The Focus Course

Defining Your “In Shape”

Being a cold-blooded-northerner-at-heart, I thrive in the cold! So when fall came around I was rather excited for the cooler weather.

Perfect evenings out walking as a family, extra trips to the playground, hiking trails through the woods, it’s our favorite time of the year. For me, it means an opportunity to be more physically active outdoors.

I’m by no means a certified expert, and whenever talking about anything health related I feel the need to give a long list of disclaimers in fine print. You know what’s best for you and I would always suggest speaking to your health professionals. But maybe you’ll find some of these ideas helpful.

What does “In Shape” mean for you?

Being physically fit doesn’t necessarily mean running a marathon or taking on an Ironman distance triathlon. It also doesn’t require an Instagram account with never-ending-shirtless-selfies.

The season of life you currently find yourself in plays a part in how much (or how little) you are able to focus on your physical health. For some, the topic of physical health feels like standing at the base of a mountain that seems insurmountable. While for others, this area of life is thriving and doesn’t feel nearly as daunting.

The question is, what does in shape mean for you?

Maybe it’s walking an annual 5k. Or, maybe it’s doing that multi-day hike you have always dreamed of doing. Or it could be getting back to walking after a knee-replacement.

Focus on the quality of life you’d like to live, and work toward that level of physical health. Not comparing yourself to the twenty-something-year-old that still lives in his parents basement, is still on the “family” gym membership, and barely holds down a part time job. As Elon Musk recently quoted Theodore Roosevelt, Comparison is the thief of joy. Identify what it means for you to be physically healthy and fit, not the person next to you.

Find Ways to Move

I’ve heard it said lately that “sitting is the new smoking.” And while I think that’s a bit extreme, we could all bear to be a bit more active in day to day life.

Again, I’m not talking an-hour-a-day kind of workouts. Are there smalls ways you could add a little physical activity to your daily life?

  • Park at the back of the grocery store parking lot, so you walk 400 yards further from your car to the entrance.
  • Take a 15 minute break at work to walk around the building.
  • Strap the kid(s) in the carrier or stroller and walk around the block.
  • Is it possible to bike to work?
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Buy a adjustable height desk that allows you to sit and stand throughout your day. This is the one I have.

Be creative, you know your daily and weekly rhythms, how could you tweak them slightly to add more movement?

Make it Fun

As Jon Acuff says in his book Finish, “Make it fun if you want it done!”

If you hate pumping iron as much as I do, find an activity that requires physical movement but you enjoy doing it.

It’s hard to build a habit around doing something you loathe. I hate lifting weights, so I never do it. And while I somewhat enjoy running, I have fallen in love trail running. Being in the woods, not focused on pace or distance, getting lost in the wilderness. Trail running has become a favorite activity in the last few years that gets me moving, but also recharges my introvert batteries. Win / win.

Some other ideas for fun:

  • Sign up for a ballet class
  • Find a pick-up soccer league and play once a week
  • Go birding
  • Explore hiking trails around your city
  • Play racquetball at your local gym
  • Combine your love of photography by doing a photo walk
  • Hire a table tennis couch and dominate some local tournaments
  • Get a bike and explore the back roads you never drive down

I’m sure there are a number of activities that you enjoy doing that you could pair with some sort of physical activity. Being physically fit doesn’t need to include high intensity interval training. It’s about being intentional and moving your body consistently.

Make it Social

Now, I realize that fun may not be a powerful enough motivator for all of you. And to be candid, when it comes to being on the more-in-shape end of the spectrum, there are some activities that require a bit more effort than others. In these scenarios it’s hard to maintain a long term habit on your own. That’s why I recommend doing it with a few friends. Or, making a few new friends.

One of the hardest things I do twice a week is swim. Five years ago I started swimming out of necessity to compete in triathlon. I hated it then, and I hate it a little less now. But the ONLY reason I’ve stuck with it the last five years is because I’ve done it with other people.

