Many people peddle the same tired fitness advice over and over again in infinite variations. However, this article aims to give you some tips that most people don’t even want to admit are true. While these approaches may seem unorthodox at first, they aim to give you practical advice about getting healthy and staying that way. Read them with an open mind, and I think you’ll find them to be quite useful.
- Ditch your rose-colored glasses.
When most of us set our minds on eating healthy, losing weight, or other fitness goals, we start out bright-eyed and bushy tailed. We’re up at the crack of dawn jogging, taking in all the beauty of the early morning. Now fast forward a week or two. You find yourself hitting the snooze button multiples times for your 6 a.m. run, and you think that death is too lenient a punishment for the monster who invented exercise.
At this point you might be thinking the problem lies with you and your poor attitude—however, I would disagree. I believe that the problem actually lies in your expectation that working out is always supposed to be a life-affirming, uplifting experience. Sure, on a good day it might come close, but most of the time exercise is horrible. Just flat-out, nonstop, uncomfortable torture.
Once you accept this as a reality and not simply as a moral failing on your part, things will strangely start to get better. Working out still won’t be fun, per se, but by going into the process with no expectation of fun, you won’t be disappointed when it’s not. And on those rare days when popping out of bed and into the gym is effortless, you’ll savor them all the more because you now know they don’t come along very often.
- Scare yourself straight.
Positive, motivated people are the worst. Their unbridled optimism about the world and what the future has in store them is enough to make you want to dedicate your life to evil, if only to spite them. Thankfully, it’s possible for sensible pessimists like us to stay motivated on our fitness journeys as well—it just takes a slightly different approach.
The concept of “scared straight” comes from a group of rehabilitation programs for unruly teens that aims to change their behavior by showing them where their actions might lead them. These groups take juveniles into prisons where inmates attempt to scare them out of their wicked ways. While the ethics behind faux-imprisoning unwilling young people is dubious at best, you can apply this approach to your own health goals—no hardened criminals necessary!
While lots of folks stay motivated by focusing on the potential positives that come from fitness, such as having more energy or buying smaller clothes, it can be just as effective to focus on what could happen if you don’t get your act together. Think about diabetes. Think about heart disease. And don’t just do it superficially—really take some time to explore these conditions and their terrifying symptoms. Watch documentaries about obesity. Browse through bariatric surgery videos on YouTube. There are more than enough ways out there to remind yourself of the consequences of poor health. So go on, have a look, and then get to work!
- Forget your fitness goals.
The idea of progress is central to our understanding of the world—our lives improve (social progress) and our gadgets get smaller and faster (technological progress). The only way to measure progress is by seeing where we were before, and the only way to keep moving in the right direction is to imagine what future progress could look like. In simpler terms, we set goals for where we want to be.
However, I think all this talk of progress and goal-setting can actually be detrimental to fitness efforts. Not because there’s something inherently wrong with having goals, but rather because we’re not thinking about the right ones.
Most health goals go something like this: “I want to lose 20 pounds.” “I want to lift weights every day.” “I want to eat a balanced diet.” Once again, I should reiterate that there’s nothing wrong with these goals. However, there’s one caveat—there’s a problem with these when they conflict with larger, existential goals like living a good life.
Too often we become so consumed by things like these that we forget the reason we’re doing them in the first place. While it will be different for every person, that reason usually boils down to something like this—“I want a better, more enjoyable life for myself.” But what kind of life is enjoyable if you’re constantly worrying about the exact number on the scale or the exact number of reps you did in today’s workout? The things we do to improve our lives can actually make them worse!
That’s why I say toss your fitness goals in the garbage—at least as much as you can. Next time you have a meal, stop thinking about its nutritional content and just savor the joy of eating. Next time you’re working out, stop thinking about the calories you’re burning and just appreciate your body getting stronger. Goal setting can make your future life better, but you’ve got to enjoy the time between then and now as well or it’s all for nothing.
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