How Mindset, Perspective and Focus can dramatically increase your motivation to get healthy

I used to work out a lot when I was younger. My goal was to look the way Brad Pitt does in Fight Club. I never managed to do it, probably because I’d go to the gym for a few months and then get side-tracked, feel like I wasn’t putting on muscle fast enough or decide that I needed that gym membership money for delicious, delicious beer instead.

Recently though, I’ve gotten back in to it with a completely different perspective. I’m a Dad of 3 and they’re all boys and they won’t stop getting bigger and stronger. So I’m back in the gym, making sure I can keep up with them.

I’m highly motivated and feel stronger and happier in myself than I have for a long time. My perspective on the gym is totally different now than when I was a younger man and I want to talk to you about why that’s a good thing and what I’ve learned from the experience.

Modern society is obsessed with looks. We might not want to admit it, but we are. I do love the Marvel films (and to a far, far lesser extent, the DC ones) but can’t deny that the superhero movie genre has helped to promote an image of both men and women that is far removed from what most of us will ever achieve.

On our TVs, reality shows and music videos are filled with buff dudes and women that look like they need a slap and a burger (to use my wife’s phrase), with the songs themselves littered with references to various body parts being somehow described as both “tight” and “thick” at the same time. Like a well-wrapped gammon joint?

One of the most popular shows in the UK (and a few other countries too, thanks ITV) is Love Island. The show consists of a bunch of single men and women, all near perfectly proportioned, being thrown together on a hot island somewhere, wearing very few clothes and awkwardly trying to fuck each other for a few weeks. I don’t watch it, but I think that’s the gist.

If you’ve ever Googled anything about exercise of gym memberships, chances are every other ad you see on Facebook or YouTube will be someone who looks like they were carved out of solid marble telling you about their way to look like they do, whether it’s CrossFit, calisthenics or that awful Huel stuff. You know why they call it Huel don’t you? It’s meant to mean Human Fuel. That’s right – IT’S MADE OUT OF HUMANS.

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So what do normal folks like us do in the face of all this human ‘perfection’? We look at them and we look at ourselves and we think “I should look like them”. So we join a gym or get some workout videos to do at home or try and go for a good old fashioned run. The most popular of these options would be joining a gym.

Fun fact: in the UK alone we waste over £500m every year on unused gym memberships. 11% of people with an active gym membership say they haven’t been FOR A YEAR. Over 20% say they’ve been 3 times or LESS in the last year. It’s worse in the US where one article I found suggested that a whopping 67% of gym memberships in the US have NEVER been used at all.

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Clearly there is a problem here. Huge numbers of people who sign up with the best intentions waste a lot of money and probably end up even more despondent about their looks than they did before. Why does this happen?

Well, the most common reasons include; not getting the results they want (be it losing weight, tightening up or putting on muscle) self-consciousness, boredom and lack of energy and enthusiasm. What do these reasons say to you? That exercising is hard and people are lazy? Whilst I’m not going to disagree with you, I think these reasons tell a different story. I think people are signing up to gyms for the wrong reasons.

I’m going to propose that there are two main categories of people that sign up for gyms, and if you’re in the first category then you could well end up being amongst the ones that waste their cash on unused memberships. If you’re in the second category, however, you’re much more likely to stick with it in the face of any of the aforementioned circumstances.

The first category of people sign up because they want to look different, more like the sculpted and airbrushed versions of people they see everywhere they look. They buy in to the fact that if they follow the latest fad diet or work out like Chris Hemsworth for 4 weeks then they’ll be sorted. This doesn’t happen, obviously. It was never going to either because they have jobs or families or other real life shit going on and can’t train 16 hours a day and buy all the ‘magic Hollywood syringes*’ they want. And then they give up.

*Disclaimer: I am not accusing Chris Hemsworth of anything other than being the buffest cyclops since that one at the end of Hercules.

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The second category of people approach exercise differently, and I’ll reference one of my earlier posts here about Mindset. These guys have a growth mindset towards exercising. They are not training just to lose weight or look like a superhero, they are training to run a marathon, to get promoted from the reserves to the first team, to be healthier, live longer or just for the pure enjoyment of it.

