What if I told you there was a simple task that you could do several times a week that would make a huge difference in helping you lose weight?
Or keep that weight off, once you reach your goal?
In fact, it’s a task that study after study – dating back to at least the 1970s – has validated. But at the same time, it’s something that almost every course I’ve taken over the years says you likely WILL NOT do.
This tool is absolutely FREE, but the fact people don’t/won’t use it has spawned an entire industry that makes billions of dollars a year.
You’ve seen the title of this post, so you already know what it is.
It’s keeping a food journal.
But wait! Before you click off, here’s something to know:
If you can just keep a food journal SOME of the time – it doesn’t have to be ALL of the time – it can make a real difference.
See what I did there? Like, kind of beg you NOT to shrug this off?
As a trainer and fitness coach, this is part of my job. I’ve spent years soothing people about this topic. I’ve been apologetic. I’ve clicked my tongue, telling them I know how hard it is, oh and how I wish it wasn’t so. I’ve held their hands and searched desperately to find a spoonful of magic to help this medicine go down.
Some bullet points why food journals kick butt:
- You can eat a flexible diet (still enjoy your favorites) while achieving your physique goals.
- Nothing is banned from your diet.
- They give you data – you can see little ways to tweak your program to attain maximum results.
- AND … they help you follow my training/nutrition maxim: How to do the least to get the most.
See why I’m feeling a little tired of soft-selling food journaling?
“But it’s so hard, Wendy. I don’t have time. I’ve tried but I just can’t stick with it.”
Grown-Up Wisdom From My Father
I know it can be challenging, but most worthwhile things are.
Did you ever see the TV show That 70s Show? Red, the dad in the show, was a lot like my father.
I hated going to school. Like: HATED. And some days he didn’t love his job so much and would have preferred to stay in his garage, tinkering.
And yet every morning he would drive me to school, listening to me complain/whine/beg not to go. And there he’d be, on his way to a job he didn’t always love, listening to me.
He would tell me: “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.”
And it’s true. The way I look at it is this:
- If you want clean clothes, you have to wash them when they get dirty, even if you’d rather be doing something else.
- If you want to save up for vacation, you have to cut back on spending elsewhere so you can sock money away.
- And if you want to earn some money, you have to go to work.
The only guaranteed way to get the results you want is to take the tested-by-time approach.
Like keeping a food journal, yes?
Oh and one more thing before I get into the nut of this: I have to keep a food journal, too. And guess what? I don’t always (ever) feel like it. But when I don’t keep one, my weight starts to creep up.
So I’m not asking you to do anything I don’t do myself. I have to follow the rules, too.
Science-Backed Proof that Food Journals Work
As science has established, to lose weight you have to create a calorie deficit. That means, basically, burning more calories than you take in. Even if those calories are gluten-, sugar-, dairy-, and even carb-free.
Question: How do you know if you’re eating less than you are burning, unless you keep some kind of record?
Let me ask you another question (or three). Have you ever stood on the scale after “dieting” for a week, praying to see the scale go down?
And then it didn’t?
It’s a total bummer, right? Especially if you’re not sure what went wrong.
This is where a food journal comes in. If you write down everything you eat, then you have a pretty good idea if you’re eating at a calorie deficit.
It only makes sense, because you have actual DATA to work with.
Here’s another thing: it doesn’t matter how fancy your food journal is. You can keep a paper record, although studies show it can be time-consuming and cumbersome. Or you can use an app or website to record your food intake.
You don’t even have to keep a meticulous record every day of the week. Studies show that keeping a record 75 percent of the time seems to be the sweet spot (see study below).
I’m gonna get into the particulars of how to keep a food journal below, but I wanted to share with you some real science. If you don’t want to read it, just scroll on past it. 🙂
6 Actual Quotes from Actual Scientific Studies/Reviews
There are dozens and dozens of studies showing the efficacy of food journaling. In fact, it was challenging to choose just a few to include here, so I picked 6 at random to show you.
Like, seriously, in less than 10 minutes on a Sunday morning, I came up with these.
If you want to find more of your own, here are some search terms to google: “self-monitoring weight loss nih ncbi,” and “food journal weight loss nih ncbi.” NIH = National Institutes of Health, NCBI = National Center for Biotechnology Information.
The language used by researchers is a little dense, so I’ve included only tidbits, but you can click the links for more.
1. Dietary Self-Monitoring and Long-Term Success with Weight Management
This study looked at weight maintenance AFTER weight loss.
“Higher total frequency of (dietary) self-monitoring was significantly associated with lower percent weight change within individuals who self-monitored consistently, but had little impact on weight change for those who did not self-monitor consistently (1).”
So, those who logged their food gained back less of the weight.
Also in this study, it was noted:
2. The Role of Self-Monitoring in the Maintenance of Weight Loss Success
“… Self-monitoring can play a key role in successful long-term weight management. These initial results support previous research demonstrating self-monitoring as an effective tool to promote weight loss (citing the study above). However, it extends beyond prior studies in illustrating the beneficial impact of self-monitoring on long-term weight loss (2).”
Basically, study participants who self-monitored their food intake for longer periods of time got better results.
