Filling in the Gaps - Finding Whats Stopping You From Achieving Your Goals
Author Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S.
Not long ago I wrote an article on the training process. I described that to be successful you need to first identify where you are now, where you want to be, and then create a plan to get you from point A to Point B.
Today I want to go into how to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.
A gap is what is preventing you from taking your current situation and doing what you need to in order to be successful.
When it comes to fitness, the keys to success involve exercise and nutrition. When we speak of gaps today, we will be speaking about what is preventing you from exercising and eating right.
Common Gaps include knowledge, skill, motivation, habit, and environment.
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A knowledge gap comes from a lack of information. If you just had the information then you could perform what you need. The issue preventing many is that they do not know what to do - they don’t know what workouts they should be doing or what meals they need to be eating to reach their goals.
To resolve this issue, you should write down what you know, what you don’t know, and what you need to know.
Once you have this down you can begin to look into resources that can help answer those questions.
Fortunately, Information has never been as abundant or available as it is now. Books, Videos, Websites (like yours truly), workshops, Trainers, and classes are all available sources of information. However, with so much information there is a lot of misinformation and confusion. Below I have compiled some good places to begin as you search for quality information.
Food and Nutrition
Fat Loss Happens on Monday
The best book on fat loss I have ever read. This is my go-to recommendation for people who want to make a real difference. The information is easily explained, and the information is actionable.
Eat Food, Not too Much. Mostly Plants. - This is Michael Pollen's signature phrase on healthy eating. Michael is a food journalist who studied the history of food and diet and boiled it down to its key principles. His books The omnivore's dilemma, and in defense of food are both recommended reads, but for this one, I suggest his simple book food rules which is full of short actionable mental models to help you make better food decision. (it's a short book, I wouldn't pay more than 6 dollars for it)
I had a client turn me on to this and I couldn’t have been happier. Cooks illustrated that not only has great recipes but goes into the science behind making an excellent meal. If you're interested in learning how to cook meals that will amaze this is where you need to start.
The best website on nutrition information on the internet. Precision Nutrition does a great job providing quality nutrition content rooted in both dietetics and behavior change science.
This is my first stop when a client asks me about a supplement I’m not 100% sure about. Unbiased, research-based descriptions and summaries of many nutrition and fitness trends and supplements
There’s a lot of different types of training you could choose from. Far too many to list here. That's why I’m just going to list a few books that are great for general knowledge base on training.
Cardio or Weights
This is a fantastic book that will answer all of the questions that someone new to exercising will have when they start.
How long does it take to get in shape?
Can I get Fit in 7 minutes?
And so many more...
All Gain, No Pain
My most recommended book of 2017. All Gain No Pain is a book by Physical Therapist Bill Hartman geared towards those who want to get their bodies working as it should again. What stands out about this book is how Bill breaks down advanced topics using easily understandable analogies and explanations. Second, this book doesn't just focus on the training part of health and fitness but puts an emphasis on the influence of sleep, nutrition, and stress.
Strong Curves: A Woman's Guide to Building a Better Butt and Body
Bret Contreras is the glute expert and this book distills his research and training experience into one of the best fitness programs for building the female aesthetic.
Dr. Schoenfeld is the leading expert when it comes to building muscle. MAX muscle is his book that breaks down his research for the everyday person looking to put on mass.
I recommend Dan John to anyone who is new to fitness because he does an excellent job at distilling the keys to success and fitness. All of his books are well written, easily understood, and put a premium on simplicity. When you're starting out, simplicity is your best friend.
This is a great website to learn about various fitness trends. Each post is well rooted in science and practical application.
Just because you watch a video on how to do an exercise doesn’t mean you can actually do the exercise correctly. There is knowing, and then there is doing. To be successful you must have both. Exercising and cooking are both skills that require practice and feedback.
To develop and be proficient at a skill you must practice it. What helps is to have exercises and task that are developmentally appropriate for where you are - It is important to master your bodyweight squat before you begin practicing your back squat.
