I often talk about the dangers of rewards, but that's not to say rewards are a bad thing. When used correctly, they are motivators that keep us going. The only problem is that we've abused this method so badly that we now feel entitled to a reward for even the most mediocre event.
So how do you use rewards effectively to keep you focused without derailing your progress?
Less is More
Continual rewards make you falsely believe that minor things are worth celebrating. Lose a game? Barely pass a test? None of these things require hard work, so why should they be rewarded? By promoting this behavior, we teach people that it's acceptable to not try. By continuing this behavior on ourselves, we never learn what real effort entails.
To make rewards effective, there have to be fewer of them. They have to come only at times when you've gone above and beyond what you've ever done before.
How do you go about finding a healthy reward system?
Start to reward yourself only for things you haven't done before.
Skipped dessert and rewarded yourself? You no longer get a reward for that. Worked out super hard and rewarded yourself? You no longer get a reward for that. Pretty soon, all of the basic things you used to reward yourself for will be crossed off the list, leaving only bigger goals.
Set a goal and a prize.
Remember to make this goal challenging but realistic. It could be something like dropping two pounds in two weeks' time. Challenging? Certainly. Achievable? Yes. Again, after you've achieved this, cross it off your reward list as you can no longer reward yourself for this goal. Now, come up with a bigger goal and reward.
Your rewards cannot be food or drink.
It's time to break the habit of associating food with good behavior. Instead, make the reward a new shirt or manicure or movie. It could even be as simple as two hours of dedicated time pursuing an art you really love.
How you think has a greater effect on how you live your life than you realize. Unfortunately, that also means we tend to fall into some very negative thinking patterns that ruin progress before we even notice a change.
"I deserve [BLANK] for doing [BLANK]."
The simple truth is you don't. None of us do. We are merely lucky enough to have been born in a time of plenty. If you workout, you do not deserve to break your diet. The only reward you deserve is the pride you feel for having accomplished a difficult task.
Language is powerful. How you talk affects how you act. "Can't" removes any responsibility from you to take action. You aren't helpless and very few things in this world that are impossible. However, you have to be honest with yourself and quit using "can't" as a way to shirk responsibility. Instead of claiming you "can't" give up your morning donuts, tell people you don't want to. Own your decisions.
"Fit people don't understand."
Don't you think it's a bit limiting to believe an entire swathe of the population doesn't feel anything more than joy when working out or eating right? Fit people desire unhealthy things. They wake up wanting nothing more than to call the day a wash and sleep. They feel insecure. They feel scared. They feel like failures. However, they understand these feelings are no excuse to throw in the towel.
"This is only temporary."
The problem with a lot of workout and diet problems is that they are sold on the premise that you only need x number of days of total dedication to achieve a model's body. This has trained us to wrongly believe that getting fit is about working out and eating right in spurts.
Fitness isn't a trial period. Fitness isn't a flash in the pan. It's a lifestyle. And it's okay to not pursue it to an extreme, but you should pursue as a way to take care of your body so you can make the absolute most of the years you have left.
"I need [BLANK] to get started."
We are taught from a young age that things equate to success and happiness. We delude ourselves into believe that unless we have the best, we shouldn't even try.
The real professionals, no matter the art or sport, know this to be bullshit. Professionals succeed because they are willing to work with whatever is available to them in order to achieve their dreams. You don't need a weight set to start training. There are a wide number of free bodyweight routines online. You don't need a specialized diet plan. There are a wide number of free nutrition tips online. You are the only thing stopping yourself from growing.
All of these little thoughts are traceable back to one emotion -- Fear.
We fear trying out new things. We fear the potential of failure. We fear hurting ourselves. We fear hurting others. We fear facing our own weaknesses.
But fear is merely an evolutionary adaptation that has kept our lineage alive for billions of years. Luckily, in our current state, our brains now have the power to override this fear through meditation.
Meditation is the practice of controlling your own thoughts.