Compared to those training for looks, people who are training for growth reasons give only tiny fractions of shits about how they (or other people) might look, because they are much more focused on their journey than anything else. Training for aesthetic reasons places your focus on the wrong thing. Rather than train parts of your body, you’re much better off training your determination, your strength, speed, agility, endurance, grit, focus and commitment instead.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to exercise just because you want to look different. I’m saying that it’s much harder to maintain this type of training over time, and refocusing on progression and self-improvement makes it less likely that you’ll give up for the reasons listed.

Let’s have another look at the reasons for quitting I listed earlier and think about how they are perceived differently when your focus is on improving in a non-aesthetic way.

Not getting the results you want

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OK I’m not going to beat you over the head too much more with this but it’s worth saying again that if you’re training to look different and you don’t look any different after a month, you’ll probably want to throw in the towel.

The wonderful thing about training an aspect of yourself though, whether it’s your strength, your speed over 5 kilometers or how many sit ups you can do before you shit yourself, is that you can measure exactly the results you are getting, and you have the ability to step away from it if you’re not moving in the right direction and think about what else you could try.

When you ask yourself “what else could I try?” you’d rather the answer wasn’t “liposuction” right?

Self-consciousness

Training for growth or progression really helps to minimise the extent to which you feel self-conscious about training. Trying to exercise when you’re surrounded by people who look more like how you want to look than you do can really bum you out.

But exercising around a bunch of people who can’t possibly know how you are performing vs yourself from last week means you don’t really give a shit how they look or what they think. You’re focused on you, not them.

Boredom

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Every time you push that extra rep out at the end of a set, every time you feel strong enough to add another little plate to the bar, every time you shave a few seconds off your personal best, every time you sprint up a flight of stairs, every time you stop and realise just how healthy and confident you feel.

I’ll take “exciting little moments you can experience when training to get better at something” for 200 please.

Lack of energy and enthusiasm

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I’ll also take “moments that help maintain your enthusiasm for training” for 500! See above.

Enthusiasm shouldn’t be a big problem as you track and monitor your progress, but lack of energy could be an issue still. Not as much so if you’re training for looks, as this type of training can make you more likely to lean towards overtraining if you’re really going for it, but you’ll probably still feel knackered from time to time.

This is where the mindset and perspective of training for progression can benefit you. You can take a week off to recuperate and know that you’re doing it to benefit your overall training goals. You won’t experience guilt from not working out and you’re more likely to take the initiative on things like extra rest (going to bed earlier) or changing up your diet to increase your energy levels as those things also fall in line with your mission to improve whatever characteristic you are training for.

Here it is in a nutshell: if you are training to look a certain way then you are more likely to give up, but if you are training to be a certain way, you are much more likely to succeed. Competing against every idealised image out there is too big of a task for most people. It is de-motivating, bordering on depressing. Competing against yourself, by contrast, is measurable, focused and empowering. Plus you always win, one way or the other.

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So there you have it. If you’re wondering what my training programme looks like, it’s not complicated but it is highly focused. I do 15 minutes of cardio to warm up, 15 minutes of stretches for flexibility and preventing injuries, then I follow Joe Wendler’s 5-3-1 programme but condense it so I do two exercised per session over two sessions each week, rather than four sessions per week each focused on one exercise. Then some core work for stability and warm down and I’m out in about an hour and fifteen.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether you already use this approach to exercise or whether it’s something you think could benefit you. If you want to find more information on the Wendler programme I mentioned, you can find it here.

Three Ways you can Re-purpose your Free Time to Unlock your Potential

Look, I get it OK? After a long day at work, looking after your kids or (and I really feel for you poor sods) someone else’s kids, you just want to put your feet up and relax. Maybe you’ve got the dinner to make as well, or a couple of chores to take care of. Before you know it the sun is down and you’re beat.

So what do you do? Watch some TV or a film? Play some videogames? Anything to just switch off for a while before it gets to that point where you know if you don’t go to bed in the next 30 seconds you’ll be useless when tomorrow rolls around and you have to do it all again. I know this routine well. I lived it for a good few years and, every now and then, I start to slip back in to it and it’s really easy to do that.

