Make peace with your Mental Self

“How to lose weight and get fit in three months or less.” Somehow, that has become the average timeframe we allow ourselves to achieve our fitness goals. Three months is not any kind of magic fitness number - it’s just what’s left of a year after we carve out all the days that we have allow ourselves to fall off the fitness wagon.

November and December have become the official “game off” months in a fitness quest,  as the crazy holidays arrive, with big dinners and goodies galore. Then June through August have become the “I will be outside burning calories (translation: eating barbecue and drinking beer on the beach) months” and then, as winter vacation approaches, we cross off the two weeks before and after any vacation plan, to account for the stress of getting ready and then recovering from the time off.

Bottom line, we let the days, weeks and months that overlap holidays, summer, vacations, sickness, quarterly business cycles, menstrual cycles, special events, bad mood days and hangnails sabotage our fitness plans. I am human too, and I battle these demons – damn you HBO series Game of Thrones.

How much time does all this leave us to achieve our fitness goals? Six months maximum, scattered across the calendar - and that’s before we even factor in wildcards like those hangnails. 

How can you maintain a fitness progress if you keep starting over? Unfortunately, you can’t. My point is not to paint a bleak picture, but to deliver an ever-so-important smack on the melon with the fitness reality two-by-four. There is NO optimal time to start a fitness journey and NO real reason to stop. The reasons we invent are self-imposed ways of avoiding the hard work that we need to keep doing during those less-than-optimal times. 

How long does it take to achieve a fitness goal? Speaking broadly, let’s say at least six months. Consistency, frequency, and intensity of your training, plus sticking to a healthy diet and including sufficient recovery time, all play a huge role. The reality is, you’ll probably need closer to a year. What you do after you achieve your goal is also key.  Here are some fitness facts to chew on.

If you are on a quest to build muscle, the average male who is controlling all of the above factors and eating a pristine diet can expect to put on one to two pounds of muscle per month. That doesn’t sound like much of a result for living a perfect fitness life, but if you factor in a daily venti one-pump cinnamon dolce latte, an occasional party night, and eating a gallon of ice cream once in a while (hey, it happens), you will delay your success and push your timeline to reach your goal out even further.

Weight loss can be a bit easier to achieve, because you can “rob Peter to pay Paul.” To lose one pound, you need to burn 3,500 calories in a week, and you can do that through diet, exercise or both.  The average person can lose one to two pounds a week with workouts and controlling calorie intake, but those hangnails can still get in the way, and the robbery works both ways.  You can kill it in the gym one week but still eat away your progress the next.    

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If you have not figured it out yet, we all live very much in our heads, and our “Mental Self” can prevent us from achieving our fitness goals. Changing how you approach fitness could be the key to your fitness longevity. Start by looking at fitness as a permanent part of every day, and not just a temporary solution. Make it your lifestyle. Build it into your everyday routine, not just through diet and exercise behind four walls, but by living it with your family and friends. If your Mental Self is getting in the way, and you can’t envision what living a fitness lifestyle could look like, here are some guidelines to consider.

1) Find your tribe. There is strength in numbers. Friends and family on the same quest can help you keep on track. You will still need to do the work and fight your Mental Self, but having a friend who can help you tell it to “get with the program” is a major benefit.

2) Explore fitness weekly. Indoor rock gyms, mud runs, triathlons, and - my favorite - outdoor adventure sports, all deliver awesome cross-training benefits disguisedas social fun. Mother Nature is the best cure for an ailing Mental Self. Sunshine and fresh air have a way of making your workout feel not so laborious. Skip the gym sessions and get outdoors as much as you can, even if you just bring your weights outside.

3) Plan physically active vacations that will allow you to mentally power down but keep your body revving.  Sure, your Mental Self can become fatigued from work overload, but that does not mean your vacation needs to consist of flopping on the beach for seven solid days.  One of the best ways to complete a brain dump is by tackling an outdoor fitness adventure that fills your mind. Rock climbing and surfing are great for this.  

4) Last but not least, for the love of all things fitness, realize that fitness needs to be a permanent part of your life.  You work for money or you don’t get paid.  Fitness is no different.  You need to work at it to get there, and to keep it.