by Jeanne Strauss
You’ve made the annual resolution, but by March (or earlier), you’re having trouble staying on track to reach your fitness goals. Are you discouraged? You’re not alone. You may just need to work smarter. As a therapist, I’m not a fitness expert, but I am a change expert, and I know the seven basic steps needed to achieve any goal.
Step 1: Start where you are.
You must know exactly where you are if you want to get somewhere else. Start by taking stock. For fitness, I recommend first making a list of all the exercise equipment, clothing, gadgets, shoes and sports gear you own. This helps you see exactly what resources you have at your fingertips. Then, evaluate each item. Are the running shoes ready to hit the road? Is the treadmill in the garage covered with junk? Once you have a list of equipment, take a look at your current fitness routine and level. How often and how hard do you exercise? Evaluate your aerobic fitness, your strength and flexibility, your core fitness and your lifestyle activity. Once you know exactly where you are, you can map out the path to where you want to be.
Step 2: Set stretch goals.
Stretch goals are ones that are not too easy, but also not too hard. Goals should be measurable, realistic and very specific. It should feel like a bit of a stretch, just a little bit of uncertainty.Where do I want to be in a year? Write down what it will take to get there. Once you have your goals written down, tell 10 people what they are.
Step 3: Start small.
Start with making one small change each week. If your goal is to run a marathon, and you currently walk three times a week for 45 minutes, you must gradually increase your speed (intensity), mileage (duration) and the number of days you work out (frequency). Only change one of those each week, either intensity, duration or frequency. And only change about 10-25 percent each week. One week add a 1-minute run for every 5 minutes walking (intensity); the next week add a 10 minutes to your daily workout (duration), but keep your intensity the same.
Step 4: Get support and accountability.
Support can come in the form of education. The more you know about how to exercise, the better you will do. It can come in the form of a buddy to work out with you, a personal trainer to advise you or a personal development coach to help you learn positive motivation techniques, navigate around blocks and hold you accountable to your goals. It can also come in the form of a group to train with, a gym membership or a team.
Step 5: Change your self-image as you go.
If you continue to think of yourself as a couch potato, you will always revert to this underlying self-image, no matter what goals you accomplish. Making permanent change requires an attitude adjustment. As you change yourself, your self-image must change too. Using affirmations, changing some of your peer group, hanging out with athletes, and consciously affirming the new you will help your self-image keep up with your new fitness level.
Step 6: Keep your plan going.
You will get lazy, tired, busy, stressed or ill from time to time. When that happens, you might fall off the plan. Be prepared for these times. I utilize a workbook to help clients stay on track. In it they personalize their plan and have space for vacations from their fitness work, weeks where they can scale back and take it easy, and other weeks when they intensify their efforts. Change is rarely a straight line. It’s normal to have stops, pauses and restarts.
Step 7: Reward and recommit.
Reward yourself when you reach an interim goal. Congratulate yourself, buy yourself a present, celebrate with friends and then recommit to the next phase. Not surprisingly, this same process works for any goal. So whether it’s fitness, healthy eating, improving your business, learning to play an instrument or getting control of your anger, these seven steps can help you stay on track.
Jeanne Strauss is a therapist in San Antonio working with individuals and couples. She has been a licensed clinical social worker for 25 years, specializing in anxiety, stress, personal development, couples counseling, communication and resolving negative relationship patterns. She can be reached at 210-787-6384 or www.jeannestrauss.com.