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This routine, whilst it might be attractive on the surface, isn’t likely to be doing your mind or your body a whole lot of good. I’m not saying don’t watch TV or that videogames rot your mind, what I’m going to take you through here is 3 ways you could use some of that time differently to provide long term benefits.

Before I do though, I want to talk about this tendency people have towards ‘switching off’ and why it doesn’t make as much sense as you might think it does. To do that, we’re going to use an analogy we can all relate to – phones. Yes, that insidious little shit you carry around with you all day that will gobble up all your free time if you let it. But that’s for another day, right now I just want you to think about what you do when it runs low on battery.

If the answer is ‘switch it off’ then we’re pretty much done here. Literally no one does that because then you wouldn’t be able to find out what your friends have been up to for the past 4 minutes or who is going to be in the celebrity big brother house this year (spoiler alert: a bunch of people you’ve never heard of and a porn star you almost certainly have).

No, you charge it up don’t you? When your phone is going to run out of power you recharge it. Why do we not instinctively do the same thing when we are running out of power? That’s a big question which we’re not going to answer here, my point is that we should. Surely this is better than switching off when our power is at its lowest ebb?

I’m using the word power in an abstract sense here, it may be easier to think of it in terms of mental ability or even spiritual energy. If you just recoiled in disgust at the two words at the end of that sentence then I have this to say to you: get with the fucking programme mate because it’s 2018 and you don’t have to be a monk or faith healer to be thinking about your spiritual energy. It’s a thing.

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And it’s a thing that deserves some investment because that investment can pay huge dividends down the road. Again, I’m not saying that you can’t have free time or time to switch off any more. There are people out there who never switch off, they live in a constant cycle of exerting huge amounts of power, recharging, then exerting huge amounts of power, then recharging again and so on. These are the people that are changing the world. We’re looking at this on a much smaller scale.

‘So what are these three things that can recharge your power?’ I hear you ask (having fully embraced the concept of spiritual energy as you undoubtedly have).

Sleep

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Kind of an obvious one this but a lot of people severely underestimate the value of getting their 8 hours every night. OK, 7 might be more like it for most of us but if you go much below that on a regular basis then you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of problems. I have some super cool and definitely very interesting facts about what a lack of sleep can do to you;

  • Being awake for 18 hours straight has the same effect on your brain as necking a pint of beer. Except you’re not down the pub, you’re on your own in your living room when you should be in bed.
  • Not getting enough sleep throws the chemical balance of your brain out and one possible outcome of this is that the chemical that tells you to stop eating because you’re full stops being produced, opening up the risk of unhealthy weight gain.
  • Your sex drive drops through the floor when you’re overtired. Which is obviously not ideal.
  • An overwhelming amount of medical evidence points to a close link between insomnia and depression and 90% of insomniacs suffer from a second health condition also.
  • During sleep is when your brain clears away protein and other waste produced by the day’s activities. Not getting enough sleep is like not cleaning your kitchen after using it. Sooner or later, someone is getting really nastily sick.

Arianna Huffington is great in many ways, but one of my favourite things she’s for is sleep. The first step in her 12 steps to Thrive is go to sleep half an hour earlier. What’s half an hour? So you miss The Big Bang Theory, so what? It’s shit anyway.

Meditation

If you had said to someone ten years ago that you’re thinking of getting in to meditation they would probably have looked at you like you’ve gone mad. Times have changed though and you know something is mainstream when there’s an app for it. Or, in the case of meditation, about 1,000 different apps.

From personal experience I can recommend 2 of these as god places to start if you are going to give it a go. ‘Calm’ which offers meditations for a wide range of things including stress relief, confidence building and anger management. It’s free to download but for full access you’ll need to pay a subscription. The other is Headspace which offers a simpler interface with daily guided meditations, a wide range of more specific ones and even some designed specifically for kids.

I am not affiliated with either of these, I just think they’re good, especially if you’ve never tried meditation before.

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Meditation is not necessarily about achieving Nirvana or learning how to punch holes through rocks, it can just be about having 5 or 10 minutes in the day when you allow your mind to be free and clear and quiet. It’s an experience I wouldn’t want any of you to pass up so please at least give it a go.