People like to talk it up as some mystical way to connect with the world or a larger god power but it's not. It's an incredibly simple 10-minute activity that bolsters your ability to control your own negative thought patterns.
To begin, find a comfortable seated position in a room where you won't be disturbed. When ready, focus on something. You can stare at a speck on the wall. You can close your eyes and envision a number. You can listen to your breathing. Now, for 10 minutes, you have to stay focused on this thing, thinking about nothing else. If your mind starts to wander, bring your thoughts back to your focal point. You might feel bored. You might feel tired. You might feel angry. Doesn't matter. Just stay focused for 10 minutes.
The purpose of this is two-fold:
Kind of like building muscle, the more practiced you are, the more control you will have over your own thoughts.
Fitness apps are an incredible way to track what you eat when you eat it. They're also phenomenal at marking the progress of your workouts. However, not all apps work for all people. Instead of getting caught up in using the "cool" apps that don't do anything for you, find one that works best with your goals.
Things to look for
Food Barcode Scanner
Entering food is an arduous task -- one that often turns people away before they ever get started. With a scanner that runs through your phone's camera, you can immediately enter what you're having when you have it. Because of this, it helps train you away from eating out since fast food and sit down meals lack barcodes.
Adjustable Macro Goals
It's true that when you start the only number you want to concern yourself with is your total daily calories. That being said, you also want an app that will progress with you as you become more invested. Apps that don't allow for macro changes will eventually have to be switched out for apps that do, meaning losing all of the data you've collected about yourself thus far.
Even if it's just weight progress, knowing if you're succeeding is essential, and a quick look at a graph relays this information immediately. Ideally, you'll want progress charts that will track the data as far back as you've been recording your information so that you can see your overall progress and not just snapshots of a tiny moment in time.
Things to watch out for
Additional Calories After Working Out
This is a bad, bad habit among apps out on the market today. They tack on the calories you burned working out to your daily total calories, giving you a much larger daily total to eat. However, this logic is severely flawed. You work out to lose weight by burning calories. If you then eat all those calories you just burned, you won't lose any weight. In addition, their calorie burn estimations for the exercises are severely flawed. My advice is to find a completely different app to track your workouts in.
I know all fitness apps have their own blogs, however, you want a fitness app where the blog is hidden. Instead of being a source of inspiration, these blogs tend to be nothing but a laundry list of people complaining and/or trying to rouse pity. These negative voices will only encourage your own negativity to weigh you down. Be proactive and avoid fitness app blogs altogether.
We all do it. It's the New Year, so that means time to finally exercise and eat right! And while most of it usually falls to the wayside by February, there are things you can do now to give yourself a fighting chance when the newness of the resolution finally wears off.
Don't hurt yourself.
Start slow and start easy. The longer you've gone without working out, the higher the hurt you're going to feel following your first day back. Instead of going balls to the wall, do light cardio or light weights. It's going to hurt tomorrow no matter what you do, but what you do will determine how much it hurts.
Don't starve yourself.
Start slow and start easy. The longer you've gone without eating healthy, the hungrier you're going to feel following your first day of clean eating. Instead of going balls to the wall, eat a little less each day and be honest about tracking your food. It's going to be challenging no matter what you do, but what you do will determine how challenging it is.
You are more likely to stick with your resolution if you get enjoyment out of it. It's that simple. Don't choose an exercise just because it's popular. Choose an exercise because it teaches you something you've always wanted to learn.
Take responsibility for yourself.
Do not EVER blame others for your inability to succeed. You are the captain of your life. Take responsibility for how you live it. And while there will always be things that happen outside of your control, success comes from learning how to adapt to your current circumstances so you can push forward and push upward.
Remember to rest.
Getting fit is equal parts working out, eating right and resting. That's right. Resting. Many people (myself included) fall into the trap of thinking that only working hard every single day will result in a great look. However, your body can only build this great look during your rest periods. Get enough sleep and take those rest days seriously.
The holidays have long been used as the last fling before the ring. You gorge yourself with the knowledge that come 2016, all the sweets and treats are out the door. This mindset, though, is incredibly detrimental to not only your body but your mind.
