Friday, January 17, 2014

I Hate Talking About Habits. But I'm Doing It Anyway.

I've learned something very interesting over the past year or so.  I've learned that people seem to get really good at the things they practice.  That might seem like a simple concept, maybe even an obvious concept, but let me explain what I mean.  Just like you'd get better at playing an instrument if you practiced often, and just like you'd get better at dribbling a basketball if you practiced often, you also get better at the habits you practice often.  If you practice coming up with reasons to indulge in desserts more often than you should, you get really good at indulging in desserts.  If you practice finding excuses to skip workouts (or even start a workout program), you get really good at skipping workouts.  See what I mean? People seem to perfect whatever habits they practice most often.  Sometimes we don't realize how good we get at sticking to our habits.  And in my opinion, that's why it's so hard to break them.  Humans are by nature, creatures of habit. 

Now, you should know right off the bat here that I am maybe the most habitual person on earth.  It works against me as much as it works for me.  I promise.  But one of the upsides of being the way I am is that maintaining a workout schedule isn't very hard for me.  Working out every morning has become so routine that my day feels weird and incomplete if for some reason I can't.  Sometimes missing a workout will literally affect my mood by the time evening rolls around, and I'm not going to lie, it can get ugly (my husband would call that a downside).  I'm trying to become more flexible with the timing of my workouts, but really, it takes one hell of a day for me to eliminate it completely.  Some people would consider my approach extreme and rigid, but I have a different take.   It's become part of who I am.  It's become a part of me that I like and feel good about.  It's become a part of me that I'm not willing to sacrifice.  I'm a happier person when I feel good about myself physically.  I'm also happier when I'm doing things that are physically challenging.  That endorphin buzz?  It's the best feeling in the world for me.  I bask in the high I get after a tough workout and it doesn't take long before I start to crave my next hit.  But, you know, I haven't always been that way.  I've had slumps and ruts that have been really REALLY hard to pull myself out of.  Like after I had my first baby and had to lose fifty pounds.  FIFTY!  You guys, I'm 5'1"!  Not the most stellar time in my life, physically speaking.  My point is that just like diet, finding a good workout routine is a journey.  You'll have ups and downs.  You'll try lots of different things.  Some of them will stick and some of them wont.  You'll incorporate things that are "fad" workouts (ie Zumba), and then maybe you'll go back to some of the things that you loved 10 years ago (long distance running - for me at least) and maybe tweak them a bit (I love to do sprints now - who knew!).  It's a process of finding out what works for you and what doesn't and then mixing it up when you get bored or hit a plateau.  But the main goal regarding exercise should definitely be consistency.  It's absolutely essential.  And more often than not, it's the reason most people fail to reach their physical goals.  Remember, you become very good at the things you practice.

For a long time I believed that the best way to stick to a workout routine was to get a buddy to do it with you.  "Strength in numbers" after all.  While that can be a good way to get started, I think it can actually work against you long term.  You don't want somebody else's level of commitment to determine whether or not you reach your goals.  If your workout buddy fizzles out and you're not mentally comitted enough to go it alone, there's a good chance you'll follow their lead.  Not that you can't have people you like to workout with on a regular basis (I definitely have my faves), but I think it's important to make sure you are doing what you're doing for you.  You have to have the mental fortitude to get through your workouts without someone there to hold your hand.  You commit, you do it, and if you happen to have a friend to chat with that day, BONUS!  What's crazy is that as you go, you might actually find out that you enjoy the solitude more than you thought you would.  I'm typically a super duper social worker-outer (proper English, always), but over the past 6 months or so, I've started to love my solo workouts more than my partner or group workouts.  Or maybe it's that I've realized that they serve two different purposes.  I like having someone there pushing me to crank out one more set or one more rep.  But I also really enjoy those days when I can blast the music on my ipod and get hyper focused on things like my form and how my muscles feel right before they fail.  It wakes me up and reminds me that I'm alive.  I love it.