Interestingly, it’s a combination of this and the first thing on this list, sleep, that form what some think is our ideal rest cycle. There’s a great little TED talk on the subject from Jessa Gamble that explains this in more detail, I’ll put a link to it at the bottom of the article. It’s only 4 minutes long and packed with info, well worth a watch.

If you’re still really not keen for whatever reason then I’d encourage you to try just having a little break for yourself and some quiet reflection. Go have a sit down, do it outside if it’s nice, and just sit and listen and resist the urge to whip out your phone. Do this for as long as you want, but at least a couple of minutes.

The effect of quietening your mind is that is improves your ability to calm yourself and it allows your subconscious to sort through the stuff that is clogging up the conscious mind and adding to your overall stress levels. This is a great way to recharge your cognitive batteries, and if you can keep to it regularly, you should notice a big difference.

Be creative

Or, as those lovely chaps from N.W.A. put it ‘express yourself’! Actually on that track Dr Dre also says that “some don’t agree with how I do this, I get straight and meditate like a Buddhist” – so, y’know, Dre was literally all over this spiritual energy shit. As if you needed any more convincing that it’s cool now.

Being creative doesn’t mean you have to produce masterpieces or that you should be put off doing anything because you’re not ‘good’ at it. It’s less about the end result of your creativity and more about just being creative.

You can stick to the conventional forms of creativity like writing, be it a diary or a blog or some erotic Power Rangers fanfiction, whatever you’re in to. Drawing and painting are both excellent, as are other forms of art like music and singing. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you’re ‘good’ by any standard, that’s not the point.

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My whole life I have been a horrible singer, but that doesn’t stop me busting out the odd rendition of ‘The Other Side’ with my 5 year old and loving every second of it. If you don’t care, no one else will.

There are less conventional forms of creativity you could explore as well, and some of these are being used to great effect in business today. Lego, for example, is not only great for building spaceships when you’re 8, it’s apparently also great for management training when you’re 38. You think I’m joking? Put ‘Lego Serious Play’ in to Google and realise that I am not. I am serious. So is Lego.

Creativity can take up a little or a lot of your time. Personally, I lean towards a little alongside a little more sleep and a little meditation. I could do more, I probably should do more. I encourage all of you to do at least a little. It really is an investment in yourself that’s worth making.

If you can get yourself to bed a little earlier and take half an hour away from other activities, you’ll find yourself enjoying the remainder of your free time a lot more, and your mindset and attitude throughout your day-to-day will massively improve too.

Link to Jessa Gamble’s TED Talk: HERE

 

How to set better goals and actually achieve them.

Setting goals is another absolutely foundational pillar of self-improvement, but it’s something that a lot of people get wrong. It’s a huge kick in the balls to set yourself a target and then feel like you’re falling short from the get go, no one needs that. How many times have you made New Year’s resolutions and not kept to them? Or have you ever decided to make a change and then done little to absolutely nothing about it after that? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Chances are you’re making one of three mistakes that I’m about to teach you how to avoid making again, so next time you set yourself goal, you can smash it out the park.

Mistake number 1: setting the wrong type of goal.

Right we’re starting out at ground level here. Did you ever stop to consider that there are different types of goals that might require different types of approach? Do you know what these different types of goal are and which one you want to set yourself? The type of goal you set can hugely impact your chances of success. There are two main types that we’ll be looking at here, let’s call them open-ended and outcome-based. Open-ended goals are just that, ones that don’t have a fixed end point. This could be something like “I’m going to transform my body in to the perfect human specimen”, or “I want to help all the homeless cats in the world” or “I want to unravel the darkest mysteries of the universe”.

Needless to say, these goals are BIG and are going to require BIG action on your part to hit them. Not only BIG action but ONGOING, CONSISTENT action. Forever. If you stop for a minute and have an honest word with yourself, is this the type of goal you want to have? Are you passionate enough to pursue it, come what may? Do you have the self-confidence needed to deal positively with failure? If the answer is yes then fair play, crack the fuck on, you absolute legend. For the rest of us, there’s absolutely no shame in starting off a bit smaller.