3. Comparison of techniques for self-monitoring eating and exercise behaviors on weight loss in a correspondence-based intervention
“Findings suggest the self-monitoring process, rather than the detail of self-monitoring, is important for facilitating weight loss and change in eating and physical activity behaviors …. A reasonable target for consistency for self-monitoring within the context of a professional cognitive-behavioral treatment program may be self-monitoring all foods eaten on at least 75% of the days (3).”
4. The Effect of Electronic Self-Monitoring on Weight Loss and Dietary Intake: A Randomized Behavioral Weight Loss Trial
“In summary, in our study that used 3 different approaches to self-monitoring diet and exercise, each group achieved a significant weight loss … These findings suggest that use of an electronic diary facilitates improved self-monitoring however, the use of an electronic diary plus a daily feedback message that was tailored to what had been entered in the diary was related to the best weight loss (4).”
People in this study who received immediate feedback after they completed a food diary did the best. Some online apps offer this feedback for free, or as part of their premium services (like MyFitnessPal, Fitbit, or more).
5. Can following the caloric restriction recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans help individuals lose weight?
“Individuals who averaged an energy deficit in excess of 500 kcal per day lost nearly four times the weight as individuals whose average energy deficit was below 500 kcal per day. Individuals who lost 5% of their body weight during the intervention self-monitored more than twice as many days than individuals who failed to lose 5% of their body weight.
Individuals interested in losing weight should continue to be advised to regularly self-monitor energy intake and expenditure as well as to create a consistent daily energy deficit (5).”
6. Self-Monitoring and Eating-Related Behaviors Associated with 12-Month Weight Loss in Postmenopausal Overweight-to-Obese Women
“Greater food journal use predicted better weight loss outcomes while skipping meals and eating out more frequently were associated with less weight loss. This study identified specific behaviors linked to weight outcomes that can inform the development of practical, evidence-based weight loss recommendations for overweight/obese postmenopausal women. From a clinical point of view, these findings are promising and suggest fundamentals such as eating out less, eating at regular intervals, and use of food journals are weight loss strategies that may be effective for postmenopausal women (6).”
How To Keep a Food Journal
Pretty convincing stuff, huh?
It’s so convincing that I actually feel guilty about trying to find workarounds my clients will use. I almost feel like I’m selling them short.
Why? Workarounds take longer. They are less precise, so when the weight doesn’t come off, it’s hard to know exactly why.
And it’s super hard to stay motivated when you’re not getting any results.
But before I get into all THAT, here are things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping a food journal.
Rule One: Don’t Judge Yourself
Yes, keeping a food journal does require that you ‘fess up to every bite you eat.
But it doesn’t mean you’re “bad” or “good” or that any kinds of foods are inherently “bad” or “good.” There really are no BAD foods (well, k, maybe trans fats …), but there are foods with better or worse nutritional and health benefits.
At least to start with, you’re just entering data when you’re keeping a food journal.
Think of it as an educational process.
Every time I revisit my food journal, I’m surprised at how I’ve let my portion sizes creep up, inadvertently taking in more than I thought.
Using a food journal can help you stick with a program because it doesn’t ban specific foods. You don’t have to deprive yourself of your favorites.
If you really want to eat a slice of pizza, you will have to deal with the fact it contains a certain number of calories, and trade them off somewhere else.
But you still get to eat your pizza. It’s a matter of choice.
Rule Two: It’s Not About Perfection
This ties into the rule above.
We’re all human. We have complicated relationships with food.
Contrary to what anyone says, food is not just fuel. We celebrate with it, we enjoy it, we have memories and happy (or not-so-happy) associations with it.
The minute you start trying to be perfect or follow stringent rules is the minute you derail yourself. That’s because your mind starts thinking you’re either “on” a plan or “off” a plan. And when we go “off” a plan, it often means we’ve strapped on the ol’ feedbag.
Food journaling allows you to create a lifestyle that supports your weight goals, where you don’t have to be “on” or “off.”
Rule Three: Foods Are Not Just Calories
It’s very easy to start reducing food to the number of calories it contains. You can start to think that eating a cookie is the equivalent of spending 45 minutes on level 5 of the elliptical.
As I mentioned above, food is more complicated than that.
What you eat forms the building blocks of your body. The kind of food you eats affects how full you feel after you eat it, your mood, and, most importantly, your health.
Certain foods (like sugary and processed foods) can even make you gain weight in your belly. And other foods (like proteins) can help you maintain muscle while you lose weight. Some foods can keep your digestive system happy, others are good for your brain health, and yet others will make your skin glow with health.
So while it might be tempting to start seeing “calorie equivalents” on everything you eat, keep in mind that 150 calories worth of banana is much different to your body than 150 calories worth of chocolate chip cookie.
Simple Steps to Make Food Journaling Work
I highly recommend experimenting till you find a method that works for YOU.
Personally, I like to use the food journals offered by Fitbit or MyFitnessPal. I also happen to prefer the computer version vs. the phone app, because at least in their current forms they break down the info better. But there are dozens of free options available.