Second is Feedback. To learn a skill you must know whether or not you are practicing it correctly. Practicing a skill incorrectly can be worse than not practicing at all because an incorrect skill can become ingrained, requiring massive amounts of time to unlearn and correct.
When it comes to skills knowing is not enough, you must be able to do. The best way to learn a fitness skill is to hire a professional. The true value of a coach or trainer is in their ability to provide you with feedback and teach you how to move, not in how sweaty you are at the end of a session. Once you shower the sweat is gone, but the skills you learn remain with you for a lifetime.
Four Hour Chef
The reason I recommend this book is because it’s not just a book of recipes, but a book that actually teaches you how to cook. This book aims to teach by doing. Each recipe works on and develops another kitchen skill. Throughout the book, you will find tips from world-renowned chefs, and hacks for how to make cooking and clean up quick and easy. By the end of the book, you will feel as though you’ve just gone through a semester in cooking school.
This is not your typical cookbook full of recipes. The great thing about this book is that it breaks cooking down into various skills. Each meal builds skills, incrementally.
Motivation or Attitude gap
Maybe you know what to do - you know what to eat and how to cook it, you just choose not to.
Or maybe you don’t know what to do, but the thought of doing the work to learn you feel is too much. In either case, there's a motivation issue.
If you're reading this then I know that you have the will to make a difference, you may just be struggling with taking that next step. You're looking for that push to get you started, or to keep you going.
The first step I want you to take is to define your goal. Make it a SMART goal - Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely. You need a clear actionable goal, Think of the difference of me telling you to do 20 push-ups, vs me telling you to do push-ups until I tell you to stop. In the first example, you have a set goal, and you know what you have to do, in the second you're more likely to stop before 20 because there's no goal to aim for.
2nd, Ask yourself Why?
Why is achieving this goal important to you?
How will your life be different once you achieve it?
What will happen if you don’t achieve this goal?
In order for you to buy into a program and stick with it, you have to have a good 'why'. A good why is the difference when things get tough. It’s what will get you out of those situations that test your willpower - like getting out of bed in the morning or choosing the berries over the cookies for dessert.
3rd is Self Efficacy
Self-efficacy is the belief in yourself to accomplish a goal. If you don’t believe you can accomplish a goal then you will be more likely to quit in the face of adversity - or worse, not even make an attempt.
To work on your self-efficacy I recommend adopting the right attitude.
The first attitude change you can make is accepting the difficulty of the task. Understand that it will be hard at times. Setting the right expectations will prepare you for when things get difficult.
Focus on the process, not the outcome
Outcome goals are not bad, but overemphasizing them can be. Success is a byproduct of hard work and continual improvement. There will be times when you fail to hit a goal and I encourage not to take this as failure, but to look back and see the improvements you did make. I encourage all my health seekers out there to not stress about the end result but instead on the process of your own improvement. When you focus on the process the results will take care of themselves.
Seeing results keeps people motivated. This is why I recommend you get a notebook and identify a few things you could measure that pertain to your goals. If you're looking to change your body composition then you may keep track of your weight, body fat, and circumference measurements. If you're looking to get strong, a workout log will allow you to see how you're improving from workout to workout.
The more complex a task is the less likely it is to get done. For this reason, keep your goals and task as simple as possible. Workout twice a week - each workout consists of 5 of the most important exercises. It’s simple and hence more likely to get done. If you decide to do more, that fine, but at least you will know that you’ve done enough to make some progress.
Stories from those who have been successful
Seek out people who have accomplished what you are looking to do. Their success can help keep you motivated when times get tough because they show that it can be done. If you can’t find someone, then look to read their stories.
Self-efficacy is the belief in yourself to accomplish a task. This belief is built on experience. Take time to acknowledge all the things you are currently doing right, and doing well. I call these the little wins. Let each of these little wins show as a sign that you can indeed do what you set out to do.
