People tend to look at fitness professionals like me and assume we are always in the mood to train. It’s ironic, because they will ask me for nutrition and fitness advice, and then write off my opinion because I’m some other species known as “fitness freak.” They believe somehow wires were crossed, and my body interprets pain as pleasure. They assume that I have some disorder that makes broccoli tastes like an ice cream sundae.
It is true that I love training. I nerd out on good programming, organization, tracking, and all things fitness. I love the feeling I get after I train each day. I’m excited when I hit goals, or have one of those zen-like workouts where everything pops, the right song plays at the right time, and I’m in a thoughtless trance of awesomeness. Some of my most alive moments have come in training and while training others.
Our Struggles Are All the Same
That being said, most days I have to force myself to work out. Most days, I enter the weight room and have to fight off childlike self-pity and an overwhelming impulse to procrastinate. Most days, I’d love to have French toast for breakfast, ice cream at lunch, and pasta and wine for dinner.
No, I’m not over-trained. I sleep great, and though I do some movement practice every day, I only work out hard four days a week. The rest is mobility and recovery work. I don’t struggle with body image issues, and I love how I feel from eating well. I even enjoy salads the day after a Saturday night cheat meal. But it isn’t as if I’ve forgotten that a burger and fries is tasty and that it’s fun to have a night cap in the evening.
The reality for most “fitness freaks” is that all the impulses everyone else has present themselves on a daily basis. We just humor them less. Success and health are not contingent on divine intervention, or a supreme, genetically-passed willpower. Those who train and eat well just have habits that make success more likely, and a trained ability to delay gratification that grows with each tough decision.
Your Problems Aren’t Unique
None of this is easy for anybody. Chances are, you have no unique problem that makes it so much harder for you to train and eat well, so stop the excuses. This sounds blunt and rude, but our “you are special” culture has created a whole society of excuse-makers. I try to lead with tact and empathy, because I really do understand the challenges, but sometimes what people need is a dose of reality.
You have all the power to do extraordinary things, and it won’t be because a spider bite gives you superpowers, or an owl shows up and anoints you the chosen one for a secret society of wizards. Step one for real change is to stop telling yourself why it is harder for you than someone else. Even if you were right (and you aren’t), how is that getting you any closer to better health?
People aren’t fit because they are so much luckier than you, they’re fit because they consistently do the things their bodies require to get and stay fit. Each person has their own challenges, and your weakness is probably also a great strength, so stop the self-sabotaging.
Next, admit that you have the power to get started. Whether you like it or not, you know enough to start. Fruit, vegetables, chicken, fish, oats, mixed nuts, beans: are these good or bad? Captain Crunch, Fritos, pizza, Snickers, and soda: are these good or bad? Eat more “good” things and move more. Throw out “bad” things and stop buying them at the grocery store. Your plan need not be perfect, especially at the beginning. You can either take the self-starter route and do some research, or decide that health is a value and invest in a qualified trainer’s help.
Stop Thinking About It and Go
Understand that you must take action. Create habits so that every day you undertake actions that spur growth. I recommend moving first thing in the morning. You cannot wait for motivation to strike. It hardly ever does. Your actions will create momentum that enables inspired performance.
Habitual action and dogged commitment to daily growth are the essential ingredients of real, sustainable success. This action creates motivation, energy, and passion. You must plan to be healthy and train, you must follow through, and you must immerse yourself in a positive, motivating environment that stokes your fire. Whether it’s reading the right books, buying a Tony Robbins program, surrounding yourself with people who’ve accomplished what you want, or listening to the Breaking Muscle Podcast, make it a habit to hear the right thoughts.
The Mountain Won’t Always Seem So Tall
The good news is, it gets easier. Training and eating well will not always be as hard as it is at first. You will learn exercises, training methods, and sports that are more motivating, engaging, and fun. You’ll find social support and the uncertainty and fear of being a novice will wear off. You’ll learn what healthier meals you really enjoy, and get procedures down that make planning quicker.
As you progress, each healthy decision makes the next one more likely. You’ll see results and feel different, creating a positive connotation with disciplined action. With months and years of baby steps, you can come a very long way, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Eventually, the way you look at food changes. You might even find your former dread of working out replaced by annoyance if you miss a workout.
Before you know it, the mental dilemmas fade. Sure, some days you’ll feel a sense of malaise before your workout, but you’ll get started and often find midway that you thoroughly love it. You’ll be excited to reach new landmarks, and motivated to chase new challenges. There is no magic in a bottle, but with a sustainable, no-excuses approach, success and fulfillment will follow.
It’s Hard, But You Have to Try
I truly do empathize with people who are struggling to start working out and eating better. Our world has failed to set you up for mental and physical health. We sent you to school and strapped you to a desk for seven hours. We surrounded your home with fast food, and raised you in a culture that celebrated Cookie Crisp and Pop-Tarts for breakfast. It’s no wonder being healthy is a challenge.
Still, no one can make these changes for you. The challenges of life are often the greatest gifts and opportunities. They are essential to our self-worth, and to becoming the type of autonomous, quality, contributing humans we are meant to be.
As retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willink puts it: “Discipline equals freedom.” What does that look like? Even though the last thing I want to do at 5am is get up and train, I follow through, every day. By 7am I walk out of the house, omelet in my belly, and head to work feeling energized and excited to attack the day. The air seems crisper and my senses are more acute. I have positive momentum and a sense of accomplishment that keeps me coming back. As with anything of real value, it is not always easy, but the juice is worth the squeeze.