I prefer online/app journals because they’re portable and they do a lot of math for you. Plus, once you use them for a couple days, they store the foods you regularly eat, so it becomes increasingly easier/faster to log your foods.
Now, here’s something important to be aware of: most of these sites will try to have you set a daily calorie goal immediately.
I recommend holding off on that for a bit. Sometimes the goals the sites set up for you can be pretty aggressive, setting you up for failure right out of the gate.
My suggestion: for 3 days, record everything you eat. Don’t try to be “good” unless you can’t help yourself.
Chances are you’ll be a little shocked to see how many calories some of your go-to foods contain.
The next step, if you want to lose weight or change your body composition, is to start to refine your food intake. I’ve created a calculator for women you can find here to help you do this (I am working on one for guys).
But my recommendation with THAT is not to get too spun out about your macronutrient breakdown, especially at first.
Keep It Simple for a Happy Life
If you want to lose weight, experts recommend a 300- to 500-calorie deficit a day, which works out to about 1 pound a week. If you fall into the obese category, you can create a slightly larger deficit.
So, you would try to find ways to cut that number of calories from your average daily food intake, as recorded on your 3 first days. Do that for a few days and see how you feel.
You might notice that some breakfasts keep you feeling fuller longer.
Or you might discover if you don’t eat enough during the day, you’re super hungry at night.
You might notice that if you don’t drink enough water during the day, you crave carbs.
When you start paying attention to these things, you’ll start noticing real results.
And THEN, once you master the process, you can start to put together an eating program that works for you and your everyday life.
Flexible Food Journaling Is The Key
This is about creating a healthy lifestyle that supports your weight/body goals, not about depriving yourself.
Why? The more rigid your eating plan is, the harder it is with stick to long-term. And when you go “off” your plan you’re more apt to regain any weight you’ve lost.
Instead, try using your food journal as a way to let YOU run your food intake, and not let your food intake run you.
Have you had success using a food journal? I’d love to hear about it!
Like you just can’t keep up?
It can happen when you are:
- Trying to juggle work, home, and family projects.
- In the middle of a personal sh*storm – dealing with financial, health, or family crises.
- Faced with too many things to do in too little time.
- Overtired, overstressed, or just plain “over” stuff.
What does this have to do with fitness, you ask?
Kind of everything. I’ve spent the past 10+ years watching and listening to overwhelmed clients try to do it all. And I’ve heard them talk about their sore backs, their knees, their hips, and their shoulders. It’s as if they are carrying the weight of the world. And yet they think it will all better better if they just do more … and do that more even BETTER.
I’ve also been there. Over the past couple years, between some huge business/work changes, battling a pesky health bump, juggling online/offline work, walking my never-enough-walks dog, AND trying to get my own workouts in, there have been days I didn’t know which way I was going.
So Much To Do, So Little Time
My grandmother, who also was an entrepreneur, had a saying: “I’m so busy I am going to meet myself coming around the corner.” (She also occasionally said she was “busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” She said a lot of non-corny things, too.)
Anyway, when you’re in the middle of all that overwhelm, it’s normal to think: “I just need to get organized.”
But have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling overwhelmed, any attempts you make to organize your mind/tasks/life/stuff don’t ever stick?
That’s because when your mind is overwhelm mode, you can’t get a handle on exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how you’re going to find the time, and often, how you’re actually going to do it.
Plus, when you’re struggling with brain clutter, you somehow seem to come up with even MORE stuff you have to (or want to) do. It’s a crazy self-perpetuating cycle.
Get Quiet, Get Clear
Before you can organize your tasks, your life, your stuff, your finances, or whatever … you have to do one thing first.
You have to clear your mind.
I know. Sounds impossible, right? When your thoughts are running you with a never-ending list of stuff to do/think about/etc. how are you supposed to shut them up?
Take it from me: going on a massive multi-tasking binge to get caught up on a few things first is the exact OPPOSITE of what you need to do.
Instead, try to STOP and get quiet … even though you think stopping is going to make it worse.
Taking some time to pull back and declutter your mind is totally worth it.
And here are some simple ways to make that happen.
8 Ways to Declutter Your Mind Backed By Science
1. Take a Nap
When you’re tired you’re especially prone to feeling overwhelmed.
When you haven’t had enough sleep, the pathways in your brain just don’t work the way they are supposed to. Your brain’s info-filtering system has a hard time differentiating all the input that’s being thrown at it.
And that means making decisions is even harder (1).
Seriously, what’s one of the first things you would do for a fussy toddler who can’t seem to get comfortable or happy? You’d think: “If only they would just take a nap.”
Try to take some time to chill, and if you’re freaking out about wasting time, set your timer and let yourself relax for 20 minutes. It’ll be worth it.
2. Write Down Your Feelings
One of the best ways to clear your mind of clutter is to take the time to write down your feelings/thoughts/tasks.
Here’s a huge hint that you will benefit from journaling. If the idea of taking the time to write down your feelings makes you feel stabby … like you have NO TIME for it, and it’s a stupid idea… it means you should do it.
