BEFORE GETTING INTO the specifics of things like exercise selection, nutritional strategies and goal setting it would be wise to have an idea what the entire process looks like from start to finish.
Chances are you have created an image in your head of the perfect you. We have already established last week that you have decided to make some changes in your lifestyle and are ready for an adventure.
With daunting prospects like changing eating habits, body composition and carving a new you from the old it’s easy to imagine that at the beginning of the journey you are standing at the foot of a steep mountain.
We know that somewhere up in the clouds there is a peak and if we could only get there we would achieve lasting happiness, but how to get there is the problem.
Compounding matters you are carrying a large heavy backpack filled with all the things that make you an individual. All your good and bad habits, all the decisions you have made that have brought you to this point as you (let’s call this your baggage).
It’s awkward and cumbersome, but you acknowledge its there on your shoulders despite not knowing exactly what’s packed away at the bottom of it. So where to start?
Step one: financial investment. It’s a big steep mountain so you’ll need all the latest gear.
New boots, a designer sleeping bag, a shiny ice-axe and definitely some crampons as well. You’ll need some sort of high-tech GPS navigation system, an altimeter, goggles, a parachute, energy gel, gore-tex gloves, ropes, a ladder and you watched Everest so you know you’ll need at least eight oxygen tanks.
The guy at the shop also told you you’ll need bear repellent, ‘bears love mountains’ he explains ‘and are attracted to new enthusiasm’.
You’ll also need a kayak and a bazooka (because it’s on special and matches your sleeping bag). You log into you social media, take a selfie in all your new gear and drop a few hashtags for the girls: #instabazooka #toocute #readyforwar.
Now you have everything you need right? Great! So, along with your own baggage you now have all the latest gadgets. Success is guaranteed!
Back to the mountain you go but on arrival quickly realise you bought too much rubbish. It’s too heavy but you are ready. You hashtagged it so there is no turning back now.
However standing there at the foot of the mountain with all your heavy investments you look up to the peak through the binoculars you bought in the bargain bin in Lidl.
It’s still masked by clouds and now it looks like it might rain. You start to question if it’s even possible to get there? I mean you’re worn out from all the shopping you did for the trip let alone having to carry it all the way up there.
But hey you have the gadgets, you look the part (that’s the main thing), and you still have most of your enthusiasm – no point stopping now.
Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere you see a sign nailed to a post at the foot of the mountain that reads ‘get to the top in three easy steps – baggage handling included’.
A short-cut, you rejoice! While you have your reservations about it the sign looks new, has a glossy finish and promises you everything you ever wanted.
Plus your gear is really starting to feel heavy now too. It would also be great if you didn’t have to worry about your own baggage.
Before committing to calling the number on the sign though you decide to investigate a little bit further, just in case an easier option presents itself.
Low and behold you stumble upon another bigger more colourful sign. This time its forty foot tall and in flashing neon reads: ‘just two of these pills a day and you’ll reach the top – no effort required’.
That sounds pretty good actually because you forgot to eat breakfast so the tablets might calm down the hunger pains in your stomach.
You’ve heard about this type of thing before and while you don’t dismiss it out of hand (after all you have a friend who knows a guy whose uncle’s house cleaner took some magic pills before and they worked for her) you don’t commit.
Aside from the sketchy ingredients and cheap labeling you’re not sold because of the effort of having to go back to the shop to buy them.
You’ve already carried all your new stuff this far, and that sounds like extra work. You were not told there might be extra work. So you keep walking and hoping. Never upwards, it’s too steep, always sideways and sometimes down a little because it’s easier.
Motivation and enthusiasm starts to drop, you’ve been out here with your gadgets and enthusiasm ages now and nothing is happening. ‘I thought I’d be lean by now’ you say to yourself mystified.
A little later (and a good deal further away from where you actually started), feeling lost you meet a man with huge tanned arms wearing an expensive watch.
He’s leaning against a Ferrari, covered in tribal tattoos and has the brightest teeth you have ever seen! Wow – he really has it all, he must know his stuff. I wonder if he can help someone like me?
He tells you he can, it’s his job. He’s a professional deadly person. All you have to do is give him your credit card details, passport number and login details to all your paypal account and online banking.
See where I’m going with this? Every stupid short cut you are presented with, every magic supplement that ‘works but only as part of a calorie controlled diet with regular exercise’ (aka the things should focus on first), and every quick fix is targeted at getting you to buy a heap of rubbish, never learning, never asking questions and always hoping blindly for the best.
The problem lies in our own preconceived assumption that the only road available has to be the steep and scary one.
As such, the hardest part when deciding to make a positive change is often just figuring out how to go about making the right first step.
Allow me to make an alternative suggestion. Keep your money. Spend some time talking to people you trust and who have a proven track record of helping people achieve lasting success.
Look for a different start point, rethink the route, invest in knowledge and skills as opposed to gadgets and pills and aim to end up at the same elevation. There is no sexy sales pitch for this.
I tell the people I train to approach the same goal but to look at the journey not like a steep mountain, but as a long walk up a steady hill. Not too steep, but not flat with a few dips and hills along the way.
All you have to do is get your baggage moving.
The key is to firstly generating enough momentum start moving forwards, to break the inertia. Chances are if you have come to this point you have done just that, you’ve had you eureka moment.
Next up, and where many err, is choosing a pace that does not allow them to maintain momentum.
Start too fast you’ll quickly run out of steam and slide slowly down the hill. You’ll be forgiven for doing this once, maybe even twice. Enthusiasm can be a harsh mistress to control at times.
But do this three of four times and you run the risk of losing faith entirely and you may not get up a fifth time. Patience is the king – one small step after another.
Always progressing little by little and always learning how to gauge when it’s time to stop pushing, when to rest and regroup without rolling backwards.
The first time you take a rest on this alternative path you’ll notice a few things as you look back out on where you came from.
Many thousands of steps later, with the benefit of a higher viewing point you’ll realise is that that mountain you were looking at was in fact just the first of a vast range of hidden peaks and steep cliffs. Success may exist there – but it is far from easy to find.
You are on your own path now, while you may meet people along the way it is ultimately yours and yours alone. Every day thereafter you wake up and your baggage feels a little bit lighter and a little easier to manage. New day, same plan – one foot after another in the right direction all the way to the top.
This is the process through which vast majority of people get to where they want to go irrespective of their chosen goal. I am not for one second suggesting that there is only one path, method, one diet or one goal for everyone.
For every person there are a thousand mountains and a million paths but whether its weight loss, sports performance or general fitness the ones that inevitably get to the top follow paths characterised by patience, mastering the basics and progressive sustainability.
Next up we will get a little more specific about what these steps might look like. How you can equip yourself with the right tools from the start and make sure that your first step (as well as your second, third and beyond) are in the right direction.
Kieran Hegarty is a professional strength and wellness coach and owner of EverStrength. You can read Kieran’s weekly fitness blog on The42 every Wednesday morning.