The Fitbit is a great tool to help you track your activity and keep you motivated. Not only can you track, but you can also enter into challenges with others to make things competitive.
Is there a behavior that needs to be done automatically and without conscious effort? Likewise is there a behavior that is automatic that you need to stop doing?
In both cases, you have a habit problem. One is the need to create a good habit and the other is the need to remove a bad habit We'll go over each briefly.
Building a new habit.
Each of us has a certain amount of willpower, that we expend throughout the day whenever we delay instant gratification. Habits help automate your behavior and save your mental energy- energy that could be used to resist temptations when they arise.
A few helpful habits that you should aim for include: -
Moving every day - This doesn’t mean a full workout, but you should make it a habit to get outside and move your body in some way every day whether that be spending some time dancing, walking, joining a yoga class, or doing some weightlifting.
Consistent sleep schedule - Sleep is the most neglected aspect of fitness and health. When you don’t get consistently good sleep, you won't recover properly, will be more likely to store body fat, and won’t have the energy to get the most out of your workouts.
Cooking at home/meal prepping - Eating well is vital to changing the body and the most effective way to do so is making sure that your eating quality foods. Cooking at home, and prepping in advance can ensure that you have the foods you need to succeed.
How can you help make these into habits?
Habits are automatic behaviors formed through repetition. The more you do it the less mental energy is needed to make it happen. They say a habit takes about 21 days to form. To make it to this milestone it is important for you to plan in advance and make the task as easy as possible to achieve. You don’t want to be in decision mode where you have to figure out what to cook that night. Rather you will want to plan it in advance and then just be in execution mode.
To help, use a habit tracker. A daily log that you check off each day or time you complete the intended behavior.
Habit Stacking - Take a previous habit and attach your new habit to it. Balance on one leg while you brush your teeth. Do foam rolling or mobility while watching TV
Hack the environment - Create an environment that is conducive to you creating a habit. For example, if you are looking to go to the gym every day then make sure there is a gym close by, or that you have equipment at home should you be unable to make it out.
Breaking bad habits
Charles Duhigg wrote a great book on this topic called The Power of Habit. His framework for breaking habits involves identifying the routine, experimenting with rewards, isolating the cue(trigger), and having a plan. I summarize this framework in my article
I have a belief that success in fitness comes when we make being healthy easier than being unhealthy. Environment influences behavior - so to change how we act we must change our environment.
Execution mode instead of decision mode
A decision is one more opportunity to choose wrong. For your success, we want to minimize the decisions you have to make by having plans in place. For example, it helps to know what you're ordering before going to a restaurant that way you can avoid temptations that can draw you away from your goal. Likewise, if you go to the gym, it helps to have a plan for your workout so you don’t end up wandering around.
Can you make the process simpler?
The more moving pieces in an item, the more likely it is for something to break. This applies to our goals as well. The more complex the task is, the higher the chance of something going wrong. When you go to the gym, have a planned workout. Make that workout simple and sweet.
I use a concept I call the Minimum. Ask yourself what is the minimum amount of work you can do to see results. For some clients, I’ve prescribed the gym 2 times a week with a workout that was only the 5 most important exercises. Extremely simple. If you do more, then that's great, but if you don’t then you know you’ve still accomplished enough to see move forward.
Remove obstacles - An important part of a good environment is removing obstacles.
Not enough time - There's always enough time, you just have to prioritize it. Find a gym that's closer to you, do mini workouts, bike to work - there's always a way.
Lack of motivation - See above. It also helps to find a buddy and others who have similar goals as you. Find people who are supportive. Keep track of progress.
Lack of confidence -.It's normal to feel insecure when you start. Don't worry about how much you're lifting. Instead aim to learn the what, why and how of exercise. I promise if you do that you'll feel more confident. Build on little successes and get into the right mindset.
Hire a trainer - A trainer's job is to help remove many of these barriers. They're there to teach you skills, motivate you, build good habits, keep you accountable, and help you create a successful environment.