Trust me. I’ve felt that way on numerous occasions. And then I’ve picked up my notebook, written for a while, and felt so much better that I vow to write in my journal every day (which I mostly do).
Anyway, study after study points to how beneficial journaling is to our well-being (2).
I find it to be especially effective if I do it as soon as possible after waking up, either in the morning or after that nap I mentioned above.
Write down how you’re feeling and thinking, organize your thoughts, and you’ll start to see your priorities develop, which will help get you out of overwhelm mode.
And if you’re worried someone will read what you wrote, rip up the pages. Problem solved.
This is another one of those things that if the idea of it makes you feel grouchy or like kicking the wall, maybe you need some of it in your life.
You’ve probably noticed over the past few years that meditation has moved out of the “woo-woo” sphere to become more mainstream. That’s because more stressed-out individuals have found it to be an effective tool to clear the clutter in their heads.
When life is hectic, do you ever feel as though you’re having a non-stop conversation (with yourself) in your head? Like your thoughts are scattered and out of control? That’s called monkey mind, and it’s a real thing.
But here’s another real thing: meditation helps soothe that monkey talk (3). Study after study has has pointed to the powerful effects meditation has on our brains.
It also has been proven to help improve coping abilities and resilience (4).
Try the Headspace app for some meditation assistance.
4. Go Outdoors … Maybe Barefooted
Getting outside to enjoy the sun and earth is huge when it comes to changing your mood, in so many different ways.
First, sunshine itself has powerful impact on your mood, energy, and sleep quality (5).
Second, if you go for a walk somewhere in nature – the woods, a meadow, the ocean, anywhere you aren’t surrounded by dozens of buildings and honking traffic – it can help qualm what Stanford researchers called “a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought.”
Which basically is ruminating on negative crud. You know, like all that brain clutter (6).
Third, and maybe this is deep into the woo-woo sphere, but there is a growing belief that actually “grounding” or “earthing” your body by walking barefooted outside can help reset your body’s systems. It’s all rooted in bioelectricity.
I mean, if you think about it, your body actually DOES have an electrical system, one that operates all the way down to your cellular level. And electricity is a natural force on the planet. Yet we are the only living beings that do not (at least now, in modern times) regularly come into physical contact with the earth’s surface by walking on it.
Many alternative and integrative health practitioners (and even some mainstream ones) are suggesting our bodies “recharge” by coming into contact with the earth … that it makes a difference in our moods, our sleep, and maybe even more (7)(8).
5. Go for a Run (or Walk!)
There are so many reasons that workouts – like running and walking – help you feel better mentally.
Cardio exercise has a direct impact on the hormones that help you get stuff done (it’s true! there are hormones for that!) (9).
It also can help boost your mood and reorganize your brain for resiliency (100).
And if you do it outside (see number 4, above), you can get even more benefits, whether it’s from mood-boosting sunshine or extra calorie burn (11).
Listening to music when you run is even more beneficial.
Why? A Ohio State University study recently discovered that when someone exercises with music, it activates the area in the brain that deals with a higher level of mental function (12).
6. Spend Time with a Pet
For most people, pets aren’t just animals – they’re beloved members of the family.
And if you have a pet, you know that spending time with them – you know, actually patting, walking, or playing with them – brings you to the present moment. Pets don’t get preoccupied with their to-do list, their phone, or anything else (except maybe sniffing things, but that’s another story).
Anyway, that present-ness is incredibly centering.
And not only that, if you spend quality one-on-one time with an animal, it triggers the release of oxytocin in your body (12). Oxytocin is commonly called the “love” hormone, as it is helps increase feelings of warmth, well-being, and affection (13).
If you don’t have a pet, take a few minutes to watch one of the thousands of cute pet videos on the internet. You’ll get a dose of cuteness – and relaxation – without any strings attached.
Even though I have pets of my own, some mornings I watch cute pet videos online and they always start my day with a smile.
Seriously, check out this video of cat fails and try not to laugh.
7. Cut Back On Sugar and (Maybe?) Caffeine
What food group do we crave when we want a quick hit of energy or a mood boost?
Carbs, of course. And what do carbs contain?
Sugar. (Of course.)
But here’s the kicker. While sugar might temporarily elevate your mood and power you through that brain clutter, there’s the inevitable sugar crash, which can leave you feel agitated, tired, stressed and … overwhelmed.
Eliminating sugar from your diet is hard, but reserving it for sweet treats is easy, once you start to feel your mind calm (15).
Caffeine, meanwhile, is a tricky little beast. In the right amount, it can help give us focus and energy, but too much and we’re heading to the land of chaos. (16) (17). As with most things that can cause dependence, moderation is the key.
8. Set a Timer and Do Something
On paper, Saturday mornings should be an upbeat, relaxing time for me, because that’s when I finish work for the week and have the rest of the weekend off.
But often when I get home from the studio on Saturday, I’m super stressed. That’s because I start to think about everything I want or need to get done during the weekend, and when I think of the list I’ve created for myself, I get overwhelmed.
And that overwhelm makes makes me want to say “screw it” and take a nap (which actually isn’t a bad idea, as per item 1 on this list … except on Saturdays I’m really not that tired, just overwhelmed).
