When you start something new, it's really tempting, really easy to make grandiose plans. (New Year's Resolutions, anyone)? You're going to cut out all processed and fast food overnight! Henceforth you will never drink a real Coke or have a Big Mac again (even though you currently average three or four a week). You're going to get up at 4 a.m. every day and run 10K! You're going to stop going out for beers with your co-workers every night ... well, you'll go, but you're only going to drink diet soda!
And most of us know how well THAT turns out. We manage our stringent new curriculum for a short time, and then it gets to be a drag. There's a special occasion, or a night out when you're tired, or a morning when it's rainy and you have a big presentation, so it becomes easy to let your resolutions slide, just this once. Somehow, just this once turns into rationalizations and more slips and before you know it, you've completely abandoned your shiny new regime. You feel worse than before, because now you feel guilty, and are probably indulging in all kinds of negative self-talk about your lack of willpower.
Why set yourself up for this kind of failure? Have we learned nothing from the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare? Slow and steady wins the race. Have we learned nothing from the Winter Warlock in Santa Claus is Coming to Town? Put one foot in front of the other ... Perserverence, not perfection, is the goal.
This article from Paleo nutritionist Diana Rogers illustrates the point beautifully; and although she's specifically talking about making the changes to a Paleo lifestyle it really applies to any lifestyle and diet changes you want to make. It's much more effective to make them in increments, and to be true to the philosophy you are ostensibly embracing, rather than simply trying to replace your old, bad habits with "healthier" versions. This isn't reality TV! Nobody expects you to be an instant expert, or instantly successful! You can take your time, make mistakes, start over as often as it takes.
I would add to Rogers' words of wisdom ---perhaps unpopularly, but I am absolutely convicted of this idea --- that it is also important to take the time to discover, step by step what you can and will do on a longterm basis, even if it means you're only embracing your new philosophy 75 or 80%. That may change over time. You may find yourself willing and able to do more. It may be what you crave.
I feel I am finally emerging, after a period of some months, from my slide back down the mountain path that is my lifelong journey to best health and fitness. I finally feel capable again of a firm and steady commitment to working out (a lot!) and to challenging myself more physically. And as I've gotten stronger again in that capacity, I also have come to feel that I can begin to pay stricter attention to diet. But I am easing back in to both. Exercise came first; it's less of a mental hurdle.
Back in 2007, when I first decided to make major changes to my lifestyle, I knew this effort had to be different than any that had come before, and that it was crucial to do it MY way. After all, I'd had all the expert advice in the world. It wasn't that I didn't know how to eat properly or work out. Something else was lacking. There is no program in the world that you can stick to slavishly exactly come scritto, as we say in opera --- as written; at least not forever. It's important that you individualize it and make it work for you, and don't apologize for doing so.
Do, however, be honest with yourself. Let's face it, you are not going to lose 100 pounds if you say to yourself, "I can live with exercising for thirty minutes three times a week, and having a salad for lunch every day along with my can of Coke and bag of Cheetos." Certainly, you will see some improvement, but you're probably not going to become a cover model for Fitness Magazine. Be honest about what you are doing for exercise, how much effort you are actually putting in, and how much good it's doing you. A thirty minute walk per day is not going to "pay" for half a pint of ice cream and fried chicken for dinner. Be honest about what you are eating, and how much. The simple act of teaching yourself to weigh and measure food, to understand portion sizes and nutrition, and to make sure you ARE aware of how much and what quality of food you're putting into your body, will help you make better choices. Maybe not every time, but more of the time, if you are serious about improving your health.
But take your time. That's okay. When you feel good, when you feel secure in your new habits, when you maybe start to feel that you need something more, harder, different, that's the time to kick it up a notch.
And that's the place, at long last, that I find myself coming back to on my own fitness journey. Yeah, I've been here before. I may well end up here again. Not going to worry about it. Today, in TRX class, I did those damn planks. I held them the whole time. The lady next to me, who does Crossfit, was having just as hard a time as I was, and she weighs less and is in better condition. Today, after a hard hour of kickboxing, I joined my TRX classmates in 50 jumping jacks at the start of class. I was TIRED. I was drenched in sweat from the first class, and we had an hour to go. I got to #30 and thought I was going to have to stop, but I remembered a poster I'd seen the night before. It read:
I DON'T STOP WHEN I'M TIRED. I STOP WHEN I'M DONE.
Today, finally, I was in the right mental place to push a little. I kept repeating that to myself throughout class. And I did all 50 jumping jacks. And then I went and did those hateful, hateful planks. Three weeks ago, it wouldn't have happened. But I showed up, I did the work, and even when I hated it, I started to like it.
I need a nap now, but I figure today, I earned it.