The very thought of going from zero fitness and marshmallow softness to full stamina, firmness and energy can seem overwhelming – enough to make you want to lie down. But even against the odds and the tide of excuses and a history of couch-potatoness, you can start. And you can continue.…into a regular routine of exercise. If you’re at this point in your life, you’re the right candidate for transformation. This plan just may be your best bet.
Change is an all-or-nothing proposition. You either do it, or you don’t. You can’t just exercise for 3 times one week, once the next week, take a couple of weeks off, go twice a week, and so on and expect to reap all the benefits.Only a handful of people can get into a regular exercise routine by suddenly beginning to exercise. Something just clicks inside and they workout with energy, and they enjoy it. But for the other 95%, getting into a regular routine with exercise is not so easy.
For these people, beginning an exercise program comes in stages, step by step, many of which happen before you even slip on your workout shoes or enter the gym. The very fact that you’re reading this article means that you’re already in one of the important first stages. And continuing to exercise regularly is also a process of change, a cycle of smooth sailing and bumpy seas.
Fortunately, there are techniques that you can use to help you move to the next level. Just be aware that the stage you are in changes all the time. Of course, once you know where you are, it’s easy to see what’s next. Here’s how to get there….
Step 1: I don’t want to exercise
If you are at this stage, you may be wondering what could possibly be done to get you to budge beyond it. Other people might be pressuring you, but IT’S UP TO YOU–you’re the one who has to tie your shoes and go out for a walk. And you don’t even want to make the effort to think about it. Two things can offer a push: Acquiring knowledge and whining.
Acquiring knowledge involves being open to facts and opinions concerning your state of fitness (or lack of it) and both the benefits of exercise and the health risks of not exercising. The source of the information can be external–others observing that you don’t exercise, loved ones confronting you about it, family members giving you newspaper or magazine articles about exercise. Or it can be internal–watching TV or movies about sports, reading about exercise, learning about the psychology of why people don’t exercise.
In some cases, simply soaking up the incoming information can at least make you more likely to start thinking seriously about exercise, even if you have no intention of doing anything about it. It could be, however, that despite the good efforts of your friends and relatives, the fact still remains that you don’t want to exercise. And right now you simply may not be interested in gathering information.
So maybe you need to try venting and whining. This involves giving vent to the problem. You may complain about what happened the last time you tried to exercise (“Oh, that cramp I got! I was sore for days!”) or all the things that kept you from working out (“I wanted to, but Janey had a dentist’s appointment”).
All this talking and complaining about the problem helps. It at least gets you thinking about exercising. It gets the wheels turning so that getting fit becomes a problem to be solved. That is, if you CHOOSE to look at it that way.
Here’s my rule for complainers: You have exactly TWO MINUTES to vent and complain. Ready? Go… (Tick, tock, tick, tock…) Okay, done. NOW GO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
It may seem that nothing is happening in the I Don’t Want to Exercise stage, but the more you acquire knowledge and vent and whine, the more their effects can accumulate.
Step 2: Thinking about it
When you’ve reached this point, not only are you more aware that a problem exists, you’re also seriously considering doing something about it. This is great progress, even if you haven’t actually made a commitment to start.
In this stage, you’re considering the pros and cons of starting, even if you haven’t quite gotten yourself to plug in the treadmill. You’re at the point where you might increase your physical activity or you might decide you’re not quite ready for prime-time–or any other time–workouts and give it up for now.
In this stage, you know where you want to go and you may even know how to get there. But you can’t quite cajole yourself into following through with any action. Acquiring knowledge and venting/whining can be helpful here, as well as two other techniques: role modeling and reinventing yourself.
Role modeling goes beyond acquiring knowledge. Here you closely observe someone you know, someone in the public eye or even some fictional character who might inspire you to fitness. You might chat with a friend who exercises regularly, or watch sporting events like the Olympics. Who would be role models you respect and like? Pick some activity you might enjoy and watch a master of it. Once you open yourself up to the possibilities, you may be inspired to get moving yourself.
Reinventing yourself involves looking at yourself in a different way. This is the time to return to the power of fantasy. Try imagining yourself as an athlete or a dancer, or just someone who is really in shape. This is NOT silly; every champion from every walk of life had FIRST in his mind a dream of what s/he wanted to become.