Be healthy and enjoy the holidays this year!
All or Nothing
You've started your New Year's diet. It goes great for a little bit but then the cravings set in. You start losing your mind because you can't have one cookie. Eventually you snap and have a cookie. But it's not just a cookie. It's a cookie that comes with the belief that you are a failure. You can't stay with this diet. Who are you even kidding? Might as well bring in a few more treats and a few more and a few more until, by February, you're back to square one.
This is extremely unfair to yourself and your potential. The reality of the situation is that you have spent that last two months (counting down from Halloween) shoving your body full of decadent sweets and rich foods. Your body has adapted to expect these foods. Suddenly, you rip away them away, replacing them with veggies and lean protein. The body overreacts, wrongly assuming you're going to starve. How do you survive this starvation? Seek out calorie-rich foods, thus triggering the cravings.
The biggest problem this time of year is the mindset of all or nothing. You stuff your face with all because, come New Year's, you'll be going on the nothing diet. This is horrible for you. For one, it's an outright lie. You know damn well you'll be sneaking treats in the new year. Two, it allows you to excuse overeating.
The secret is moderation.
Instead of finishing off an entire half pint of eggnog in one sitting, space it out over the course of the week. Don't eat that entire tin of Danish Butter Cookies in two days, eat it in two weeks.
What if you already understand moderation? What if you're trying to keep relatively healthy at company holiday parties? What do you choose from the buffet?
Instead of CHOCOLATE, choose GUMMIES.
Gummies typically don't have high fat content because they aren't made with any kind of fatty products (whole milk, whipping cream, buttermilk, butter, egg yolk, etc.). Therefore if you want to have something sweet, gumdrops are your best option.
Instead of cookies, choose PRETZELS.
Cookies, again, have a lot of fat.
Drink more WATER than ALCOHOL.
No one is saying you shouldn't drink when you need to deal with those in-laws, but to avoid extra calories, water is your best friend.
For the birds, always eat BREAST MEAT.
Breast meat is white meat and therefore the lowest in fat. Now, no matter how well the bird is cooked, the white meat will be dry. To make it juicier, it's okay to use gravy, but keep this amount relatively small.
Instead of SWEETS, choose FRUITS.
Unlike gummies, fruits actually have good things for your body, ranging from antioxidants to vitamins.
Though nuts are healthy, they are extremely fatty and do not make the best snack choice despite what other sites will tell you.
Why limit fats and not carbs?
When you eat food, you consume fuel points.
1g of carbs = 4 points
1g of protein = 4 points
1g of fat = 9 points
That's a lot of calories for just a smidgen of fat. If you really want to eat a lot during the holidays without packing on too much weight, limiting fats means you get to eat more than twice as many carbs or more than twice as much protein before you even hit fat level points.
New adventures are great because you can enter into them without a jaded expression. You don't know how long of a road it is. You don't know how hard it will be. You don't know what equipment you're missing.
Simply put, ignorance is bliss.
This goes for everything - working out, singing, studying, business, relationships. The longer people go at it, the faster those rose-tinted glasses break into a million tiny shards that forever blind you to the feeling any sort of innocent joy ever again.
And while you're slowly picking glass out of your eye to once again see the path ahead, there comes a day when you realize all the things you wish you would have known before starting.
It seems time and money are two things we never have enough of. And though people warn us with vague threats of how much time will need to be dedicated to a project, they never give numbers.
And maybe that's for the best. I mean, if someone told me that in order to get a somewhat above average body I'd have to kick my own ass six days a week for 2-3 hours each day, I might have shied away.
But who am I kidding? I'm a masochist at heart.
My dad always, always, always, always told me about sacrifice. It's one of those "dad"isms that I will forever thank him for because, even though I couldn't understand what he was hinting at when I was 5, at 28 I now understand what he meant all those times when he asked me what I would be willing to sacrifice to achieve my dreams.
