Pitfalls of an On/Off mentality (And what to do instead)
I see many people on my coaching practice, all kinds of people. You would think that the person who comes to me in most need of help is the person who is overweight and just getting started. The soul who is lost and sick of their own suffering and unpleasantness. The one sick of living in a body that is more like a prison...funny enough, this is the person that I rarely see. Someone that fed up is more likely to be pissed off and start by making small changes themselves.
Who do I see the the most? The hard chargers, the build up & burn-outs, the ones that seem to accomplish everything, the ones with a t-shirt that says ‘NO MERCY’ somewhere in their closets.
Why do I see these women all the time? Well, one, they can afford coaching because the are really hard workers. But two, they go go go, sweating it up five or six times a week, then something in life happens and their fitness program goes out the window. These women get side tracked time and time again because of a myriad of occurrences: a move, death in the family, losing a coach, the holidays, an injury. All of these are indeed valid occurrences that end up taking them off target - but the problem is they have trouble getting back to it.
Our bodies and hearts are not race cars. We do not go from 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds, nor should we be able to. If we did, we would break every bone and tendon in our body because we didn’t have time to build up the deep strength need to sustain physical activity at that level. The rule is universal and also applies to our mental - just as much as our physical - constitution.
Humans move at the speed of nature. Despite all this hustle culture, your boss telling you to answer your email 4 times a day, the 8 hours work cycle, humans still move at the speed of nature. This pace is usually much slower that what you find in an office.
Health and fitness routine is a dial. It is not an off off switch. The most important aspect of your health and fitness routine is that it is sustainable. Sustainable means flexible. Not every healthy person works out 5 times a week at the same time every day, all four seasons. Professional athletes might, but just because they have hot and muscular bodies doesn’t mean that what they are doing to themselves is healthy. Even they have an off season. At some point pursuing physical activity has negative returns. Granted, you have to be doing a lot of it to earn them.
Many of these hard-charging women do have negative returns on their physical activity. If their program had flexibility and enjoy-ability, they would not have deviated so greatly from the program when something throws you off. But most think they have to go back to their grueling routines after a 3 month break - it just not true. Maybe you can build back up to that, but no where does it say you need to start like a flashbang and sustain it. If fact, it is counter indicative to how nature made us.
There are levels to physical activity and adherence to nutrition. Just because your workout was a walk, doesn’t mean you are a failure. Walking is relaxing and a form of low intensity cardiovascular exercise. It help strengthen our leg and hip and also improve posture. Everyone should be walking more. And you didn’t eat that fourth piece of pizza. Or you had an orange instead of orange juice. That also counts for steps in the right direction.
You need to know what is a 2 what is a 10 on your nutrition and fitness dial. You will be no good to anyone most of the time if you think you just need to turn it up to 11 and break the knob off. This is a recipe for burnout. If you can’t lift intensely on you own, go to a class and hangout with your friends while doing some work. That would be like a 6. If you are too sad to muster that energy, go to gentle yoga or do some hiking (a 4) or walking around your neighborhood for 20 or 30 minutes (a 3). Don’t just sit and fester. Sitting and festering is doing a 1. Choosing to take the sits up to go home and fester is a 2. There are definitely times for 1’s but let;s keep them few and far between.
If you are at a 1 or 2 period in you life right now, start by taking small step to make it a 3 or 4. Usually you will bounce back faster because you will build up momentum as you get back to your old fitness routine. If you are struggling keeping your routine at a 9 or 10 everyday, then take it down to a 5 or 6 for a couple of weeks. Consistency is key.
A 10 will look different for everyone. A competitive runner will have intense workouts nearly every day of the week. A stay at home mom with a part time job might hold a 10 routine at lifting twice a week, Pilates twice a week and walking one or two times with a friend. You ideal routine should leave you feeling fresh, confident and leave you with enough and energy to enjoy your life, work, relationships and hobbies.
Being an 11 helps no one. Least of all yourself. Most 11s are tough people to be with in intimate relationships because they tend to be judgmental, harsh, self critical, tightly wound and people pleasers. They also develop serious diseases related to stress. Please do not make this mistake of believing everything is all or nothing, black or white. If you usually operate in the 7, 8, 9 or 10 field, schedule some days where you are in the 4, 5 and 6 area. A few days of more leisurely activity usually stores motivation and drive to keep doing better.
What you need is grace, coping skills and boundaries. Give yourself grace for not getting everything done - not excuses to for giving up or barely trying. Nothing is a race and the whole point of all this is your health, longevity and happiness. If you find yourself severely rocked by major changes in life - to the point where you gain or lose more than 20 pounds - you absolutely need to brush up on and discover some coping skills. Talk to friends and family, take up journaling, realize that exercise is a constant and can double as your coping mechanism.
Also, don’t let others take advantage of you - even if it is your family. Boundaries are important for healthy relationships. They are also important to ensure you are able to keep up with the care and loving of yourself. It is very hard to stick to a routine of good decisions and workouts when someone is constantly violating you time, space and punching holes in your self-respect. Read some books, get some help and do better, slowly and consistently.