Fresh Starts Aren’t as Special As You Think

How many times have you caught yourself saying something along the lines of:

  • As soon as the kids start school, then I will..
  • As soon as I’m done with… then, I’ll
  • Once mom is feeling better, then…
  • As soon as dad get’s out of the hospital..then I will…

Of course we all do the New Years thing…

“January 1st I’m going to start…”

Or how about the all inclusive ultimate life reset button statement of all time…

“I’ll start on Monday!”

While this kind of “When this, Then that” mentality seems reasonable, it could be ruining your health and fitness.

Why Hitting Pause Doesn’t Work

We often times make deals with ourselves and attempt to hit the pause button on our life.

What’s the harm in taking a break from a nutrition and fitness plan when we’re:

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

For most of us, 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’s called the “When this, Then that” Mentality.

Now look. I see nothing wrong with 80-20 rule. That’s not what I talking about here.

I think it’s perfectly normal to want to do your best and also not killing yourself while doing it. To consider taking time to regroup and then resume (or start over) when life feels easier.

I get it. And 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.

New Year’s Resolutions are so popular because they give us a fresh start. But it’s not really a fresh start; it’s simply a comforting thought.

The truth is… there’s nothing you can do to reverse the indulgence-fueled holiday season other than deciding to make a change moving forward.

The “When this – Then that” mentality only builds the skill of pausing life; not winning at it.

Whether it’s Monday, tomorrow, next week, or even next year, hitting that imaginary pause button gives you some sense of relief.

(And the middle is always a tough, 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.

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 programs. 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. And when you’re done you can do whatever the hell you want because you won right?

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; but 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. Because you didn’t learn the proper skillset necessary to sustain it.

But because the natural and predictable consequence of having a limited skill set is short-term progress followed immediately by long-term frustration.

I remember having lunch with a friend who swore up and down that his low-carb diet plus daily running was the secret to staying in shape.

I had to follow up with a painful question: “Well, why aren’t you actually in shape?”

After a long pause: “Uhh, I’ve had a hard time sticking with it. We just had our second child. The holidays just ended. I just switched jobs.” He trailed off…

“But, once everything settles down, I’ll get with the program and get in shape again! I guess I’m just on a little break.”

This story illustrates the point perfectly. His “When this, then that…” mentality was screwing him over.

Here’s someone who’s built his fitness on a house of cards. He knows only one thing: How to get in shape by following a very challenging program when the conditions are perfect.

And whenever life isn’t perfect, which is most of the time, he hits the pause button on that program.

He waits for a better time. (All the while losing the health and fitness he previously worked so hard for.)

My Patients Put Me On Pause All The Time

I run a busy family chiropractic office in Austin, Texas.

I have patients who come in weekly, bi weekly and then those who go missing for months, and then return with a new found interest in health and renewal.

Sometimes I’ll ask them:

“What will be different this time?”

Nine times out of 10, the honest answer is nothing. Nothing will be different. It’s just that life is better for them now that they can incorporate chiropractic back in.

How convenient and yet, so deceptive. You can’t simply put your spine on pause. Life doesn’t stop.

Life is just…happening. All the time and your priorities show through it.

And it’ll happen again in February, or after the baby is born, or after Mom gets better, or at any other arbitrary point you pick.

And what then? What will be different?

What if we accepted that life didn’t have a pause button?

The key lesson here is that, like it or not, the game of life keeps going. Especially when it comes to your spine and overall health.

There is no timeout. Your brain and body are constantly at work.

There’s never going to be a moment when things are magically easier.

You can’t escape work, personal, and family demands. Nor can you escape the need for health and fitness in your life.

Here’s a thought experiment:

What if you tried to hit pause in other areas of your life?

Imagine you’re up for a big promotion at work. For the next two weeks, all you want to do is focus on mastering an upcoming presentation, and winning over your boss.

Trouble is, you’ve got two young children at home who tend to grasp, koala-like, onto your legs and demand your full attention.

Honey, you say to your spouse, I’m just gonna press pause on being a parent for now. I’ll be staying at a hotel. Don’t contact me.

I don’t know about you, but that would NOT go over well in my family.

You can’t really press pause — and you definitely can’t hit reset — on being a parent. (You’ve thought about it, though. I know you have.)

Just like you can’t stop showing up for work and expect not to get fired. Or “take a break” from being married and not wind up divorced.

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.

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

As I often teach my clients online:

The “all or nothing” mentality rarely gets us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”.

That’s when I propose a new mantra:

“Always something”.

Rather than Hitting Pause, Adjust the Dial

These days I like to think of my personal fitness and nutrition efforts as a dial.

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

Here’s how it goes:

If I wanted to increase my total body weight in mass (muscle) and lean out like crazy, my fitness dial might be tuned to 9 or 10 out of 10.

Channel 10 means I work out every day. If this was the case, then I would be thinkiing a lot about fitness. I would focus on nutrient intake, water and optimizing recovery. I wouldn’t thinkg 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:

  • Helping to raise 4 children.
  • Running a busy chiropractic office.
  • Running a growing Nutritional Supplement company.
  • Health Coaching & Consulting with hundreds of people across the nation
  • Being involved in several other side projects all business related

So these days, the dial rarely goes past 6 or 7. I work out, maybe, four days a week. And most of my meals are just “good enough”.

(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 3, 2, or even a 1, and turning the whole thing off.

And when you realize how doable — and effective — channels 3 and 2 and 1 can be, you see that there’s never a good reason to hit “pause”.

Need help deciding on things you can work on?

Here are some progressions of turning the dial up or down:

What to do next.

First, realize that there is never going to be a perfect time.

If you keep pressing the pause button on your life… your progress will look like this:

Or worse… you end up flatlining and stay on the never-ending pause button forever.

Progress is always going to outperform perfection. Even elite olympic athletes who are near perfect didn’t start out that way. They focused on tiny action steps (progress) that led them to where they are today.

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?

2. 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!

You might be trying to make a meal out of gas station food or deciding on a healthier option at the airport. 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. Use those moments to practice on making the best decision you can make… rather than hitting the pause button.

3. 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 Weekend 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.

I can gaurantee that 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.