So, what are your fitness goals?  For the most part, in the past I needed goals that had an expiration date.  Goals that offered a big reward.  Something concrete that said YOU DID IT!  I think that's why I was always so attracted to races (usually triathlons).  It gave me a timeline.  It put pressure on me to train every day.  And really, sometimes it was fun.  But after several years I started feeling like a hamster on a wheel.  I'd register for a race, train like hell, finish the race, and then be so hammered, that I didn't want to swim, bike, or run for months.  At which point I would panic because I had no motivation to workout.  So I'd register for another race.  I know, it sounds crazy.  It became a vicious cycle instead of a fun, enjoyable, sustainable lifestyle.  That's not to say that signing up for a race of some kind is a bad idea.  It's not.  They can be really fun and a great way to kick start a workout routine.  I'm just saying don't put all your eggs in one basket.  Don't let the pressure of finishing a race become your only motivation for working out.  It's like dieting so you can look good on a trip to Hawaii.  Once the trip is over, what happens?  Well, if your like most people, you get home and go right back to the habits you've spent the most time perfecting.  It doesn't take long to end up right back where you started.  Don't do that with exercise.  Find things that fit into your lifestyle.  Pick things that offer enough variety that you can reach your physical goals without getting bored out of your mind.  If you start to get bored, mix it up.  Pronto.  

Honestly, before about a year ago, I had never set a fitness goal that had much to do with my body.  It was more about the actual workouts and/or being prepared for the big race.  I had never had my body composition analyzed or even thought about what I would want to change had I been given the option.  I just figured, this is me.  There's chubby me, average me, skinny me, and all the "me's" in between.  I never said, "you know, my arms might balance out my body better if they had a little more size and shape to them", or "I wonder if I could tighten up and define my core muscles in a way that would add more stability to my body."  I seriously didn't.  I didn't even know you could!  I thought those kinds of things were catagorized as spot reducing (not a good approach to take).   When I first started meeting with my fitness/nutrition guru, she asked me what I wanted to change about my body.  Deer.  In.  Headlights.  It took several sessions for her to convince me that I wasn't restricted to just the 3 versions of "me" I mentioned earlier.  I started realizing that I could build some serious muscle in my shoulders and arms.  A look I've always loved but thought was too far from my genetic make up to actually attain.  I could rebuild my abs and get them looking more like they did before my children stretched them to space and back.  I could add a little junk to my trunk instead of blaming gravity for my lack therein.  Granted, genetics definitely plays a part.  I had to take that into consideration.  But I have to tell you, I've changed things about my body that I NEVER imagined I could.  It's all about being specific about what you want.  Well, kind of.  I read an article recently that suggested people focus solely on losing body fat until they're under about 21%.  At that point, it's reasonable to get picky about what you want.  Which leads me to my next point.  Numbers don't lie.  If you want to change your body, you have to be ready to face the facts.  Even if it's painful to hear.  I'm convinced that knowing your body composition is the single most important step to take in changing your body.  You also need to get it checked regularly along the way.  I get it tested every 2 weeks right now.  It's a long enough span of time that I can accurately gauge my progress, but it's a short enough span of time that I can easily tweak things to keep my numbers moving in the right directions.  Eventually I'll probably only get it checked every couple of months.  I'm still in a pretty intense building phase as of now, but when I'm to the point where I just want to maintain, knowing my exact numbers every other week won't be as crucial.  But it's also just plain fun to see those numbers moving.  It's like being the subject of your own science experiment or something.  I have issues.  I know.

I'll get more into the how's and why's of doing specific kinds of workouts in the next few posts.  But I'm curious to know what people's fitness routines are like right now.  Do you like strength training workouts, or are you more of a cardio junkie like me (the treadmill has alwyas been my mother ship)?  Do you feel like it's hard to make yourself workout, or has it become something you actually look forward to?  Here's a toughie: Why do you workout?  Because you want to look better?  Because you want to feel better?  Because you know it's good for you?  Or maybe a combination of all those things?  I'm crazy curious about this stuff.  Enlighten me please.  Aaaaaaand GO...


Haley Jolley said...

