Fitness, for many, is a series of starts and stops. People get motivated. They make progress. They lose motivation, they get frustrated, and so on. It’s cyclic. If we graphed things out, we’d see periods of quick progress followed by crashes, recoveries, and relaunches. We stop, start, and stop again.
There are some big issues with this. First is the frustration. It sucks to feel like things are beyond your control. It is also way more work to go back and forth between the accelerator and the brakes. The mileage is terrible. And who’s got time for extra drama anyway? In 2021? Forget about it. If you’re anything like me, you want the drama in your life to end when you shut your book or turn off Netflix.
A person gets motivated. They make progress. They continue for the rest of their lives. Fin.
Why can’t we just do that? My answer to this is informed by many conversations I’ve had over the years. At least half of all Bang Fitness members have been there, done that, bought the bootcamp T-shirt, so I’ve had lots of opportunities to learn. Here are my most important takeaways:
Chasing body composition is a red herring
I just don’t care what your bodyfat percentage is friend. As Mr. Rogers says, “It’s you I like.” I like your creativity and your grit and the things about you that make you different from everyone else. So, as a friend, collaborator, or co-conspirator, it’s my job to ask what takes away from that and help you smash it. Yes, fitness and health are important factors. Yes, we do this. But they’re part of the foundation, not the apex of a life well-lived. It would be doing you a disservice to pretend otherwise.
You might not be sure what to measure
See enough ads trumpeting lbs of fat lost (or muscle gained) in six weeks and they start to feel real. It becomes easier and easier to take them as gospel instead of creative fiction. And while it is entirely possible to do dramatic things in a six-week span, I’m going to submit that speed of results is unimportant. Really unimportant.
What should you measure? Consistency. Enjoyment. Skills developed. Things that serve both short and long-term goals. Pile that last category on and good things will happen. Reliably. Sustainably. Controllably.
You might feel like you’re messing things up if progress slows down or plateaus
I have never, ever worked with anyone who has experienced linear progress. It’s not a thing. Even with the outliers—the kind of people with outlandish results. In fact, one of the common factors that successful people share is their ability to take a deep breath and keep on tweaking things when the numbers don’t feel like they match the effort.
You’re doing the hard things first
I’ve written about this a lot lately, so I’ll be quick. Sleeping for eight hours a night will improve your outcomes. Stress management; social support; stuff that is—by definition—not work. Trying to go hard at fitness without these things in place is like trying to drive with the parking brake on.
You’re navigating by discomfort
To understand why we stop, maybe we need to look at why we start. As I mentioned last week, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using negative feelings as a motivator.
If you’ve ever done a fitness “assessment” in a big box gym, the odds are good that it was designed to create a sense of insufficiency. That’s what some people teach about sales. Tease out the problem… put some pressure on that bruise and maybe a little salt in that wound. All to create emotional urgency and a buying decision. It’s gross.
The argument I’ve heard is that you have to do what it takes to get people to take positive action. It’s your responsibility as an official Person Who Cares. With respect, that’s horse shit. Especially since insufficiency is a terrible copilot. The urgency it creates doesn’t last and it burns dirty.
What does last?
A combination of meaning and enjoyment. Finding where your highest aspirations meet fun, exploration, and even a bit of healthy vanity. Move away from signals of insufficiency and toward a more complete and version of you. The signals are out there; you just have to train your ear.
You may not know just how quickly you can progress
We often think that you have to reach some high level of proficiency to be successful. That’s absolutely true if you’re comparing yourself to the rest of the world. You don’t get to the Olympics on effort alone. But I want to encourage you to think about what it would be like to not compare yourself to anyone else. That’s what we talked about last week. Things are different when comparison fades away.
When only your own experience remains, things become radically different. Inside this universe of one, you’ll discover the paradox of progress: that the less you’ve done, the more you’ll benefit from doing. A beginning exerciser, for example, will make more progress by adding a five minute workout to their day than an advanced exerciser will get from adding an hour. This is what I call the Ridiculously High ROI (HRROI).