Think Before You Leap

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‘Tis the season to make resolutions and for many Americans that means vowing to lose weight. Whether you call it shaping up, slimming down or getting toned, fitness and weight loss goals are part of our annual goal-setting ritual.

Unfortunately, this won’t be the year most of us finally stick to that elusive diet and exercise program. Many resolutions are broken before the Super Bowl, and most are forgotten by Valentine’s Day. In fact, your local gym can attest to the fact that the next spike in gym visits will be in March when people see swimsuit season on the horizon.

Giving up on fitness is probably in contention for becoming our national pastime. Imagining and desiring a new you is the easy part. Achieving that vision is vastly more difficult. Both research and experience bear this out.

Researchers call the popular option of giving up “exercise dropout” and it has long been known that about half of those who start an exercise program will quit within six months. Ample evidence also shows that diet compliance is low and even when dieters do succeed it is short lived. Another research term, “weight regain”, is all too common in research articles.

Less well known is the phrase “decision quality”. The concept, explained by Leonard Wankel over 30 years ago, was used in exercise behavior research. His work showed that you could increase your success by increasing your preparation.

Decision quality may not be a new concept, but it is an important one. The cost of a “low quality decision” is often fitness failure. We see this every time someone makes a small commitment to big change:

“I feel so fat. Starting January 1st I’m going to workout every day.”

In all likelihood, that plan will not work. Success is more likely when we take time to consider everything involved in changing our behavior. The first step does not involve performance footwear at all; you are more likely to be using a keyboard.

3 Steps to Better Decision Quality:

  1. List the behaviors you intend to change and the specific pros and cons of each one.
  2. Identify potential obstacles and the strategies you will use to overcome them.
  3. Develop your plan to re-start after a setback occurs.

According to the decision quality paradigm, applying your initial motivation to the process of achieving your goal is more effective than just doing it. The well-known Nike slogan is great when you’re gearing up for a daily workout, but it doesn’t lead to sustained motivation needed for real fitness and weight loss changes.

Successful goal setters apply themselves to planning and preparation before they jump into action. They anticipate obstacles and setbacks and create a plan to overcome them. Planning for hard times may not be how everyone wants to start his or her new year, but it has the potential to make or break your fitness resolution success next year.

Make the Most of the Gym in Your NYC Apartment Building

For many apartment owners in New York City the residential building gym is a perk that works better on paper than in real life. It turns out that “lack of convenience” isn’t the only barrier to exercise. There are plenty of excuses to choose from when you are looking for a way to avoid working out. But if you’re looking for good reasons to exercise, the gym in your building isn’t a bad place to start. It may not have the look and feel of an upscale gym, but most in-house gyms have everything you need to get a good workout.

On the plus side, residential fitness centers don’t cost nearly as much as an outside gym and you can reduce travel time to an elevator trip. (If you start and end your workout with a few flights of stairs that’s even better.) There also tends to be a friendly, low-key atmosphere and plenty of slow time if you want the place to yourself. If you have friends in the building then the buddy system may work extremely well to keep you both motivated.

The typical drawbacks of residential gyms are small spaces, limited equipment and a lack of privacy if you don’t want your neighbors to know your exercise habits. Newer buildings and renovated gyms have the most modern equipment and some even hire a company to staff the gym. Most have policies about safety and etiquette, as well as rules for bringing your trainer along.

If your do opt to use the residential gym you’re likely to find these standard items:

  • cardio equipment (treadmill, bike, elliptical)
  • resistance equipment
  • stretching mats

Many gyms also include these additional fitness props:

  • swiss balls
  • medicine balls
  • dumbbells
  • free weights and benches

While outside gyms often lead you through a workout according to their professionally designed layout, in-house gyms typically cram as much equipment into the room as possible. It is best to have a workout planned before you get to the gym since you won’t be able to count on a motivating atmosphere. Even if you prefer outdoor workouts or going to the gym by your office, the fitness center in your building can be a great alternative when you want something close to home.

The Gut Check Diet

Are you one of those people who knows what to do to lose weight, but too often you just don’t do it. You could spend a lifetime researching why and testing every diet and exercise plan to see which works best. Or, you could follow one simple rule: gut check every decision to eat more and exercise less.

Today’s episode of Radio Lab on NPR described an experiment called “Fruit or Cake” in which people were asked to memorize a series of numbers and walk down a hallway to a different room. Along the way someone stopped and offered them fruit or cake. They found that people trying to memorize more numbers chose cake. People trying to remember just a few numbers opted for fruit. They concluded that too much mental activity interferes with diet discipline.

Is over-thinking your diet a bad idea? Perhaps you could do yourself a favor by being less rational. When it comes to food temptations – DON’T THINK!  Just make the healthy choice. You know what to do, just do it.

How the Gut Check Diet Works

The alarm rings at 5:45am and you feel like sleeping another hour instead of taking a 3 mile power walk. Your bed is so comfortable. It’ll take every ounce of available effort (and then some) to get up and go. Part of you knows you’ll feel better once you start moving and it always helps to cross exercise off your list early in the day. Gut Check!

  • Do you really need rest more than exercise?
  • Is there a good reason to skip this workout?
  • Once the day starts will you feel better knowing  that you slept in or worked out?