Early on I would swim with a couple of my triathlon buddies, we’d meet at a local pool and do a workout together once or twice a week. That made all the difference for me in becoming a better swimmer AND sticking with something I didn’t enjoy very much. The social accountability of telling my buddy I’d meet him at the pool Tuesday morning at 6am was powerful enough to keep me going back week after week.

(Peer pressure is also a powerful motivator when applied properly. For example, not drowning in front of my friends was very motivating to becoming a better swimmer.)

There are all kinds of groups: running groups, pilates classes, cycling groups, speed walker groups. The social aspect of these groups make the activity more fun and hold you accountable. You end up with a triple win, 1) physical exercise, 2) seeing your friend, 3) and having fun.

Do What You’re Told

Not only is signing up for a class more fun and social, it also removes the barrier of figuring out what you’re supposed to do. You want to make it as easy as possible to get your workout in and removing the obstacle of deciding how long, how many reps, or how hard you’re going to exercise is one more thing you don’t need to be thinking about.

Whether it’s a spin class, running clinic, pilates, masters swim, kickboxing, there are endless fitness classes out there. The benefit is you don’t have to think, just show up and do the workout. It’s a way to automate your workout routine. By signing up you’ve make a single decision that helps you maintain a weekly habit.

A good friend of mine is a business owner, he’s married with 6 kids. If you count his employees, the man’s got like 20 kids. He’s been a huge advocate for crossfit for as long as I’ve known him. He loves crossfit because he gets to show up and not have to tell anyone what to do. With so many areas of responsibility in his life, the last thing he needs or wants to have to think about what sort of workout he’s going to do.

This applies to classes in general and is a huge benefit. You don’t have to overcome the dual focus of trying to exercise, and, figure out how to exercise.

I’ve been apart of a masters swim class the past few years, and this has become one of my favorite weekly activities. Do I love swimming? Still no. But, all I have to do is show up. My lane will be packed with other swimmers of similar ability and bitterness toward swimming (who isn’t a little sour getting in chilly water at 5:45am in the morning?!).

Group workouts and classes are a huge win when it comes to overcoming the resistance of working out.

Overcoming the Mental Mountain

As mentioned, this topic looks completely different from person to person. And I’d like to especially say if you’re dealing with an injury or medical condition of any kind this topic can feel extra challenging. Sometimes even shameful. There is a very real mental battle when it comes to trying to get our body back to the way it used to be. What used to feel effortless now feels completely unattainable.

If that’s you, I want to encourage you to focus on what you can control and seek to find gratitude in your current state. As someone that has rehabbed from various injuries, it can be a despairing cycle that leaves me stuck. Rather, when I focus on what I am able to do and celebrate that, it helps me take a small step forward, one at a time.

You are the only one that knows what you are able and unable to do. Find the little things you can do, and celebrate that.

Clarity

Alright, let’s get a little more concrete here. Since we’re almost never completely satisfied with our current physical fitness let me ask a few questions.

What would success look like for you when it comes to your physical health?

  • Why is this your standard? No really, take a second to consider why. What are some of the motivating factors related to your health goals. Your why will be a source of inspiration when the road feels hard.

  • Is it a realistic standard? Is your measure of success attainable?

  • Are there clear steps you could take to move toward your physical goal?

  • Could you make physical activity more fun or social?

Momentum

With all the examples I’ve listed above, if you’re trying to get momentum in this area of your life, let’s actually pick a next step activity.

  • With your definition of success in mind, what activity could you do that would help you move a little closer to your goal?

  • How often would you need to do it?

My suggestion would be, whatever activity you choose, try to do it two to four times per week. It doesn’t need to be intense or really long. Think micro, not macro. Small, easy to do activities. Not a 10 mile run. Not a hour long weight lifting session.

To build momentum you need to start with a chain of completed activities. Start small, be consistent, and start climbing that mental mountain one step at at time. And don’t forget to celebrate progress.

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