A little disclaimer before we start, this article is slightly different than the content I have been producing, trying something a little different with some long form content rather than the short typical Internet articles. I’d love to hear feedback on which is preferred or for any other topics you might like to read about.
In physics, the term “escape velocity” is used to define the speed something needs to reach to escape the gravitational force of a massive body (earth for example). My gym partner and I like to use this term to describe the force (motivation) needed to escape the gravitational force of the couch. Granted the couch doesn’t have it’s own actual gravitational force, but breaking the habit of couch surfing can seem just as difficult as breaking through the gravitational force of the earth.
This got me thinking as to what the largest obstacles are preventing people from achieving escape velocity. I came up with 3 different obstacles, which I think all go hand in hand. The 3 are: motivation, fear and goals. Not everyone has all 3 but any combination of 2 can keep one from achieving escape velocity.
What is you motivation? A 5k? Kids? Health? Any number of superficial reasons? Regardless of what it is, there needs to be a substantial underlying reason you are changing your habits. Habits, whether good or bad, don’t happen without a reason. Your motivation should have some inner meaning to you. For instance, if you want to lose weight, is it because your doctor told you that you’re at risk of diabetes? Or is it you want to look good for your high school reunion coming up? Both are legitimate sources of motivation but what happens if the reunion gets canceled or the ex you are trying to make jealous isn’t going? I find the best source of motivation is death and revenge to start. These 2 things trigger an inner source of drive that most other things can’t hit.
Death is an obvious one. For the most part, people don’t want to leave their lives to the great unknown. Being told if you don’t change your habits you will die is a punch in the face that I could not imagine. Sadly, in our world of excess this happens quite a bit. This, I think, is the ultimate motivation. People develop bad habits over the course of their lives and either not knowing or not caring dig themselves into a deep hole.
Revenge however is a little different. They say most people become bodybuilders because of a breakup. Which in my case was true and it turned out to be the turning point in my life. I’ve always had the attitude of “I’ll show them!”, not in the shooting spree type of way, but in a way of making myself better so they regret tossing me aside so to speak. I always wanted them to think of me years later and say “I shouldn’t have given up on you.” Like everyone else, friends have turned on me, girls left for whatever reason and I just used that to fuel my fire to improving myself rather than squashing my sorrows in a bottle or with drugs.
Whatever your motivation is, you have to use that to your advantage. This is the first and the most important step in achieving escape velocity. Without motivation, you won’t stick to it and you will end up right back to where you are. Motivation will lead to a changing of habits. Habits are like rabbits, they multiply like crazy. One good habit will breed another good habit and another much like a bad habit will do the same in the opposite direction. For example, starting an exercise program could be your first step. As you exercise and like it, you find different ways of being active. At a certain point you will plateau because your nutrition is holding you back. The second step you address your nutrition and your exercise program progresses again. Then you find different healthy ways to eat and this progresses forever.
The key to changing habits are to first identify them and second to address them. It’s like a Cliff Notes AA program. Bad habits are what caused you to get into the hole you are in. Whether it be eating junk food, not exercising or anything else that creates an unhealthy environment. Once identified, what the bad habits are, make it a priority to fix them using your motivation. If you need to start exercising, make it a point to set aside sometime in the day to exercise. No time? That is an excuse and your motivation isn’t strong enough. A good motivation will not allow for excuses. Instead of watching TV for 3 hours, cut it down to 2 hour and exercise in the other 1. There is always time in someone’s day that is devoted to non-essentials. Internet surfing, checking out social media 35 times and watching TV are all sources of non-essential time wasting. Be productive and use that time to improve your health. If you like playing video games there will inevitably be a loading screen. Instead of sitting and waiting for the game to load, bust out some air squats or do some sit-ups to kill the time. Stop finding excuses.
If you are just starting exercise make it fun too. That is a way to make you more apt to stick with it and actually make time for it. Whatever tweaks your fancy will work as long as you are up and moving. What is the point in doing something you don’t like? Make a game out of it. Go for a run and pretend your Mario trying to find the princess. Every once in a while, throw in a jump like you’re trying to bust the blocks or get the mushroom. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it works for you.
After a period of time you will want to exercise and feel bad if you don’t. That is when the habit has formed. You will find along the way that you might actually like it and you miss the feeling of moving and eating healthy.