No need to write a full report on the pros and cons or the do’s and don’ts. Just mull it over for a moment, then make your decision and move on.

When you want a bagel with cream cheese instead of yogurt with fruit for breakfast stop and ask if this is what you really want. Still confused? Try a few more Gut Check questions:

  • Is the desire to satisfy your craving greater than your desire to lose weight?
  • Is it possible that you might want cheese on your sandwich or dressing on your salad later?
  • Is yogurt with fruit really that bad?

Maybe you’ll opt for the bagel. But maybe you’ll decide to save your discretionary calories for something else. After an honest gut check you’ll feel better about whichever decision you make.

After a long day of work you suddenly find yourself about to mindlessly munch on snacks while watching TV. You feel a slight pang of guilt because calmly sipping water, seltzer or tea might be a better choice. Perfect time for a Gut Check!

  • Would you rather take a step closer to your goal, or deeper into the hole?
  • Which is better for stress, comfort foods or relaxation exercises?

Everyone knows they need to eat less and exercise more, yet doing so is much harder than it sounds. The Gut Check! rule is a way to stop allowing excuses to run your life. Try it for one day. Double check your inner needs before you have fries with that, have seconds, slow the treadmill, lower the resistance or skip a workout. You could end up missing fewer workouts or cheating less on your diet. The savings could add up to big results while improving daily habits and strengthening discipline.

Stop Making Excuses Today!

Fitness and exercise goals are always a hot topic in January. Promises of self-improvement are renewed and schedules are stretched to make time for working out. But after a few weeks even the smartest plans begin to unravel and no one is too surprised when they fall short of success. Even with the best intentions, exercise drops to the bottom of the priority list faster than you can say: “I’m going to drink less, eat healthier and workout every other day.”

Planning to overcome obstacles and setbacks is critical if you are going to succeed in fitness. Everyday excuses are the most common obstacles to working out. For practically every hour of the day, there will be something more tempting than exercise. Knowing this fact is half of the battle. Knowing how to deal with excuses is the other half. Most excuses are merely distractions that can be ignored if you have a plan and the skills to stick to it.

Excuse #1:  I don’t want to get out of bed this morning.

Busted: As long as you’ve had a decent night of sleep (about 6-8 hours) getting up and moving is a great way to start your day. Plan to workout the night before and leave your shoes and workout clothes out so you see them when you wake up. A small breakfast snack is a good way to jumpstart your metabolism so you can more effectively fuel exercise and burn calories. (Try any of these and see what works for you: 1 slice of toast, one half cup of yogurt, a handful of cereal, a small fruit or even a half cup of fruit juice.) Once you get started, allow a little extra warm-up time. Walking and dynamic stretching are great warm up activities. It can take anywhere from five minutes up to about twenty. You will know you are ready to increase the intensity when you feel warmer and looser, or even break a light sweat.

Excuse #2:  I’d rather go to lunch with my friends.

Busted: Socializing is an important part of wellness, but allowing it to interfere with your fitness plan is detrimental in the long run. We are all creatures of habit and one cancelled workout usually leads to a few more. Lunch with friends almost always beats working out in terms of immediate entertainment value, but commitment to exercise pays off when your consistency leads to results. Invite your friends to the gym with you – they’ll appreciate the support.

Excuse #3:  I’m way too swamped to exercise today.

Busted: Exercise often seems like less of a priority when other things fill your schedule. That’s why your daily workout should be planned first and not negotiated away. You may need to decrease your workout time or exercise at home, but crossing exercise off your list is not the answer.

Excuse #4:  I’m too tired to go to the gym.

Busted: A long day can certainly wear you out, but exercise can be just the thing to recharge your battery. Plan a short workout at a low intensity, such as walking 20-30 minutes on the treadmill at a low incline and an easy pace. More often than not, once you get started you will end up doing more.

Excuse #5:  I’ve got a cold.

Busted: If you have a cold with mild symptoms above your neck (sniffles, sneezing or sore throat) exercise is safe to do. Though scaling back the time and intensity is a good idea. If the cold is below your neck (with fever, body ache, fatigue, congestion or cough), working out is not recommended. If exercise makes you feel worse then rest is indicated.

Excuse #6:  I feel too fat to workout.

Busted: Body image is real and negative feelings can hinder motivation. The key is to remember that exercise is the solution not the problem. Working out burns calories and builds muscle to lower body fat and it makes you feel better about everything – including your body!

Excuse #7:  I don’t have a thing to wear to the gym.

Busted: As long as you’ve got freedom of movement, the support you need and breathable clothes, it doesn’t matter what you wear to workout. Your fitness plan should not hinge on what’s in the laundry. If you don’t like your exercise clothes, get some new ones. (Help the economy as well as your fitness.)

Excuse #8:  I’m just not motivated today.

Busted: You don’t need to be motivated for a full workout to get started. Like any other task, break it down and do one thing at a time. Change your clothes, pack for the gym, get anything else you need (towel, music, keys, wallet, bag), go to the gym, change, warm-up, take one exercise at a time, cool-down, change again, pack and get back to your day feeling refreshed.

Got an excuse that needs busting?  Email me and I’ll help you find a way around it.