This Is How You Can Build A Sustainable Workout Routine For Long-Term Success
Quit fad diets and workouts, and get down to business. We show you how!
Goals need to be measurable, bite sized, specific, and continuous. Here is a guide for setting highly effective, laser focused goals that set you up for long term success.
What gets measured, gets managed. We are all prone to cognitive dissonance; I can’t tell you how many clients who SWORE that they only consumed two meals a day only to realize that they were having two breakfasts, four snack sessions and two dinners! They would have never realized this had I not tasked them with noting everything that went into their mouths. Heck, I used to think I had a “slow metabolism” because I was gaining weight on what I thought was a 1,200 daily calorie diet. After sucking it up and learning how to weigh, measure and calculate my macros—I learned that I was eating closer to 2,200! OUCH! While there is nothing automatically wrong with having eight meals a day or consuming 2,200 calories a day—the problems arise when our head cannon does not match with reality. This is why measuring can be so crucial.
There are plenty of metrics whereby you can measure progress. While weight can be a deceptive mistress—as long as you are eating well and properly exercising, it can be a remarkably accurate metric for health. For my own personal use, I’ve been using Happy Scale for about a decade now to track my weight. I still get a huge kick out of checking out my graphs to this day!
Similarly, measuring your waistline can be a trojan horse OR a bulletproof indicator of progress. Monthly progress photos are another effective, low effort way to measure progress—and double up as a powerful (and highly postable) self-motivation! Just don’t fall into the trap of relying on them as your sole carrot on a stick!
All of the above metrics have caveats, way too many to list down in this article! However, one general rule is that you must not pursue these metrics at the cost of feeling like you have a permanent hangover! Being healthy is supposed to make you feel good, and enhance your mood, productivity and physique; so, if you are experiencing the opposite: chances are you may be pushing too hard or making critical mistakes!
For the more conscientious—it’s hard to go wrong with getting into the habit of measuring your daily caloric intake and macronutrients (macros). For an unbelievably useful calorie and macro tracking app try MyFitnessPal! Or for those that NEED to get their 10k steps a day—getting hold of a smart watch can be a godsend. I’ve tried plenty of these watches over the years and I can honestly say that they all work great! Just pick the one with the appropriate features you think you will use. I personally like watches that have built in apps that organize your data in graphs—I love me some graphs!
For my bros out there trying to build some muscle and/or build strength—recording the weight and number of sets and reps for EVERY exercise will allow you to definitively determine if you are making gains and clearer picture of lagging areas. I know you guys think saving it all in your head is good enough. But, unless you are Mike Ross from Suits—trust me, it isn't!
I had a client a few years ago, let’s call her Lisa, who had a very specific goal: she wanted to fit into this particular pair of jeans. These were a special pair of jeans that she and her mother used to love wearing back in her youth. She wanted to wear them to her mother’s 90th birthday clan reunion. The problem was that she was almost triple the size she was from when they fit. Long story short, every time she would make progress—she would lose all momentum and regress back to square one.
It is clear that we are a success driven species. It’s easy to take all the small wonders we enjoy today for granted, but have you ever stopped for a second to think about what we have achieved as a species? Our collective creations can seem like nothing less than sorcery. What's even more mind-blowing is that all these colossal triumphs can be attributed to one magical, yet very human characteristic: we like to get high! You see, we have this naturally occurring chemical in our brain called dopamine; also called the goal-oriented chemical. This is our evolutionary chemical that gives us a high every time we accomplish our goals—even small or intermediary one. This chemical is what propels us from goal to goal, from one success to the next; otherwise known as progress.
But Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will you become the next world champion in a year, or five or even a decade. You have a long road ahead of you and the secret to long term staying power is to break down your larger goals into bite sized ones. This is because every time we are given a task to complete or metric to reach, as long as we can see it or clearly imagine it, we will get a little burst of dopamine, naturally pushing us forward.
Now back to Lisa and her special pair of jeans. Her problem was she only had ONE herculean goal and nothing else. She had no plan of action towards achieving it, other than “just keep going.”
Back in the Paleolithic era, if someone saw a fruit on a tree for example, they would get a shot of dopamine to incentivize them to go and get that fruit. As they made progress towards that fruit (i.e. the fruit getting visually closer) they would get more and more hits of dopamine. This would continue until they would get a BIG HIT when they actually got the fruit. This simple biological incentivization has what has kept our species going and going. Conversely, chasing the big one without small wins can feel like you are going nowhere fast, leading to a sense of defeat and eventually giving up.
Lisa had a very specific and measurable goal: to fit into those pants. What she didn't have were the small hits of dopamine to get her from one milestone to the next. So, I crafted a plan that would drip feed her little wins every so often: achieve a 10-minute continuous walk, workout two days this week, consume one less cup of rice daily, snap a selfie every week and compare it to the last—and the like. Her plan was designed for her to score a win daily, then weekly, then monthly, until the BIG FITTING day. She never lost momentum!
We all love a heroic triumph over overwhelming odds story. One can only dream of making that one out of a million impossible shot to destroy the Death Star and save the galaxy. Goals SHOULD be aspirational, but also realistic.
When Lisa first came to me, she said she jumped straight into working out five times a week, ate around 1,000 calories a day and for some reason wanted to be able to do 10 continuous pull ups. When I asked her what her previous exercise and diet regimen was, she told me she had never formally worked out a day in her life and ate “whatever she wanted.” No wonder she burnt out so often.
While success tends to breed more success (as we learned earlier) failure can feel like running headlong into a brick wall. It’s easy to proclaim that all you need is to “toughen up,” but why not set yourself up for success in the first place and save the grit for when it really matters.
Start with simplest things you can change while still being mildly challenging yet meaningful. For Lisa, I started with challenging her to just consume a cup of vegetables a day and walk at least 10 minutes daily while watching her shows (she told me she was addicted to her TV series and had an expensive treadmill she never used). We eventually ramped it up to a cup of veggies every full meal, and very basic body weight movements a few times a week on top of her walking. I’ve actually put plenty of my clients on the “cup of veggies a meal” tactic and to this day it surprises me how many of them end up reporting that they now crave veggies during meals!
Having goals that are measurable, bite sized and realistic all facilitate the most important aspect of them all; making healthy living easy (and fun)! Life is damn hard as it is, and there is no reason to unnecessarily add to that when there is a better, easier, more enjoyable way. This isn’t about being a slacker, or cowardly—it’s about slowly building momentum until your habits become an unstoppable force for good!
All my clients come to me with a goal in mind, some more nebulous than the others—all of which felt like they were trying to nail Jello to a wall. While I try my very best to get them to their initially intended destination—sustainable fitness is always my end goal for them. I want to set them up mentally and physically for a lifetime of healthy, happy living.
I no longer have weekly updates with Lisa, but we still keep in touch once in a while. She doesn’t even realize it but I can tell she is constantly crafting her next big (and small ) challenge. Her next big milestone may be five years away, but she loves the journey just as much as she enjoys the progress that comes with it—so she is loving every second of it.
As for Lisa’s Jeans, she ended up having to alter it—because she ended up slimmer than she had been all those years ago.
More often than not, creating goals usually happens when we are at a highly motivated state. It It becomes too easy to look too far ahead. While it’s okay to dream big, always remember to stay grounded. Slow your roll and consider the realities of life first before diving into it. Take that big ultimate goal, break it up into smaller ones. This should set yourself up for continuous success, before you know it you will be closer to your ultimate goal.