So here’s what I do instead.
I pick one thing on my to-do list (say, clean the fridge), set a timer for 15 minutes and I crank it out.
Sometimes I listen to music when I do this, sometimes a podcast. Sometimes, nothing.
It’s kind of awesome. Once I have knocked one thing off my list, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and focus to do at least a couple more things before I kick back and enjoy my time off.
Make Some Brain Space and Feel Better
Taking advantage of some of these tips should help you get more organized overall – and also help quiet “monkey mind.”
One of the things I found when taming my own monkey mind – an ongoing process! – is that just as we develop physical habits, we also can develop habits with our thought patterns.
Taking a few moments to “declutter” our thoughts to break the overwhelm cycle goes a long way toward getting more organized with everything long-term (18).
Even if you’re currently the most disorganized person you know, it’s not impossible to change… with a little help from your mindset.
Looking for a jolt of inspiration?
There’s nothing like a good motivational video to get you fired up for your day.
I know that when I’m feeling a little off (or lazy, uninspired, or like chucking all my goals), it can be hard to pull myself back on track. I have lots of little tricks – journaling, getting outside, working out – but sometimes even those tricks don’t work.
That’s when I go in search of motivational videos.
If you’re having one of those days, at least one (and maybe all) of these videos will help pull you back on-course.
1. Make The Choice For Toughness
Lesson: when it comes right down to it, success is a matter of heart, and if you have the heart, you have the will to succeed.
Duncan Keith definitely exemplifies this. He trains hard (mind, body, and spirit), eats clean … and he shows that he definitely pushes past the pain/discomfort to get the job done.
It’s all about making good choices, whether or not things are going your way.
2. Change Your Thoughts to Change Your Life
Do you lack motivation? Or find it hard to stay motivated?
What if motivation isn’t the real issue? Our brains are not wired to like change – in fact, change might even go against our survival instincts.
Here’s how to make a mindset shift and retrain your brain for success.
3. Define Your Strengths, Define Your Life
Misty Copeland is the first African-American female principal dancer for the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, after overcoming early rejection.
Her story is always so compelling!
4. A Single Choice Can Change Your Life
How Henry Rollins went from being an assistant manager at a Haagen-Dazs shop to becoming the lead singer of Black Flag.
“I don’t have talent, I have tenacity,” he says, adding that he knows he has to “watch, shut up, and learn” to succeed.
There are so many great Joe Rogan motivational videos it was hard to pick just one, but this is a classic.
Your life is a movie … be the hero, not just a supporting character.
6. Be Good, Treat Others Well, and Treat Yourself Well Too
You already know what you need to do.There’s no magic involved.
Just do it.
Still not sure? Joe breaks it down for you in simple, easy-to-follow steps.
7. Destiny Is Calling You: Are You Gonna Answer?
This compilation from Oprah teaches that “failure” isn’t really failure. Instead, it’s an opportunity to correct your course so you can move closer to your best life.
She says each feeling of failure, loss, or unease is a cue to move in another direction.
8. Here’s Where You Find Your Motivation
Most of us wait for motivation to strike, but here’s the thing: it rarely just shows up for us.
Retired Navy SEAL and podcaster Jocko Willink says you can’t just “turn on” motivation, drive, or passion.
Instead, he says it boils down to your reason why, and he outlines how to discover that.
What is greatness, and who can achieve it?
Where does greatness live, and what does it look like?
Here’s a series of playful videos from Nike. (Don’t try the pogo stick trick. Ever!)
In this video, tennis great Serena Williams reads the powerful poem “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou.
Uncommon habits, unpredictable results.
Skiing legend Bode Miller talks about how he pushes his limits through unorthodox means.
In this compilation video, women from across the world talk about finding pride and self-confidence in the face of adversity – often when their cultures didn’t encourage it.
They share inspirational stories of overcoming amazing odds.
13. The Power of the Solitary Traveler
This video talks about the challenges of solo endeavors, of overcoming and achieving goals on one’s own.
Using inspirational quotes, it outlines how the hardest walks lead to the highest destinations – and if you work hard, the right people will show up in your life, and you won’t always be a lone wolf.
What are YOU going to achieve?
How do you stay motivated? Do you have any favorite videos? I’d love to see them.
If this post pumped you up, I’d appreciate a like or a share. 🙂 Thanks!
These are the stairs to my place. Awesome, huh?
Sometimes yes they are (built-in workout!), sometimes no they are not (carrying tons of stuff).
The truth is, even though I climb them probably 10 to 12 times a day, I never really give them a second thought. Or maybe it’s because I climb up them so much that I rarely think about those 28 steps (plus landing).
I did think about them today, though. And what I thought wasn’t so good.
Post-leg-workout, I found myself juggling a heavy gym bag, two bags of groceries, a bag of dog food, a water bottle, and a dog on a leash … oh, and let’s not forget the DD blackberry fruited iced tea I’ve recently become addicted to.
Standing at the bottom of the stairs, trying not to let anything drop, I decided it was probably prudent to pay attention to what I was doing. Because, you know, #safety.