The next, fear, is a fear of the unknown. As I have progressed in my fitness endeavor, I am noticing a lack of knowledge by the general public in regards to fitness. As with anything, there are your know-it-alls or think-they-know-it-alls, the guys who swear by bro-science (which does have it’s merits) and then there are the people that think fitness is this un-solveable rubix cube. Truth of the matter is, that basic fitness is as complicated as you make it. Getting by with some basic knowledge of what fitness is and that is all you really need to be healthy. Movement is basic fitness. If you know how to move, then congratulations you know basic fitness. Walking, running and jogging all are basic fitness and really the pillars of fitness in my opinion. Pretty sure we all mastered these 3 pillars of fitness by the age of 3.
Most people associate things like gym workouts and yoga with fitness and get paralyzed with fear because it is new for them so they fear what they don’t know. If your just starting off, just start with a walk then progress to a jog and eventually you can start running. By progressing slowly at your pace you are ensured constant improvement. But the important thing is you have to consistently try to better yourself each time. Shave a second off your time walking around the block? That is progress. Can you walk 2 miles when you could only walk a 1-½ miles? That is progress.
By going from couch to running you run the risk of injury and disappointment. Walking as simplistic as it is, prepares your legs for jogging and jogging prepares your legs for running. Walking activates your muscles along with the ligaments and tendons in your legs. All of which are used extensively when jogging or running. Now I’m not talking about walking from the couch to the fridge. Really all you have to do is walk rather than using a mode of transportation. Escalators, elevators or a car to go down the street are all things that can be easily switched out today. See like I said basic fitness is easy.
Look at your world around you and see what little things you can tweak without setting time aside for an actual workout. That is fitness. Over time, make your walks a little longer or a little faster. This is progress. See the major components of success are right there. As long as you push yourself a little more each time and are consistent you can’t fail.
A lot of people will do some “research”, find a workout plan which is not made for them and fail at it, which results in them quitting because they are discouraged. They think they are hopeless and all those other negative thoughts only to go back to the couch and sink further into a hole. Truth of the matter is, you had no foundation of the pillars of fitness, so why would you think that you could build a house on it? Cut yourself some slack, take it slowly and build your foundation. Once you have your foundation then take it to the next level. That is what all the greats did, what makes you any different?
This goes for weight lifting as well. The first time in the gym don’t expect any kind of substantial lift. Get used to the equipment, the atmosphere and learn the basic movements. Gyms can be intimidating with the meatheads, grunting and all the weights around. Keep your head down, your headphones in and do your thing.
Proper form is the most important thing when lifting weights. Proper form allows you to lift weights safely without putting added stress on your joints and putting the stress where it should be, on the muscles. Proper form is the foundation of weight lifting. You can build a house on a crappy form foundation but eventually that house will fall and so will you. People at the gym don’t care how much you can lift. Start slow and work your way up. If you want to ensure you are using good form, hire a personal trainer. I’m not saying this because I am one and I would love your business wink, wink. Sometimes when you think you are doing everything right, there might be a subtle little thing you are doing wrong that an outside pair of eyes could catch.
Now you figured out what motivates you and the fear of the unknown is in the rear-view mirror you have to set some S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you haven’t heard of S.M.A.R.T., it stands for
This is a way of proper goal setting. A goal to lose 10lbs is well intentioned but there are no parameters for achieving. This is like putting a destination in your GPS and the GPS not giving you the route or time of arrival. Pretty crappy GPS if you ask me. To say you want to lose 10lbs in 3 months, that would be a S.M.A.R.T. goal. It’s specific (lose 10lbs), measureable (the scale can give you measurements), attainable (this is possible), relevant (about a lb a week is realistic), time-bound (3 months). With the S.M.A.R.T. goal you now have the route and time of arrival to where you want to go.
If you are just starting off I would set your goals with someone with more experience like a personal trainer, a more fit friend or a medical professional. This way you can set realistic goals in a proper time frame and get the right way to attain your goal. The route is an important part as well, like my GPS example.
A goal will help direct your path rather than just floating around which will lead to discouragement because you aren’t getting anywhere. You might make some progress but at a certain point you will plateau and not be able to progress any further. Goals also serve as motivation because you want to achieve. What is the point of having a goal to have a goal? You have goals to achieve.
Achieving escape velocity is no easy task for space travel or the person getting off the couch. Find your motivation, start slow, progress and have goals and there will be no limit to what you can do. Going from couch to elite athlete doesn’t happen. Be happy with the progress no matter fast or slow.
I’ll leave you with a saying from the entertainment industry which I found to be applicable “It takes 15 years to become an over night success.”