New Year’s Resolution Check-In: Objective Self-Assessment

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So…how are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?

WAIT!  Don’t answer that!  I don’t want the short answer.  Let’s consider this for a minute.

There are really only three short answers: they are going well, they are not going well, or you gave up.  Sometimes—and more often than not, in my experience—the difference between the optimistic answer and the pessimistic answer is perspective.  It’s a matter of outlook, context, and expectations.  Those who have already abandoned their fitness resolutions most likely gave up because they felt as if they were failing; many people reach this point because they don’t know how to set appropriate goals and measure success along the way.

Since I started competing in bodybuilding and power lifting, I have been plagued by a very simple question that, so far, I can’t answer quite so simply: “How did you do?”  The short answer just won’t cut it.  I panic every time. I’m usually proud of what I’ve accomplished, frustrated with something I could have done better, and excited to make it better for next time.  But that’s not what people want to hear–they want to know if I won or lost.  But in these sports, outcome is arbitrary.

First of all, there aren’t a lot of women my size in these sports to begin with—so placings matter very little if at all.   I won the gold medal in the raw 123 class twice in power lifting.  Should I just say that, or should I mention that both times, I was the only person in my class?  Should I discuss the frustration of getting red-lighted on my squat, or talk about everything that went wrong?  I can put myself down and raise myself up using the same information.  It’s a matter of how I spin it.

I wouldn't consider this a lot of weight, but really it depends on who is looking at it.  Someone may be striving for this, while someone else may consider this warmup weight!

Second of all, these sports are about personal bests that are sometimes relative to opponents, but are more often concerned only with improvements sometimes so minor that they aren’t discernible to anyone else.  In my last meet, I squatted the same weight as before but with better technique…this mattered to me but who else would care?  I dead lifted 15 pounds more than 2 years ago, but 15 pounds less than I had hoped to.  Which do I report? In bodybuilding, I could make every adjustment and come in with a physique that is precisely what I wanted, and still lose to someone else.  Would I discuss this as a success, or as a failure?

An athlete should always be able to name something that went well and something that could be improved.  This is because to us, there is more to success than outcome—there are the multiple components that must come together in order to perform a lift, run a race, or win a game.  We are constantly evaluating our successes and failures, searching for anything that could be improved.  If we perform well, we still want to improve.  If we do poorly, we need to be able to understand why.  And, we must also be able to accept and acknowledge the things that we’ve done right—there must always be this balance.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, there is something to be learned from this.  Can you look at your progress objectively and see the good and the not-so-good?  Can you see your successes as well as where you can make improvements?  Too much of one or the other will cause you to fail at reaching your goals.  Those of you who set fitness-related goals for the new year have been at it for a few weeks now, which means you’ve had a chance to get your feet wet.  By now, you’ve encountered a few problems or setbacks, or you’ve identified your challenges—take this opportunity to do an honest self-assessment, including both the positive and the negative.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How am I measuring success-in-progress?
  • How will I respond to setbacks?
  • Am I comparing myself to others, or am I able to see my success in terms of my own performance?
  • What things are going right, and where can I make improvements?
  • What things are beyond my control, and how can I redefine my goals accordingly?

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Re-evaluate your goals to be sure that the ones you started with are still relevant.  Maybe  by now you’ve realized that eating 100% clean all the time is unrealistic, or you’ve discovered that you will only make it to the gym 3 times a week instead of 6.  That’s ok!  It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you need to make adjustments.  Now, start thinking about the things that have gone well—has anything been easier than you expected? Are you particularly strong on a lift that you’d never even tried before? Are you running longer or faster than you were before, or is it getting any easier to get to the gym?

Just as in sports like powerlifting and bodybuilding, where you are on your fitness journey is relative to where you started, how far you’re trying to go, and what you’ve done along the way.  And, because your body is unique, your progress won’t look identical to anyone else’s–so don’t get caught up in the game of comparisons!  Do not be discouraged when someone asks how it’s going and you feel like your progress won’t sound as cool as it is in your mind.  Do not let yourself feel as if you are accountable to other people at the gym.  Some ask because they want to see you do well, while others ask because they want to see you fail.  Let them—make it your job to still be standing strong next time they ask.  And, give the long answer.  Sometimes, “good” and “bad” just don’t cover it.  The ones who care will listen, and the ones who don’t…well, they shouldn’t have asked!

