Dinner out last night with dear friends has me pondering adultier adulting. Or, I’m thinking about decision making and how it works for me.
I was listening a very brief FB chat yesterday with my fat loss group about motivation. Pat was talking about the role of motivation in adopting healthier lifestyle choices, and how he does not believe motivation should be emphasized as much of a factor. Rather, expectations are far more important when it comes to anything in life where we seek improvement.
Pat stated his opinion that tying actions to level of motivation is not a good idea, because motivation tends to run in cycles – we all have periods when we are very motivated and times where we are not. Building habits is what matters, and we build habits through repetition. I agree with him as well that shifting from an “all or nothing” to “always something” mindset is crucial for ongoing consistency in any area where we are struggle to implement significant change.
For me, motivation is dependent upon my personal perception of success. Using motivation as a driving component in our model for change, it is no wonder that we become wildly inconsistent in regular exercise or healthy eating if we are waiting on or depending upon motivation to get us or keep us moving forward. If I have a mindset of all or nothing and it’s anchored to motivation, first low motivation day and I will quit. I know this about myself from personal experience, i.e., many many tries and fails.
Pat stressed that the fat loss program was created around building habits, something that absolutely resonates with me.
Lots and lots of days I do not feel motivated to go to the gym or to eat healthier foods. Once I decided that I would go to the gym in the early morning, I had to create a process to get me up, out of bed, and to the gym each day. I experimented with time to wake up, arrive at the gym, time to leave to ensure I made it to the office on time each day. After much trial and error: my alarm goes off at 4 a.m. during the week with a goal of arriving at the gym by 5:30 each morning. Sometimes I’m earlier, frequently (anymore) I am much later. But I am still up and out of bed shortly after 4 a.m. on weekdays. It is now my habit and really does not matter much if I feel like it or not.
I am noticing a similar process with healthier food choices and eating strategy.
Every day I have a protein shake before the gym. Every day I make it in the same way with the same ingredients – 1.5 scoops of protein powder, 2 scoops of branch chain amino acid supplement (because it makes the shake taste even better, not because I think the BCAA are so mandatory for me), 1.5 cups ice water, 5 ice cubes. It’s a habit and I do not get tired of drinking the same meal each morning for the last 2 years. Every now and again I go wild and use M’s vanilla protein powder and feel very free spirited for not being so stuck in a rut. I also take a piece of fruit out of the fridge – right now it’s a peach, but most of the time it’s an apple, because apples are so universally available – and when I get home from the gym I cut it up and eat it with a glass of water. That’s breakfast. Every single day.
I decided a few months ago that I needed to stop snacking between meals, which had continued to be a self-sabotaging habit. My blood sugar is well controlled and holding steady in the normal range, but my reshaping my shape progress seemed to be glacially slow. Food and eating habits were the root of this issue; it is not a problem because my overall health is so much improved. I decided to make some small changes: no more snacking, no more soda with our restaurant meals out (typically one lunch or dinner on the weekend). No more occasional sugary treats, because the cravings and desire for more are so painful to deny.
Essentially, I decided I want to see if I could jump-start something by being more faithful to the fat loss program as it was designed.
The results are not amazing, overnight success level of achievements. But after nearly 6 months of averaging about 70% compliance with the basic framework of my fat loss program, I finally feel like I am making inroads toward whatever vague appearance objectives I might have secretly harbored. For me personally, tiny measures of success are huge indicators that the small changes are working as well as huge motivator to continue to do the hard work toward building better habits.
I have done pretty well with adopting more flexibility of mindset when it comes to exercise and eating, but it is still a work in progress, likely always will be to some extent. I don’t feel guilty about my choices, because I am well aware of my food and exercise sins as I make them. But I do still have moments when I wish for more backbone, more strength of character that lets me have near perfect impulse control nearly all of the time. Such is life with all its imperfections.
The process of my better health quest is understanding and accepting that the choice is not made once in the beginning and then implemented over the course of the rest of my days. The choices associated with pursuing a healthier lifestyle are made every single day and then implemented on each of those days. Some days I make really good choices, other days I may choose something with less desirable outcomes. I now have the confidence to know that one or a few poorer choices does not doom me forever. I can and will adjust, adapt, and return to the foundational pillars of my better health quest.
I am really a big proponent of personal responsibility. I am also a recovering self-flagellation expert for failing to meet the lofty, unrealistic expectations of perfection I have created for me and me alone. While intellectually I completely understand that no one is 100% compliant with good choices and decisions 100% of the time, emotionally I have felt inferior much of my life for my own basic humanity. It’s a legacy scar and part of what defines me as a person, but I know it has become part of a self-fulfilling prophecy, a habit of setting myself up for failure. It’s a habit I have broken many times in many areas of my life. Perhaps with my improving sense of self-esteem, I can put that fork in it and call it done when it comes to exercise and healthier eating.
Directly, success in any endeavor is more than just a choice to succeed or to fail. Improving ourselves or building skill at anything is bunches of smaller choices or decisions that build and lead to overall success, a distinction that seems to be lost in the instant gratification culture we seem to be living. I have agency to make a choice even if I dislike the choices available to me. In my view doing the hard work now does mean opportunities for different, likely more desirable choices later. After nearly 2 years of consistent resistance training, I’m stronger and more capable now and I genuinely enjoy the escalating challenges presented in the gym. After 6 months of mostly compliant with a lower carb and lower calorie eating strategy, I find choosing to eat a salad or plate of steamed vegetables an acceptable and enjoyable choice for meals out. Days I choose to take a day off from the gym or eat a sandwich instead, I feel no guilt or anxiety. The habits are established and stable enough now that it is just a day off or just a sandwich.
I am not a victim of circumstance. I am the decider and in control of my own choices available about and attitude towards such circumstances.
And that was the super positive takeaway from dinner last night as well as just an enjoyable evening. Being with dear friends, just talking about a free range of topics and ideas, I recognize that I have come a long way. I am consistently making better choices in the company I keep. The difference it has made in how I feel about myself is astonishing. Life is long and stretches out further than the boundaries of my own imagination. To have such companions woven into my journey is a truly priceless to me.