Outcome-based goals are smaller, more manageable. They have very obvious criteria for success and it’s always a good idea to put a time limit on how long you allow yourself to achieve them. “I want to drop a dress size by the 1st of June”, “I’m going to start donating to a charity for homeless cats”, or “I’ll finally take that evening class when it starts again in September”.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? These goals are, in the grand scheme of things, fairly small, especially when compared to their counterpart open-ended goals (we’re talking about millions of cats vs about 0.7 of a cat, probably) but it really doesn’t matter how small they are. No really, it doesn’t. What does matter is that they are far less scary and fear-of-failure-inducing than the first lot but they count for just as big a WIN for you once you nail them. Maybe even a bigger win in fact.

Someone who sets themselves a huge goal and pours their heart and soul in to it can achieve incredible things, but for someone to pick themselves up after months, perhaps even years of feeling like they shouldn’t even bother trying, actually have the self-awareness to set an achievable goal, one that strikes that balance between comfortable but not so easy you could piss it in your sleep, well, you sir or madam have my respect for sure. Bravo.

The rest of this post is going to be mainly focused on how to achieve these smaller goals, but don’t worry, we’ll come back to the big ones in a later post.

Mistake number 2: saying it yourself only once.

So you’ve set the right type of goal for you, excellent, we’re off to a winning start. I’d hate for anything to go wrong at this point so do the write thing and right that bad boy down. Shit, I meant do the RIGHT thing and WRITE that bad boy down. Good job I wrote that sentence down and didn’t just say it and assume that would be enough, eh? Write it down on a piece of paper and stick it on the ceiling above your bed, write it in the notes app on your phone and set it is your wallpaper, tattoo it in braille on your arse (assuming you can read braille and regularly feel the need to caress your own bottom) if that works for you, but do it one way or the other and refer back to it often.

Reading it aloud works best but if you don’t feel comfortable with that then just reading it is great too. It may take a week or two but you will find that this simple habit helps the goal seem more and more achievable and even starts to guide your thoughts and actions towards achieving it. We’re trying to internalise the goal here and keep it in mind even when we’re not working to achieve it. Keep that up and you’re already halfway to avoiding the next big mistake a lot of people make…

Mistake number 3: not having a plan or tracking your progress

Napoleon Hill in his seminal book Think and Grow Rich, first advocated the practice of writing goals down and repeating them and I agree 100% with him on this. Here is where he and I deviate slightly though, and it’s worth remembering that he’s mostly talking about the big, open-ended goals and we’re focusing more here on the smaller, outcome-based goals.

Good old Napoleon tells us that the practice of repeating goals to ourselves over and over again will lead to the subconscious formulation of a plan, or series of plans that we need to follow in order to achieve our goal. A bit like an early form of brain-hacking. For outcome-based goals I personally advocate getting the rest of your brain involved as well.

Let’s say your little goal for yourself is to drop 20 lbs in weight over the next 6 months. Thanks to the wonders of the modern world you can look up advice on healthy eating and download fitness apps to help you track your progress. Make notes in your diary to exercise on the reg and do your best to stick to these appointments. Carve the time out of your schedule. Get up a bit earlier or skip whatever shit you planned to watch on Netflix a couple of nights a week and hit up a local gym. Can’t afford a gym membership? Reddit is a fantastic source of free info on bodyweight exercises and other forms of low-cost fitness.

Keep it simple though, your plan to achieve your goal should fit in to a space no bigger than your phone’s screen so you can see the full picture at a glance. Refer back to it regularly along with your original objective and update your progress. Don’t wait for motivation or inspiration, they’ll come later I assure you. And accept that the first few weeks are probably going to be pretty frustrating with little to no progress at first. You’ll probably find yourself worrying that you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s OK, very few people actually do.

Bonus tips: Because you deserve them

Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll have shit days, days where you feel like you’re going backwards and days where you have to fight the urge to give up completely. Keep going, but give yourself a break once in a while, especially if you’re new to this. It’s about progress over time, not struggling against yourself every hour of every day.

It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. This is about you. Everyone is different which means that no one is operating under the circumstances you are. Comparing your progress to others is pointless and will do nothing to help you.

I want to hear from people what their goals are, whether you’re working towards them now or wanting some advice on how to start. Tell me, I’ll do my best to help.