Now, let me ask you again: How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?

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Fail-Proofing your Fitness Resolutions: 5 Silent Killers

I do not enjoy New Year’s resolutions.  From where I’m sitting, they are awful and annoying.  They bring a temporary surge of optimistic gym-goers who crowd my space just long enough to annoy me–and just when I figure out how to work around them, they’ve disappeared.  I am not as cynical as I sound (well, that may not be entirely true…), but I have spent so much of my time trying to help these people that I am now very guarded about accepting New Year newcomers.  By the way, if you are one of them, understand that the gym regulars may take a while to warm up to you–prove their assumptions wrong and you’ll have new friends in no time.

I do not subscribe to the idea that January 1 comes with a magical reset button.  However, I do believe in setting goals and making transformations, and sometimes the new year gives us the opportunity to stop and really think about our lives.  So, for those of you who will be starting, re-starting, or reaching for new levels in your fitness journeys, let’s talk about what stands between you and year-long commitment.

First of all, let me be clear: You WILL mess this up.  Accept this, and you will be fine. The difference between keeping your resolution and giving up before Valentine’s Day is sticking to your plan even when you don’t feel like it and things begin to go wrong.  At some point, usually before you reach the one-month mark, you will make a mistake.  And it’s never for the reason you’d expect.  Here are some of the silent killers—be prepared for them.

  1. You will run out of something.  Often.  No matter how perfect your meal plan is, it is impossible to be stocked perfectly with everything all of the time.  This is where it becomes important to understand WHY you are eating WHAT you are eating.  If your diet plan calls for almonds, you need to know that a handful of pretzels is not a good substitute.  If your meal plan calls for chicken, almonds aren’t going to do it.  If you’re reading this and don’t know why these are bad subs, google the term “macronutrients” and get started.
  2. Somebody at the gym will be mean to you, and it may make you feel so bad that you dread going and/or eventually give up.  I don’t mean to scare you, but there will always be one person of the same sex who absolutely hates you.  You are not crazy—she definitely hates you.  It’s not your fault.  Kill that bitch with kindness.  Bitches hate kindness.
  3. All of your cute clothes are dirty.  At some point you will get behind on laundry, and your “cute” pants/top/bra/socks are dirty.  Buying more does not help.  Trust me.  I buy several pairs of the same pants, and still ONE becomes the “good pair” and the others get pushed to the back of the drawer and dragged out in priority order until laundry day.  And despite the fact that all of my gym clothes match each other, there are still some tops that I swear only go with certain pants, or sports bras that can only be worn with certain tops.  And then there are the priority underwear.  It’s true—you can predict what kind of day it is going to be based on how far back you had to dig into your underwear drawer.  Don’t let this affect your workout!  Do more laundry, buy more underwear, but face it: sometimes you just have to go to the gym in your ugly stuff.  Do it.
  4. You will try to get creative.  The “healthy food” at the health foods store will begin to call your name, and the next thing you know you are adding coconut oil and agave to everything you cook.  In fact, you will be inspired to bake more in general, with all of your newfound healthy ingredients.  But you will fail to notice that your “healthy fats” and gluten-free products are calorically dense and contain 200 calories per teaspoon.  Don’t try to be a hero–just stick to your plan for now.
  5. OPP.  Other people’s plans.  In order to be successful, you’ll have to find community with other people who are doing what you’re doing.  You’ll hear about high carb diets, high fat diets, cheat meals, refeeds, carb loads, and all kinds of other approaches to dieting.  In fact, right now you may be wondering what a carb load is, so let me help you: if you don’t know, it’s not on your plan.  So don’t look it up and start trying to justify it.  You will see these terms, read some crap about why they are great ideas, and soon you’ll be piecing together some Frankenstein version of a diet plan that will do nothing but make you fat.  Stick to your plan.

Ultimately, you have to be committed to your goals. You will make mistakes, and you will have bad days.  You will not always feel like working out, and pizza may be much more appetizing than chicken–the honeymoon phase will wear off, and you will have to find a way to keep going.  Along the way, little things–and big things–will stand in the way of your success, and you will have to overcome them.  But your progress is made and broken by what you do consistently–so if you can get past these hangups to set a new habit by February 1, you will be half way to keeping your resolution.  Good luck!