JC Deen is a fitness coach and writer based out of Nashville, Tennessee. He has contributed to The Huffington Post, Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness, and has been featured in Forbes. Check out his No-BS Approach to Looking Great Naked and find him on Twitter or Facebook.
Fitness, fat loss, muscle gain, improved athleticism, running a 5K without stopping, feeling better in your own skin…
What if you had the ultimate formula for making any of these goals a reality? What would you do with it? Would you put it to work and achieve your loftiest goals, or would you pass it off as too good to be true? Some might promise you one weird trick to getting the six-pack abs or bikini body you long for. Others might have you banking on a surge in strength, speed or athletic ability. But do these so-called solutions ever hold up to their claims?
Sometimes they do. Most of the time they don’t.
And here’s why: Most people don’t understand the complexity behind what it takes to achieve a goal. There are four main components, all of which are detailed below, that can literally make or break your ability to succeed — in any fitness-related endeavor. Sure, to build muscle, we should lift heavier weights over time. To run farther, we should run often. We should push ourselves when we want to improve.
That’s fine and good, but what about getting started? What about making sure you’re on the right path? What about the moments you feel like giving up? What about bad habits you want to break? There’s a formula, and it looks like this:
Goals + Planning + Habits + Accountability = Success (however you define it)
Let’s get started.
1. Set a Goal
“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” ― Robert H. Schuller
Without something to aim for, how will you know if you actually get what you want? Goals, while they may sound simple, are something many don’t give much consideration. If someone decides to ‘get in shape’ or ‘run faster,’ what does that mean exactly? It could mean many things depending on the person, their personal experience and expectations. And, too often, the statement is vague.
It’s hard to stay motivated when you have no clear idea of what you want. This is the classic case of the New Year’s Resolution: “I want to exercise and feel better this year.”
That’s great, but we need to define the above statement with concrete ideas. The thought exercise I encourage everyone to try is called ‘finding your why.’
Let’s first determine a goal — something tangible and specific. Take your time, and make sure it’s clear. Maybe you want to lose 25 pounds by the end of the year while exercising three times per week. Or, perhaps you want to enter your first half-marathon, or powerlifting meet. Whatever it is, make sure you know exactly what you want.
Then, find your ‘why.’ Spend time asking exactly why you want this goal to come to fruition. What does it mean to you? How could it change your life? How will it positively impact you, and those around you? How deeply connected are you to reaching this goal?
Hint: The magnitude of your ‘why’ and your chances of achieving your goal are directly correlated. Take your time, and crank out the most meaningful ‘why’ possible.
2. Make a Plan
Without a plan, you get nowhere.
I once wrote an article called “planning is good, doing is better.” I still stand by that sentiment, but planning is important, as long as you don’t spend all your time there. Your plan needn’t be perfect, but it should be doable. You should aim for structure when it comes to the most important aspects that make up your goals.
A strategy that calls for consistent action is often the best one to construct. That means your plan should comprise daily, weekly and monthly steps that propel you forward. If you’re placing a priority on eating healthier, set aside time to plan a healthy menu each week, and figure when you’ll be to cook those meals for the days ahead. If your goal is to work out at the gym three times per week, carve out the time to do so and schedule those sessions in.
The initial phase may seem rigorous, but it’s imperative to your success.
The more compliant you are, the more motivated you’ll be to continue onward. Create the positive feedback loop. Doing something to improve yourself makes you feel good. Keep chasing that good feeling.
3. Form Healthy Habits
Start with a trigger, create the routine, and then make sure the reward is big enough to reinforce the loop.
Our lives are nothing but a string of habits, one after another. In fact, where we are right now physically is mostly a product of the decisions we’ve made, and routines we’ve established up until this very moment.
You’re only as strong as your habits. Why? Habits are the difference between an accomplished marathon runner, and a weekend wannabe who only manages to make time for running when it’s convenient. In other words, if you want to do something right, you must first establish the habits based around that ideal. Everything up until this point must take place before a habit can be built.
First comes the ‘why.’ Next comes the planning. And now we have habits.
Many of our habits are made in our subconscious — so much to the point that they can seem automatic. Everything we do from brushing our teeth, to our daily Wendy’s lunch run, to how we warm-up for our workout at the gym.