And that's a damn important question you'll be faced with at different points in your path. Sometimes the sacrifice is as easy as giving up your favorite dessert. Other times it's putting to rest a different dream until the time is right to pick it back up again.
While you navigate your own life-changing moments, remember to always take responsibility for what you choose. Only then can you find peace with who you are now, who you were and who you will become. It's something that will save you from a lifetime of asking yourself, "what if".
You know what? Whatever it is you do, you're going to hate it eventually. You're going to wake up and loathe the very thought of ever having to do that thing again.
And this is normal. And this is okay. Everyone hits this point. Not everyone pushes beyond it.
The key is to learn how to do it even when it makes you physically sick to think about. If you keep with it, the highs and lows will mellow out, and you'll no longer feel such detestation. You just have to stay strong.
In the end, though, no matter how negative all this might seem, there's a reason to pursue. It's the fact that undertaking something you really enjoy brings a sense of fulfillment most other things can't. It reminds you that you are capable of more.
Very few endeavors will make you feel like you've made a difference, so make sure when you find yours, you really take note and open yourself up to the potential they can show you.
I want you to take a look at these photos right here:
Who is Kimberlee?
This beast is my sister.
When were the photos taken?
The first photos are from March of this year.
The second of the first photo is from today.
The second of the second photo is from August.
How much has she lost?
24.5 pounds in 7 months.
As of today, she is 158.
What's her goal?
Hit 130 pounds. After that, who knows?
What's her diet?
Daily calories: 1400 - 2000
Macro split: 35% carbs, 20% fat, 45% protein
Has she mentioned any benefits?
She talks about feeling happier, healthier and having better posture.
What has she been physically?
Les Mills routines at the local YMCA.
Can I do this?
Yes. You can do anything you want so long as you have to courage to push yourself.
Even though she's been making stellar process for months now, there have still been moments of despair where giving up appeared more tempting than continuing. To help stay strong, she built herself an incredible network of support made up of family and friends. Apart from cheering her on, they've also provided some tough love when those dark days tried to move in. In the end, though, the support could only do so much. The ultimate choice to keep going has been in her hands this whole time. It's her that's had to push through and rise above, something that no amount of cheering can accomplish.
Kimberlee is a prime example of internal strength, discipline and fortitude. I am beyond proud of what she has done and am excited to see what she will do.
To stay motivated, it is a popular practice to quote those that have achieved success. It's a social media's best friend, jiving with the trivial attention spans we are so prone to have.
But offer up such a bite-sized bit of wisdom and you fail to taste everything. You fail to see the years of sweat, tears, desperation, fears and hopelessness wiped away in a brief moment as this human tries to summarize an entire life's work into a mere sentence. They distill founts of knowledge into a single, easy-to-digest piece of wisdom that can be felt by those that have not yet tasted glory and understood by those that have.
So next time you read a line inspiring you to be better than you are, know that when you decide 'yes, I will', you begin working on a life that will one day culminate in such a phrase. You will feel the liters of sweat, years of aches and immeasurable loneliness. You will weep tears of joy, scream in excitement and swell with pride.
And though your contribution to this world will be different, make sure it happens. You're already here making an imprint. Your voice changed the environment when you first screamed as a child. Until you pass on, your actions will ripple outward -- be it as slight as complimenting a stranger or as enormous as guiding a nation. Why waste this opportunity to end with an unclear statement on living when you can build it into something that will live on without out?
Don't get to the end wondering if you could have been strong enough to make an impact.
Get to the end knowing you were.
You'll never know how far you can go unless you push yourself beyond the bounds of comfort.
It's a simple bit of wisdom that becomes misconstrued because so many of us associate it with physically intense labor. But your bounds of comfort go far beyond anything physical. They're equal parts mental as well. Imagine the person that won't give public speeches because they shake and their mouth goes dry. Imagine the person that won't step into the ocean because they're afraid of drowning.
Comfort is the home we set up all around us. Surrounded by the familiar, we slowly forget there's an entire world just outside our door capable of transforming us into fully realized versions of who we are now. But instead of answering the call to adventure, we choose to sit at home and go about the routine that is our lives because it is comfortable.
