human behind the post
Client: “Why is it so packed today? I could barely find parking outside.”
Me: “It’s Monday. Everyone started their diet over today. By Friday, this place will be empty.”
It never fails. I’ve actually arranged my workout split (which muscle I work on which day) around this pattern. Don’t even bother trying to find a bench press rack on a Monday.
Monday is International Chest Day.
But by the time leg day rolls around midweek, there’s a sudden drop in gym attendance.
Working in a gym, I encounter people all the time who (for years) have wanted something different for their health, they’ve started and stopped numerous times, only to end up in the same place as before, or worse.
I’m right there with them. We have a moment of motivation, dig out the running shoes, go full speed for two days, or maybe a week, and then disappear into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked.
Three months and fifteen pounds later, we find ourselves lying on the couch with a plate of pizza on our chest, scrolling through mountaintop yoga poses and wondering how that mother of two is doing pull-ups when I can’t even hold my arm up long enough to FaceTime. But I have to hold my arm up otherwise it gives me a double chin.
Did you know that gyms make the majority of their money off of these exact people? People who pay every month but don’t actually even go to the gym? If even half of the paying members showed up one day, the building wouldn’t hold them. There wouldn’t be enough equipment, or towels, or lockers.
First of all, if you are one of the ones paying for a membership you don’t use, or continually find yourself starting things and not finishing them, know that you aren’t alone.
We have all been that person, myself included.
It’s a very real, human pattern. And there are reasons for it.
So why is long-term discipline so hard?
Because we don’t have the right plan or any plan at all. But before we can make a good plan (Catch Part II of this post), we need to know what we are up against. Every elite athlete knows you need a good scouting report of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses before you can make a game plan.
I’d like you to think of the opponent as your pattern of quitting.
We aren’t interested in looking at why we quit this time.
We want to look at why we continue to quit.
We want to go deeper than the usual culprits. You might be surprised to know some of the things that are working against you.
1) Your Brain
There’s a neurological factor at play here. When you lift weights, you are placing some stress on the muscles, which pull on the tendons, which pull on the bones. All of these structures adapt (get stronger) so that next time you place that stress on your body it will be more prepared. Well, your brain is doing the same thing in its own way. Our brain recognizes patterns and creates habit loops. It’s our body’s built in effort to be efficient for us, to help us survive.
Over time these patterns become automatic, freeing us up to focus on other things. Think about the first time you learned a new skill. You probably had to focus pretty hard on it, but then you practiced it enough that now you can do it with your eyes closed.
In this example, your brain’s ability to automate that skill was helpful, but what if your brain has automated a pattern that you no longer want? An example might be a pattern to eat comfort food when you feel stressed.
You might find yourself reaching for it without even thinking.
2) Your Belief
From a psychological/emotional standpoint, each time you get excited and set a goal and then don’t follow through, you are sending a message to yourself that you are not capable, that you once again failed. You may not be consciously saying those words, but you are feeling them. And the more it happens, the more that belief gets ingrained in you. The more you carry it into every new attempt. The more proof you have to use against yourself.
And THAT is a huge reason why it’s hard to stay on track.
Because deep down we carry around a belief that we can’t. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, right? Because we know that, we on some level expect the same results as before. So, when initial motivations start to fade, we just accept what we’ve already decided is true, and we stop trying. How can we sustain success in anything if we don’t believe in our ability to?
You have to change how you feel about yourself before you can change your body, not the other way around.
I share all this so that first and foremost you can give yourself a break. We judge ourselves a little too harshly sometimes. There are factors at play that make change hard. Especially if you started and stopped over and over. This is where having a plan becomes crucial. You’re not just battling present obstacles. You are battling past beliefs and patterns that have carried over.
So, we need a plan to recognize and alter those habit loops our brain has formed. A plan to sustain belief when we start doubting our abilities. A plan to overcome the obstacles that we know are going to come up, just like they have before. We need a plan that guarantees small successes, so that we can create a new pattern which will propel our new future behaviors.
The good news is you’ve done this before, so you know what to expect.
You know how your body is going to feel, what the temptations will be, how badly you might want to stop.
Your past efforts have prepared you.
So take a second for some self- compassion.
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