When I’m in autopilot multi-tasking mode, things tend to go wrong. I end up dropping the water (or iced tea) all over myself, one of the super-thin grocery bags rips, or the dog decides something smelled really good two stairs back and she just HAS to backtrack and check it out.
So this morning, before attempting the summit, I let the dog off her leash, rearranged all my belongings, and looked up to see exactly what I was dealing with.
And I was like: Woah. Those are some stairs!
Suddenly, climbing them seemed like it was going to be a lot of work, and I felt kinda bad for my little dog, because based strictly on the size differential, it takes a lot more effort for her to scramble up them than it does for me.
It was a little jolting, to be honest.
Do you ever find yourself in a rut on autopilot, motoring along with your eyes straight ahead (or if you’re me, IN your own head)? When you’re in this mode, you don’t notice a lot of what is happening around you. And you might even THINK you’re seeing the entire landscape … but you’re wrong.
You think you’re safe, you’re doing the “right” thing, and that your path (rut) is where you’re supposed to be. But then … the universe announces that it has some significant other plans for you.
Plans you’re not so sure about.
I dunno about you, but at least for me, so far it’s been a wacky year. Until pretty recently I was just traveling along in my rut. I wasn’t necessarily happy in that rut, and I also didn’t know how to get out of it, so I just kind of numbed out.
But then things I never expected to happen have happened … and they’ve had an affect on me far beyond what I would have imagined.
Among other things, a family member died, and then another one passed away shortly afterward. Plus, a company for which I did a significant amount of contract work phased out a huge portion of its business, leaving me in a scramble mode.
And, let’s face it, the world is just kinda weird right now, and it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake.
All of those things left me kind of reeling. They have forced me to step back and reassess … just as I did this morning, with the stairs … but here’s the thing.
They also made me realize that the eyes I use to see things with probably don’t see things the way they truly are.
None of us do. We see things a certain way because of how we were raised, our education, events in our lives, where we live, the people with whom we surround ourselves, and even our ever-changing biochemistry.
I remember one of my science teachers explained how there are things we know, things we don’t know, and there is even more stuff that we don’t know we don’t know.
And it’s that stuff that we don’t know we don’t know … the stuff we are too myopic in our daily lives to ever notice … that really goof us up.
Take a Fitness Vacation
What does this have to do with fitness/wellness/health/mindset?
You will not change … and neither will your physique or your health numbers … unless you get out of your rut … and out of your comfort zone.
Do you do the same kind of workouts every week? The same resistance workouts, the same weights, the same cardio, using the same-old, same-old formula? What about your diet? Are you getting the results – the life-long results – that you want?
Or maybe you’re not doing any of those things, because you just can’t seem to get moving.
Here’s a radical idea. TRY SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT before the universe decides it for you. Intentionally knock your plan out of autopilot for a little while and see what happens.
Try a different workout – a dance class? Hike a mountain? How about sprints at the track? Mountain biking through the carriage trails? Maybe do a stairclimbing workout? (Hehheh: important tip: never run DOWN stairs.)
Or maybe say: For this week only, every day I will go for a walk or do some kind of movement for 30 minutes, and I will see how I feel at the end of the week. One of my Facebook friends just did this with running, and he posted about how great he felt for having stuck with his goal.
Maybe you could decide to get rid of all sugar in your diet for a day or two, just to see what it’s like. You could tell yourself that for one week, no matter how much your mind tells you otherwise, you’ll eat at least one salad a day, or go without nighttime snacking, or replace your coffee addiction with green tea.
New Ways of Seeing
You know how when you go on vacation, you can get a helpful shift in perspective, because of the new things you’re seeing/doing?
Go on a little detour with your plan – try something different.
Be brave! Intentionally hop out of that rut and see what the landscape looks like. It doesn’t have to be a big “thing” or huge production.
Mix it up. Because you never know when the universe is gonna decide to mix it up for you.
Let me know what you’re going to do to mix things up in the comments below!
Do you ever feel like the job is just too big?
Say you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape … or pay off your debts or repair a relationship. Maybe you want to start a new business, build a house, or overthrow the government (I kid!).
But sometimes it seems like the task is too much.
It will take too long. There are too many hassles and roadblocks. And you’re not sure exactly how to do it.
You worry that you don’t have the energy, willpower, tenacity, or drive.
Or maybe you think there is something intrinsically “off” with you, that makes the whole thing impossible anyway.
Yes, other people might have achieved the same goal, but down deep you think they’re somehow different than you in a way you can’t describe.
I have a motivation trick for you that isn’t really a trick, but a smart tool that actually began in the car industry.
First, though, here’s the truth: tackling big goals is hard work. It will be hard. But my firm, 100-percent belief is that if you’ve got a big goal in your head, it’s there for a reason.
And with some smart strategies, you can make it happen. You just have to figure it out why you want it.
How to Stay Motivated
It’s easy to get pumped up for a day or a week when it comes to tackling a big job or goal. We all do that from time to time.
In fact, one of the biggest “tells” for me when it comes to client success is the level of enthusiasm people throw at me during our first meeting.
