if you behave differently then you will have different results.

Weight-loss Starts in Your Mind

Today I want to talk to you about Mindset.

Did you know that your mindset highly influences your ability to get what you want? That’s right. In order to accomplish something, you must first believe that it is possible.

Successful people understand that results depend on effort, and that they can grow and change through the practice of simple behaviours. They embrace challenge as an opportunity to become stronger. Because of this way of thinking, they are highly motivated and are more likely to achieve their goals.

Weight Loss Plan

Losing weight is not an easy task. Just ask any person who has ever tried maintain a lean body and they will tell you that it is hard work. You may think that all you need is strong willpower but I’ll tell you right now: willpower is not enough. You need a good plan. Without a proper plan your efforts won’t last a week.

Did you know that to lose 1 kg of fat you need to burn whopping 9000 calories? Just to put into perspective, a light jog burns about 200 calories per hour (depending on your body weight) which means that you will need 45 hours of running to burn a single kilo of fat. Discouraging? You bet.

The Holiday Effect – Part 3

Oh Diet. Isn’t it everybody’s nemesis? How good it would be if we could eat whatever we want, whenever we feel like and not have severe consequences on our waistline.

I came back from my two-week vacation four kilos heavier. Now that I’m back home, I had to do something about it. Besides exercising 6 times per week (read the previous article for more info), I had to get my eating habits back on track.

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