Imagery could involve mentally picturing yourself as more flexible or thinner or whatever else exercise could help you with. Take three minutes, sit down, lean back, close your eyes and fantasize about anything physical that you want to try, like weight training, skiing, roller-blading, etc. Just do it.
When it’s over, how does it feel? If you imagined skiing, could you feel the wind? The crouch? Did you see the hill, sun, snow, trees, other skiers? Could you feel the thrill in the pit of your stomach and your head when the run was through? Make it happen in your mind. The brain is extraordinarily powerful. You can if you think you can, just like the Little Engine that Could.
Also, you can use imagery to conjure up a picture of yourself benefiting from exercise. Think of the thing exercise could help you with that is most important to you. Could your joints be more flexible? Would you be happier 10 pounds lighter? Close your eyes. Imagine yourself moving as you would like to move. Watch this in the theater of your mind for however long it interests you. When you grow bored, stop, whether five seconds have passed or 10 minutes. Repeat this two or three times a day.
It’s even possible that performing certain movements in your mind rehearses the motor pathways so that when you do try the actual movement, it’ll be easier.
Step 3: Getting ready
This stage combines intending to change with making some small changes in behavior. In this stage, your intention and behavior crank up a notch. This means more reinventing and imagery, plus some baby steps toward the real thing.
For example, exercising has been on your to-do list for years. After watching some fitness shows on TV, you fantasize about looking like the people in them. Then you decide you could do those exercises. So you start making tapes of the shows to fit them in when your schedule permits. Plus, you’re walking to work more frequently, when you used to take a cab or drive to work.
Step 4: Starting
This is when you begin exercising on a regular basis. But this is the stage where most people equate change, overlooking the other steps that are part of the process. This is understandable, since in this fourth step you actually choose some type of exercise or group of activities and start working out.
People can see that you’ve changed your behavior in order to overcome your comfort zone that has kept you from getting fit. You appear to have gotten off your duff by committing time and–yes–energy.
This is the most challenging stage. Many people overdo it. Then if they hurt or exhaust themselves, they become discouraged and drop back to Step 1. If you have begun exercising andkept at it for anywhere from a day to six months, you may think you’re home free. Unfortunately, it’s not so. For true change, you must also develop new habits and skills to keep from falling back and skills to deal with new problems.
One way to start is to announce to the world what you’re about to undertake. Once you’ve publicly connected yourself with exercise, social support pushes you to keep the connection. If you stop, people may ask what happened, and you probably won’t feel good about admitting failure.
Your pronouncement is your “coming out.” It can involve very personal meanings and is different for each person. It often involves a dramatic statement or gesture that signals a break from the past. You’re declaring that the rest of your life will be different from your past. Your coming out could be as simple as buying your first pair of workout shoes or joining a gym.
Starting also involves making slight adjustments in your world. Move your exercise equipment to a more convenient location or join a gym that is on your way to or from work, or close enough to visit on your lunch hour, rather than one you have to make an effort to get to.
In this phase, you should give yourself plenty of positive reinforcement. Promise yourself a treat if you exercise today. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or get tickets to some show or concert or ballgame you would like to see. Use your imagination to reward yourself for signs of progress.
Step 5: Keeping on
You know that you’ve been keeping on when you can successfully overcome new obstacles that get in the way and not lose the gains you’ve made in Step 4. Mastering this stage is crucial if exercising is to be an integral part of the rest of your life.
The techniques for keeping on are the sum of everything that got you this far. So whatever tricks work for you, use them. It doesn’t matter if they’re different from the ones that help your best friend or that work for Cindy Crawford.
Remember what we said earlier: The stage you’re in changes all the time. You may work yourself all the way up to Step 5, but then you get sick or injured, or take a trip, or otherwise get distracted.
You may have fallen to Step 2. Maybe even to square one. Nothing magical about reaching the final Step 5 will keep you there. If you find yourself at some lower level, you have to use the techniques appropriate to that level to climb back up. Then you may have to use bits of them to keep on keeping on.
By Garrett J. Braunreiter, GHF’s Success Coach
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