Some of us, though, some of us peek outside. We see something new and we venture out not knowing if this thing will lead to pleasure or pain. Our desire to expand our knowledge spurs us onward. And for every upsetting moment, there are a thousand precious seconds to show us just how amazing life is.
Outside your front door is a vast expanse of land formed from billions of years of change we only get a mere snapshot of. Stand on the top of a mountain and marvel at the majesty of turmoil. Stare out across the oceanic abyss and take in the ecstasy of loneliness. Surround yourself with the depressed whisper of the wind through trees that have seen the rise and fall of civilizations.
The world is not happy but nor is it sad. It is a bittersweet balance of life where death is just as necessary life. And if you're willing to enter into it, to try even little things that make you uncomfortable, you will be better for it. You will begin to wake up to the possibility that if you can accomplish that one thing and survive, what else can you do?
Bulking or cutting, a diet is one of the most challenging things to stick with when it comes to reshaping your body. I would even argue it's harder to make habitual than working out. However, that doesn't mean it's impossible nor is it the worst thing in the world.
My personal philosophy to the majority of my personal issues is to approach them from as an objective standpoint as possible. This means looking at something like my eating habits and asking why I eat that way. With enough digging, I'll find the reason(s) and can then reshape my approach so that I can achieve the results that I want.
In the case of dieting, I've found it to be a mixture of emotions as well as physical addiction. While I can't explain your emotions to you (only you can figure those out), here's the objective take on junk food's effect on the body.
Bad food is hard to break as a habit because it acts on your brain the same way a drug does -- especially when we're talking about junk food. Indulgent foods trigger your brain to release dopamine much in the same way heroin or cocaine does.
This is also why you begin to crave things you've cut unlike any other craving you've ever had in your life. Addicts go through withdrawal and so do dieters. Your brain wants that food high again and it will drive you crazy to get it.
The hard part is that, unlike drugs, we can't just quit food. We're wired to seek out these high calorie foods, so by dieting, we're not only cutting an addiction, we're working against evolution.
Now, do you need to quit chocolate and soda forever? No. Enjoying that stuff occasionally is awesome.
Applying the Knowledge
Knowing how food affects your brain makes cravings easier to control. It allows you to put eating into an objective light and remove the emotion from it. You can now eat an Oreo and know why you suddenly feel happier. It's not that the Oreo is good for you, it's that the Oreo has triggered the release of happy drugs in your brain. You now know that your body doesn't need soda, it's just craving it because you're undergoing withdrawal. To me, anyways, this makes these urges a lot less scary because now there's a reason for their existence and the reason isn't that I'm weak-willed.
Be Proud of Progress
You have decided to fight evolution. That takes inner strength unlike any ever seen. It's the kind of strength that makes us what we are -- human. We, unlike any other creature, have the capacity to reason and think and then apply that knowledge to our daily lives so as to improve as a species. By punching evolution in the face, you are utilizing the frontal lobe to it's fullest extent by choosing reason over instinct because reason is telling you that, in this moment, your instinct is wrong.
Above all, understand a diet change is a slow process. It involves altering your body's chemistry. It means making new habits. It means overcoming old addictions.
How patient do you need to be?
It depends on how long it takes for your determination to override your cravings.
That number varies for everyone. For me eating how I do now, it's taken a good part of four years. I dabbled a bit in healthier choices here and there until those choices stuck. Then I made some more changes and so on. Then I joked about flexing at BlizzCon.
My sister has been at it on and off again for about two years and still has some rough patches. As soon as those happen, she'll take a day to recover and then get back on it. And even though she's stumbled, the fact that she keeps getting back up has led to her determination slowly becoming stronger.
My parents have been yo-yo dieters their entire lives. They decided to jump on board with my sister as moral support and have been at it for four months.
Co-host of HeroesForge, founder of Battle to Be Better, gamer, singer and all around happy person.