If new clients come at me with a plan to work out several days a week, embrace a spartan ketogenic diet, and hit their goals at a rapid pace, I’m always cautious about a big crash-and-burn within a week or two (heck, even after a day or two).
Because you can’t push through on staying pumped or “getting tough.”
In fact, while an element of discipline and toughness is necessary, I actually think too much toughness is counterproductive.
Real change – the kind it takes to get big jobs done – requires going deep.
Making big things happen in your life – changing the very shape of your body, or your bank account, or your interpersonal relationships, or the way you live – starts from the inside.
And if you’re covered in a shell of armor or toughness, you can’t penetrate it to make those deep changes.
True change requires reflection, thought, open-mindedness. It requires evaluation and course correction.
Plus, it’s scary.
And while, yes, making change does involve actually DOING things, it starts with some deep inquiry.
You Must Ask Why
I’m not talking about asking, “Whyyyyyy??!!!!” in a rending-of-the-clothes, beseeching God way. (Although sometimes …)
You have to ask yourself why in a curious, investigatory way. Usually asking the question “why?” five times is the magic number, because it lets you see your true motivation, rather than the shallow, “pumped-up” reason.
Now, this is not an original idea. If you google “5 whys” you will come up with lots of templates for how to do this. This method of inquiry was actually developed for the Toyota corporation to help with its manufacturing process. (1)
But it works incredibly well for pinpointing the root of nearly every problem.
Here’s a Sample ‘Why?’ Inquiry
- Why do I want to lose weight? So I feel better.
- Why do I want to feel better? My knees ache, and I just don’t have any energy when I get home from work.
- Why do I want more energy? I feel like I’m missing out on things. When I come home, all I want to do is sit on the couch.
- Why don’t I want to sit on the couch? I’m starting to feel disconnected from everyone, like life is passing me by.
- Why don’t I want to feel disconnected? Because I’m lonely and I’m starting to feel depressed. I am not having any fun lately because things seem like such a chore.
So, the reason for losing weight isn’t necessarily just to lose weight to feel better, it’s about not feeling so lonely.
Get a Little Uncomfortable
It’s hard to let yourself feel lonely – but letting yourself feel that way (at least temporarily) might be just the kick in the pants you need to take action so you don’t feel that way any longer.
While it’s tempting to want to numb out that lonely/depressed feeling by sitting on the couch and bingeing on Netflix or playing video games, you’ve pointed out to yourself that ultimately, it’s just making you feel worse.
So every time you feel the lure of the couch, you can tell yourself: “Hey wait, this isn’t serving my goals. I need to do something else.”
But it’s kind of important to do that with some gentleness. Because ….
You Can’t Hate Your Way To Success
Let’s use education as an analogy here.
Say you decide to go to college to earn a bachelor’s degree because you need one to advance in your career.
Do you accept the fact that it’s going to take four years (or maybe slightly less if you go year-round) to attain your goal? Or do you immediately start hating on yourself because you’re not already there yet? Or maybe even because you weren’t somehow born already possession the degree?
Many years ago when I was in college, I couldn’t wait to get graduate. I have quite a history when it comes to school (another story for another day), but sitting through boring lectures was like a slow death to me. Seriously, I’d have actual anxiety in class, just waiting for it to be done.
I worked hard to go to (almost all) my classes till I reached the finish line because I wanted to get started on what I called my “real life.” That was my personal why – proving that I could actually see it through, and then being free to pursue “real life.”
And years later, when I decided to compete in a figure show, it wasn’t because I wanted to walk across the stage wearing a tiny bikini or felt that I was somehow lacking and needed to “get shredded” in order to shore up my self-worth.
In fact, I really wasn’t so pumped about wearing that tiny bikini, to be honest.
It was about wanting to feel strong and to prove to myself after surviving a few punishing years of losses, I could do hard (and scary) things on my own.
Honestly, if it had just been about having my physique judged, I wouldn’t have seen it through to the end because that doesn’t interest me so much.
What are YOUR Whys?
Once you have your “Whys” in place, then you can start with the actual nuts-and-bolts how-tos, and employ some of the get-tough philosophy to help keep you going when your willpower is flagging.
Watch motivational YouTube videos, read positive self-development literature, surround yourself with people who will make you feel better, so you can keep marching toward your goal.
But be sure you have your own strong underpinnings in place first – and that you revisit your “whys” often. Because otherwise, all that motivation can end up feeling a bit like an indictment if you’re not clear about why you’re doing all the work in the first place.
The other day I was listening to a podcast, in which a fitness coach and business guru was outlining his morning routine.
Now, I love this kind of advice, especially when it comes from people who seem to have their lives pretty squared away. Or at least who appear to have their lives squared away (because honestly, he could have been broadcasting from a rusty old camper parked in someone’s side yard, on “borrowed” WiFi, right?).
Anyway, I’m always on the lookout for new things that work for other people, on the chance I can use it for myself. Plus, it’s fun to hear about, in a slightly voyeuristic way.
As I was listening to this guy talk about his routine, I did some calculations, and I was like, “WHAT?”
He couldn’t actually be doing the routine he was outlining, could he? Because as far as I could figure, getting through his entire morning routine would take at least an hour, maybe two.