It takes a mindful approach to change bad habits and create new ones. For starters, begin to think about the habits in your life you’d like to change, and then think about new habits you’d like to create.
All habits are made up of three components:
The trigger is what prompts you to perform a certain task. The routine is what happens right after the trigger (the habit). The reward is what you get right after you perform the routine.
Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of The Power of Habit, uses the example of brushing your teeth. For most people, the trigger is waking up, and going straight to the sink. Then they begin their habit of brushing. Once they’re done, the notice the tingly, fresh feeling from the toothpaste, which is the signal their mouth is clean. This tingly feeling serves as their reward. And because the reward makes us feel good (who doesn’t love to have fresh-feeling, pearly whites?), it creates a positive habit loop, encouraging us to continue doing it.
So when you’re figuring out what habits you want to change, you must first determine the trigger that causes the habit. If you normally have a coffee only upon waking, but feel having a nutritious, balanced breakfast would help your quest for healthier living, create a new habit based on the current trigger of pouring a cup of coffee. That way, when you pour that first cup, you’ll open the fridge, and pull out some eggs and fresh veggies for breakfast.
Since this will be entirely new to you, it’s important you set yourself up for success early on. Make it easier on yourself. If you’re not used to cooking, or don’t want to, do it ahead of time.
I personally hate cooking in the morning, so I always have boiled eggs ready, as well as some milk and orange juice. So my routine changed from just having coffee, to also having a glass of milk, a glass of OJ, and two to three hard-boiled eggs — the easiest breakfast ever. (Remember, that breakfast might look different for you, depending on your dietary needs and personal tastes.) The reward for me was knowing I would give myself enough energy to fuel my workout later in the day.
The goal is to make the new habit as easy as possible initially. Once it’s solidified, you can build on it. Don’t start too aggressively (i.e. going from the drive-thru straight to a 100 percent organic-grass-fed-no carb-paleo diet), otherwise you risk burn-out, and all the negative self-talk that comes along with starting something, and not sticking with it.
This strategy can be applied any goal you have for a new habit. Start with a trigger, create the routine, and then make sure the reward is big enough to reinforce the loop.
4. Be Accountable
“It’s always better when we’re together.”
― Jack Johnson
You can go it alone, but everything is much easier when you have some help.
When people set out to accomplish something big for themselves, the changes to be made can seem daunting. Most start out with high hopes, and end with frustration and self-loathing, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Among my personal clients, and a current fat loss group I’m coaching right now, something I hear all the time is how easy it is to quit when you have no one holding you accountable. Sure, your goals may seem big to you, but if no one else knows, you’re free to become the slacker you detest.
With someone there, be it your coworkers, friends, significant other, or a coach, it’s much easier to stay on track.
Accountability doesn’t have to be hard. You can go to the gym with a buddy, hire a trainer, join a class, or even seek the accountability from others on the internet working toward a similar goal.
In fact, I spent a good amount of time recently interviewing individuals in my fat loss group, and one of the main sentiments shared over and over again is that the group setting and routine check-ins keep them accountable to their own goals. Knowing they will have to report to the group with what they did well, and what they learned, helps them follow through with training and tracking their diet when it could be easier to skip their workouts and eat cheesecake instead.
There’s nothing wrong with staying in and eating cheesecake. Many of them do over the weekend on their scheduled break (some of us call it a cheat day), but a steady dose of that doesn’t bode well for those who want to be leaner, and more active, in general.
The Bulletproof 4-Step Formula to Get the Most Out of Your Fitness Pursuits
No, the results won’t be instant, but they will be worth it. And the same formula can be applied for various goals, at varying stages of your life. The best part? The formula is simple:
Establish your goals, figure out what you want, and reinforce them with a strong reason ‘why.’ Take the time to write it out.
After you’re crystal clear on what you want, develop your plan to succeed. Determine the end goal from the first step, and work backwards. What needs to happen? Can you develop a clear path to get there?
Once your plan is in place, determine a method to change your habits, and create new ones. Start small — you don’t want to force huge changes at first and become overwhelmed. The one who makes the most small changes over a long period of time wins in this game.
Now that you know the habits to work on, get some accountability. Maybe that means hiring a personal trainer, an online coach, getting some friends to work on their fitness with you, or joining a forum, a Facebook group, or a local gym. No matter what, do not go this alone. Celebrating and sharing your success with others is much sweeter anyway.