Many aspects of our physique journey are hard. Long periods of hunger. Fluctuating scale weight. Clothes that no longer fit. Aches and pains. Let me show you how to think differently about these events and see progress and opportunity in everything.
But first, let’s clear something up. When you eat that cookie or skip that workout, you are making a conscious choice. Like it or not, in that moment, you value the gratification more than you value progress.
It doesn’t matter what it is. An evening with friends. That second glass of wine. For whatever reason you made a choice and your workout or diet didn’t win.
Yes, you can say it’s just one cookie or just one workout. But often, it’s not. One cookie often becomes two, or ten. One skipped workout creates a mental model that says it’s ok if you miss a session.
Now I’m not a food nazi, nor so boring or disciplined that I haven’t missed a workout or three. But when I am zoned-in on a goal, pretty much nothing derails me.
I’ve practiced fasting and yet gone to lunch with the lads and watched them eat fried chicken and ice-cream (not together) while I sipped water or coffee. I’ve turned down cake at parties and taken my food to friends to make sure I hit my macros.
Of late, I’ve been asked by a few people, how do I do it? How do I stay strong when faced with difficult decisions that have the potential to derail progress?
Well the answer is twofold.
- Clear goals help shape my choices
- I reframe negative thoughts and feelings
Remember this from Part 1 on planning and goal-setting?
Goals give us explicit context, a framework for making good decisions. With a well-defined goal you can let go of emotive choices and really focus on what’s important.
In short, goals dramatically simplify our decision-making.
By having a well-defined and measurable goal, my ability to make tough choices becomes much easier. Do I want the pleasure of cake now, or do I want the pleasure of a new, low weigh-in tomorrow?
I am sure you can get behind that idea, but what is this reframing voodoo I speak of?
To be specific, the process is more akin to cognitive restructuring, a particular instance of cognitive reframing. In turn, cognitive restructuring is the process of learning to identify and dispute irrational or maladaptive thoughts known as cognitive distortions.
Said more simply:
Cognitive restructuring is a way of experiencing and evaluating events, ideas and emotions to find more positive alternatives.
The premise is that it is our thoughts about things that happen–not the events themselves–that cause us to feel or behave in a certain way.
This might be easier to understand if we look at an example.
Trigger: Tight shirt (pants, dress)
Possible thought patterns and [associated emotions]:
- Man, I am getting fat. This shirt used to fit real nice. [Disappointment, Shame]
- People are going to see this shirt is tight and assume I’ve gone back to my old ways [Fear, Anxiety]
- Hmm. Can’t wear this shirt for a while. I better pick up a new one this weekend. [Neutral, Acceptance]
- Ooh, this shirt is tight! My training is finally paying off… GAINS! [Happy, Motivated]
Any of these thoughts and reactions can happen, and happen quickly, and frame of mind, emotional state etc. all have a bearing on where you might end-up on any given day.
But this is not simply positive thinking. Rather, it is about evaluating the evidence for your thoughts and then challenging the truthfulness of the thinking.
Increased awareness is the first step in changing your thinking, recognizing how a thought actually makes you feel. The next step is to then challenge your thoughts with more rational ones.
Again, this is where goals and objectives are priceless, providing you with a framework to drive rational thinking.
Consider my journey to a huge, ripped physique at 180lbs.
The reality is that I’ll be up and down in body weight throughout this journey. If my single focus is ripped, I’ll be disappointed by any fat I gain. And if I’m stuck on huge, every time I cut the fat and lose weight, I’ll be disappointed at how small I am.
This is where breaking a larger goal into measurable milestones helps considerably with both decision-making and the technique of reframing.
If I am now bulking, weight gained is a good thing. It is my intent. My current goal.
Likewise, when I need to cut some fat, any drop in scale weight can immediately be associated with progress.
This could be fun…
I use cognitive restructuring to turn many different thoughts and events into positive outcomes, instead making them complimentary to my current goal.
- When cutting, I reframe hunger to equate to progress.
- When performing HIIT, I reframe exhaustion to feel satisfaction.
- If I get injured, I reframe it as an opportunity. To learn. To deload. To focus on other body parts.
- When an unexpected meeting comes up and work and my workout time is reduced, it’s reframed as a free pass to try something new.
Another example from last summer.
In a bizarre motorcycle accident in which I dropped (and saved) a motorcycle I had never actually ridden, I tore my left hamstring pretty badly. In that moment, I WAS PISSED. A torn hamstring was not good news and I was immediately running through all the consequences… all the negative outcomes of this fateful event.
But an hour or so later, the raw emotion had passed and I was able to think about the event differently.
With a grade two hamstring tear, I was going to be out of my regular workout schedule for at least a month. That meant mandatory down time. How to capitalize on that time…
In that moment, I resolved to undergo an elective surgery on my long-standing epigastric hernia, something I’d put up with since birth. Appointments were made and within two weeks, I was in, out and recovering at home.
Yes, the surgery extended my down time and took me out of the gym completely for another full month. But even that was reframed into yet another opportunity, giving my hamstring time to heal more fully. Here’s me on the day of surgery and just two months later.
Now, those of you that know me in person are well aware that I am not always a beacon of hope and positivity. And I certainly don’t bounce around from problem to problem seeing each as nothing but a rare and beautiful flower.
I sometimes get as frustrated, angry, annoyed and despondent as the next person.
And yet, combined with specific goals, this is a technique I use regularly to give myself a framework to see progress and opportunity, no matter what the eventuality.
How do you deal with the ups and downs in your physique journey? Do you have techniques that you use to find the positive in situations?
Disclaimer: Look, if a real Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT) reads this post, I’m in big trouble. I am not remotely a practitioner of anything related to CBT, and everything here is based solely on my reading and personal experiences. I’m really just trying to outline an approach I’ve used so that you can follow-up and learn more if you are interested.