By Michael Krueger
Most people have a dream of some sort. When it comes to fitness, the dream of being strong and ripped or lean and fast is quite common. The problem is that few people are really willing to work for their dream. By that I mean watching your diet; sleeping enough; working out smart, intensely, and consistently; and, most of all, giving up what you want now for what you want most.
Whether your dream is to be fit and healthy, or perhaps to be an athlete or an elite professional firefighter, there comes a time when you have to decide if you are willing to do what it takes to make your dream a reality–and that time is today.
So often I hear vague reasons for beginning an exercise regimen. Sometimes it’s “on doctor’s orders” though very few doctors push the need to exercise to their patients (it’s a lot easier to prescribe medications than it is to prescribe exercise). Other times, it is because a spouse has made subtle or not-so-subtle comments about their weight. Still other times it is because they were shocked by the image they saw staring back from their mirror. Then there is the ever-lurking specter of diminished capacity because of aging. They’ve noticed they’re getting weaker, softer, and squishier and the last time they went up a flight of stairs it required a rest period at the top.
Once you cut through all the rationalizations and outside pressures, the only reason that matters is that you want it for yourself. Living the fitness lifestyle is a lot of work. It’s hard, and it’s a lifelong commitment so it’s not to be undertaken lightly. If you try doing it for any reason other than because you really want it for you, you will more than likely fail. In this case, selfishness is the only sure course to success. Many people in your life will get ancillary benefits, but that is incidental to your prime reason: because you want it.
As you embark on you fitness quest, it’s important to understand that nothing anyone else in your life can do or say will make or break you. You will get encouragement from some folks and flak from others, neither of which can mean anything to you, because if one does then so does the other and you have no room in your life for negativity. You must accept that everything you do and think will affect your results, but it’s only what you do and think that matters. It’s up to you to decide on your goals, your program, how you exercise, what you eat, when you sleep, what you think–you are ultimately defining what is important to you; you are choosing how you are going to live your life.
There is never an easy day while training, and there are a few facts that you will have to come to terms with if you are going to take control and create the life you want. The stronger you get, the more you get to do. The cleaner you eat, the leaner and healthier you will be but the harder it will be to maintain your clean diet in the face of a convenience-based sugar-, salt-, and carbohydrate-addicted culture. The more disciplined you become, the more harsh and unfounded the criticisms aimed at you will become, with words like obsession, compulsive, annoying, crazy, and out of control being attached to your behavior.
Personal fitness is a demanding taskmaster, since everything falls back on you. There is no one to blame, no one to delegate to, no one to pick up the slack; it’s all on you. Whenever I have clients who have poor or missed workouts or have messed up on their nutrition, I simply ask them one question: “What happened?” More often than not, I will hear about all the circumstances that conspired against them. There was the holiday party, the wedding, the treats someone brought in, and the gift card to Krispy Kreme that derailed their diet. There was the cold weather, the late night with friends, or the morning after headache that prevented them from working out. It is rare that they just take responsibility, say “No excuse,” and pick up the pieces and get back to it.
You know when you are living true to yourself and working diligently toward your chosen goals and when you aren’t. It’s very hard to convincingly lie to yourself, since you know yourself and your personal set of rationalizations all too well. It’s particularly tough to rationalize your behavior as you lie awake in bed at three o’clock in the morning staring at the ceiling with the room swirling, your head pounding, and your stomach doing flip-flops from the copious quantities of booze, burgers, and deep-fried cheese curds and onion rings you consumed while out partying with friends instead of heading home early and sticking with your diet and exercise program (which you claim is so important to you).
Simply going through the motions during your workouts is a sure way to show you aren’t fully invested in your dream. Not applying full effort to your training does more than just derail your progress. Slacking off during workouts undermines your resolve and allows thoughts of failure to achieve a solid inroad. Poor performance because of lack of concentration and focus creates a mental laxity that soon leads to missed workouts, poor eating habits, and poor excuses. Success is all about discipline and consistent effort; remember, “As you do one thing, so you do all things.”
If you fall behind on your training or start making poor choices for meals, no one is suffering for your behavior except you. You can rationalize with all the excuses you can imagine, but you know the real reason for your failures. Sometimes at this point it is best to be honest with yourself and accept that you just don’t want it as much as you want to sleepwalk through your training, stay up late, and eat French fries and ice cream. From the point of view of your trainer, your missed workouts and bad eating behavior aren’t going to keep me up at night, though I will admit to being disappointed and a little sad.
Understand that any transgression with regard to your diet and training is going to slow your progress. Missing your scheduled training or eating poorly will just make the next workout (if you even do it) harder. Giving in and taking the easy path will just make the next temptation that much harder to resist, thereby delaying, or even preventing, the attainment of your goals. How you respond to the hard work and discipline is the key to knowing how badly you really want it. If any of these aforementioned distractions are more important to you than the goals you professed to want, then perhaps you don’t really want them after all.
Success comes from putting off what you want now for what you want most. If you can stay true to your goals in the face of all obstacles simply because you promised yourself that you would, you are on the path to success. When you are comfortable at all times with the choices you make about what you eat, how you train, and how you live, you know you are on the right path.
Every day you’ll need to prove to yourself that you really want to achieve your dream… and that proof is in the action you take today.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.com.