Oh boy, do I ever need some motivation! I'm due with baby #3 in July, and I'm already waning on the desire to exercise. If you ever want to write a post about pregnancy exercises you've done, I would so so so love to hear some good ideas!
Right now, I do workout videos at home. PIlates, Jillian Micheals, P90X, etc. But to be honest, I can go a couple of months without exercising if I get thrown off somehow. Just like you said, you can easily slip back into your tried-and-true habits. I'm not even sure why I exercise, except I do feel more confident and I have more energy and joy when I've taken care of myself. And also because my buns and thighs show it very quickly if I don't exercise! (this could be due to my love for ice cream... )

I would really love to keep hearing more about what you're doing, how you're eating, the nitty gritty. I enjoy reading what works for everyone and then kind of coming up with a plan for my family. It's so much more motivating to hear other people's real-life stories and not just a diet book written by a celebrity. :)

Thank you for the reminder to keep my habits in line with my true goals. You always give great advice.

McKelle said...

So, like I told you, my fitness routine has changed within the last 2 weeks. I have cut back on the Crossfit WODS (Workout of the Day) and have begun powerlifting. I lift 4 days a week (squats, deadlift, bench). I usually do a WOD on two of those days also. On the days I'm not lifting I supposed to do some sort of light cardio. I have 1 complete rest day. I am loving this new routine. I do have a lifting partner, so that helps me get there everyday. I like having her there to motivate me and help with form and stuff. Why do I work out? Just to stay active. I know it's good for me. etc. I'm not a competitor. Im not looking to be a body builder. I just want to be active. And hopefully look better while doing it. Not seeing change is discouraging. Thats one of the reasons I'm switching things up. Getting up and working out is not my problem though. It's the damn food and my lack of willpower. I like cookies!

Sarah said...

I never have really thought of habits in the way you described. I read your post a few days ago and it has been tumbling around in my head ever since. I like that concept of each of us having good and bad habits.

For me, my routine depends on what I have going on in my life; ie. a job, a baby, a move, dealing with a bout of depression (it's happened this past year) ect, So that usually means I back off and take care of those things. But life is oh so much better when i am getting my fitness time in and it is something I always look forward to. Sometimes I am big into running, other times I'm all about HITT training. {I guess I am a cardio junkie after all.} I never have thought about specifically changing my body composition though. I could give you a million reasons why I workout, but ultimately I do it for me. Because when I do, I am a better person in all areas of my life. Continue posting about all your new information. I find it really interesting.

Amberly said...

You, via this post, have been occupying my brain the past few days. You should just be my trainer. I think if I could have the body I want without exercising, I probably wouldn't do it faithfully. I don't love to exercise, but I love the way I look and feel if I am consistent about it. And while I wish I was beyond saying that how I look impacts how I feel about myself, it's just not true. I feel great when I look in the mirror and have muscles in the right places and am flat in others. I feel great when my pants fit just like they should and celebrate a little when they are too big. Keep 'em coming- I like the inspiration.

Urka said...

Fear. Fear was my motivation to work out for a LONG time. Fear of what I'd look like if I didn't do it, fear of what I would feel like if I didn't do it, and fear of never being able to break that bad habit.
I've since learned to LOVE my workouts. The buzz, oh baby, the buzz. I love it when my body shivers because I pushed my self a bit harder than last time.
But alas, here I am setting out my running shoes for the hot date I have with the treadmill tomorrow. I am stuck in a purely cardio-ed world (Yeah grammar!).
I blame that fear again. I'm afraid of looking like a fool while trying out new workouts. I'm afraid of all those bars and things that look like painters scaffolding (I know I'm just going to trip on them anyway). I'm also afraid of, get this, the people in the weight section of the gym. I don't know if all gyms are like this, but at my gym, that section is DOMINATED by men. And they are scary! Pardon my neophobia. I'll break the habit one day... hopefully. What helped you break the cardio-routine?

Urka said...

Wow, I just read your more recent posts/blog. Talk about one step ahead of me! I will so be following this new gem of yours. Thanks!

Annie said...

Urka, I'm using your comment in my next post. Hope that's okay: ) I think many ladies will be able to relate to the feelings of fear you describe. Time to tackle it head on!!! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.