It’s “Always Something”: Stop hitting the pause-button

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on April 15, 2019

“I’ll resume healthy eating after my vacation… once the baby is born… after Dad gets out of the hospital… January 1… Monday.” While this kind of “pause-button mentality” seems reasonable, it could be ruining your health and fitness. Here’s why, and what to do about it.

 

After all, what’s the harm in taking a break from a nutrition and fitness plan when you’re:

  • leaving for vacation,
  • completely swamped at work,
  • pregnant, or just after delivery,
  • injured, or
  • caring for an ailing family member?

 

The thought process boils down to:

If I miss some workouts, eat the wrong things, skip the homework… I fail.

 

Aren’t I more likely to succeed if I take a break, just until I have the time to do it right?

 

This is what I call the ‘pause-button mentality’.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I think it’s normal — even commendable — to want to do your best. To consider taking time to regroup and then resume (or start over) when life feels easier.

At the same time, this completely natural and well-meaning impulse is one of the fastest, surest, most reliable ways to sabotage your plans for improved nutrition, health, and fitness.

Here’s why — and what to do instead.

 

Starting fresh after you lose your way is a really comforting thought.

 

That’s probably why New Year’s resolutions are so popular, especially following the indulgence-fueled holiday season.

Give me that cheesecake. I’ll pick my diet back up on Monday!

 

In fact, the idea of a do-over is so alluring you don’t even need a mess-up for the pause-button mentality to take over.

Every January, I welcome a new group of clients. Every summer, I take in the second wave.

 

In July, six months in, just knowing that there are new clients starting the program fresh in January makes some July clients “itch” for a new beginning, even though they’re already making progress, changing their bodies.

If only you’d let me start over, I’d really nail it this time!

 

But here’s the problem: The pause-button mentality only builds the skill of pausing.

 

Whether it’s tomorrow, Monday, next week, or even next year, hitting that imaginary pause button gives you some sense of relief. It allows you a little respite from what can be really a tough slog.

(And the middle is always a tough slog, it doesn’t matter what kind of project you’re working on.)

This perceived relief is compounded by the illusion that if we “start fresh” later we can find the magical “right time” to begin.

 

Listen, I get it.

It can feel absurd to try to improve your eating and exercise habits while you’re in the midst of chronic stress / looking for a job / starting a new job / going on vacation / caring for aging parents / raising small children.

That’s probably why there are so many 21-day this and 90-day that. What adult has more than 90 days to go after their fitness goals with an all-out effort?

 

But what do these intense fitness sprints teach you?

The skill of getting fit within a very short (and completely non-representative) period of your life.

 

What don’t they teach you?

The skill of getting fit (or staying fit) in the midst of a normal, complicated, “how it really is” sort of life.

This is why the yo-yo diet thing has become such a phenomenon.

 

It’s not about willpower. It’s about skills.

In most fitness scenarios, you learn how to get fit under weird, tightly-controlled, white-knuckle life situations.

You build that one, solitary, non-transferrable skill — to slam the gas pedal down, drive the needle into the red, and squeal down the road for a little while, burning the rubber off your tires until you (quickly) run out of gas and crash. What you don’t build is the ability to get fit under real-life conditions.

 

That’s why it doesn’t stick. Not because you suck. but because the natural and predictable consequence of having a limited skill set is short-term progress followed immediately by long-term frustration.

 

What will be different next time?

 

Generally, when it comes to life, we know we’re not always going to be on our A Game. Sometimes we’re superstars. Most of the time we just do our best.

 

We muddle through. We keep going.

 

So why do we expect it to be any different with fitness?

 

See, perfectionism is not the point. “Completing” a program, is incredible, goal-crushing and downright fulfilling, is not the point.

 

Being the “best” for a tiny window of time is not the point.

 

The point is to keep going. Sometimes awkwardly, sometimes incompetently, sometimes downright half-assed. But to keep going nonetheless.

 

As I often teach my new clients: The “all or nothing” mentality rarely gets us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”. That’s when I propose a new mantra: “Always something”.

 

Instead of pressing pause, adjust the dial.

Nowadays I like to think of my fitness and nutrition efforts as a dial.

There are times when I want to dial my efforts up, and times when I want to dial them down. But I never want to turn the dial off completely.

 

Here’s how this plays out in the context of my life: Sometimes, say when I’m training for a particular goal, my fitness dial might be tuned to 9 or 10 out of 10.