An Hour-Long Morning Routine?
Who has that kind of time? I mean seriously, how did he manage to get all this stuff done before he started his day? Here are some of the items he was outlining:
- Cold water plunges
- A yoga/stretching routine
- Drinking some specially brewed tea
- Setting intentions
- Performing affirmations
I mean, really. How did he do it all?
And then it hit me. Sorry. I don’t mean to be sexist, but just bear with me for a sec.
He is a dude.
And then I got a double-whammy hit. Nearly every one of the morning routines I had failed at trying to replicate over the years had come from a dude.
Dudes who don’t have to worry about the state of their hair, or their makeup, before leaving the house.
Dudes whose jobs don’t entail getting to work before 7 a.m.
And not only that, but dudes who have a support staff (or a wife) to handle the little nagging details of life. (You know, like keeping the bathroom and kitchen clean.)
Women, Can You Relate?
The guy on this podcast has three kids. I’m sure he’s wonderful, caring, giving, kind, and more. But do you think his wife has an hour-long personal-care morning routine? (Rhetorical.)
I mean, I don’t have any kids and can barely get out the door within 90 minutes of my wakeup. I do have a dog that needs walking, and (TMI) I take medication first thing that requires me to wait an hour till I eat breakfast, so there’s that.
But still, I always feel slightly rushed, like I barely have time to brush my teeth, much less my hair.
And that’s usually because I make a daily swipe at only ONE of the recurring items on all those morning routines I’d failed at over the years: writing morning pages (a post about them is coming up soon, because they’re kind of magical).
As I was fretting over this morning routine problem, I had an a-ha moment.
What if I flipped the script on these morning routines, and focused on the routine that was actually the most important?
And one that was actually doable?
The Evening Routine
Yes, the key to an awesome start to your day actually originates the day before, with what you do before you go to bed.
Every time I’ve made serious progress on my goals, I’ve always paid special attention to my routine before I go to bed. Here are just a few examples of times my evening routine powered me through:
- When I went from rookie newspaper reporter to sweeping the awards at a journalism event, I spent some time each night organizing for the next day.
- When I prepared for my figure competitions, my nighttime routine was a must-do in my pre-show process.
- When I wrote my book, I woke up each day with a clear plan that I’d charted the night before.
There are loads more examples, but you get the gist, right?
Hit the Ground Running (or Sip the Coffee Productively)
Basically, when I followed my evening routine, I woke up each morning with all the bothersome little details of getting my day started taken care of. My marching orders were in place.
And that stopped me from wasting time trying to figure out what to focus on. Because God knows when I don’t have a plan, I’m kind of all over the place in the morning. I flit from one activity to the next.
The fact I am all about this routine is beyond weird, because I actually hate routines. Like a lot of creative people, I naturally shy away from them.
Are Routines Creativity Crushers?
The truth is, a lot of good comes from the calm of having a basic structure (yes, a routine) in place. Because once the structure is there, you can free-range around it.
This is actually a pretty big debate among creative people – does routine promote or kill creativity? (1)
As much as I hate to admit it, Aristotle was right. A routine helps.
My Bare-Bones Evening Routine
This is my current (and very unglamorous) routine:
- Make a prioritized to-do list for the next day – appointments, projects, errands, etc. (NOTE: Because I hover toward the characteristics of a “Type A” personality, my list is always too long, so it never gets done. I have accepted that. But beware the too-long to-do list … in fact, limiting it to 3 to 5 things is awesome.)
- Quick-clean my home (Kitchen sink empty!).
- Get tomorrow’s meals ready to roll, or at least have a plan.
- What am I going to wear?
- Take dog for a final outing.
- Set alarm for the morning and program coffeemaker.
- Skin-care regimen, etc.
- Take vitamins.
- Unplug and relax.
Now obviously this isn’t rocket science. But that’s what makes it so great: it’s common sense, and it’s designed to make your life easier.
The Importance of Nighttime Routines
Having a routine in place is really calming for me, personally. Right now I have a lot of balls in the air with various projects I’m working on. And when I get going on my day, it can be very hard to know what to focus on. It gets overwhelming, due to a phenomenon known as “decision fatigue.” (2) (3)
Basically, your brain can only handle making finite number of decisions each day before it gets tired out, a situation that studies show wears down your willpower. (4)
Think that sounds like a stretch? Well, that can happen to me when I don’t follow my evening routine.
That’s because the next morning I end up rushing around trying to find something wear, taking the dog for a quick walk while fretting over what to make for breakfast that will hold me till I’m done with my morning round of training clients. Inevitably, by the time I finish up at the studio for the morning I’m thinking about grabbing a muffin and coffee from Dunkin’. And I don’t even really like their muffins all that much.
What’s Your Routine?
So now, I make sure I go to bed with my kitchen clean, my early-morning to-dos handled, and my day-long checklist in place. (Bonus: I can fall asleep without worrying that I’ll forget something I’m supposed to do).
Want to know the evening routines of some successful women? Check them out here.
Do you have an evening routine? Or maybe morning routines actually work better for you. I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.