Channel 10 means I work out every day. Every meal is planned and carefully considered. I think a lot about fitness. And not much about anything else.

 

Work, family, hobbies…they’re all in maintenance mode (with the permission of the people this affects, of course).

 

However, as I write this, my life involves the following:

  • Some serious life curve balls.
  • Being a PRESENT wife.
  • Raising a rowdy six-year old boy.
  • Running a growing business.

 

So some days and seasons, the dial rarely goes past 5 or 6. I work out, maybe, four days a week. And most of the majority of my meals are planned, but they are always “on plan”.

(For the record, I’m totally cool with that. There is no guilt about having my dial set a little lower. What’s most important is that the dial is still set to “on”.)

The important lesson: There’s a big difference between tuning your dial to 4, 5, or even a 3 (rarely), and turning the whole thing off.

And when you realize how doable — and effective — that can be, you see that there’s never a good reason to hit “pause”.

 

I get it. It’s easy to discount the lower channels. Especially when you’ve done more in the past. But remember your new mantra… “Always something.”

 

In my opinion, pressing pause is buying into an imaginary ideal: a “perfect” time when everything will fall into place; a beautiful, linear trajectory from total suckiness to apex awesomeness.  Asking for a restart because you don’t want to mess that line up is deluding yourself that somehow, next time will be easier. Next time will be perfect. No interruptions, no distractions…no…life.

 

Unfortunately, there is no perfect time.

We may have magical moments, of course. Short periods of time when things seem to “click” and come together. But then the dog poops on the rug. Or the kid throws up on the couch. Or both… and then one or the other tracks it all through the house. You keep pressing pause, and your progress looks like the wave pool at the water park.

 

Or, worse yet, you end up flatlining, stuck on a never-ending (maybe eternal) pause.

 

What to do next.

Fitness in the context of real human life is just like the rest of life.

We’re all just doing the best we can in challenging, complicated circumstances. We are all living messy, imperfect lives. We are all human. If we can just keep moving forward, no matter what happens, no pause buttons, no do-overs, we win the game.

 

Here are a few strategies for getting out of the pause-button mentality and into a more realistic, effective, sustainable way of thinking.

 

  1. Try the dial method.

Think of your fitness like a dial that goes from 1 – 10.

If you were to dial it up to “10”…

  • What would your workouts look like?
  • What would your nutrition look like?
  • What other actions/habits would you practice in that scenario?

If you were to dial it down to “1”…

  • What would your workouts look like?
  • What would your nutrition look like?
  • What other actions/habits would you practice in that scenario?

Giving thought to your life right now, where is your dial set?

Would you like to make any adjustments?

Could you move the dial up a channel, or even half a channel?

If so, what would that look like?

On the other hand…

Should you move the dial down a channel so you can stick with health and fitness even during a difficult time?

 

  1. Aim for a little bit better.

An all-or-nothing approach usually doesn’t get us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”. You know what actually works? Small improvements done consistently over time work.

You might be trying to make a meal out of hospital cafeteria food, or gas station food, or airplane food. You might be spending hours awake with a newborn in the middle of the night, or stuck in yet another full-day meeting.

 

These aren’t ideal scenarios, but they’re not necessarily hopeless either.

Look around. Get creative. See if you can find some small — maybe minuscule — improvements.

 

  1. Anticipate, strategize and plan.

Since we already know that stuff is going to go wrong, the best thing we can do is anticipate and make plans for how to deal when they do.

A simple way to do this is by answering two questions:

  1. What’s likely to get in the way of what I hope to accomplish?
  2. What is something I can do today to help me keep going when I face those obstacles?

For some people, that might be a Sunday ritual where they prep food for the week so they won’t be scrambling for healthy meals on busy weeknights. For others, it might mean having a healthy meal-delivery service on speed dial.

Don’t be surprised and dismayed when things go haywire. They will at some point. Just arm yourself with the best tools and strategies so you can stay in the game when you’re thrown a curveball.

Personal trainer, qualified nutritionist, and lifelong athlete turned bodybuilder – is there anything Sarah Sweeney can’t do?! More impressive than her credentials are the fact that Sarah balances out her competitive side – winning the Dallas Europa Pro 2016 – with being a full-time mom and managing her own personal training business. With personal ambitions to grow her own coaching brand, expect for Sarah to continue to set unparalleled standards of excellence going into the future.

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